Dü You Remember?

Quick link to a podcast about Hüsker Dü, called Dü You Remember:

https://www.thecurrent.org/collection/husker-du/

(It’s also on iTunes, etc. I just searched for it in the Podcast app, but I’m still on iOS 10, before Apple completely fucked it, so your mileage may vary.)

This was a great five-part audio documentary on the band, from Minneapolis public radio’s The Current. It’s mostly interviews with the band and others (both Rollins and Biafra drop in) and covers the rise and fall of the Hüskers.

I was very late on the scene with these guys, being stuck in heavy metal land and all. I heard a few songs on those SST compilations, which I didn’t discover until right around the time they broke up. By the time I got to college and was surrounded by “college rock,” and later “alternative,” the conversation was more about “have you heard Sugar?” and I had to go backward and hunt down all the old albums.

The whole podcast was apparently conceived before Grant Hart’s passing this year, so there’s a lot of footage of him. Definitely worth checking out.

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Latest reading

I’ve given up on Goodreads, and I haven’t been tracking my reading as of late, and maybe I should be doing that. Here’s a few things I’ve finished recently, in no particular order.

Tim O’Brien – July, July

Probably twenty years ago, I had to read The Things They Carried for an undergrad writing class, and it made me dig into the rest of his catalog. For some reason, I dropped the thread on his writing, and then he popped up in the Ken Burns Vietnam thing on PBS, so I looked him up again. This one is about a 30-year college reunion of a 1969 class of a small university outside of Chicago, and it’s an interesting but slightly problematic character study. It follows a slightly too large cast of characters, showing where their adult lives started and how they got to where they were in 2000. That part can be one-dimensional, and it’s hard to keep track of the various marriages, divorces, lost loves, cancers, heart conditions, careers, and failed careers. There are glances of things that have a lot of depth, like a Vietnam vet who was injured in the war, or another guy who ran from the draft in Winnipeg. It was a fun read and an interesting concept, a good way of just writing about the then-and-now of people. But a lot of reviewers didn’t agree, and it’s not like his other work, so there’s that.

Denis Johnson – Tree of Smoke

Also related to the Ken Burns thing. I read this when it first came out ten years ago, and ever since Johnson passed earlier this year, I’ve been meaning to get back to it. I think the book held up, and was possibly better the second time. It essentially follows the story of Skip Sands, a CIA operative whose uncle Francis is a retired Colonel and who also works for the agency. I think the first time I read it, I’d recently read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and my brain was still stuck in that version of Vietnam; this time, my mind was within the footage from the Burns documentary, which worked better. It’s amazing to me how the guy who delivered such compact and highly-efficient writing in the 150-some pages of Jesus’ Son was able to belt out 600+ pages with the same line-by-line potency, but of heavily historical and accurate information. It’s like a flyweight boxer who clocks in at 112 pounds gaining a hundred pounds of pure muscle to qualify as a heavyweight, but still fights with the same game as he did half a body ago, but he’s doing that times four. Amazing stuff.

Nick Bonner – Made in North Korea: Graphics From Everyday Life in the DPRK

A full-size flexicover book with color reproductions of the graphic design from within North Korea, as collected by a Beijing travel expert who visits regularly. It’s a strange collection, with all the “store brand” products put out by the government, designed by pen-and-ink pre-digital artists, often cribbing old Soviet designs, and of course working in various patriotic angles and images of Dear Leader. Some of the anti-American comics are a hoot. Plenty of small essays describing Bonner’s travels are nice, but the artwork is the real treat here.

Skylab Reference, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) Press Kit and Flight Plan

This is the kind of crap I read when I’m sick or otherwise can’t pay attention. I fell down a space station k-hole right around the time I came down with a cold, so I got lost in this for a few nights. (The reason for the k-hole: astronaut Paul Weitz from Skylab 2 passed away a few weeks ago.) It’s a three-ring binder with copies of the press kit for the original launch of the Skylab station, with a bonus press kit from the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous mission. Lots of dry government tech writer copy on space toilets and food stowage and time schedules and communication frequencies. Plenty of old pre-computer illustrations of what storage lockers and tools are mounted to what bulkheads, although some of the drawings didn’t reproduce that well. Still, fun stuff.

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Mindhunter

I marathon-ed out Mindhunter over the last few days on Netflix. I couldn’t remember the damn name, and for the first few episodes, kept calling it Brainminder, which sounds like a Tupperware product for zombies. Anyway.

It’s a David Fincher-produced thing – he also directed four episodes. Set in 1977, early days of FBI profiling, a couple of agents are both working active cases and going to prisons to interview notorious “sequence killers” to find out what makes them tick. The big selling point is the spot-on portrayal of Ed Kemper, which has already been discussed to death in every other article about the series. Agreed, but I won’t bore you with the story that he now narrates audio books for the blind in prison.

I liked that this was set in 1977, but it doesn’t burn insane cycles saying “hey look, it’s 1977!” That was one of my criticisms of the one-and-done Scorsese-produced Vinyl, which spent way too much time and money depicting a gritty, punk, New York. Mindhunter has the old cars and the rotary phones and reel-to-reel tape recorders, but they aren’t the main character of the series. This reminded me a bit of Fincher’s work with Zodiac, which I ultimately didn’t love, but I appreciated that the focus wasn’t to make the background the character.

I did like Mindhunter’s character development, which was sort of atypical. There’s the “new guy” Holden Ford, and the “old guy” Bill Tench, a common trope for crime fiction. But it’s not a “the old guy is dumb and the new guy tells him how modern life now works” or “the kid is a newbie, and the old guy lays it all out for him.” It’s very non-binary in that both of the characters have some advanced insights and key knowledge, but also have their own shortcomings. It does both of the tropes, but mixes them together in a more realistic way, with the two characters playing off of each other. There’s also the two sides of the institution, the new, groundbreaking professor, and the FBI old guard, and those are a little less nuanced, especially the FBI, but they do feed in little bits of development, especially with Wendy Carr, the psych professor.

The finale — I won’t go into details, but I read from multiple people that it threw them, and it didn’t bother me. It was no Twin Peaks on the WTF scale of the finale, and it didn’t bother me. But I’m not everyone, so who knows.

It will be interesting to see where the show goes in a Season 2. They were vaguely following the antics of a killer more or less modeled after Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. They were mostly just setting it up, though. Maybe the next season will get into that more.

Standard disclaimer applies to any of these VOD shows: it’s great, I watch it in two or three sittings, and then I have to wait six months or a year to get my next fix. I sometimes wish they could crank out five seasons at once, but obviously that’s not an option. (Unless I find out about it three or four years after it happens.)

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Donald Cried (2016)

Donald Cried is a film in the “you can never go back” camp, but it’s also more about the estranged relationship between two friends who were inseparable as teenagers, but took completely different paths into adulthood.

Originally a short by independent filmmaker Kris Avedisian, this was expanded to a feature-length affair with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The film starts with the protagonist Peter returning to his home town in Rhode Island to handle the affairs of his recently deceased grandmother. He left the small town a dozen years before, and went to New York City to reinvent himself, forget his past, and work on Wall Street. The problem with his quick overnight trip: he’s lost his wallet, so he’s stuck at his grandmother’s old house with no cash, no ID, and a to-do list of funeral home, nursing home, realtor, and everything else involved in closing the last of his involvement with his old life.

With no other options, he turns to his last lifeline, and meets up with his old pal Donald, who he hasn’t seen since high school. Donald is a stoner dropout who lives in his mom’s attic, works part-time at a bowling alley, and is the opposite of Peter, stuck at the same point he was back in the glory days of high school. We quickly find out that Peter was once cut from the same cloth, and had the same love of heavy metal and juvenile delinquency. Peter just needs a ride to pick up his grandma’s ashes and empty out her nursing home, plus a few bucks for bus fare back to the city. Donald is ecstatic about the triumphant return of his old friend. Antics ensue.

I always have a certain nervousness when returning back to Indiana, and that’s captured too well in this film. It’s a mixture of “this could have been me” and flashbacks of the past that bring out the “man, I was an idiot back then.” My nostalgia issues are a bit contrary to Peter’s in the film, though. He’s trying to remain unseen, and not get entangled in the past. For example, the realtor he gets is a woman he went to school with, and that he had some feelings for back in the day, but he initially acts as if he doesn’t remember who she is at all. I’m not saying I seek out people and reunite with them (I did have an ex-girlfriend sighting at a mall a few years ago, and I ducked in another store to escape) but I do seem to seek out old landmarks and get too mentally involved with the ghosts of the past.

The real star of this movie is Avedisian, who plays the character of Donald. He’s this lanky, bearded guy with an awkward Ray Romano-sounding voice and a Keith Moon haircut, and he’s completely cringe-worthy in his total lack of a filter. This starts as a truly hilarious character, like a Mark Borchardt from American Movie, except with no ambition to make films. At first, he’s just the funny guy to the straight guy, but then you become sympathetic to him, feel sorry for him. My feelings bounced between “wow, what is with this dude” to “wow, how could Peter help this dude get his shit together.” And the latter is a strong one for my personal experience, so it really got me.

The small town setting was also big for me. Warwick isn’t a “small” town — it’s the second-biggest city in Rhode Island. But, it’s only 80,000 people, and what is captured in the film is the small town feeling of cruising at night, bowling alleys and convenience stores, little houses, and that feeling that a lot of people never leave, never forget high school, never move on. The duo go, on Donald’s insistence, to visit another one of their high school buddies. When they get there, he’s sitting in bed, unmoving, watching cage fighting matches on TV, like he’s never left the house in fifteen years. Or there’s the bowling alley manager, a burly guy actually played by former WWF wrestler Ted Arcidi, who’s in his office showing a teenaged cashier his grainy VHS tapes of when he used to be a powerlifter back in the Eighties and could bench 700 pounds. It’s an interesting backdrop, and really sets up why Peter left, and why it is such a strange yet compelling place to visit.

Overall, I have only one big problem with this film: I wanted to write a book that was almost exactly this. I started outlining it two years ago, when I went back to Indiana for a weekend. I had the backdrop, and I thought I had the characters. But I never could quite break the story correctly. And Avedisian showed me that I really didn’t have the depth needed to get the characters down. I gave up on the idea a while ago, and now I’m stuck on the thought that I really should do something with it, but of course if I started working on it, I’d unconsciously ape exactly what he did.

Anyway, it’s on iTunes for rent right now. Not for everyone, but I found it pretty entertaining.

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City of Gold (2015)

City of Gold is a documentary about Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold. I’m ambivalent about the current spate of foodie-oriented TV and movies, but this was less of that and more about an interesting and quirky artist, and the real main character was the city of Los Angeles.

One of the main focus points is how Gold is the champion of the off-the-beaten-path restaurants, largely immigrant-focused. It’s a healthy counterpoint to the current post-election culture that has swallowed the news cycle, and the doc shows several examples of how he championed a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and made their business explode. An example was Meals by Genet, a restaurant in Little Ethiopia on Fairfax run by Genet Agonafer. She fled Ethiopia for LA with her young son, and struggled through the usual low-pay food service jobs. Her son, through her support, eventually grew up, went through medical school, and became a doctor. When the space on Fairfax opened, he maxed out every credit card he could find to get her restaurant going. When Gold reviewed it, she could not cook fast enough to handle all the new traffic, and now she’s flourishing because of his nod on the 101 Best Restaurants list he publishes.

There are several stories like this, where he writes about his favorite Thai food, taco trucks, Korean places, and works the Pico strip, eating at every small ethnic restaurant along its length. And that’s why I say LA is the main star here. I’m unapologetically a massive fan of Los Angeles, and wish I would have spent more time than the brief half-year I lived there in 2008. There’s some city planning porn in the doc explaining how LA has multiple city centers, and grows outward from each one. Many people — mostly those who have never spent any time there — decry this sprawl. But it’s a feature, not a bug. It means different parts of the city blossom and grow to provide different experiences for a widely diverse population.

Sure, that sprawl means unending chain restaurants. You’ll find at least 150 McDonald’s chains in LA county. But it means there are so many spaces for weird, eccentric, or authentic food. This is one of the big surprises of the city, and shown well in the film. There are big Zagat-reviewed fancy places in LA, which are all stuck in the 90s. But you can roll into a mini-mall in El Segundo and find mind-blowing food from any country or region of the world, sitting next to a cash-for-gold place.

Gold writes for the LA Times, but the movie shows his ascension through the ranks. He started at the LA Weekly as a proofreader back in the early 80s, when he was studying cello at UCLA. He moved up to music editor, then got into food. There are so many interesting intersecting paths here; he’s got the connections to the food criticism world, and you see Robert Sietsema, Calvin Trillin, Ruth Reichl, and so on. But he’s also a regular on KCRW. He was a champion of the early LA gangsta rap scene, spending time with Snoop Dogg in the studio while he recorded his first album. He played with the post-punk band Overman. He was around for the early 80s punk scene with X and the Germs. And it seems like he’s had a thumb in every little food scene within LA, from the old Jewish delis (he actually worked in Spielberg’s mom’s deli back in college) to food trucks to everything else.

One of the things I liked about the film was showing Gold, how he lived in a house filled with books on every horizontal surface, his close relationship with wife Laurie Ochoa (now entertainment editor at the Times) and his struggles with writer’s block, even though he still publishes 150,000 words a year. He’s a jovial looking guy, with long hair and always with a smile on his face, and it’s humorous to see him pecking at his Macbook at the kitchen table, then wandering off to pick up some random book and not get to a review his editor wanted yesterday. We’ve all been there, but I think the rewarding thing was to see him struggle with it and then at the last second crank out such engrossing and descriptive criticism.

The only sore spot with this film is it really, really made me want to go back to LA. Watching those long pan shots of the strip malls and restaurants of West Hollywood and Koreatown and Culver City and Sawtelle gave me such overwhelming nostalgia for the place. There are things I like about Northern California, but we don’t have city centers like that. We have downtowns surrounded by bedroom communities, and it’s just not the same. Yeah, the traffic sucks, but the traffic here sucks too, and we don’t have 350 days of sunshine a year and such an overwhelming food scene. I really wish I was back, to drive down Pico and look at everything, even if I do just end up at Norm’s at three in the morning, eating pancakes. Great film.

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Everybody Wants Some!!

Richard Linklater’s new film is titled Everybody Wants Some!! (two exclamation marks.) It’s vaguely named after the Van Halen song, but it’s a movie about going to college to play baseball in 1980. It’s sort of a Dazed and Confused of college, or at least that’s how it’s being sold.

I love Linklater and his films, but I felt this one fell flat. He’s a director that’s much more about moments than plot, and that’s fine. But his plotless movies generally have some device that links together all of the moments, and there wasn’t anything like that here. For example, the movie Boyhood had the scaffolding or gimmick of it being shot over twelve years; Slacker had the idea of leaving one scene on a character and moving to another as you wandered around Austin over the course of a day. This one vaguely had the idea of the first weekend before college, but that’s about it.

The story is pretty straightforward: a guy goes to a Texas college in the fall of 1980 to play baseball. Girls in shorts, bonging beer off the deck of the old house, bunch of jocks living together, etc. The cast of characters on the baseball team: the 5-tool all-american; the dumb type-a guy; the weirdo stoner talking about Carl Sagan; the token black guy, etc. There’s the beautiful non-jock artsy chick the baseball player falls in love with. The coach says no alcohol in the house, smash-cut to scene of keg stands and riding a mattress down the stairs through a wall of empties. You know the drill.

I think part of the reason this didn’t resonate was there wasn’t much depth or feel to any of the moments presented. In a movie like Boyhood, you come out of it knowing much more about the character Mason and his transformation, not only because of the depth covered over the years, but because of his interaction with “real” characters like his mom and dad, also going through their own transformation. There was very little of that here, of the jump from high school to pseudo-adulthood, to being away from parents and on your own, surrounded by other people in the same predicament. There was a token amount of coverage on this, discussion about how all the jocks (and the theater people) were the best of the best at their schools, got to start in sports or were cast in the lead parts every time, and now were competing with the best of the best from every school in the state and beyond. But this was just mentioned, skimmed, and I didn’t feel much out of it.

The nostalgia trip was also much more incomplete. There were a few old cars, a few references to old music, some people in period-correct clothes, a walk through the quad with a “Carter ’80” booth, and so on. But it seemed like Hollywood central casting, and a very quickly assembled version of a “hey, remember 1980” without much grit or substance to it. And the soundtrack, which everyone raves about, was painfully bad for me. It was the most generic of 1980 greatest hits, and not much as far as deep cuts could go. Throw together “Urgent,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Whip It,” and fucking “My Sharona,” which is like the scratch music you’d use in a trailer about a teen comedy before you picked the real music. Also, there were attempts to graft on the completely different scenes of the the era, like the characters were wandering across a backlot and went through the different sets, like the chase scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Hey, it’s a disco! It’s a country bar! It’s a punk squat! It’s a weird art party! I am guessing there would not be as much scene-crossing in collegiate Texas, and this was an example of taking on too much.

Another big reason this didn’t resonate with me is that I personally didn’t experience any of this in college. I know Linklater actually did go to school to play ball, but my experience was completely different. I went to high school in a jock-centric world, and when I got to college and moved in the artsy-fartsy dorm, the view of jocks was “well, we don’t have to deal with that shit anymore.” And the idea of party montages of mud-wrestling bikini-wearing coeds over a song by The Knack was something from bad eighties movies about college, not reality. This movie was less about the college experience and more about nostalgia for Animal House and every other movie of its ilk.

I hate to be so critical of the movie. I love Linklater’s work, and I’m the asshole that wrote an overly long nostalgic book about college. But this one didn’t work out for me.

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The Big Short

The Big Short is a film adaptation of the Michael Lewis book of the same name. But in a similar fashion as Dr. Strangelove being a version of the Peter George thriller novel Red Alert, this film is done as a dark comedy, directed by Adam McKay. It’s an oddly-toned film, not a ha-ha funny comedy, but more like a comedy based on the absolute absurdity of the collapsing ponzi scheme of the credit default swap market of the mid/late 00s.

The plot follows a few players: a borderline-autistic hedge fund manager (Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale) who’s got one eye and a Supercuts bowl ‘do, used to be a doctor, blasts thrash metal in his office, and walks around wearing no shoes and the same t-shirt and cargo shorts every day, but is able to zero in on the housing bubble before anybody else. When he calculates that the mortgage industry is going to collapse in about two years, he goes to Morgan Stanley and purchases a fairly new financial instrument which enables him to bet on the collapse of the housing market, which he could do without actually owning any of said market. It’s essentially like taking a fire insurance policy on somebody else’s house. And because the banks thought that metaphorical house was fireproof, they were more than glad to sell him a billion dollars of fire insurance and take his money.

Ryan Gosling plays a trader who hears of this scheme, and accidentally hooks up with a damaged, type-A personality hedge fund manager played by Steve Carell and his ragtag team of misfits. There’s also another team of garage band young investors partnered with a retired banker played by Brad Pitt (whose Plan B produced the film) and gets in on the action.

The movie covers some of the background of the predatory lending market and absurdity of the housing run-up, like mortgage companies handing out loans to people with no income and no jobs (a so-called NINJA loan), but is fairly light on this information. I think the film would have been much more preachy if they spent any time on it (and it already clocks in over two hours) but there’s certainly the case that a different film could cover this human angle much more.

Instead, this film blows through the Manhattan banking side, and at a quick pace. McKay does try to explain this slightly by breaking into celebrity cameos, for example having Anthony Bourdain explain repackaging bad mortgages into investment vehicles by explaining how old halibut is repackaged into fish stew for the Sunday brunch crowd. Even with this, it might be well beyond the ability of an average civilian to grok all the financial background here. I recently read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia, which was a good high-level introduction to the financial crisis (albeit sensationalized, Taibbi-style. And cognitive bias trigger alert: he skewers Obamacare in the book, calling it a gross giveaway for the insurance industry, which, as much as I love affordable health care, is largely true.) Anyway, without that background, I would have been lost. But with it, the total absurdity of the scenario becomes hilarious.

The other thing I appreciated about the film was the near-past nostalgia aspect of it. The trading aspect starts in Manhattan in 2005, only a few blocks from where I worked at the time, and my company at that time had most of the major players involved as customers. As the timeline of the film advanced, I spent a lot of time in the back of my head calculating where I was or how the events correlated to my own timeline and when I left the city (about halfway through the film.) I also kept an eye on the backgrounds of the street scenes, looking for anachronisms. (License plate colors, guys! And a Ralph’s in Florida?)

Overall, an interesting film. Best picture-worthy? I don’t think so, but it was entertaining without being too preachy, and the absurdity of the black humor made it enjoyable for me.

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Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies

I remember buying a copy of Hated, the Todd Phillips documentary about GG Allin, in 1995. It was right after my last student loan disbursement, and I bought a copy on VHS at Karma Records for some outrageous price, like $40 or $50. Blockbuster didn’t have this one as a rental, and this was way before torrent, so I ponied up full price and bought my own copy. I was with my pal Larry, and we went over to his apartment and watched the tape, hoping for some insane footage of the then-deceased shock rocker.

I remember at the time being somewhat unimpressed by the movie; this was before YouTube, which made the notoriety of characters like Allin much larger. Unless you caught the Geraldo show or traded video tapes with someone who recorded it, the only exposure (no pun intended) to GG’s antics would be third-hand, like the way urban legends used to be spread. That’s where I heard about him — I used to hang out in this bagel shop with this punk guy named John, and in 1992, while he played Hated in the Nation on the store jambox (much to the chagrin of the store patrons) he told me all about this guy who ran around stage naked, beating up fans, shoving the mic up his ass, and cutting himself with bottles.

I remembered the movie as being a bit flat, not capturing this rawness, and being a bit of a let-down. After the first viewing, I almost completely forgot it. It’s something that pops in my head when I fall down a k-hole about GG or old New York, but I haven’t revisited it, until yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised at what a nice little time capsule of the early 90s New York this has become.

Hated was directed and produced by Todd Phillips, who later became an accomplished Hollywood director of such films as Old School and The Hangover. But this is anything but a Hollywood blockbuster. It was filmed when Phillips was a junior at NYU (and employee at Kim’s Video) with a budget of only $12,000. The film looks like a student film, and is even more dated now, in a pleasant way. It resembles 1970s news footage shot on film, then tele-cined to betacam video and back to film again, with old pre-computer titles and washed out lighting.

My first thought on this was that it reminded me of a Nick Broomfield movie, like Kurt and Courtney, which I also saw recently. It had the same feel, with voiceover between segments, establishing the story. Phillips isn’t actually in the film, in the same way Broomfield does the on-camera gonzo interviewing. But I looked it up and there’s a good interview on the Suicide Girls site where Phillips said Broomfield was a huge influence for him to get into documentary.

Another reason I really liked this film was it captured a New York that is now gone, an early-90s lower east side grimy New York. If you consider a generation to be twenty years, New York moves at five times that speed; a mayoral term is four years, and the average restaurant lasts a year. At any given point on Broadway, every business will have turned over in four years. When I arrived in 1999, there had been at least two cycles of this renewal, and there were only small hints of this old world for me. It was like standing in an average city in 2000 and thinking about 1960, like the level of nostalgia Mad Men brought about, any time I would see a speck of graffiti from the era of this film. So I really loved the washed-out views of St. Marks and alphabet city in this.

(Side note: GG’s last show was at a club called the gas station at 2nd and B. Here’s a great article about it, with some film: http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com/2015/01/2b.html. The site of this infamous club is now a Duane Reade and high-end condo.)

The film is hilarious, in an unintentionally hilarious way. GG’s brother Mearle and other various hangers-on are over-the-top bizarre, and even though they are being straight-up serious, I could not stop laughing at them. It’s a total Jerry Springer guest type of humor, but the film takes it further by showing the various scatological antics of the crew. It’s not for the squeamish; like there’s a scene where they get a hooker to piss in Allin’s mouth at a barbeque, and he starts puking up beans and franks while she’s squatting over him and urinating on his face. So it’s not exactly family entertainment.

The film in general though made me think more about who the “real” GG Allin was, and if such a persona could survive in today’s always-on media. Phillips has professed that Allin only acted the way he was when he was drunk or high, and that drugs fueled this persona. He claims that when he was sober, he was a calm and rational guy you could hold a conversation with. It seems like in the days of paper news and videotape journalism for only an hour a day, it was easier to ration out his antics, to only go insane and knock teeth out for a rare show, or save the “I am Jesus and the Devil and I will die for rock and roll” speeches for televised court appearances. Could he have kept up the persona in an era of TMZ, 24-hour news cycles, and every passer-by carrying a video-enabled iPhone? Would he have killed himself much sooner? Or would he have become a person like Marilyn Manson, who had a brief tenure as a crazed satanist, then vanished from the limelight and spent years holed up in a mansion with various Hollywood starlets?

I feel like GG was close to his persona, the product of deranged parents and crippling substance abuse issues. But I also think it could have been the ultimate Kauffman-esque ruse. Most people dismiss his music as noise, but sometimes I listen to Hated in the Nation and think this stuff is far too catchy to be written by a completely blotto drug addict on the verge of murder/suicide. And I wonder if total exposure in the media would have cracked the shock-rock image and showed a person behind it.

At any rate, this is worth seeing if you’re interested. I believe this was re-released on DVD with more footage from GG’s funeral, although once you fall down a YouTube k-hole, you’ll see it there, too. (A good starting point is this three-part camcorder video of the riot ensuing after GG’s last performance at the gas station: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F9yk8X1TAw)

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Ex Machina

Finally saw Ex Machina last night, which I didn’t see in theaters for whatever scheduling reason earlier this year. I liked it quite a bit, for a few reasons. It’s a basic premise: The Island of Doctor Moreau, but robots. Oscar Issac plays a brogrammer CEO of a google/facebook type company, hunkered down in some remote location Lost-type secret bunker to develop an AI robot. Domhnall Gleeson is a nerdy programmer who wins a contest to spend a week at the hidden fortress and run a Turing test on the robot’s AI. Antics ensue, what is intelligence and reality, etc.

The first thing I took away from this is how writer/director Alex Garland uses Issac’s character to depict the trend of uber-genius CEO types in Silicon Valley, and how they all want to become god in some grandiose way, be it creating driverless cars or their own private space program or achieving the singularity. It was an interesting jab at this current industry trend, a nice touch to the typical genius mastermind profile.

The other thing I really liked about the movie was the general feel of this British indie sci-fi genre. The movie it reminded me of in some odd was was 2009’s Moon, not in content, but in the ambience. Both had a modernist desolation, where the technology was futuristic but realistic, and the general mood of the film was enhanced by the director taking the pace slow, with lots of dead space around a muted action that gave the opposite effect of a glossy science fiction future with an artificial sped-up bustle to it.

I really appreciate this school of thought, because I always feel that the future isn’t about this “bustle” — I think there’s an expectation, based on eighties sci-fi or even older Asimov-type books that these super-populated worlds of fifty billion people in deeply-tiered cities will mean a great unity of humanity, that you would always be interacting with other people. But I have a strong feeling that as population grows, people will be more alone, more desolate. It’s the way I felt living in New York; at any given time, I was surrounded by thousands of people, yet I felt far more alone than when I was in the middle of nowhere in the midwest. These films seem to capture this perfectly, that Ballardian loneliness, and I really appreciate that.

The plot of the film itself has the requisite number of twists and flip-flops to keep a viewer interested, and Alicia Vikander is certainly easy on the eyes. But my main takeway from the film was the general feel of it, which I can barely describe, but it makes me greatly appreciative of this type of film, outside of the Hollywood summer tentpole billion-dollar sci-fi mega-blockbuster, which often seems like the only way sci-fi films get made these days.

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The Wolfpack

(I have a half-resolution this year to try to write down something about every movie I watch, which I’ll probably stop doing by mid-January, but it’s only the third, so bear with me.)

The Wolfpack is a documentary about a group of seven kids who were never allowed to leave their New York apartment, and were homeschooled and cloistered by their weird hippy Peruvian father and slightly altered mother (played by Gary Busey.) The kids, unable to see reality, fell into a world of Hollywood films, and spent all their time remaking old classics like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction shot-for-shot, using cardboard props and cheap camcorders. Then the oldest son decides he wants to explore outside the apartment, and the whole thing falls apart, or comes together, I guess.

The situation is an interesting premise, although I didn’t feel there was enough content to fill a 90-minute film. The director, Crystal Moselle, took a more poetic structure to the documentary, instead of being expository, and the more artistic approach didn’t hold my attention, and presented more questions than answers. (How much was their rent? Where did they get money? What happened to everyone after the film? How did they do things like go to the doctor?) Also, the oldest kid, Mukunda, looked enough like Adam Driver that it really bugged me (especially after Star Wars) and I spent the second half of the movie playing Scrabble and making jokes about this. So yeah, I’m the asshole for not paying more attention, but it didn’t fully click with me.

But here’s what did throw me, and made me waste half the movie scouring Google Maps: these kids lived a few blocks from the last place I lived in New York. For those interested, they lived in Seward Park Extension, which is at 65 Norfolk Street. I lived in Seward Park, at a building at Grand and Pitt.

I don’t know the exact history of Seward Park, but they lived in a much more run-down public housing building, whereas we lived in the co-op buildings. (Also weird trivia: one of the guitarists of Guns ’N Roses lived in my building, which would have been a weird mindfuck for these 80s-obsessed kids.) But yeah, while they were locked away on the 16th store of that building, I used to walk past it almost every day on the way to work. Maybe their camcorder footage of the streets below has an image of a dude with coke bottle glasses and a leather jacket, walking to the McDonald’s on Delancey to shove another Quarter Pounder meal into his fat face.

There are the usual allegations of “is this fake” and “was this exploitative” and I don’t care either way. All documentaries are fake now, and they all exploit someone; it’s a carryover from reality TV, and it’s why they largely bore me. As a metafiction nerd, I’m much more into reflexive documentaries, that play with the idea of their constructedness and dance around going meta with it. David Holzman’s Diary is my favorite example of this, although good luck getting anyone to pay attention to a film that bizarre.

This ultimately didn’t blow my skirt up, but I did enjoy the random bit of scenery reminding me of my old home. There’s a brief bit where Mukunda breaks free and goes to the grocery store, and I was thinking “oh my god, that’s the Swine Fair on Clinton Street!” So, interesting, but a bit of a nostalgia trigger, and not much else for me.

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