I was thinking, wow I'm really letting myself get this one down to the wire here, but then I realized this is my own blog and the only standards I have to hold myself to are my own, and my standards are malleable! No special guest this week, but I've got something nice planned for next week, you'll love it.
Columbus follows Casey, a townie who’s far too talented and insightful to be living her life as a townie, and her budding friendship with disaffected big city career guy Jin, who is stuck in Columbus, Indiana (did you know there’s a Columbus in Indiana? I didn’t!) where he has to keep watch over his suddenly ill father. It’s a really beautifully shot movie that’s doing it’s best to be a really beautifully shot movie. The modernist buildings that are the focal point of both the town and Casey and Jin’s relationship are so stylishly depicted and so impeccably composed— it feels like the indie movie version of your photographer friend’s highly curated instagram feed. It’s like that One Perfect Shot twitter account made a movie. It’s beautiful, I know, I GET IT. But where is all the grit and personality and where are all the people and where are all the tiny little details going on in the background that could possibly ruin such a precious and perfect shot? Where’s the risk? It’s an entire movie composed of shots that, in any other movie, would be the most scenic and breathtaking moment of the movie, a chance to revel in beauty, but in Columbus sometimes it feels like an embarrassment of riches, or oversaturation at worst.
But! Maybe that’s a reflection of our characters’ attitudes towards modernist architecture?? Casey loves modernist architecture, she’s surrounded by it and she seems to be one of the very few people in the town who can appreciate the wonder of it all. When we see these beautiful shots, we see these buildings the way Casey sees them— overwhelming, unique, calming. Conversely, when we see scene after scene featuring these precise, modernist compositions and we begin to feel like this is too much, like maybe seeing so much of this at once is giving us a sense of diminishing returns, we’re seeing the town the way Jin sees it— emblematic of growing up surrounded by his architecture scholar father’s work, and being able to understand it, but never really connecting with it because in a way it’s all just buildings, it’s just background noise. Columbus’ strength lies in exploring the tension between these two people’s attitudes to architecture in the town, and in their friendship that develops from the give and take of people exchanging ideas and histories openly and honestly. It’s a slow, atmospheric movie (boring, if you will) that becomes more rewarding as you listen and open yourself up to it. I really liked it, but wow, thinking about it now, I’m kind of annoyed that there’s a whole monologue from one of the characters about how boring things aren’t actually boring, it’s just a matter of interests. Seems like a clever way to get ahead of people calling your movie boring, by anticipating that problem and writing a whole monologue about how it’s out of the movie’s hands if you think it’s boring. Actually, nevermind, that’s pretty funny, and I respect that about this boring movie that I like.
Jackass Number Two (2006)
Is there a better document of George W. Bush-era excess than this movie? I mean, sure, there probably are better examples, but were any of them as viscerally entertaining? It’s pretty amazing that these guys were able to turn this thing into such a phenomenon, but not wholly unexpected. I feel like humans have always enjoyed watching other people do stupid shit or put themselves at risk or some combination of the two at a safe remove, so the Jackass properties are really just tapping into that primal drive to laugh and be shocked at something from the safety of your own home. Going down the path of an intellectual approach to these movies is kind of dangerous because I can already feel myself wanting to earnestly type out “Is Johnny Knoxville a genius?” To which I’d say something like “No, but he is kind of a savant when it comes to purposefully putting himself in danger for our entertainment,” then there’d be some talk of Evel Knievel and the Three Stooges and blah blah blah whatever. This movie needs no explanation, it’s dumb as shit on purpose and it’s an incredible and overwhelming experience watching these men hurt themselves and each other in creative ways. It’s a movie that transcends language because it speaks the universal language of “get a load of these idiots!”
All of these guys are braver than the troops, but Johnny Knoxville is the star here for a reason. There’s this stunt where he and Bam Margera and Ryan Dunn purposely get shot by riot control weapons. They all watch the riot control weapon in action and everybody wants to skip the stunt, but Knoxville follows them out and insists “It’s just loud. It’s gonna hurt really bad, but it’s just loud.” Dunn tells him he’s nuts, and Knoxville replies, “No no no no no, c’mon. It’s footage.” There are a bunch of pranks and hidden camera things peppered throughout this movie, but it’s clear that Knoxville’s real passion is escalating the danger. In Jackass Number Two you get these glimpses of Knoxville as the leader of this pack, egging them on, constantly pushing his friends to do something stupid that they aren’t entirely on board with. It’s interesting watching this crew of friends get together for a good, gross dumb time, but there’s this sense that Knoxville is the one who’s pushing them all to think bigger. Sidenote: Why don’t they sit out stunts they aren’t comfortable with? Why can’t they say no to Johnny Knoxville? Do they feel they owe him for his making their careers? The answer lies in a look into the trappings of masculinity when surrounded by a big group of your male peers, compounded by the pressure of cameras on you the whole time, but that’s another thing altogether, and here we go again falling into the trap of intellectualizing Jackass. Why is it so tempting to intellectualize media that seems to present itself as anti-intellectual? Why can't I just enjoy the thrill of two men wrestling with an anaconda in a ball pit?
Anyway, do you think Johnny Knoxville wants to die— Fuck, I’m doing it again, aren’t I??
***THERE AREN’T ANY MAJOR SPOILERS IN HERE, I THINK, BUT THE MOVIE IS STILL PRETTY NEW, SO, YOUR CALL***
This is the one where The Rock is doing his Die Hard or his Towering Inferno or whatever other action movie you want to compare it to, whichever one you choose it’s going to be right. Skyscraper is a movie that wants you to recognize that it’s doing its own version of a whole bunch of action movies. There are homages to everything from Die Hard to Enter The Dragon to Mission: Impossible— Ghost Protocol to Backdraft, and it wields these homages so forcefully and obviously as a way to compensate for not really having anything original or subversive to bring to the table. That’s not to say it’s all bad, though. Plenty of fun action movies are part of that specific subgenre of “nothing new, but at least competently executed.” Skyscraper definitely nails that first point, but as for the second, I guess it depends on how you define “competently executed” for yourself. I thought it was fine, but if you’re the kind of person to let plot holes ruin your movie going experience, then you probably will not be fine with this movie. I don’t know, it’s summer, it’s a summer action movie, I’m not really expecting a whole lot, just explosions and heights and The Rock being likable, and Skyscraper delivers at least that much. Honestly at this point I’m just happy that it isn’t directly based on some superhero property or a franchise reboot or whatever. I’m easy to please.
Can I take a moment to shoutout the wave of action movies from the last couple of years that are co-produced by Hong Kong studios? I’m not aware of the actual financial aspects of movie making and I’m not really going to throw myself out as an expert on globalization or whatever, so sorry if this is a bad opinion, but it’s just fun to see these cool Asian actors popping up in these American movies that have to be set in Hong Kong because that’s where the money is. My favorite in this one was Hannah Quinlivan, who plays the cold blooded lady henchman that’s ultimately just around so that Neve Campbell has someone to fight besides Noah Taylor (Noah Taylor is in this movie, btw). Her performance feels like she’s in a movie that’s a completely different movie than Skyscraper, and her movie is a lot more violent and action packed. At one point she’s this close to shooting The Rock right in the face before she gets interrupted by some cops, then later she shoots some dumb hacker. She rules, give her her own just fine summer action movie.