Like I said, who gives a shit that Transformers: Age of Extinction is bad? American audiences sure don’t. It just had the biggest opening weekend of 2014 so far, and may not be bested if we don’t show up in droves to see the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or Guardians of the Galaxy. Early reviews for Dawn are mostly stellar, and I’m definitely going to see it on opening weekend, but I’ve got no clue how it’s tracking or what American audiences want from it.
Maybe it’s a side effect of this disappointing summer we’re having, but I’m starting to feel really disconnected from the average American moviegoer. That sounds pretentious, and I’m not saying that I’m an above-average moviegoer or some such horseshit, but I really am beginning to feel like I don’t know what people want or like anymore. I did know this, however: I was going to have a bit more free time this weekend than usual, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to see Transformers. Instead, I decided to shut the door to my bunker and wait for it all to blow over. Here’s what I watched:
1. The Source Family – Based on Miles’ recommendation, I watched this hippie cult leader doc expecting to have a few laughs. While the concepts of hippie love-cults and their leaders are still pretty silly and there certainly are funny moments in the film, the film is an exploration of a megalomaniac; a testament to how quickly and easily the unchecked male ego can grow into womanizing and fascism. It’s pretty spooky at times, and includes squirm-inducing footage of a home birth that might turn the most stalwart viewers into sweaty wimps, but if you’re intrigued by the concept then I’d highly recommend catching this one on Netflix.
2. Groundhog Day – As funny as Bill Murray is in the film, I find myself drawn to how unfunny almost everyone else is around him, and how some of that might be intentional. Chris Elliott is flat, and Andie MacDowell’s Rita seems shallow and girlish, a laid-back pixie dream girl. It would seem that the only reasons that Phil wants her is that she’s young, cute, single, and enjoys wearing chroma key blue. The Punxsutawney townspeople, however, are all the perfect level of annoying, and Phil’s interactions with them are still some of the biggest laughs in the film (“So did you turn pro with that whole belly-button thing?”) but I don’t believe the film’s central romance for a minute. The conceit of this romance is that Phil, through trial and error, gradually engineers himself to be the perfect partner for one particular woman, which is a concept so far removed from reality that it is simultaneously inane and highly watchable.
His relentless pursuit of Rita without her knowledge comes off as creepy, and the film is intelligent enough to know this. Phil has basically been time-stalking her, learning about her taste for sweet vermouth and distaste for white chocolate, and eventually fudge. His collection of data becomes so routine that in a moment of carelessness in he blurts out “no white chocolate, no fudge.” Rita realizes that he’s been up to something weird, and calls him on it. It’s only after Phil takes time to work on himself that he becomes the folk hero of Punxsutawney, and (of course) the man everyone wants to bang. The film is incredibly masturbatory in this sense: it’s one man’s indulgent fantasy of who he could be, given that he has all the time in the world to craft a perfect self without aging– HOLY SHIT, IT’S MICHAEL SHANNON.
3. The X-Files – Comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s new podcast The X-Files Files has inspired me to go back and gradually re-watch the first season of the Scully and Mulder capers. This weekend I watched two uninspiring episodes, Conduit and Ghost in the Machine. There are worse episodes in the first season, but Ghost in the Machine is pretty bad and contains some terribly wooden acting from everyone. The cold opening is laughably stupid, and the episode’s evil computer is awfully silly. The next episode I’m gonna watch is Ice, which is a pretty damn good riff on The Thing, so I’ve got something to look forward to.
4. Game of Thrones – I missed most of the fourth season when it aired, so I got caught up. Highlight to reveal spoilers: I’m very glad that Sansa has made it out of King’s Landing, and I’m glad to be rid of Joffrey and Lysa. Petyr Baelish’s voice is totally wacky. Prince Oberyn’s death was expected, but still hideously brutal. I’m glad Arya is getting the hell out of Westeros. The Neil Marshall-directed episode at Castle Black was one of the most cinematic episodes in the show’s history. Overall I think it’s been a good season, but I’m finding Daenerys increasingly grating.
5. Under The Skin – It’s weird. It’s challenging. Excruciatingly slow in some parts, hypnotic in others. It’s also incredibly unsexy, which I think confused a lot of people. Yes, there’s a lot of nudity in the film but there are more naked men than women in the film. The nudity isn’t terribly important. Did I like the film? I don’t know. I didn’t actively hate it, but I still feel pretty baffled by it. There’s very little connective tissue. Sequences happen, the film moves on, but the acts witnessed by Scarlett Johansson’s nameless alien do have a cumulative effect upon her. The stakes aren’t terribly high, since there is no discernible punishment for not completing her mission, the ultimate goal of which is never explicitly stated, but rather abstractly implied.
Side note: I noticed some odd parallels between this and David Cronenberg’s Rabid, which I hadn’t seen until very recently. There are long stretches in both films where a vamp is traveling around to lure men to their doom. There’s the incredibly tropey scene where the monster with a human face attempts to eat an alternate food source and pukes it up (cow’s blood in Rabid, cake in Under the Skin). I also drew a ton of parallels to Species, because Marilyn Chambers looked an awful lot like Natasha Henstridge and there’s an alien luring men to their deaths with the promise of sex. Does this subgenre have a name yet?
So thats’ what my pleasantly Transformer-free weekend was like. How was yours?