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And…we’re out.

(Apologies for language in video.)

Well, it looks like someone went and made Alphonse into a movie.

Hello sophomore, my old slump…

So as I dig into Entry Two of Lives of Famous Catholics, I realize that I’m basically re-doing Entry One. A story about a film director (Guillermo Del Toro) pursuing a passion project (At the Mountains of Madness) that never gets made but nevertheless reveals something about his spiritual state, told from the perspective of a collaborator on the project (an illustrator). For that matter, Gaga Confidential also treats a failed artistic effort (The Secret Show), only it’s told from the perspective of an embittered fan who uncovers a link to a collaborator on the project (H.R. Giger).

I keep thinking back to the line from the opening to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History: “I suppose at one time in my life, I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.” Heh.

A Post about The Post

From the moment we linger on that typewriter in the opening scene, we know we’re watching a film directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. It’s pretty good, even great if you enjoy footage of the newspaper production process in the 70s—hot type, giant spools of paper, the whole Rube Goldberg machine for distributing a fresh pack of lies every day—which I do.

Yes, newspapers are in a sorry state these days, and no, perhaps not exactly for the reasons we’re lead to believe while watching The Post, but while everybody disagrees with everybody else when it comes to the how and why truth has become so imperiled, I don’t think anybody much doubts that it is, in fact, imperiled. Always has been, always will be. The Post is pretty good on the has been.

Phantom Thread

This was an excellent movie. Being written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, I knew it would be a good movie, but I didn’t know what to expect in a movie about a dress designer in London during the 1950s. I strongly suspect that the inspiration for the story came from years of reading fairy tales to his children, as a fairy tale is precisely the sort of story Phantom Thread is. We’re a long ways from Boogie Nights. I mean, I love Boogie Nights, and though I’m not suggesting Phantom Thread is any more appropriate for children than his ode to the porn community, I suspect it will wear better and longer.

The Master remains my favorite of Anderson’s films, even one of my favorite films ever, being a generous portrayal of the Master/Slave relationship comparable to Tolstoy. Phantom Thread, if not (to my eyes) quite as great a film, is yet a greater surprise, where in the end what matters most are the life and death stakes of marriage, a fairy tale for what happens after the fairy tale. No, I have no idea what I’m talking about. Still, don’t miss it.

Mr. Arkadin

I didn’t care for it, not at all. Watch Touch of Evil again instead, or even The Stranger. Above, you can listen to Welles deploy a Russian accent through an improbable beard as he regales partygoers with the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. Then compare it to versions from The Crying Game, Drive, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all of which you can find on the side bar.

Okay.

the-shape-of-water-sally-hawkins

So The Shape of Water (my review, for what it’s worth, is here) got a whole bunch of Oscar nominations. I’m gonna use that as my spur for writing Volume Two of Lives of Famous Catholics. See if I can get it done in time for the ceremony in early March. No title yet, but my subject is director Guillermo Del Toro. I know, I know — another film director? But I can’t help myself. For what it’s worth, I still hope to finish Gaga Confidential, perhaps pegged to the release of A Star is Born later this year. I have plans for the other four entries that will make up the eventual seven-story book, but there’s no sense in getting ahead of myself. Let’s see if I can do one.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

This wasn’t a very good movie, which I suspected would be the case because Bone Tomahawk, director S. Craig Zahler’s first film, wasn’t an especially good movie either. But it was fun to watch, was indeed a pleasure with a full plate of nachos and three glasses of rye, since when it comes to accruing my guilt, I like to do it all at once. I’m also a fan of Vince Vaughn, who looks like he stayed off the nachos and whiskey while making this movie.

I, Tonya

No, Margot Robbie looks nothing like the 15 year old she plays in the movie, or even the 18 or 21 year old she plays in the movie. With a little makeup, she does look something like what I assume the 40-something Tonya Harding must look like now. Still and all, Robbie turns in an outstanding performance in a biopic about a national joke who somehow makes good of her life against very long odds. Sure, she may have been in on a plot to deliver an actual kneecapping to her opponent. But. She really was a damn good skater.

Between Knopler’s “Romeo & Juliet” and “Dream a Littleness Dream of Me” sung by Ella, this might be my favorite soundtrack ever. In fact, the entire Sound Design was about as sharp as I’ve ever heard. The editing is worthy of Thelma Schoonmaker (so skillful at turning Scorsese’s chaotic collection of images into narratives with such a strong pulse), and the combination of spot-on acting by the four principles from a great script make the whole movie incredibly credible.

I admit that I take issue with the metaphysics in which the entire movie is grounded. You can hear it in the above trailer when Tonya says in the voiceover, “There’s no such thing as truth. It’s bullshit!” For one thing, there’s the logical problem in stringing together both statements, by which we can gather that, yes, there is truth, and that truth is bullshit. Not all things, and perhaps even few qualitative statements, are entirely true or untrue, and most any kind of story (μῦθος) is going to embody a very particular kind of truth that may or may not also cohere with Truth with a capital T (λόγος), but by baldly stating “there’s no such thing as truth” or “there’s only my truth” (as Tonya says towards the end of the movie), the entire story demands to be taken as a tissue of lies. I can only conclude that Tonya certainly was in on the plot to break Kerrigan’s legs, and doesn’t actually deserve the sympathy everything else in the movie—the sound design, the editing, and the more pedestrian elements of the storytelling—would lead us to believe it deserves. But of course it’s with those extremely seductive technical achievements that we in the audience are enthralled.

The credits at the end ran with real footage of Tonya skating, which is indeed beautiful and a kind gesture on the part of director Craig Gillespie. For a movie that has so many scenes in which the characters are anything but, it’s a finishing touch that affirms the improbable tone of the entire story. In short, while problematic as a parable for any life but that of the impenitent thief, I, Tonya is still a very good movie.

Hostiles

A very good movie, which reminded me a little of (the also very good) Meek’s Cutoff in its consideration of the mutual antagonism between Native Americans and White Settlers. The year is 1892, and the now safely united US government has all but finished clearing the way for westward expansion. Captain Joseph Blocker, who has himself done a fair amount of this clearing, has now been tasked with escorting a former adversary, Cheyanne Chief Yellow Hawk, from a fort in New Mexico Territory to the Chief’s ancestral lands in the newly created state of Montana. Violence ensues and then recurs like bad spells of the weather, meted out by both the U.S. Army and what Native warriors remain. Though, interestingly enough, not between Chief Yellow Hawk and Blocker, who need one another to fight other hostiles, Native American and Caucasian alike.

The friend with whom I watched it praised the movie for its story of a man growing beyond the racism with which he performed his duty to clear the territories by subjugating or killing people he refers to as “savages”. I saw that, but what interested me more was the way the knife’s edge between sanity and insanity was even sharper than that between violence and peace. In the end I decided that it was because of Blocker’s stubborn insistence on sanity that he is able to rise above the genocidal racism by which he has fought, and lay claim to the humanity he’ll need away from the battlefield. Uniformly well acted, especially by Christian Bale, and director Scott Cooper’s best yet.

Wow.

I almost think the opening scene of Nocturnal Animals is there to scare the moralists away via aesthetic assault. (It also serves a narrative/thematic function, sure, but…) Because after that, it plays out with the blunt trauma moral force of a Flannery O’Connor story, only without the promise of grace. Maybe it was the tequila watching, but I liked it a lot.