Netflix

Patton Oswalt: Annihilation

Patton Oswalt Annihilation

Patton Oswalt is obviously a really smart guy. He has a jaw-dropping ability to react to, dissect, build on, and recontextualize situations on the fly. And anything that brings together him, Bob Goldthwait, and M. Ward can’t be all bad.

 

But . . .

 

You always get the feeling he could do better but he’s decided to take the easier path. (Witness his decision to play second banana on the MST3K reboot.)

 

He’s obviously trying to push his personal envelope with the Netflix Annihilation special, and the result is a comedy routine that’s frequently funny even when it ventures into what, even by the current, low standards, is uncomfortable territory. But it all ultimately feels safe—nerd safe.

 

There’s vast creative potential in exploring what happens when nerds are confronted by brutal reality in ways they can’t shrug off by retreating into a womb-like fantasy world. And Oswalt comes really close to going there—but he never crosses the line into the truly risky, and that’s where the special falls short. And that failure underlines an even greater flaw.

 

Oswalt has always been a guy in a bubble talking to other people inside the same bubble. He talks a lot in Annihilation about empathizing, but it’s not really empathizing if you’re just telling people who believe exactly what you do exactly what they want to hear.

 

He spends about the first third of the special venting, with good cause, over the current sad state of things. But he ultimately just reinforces his audience’s prejudices—the same smug, judgmental, knee-jerk behavior that helped create the crisis in the first place.

 

Simply put, if he can’t acknowledge the weaknesses in his positions, and by extension the positions of his audience, he’s not really empathizing. This epidemic of people within every imaginable political and cultural subgroup preaching only to the converted, and by doing so only reinforcing the oppressive divide & conquer worldview they claim to abhor, might be the single most malignant cultural disease.

 

That doesn’t mean every comedian should stop what they’re doing and submit their philosophies and dogma to merciless scrutiny—most of them aren’t up to the task so it would only lead to another empty exercise in narcissism. But the ones who claim to be deeply disturbed by the broken social landscape should, and they should do it publicly. Otherwise, nothing’s going to change.

 

Put another way, people have gotten so desperate for constant, unqualified praise that they’re scared crapless to challenge anybody or anything directly, and instead blame all their woes on some bogeyman Other.

 

But let me make the point again: Oswalt is really funny here. And he’s obviously really smart. So Annihilation is a good use of your time. I’m just not comfortable with anyone who decries the state of the world while turning a blind eye to what they’re doing to contribute to the fiasco.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Dangal

Netflix Dangal

I have been a fan of Bollywood movies since I was still living in Greece. They’re usually melodramatic but always sincerely heartfelt, with family relationships providing the core of most plots.

 

Bollywood reminds me of the Greek movies of the ‘60s, which is considered the golden era of Greek commercial cinema. In both Greek and Indian movies, the drama usually revolves around a disciplinarian patriarch and a sonor a daughterwho want to escape the father’s rule and pursue their own destiny (usually by marrying the one they love). It’s a well-honed formula that works most of the time because nobody is trying to shove some political message down people’s throats. That family life complies to societal rules is the accepted reality in India, and the audience never gets tired of seeing their experience magnified on the big screen.

 

Dangal is no exception to this formula. Against the accepted tradition that wrestling is a man’s sport, a father (superstar Aamir Kahn in one of his most disciplined performances) trains his two reluctant daughters to become word-famous wrestling champions. The girls try to rebel at first but eventually succumb to their father’s wishes because they realize that his heart is in the right placehe wants to see his kids to bring glory to their country and family

 

In an American movie, the girls would have become independent and left their father behind, with his ambitions for them crushed. But this is an Indian movie that’s a true mirror image of Indian culture. Whether, as westerners, we accept itor even like itthe message is that, in India, family is king and “father knows best.”

 

I was surprised to read in the NY Times recently that Dangal broke attendance records not just in India but also in China. In just two months, it took in more than $194 milliona number that, until then, had been only achieved by Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Star Trek.

 

I’m not usually a social commentator, but this highly unusual performance of a non-Hollywood film has me thinking: Are audiences around the world getting tired of movies built around special effects? Could it be that people are identifying with something more substantial and satisfying than a premise put together by a committee after “market research? In the case of Dangal, that “something” is a beating heart and a culture that audiences can identify with

Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

The Big Short

Netflix The Big Short

The Big Short is episodic, top heavy with stars, blatantly political, shamelessly didactic, feels a lot like an economics lesson, doesn’t have any romance or sex, doesn’t have any violence, doesn’t have any role-model female leads, and is sometimes just plain ineptin other words, it’s everything a big Hollywood film’s not supposed to be. But it worksand it works so well that you wish Adam McKay would swear off Will Ferrell comedies for a while and make more serious, flawed, I’ll-try-anything-as-long-as-it-works films like this one instead.

 

I guess it’s a good thing mainstream audiences will now accept heavily fragmented movies about process. (There’s a steep downside to that that I won’t go into right now.) But there’s nothing radical about The Big Shortit’s basically an old-fashioned men-at-work tale filled with lovable losers that reaffirms some traditional values that probably haven’t had a meaningful presence in American society in over 30 years. But it does get you to consider the country’s financial and moral bankruptcy, how pervasive they are, and how deeply they’re intertwinedsomething well beyond the means of almost any American filmmaker.

 

Ryan Gosling does his Ryan Gosling thing, Christian Bale does his “No, I’m an actorreally” thing, Brad Pitt turns in another solid performance that makes you wish he’d take more chances, and Steve Carell, as usual, steals the show. McKay seems to be good at handling actors, but it’s hard to tell because the action’s so disjointed and, for the most part, superficial, and Carell is the only one who goes anywhere new.

 

It’s almost impossible to put your finger on why this film works. It’s like somebody put on a shaggy dog costume to tell a deeply serious tale, and you can’t ignore it because it won’t stop slobbering all over you. (That’s not a criticism, by the way, but said instead with a kind of awe.)

 

The cinematography is nothing spectacular, varying between undistinguished and standard-issue contemporary pretentious, so streaming doesn’t do it a lot of harm. That doesn’t mean The Big Short isn’t cinematic, but it’s one of those films you could watch on your cellphone and maybe lose only 5% of the impact. Maybe.

 

And that, in this case, is a good thing.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Full Metal Jacket

Netflix Full Metal Jacket

Received wisdom thinks dark, gritty movies are a recent phenomena, but they really began working their way into the mainstream right around the time the studio system began to unravel, beginning with Aldrich’s 1955 Kiss Me Deadly. They hit their peak—along with a lot of other styles and genres—in 1968, the year of Night of the Living Dead, and have had an insidious influence on just above every kind of film ever since.

 

Lynch, seeing the culture take the reactionary turn he wanted but sensing it couldn’t hold, took them someplace new in 1986 with Blue Velvet. But the film that’s probably had the biggest influence on contemporary grim is Kubrick’s 1987 Full Metal Jacket.

 

It’s a troubling film in more than one way—partly because you can sense the master starting to lose his grip. But it’s also fearless—something you can’t say about practically any of the noisy and abusive but heavily risk-averse stuff that’s come in its wake.

 

Don’t expect to see a pristine image when you watch Jacket on Netflix—but this isn’t a pristine movie, so that’s not the end of the world. Kubrick wanted it to have a washed-out, documentary feel, and I suspect even a print as distressed as the Vietnam combat footage he was aping would be really compelling to watch. But streamed, the darker the film gets, the more the various artifacts come to the fore until by the infamous sniper scene there are whole mosaics of tiling to distract you.

 

But even Kubrick on the wane is a better investment than just about any film made by anyone ever, so this is worth watching under just about any circumstances. And Netflix’ streamed version isn’t awful—it’s just not as good as it should be.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.