Watching Bulworth in 2017 is Different Than Watching it in 1998…Probably

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Bulworth came out in 1998 when I was finishing up seventh grade and had this huge crush on a girl in my English class that I really wanted to ask out, but never did. What does that have to do with Bulworth? Not much of anything other than, it’s probably the reason I didn’t see it. I was more interested in this girl than politics at the time. And that was the way it went for a while, because I assumed that Bulworth was a political film and not a dark comedy.

I chose this as my first shame because it has often been referenced over the last year in relation to now-President Trump and the 2016 Election. It’s a valid comparison, a candidate that speaks his mind, says what he actually thinks, and in the end, wins people over. The film in retrospect, leaves me with an alarming take on President Trump making it perhaps a more noteworthy film from this point on.

In the film, Warren Beatty does a fantastic job of playing Senator Jay Bulworth who has reached the end of his limits. His campaign is seemingly dead in the water, he’s compromised his views and himself to stay in politics as long as he has. His marriage has been a fraud for years. He’s in a deep depression. When we join him, he has decided to commit suicide by hiring someone to assassinate him. The only problem is that he doesn’t know where or when it’ll happen, but that it will be sometime that weekend.

When he gets off a plan in California, he’s drunk (presumably in preparation to accept his fate), but now his natural survival instinct has kicked in and he’s running scared. He goes to a campaign stop at a church in an African-American community and begins to freely speak his mind. When it’s over, he realizes how good it felt to stop being a politician and continues a weekend of speaking his mind while continuing to avoid the assassin.

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The film goes from there and there’s no reason to go through it, but I recap all that to make this point: If Senator Jay Bulworth starts to speak his mind and not play into politics, because he has nothing to lose knowing he’ll be dead soon, then did Trump not play the political game in 2016 because he had nothing to lose? A man with nothing to lose is a dangerous thing.

Bulworth wasn’t revolutionary in filmmaking – it feels like a movie made in 1998. It was well-made. There was an almost farcical element to the assassination avoidance storyline and plenty of Warren Beatty rapping. Halle Berry gives a nice performance here as well as many of the great actors scattered throughout do. Bulworth didn’t shatter politics in any radical ways – while it has been reportedly reference by President Obama, I would argue The West Wing had a bigger impact on future politicos in America. Bulworth does explore issues of race, but it didn’t do much for that either. It’s a good movie, but there’s nothing that propels it into a great movie. Not yet at least.

In his book, But What If We’re Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman presents the idea that what is considered noteworthy or culturally important in the future is based on what the future values more so than what was happening at the time of publication. The 2016 Election will probably be the election where politics changed. President Trump gained a lot of supporters by not playing the political game and sounded different than everyone else out there. It’s hard to know for sure, but I imagine this will have an impact on how future candidates run for office. If that’s the case, then I can also imagine a future where Bulworth is of greater note than it is now by the general populace.

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So Zatoichi is kinda like James Bond, except blind – Vol. 1

I’ve had this Zatoichi Criterion box set on my shelf. It’s a very pretty box set, filled with lots of movies, 25 to be exact. After procuring the set for Christmas some years ago, I watched the first Zatoichi film, The Tale of Zatoichi. What a superb film!

And then there was silence.

I don’t have an explanation. I just have SHAME.

Last year for my Cinema Shame, list I vowed to complete the set. The 24 other Zatoichi films. This in addition to my regular allotment of SHAME. It might come as no surprise that I failed in this endeavor. But this is a new year, with new lists and new motivation. I’ve made certain promises to myself. That I will watch more, read more, write more. I promised to be better to myself and ignore the noise that has distracted me from doing the things I love. Noise is the urge to pick up my phone for no good reason and scroll through social media bullshit. Noise is a DVR filled with episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I haven’t actively wanted to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory in years.

For January, I began my journey (and my 2017 Shame) through this Zatoichi set once more. To make this exercise more manageable, I’ll break the massive word-spewing down into a few different posts. I’ll watch four Zatoichi movies per month and leave my thoughts here for you to consider.

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Gawkers consider the lowly masseur/legendary swordsman in The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

The first Zatoichi film, The Tale of Zatoichi, showcases a potent character study about the friendship between two warriors (with elevated moral codes) on opposite sides of a clan dispute. Light on swordplay, long on philosophy — but effective at establishing the cavernous division between the moral right and the moral wrong with a conservation of action and language. Our blind, pacifist swordsman vs. a world of human ugliness.

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Groundhog Day

6:46 am.

I woke up and wished that I was dead 

With an aching in my head

I lay motionless in bed

I thought of you and where you’d gone

And the world spins madly on

Actually, I’ve already been awake for–I don’t know, an hour? And it’s been a vaguely crappy hour. Not as bad as these lyrics by The Weepies, but they’re salient here, and I was just about to take an all natural sleeping capsule and make myself get a few more hours before another day of what would inevitably be I_just_wish_it_would_stop #everysecondofthisisshittastic every waking moment I’m alive. (Moving on to Citizen Cope here, as you may have recognized.)

I was thinking about going back to sleep but it became a toss-up, a 50/50 chance, a lock-step confusion with myself. I grabbed the phone of my nightstand and checked the time. 6:46 am, *Groundhog Day*. I’ve never seen Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is on my list. I guess, let’s get up, put on something other than these fuzzy snowman pajamas, and figure out how to locate a copy of this DVD. Or watch it in teeny tiny clips on YouTube. Let’s fucking do Groundhog Day, you guys.

7:41 am.

My laptop battery is on 21% and also the port where you plug in the recharging cord is dented; it requires complicated manual finagling to make tiny magnetic bumps meet prongs, or whatever’s in there. The battery icon on the screen looks like it’s recharging, but the light on the wire doodad isn’t lit. I put that aside to see if it was recharging, and went to brush my teeth. Right now, the rechargeable toothbrush is the only thing working at 100%, and that’s because it’s new–like, bought yesterday, new. My iPhone has been cracked and banged around–Instagram is all bokeh, and Safari pages are taking like 30 seconds to load. In other words, my recent tech run-in’s are making this season as time-wastingly, shit-tastically, frustratingly psychologically debilitating as when I was still using PC’s, and before the iPhone was invented. Life can go eff itself right now, and please don’t snort at me through your red rum, children. It’s the perfect annoying set-up to force me to reprise 2006-2008. Now, I haven’t seen Groundhog Day, but I know it’s about deja vu’ing through the crap-fertilized tulips, and that’s just about where I am at right now. Laptop now on 18%. And let’s see if I can get a WordPress app to be able to update from the iPhone of Dr. StrangeJill. …And locate an actual DVD of Groundhog Day.

I’ve already missed the actual Groundhog Day Celebration at the Staten Island Zoo–I just checked on the iPhone while I was brushing my teeth. I would have gone. I want to integrate the local events and jaunts into journalism into my essay process. I want to be Joan Didion, goddamnit. But anyhow, Staten Island Chuck (who’s actually a female) made her appearance at 7:30 am, without Mayor de Blasio showing up to drop her. (The previous groundhog who held the honorary name “Staten Island Chuck” was dropped by the Mayor in 2014 and died soon after.  A groundhog previous to her actually bit Mayor Bloomberg.) Things get very literally Groundhog Day here in Staten Island. Groundhogs attack mayors, get dropped, die. Staten Island is a great place to write about movies without ever getting to write about the movie.

 

8:02 pm.

“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”

 

8:08 pm.

“What would *you* do, if you wee stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”

 

Selma (2014) – An Important Film with a Hopeful Message

When Selma first premiered I caught NPR interviews with director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo and could hear the palpable passion that they had put into this work. I knew I wanted to watch it. Of course, regrettably, I didn’t make the time for it then. But I knew it would make a great addition to my Shame list.

Last February I finally did make the time to watch it, I even began writing my blog post but for some reason I couldn’t push through. It kinda just felt like my write up wasn’t doing the film justice. As it turns out, that may have been a good thing. Not only is the film even more relevant now, watching it again filled me with a sense of hope that I haven’t really felt since our Presidential election. Yeah, sorry folks, it’s going to get political.

Selma recalls a particularly awful time in America’s history. Last year when I first watched it, for me, it represented how far we had come as a nation. Now given the current political and cultural landscape, it represents how little America has learned in fifty-two years.

My thoughts on the film (and other things) continue after the jump, just as a disclaimer these are my own personal views and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of other contributors to this blog.

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Cinema Shame 2017

Why has my Shame failed so many times before is what I wondered while I was trying to come up with this year’s list. I came up with a couple reasons. First, I tried to be too hip. I went for all the classics that I know I should watch, but frankly have no interest in really watching. I tried to be “cool” in my selections. I tried to seem “hip” and say, “Yea, I know I’ve never seen this movie, but at least I know about it and now I’m going to watch it. Then I’ll be able to say this cool things.”

The second reason is that I specified the month I would watch each of these movies. So regardless of my mood, I HAD to watch that movie in that month. And then it became a project and homework, and I love avoid doing homework.

This year is different. These 12 movies are not necessarily all on the Top Movie Lists of Cinema, but they’re ones that I want to watch and feel I should have by now. Also, it’ll just be a list of 12 movies with no monthly expectation. Once a month, I’ll pick a movie depending on my mood and I’ll watch it. And hopefully by December, the final one doesn’t feel like homework.

The Shame List:

  1. A Few Good Men – I’m a huge fan of the work of Aaron Sorkin and his writing style, but somehow I’ve never actually watched this movie.
  2. Used Cars – Released at the same time as Airplane, it never got the same reception. I’ve heard a lot of comedians talk about how great this movie is, and as a comedy fan, I feel I should check it out.
  3. Bulworth – Also, often referenced and I feel it’s worth watching given our current political climate. Can’t remember the last movie I watched with Warren Beatty.
  4. Braveheart – I got this on Blu-Ray years ago. Someone gave it to me I think. It stares at me a lot from the shelf.
  5. Broadcast News – An often referenced movie by Aaron Sorkin that I’m not familiar with. And I like Albert Brooks.
  6. Network – I only know the famous scene. It’s also another movie referenced by Aaron Sorkin that I feel I should be familiar with.
  7. Barton Fink – With the exception of their latest, Hail, Ceaser!, and The Ladykillers, it’s the only film written and directed by the Coen Brothers that I haven’t seen.
  8. North by Northwest – Another movie that I’ve started to watch and know some of the highlights, but have never seen the whole thing.
  9. The Magnificent Seven – A classic western that’s been remade for some reason. Even with the talent that’s in it, I still haven’t seen it for some reason.
  10. The Conversation – So many nights I have thought about watching this, knowing how great it’s supposed to be, but always think: “I should watch this when I can actual focus on it.”
  11. Torn Curtain – Paul Newman and Alfred Hitchcock. How have I not watched this?
  12. Spotlight – I’ve been trying to watch this movie for over a year. Hopefully, I fit it in before the two year mark.

As the astute reader may have noticed, there are a couple recurring themes in this list. News, Media, Aaron Sorkin, and Alfred Hitchcock. That wasn’t intentionally done at the start of this list, but one rabbit hole leads to the next. And so my shame begins. Unfortunately, as of the time of posting this, chances are I’ll be a month behind and will cover two in February. Wish me luck.

The Birds

I don’t want to write. I don’t want to write at all.

…wait, that was starting to feel better. I feel like reading the Kameron Hurley book: The Geek Feminist Revolution. It’s in my pile of books to read. I already bought it. I’ve had it for months. It’s in my pile. I’m writing in the same inner monologue cadence as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman uses in Adaptation. I’m hearing this in Nicholas Cage. I am writing. This is shame.

I will write about The Birds. I am now looking at the spine of Wicked. I’ve already read that. I read that years ago. I started rereading it a few days into the New Year. I am participating in a social media blog promotion: the British Books Challenge. It’s quite eponymously about reading British books and posting about them. Wicked isn’t a British book; it was a counter-reaction to beginning the first few days of the new year beginning to reread The Hobbit. My blog post on The Hobbit is underway in another place. This is my post about The Birds.

My post about The Birds got underway in another place as well: on Twitter. (My post on The Hobbit is staunchly holding its place on my blog since I began it a few hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve.) My post about The Birds–which is this, by now–needs to take you on a detour to explain about how it started on Twitter. But first I’ll tell you that I read The Birds. The film is based on a short story, and I read it last weekend. The short story was written by a British woman. I’ll add it to my list for The British Books Challenge: “I read a short story by a British woman. Daphne du Maurier. It was 31 home printer pages’ worth of story, and I don’t know what to say about the story itself right now. I do know that the estate of du Maurier keeps a beautiful, informative homepage on the writer and her works, and the website–from the moment I came across it–was going to arrive in the post. I knew I’d want to mention it.”

I want to write about homepages, online references, archives at our fingertips–and I want to integrate discussion of these sources into my new batch of essays. Just like we toggle among many open windows on the computer, we can toggle in our research and critical writing among sources: primary texts, analyses of them, documentaries about them, resources, websites, social media mentions. I started out my writerly career in theater reviews, but now I can hardly hope to attempt writing without wanting to show the world the miracle of the many sources.

Being this voracious a geek is accompanied by this OCD about documenting–and narrating the documenting. Ah, it seems there *was* a reason that I had the voice from Adaptation in my mind as I began writing this. I don’t want to do a close reading of a primary text anymore–I want to have a fascinated geeky adventure while experiencing it and write about that.

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I was interested in watching The Birds because of real live birds. Hear me out: maybe this essay isn’t about the movie itself yet (and maybe it won’t be much about the film itself at all), but it is about real live shame. The birds were how I decided to go vegan.

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Last week I watched The Birds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 List of Shame

First confession, I’m still trying to finish a list from two years ago so I’m going to ask other writers here to call me out on Twitter when I don’t manage to do one of these a month. I’m going to be flexible with this updated list and amend it depending on what’s available or if there’s something else I want to write about. Right now there’s a distinctly Italian flavour, but for the moment this will be my twelve.

  1. Blithe Spirit – Written by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean. Enough said.
  2. Berlin alexanderplatz – Making my way through Fassbinder’s TV series right now and by Christ does it feel prescient with its story of an embittered middle-aged failure embracing the rise of Nazism in 30s’ Germany.
  3. Roma – Big fan of Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and people mention this as an influence so this I must see.
  4. One Man Down – Speaking of Sorrentino I’ve never seen his debut movie so it goes on the list.
  5. Daisy Miller or What’s Up Doc? –Depending on which one I can get hold of there will be a Peter Bogdanovich film present.
  6. Quartet – Merchant-Ivory are unfashionable today. Tarantino publicly dissing them in the early 90s’ probably didn’t help their reputations with younger audiences, but I’ve more time for their best work than his. Besides Quartet has Isabelle Adjani in it
  7. Police Story 3: Supercop – I thought I had seen this because there was a Michelle Yeoh movie titled Supercop for its UK release in the early 90s’ featuring a Jackie Chan cameo but that is apparently a completely different movie.
  8. Wings – Bloody hard to find but I really want to see this 1966 war film by Larisa Sheptiko about a female Soviet fighter pilot
  9. Unnamed Pasolini film. Seen Theorem & his Jesus film but very little else so must make amends.
  10. Hell Comes to Frogtown – I have no idea what this is.
  11. The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead – Favourite band as a kid. This documentary came out three years ago and I still haven’t seen it.
  12. La La Land: Was going to see this but went to see XXX: Return of Xander Cage instead.
  13. Tuff Turf: adding this to the list as well. 80s’ teen movie with James Spader as the new kid in town falling out with a local gang of punks. How the hell have I not seen this  but I have seen director Fritz Kiersch’s Cannon produced Italian time-travelling barbarian movie Gor ?