Labor Day Cinema

Over the weekend we had quite the cinematic weekend. We went to a movie, and watched several saved on the DVR as well. Here are capsule reviews of what we saw.

Little Miss Sunshine was the one we saw in the theater. Short answer: I loved it. If I had to pick another movie that it reminded me of in tone, it would be The Royal Tennenbaums. Quirky family gets together, bonds through crises, exposes their various damages and makes us love them despite their deep flaws. It worked for me. I particularly liked how unrepentant and unapologetic the characters were about who and what they were, and how little was actually resolved. Towards the end, I feared a neat Hollywood ending would tie things up in a bow, but blessedly that was not the case. Greg Kinnear was wonderful as the hapless motivational speaker wannabe (somewhat addressing the question of “Where do these bonerods come from anyway?”). Steve Carrel did a great job of underacting as the suicidal gay brother, the disgraced former preeminent American Proust scholar. I’ve always loved Alan Arkin, and his turn as the heroin-snorting horndog grandfather was terrific. Best of all was Abigail Breslin as Olive, the goodhearted little girl whose unrealistic dream of being a beauty pageant star are a capsule summary of everyone else’s failures. She sells the picture, because if you don’t buy her you don’t buy any of the subsequent shenanigans. All in all, one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite a while.

I first heard of the movie Young Adam from Hugh McLeod’s blog. I’ve had it taped on the DVR since March, and finally sat down and watched it. I have to say that I disliked this movie. Aimless drifter of a failed writer wrecks a number of lives in ways large and larger, has a lot of creepy sex and ultimately makes some really craven choices. This is one of those films you have to call an “amorality tale.” I really like Ewan McGregor in almost everything, but here I just didn’t care for him or anything else, really. There was really no one to like in the film, not much interesting going on, nothing much enjoyable about any of the sex or nudity, and in the end just a big emptiness and two hours gone. I don’t recommend this film.

We also watched a pair of music films. If we had made it to watching DIG!, we could have made it a trifecta. If we’d then gone on to Be Here to Love Me about Townes Van Zandt we could have hit for the cycle. Only running out of time prevented this. Maybe next long weekend.

The first was Fearless Freaks, a documentary about the Flaming Lips. I’ve been wanting to see this for a long time, and last week it came on the Sundance Channel so that was perfect. This was a really interesting documentary, and considering the closeness of the filmmaker personally to the band was not as kissyface as I expected. It was shockingly frank about Steven Drozd’s drug use, going so far as to show him doing heroin (not the actual injection, but the setup and post effects.) It also did not soft-pedal the fact that Wayne Coyne is an appropriater of the ideas of others, not necessarily so much the mad visionary he is depicted as. I like that they had Gibby Haynes talking about how much stuff that the Lips lifted from the Butthole Surfers followed immediately by a montage demonstrating the truth of what Gibby said. I do get the feeling that in his day to day life, Coyne is highly driven to be weird just for the sake of it, choosing to live in his boyhood neighborhood in Oklahama City (not a particularly nice area) as much for the novelty as anything else. It was funny to see him walking around and realizing that few if any of his neighbors have any clue who he is. Maybe that’s the big factor for him.

There were a lot of interesting facts, like that Wayne continued to work his day job at Long John Silver’s until 1988, well after they were national recording and touring artists. He’d get off tour and go right back to being a fry cook. I enjoyed watching his DIY efforts in his Christmas on Mars film, with him building the sets and toting equipment around. One of my favorite quotes of the film from him: “People say that I’m crazy for filming a movie in my backyard. Well, technically this is my driveway.” (Favorite quote from a non-Lip was Gibby Haynes, answering the question “What is Wayne’s biggest asset?” with “Steven.”) Another interesting facet was realizing how common drug use and jail were in both the Coyne and Drozd families. By succeeding at what they do, Wayne and Steven seem the anomolies in both of their families. The more common fate seemed to be a life of getting in trouble and barely getting by, so that adds a special poignance to the achievements of the Lips as a band. Overall, I give this a strong recommendation, whether you care about the Flaming Lips music or not.

The other movie film was The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years. I should point out that I’ve never seen Parts 1 or 3, so this was the first Spheeris documentary I’d watched. I suspect that Part 1 is more my speed. Part 2 seemed littered with the disposable detritus of LA glam bands, with only a few acts of any historical note included. I was in fact a metal head at this time, and I’d never heard of half of these bands. There was only one group, Megadeth, that I would have considered true practitioners of the form back when I was 21. Unrepresented were Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Flotsam and Jetsam, Mercyful Fate/King Diamond, Savage Grace, Sacred Reich and any number of bands I actually saw back in the day. It was kind of fun and ironic to watch these bands who were completely full of shit be so cocksure that they’d make it to the top, and I took a certain schadenfreude in knowing that they didn’t. It was funny watching Ozzy Osbourne make breakfast, but in the era after the Osbournes TV show not so essential. I liked the bit where musicians were talking about people stealing bits from them. Only Alice Cooper defied the logic that “we all steal from someone, so who am I to talk ill of it.” I love Alice and he was an innovator, but for example, he didn’t cite Screaming Jay Hawkins as a forebearer of macabre rock and roll, so be careful where you aim that thing because you’ll put your eye out. All in all, it is fun for the irony factor but for insight it is low. I marginally recommend this film, but think I need to see Part 1 more than I needed to see this.

Watching both those films in short order have a special perspective. At the same time as all those bands were running around LA trying to look cool and hit the Record Label Lottery, there was a lot of great music happening in other areas. The Flaming Lips, of course, but this is also the period in which the Butthole Surfers, the Pixies, Camper Van Beethoven, Janes Addiction, Throwing Muses, Sonic Youth, Glass Eye, Pylon and many others were doing fantastic work and not worrying so much about their hair. Then as now, a lot of the most interesting work is not the splashy stuff that the big labels are dumping their payola money into.

Whew, lots of cinema. If we had a little more gumption, we might have gone to see Pirates of the Carribean yesterday, but I chose not to. As long as the movie is, that would chew up a very large chunk of the day and I didn’t feel like committing that much time to it. Maybe next weekend.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

2 thoughts on “Labor Day Cinema”

  1. Chris C. says:

    Dude, Pirates I is awful (I guess I got suckered by the media blitz) and I’d bet your hourly rate that II sucks too. You don’t like that Hollywood garbage, do you? Keira Knightly grabs the Chris’s Most Hated Hollywood Ingenue reins from Reese Witherspoon and races straight to the bank. Spend your time watching DIG instead, it’s pretty great. It’s been 2 years now! Get on it!

  2. dave says:

    I loved Pirates I. I’m a big fan of swashbuckling, and you just don’t get that much anymore. It hasn’t been 2 years on DIG! for me, it’s been 6 days. I’ve kept my eyes out for it ever since you first told me about it, but this is the first time I saw it available to me and thus I grabbed it.

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