Extraordinary. Wheels within wheels, layers on top of, and embedded within, layers. Horrifying and heartbreaking and bursting with unsentimental poignancy. About so many things at once that you are forced by sheer overwhelming to just keep reading and watching the page. Preternatural artwork. A masterpiece, truly.
So, Get Out.
One of my favorite horror movies, nay, films period, is American Werewolf in London. Get Out shares its sensibility in its overt use of humor, using humor not simply as a means to ease the tension building in the narrative like the insertion of moments cribbed from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but deploying it deftly and weaving it into the cohesive whole. Like Landis, first time writer/director Jordan Peele (he of Key &), a hysterically funny man, keeps this absolutely genre-in-a-good-way picture on track without letting his comedian's proclivities take over. No small feat.
Like American Werewolf, for its horror plus humor bravura and especially for its groundbreaking special effects, and to some extent, The Blair Witch Project, for its lo-fi, lo-funded, found-footage, Internet marketing savvy, this movie is an inflection point event film that certainly horror aficionados need to see. Seems I'm saying 'run out to the theater now, you're missing out'. But I'm not saying that. You're not. Not really.
I really liked Get Out, and want to see it again (and again), but I didn't love it. Last year's The Invitation was better and so was The Witch and The Babadook before that. Commentators laud Peele's film for its daring. I guess it is daring by today's low standards in that he dares, has the temerity to deal with racism and prejudice unflinchingly straight on without reaching for low-hanging liberal-guilt fruit, without wallowing in PCness, without trying to make an ideological, "important" film. That's daring, I guess. I'd call it good, honest film-making that cares about aesthetics, atmosphere, tone, story, and trying to scare you. But I suppose within the film business, given how next-to-impossible it is to get anything made, it is daring.
But, is it any good?
Yes. It is good.
The tone was suspenseful, the narrative fresh. It felt different than anything I'd seen and I was relishing the moment--I was seeing something really good and really new; the hype was to be believed. However, like so many horror films, the final third of the film fell flat for me. The rote and the ham-handed started kicking in. I'd hoped for more, given how fascinating, assured, original, and gripping the set up.
Critics and such have analogized Get Out to Look Who's Coming to Dinner as strained through the lenses of The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby. I think that's a good way to distill it. Peele loves horror, knows horror, knows how good and meaningful it can be, and it shows. The upshot is it’s cool, but not THAT cool, not enough to cause the movie world to comprehensively freak out as it seems to be doing.
You try to not set expectations before going into to a movie, but I have to say I was hoping for something more nuanced and deeply chilling, jagged, jarring, and unforgettable. This didn't quite do that, but it's much fun and it is a rather bold narrative, if not a little too snug with the residual Obama moment we live in. I still maintain: you want to see a scary movie predicated on race? 12 Years a Slave. I came out of that theater feeling like I'd just watched a horror film.
It's a sci-fi sub-genre: spaceship(s) park, stand inert, humanity freaks out, a battle, a reconciliation. The Day the Earth Stood Still, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, V, Independence Day, Contact, Signs.
Add to this list 2016's Arrival. Because it seemed squarely within this sub-genre, I blew this movie off as another lazy Hollywood rehash. A mistake, as it is an example of how art, nay, mere genre entertainment, can change a person.
In Arrival, monolithic vehicles--more Euro-rounded, sans serif, and parabolic but not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey's by way of ominous feel--show up. Check. The movie poster tells us this. But this film from its outset contains the nuance, tone, and atmospherics suggesting something darker, deeper, and awesome (in the non-flippant sense of that word). Awe.
Some elements of what makes a great film are here: exacting story-telling and pacing, pitch perfect score and sound, suspense, thrill, horror, fascination, existentialism (lowercase e), philosophy, deep emotion, sublimity. I wanted to hug my kids afterward, and did, seeing the infinite starshine in their eyes.
The writer in me genuflects. The reader in me thrills. This is one praiseworthy book. Tints of The Goldfinch swirled in with hues of The Hours gives you a decent picture of the sort of story this is, the atmospherics, mood, and tone, the elevated prose, and the themes that gird it. Compelling, haunting, a joy to read prose-wise, Dominic Smith keeps a tight line on what could easily become self-indulgent bloat. You can feel that artistic tension in the writing. A quietly gripping story rendered with some of the best prose I've ever read, period.
Larry Clark's famous photo essay of Tulsa's underbelly is more a portrait of the nation's collective crumbling edges than simply one city's, but being a native Tulsan makes it hit that much harder. The stories in these images are heartbreaking and chock-a-block with truth in harsh light.
This is arguably the best thing I set eyes upon in book form all year. Generally speaking, I feel like graphic novels adapted from stories or novels act to bastardize the original, but there are plenty of exceptions and this would be one of them. The emotion evoked by the art here accentuates rather than tries to supplant this infamous story's place in the literary canon. The lonesome aching horror in these images, especially the scenes of the town which remind us of the pathos in Edward Hopper's paintings, will embed themselves inside you.
Okay, so this is my new quarter-assed blog.
Why Third Person Omnivorous?
When the mood strikes I will from time to time post musings about books, movies, music, and sundry other cultural matters and such musings will likely come in a hoary and rigorous academic form, to wit: that sucked and that rocked. Will anyone care? Am I writing into the void? No and yes, in all likelihood.
These comments are not reviews and are not based on current releases, etc. It's just stuff I bumped into (or sought out) and thought to include.
Let's get on with whatever this is.
The Sellout - Paul Beatty -> Literally laugh-out-loud funny, written with dazzle and smarts, this year's Man Booker Prize winning un-PC satire is a stunner. What a foil and companion piece to Ta-Nehisi Coates. You could write countless PhD dissertations in Race and Literature from the fodder and steam coming off these two books. I think only David Sedaris at his best and Jeff Johnson's Horrid NFL Picks compete with how hard I laughed at this.
Geek Love - Katherine Dunn -> Sui generis bravura magical realism; earns its cult following and its National Book Award finalist placing. Been trying to read this for years and years. So glad I got around to it. I really can't say enough. Katherine Dunn died this year so I ran out to try to find this the day I heard, which I managed to do at a Half-Price Books in town. A clerk walking by saw me grab the only one from the shelf and made a point to tell me that Dunn had just died and that I was lucky to find the famous orange cover (the first by Chip Kidd at Knopf on Sonny Mehta's very first acquisition at Knopf; for all you publishing geeks).
Slade House - David Mitchell -> Scary, lyrical, nightmarish, brilliantly rendered. The house in Slade House is in league with the House on Ash Tree Lane, Hill House, and the Overlook.
Divine Grammar - Christian Tebordo (unpublished) -> Watch out for this one. Is it funnier than it is dark, or darker than it is funny? It's what the industry calls experimental satirical fiction. I call it good.
Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates -> Knock-out rhythmic prose delivers an important and true thesis: it isn't okay and probably never will be, son. This is a heavy and heady book I hope to read again and when I do I hope it isn't as on-point.
Devil in the White City - Erik Larson -> I'm kinda late to this party at the Columbian Expo in Chicago 1894 but, my god, how engrossing a read. I hear it's soon to be a Leo/Scorsese joint.
Songs I Really Liked:
Told You I'd Be with the Guys - Cherry Glazzer -> Bringing back fuck-you riot grrrl grunge a la The Breeders. With armpit hair.
Wow - Beck
Let Them Eat Chaos - Kate Tempest (LP; Oct. 2016) -> Wunderkind Londoner white-as-hell hip & hop poetess strikes agian. Gives me serious hope for the next generation. "The kids are alright but kids will get older."
Love Lost for the Bloodlust (LP) - Bobgoblin (2015) -> They do this 20 years after 12 Point Master Plan? Wow do I feel old and guilty for not kicking as much ass as they.
3000 AD - Purling Hiss -> Has that je ne sais quoi screw-it lo-fi wonderfully loose around the edges rock + pop sensibilty of Guided by Voices (when they deign to try), Husker Du, and Big Star.
Damn near everything (especially in EDM and house) KCRW Eclectic24 has been playing this year.
The VVitch - The naysayers on this one are all either whiny horror dorks who never take off their black outfits and faux amulets or they're pro contrarians who need to ingest some Ex-Lax toot sweet. Same people didn't like The Babadook. Screw them. This is a good movie. If you think it's too precious and art house, too bad. It is, but it isn't too. Ballsy--or should I say, ovarian--climax. “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
Hell or High Water - A lesser No Country for Old Men, sure, a little flabby there in the middle, a bit hollow, doesn't quite gel. Its parts simply equal its sum, but this is quite good upon second viewing. "On your deathbed, you'll think of me and giggle."
Weiner (documentary) - Jesus, does this film depict what attention whores politicians are. Because it's not just Carlos Danger acting like a prick on the scene of governance. It's all of them, each in their own special way. This may be the biggest danger they pose to the rest of us, their insatiable need. I felt I knew this already, but seeing this film confirmed it in a way that kind of made me ill. "Why did you let me shoot this?"
O.J.: Made in America (ESPN documentary) - Screen chocolate truffles dusted in crack cociane. This was surprisingly immersive, gripping, and it's the only thing I've ever binge-watched. I'd even say it's must-see important. "If she hadn't opened the door with a knife she'd still be alive."
I own 2 televisions. I do watch them, but hardly ever the "shows", so I'm a poor resource there. I mostly watch way too much infotainment and punditry, and then movies and EPL/La Liga. I thought Bill Maher and John Oliver mattered this year. Colbert is great, but I rarely watch as it's just another talk show; actors come on, yadda yadda. SNL--Saturday Not Live--flushed itself further into the sewage system of popculture irrelevancy. It's a brand destroyed as it's hardly ever live it seems and when it is half the skits are premade short set-piece films (again, not live), and well, they aren't exactly Belushi, Radner, Murphy, Farley, Hartman, Ferrell or even Fallon or Wiig are they? No edge. No spikes. Ditzy, dull, empire-corporate, totally forgetable, Millennial head-up-their-ass yuk-yuks about apps and such. And then normalizing The Don pre-election when he and Hillary go off holding hands like it's a reasonable-minds-may-differ scenario? Forget it.
I only really listen to one: Bret Easton Ellis. How can self-important talk about art and culture get better? BEE is a natural born contrarian and kind of insufferable sometimes but no matter because usually he isn't and the talk served up is timeworthy. Sam Seder on Majority.fm is good left politics talk. Sam knows his shiz and is funny.
Boy do I miss Twine Time. Boy do I miss Garrison. Writing on the Air in Austin (KOOP) is becoming a bigger and better thing, I think. I mean, Ha Jin and moi spoke into their microphone in 2016. Damn right.
Not a banner one, anno domini 2016, not from the perspective of what culture and media gave us, for we've got The Don and his crew moving their gaudy Vegas-cum-mob decor into the White House. Let's hope "they" don't puppeteer the Useful Idiot as I fear "they" might. I, for one, would very much prefer that habeas corpus remain intact.
Stay safe out there . . .
Happy New year.