Over the course of this blog I have made various promises to you and our many reader. And because I hate loose ends it’s time for me to tie them up. I owe you some answers.
Loose End #1 – I should listen to Podcasts. Or should I?
In your May 10 post you urged me to listen to podcasts and I promised I would. As luck would have it, my new job has me spending about a million hours a day in the car (give or take a hundred thousand, depending on traffic), giving me both the opportunity and the desperate need for just the sort of immersive, meandering, extended entertainment that podcasts provide.
And you were right, Pal. They are a great way to pass time.
As for your recommended podcasts, I’m with you all the way, especially Comedy Bang Bang, for when I want to bust a gut, and WNYC’s Radiolab, for when I want to expand my mind. I wasn’t quite as taken with Professor Blastoff, but it’s still wonderful because of one thing: Tig Notara. Or, more precisely, Tig Notaro’s voice. If voices were food, Tig’s would be a soft, warm chocolate brownie fresh from the oven and served with a dollop of French Vanilla ice cream.
In addition to the excellent podcasts highlighted by you, Pal, may I also recommend a couple others:
Two smart guys talking all things movies, from classics to new. I always learn something, whether it’s an element of a familiar movie I hadn’t noticed before, or a recommendation to see a movie I’d never heard of. Plus, they do a list in every episode (e.g., top five haunted past movies)!
Now it should be pointed out that film reviewers have been known to lapse into pretention from time to time, and the Filmspotting boys are not immune. There’s one frequent guest in particular who says things like “you have to admit this is minor Kubrick”, or “this film just felt like a pale echo of Cassavetes.”
But such nonsense aside, it’s an enjoyable and educational listen.
Pal, you highlighted the live version of this program, but I’d like to also point to the primary program, where folks sit around and talk about and play music. This is the radio station I’ve been searching for for many years – unconcerned with genre, era and charts – focused solely on what’s good and interesting and beautiful for the ears.
I have officially added All Songs Considered to my A-list of resources for researching what new albums and artists I should be checking out, alongside Rolling Stone and you, Pal.
Loose End #2 – The Matrix is the greatest film trilogy of all time. Or is it?
Last November I called you crazy for saying The Matrix is the greatest trilogy of all time. I said the first film of the series is fantastic but 2 and 3 disappointed me nearly to the point of tears. At the same time I also acknowledged that I’d only see 2 and 3 once, so I promised to watch the trilogy again with fresh eyes and an open mind.
I have done so and I can now officially say, Pal, that you are still crazy.
But slightly less crazy than I thought.
My second time through the series I was better able to see and admire the cohesion of the Wachowskis’ vision, and I was better able to tap into their philosophy, a philosophy you described so eloquently in your post on the subject. And, no question about it, some of the action sequences in 2 and 3 are spectacular.
This trilogy proves that too much of a good thing is not a good thing. There are many cool ideas in The Matrix but they are all taken to the extreme. It’s all so extreme. Extremely extreme in its extreme-ness.
I feel pulverized by it.
There’s also the problem of Keanu Reeves. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the guy. His dopey wooden acting is perfect for certain roles…
… including the first Matrix, in which so much of the fun and suspense hinges on the question: “is it really possible that this goof is the saviour that Morpheus thinks he is?” Once we are told he is The One, and we move inevitably towards his crucifix moment, that spacey, deer-in-the-headlights delivery becomes more of a distraction. I find it too much of a leap to accept that, yes, this is the guy who will save us from the machines who have enslaved us.
All in all, the trilogy was a great way to spend a sick day in bed, and it brought me more joy and wonderment than I expected, but I can’t put it at the top of my list.
Loose End #3 – Paul Thomas Anderson is the greatest director going. Or is he?
In my first post, just about one year ago, I expressed my belief that P.T. Anderson is probably the best movie director working today, but that I would need to see The Master to confirm it.
Well, I have now seen The Master twice (once was not enough to process it), and I stand by my assertion about Anderson while recognizing that The Master is probably my least favourite of his films.
I have not yet seen his debut, Hard Eight, but I have seen everything since: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and, now, The Master. That’s an unbelievable run. Every one of those movies is ambitious, beautiful and indelible. They all have a look, feel and sound utterly their own. Each film is so unique, in fact, it’s hard to believe they were made by the same director. Anderson can conjure the late 1970s porn industry just as impeccably as the late 19th century oil industry. He can transport us behind the scenes of a cheesy TV game show in L.A., or take us on a journey across America to witness the birth of a global cult. And no matter where he takes us, it’s fascinating.
Hell, he even managed to make Adam Sandler loveable and interesting!
Yup, the man’s an artist all the way.
However, I struggled with The Master a bit. For the first time in an Anderson movie, I was a little bored at times and there were scenes I could have done without.
But big whoop. It’s still way more interesting than most movies. It’s beautiful – there’s a panning shot beside a ship that’s like a whole film unto itself – and it contains awesome performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, the beguiling head of a blossoming cult; Joaquin Phoenix, a lost and raging soul drawn into “the master’s” world; and Amy Adams, Hoffman’s fierce, unpleasant wife.
And it has some fantastic scenes, such as Hoffman interviewing Phoenix as part of his “processing”, and Hoffman and Phoenix, the caged animal, having an explosive blow-out in prison. If I were an acting teacher I would make all my students watch those two scenes and then I would say, “there, go do that”. And I would walk out of the room.
(It’s probably good that I’m not an acting teacher.)
But my favourite scene happens at a party where, for this first time in the movie, a character openly challenges the “science” of Hoffman’s philosophy. “Excuse me,” the man chirps again and again until Hoffman finally acknowledges him, leading to a debate that ends with Hoffman blowing his top. It’s the first time the master isn’t utterly charming. Snap! The spell is broken.
Of course the agitator at the party is absolutely right. I agree with him 100%. But I hate him just the same. Just like the characters in orbit around Hoffman, I have been under the master’s spell and this outsider, this intruder, is a jarring and unwelcome presence.
When a movie can make me fully feel one thing while knowing something else entirely, that’s a beautiful thing. That’s what a good movie should do – challenge us and keep us thinking.
And it’s what P.T. Anderson does every time he steps behind a camera.
So, for now, he is my number one (sorry, Coen Brothers – I still love you!)
So that’s it, Pal. I closed the loop. I paid my debts. That’s a load off.