Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thoughts on "Neighbors," Masculinity, and the May 23rd Mass Shooting



I saw the movie Neighbors a few weeks ago during our recent heatwave in Southern California. It was nice to retreat into an air-conditioned theater for a few hours, and I have to admit, since I came in expecting nothing beyond the Animal House platitudes and dick-jokes of your typical "College-sploitation" film, I enjoyed it and then some.

In it, recent parents (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne) have all but resigned to the banalities of domestic life, but sense reprieve in the arrival of a fraternity (headed by Zac Efron and Dave Franco) next door. As fate and second acts will have it, however, the party noise soon becomes unbearable for the couple, and a petty, comedic feud ensues. Throughout the film's 90 minutes, the viewer is subjected to just about every unenlightened notion of sex, drugs, and masculine pride our culture has to offer, yet, the context is as insulated in fantasy and implausibility as a car-chase in one of the latter Fast and Furious installments.


In fact, a huge part of what made Neighbors work for me was the fact that director Nicholas Stoller shot it like an action film. Relying on over-the-top stunts for many of its big laughs, it is decadent Hollywood absurdity down to the character profiles and ideas that inhabit it. So why can't Washington Post critic Anne Hornaday, who recently cited the film as a precipitating factor to May 23's mass shooting at UC Santa Barbara, get that?


Of course, these type of knee jerk reactions are to be expected following senseless tragedies, and are arguably disingenuous, given the headline-thirsty nature of the press. While it is certainly relevant to discuss pop-culture's hand in the pressure males face to "get laid" as a right of passage and measure of self-worth  -- and the Darwinian contest it can feel like for many -- nothing short of a severe, underlying mental illness can drive someone to murder 6 innocent people. 


Elliot Rodger, with his bmw and bizarre youtube videos, was severely mentally ill. A few of my more trivial observations about this include:


-Why is seemingly every psychotic manifesto but the Unabomber's so infantile and poorly written?


-Goddamn, if this Rodger kid isn't a dead-ringer for a splice of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman and Jay Baruchel's character in She's Out of My League, both physically and psychologically.


-Speaking of Patrick Bateman, Hornaday catches the similarity in her article, yet is clueless to the irony, as American Pyscho is, itself, a ruthless satire of the pomp machismo she decries.


Hornaday is absolutely right, however, in her article's closing statement. We're indeed "only as strong as the stories we tell ourselves," but fundamental to this is the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. I can go on, but Quentin Tarantino really says it best. Anne and Jan... The two of you...


Monday, March 10, 2014

Thoughts, Following True Detective's First Season Finale



Season One of True Detective was so utterly masterful, mind-blowing, and (fittingly) TRUE, that I don't want to go to school tomorrow. This marks the latest sequence in what, for me, is a recurring issue.


By this, I mean that on Sunday, October 22, 2006, when I was 14, I dropped acid for the first time. The next day, I dropped out of high school. 

Whether or not I could or should have stuck around back then anyway is another conversation, but what drove me to do so, fundamentally, was that, in light of my acid trip, I'd christened an utter commitment to what really mattered: The creative core of life itself, which I'd all but lost touch with.

If you're scratching your head and wondering what that has to do with a detective show, you clearly haven't seen tonight's finale, which wrapped up the first season's 8-episode anthology -- cause it fucking WENT THERE, maaan!

Nic Pizzolatto's brilliant writing and production throughout provides a definitive answer to anyone still unsure of TV is the industry's new auteur medium. Were True Detective's Season 1 to be considered an 8-hour feature, and slipped into the mix at the Oscars last week, it would have blown the big winners completely out of the water like the stale fish bait most of them were.

In the realm of TV itself, it's just been cemented as one of the best works in history. It was a fresh take on the age-old "hero's journey" from start to finish, and unlike so many narratives before it, managed to end on a note that was, yes, satisfying to the audience, but in a way so honest that it revealed what the viewers truly wanted in their hearts but, by and large (if the internet hysteria generated by the season's run -- the conspiracy theories and frothing anticipation for a lame supernatural twist -- was any indication), failed to even realize.

And so, while I do have the wherewithal to endure the banalities of school tomorrow, I'll do so slightly hungover, but for the most part, still buzzing with a renewed excitement for dramatic storytelling for the screen: its preserved integrity, and its bright future prospects as a medium to entertain on a cosmically profound and deeply humanistic level.

Props to Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, for the performance of his career, Director, Cary Fukunaga, and all the rest involved. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On the "Molly" Craze.

I find myself thinking back to a conversation years ago where a guy I'd met who had been raving since the late 80's explained to me that "the popularity of the rave-scene moves in cycles:" its biggest peaks were for a few years in the late 90's to early 2000's, and then, in 2008, when we were talking.  I doubt that even he could have anticipated the mainstream popularity still to come. Even though I caught the tag-end of the Los Angeles underground rave-scene actually being a "scene" back in 2006-7, I try my hardest not to condescend the kids into EDM (electronic dance music) parties now like I'm a "veteran," atop them in some sort of hierarchy. In fact, save the occasional wave of nostalgia, I'm entirely fine focusing on other things in life that have nothing to do with raving. With the scene so removed from my daily concerns, I haven't really cared to comment on the whole "molly" craze of the past few years, until now.

Back in my day (yes, "back in my day"), ecstasy was a sort of mystery pill. Sure, people hoped they contained the "pure mdma" or "pure mdma plus some exotic hallucinogen and/or opium" that their shady dealer "FluffyCuddles" promised them, but unfortunately, all but the few expert addicts able to sense a drug with a mere touch of their tongue-tip, were unaware of the meth that their pill/s most-likely contained until they were already chewing through their candy bracelets with mutant fervor. The cynical fact was, FluffyCuddles would gladly sell anthrax as ecstasy if he could get away with it. 

 Anyone remotely in "the know" during my days of raving was long clued into the fact that methy pills were standard fare. When one summoned the self-respect to refuse the ingestion of such an atrocious substance, but still felt like flooding their serotonin receptors like Hurricane Katrina, they would go for molly. Being that molly is simply white powder, there was of course, just as much chance for it to be "bunk," but since it was always a rare and valued commodity at the party, doing so could damage a drug dealer's reputation severely, so it typically came as advertised.




Enter present day: EDM music and massive events like the Electric Daisy Carnival are bigger than ever, Madonna names her album "mdna" and in a pathetic last-ditch attempt to remain relevant, asks her live crowds to cheer if "they've seen Molly," and Miley Cyrus and every rapper in the world abuse the term as their personal marketing slang. Presto, "Molly" is the new "it-drug." Now, applying what we've learned thus far, logic tells us that "it + drug = cut with meth," and according to Frank Owens' article for November's Playboy, recent lab tests of capsules acquired at a Miami night club (a type of establishment that, by nature, reflects only the most mainstream of trends) show that this is exactly the case.

As far as what this means for the future of mdma, I can't claim to be sure. First of all, it's not the end of the world for drug users. Pure mdma can still be found if one knows the right people, and to be frank, while a few mdma experiences can be cathartic and beneficial, someone who relegates their experiences of joy to time spent intoxicated has a whole new world of clarity to look forward to, should they tire of power-juicing their brain for its happy-chemicals. On a wider level, the sudden popularity of Molly in culture could go one of a few ways. With its current level of lip-service, it is prompting the typical "hide your kids" news stories, and "crackdown" attempts from square republicans who still think pot makes people gay. A darker age is always possible. 

However, the attention is also shining light on the research being performed across the globe by MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), which includes studies where veteran soldiers with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are administered doses of pure mdma to assist in their therapy, with promising results being shown. This is the type of focus that was put on mdma back when it was obscure in the 80's, and the approach initially taken with lsd prior to the hippie movement. It's great to see it resurfacing, and with an impressive amount of government approval. It is my hope that it continues, and I have a good feeling that it will. Trends and advertising campaigns change by the day, but science, ideally, is rooted in a reality that stands the test of time.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Movie Review: Only God Forgives

Instead of an aesthetic deepening and enhancing a story, hypnotic mood is the tale being told in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives;" So much so that the details of stoic drug dealer Julian (Ryan Gosling), his murdered brother Billy (Tom Burke), their toxic, vengeful mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), and a militant Bangkok sheriff (Vithaya Pansringarm) out to deliver justice by way of samurai-sword, are pushed to the periphery. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Its execution is highly ambitious, and at several stylistic high-points, gripping as hell.  

Writing, directing, and producing, Refn teams up with veteran Stanley Kubrick cinematographer Larry Smith (Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut) to seemingly evoke elements of David Lynch's "Lost Highway," Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," and Jodorowky's "Santa Sangre," which are melted down and mixed with an intoxicating original soundtrack from returning Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez, presenting a vision of the Bangkok underworld that is at once superficially breathtaking and emotionally void. Yet, the icy pain of the characters echo poetically into each frame. Julian in particular, wanders lost in a bardo of his own confusion; meaning well, but unable to connect due to deep scars of his mother's influence.

 Technical showmanship aside, the flaw of Only God Forgives lies in its confusing, anticlimactic ending, where Refn abandons the veneer of narrative coherence that holds the film together in its first two acts, opting solely to empower his own subjective symbolism. As Gosling himself stated in an interview, this "alienates" the audience, to no avail.  Still, I am left feeling optimistic about what we might see from Refn in the near future.

3/5


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Movie Review: Irreversible

Irreversible (2002) is the second feature of French director Gaspar Noe, and the feature debut of cinematographer Benoit Debie. Shot in second-person point-of-view, and revealed through reverse-chronology, it takes its viewer deeply into the very air of a tragic night in Paris where two men, lover (Vincent Cassel) and ex-lover (Albert Dupontel), seek revenge on a pimp who brutally raped and murdered their beloved Alex (Monica Bellucci) in a subway tunnel.

The film is as disturbing as one of its subject matter ought to be, which is precisely what makes it so impactful. Debie's camera spirals and shakes throughout, eliciting palpable qualities of chaos, grief, and adrenaline. However, arguably the most frantic moment (and I say "arguably" because parts of the revenge sequence make "Scarface" look like "High School Musical") is the rape itself, the film's one still-shot.

While absolutely not for the squeamish, Irreversible evokes just the right harmonies of tone and perspective to make a truly righteous statement. In an age when violence against women is trivialized -- mocked, even -- in pop-culture and politics, someone needed to portray the calamity of rape and murder accurately: the horrors of torture and violation, the vast ramifications blasted into the scheme of cause and effect to perpetuate its sting in unknowable ways, and the tragedy inherent in robbed potential. Gaspar Noe had the balls -- and talent -- to do it.


5/5



Saturday, March 23, 2013

Movie Review: Spring Breakers


For those unfamiliar with Harmony Korine's film-making, sitting through Spring Breakers must feel like being tricked into smoking crack. Luckily, having seen his 1997 film, Gummo, I came in with an idea of what to expect. No, the opening montage of beer-soaked tits and ass bopping and bouncing on the beach to the unrefined womps of Skrillex couldn't fool me. Shit was about to get really uncomfortable.

Best friends since kindergarten, college girls Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Faith (Selena Gomez) pout in cabin fever. With only a few hundred dollars between them, their plans to live out their mtv Spring Break fantasies seem dismal. However, a quick diner robbery sets their trip in motion, catalyzing a runaway train of debauchery that has them bouncing between chaotic St. Petersburg motels, lands them in jail, and eventually in the hands of Alien (James Franco), a local drug and arms dealer with an aspiring rap career. 

Faith, the meek anchor of intelligence and lone semblance of a conscience in the group, wisely takes off, while the other three girls lavishly test the limits of this newly discovered underworld. The subsequent inevitability of disaster introduces Archie (Gucci Mane, a rapper with an ice-cream cone tattooed on his face), Alien's former best friend turned rival gangster. From here onward, the train-wreck commences in unfortunate fashion.
  
I find myself asking how a movie can possibly offer so much of too much while lacking so much. The script, with its repetitious dialogue and flimsy third act, was a glorified outline, with characters just as hollow (save Franco). I question if my impulse to review it is authentically cathartic. A part of me feels it is necessary for my emotional well-being, while another voice insists there is no point in elaborating on such a masturbatory event.  

If Korine does one thing well, it is masquerading freak-show caricatures of American dementia in the faces of his viewers, and his signature harshness is particularly fitting and arguably necessary for the elements of Florida portrayed in Spring Breakers. It is a damning indictment in and of itself and works as art of some sort, but not as a feature film. As ring leader of such a depraved circus, Korine offers no solutions but, like Gomez's character along with a good third of the people in my theater, to gather oneself and leave. 

 Clearly, this is a film that relies on irony and shock-value, but the vacancy of its message is too cruel to call "satire." Any cinematic redemption comes at the hands of master cinematographer, Benoit Debie (Enter the Void), and an ingenious performance by Franco. Sadly, not even Alien's hilarious "look at all my shit!" routine, as he flaunted his guns, drugs, and money for the girls, could bring it together; Nor could his piano rendition of Britney Spears' "Everytime," the stylistic peak of the film.

 Korine's garbage nixes the wit and charm that made trash-cinema such as early John Waters films lovable, opting instead for an anger that is fundamentally lazy. What had potential as a fresh and scathing caricature of the hedonism and nihilism rampant today in pop-culture fell far short of its satirical aims and was left wading in the shallow current of those very waters.


2.5/5

Monday, March 18, 2013

Modern Science and Technology in Light of the Alchemical Impulse


  The technological advancement of the past decades and the direction of material science, most notably the atom-smashing experiments at Cern, strongly suggest that the Western mind is obsessed with manifesting a magical object. Will our technology soon become alchemical, and with clanging machinery, produce this golden "god-particle?" I don't want to deny the possibility. However, I am reminded of something said by the cynical anti-guru, U.G. Krishnamurti: "Say you attain this "enlightenment," what will you do with it!?" Statistics show that new technological innovation is first used for military purposes, and secondly, for pornography, so it would seem that if modern scientists did manifest what Terrence McKenna referred to as the "transcendental object at the end of history," archetypal rapture of hipster-futurism as it were, they would have NO IDEA what to do with it. 

  Brion Gysin, who first discovered the "cut-up" writing technique, said that "writing is 50 years behind painting." I feel it is reasonable to elaborate by saying that modern scientific research, with its materialistic, financial, and political biases, is hundreds, if not thousands of years behind painting. And speaking of painting, I am moved by those paintings which animate inner intelligence and inspire an ever deeper self-knowledge. While technology can prove supplemental to our lives, providing convenience and entertainment in astounding ways, I feel that this same artistic resonance of experiencing one's soul through a painting, film, literary work, or musical piece, is the height of esotericism to which technology and science can aspire.

  What will hopefully be realized in the long-run from endeavors like the atom-smashing at Cern, is that our scientific experiments are fundamentally giving us insights into the nature of the human mind conducting and observing them, more so than any "objective reality" outside of us. In the years to come, we may begin to see an increase in technology created intentionally for the sake of art, and conventional realms of scientific study becoming like Quantam Physics, where the findings themselves resemble mystical paradox more than proclamations of "ultimate and final truth."



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Movie Review: Inland Empire


Strung together purely by emotional cues, cryptic symbolism, and themes of infidelity, murder, and mind-control, David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” is a fractaline labyrinth of story and storytelling, time and timelessness, watcher and watched, horror, delirium, and the impulse to resolve.

In this hyper-surreal reality, we learn that actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is up for a new role. In fact, her foreboding new neighbor from down the road "definitely hears that she has it." Sure enough, she lands the female lead opposite Hollywood "bad-boy" Devin Berk (Justin Theroux) in director Kingsley Stewart’s (Jeremy Irons) new film “On High in Blue Tomorrows.”

This movie within a movie, based on an old Polish Gypsy folk-tale, focuses on an extra-marital affair. As we soon discover, it is the second attempt at the film’s production. The original, a German undertaking titled “Siebenundvierzig (Forty-Seven),” abruptly ended when the two leads were murdered. Rumor has it the script is cursed.

Disturbed but determined, Nikki and Devon assume their roles, but when the story begins to spill over into their own lives, a psychic roller-coaster ride ensues, complete with otherworldly colors, sounds, and moods, eerie rabbit headed humanoids, prostitutes dancing “The Locomotion,” Polish circus performers, an inter-dimensional phantom named Crimp, central traumas involving the death of a son and murder by screwdriver, a cameo by William H. Macy, a red lamp, a portal through a cigarette burn in a piece of silk, and an ever-looming camera.

As for what it all means, theories are abundant. Whether it ultimately depicts a troubled, fragmented psyche, a nightmarish case of quantum entanglement, or is, as Lynch himself insists, merely abstract art, he has out-Lynched himself and it deserves your attention!



5/5

Thursday, September 27, 2012

9/27/12

  Every new phone or pod or pad these days has it's own douchey "unveiling" where a beaming CEO raises it to the sky like Simba from the Lion King. I guess that's the top of the pyramid for techno-geeks, being that guy. I'll spare you a rant about how I wish all that time, energy, technological innovation, and designated social significance was applied to making civilization actually work -- Although that absence of emphasis never stopped people like Buckminster Fuller and Nikola Tesla from exercising their own initiative, so who needs it really? I guess what I'm saying is that I hope the military industrial complex doesn't snag up ALL the smart Asian kids before they start to get sensitive to the needs of a planetary awakening.


Friday, September 7, 2012

The (Immensely) Hypothetical Anarchist Argument for Mitt Romney


  Thankfully, I'm typing, so these words never have to actually leave my mouth. I almost hope Mitt Romney gets elected. Now PLEASE don't get me wrong, I'm not voting for him (or anyone). I only dare touch this taboo in an effort to splash some cold water on the faces of any supposed "liberals" out there who claim to actually "support" Obama this November.

  To regard politicians as "liars" and "whores" is ancient sentiment, but has unfortunately run shallow these past decades in America.  A mere figure of speech for the still staggering number of politically uninformed citizens, and cynical mantra for those who resign themselves to the presidential voting process, "lesser of evils" is the sash and crown for which Barack Obama and Mitt Romney infest our newspapers and screens in perpetual plea.  Call it youthful naivete, but I'm no fan of evil in any quantity, and for the first time since perhaps the late 60's, a significant percentage of this country's population vehemently agrees.

  The internet has become a miraculous medium to make truly trans-establishment ideas available to the masses, and has allowed for the popularity of films such as the "Loose Change" and "Zeitgeist" series, public figures like Ron Paul and Alex Jones, and of course, WikiLeaks and the Occupy Movement. In fact, through this abundance of information, a historically unprecedented number of people now understand (to borrow a phrase I heard on the radio recently) how the republican and democratic parties are two facets of the same entity, playing "good cop, bad cop"  a cabal of financial oligarchs seeking to eliminate individual nation-states in favor of advancing their skewed Babylonian fantasy of fascist world government through both subversive neo-liberal (ie corporatist – fascist) economic policies and brutal military might.

  While it is childish to assume that this elitist cabal, or "Illuminati," as some would call them for added effect, "rules the world" entirely, they surely rule the American political process. Through elitist think tanks such as the Bilderberg Group, they are careful to vet every major presidential candidate for a sufficient degree of sociopathy and/or dirt to comply with their agenda in full, and Obama is no exception. 

For those of you scratching your heads, allow me to illustrate some defining points of Barack Obama's first term.  Since taking office in 2009, he has extended the war in Afghanistan, allowed US participation in the NATO strike against Libya without congressional approval (a war crime),  and ordered hundreds of deadly drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Quite a hefty war record for a Nobel Peace Prize Winner (and how many other Peace Prize winners have secret "kill lists," besides perhaps Kissinger?).

 His war on the civil liberties of American citizens is just as aggressive. Obama not only approved a four year extension of the Patriot Act in 2011, but signed it's demented cousin, The 2012 National Defense Authorization act  a bill which allows Americans to be detained indefinitely, with no probable cause other than being a "suspected terrorist (a title shared in this country by infants and wheel-chair bound ninety-year olds alike)" – into law. 
  
In economic policy, he's arguably the biggest puppet for Wall Street and the multi-nationals we've ever had as president. Not only did he vote for the initial TARP bailout as a senator in 2008, receive more donations from Wall Street in his 2008 campaign than any presidential candidate in history, extend the Bush tax cuts, and appoint former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor to head the FDA, but he appointed Timothy Geithner and several other Wall Street insiders to key positions in his cabinet. Think about that the next time he walks out to give a speech to the tune of that one super-emotional Coldplay song (see his DNC speech).

 The healthiest way to approach the spectacle of this election is to regard it as trivial, and deny it the front seat in our world-views and daily considerations that the media insists it deserves. Hypothetically speaking, however, in this facade of "choice," perhaps we're better off with the guy who's blatantly awful? Obama has been everything a third Bush term would have been, but lacks the idiot cartoonish persona which made Bush so easy to detest. Obama policies in a Dubbya mask could have easily inspired 10 times the Occupy Movement of 2011 to have emerged as early as 2009. The truth is, it might take something as horrifying as a Mitt Romney presidency (a cartoon idiot if there ever was one) to, at the very least, revive a tangible anti-war movement in this country. If there is any inevitability to a contemporary American revolution – and there very well could be – what's the point in stagnating?  


Bibliography:

-http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228354.500-revealed--the-capitalist-network-that-runs-the-world.html
-http://www.globalresearch.ca/barack-o-bilderberg-picking-the-president/
-http://www.examiner.com/article/obama-pulls-a-fast-one-afghanistan-extends-stay-for-10-years
-http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/mar/18/obamas-illegal-war/
-http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2012/06/201262212049133358.html
-http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html?pagewanted=all
-http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/27/patriot-act-extension-signed-obama-autopen_n_867851.html
-http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml
-http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html?pagewanted=all
-http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/obama-bush-tax-cuts-middle-class_n_1659284.html
-http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_18866.cfm
-http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/apr2009/pers-a06.shtml