Adam Reger | Pittsburgh Writer, Editor, and Teacher

Pittsburgh writer, editor, ghostwriter, and teacher.

Category: Movies

Bukowski Hoggle, A Few Years Late (Including Reason #7 to Love Pittsburgh)

I just saw Labyrinth at the wonderful Hollywood Theater in Dormont. It occurred to me during the screening that the character Hoggle, Sarah’s (Jennifer Connelly’s) self-professedly cowardly muppet guide through the labyrinth, has the same elaborately craggy face as late poet/novelist/barfly Charles Bukowski. I just did all the work (“work”) of finding images of both and was preparing to blow the internet’s mind with this comparison when I thought I might as well quickly google “Bukowski Hoggle.”

I did, and found this and this. Oh well. Now I know it’s an apt comparison.

By the way, if you are in the Pittsburgh area, the Hollywood is well worth the short trip through the Liberty Tubes. (So is Dormont in general.) They’re the only game in town if you’d like to see a live showing of cult classic The Room, and have screened stuff I wouldn’t have been able to see elsewhere in town (Tim and Eric’s Billion-Dollar Movie, Beyond the Black Rainbow). I’m pumped because in a week or so they’re showing one of my favorite films of all time, Pee-Wee’s Big AdventureThey’ve re-opened the theater—a big, old-timey movie house with a giant balcony—a couple times and this time it seems to be sticking, as they’ve done it as a civic organization rather than a for-profit endeavor. So, consider this “Reason to Love Pittsburgh #7,” the latest in that sadly neglected series. (Seriously, there are thousands of reasons to love Pittsburgh. I’ve only got around to writing about seven of them.)

Best of 2011

To mark the passing of another year, I’m going to present lists of the books and movies I most enjoyed this year. For now, the lists are without links and without (much) comment. The only eligibility criterion is that I read the book or saw the movie this year.

Favorite Books of 2011:

Angle of Repose
by Wallace Stegner

The Killer Inside Me
by Jim Thompson

Abbott Awaits: A Novel
by Chris Bachelder

Venus Drive: Stories
by Sam Lipsyte

Volt: Stories
by Alan Heathcock

A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan

The Ask
by Sam Lipsyte

Ironweed
by William Kennedy

The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick DeWitt

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel
by Patrick DeWitt

The Line of Beauty
by Alan Hollinghurst

Born to Run
by Christopher McDougall

Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World
by Donald Antrim

As is true of the movie list, there are lots of good books I didn’t quite like enough at the time to annotate with a red star. I remember also really liking John Brandon’s Citrus County, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, The Sea by John Banville, Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, Richard Price’s The Wanderers, and, most recently, Denis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams. For me the notable thing this year is discovering one writer I’d never previously heard of—Patrick DeWitt—who’s now a favorite, and breaking through with another writer—Sam Lipsyte—who I’d previously dismissed (based, I think, on his being represented in an anthology of younger American writers by the story “I’m Slavering,” which even on re-reading in Venus Drive didn’t do much for me).

Favorite Movies of 2011:

Winter’s Bone

The Warriors

Candyman

13 Assassins

Tabloid

Hobo With a Shotgun

Drive

Bridesmaids

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Yikes! Not the most distinguished crop of films this year. I’m surprised, looking over the list, at the films I didn’t star (my notation for having liked a movie), especially compared to those that I did. I remember liking The Fighter, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Hoosiers, Moonstruck, Paper Moon, Meek’s Cutoff, Submarine, The Town, and (since I saw it yesterday) War Horse
quite well. But I’m going to honor whatever I was thinking and feeling at the moment that I entered each of these titles into my list, and exclude top-10 fare like Submarine, War Horse, and Certified Copy even as Hobo with a Shotgun makes the list. What can I say? I’m large; I contain multitudes.

(This is the second year I’ve kept these lists and I’m somewhat pleased to note that this year saw fewer abandoned books. I don’t mind abandoning books I’m not enjoying (as mentioned here), but it’s nice to see that I liked most of these well enough to continue with.)

What a Game of Eschaton Looks Like

I’ve remained on the fence way too long re: The Decemberists, the rock band that I should, on paper, like a lot more than I do. (They wrote a song about Myla Goldberg, author of Bee Season; they brought in Gillian Welch to sing on their most recent album; and they are generally pretty literary and wordy without being too unbearably pretentious about it (at least most of the time).)

This new video, for “Calamity Song,” has got to put them over the top with me. Directed by Michael Schur, who works on the fantastic Parks and Recreation, “Calamity Song” depicts a game of Eschaton from the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest (which I’ve written about here). The New York Times wrote a piece giving the full background.

Eschaton is a game that the students in Infinite Jest‘s fictional Enfield Tennis Academy play on an expanse of multiple tennis courts, nets removed. It’s a game of apocalyptic global warfare, with students forming blocs like REDCHIN (Red China) and SOUTHAF (South Africa). They take turns lobbing tennis balls, representing so many megatons of explosives, across the court to hit targets in other nations. The accumulating damages, measured in military destruction and civilian casualties, are tallied by a student who works a computer on wheels, continuously calculating the effects of, say, a direct hit on a major metropolitan center in the middle of ONAN (Organization of North American Nations).

Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Fun

Looking through some old files, I came upon a quite forgotten, quite weird document that I wrote some time near the end of my first year of graduate school. It’s an appendix to the novel I was working on then. More specifically, it is a four-page script for a scene in an adult film. (All the caveats you would associate with such a document apply here—mature subject matter, adult language, sexual situations, clumsy dialogue, unnatural transitions from everyday life to sexual situations, bad double entendres, etc.)

Here is the file, if you’d like to read it. Below the fold I’ve put in the background which will give you context—not that you exactly need it—for where and how this fit in and why I was writing it in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

Notes on “The Next Three Days”

After missing it in theaters and taking my sweet time about having Netflix send me a copy, this weekend I finally checked out The Next Three Days, the Russell Crowe film that shot in Pittsburgh over the summer and fall of 2009. I felt compelled to watch it—and guilty that I so far hadn’t—because my brother worked on the film as a locations assistant, crashing on my futon for at least part of his stay in Pittsburgh.

I can’t really offer a comprehensive review of the film. Read the rest of this entry »

A Movie Theater in Homestead, Pennsylvania

(After (and with apologies to) Allen Ginsberg)

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Al Jaffee, for

I walked past the storefronts under the trees with a headache

self-conscious looking at the neon displays.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went

into the neon movie theater, dreaming of your enumerations!

What thrillers and what rom-coms! Whole families dallying in line! Cashiers leaning on their counters! Ushers whisking popcorn into their butlers!

I eyed the box-office boy. Are you open, I asked of him. I am open if you are ready, said he.

Where are we going, Al Jaffee? The movie begins in six minutes. Which way does your beard point tonight?

One for Scott Pilgrim, I said.

Do you mean Scott Pilgrim versus the World, he asked of me.

Where are you tonight, Al Jaffee, with your snappy answers to stupid questions?

Yes, that’s the one, I murmured, and felt absurd.

Will we walk all night through solitary streets, Al Jaffee? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely and fail to produce timely zingers to inane questions.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past black SUVs in strip malls, home to our silent apartments?

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Alfred E. Neuman quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

M. Night

For reasons relating to my being unsure of how various parts of this blog work, for an early post I ended up creating a Category called “M. Night Shyamalan.” Thus giving the casual reader the impression that I blog about that dude, like, all the time. (I blogged about him once, in the context of planning to go see The Last Airbender, which my brother had been a production assistant on. Astute readers will note that I never again mentioned that movie, and if those readers are really astute they’ll be able to guess why.)

Also because of my lack of technical skill at this whole blog thing, I’ve decided it would be easier to write more about M. Night than deleting that category. Which I’m sure would only mean that that earlier post would belong to one fewer category, but in my mind WordPress itself would somehow be structurally damaged by the removal of this crucial category tag.

Anyway, the AV Club posted this item about Shyamalan possibly doing an Unbreakable sequel. It is an interesting possibility mainly because Unbreakable led all the way up to the exact point where you would typically be interested in a superhero movie, and then stopped; it makes sense as part of a multi-part narrative, but as a third or fourth installment, or, better yet, a straight-to-DVD prequel-type thing that completists would go nuts for. It’s a pretty silly movie that, in my opinion, “worked” only in the warm glow of goodwill from Shyamalan’s success with The Sixth Sense. So a sequel that picked up on the promise of a superhero showdown might actually be interesting.

It’s not to be, the AV Club item reports. But what made me think I ought to post this (other than having that annoying M. Night category to populate; seriously, I wish I could just get rid of it) was this transitional line from Sean O’Neal (whose writing on that site is kind of a surprise pleasure; I’m such a fan of Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, and Scott Tobias, it’s a bonus to enjoy stuff from other contributors, the moreso when it’s material like this item that would seem to be mere toss-offs): “Showing his usual acumen for giving the public exactly what he wants . . .”

Yes. Exactly. Thank you, Sean O’Neal.

John Lurie

I hadn’t noticed, but the actor, musician, artist, and TV host John Lurie apparently disappeared some time in the aughts (or whatever you want to call the decade that just ended; I’m not in love with “aughts” either). The New Yorker is on the case, with a tease that you can read in full (and that has a revealing slide show presenting Lurie then and now). The tease tease a longer story in this week’s magazine, the link to which, unless you have digital access, will bring you only as far as the abstract. The abstract makes for weirdly fascinating reading, though, and if you read many New Yorker articles the last few sentences may strike you (as they did me) as funny, in the sense of encapsulating the NYer m.o.

Lurie is, for me, a permanent topic of interest because of his roles in two of Jim Jarmusch’s best films, Stranger than Paradise and Down by Law. The first of those is often credited with birthing, or at least being in the Baby Boom of, American independent film. The second is, for me, one of those movies that, if you were to tell me you didn’t care for it, I would feel no compunction in calling you a jerk.

Second, probably final thought on “Inception”

Over the weekend I eavesdropped on a conversation where someone raved about Inception and explained why the other person had to see it immediately. I remain unmoved from my earlier position on it. None of my concerns has been overridden by the people I know who’ve loved it, and after doing a quick Rotten Tomatoes search, I see that although I’m still in the minority on this, it’s a proud minority. (I am somewhat bummed, and tempted to be persuaded, by this favorable review by Scott Tobias of the AV Club. Historically, the AV Club’s reviews have been pretty strong indicators of whether I’ll like a movie or not (the music reviews, less so). I always find it vaguely distressing when I don’t care for something they rave about, almost to the point where I begin second-guessing my own take on the film.)

The review that says it best, in my opinion, is Andrew O’Hehir’s at Salon. There are many good observations in it, but a couple really hit home with me:

-“So, yeah, if you approach ‘Inception’ with lowered expectations it’s a pretty good time. Problem is, there are no lowered expectations around Christopher Nolan . . .” I couldn’t articulate this point in discussing the movie with people who wanted to view it just as a dumb action movie, and thus to grade it on a curve, but this is it. If P.T. Anderson made a really awesome, “dumb” action movie, I would be disappointed. (And in fact, one of my enduring complaints about Inception is that it’s not even a really awesome action movie: the snowmobile fighting is so difficult to follow, and thus so boring, this may as well have been G.I. Joe.)

-“All of this involves a bunch of big-ass guys shooting at each other with automatic weapons, which has to be the most arid and depressing depiction of the dream state I’ve ever encountered. There are no surreal images or nonsense dialogue, no illogical shifts of scene from the first-grade classroom to Mom’s kitchen to a whorehouse.” I was almost embarrassed to air this criticism after seeing the movie—my feeling was that Nolan must have considered a more “dreamy” dream state, but nixed that idea in favor of having the entire film be more coherent; I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to juggle so much plot, and such a complicated (I really want to say “convoluted,” actually) plot, while also working in the kinds of random shifts and wrinkles O’Hehir suggests. But, in a word, yes. I felt Nolan went far enough in nodding to certain dream aspects—you never remember how you got to a certain place in a dream, for example—that the dream states in the movie come off as uncomfortably neither-here-nor-there.

That’s probably the last I’ll say about Inception because, though it’s one of those deals where I want to keep venting about my disappointment, as if I’d been personally aggrieved, it must be said that it was a pretty solid, entertaining movie and I don’t regret having seen it. Apparently there are other movies out there, though, on DVD as well as in theaters, so I will probably turn my attention to those now.

Inception Redux

A wealthy and enigmatic businessman has hired me to implant an idea in a target’s mind. I considered infiltrating the person’s dream, then going inside a dream within a dream, and another dream within that dream, but, well, it seemed like kind of a lot of work. I think I’ve found a better way.

(The idea, in this case: “You are blue (da ba dee).” Weird message, but whatevs. For this kind of payday, you don’t ask questions.)