Blade Runner 2049 – The Evil of Heartless Sequels

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Normally I don’t write “reviews” of works I dislike. Why waste time on bad art, huh? I prefer to promote creative work I admire. However, in trying to understand why I disliked Blade Runner 2049 I asked myself, “What did I love about the original?” It came to me instantly – the voiceover. In that moment I realized Harrison’s Ford narration in the original film was the heart of the story. That insight also explained why Ridley Scott detested the voiceover. The narration must come from a human, and Scott wanted Deckard to be a replicant.

Blade Runner 2049-2

Before seeing Blade Runner 2049 I watched Blade Runner (final cut) with a friend. I explained the history of all the versions to her and offered to show her whichever one she wanted. She picked the final cut. Normally, I always rewatch the theatrical version, which is how I first saw the film back in 1982. Whenever I see one of the director’s cuts the viewing is always a letdown. They have the same sterile quality Blade Runner 2049 has.

Blade Runner 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve, with the story by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. However, it feels like a Ridley Scott baby. Scott has always argued that Rick Deckard was a replicant and Blade Runner 2049 vindicates that idea to the point that I think of this film as an expression of his ideas.

Back in 2008, I wrote “Is It Time To Remake Blade Runner?” which was really a plea to film Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as the story was written by Philip K. Dick. I believe the book deserves a truer conversion to film than Blade Runner. I can’t document this, but I believe Ridley Scott bragged that he hadn’t even read the novel when making the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the original theatrical version of Blade Runner, but I don’t consider it very PKD.

When the screenwriters changed androids to replicants something else got changed. In the book, androids are soulless creatures who look like humans but completely lack empathy. They are self-aware but are also psychopathic sociopaths. I believe PKD intended them to be symbolic of inhuman humans. Blade Runner is about artificial creatures that were meant to be soulless slaves that have accidentally evolved empathy. We’re supposed to feel for them. And I did with the Harrison Ford voiceover.

Without the voiceover, both films are just action flicks of heartless machines killing heartless machines. Why has Riddley Scott never understood the Romeo and Juliet beauty of having a love story between lovers from two opposing houses? In Blade Runner 2049 we are taken on a meaningless thrill ride where it’s impossible to tell human from replicant – and I really didn’t give a shit either. There are a few touching scenes in Blade Runner 2049, but they are so artificial as to cause existential angst. At times we feel for K, our replicant protagonist, but the scenes are so obviously manipulating us that it’s hard to genuinely care.

In Blade Runner 2049 it becomes obvious the real problem is our lack of understanding of replicants. They are called skin jobs. That implies they are machines covered in skin. But that’s not true. In both movies, they bleed. In Blade Runner 2049 they seem to be artificially produced biological creatures that can’t reproduce on their own, and the goal of the mad scientist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) is to create a Nexus model that is self-replicating. But what’s the fucking point of that? Humans are self-replicating, and we have plenty of them.

Wallace wants a new process to produce less costly slaves. The government obviously backs him as long as replicants don’t act like real humans. However, we also learn replicants have secretly organized into a slave rebellion. But why secret? What good is a secret mass-movement? Isn’t it obvious that replicants aren’t soulless machines?  Do any moviegoers feel the replicants aren’t equal to people? That makes the whole point of the film a straw man argument. Truly pointless. It’s funny, but Jared Leto’s character is the most inhuman character in the film and he’s supposed to be human. Or will Ridley Scott pull another juvenile joke and claim everyone in this film was a replicant.

Our world is full of robotic slaves now. They don’t have consciousness. They don’t look human. They lack any kind of consciousness. A major theme of science fiction has always been about when robots become conscious. Generally, these science fictional robots are shown as looking human. I guess SF writers assume we can’t empathize with them if they don’t look like us. By the way, the film Her did a fantastic job of overcoming this problem.

We’ve always wanted to build robots that look like us, and that’s a problem. We want them to do our work, but we worry about robots becoming self-aware as us. If they do, we can’t keep them as slaves, and we fear they may become better than us. The TV show Humans is exploring this same topic. The trouble is Blade Runner 2049 adds absolutely nothing to this topic. The film only confuses the issues in its razzle-dazzle. It lacks both a heart and a brain. Almost every character is violent and action-oriented.

Blade Runner 2049

PKD’s original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? isn’t about action. His androids are conscious, self-aware beings that lack empathy. Rachel is alluring and beautiful, but a cold-blooded killer. Dick’s theme wasn’t robot suffrage. PKD believed the androids in his story deserved to be destroyed because without empathy they are evil, and in doing so infers that humans without empathy are evil too. PKD’s story wasn’t about killing androids but identifying inhuman humans.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is vastly more complicated than Blade Runner. If I could film it I would give it the look of 1959 films, because I believe PKD formative decades were the 1940s and 1950s. Its future setting would be very retro-future. It would have the Penfield mood organs and Mercerism. And the story would focus on philosophy and psychology rather than fights and shooting. The film must keep Iran, Deckard’s wife. And it needs the fake police station, having Deckard doubt himself, and eventually proving he’s human. And it needs the artificial religion of Mercerism.

Blade Runner leaves so many fascinating concepts out from the original novel. First off, Rick Deckard isn’t a tough-guy like Harrison Ford, but a married man trying to save his marriage. Their livelihood depended on the bounty from killing androids. The novel opens with their marital squabbling, and the use of mood organs. Mood organs are personal devices for controlling psychological states. People in this future use them to subtly control how they interact with other people, cope at home and work, and explore hundreds of emotional states. PKD uses this imaginary device to dissect human nature. The book is stuffed with observations about what it means to be human. Blade Runner uses none of that. PKD was obsessed with psychiatry, psychology and philosophy and his stories constantly explore those subjects. The Blade Runner movies only faintly hint at the issues PKD brought up in endless ways.

Blade Runner 2049 does not define humans or replicants. We can’t tell them apart. In fact, the evil scientist who creates the replicants acts like a heartless AI, and K, the Ryan Gossling character, who we know is a replicant, when left alone is humanly hung up on an AI girlfriend (who may be a future descendant of Alexa).

Blade Runner 2049 fails horribly if you need a human story. For moviegoers who love eye candy, violence, and a rollercoaster plot, you’ll probably be happy enough.

What’s evil is trying to make millions by making a movie that lacks heart, based on a novel that struggles to define our hearts. Seems kind of heartless, don’t you think?

Blade Runner 2049 is chock full of touchstone analogs from the original Blade Runner. That felt manipulative like Ridley Scott wanted to push our emotional buttons as if we were replicants. Did he expect us to emotionally resonate with air hoses being pulled out, yucky eyeballs, pianos, giant billboards animated with Japanese women, microscopic photo scanning machines, bicyclists riding in parallel formation, machines that measure artificial minds, old abandoned apartment buildings, drinking whiskey from squarish glasses, women dressed like 1970s hookers, giant pyramid-shaped buildings, flying cars, sentimental photographs, umbrellas and rain, and so on.

Everything in Blade Runner 2049 seems set-up for additional sequels, but like his Alien franchise, they will probably continue to abuse the original. I’ve gotten so I hate sequels to books and films. There are few exceptions, but for the most part, sequels feel like they are conning me for my money.

JWH

 

How Much Time Do You Spend Consuming Pop Culture?

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, June 24, 2017

In past centuries, living left little free time. Survival was all time-consuming. Twelve-hour workdays were the norm once. Few people had time for hobbies or pursuing pop culture. And if we weren’t working we were raising families or maintaining our little castles.

Times have changed. The work week keeps getting shorter. More people choose not to have kids or even marry. Some people spend as much time watching TV as working. And a lot more people are retired or unemployed. Probably, if you’re not depressed, strung out on drugs, or chasing someone to have sex with, you’re consuming popular culture with all that extra time.

Pop culture

How many hours a week do you spend reading, watching television, going to the movies, listening to music, binge-watching the internet, looking at comic books, going to museums, attending plays, or any other popular pursuit reported on by Entertainment Weekly? And what about video games? Or VR? Are they pop culture or something new?

Are the hours starting to add up? Is mass consumption of pop culture good or bad? I really don’t know. As a retired person I realize most of my time is occupied with pop culture pursuits. I’d like to think I’m consuming art, that I’m psychologically imbibing in the most creative cuisine our culture offers. Is that true? I also like to believe I’m learning about the past through consuming popular culture from other eras. For example, how well can I understand the 1920s from reading Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Wharton, Joyce, Lawrence, and Hemingway, listening to old jazz, watching silent films, look at art, and reading history books?

Would the time I spend on consuming pop culture be better spent on hobbies? TV watching and going to the movies are a big part of my social outlet. Music and reading are solitary pursuits. Hobbies are generally solitary too. I could get up every day and do something more productive than consuming art and writing about it.

Most biological beings spend most of their time looking for food, mating, rearing their young, and avoiding being prey to other biological beings. Isn’t it rather fascinating that humans excrete art and consume it? We used to say humans were the only animals that made tools – until we discovered a whole bunch of other tool using species. Then we said humans were unique because we have language. Well, we discovered that wasn’t true either. More and more we’re finding examples where animals play, have friends, and show curiosity. But do other animals create art? What about the bowerbird?

Satin-Bower-Bird-Nest

Is art tools we make to stimulate our minds? Or is art external remembrances we make for shared memories? Pop culture is art for the masses. Art used to be unique, a one of a kind piece. Pop culture depends on mass producing artwork that we like to share. Pop culture feels more nourishing to my soul than air, water, and food, although I couldn’t survive without them, and I could survive without pop culture.

Maybe I shouldn’t use the word soul. The soul doesn’t exist. It was a creative fiction of religion. (And couldn’t religion be the first pop culture creation?) Even though science cannot find any evidence for the soul, and philosophers have refuted its existence, we all feel we have one. Science shows we are not minds and bodies, but just bodies that are biologically programmed to react to our environment. So what is pop culture?

Pop culture is something we add to reality. Of course, we rearrange atoms and molecules that already exist to create art, but there is something new there. Yesterday I read “All the Animals that Love Touchscreens” and learned another way humans are not unique. Pop culture is something that even animals might perceive.

Pop culture is mass-produced art. But that also means it is art that can be saved and preserved. Pop culture artifacts remember aspects of our collective souls. There’s that word again. Religion is wrong about immortal souls. Nothing lasts forever. Neither we, our culture or our art will survive forever.

If you spend several hours a day watching television you’re consuming pop culture. Is it just a way to kill time. To distract you from life? Or do you value pop culture as an artistic achievement?

JWH

Do Judge Books By Their Covers!

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, November 6, 2016

I created a page for the Classics of Science Fiction where readers could shop for the books at Amazon. And because I love book covers, I listed the books by cover images. However, those are their current covers, and not the ones I grew up seeing. I thought many of the modern covers were ugly, uninspired or garish. So I decided for my blog to collect the covers that I remembered and loved best. Many are the covers I first saw at libraries in the 1960s. That was a long time ago, when I was still a kid. So maybe it’s just nostalgia. But to me, these older covers seem more enticing. Which ones would make you want to buy the books?

Now for some honesty. As I searched for the covers I remembered, I realized for the most part the covers that I feel best are the ones I first discovered when young. Does that mean they are better covers? I don’t know. Y’all decide. Maybe I’m remembering the past better than it was. Or maybe covers that came out in the 1980s and 1990s imprinted on young people the same way covers imprinted on me when I was a teen in the 1960s. I was lucky, because my favorite library, at Homestead Air Force Base, had many of the Gnome and Shasta titles from the 1950s.

001-dune

002-a-canticle-for-liebowitz

003-the-left-hand-of-darkness

004-childhoods-end

005-nineteen-eighty-four

006-the-martian-chronicles

007-the-foundation-trilogy

008-neuromancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

009-the-stars-my-destination011-the-demolished-man012-ringworld013-hyperion014-the-man-in-the-high-castle015-ender-s-game016-stranger-in-a-strange-land030-more-than-human032-lord-of-light036-the-moon-is-a-harsh-mistress037-starship-troopers038-the-windup-girl041-do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep044-way-station045-earth-abides051-city083-babel-17097-double-star134-the-end-of-eternity

All the Time in the World is Still Not Enough

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, January 7, 2016

All during my work years, while I toiled away at my 8:30-5:00 grind, I endlessly ached to be free. I just wanted time to write. Now that I’m retired, and have all the time in the world, it’s still not enough. I’m writing regularly, devoting hours a day to my task, but I’m not keeping up with all the ideas that beg me to give them birth. Recently I found Big Magic at the library, a lovely new book on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert. I highly recommend this book to those who struggles to be creative, whether at writing, music, art, dance, acting, or even robot design, while holding down a fulltime job and believing they don’t have enough time. Gilbert provides 276 pages of inspiration and advice that’s backed by the wisdom of her success. I know many people who are prejudiced against Elizabeth Gilbert for that same success, but I’m not one of them. Her advice resonated easily with my experiences.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert carefully illustrates that we all have enough time to be creative, no matter how busy our life, or how much free time we can find. She goes on to prove it’s the kind of shit sandwich you’re willing to eat that determines creative productivity. Gilbert explains that creativity always comes at a cost. It’s not about finding time, but paying the price. Writing every day is one of the costs. Whatever shit you have to eat to make yourself write is the cost. People give up on their dreams because they won’t suffer the shit that it takes. Her metaphor is crude, but makes a lot of sense if this is your kind of struggle.

I have all the time in the world, and it’s still not enough. What I’ve been learning the hard way, it’s not about time, it’s about work. There will always be an endless list of ideas I can write about. There will always be a limited amount of time. What determines my creative output is effort, not time. Everything Gilbert writes about I’ve been learning since I’ve retired. Time and again as I read this book, her advice clarified what I’ve been learning on my own without conscious clarity.

It really comes down to sticking to a project until it’s finished. It doesn’t matter how important the art, or how ambitious the scope, or whether it will make money or not. All that matters is getting into the zone and working. You work at what you like, and you don’t worry if anyone else will like it, buy it or judge it. Time isn’t an issue. It’s not about what I’ve done, or hope to do, it’s only about the project I’m working on at the moment. And at this moment, I’m reviewing this book.

Essay #995

Why We Draw, Paint and Photograph

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, October 26, 2015

I’m taking a community education course in beginning drawing and it’s making me think about why we draw, paint and photograph. I took the course to do something with a friend and learn a few drawing skills, but the class is making me contemplate the nature of art. Most people now carry a camera with them at all times because of smartphones. Why learn to sketch, when a click of the camera can capture any image far easier? Yet, before cameras, why did we want to draw what we saw? The urge goes back to our earliest days as cave dwellers. Did drawing skills precede language skills? Often, whenever we want to explain something complicated to another person, we draw a picture. The hot new trend in journalism is infographics. And, there’s that old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

cave art

My efforts to draw what I see has been extremely frustrating so far. I can draw a table that allows someone else to say, “Hey, that’s a table.” What frustrates me is I can’t accurately draw the table I see. I know I can’t become a human camera, but I do want to sketch with a level of accuracy that teaches me to see the abundance of details I’m currently ignoring. When I think about art, I wonder if I’m missing the point. Until we had cameras, artists strove to accurately record reality. Paintings were physical memories of what they saw. Artists also did more. They tell stories and create beauty. And, of course, they wanted to make a living, and maybe even become famous. Since I don’t need to earn money from drawing, nor do I care about fame, that leaves me with beauty, story and memory.

1024px-Botticelli-primavera

Right now I’m struggling to make smudges on paper that capture what I see. I’m picking objects that look easy to draw. But eventually I’ll want to record something I really want to remember, and something that I’m seeing in a more powerful way than how I look at things now. Ultimately though, I want to create something that’s beautiful. That’s the special quality of art. Art creates something that doesn’t exist in nature but competes with nature for beauty.

Right now I have absolutely no idea of how to create something new and beautiful, but I get the feeling that’s where this path leads. My teacher seems to know that’s where we need to go, but also knows we’re going to quickly get lost, and give up. Most people are artists when they are kids, but they lose their way. Maybe when we get old, we try to return to that way of looking at the world, like when we were young.

Gustave_Caillebotte_-_Paris_Street;_Rainy_Day_-_Google_Art_Project

I doubt I’ll ever become an artist, or even create something beautiful, but that doesn’t matter. Trying teaches me about the nature of art more than just admiring works in a gallery or studying art history courses. It’s like programming computers, there’s lots of procedures, subroutines and techniques to learn. There are tools to master, and coding languages to memorize. I’m surprised by how many technical tricks are involved in drawing. Talent might be involved, and it might not either. My guess is it’s mostly practice and work, and picking up skills and tricks from other artists.

Anyone can draw a picture or snap a photograph. It’s the why that matters. What do we want to remember, what story do we have to tell, can we capture beauty we discover in reality, or can we add something beauty to reality? I hope I can develop a daily habit of drawing, and it become a routine like exercising. It’s really hard to start doing something totally new late in life, but I think it will be good for me. Just the little effort I’ve put out for this class hurts my brain in a way that lets me know how artistically out of shape I am, and how artistically fit some of my friends are in comparison.

modern_art_by_dorianoart-d483eet

I use John’s Background Switcher to display random photography as wallpaper on my desktop. Every ten minutes I get a new scene capturing a beautiful instant from somewhere in the world. These photos are memories, stories and beauty. I’m astounded by the artistic visions that photographers find, often in locations other people would call ugly. Other times I have John’s Background Switcher randomly go through famous paintings. Every ten minutes I’m reminded of the amazing diversity of what’s possible to imagine that’s not in reality. These paintings and photos transcend time and space, and they tell a relentless story.

Table of Contents

Can Science Fiction Change Republican Minds About Climate Change?

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, November 8, 2014

The other day I was talking with my science fiction reading friends about whether or not science fiction can change public policy or opinion about the future. On one side of the argument, we had the belief that science fiction is only entertainment, on the other, some believed science fiction can enlighten people. I was on the side of science fictional enlightenment, but when asked to produce a list of books that actually changed public thinking, I was stumped. My only example was Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I think Orwell produced a number of memes about life in a totalitarian state that it has shaped political thought ever since. Just think how often his book was referenced during the recent NSA scandal.

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Back in the 1950s and 1960s, two science fiction novels were bestsellers that warned people against the atomic war apocalypse – Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, and On the Beach by Neville Shute. Neither are much remembered today, but then again, few people today worry about WWIII anymore. Did reading about Armageddon help us avoid it?

Despite the success of some of the new climate fiction (cli-fi) novels, I’m not sure they’re making an impact. Nineteen Eighty-Four is something Republicans can understand and embrace because it resonates with their political thinking, but how many conservatives have read Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson, or the brilliant The Windup Girl by  Paolo Bacigalupi? There’s a good chance that most people don’t read books that don’t match their current thinking.

After the mid-term elections it’s pretty obvious that the majority of Americans want Republican leaders, even if Republicans are against their personal interests. For example, Obamacare is proving most successful in red states. Republicans are extremely united in their opposition to climate change politics. Their denial of reality is amazing. And they’re absolutely consistent by siding for profit over environment. Nor do we see conservatives showing any signs of moving in new directions. Is there any book or movie that could make red state voters change their minds?

This is where I wonder about the power of science fiction, or just the power of art. Can any novel or movie actually change people’s minds if they already believe differently? Over my lifetime I feel I’ve constantly evolved because of my empathy with fictional characters. My own life is not as diverse as the life I see on TV, the big screen or in the pages of books, so I honestly feel I know more about people from art, than from just knowing them. I feel art expands my view on reality and changes me. But that could be an delusion.

Do I read liberal books because I’m already liberal, or because previous read liberal books made me liberal? Do conservatives read conservative books because they are conservative, or have conservative books made them conservative? If I read conservative books and conservatives read liberal books, would we change our views? I don’t know. Maybe genes override outside input.

Personally, I think the United States is making a fatal mistake by ignoring climate change and by choosing to destroy the environment. I could be wrong, and I’ve been wrong plenty of times, but on this issue, I think I’m right. Is there any way I could present my views in a novel that would convince people who don’t think like me to change their minds? Can anyone write a Nineteen Eighty-Four type story that would inspire millions to change their votes and avoid the future we’re racing to meet?

JWH

Boyhood (RT=99%) vs. And So It Goes (RT=16%)

Lately I’ve been fascinated about the relationship between the movie ratings at Rotten Tomatoes and my actual reactions to the films.

Boyhood is the much anticipated, critically acclaimed art movie that is getting overwhelmingly great reviews.  Friday night Janis, Laurie and I went to see Boyhood with great expectations of being wowed.  We weren’t quite – it was close though.  Boyhood is mostly impressive and yet, somewhat dull in places.  The same could be said about life though.

Saturday I went to see An So It Goes with my friend Anne, who is in love with Michael Douglas.  I went thinking I would hate it because the film was getting almost universal bad reviews.  As you might ironically guess, I enjoyed this film.  It was far from great.  It was slight and clichéd, yet it had a satisfying story, although there was much in it that annoyed me.

There was something in the “bad” film the “good” film needed, and vice versa.  Films are mainly commercial products meant to make lots of money, but we all hope to go see something great, something memorable, something that will even have the brilliant insight of art, or the emotional impact of a classic.  Boyhood is a unique film, and comes very close to being the winning Lotto ticket, but not quite.   There was something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on, something that might have been in And So It Goes, but I’m not sure.

Part of this essay is about the ambition and success of movie making, and part of it’s about movies about males.  Oddly enough, these two films make a good set of bookends about young and old males, about the nature of characterization, and what it means to tell a story.  Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is almost like a documentary in that it chronicles the life of Mason from age 5 to 18, and his life with his mother, sister, father and two step fathers.

Watching Boyhood reminded me of my own time growing up.  Nearly everything Mason experienced I remember going through, although things were different over a half century ago.  It’s obvious the writers wanted us to identify with the film, although why the focus on the boy, when the sister was so much part of the story too?

My parents were alcoholic, so like Mason I have memories of mental and physical fights between my mom and day, of hurling dishes and much worse, and car rides with drunken drivers.  This part of the film was a post-card memory of my boyhood.  It bothered me that the story had to race over these incidents because living through such experiences deserves far more story than the glossy note taking we’re given.  Growing up with alcoholics deserve Marcel Proust volumes.

Like Mason I moved around a lot, and was always the new kid in school.  However, Boyhood did not convey this experience with any depth either.  Being the new kid involves a lot of different experiences.  And being the new kid time and again has its own stories too.  Learning the new environments, meeting new people from different regions, finding new friends, making a new best friend, over and over.  The first kids that check you out are always the tough kids.  I was always a year younger than everyone else in my grade, and a bit of a pussy, yet I always ended up hanging out with kids in trouble with the school administration or the police because I was willing to go along.  Normal kids aren’t that open to new people right away.  However, I was good at eventually finding the geeky oddballs, my kind of people, and making friends with them.

Again Boyhood just glossed over these kinds of events.  To me it seemed Mason always had it easy, even when things were hard.  I’m sure the writers and director didn’t want us to think that.  I’m thinking this is where the artifice of art would have helped this movie.  The movie is a series of snapshots taken over a dozen years.  It needed some kind of thread to tie them together.  We only get to watch Mason from the outside, so we don’t know what’s going on inside his head.  Books like A Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar tell us interior of such suffering, but this movie doesn’t.  Even when Mason becomes an artist, either from graffiti or photos, we don’t see any expression of his internal world.

Another memory I share with Mason was looking at panty and bra ads as a little kid.  Back in the 1960s it was very hard for boys to come by porn, so we were limited to Sear’s catalogs and National Geographic magazines in our quest to find female nudity.  I envy modern boys the internet.  I was surprised the film didn’t have more unique takes on Mason’s boyhood sexual experiences.  Actual boyhood is being tortured by horniness.  It’s also filled with desperate longing for naked girls, either real, imaginary or on paper.  This desperation didn’t come through in this story.  And neither did any distinctive unique experiences that might have conveyed it.

I remember in 7th grade, my third of three 7th grade schools I attended in two states, where a new found buddy and I discovered we could get into the crawl spaces under houses pretty easy, and sometimes there was good  junk hidden under houses.  In one abandoned house on a back country road we found a big stash of girlie magazines.  We guessed the boy who lived there had been too chicken to try and take his treasure with the movers.  This pile of cheap Playboy wannabes made Chucky and I heroes with other boys at school for a couple weeks, as we gave, sold and traded them away.  What really surprised me was how popular they made us with the girls on the school bus.  They went crazy all wanting to sit next to me to look at the naked women too.  Boyhood could have used an incident like this that would have made Mason’s life felt more unique and less generic.

And how could Boyhood pass up tales of masturbation?  What a missed opportunity.  Onanism is a huge factor in boyhood.  All guys accidently figure things out on their own at first, and go through a period of worry about doing something very weird, until they talk to other guys and then discover that all the guys are doing the same thing.  Then you have all those family years of furtively trying to sneak off a quick tug once or twice a day wondering if your family suspects.  I can’t believe they left out that universal boyhood experience.

Boyhood is very impressive but also dull in a way.  Maybe American city life in the 21st century has a lot of homogeneity to it.  Mason and his sister lead sort of a slow frustrated existence.  Their suffering didn’t seem that awful, and their peak experiences didn’t seem that high.  I guess real life is like that, and we’ve gotten used to movie life being more exciting.  I did share many of the exact experiences Mason had.  Like having a religious relative give me a Bible and explaining the red words in the back, having an old guy teach me to shoot a shotgun, having a teacher or boss try to explain how to get ahead, or meeting strangers and getting high.  But in this movie, these incidents has a sort of plain vanilla take to them.  My memories were more intense, more complicated, more full of details.  I guess that’s the problem of trying to squeeze twelve years into about three hours of art.

And that brings us to the other movie, And So It Goes, which is only 93 minutes.  Michael Douglas plays a major asshole Oren Little, who openly promotes his animosity with everyone.  Oren is a realtor that wants to make one final sale, his own house, which he insists is worth 8.6 million no matter what offers he gets.  However, Oren lives in a run-down little four-plex he owns that he calls Shangri-la.  His next door neighbor is Diane Keaton, who apparently is attempting to make a late life move into the lounge singing profession.  Because this film is directed by Rob Reiner, you hope this old couple will give us another When Harry Met Sally. Well, no such luck.  The film is so full of such old clichés that you feel insulted.  I love geezer flicks, but I’m getting tired of the senile plot of old woman with heart of gold taming boyish asshole, especially when they add the help of cute kid and stupid dog.

Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t make many movies for us people with wrinkles, so we sort of have to like what we get.

One interesting take in And So It Goes is the contrast between the Michael Douglas character and the Rob Reiner character, Artie.  Artie plays the piano for the Diane Keaton’s character Leah.  He’s the safe, nice guy friend to her, who obviously dreams of getting lucky with Leah.  The movie makes fun of Artie,  which irritates me, because I’d look somewhat like Rob Reiner if I wore a bad toupee.  What And So It Goes does is reinforce the cliché that women will go to bed with assholes and forget the nice guys completely, unless they need a favor.  Which Artie fawningly obliges.  See, And So It Goes doesn’t attempt to be anthropological about males like Boyhood, but it pulls off a good deal of insight with little time and effort.  That’s where art pays off.

A tiny piece of dramatic conflict can say so much.  To me, the most painful conflict Mason experiences in Boyhood is when he discovers his dad, played by Ethan Hawke, has sold off his antique Pontiac GTO to buy a minivan for his new replacement family.  Mason has believed since the third grade that the GTO was his legacy.  I felt for him, because as a teenager I wanted a 1967 Pontiac GTO badly.  My father did buy the cheaper Pontiac Tempest in 1967, and so that was a strange compensation.  To me, this one very specifically detailed experience Mason had was the most important emotional scene of the movie.  I could tell what he was thinking in greater detail because this fictional incident felt more real, as if it could have been based on a real incident.  Boyhood isn’t a documentary, and its characters are fictional, yet, it fictionalizes them in a very plain vanilla way.

And So It Goes is also fictional, but its fictionalize details have more color to them.  Unfortunately, Michael Douglas gets all the character attention in this film.  Keaton, kid and dog have very supporting roles.  Oren is redeemed when he delivers a baby in strained humor and eventually accepts responsibility for the grand kid.  Nothing is very good in this movie, yet I still enjoyed it.  Movie makers know how to churn out generic feel good for the most part nowadays, partly by being inventive with character details.  It’s a product, not an art.  We give them $10 and they give us a couple hours of reasonable escapism.  A good hack writer has no trouble making up details to paint a character.

Now an important psychological insight into me could be that I can see colorful details in movies about old people, but not about modern young people.

The trouble is Boyhood is being treated like James Joyce, and And So It Goes is being dismissed as a step up from fan fiction, and to me, the movie watcher, neither are as good or bad as the critics claim.  I will soon forget both thoroughly, yet while I was watching I didn’t regret spending my time or money for either.  That’s because we don’t really judge our escapism as real art.  Boyhood was an extremely neat film hack, but it didn’t go deep enough to be art.  The only other film I watched this week was Fahrenheit 451, a Truffaut film from 1966, that I think was the fifth time I seen it since it came out.  Now, that’s art, at least in my mind.  Any film you watch over and over again for a whole lifetime has to have a special tag.  Art is good enough for me.

Art is something that will last, will be remembered, and has something unique to express.  With movies and novels, the most artistic of them, will have a great story.  That’s what was missing from these two films.  Boyhood was too naturalistic, And So It Goes too contrived.  And So It Goes had too many attempted stories in it.  I can completely buy an old man obsessed with selling his house for a price that he believes in that no one else does.  I can completely buy a story about an old man who has to raise his granddaughter because his heroin addicted son has to go to jail.  I can completely buy an 65-year old woman trying to break into music as a Lounge Singer.  But doing all three in a 93 minute film is a farce.  Putting twelve years of boyhood into three hours is a stretch too.  The shorter movie needed more realistic details, and the longer film needed more artificial structure.

JWH – 8/4/14 (Happy Birthday Janis)