Derik Badman's Journal

2022-03-19 10:00

Watched three best picture nominees in the past 2 days (add in Dune and I've now seen four of them, probably the only 4 I want to see).

Del Toro's Nightmare Alley was mediocre at best. Having recently watched the 40's adaptation (of the same novel), it was most interesting as a comparison. Of course, the newer version was more explicit both graphically (some unnecessary gore), thematically (more explicit elements about murder, a miscarriage or abortion, and probably serial sexual abuse), and just narratively. Everything (with one odd exception) had to be spelled out. Characters had to say and explain everything so as to not leave any room for interpretation or confusion for the audience. The carnival owner explains how the "geek" is "created", so it's all very clear at the end what is going on. The one thing that was unclear to me was the protagonist Stanton's murder of the drunk carnie Pete. In the old version, he bears some responsibility but the murder is accidental. Stanton hides some drinking liquor from Pete in a trunk, and Pete accidentally pulls out a bottle of wood alcohol that he drinks and it kills him (and when the body is found they realize drinking that alcohol was what killed him). In the newer version Stanton puts a bottle of liquor next to Pete while he's asleep and later Pete is dead. No one mentions it was bad liquor that killed him, and it is unclear whether Stanton gave him the bad liquor on purpose or accidentally. The two are kept next to each other and there is a scene where the carnival owner explicitly tells Stanton the difference. There is room to infer either way, and that feels like a weird reticence in a movie that otherwise is so explicit. The ending, oddly, felt less downbeat than the older version. This ends on Bradley Cooper chewing up the scenery with a crazy laugh as he accepts being the geek, while the latter finds his former girlfriend/wife discovering him as the geek trying to escape. Something about her seeing what happened to him and seeing him in that state makes the whole thing more awful.

Licorice Pizza was a long relationship drama that I completely don't get the point of. The primary effect seemed to be an evocation of the L.A. area during the 70's (kind of like how the one episode of Stranger Things I watched seemed to be trying so hard to scream "this is the 80's" at me every minute). The protagonists and their relationship was unlikeable and cringe-worthy, especially the... romantic(?) ending of the 15 year old boy and the 25 year old woman ending up together? Reverse those genders and I think people would have been a lot more disturbed by it. I spent a lot of the movie trying to understand: a) how much time had passed between scenes b) why the 15yr old and his friends never seemed to be in school c) how they had money/time to start businesses.

Ryƻsuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car is my favorite of the lot, in that I really liked it and was interested over the course of it's 3 hours (all these best picture nominees seem to be very long). I was not altogether excited about his previous Asako I & II, but I liked it enough that I was curious about this one, adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story. I've not looked into what part of the movie is the adaption and what is elaboration, but the earliest part of it (pre-credits, which come pretty late into the movie) had a lot of the common elements of a Murakami plot, while the later felt much less so. The movie makes extensive use of Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya, with dialogue from it (and a production of it) being featured throughout. The protagonist, an actor/director, produces plays in multiple languages (the beginning has Godot done in Japanese and Tagalog), so the whole movie has this plethora of languages, Japanese, English, Korean, Korean sign language, as well as some Mandarin and Tagalog. It's all an interesting concept. Thematically the fact of loss and living with it rises most prominently. Might watch it again, though first I'm going to watch his other film of 2021 Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.

Thinking of loss, the latest (and last) season of The Last Kingdom is up on Netflix now and I'm really appreciating how that show deals with time, history, and loss. Unlike most series, it takes place over a long period of time, even within seasons sometimes months or years can pass, decades have passed in total, which allows for both interesting character and social growth, but also a sense of the longer term feelings of characters, the bonds and losses, what changes, what does not. It's ongoing conflict about ethnicity, religion, immigration, war, and politics seem all too relevant still, despite it's 9th-10th century setting.

My year of reading giant novels continues as I'm 250 or so pages into a third (fourth?) reread of Gaddis' The Recognitions. It's been awhile since my last reading, but I so far feel like I've kept track of it all much clearer, remembering enough events and results to see how they are built up and referenced earlier in the book.