Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Chase Scene Gone Awry

If you missed this scene from Community, college students Jeff and Annie pursue a shady professor in a hilarious chase scene that mocks your typical Hollywood film. The setting: a gigantic blanket fort. The conflict: professor protecting fake course. Background music: epic, orchestral, heavy on the strings and percussion. The action only gets more absurd, and hilarious, from there.

Happy Friday.

Filed under: television, , , , , ,

Casey Affleck’s Tour de Force

You know when you sort of just happen into a movie, knowing only the scant details (say, that you admire Jim Thompson’s dark, noirish fiction or that Michael Winterbottom is one of those directors not to miss) and end up open-mouthed, slack-jawed, wide awake?

Yesterday I caught a matinee of The Killer Inside Me, an indie film for sure, but also one of the most grotesque, artful, admirable films I’ve seen in a long time. Why is the film such a must see?

First, the violence is outrageously graphic, yet with purpose. There are gruesome, gasp-inducing acts of evil. The acts on screen are not for moviegoers who like their action movies with a lot of cliched showboating (the hoopla around the Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz motorcycle gun fight comes to mind) or aesthetically stylized violence (in the vein of Kill Bill or The Matrix). This is violence intended to expose moviegoers to the screwed-up psychology of the film’s narrator, Lou, a psychopathic serial killer who has a double life as a small-town sheriff. As one reviewer described the film: “You were never going to get the Sunday School teachers for this movie anyway.”

But for all of the critical attention on the film’s violence, it is the performance of Casey Affleck that transforms this story from Hollywood schlock to Oscar-worthy consideration.

Affleck plays the film’s killer and protagonist, Lou. He’s got the most serene and creepy, thin-lipped smile throughout this film. As a viewer, you veer constantly between complete trust and silent horror. That smile hides it all.

When Affleck first appears, you’re thrown off by the boyish looks and his voice, which still seems to carry an air of teenage angst. Yet when he remains still, his face frozen, you know this is not a boy. When he walks down the hallway of a dank jail after murdering a young boy and casts a wicked, direct gaze at the camera, you’re chilled to the bone. I had forgotten how powerful Affleck was in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. That movie was about showcasing Affleck’s vulnerability; in contrast The Killer Inside Me highlights the young actor’s duality–his ability to embody the ingenue and the psychopath at the same time.

As Winterbottom says about his desires for Affleck’s character:

The Lou, as he sees himself, is different to the Lou he acts to the world. He puts on this front for the world and then when he’s at home, he’s a different person, so you want to constantly trying to work out “What is really going on in his head?” “What does he believe?” “What doesn’t he believe?” “What bit is the fake bit where he’s real?” “How much does he see that what he is doing makes no sense?” “How much is he lost in his world?”

He’s a very unreliable narrator in the book and you have to have that sense of someone you are trying to work out, really. I think Casey is a great actor generally, but I think that’s his particular strength, that he is able to make you curious about what’s going on inside his head.

Such an amazing movie. Dark, dark, dark–unapologetically so.

The Killer Inside Me is contemporary film noir (and exceeds, in quality, Thompson’s previous efforts to translate his pulp fiction to the big screen, like After Dark, My Sweet); similar to the faux-innocent suburban idyll of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, this film attempts to show evil as it manifests itself in ordinary men.

Also shocking are the moments–however small–of clarity and empathy within this man’s convoluted heart. For example, a moment when Lou pauses in the midst of a violent murder to read his newspaper and acknowledge his victim’s efforts to reach pathetically for her black purse: it’s pure clarity for the killer, and may even be the seed–untended, of course–of love. Unfortunately, Thompson never allows his characters the release of a proper dénouement. Lou is a killer at heart, and Winterbottom–a masterful storyteller–know how to squash any empathy we feel for Lou when he returns to his savage ways.

The Killer Inside Me is a visually stunning, absurd, unapologetically violent film. Forsake the bubble gum out there and go see this dark little gem.

Filed under: film, , , , , , , , , ,

Look Up: Objects of Beauty, Stylized Graffiti, Social Commentary

Above, an ingenious street artist whose iconic image is an arrow pointing towards the sky, has hit Los Angeles with his  art. The video above is a nice introduction to his work and influences (growing up in apartment buildings, saving money to go to Paris at 19), while the video below (titled “Movie Star Arrow Mobiles“) is less a tutorial and more an art object itself.

The artist’s new self-described project includes images of 100 Hollywood celebrities, dangling from electrical wires throughout the famous city:

Above flew to Los Angeles for 12 days and hung his new revised “Movie star arrow mobiles” in the heart of Hollywood giving Los Angeles a large dose of exactly what it obsesses about; movies and the actors that make the city of Los Angeles so uniquely scandalous.

Happening upon one of his mobiles, created from wood and stenciled with one or two-word directives, is a thing of beauty. Catching the shadows of these spinning art objects or watching people’s faces as they engage with the eponymous work is just as intoxicating.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Filed under: art, consumerism, culture, , , , , , , , , ,

Literary Nonfiction and Hollywood Film: Perfect Strangers

Hollywood meets Journalism: Writer/director Sean Penn and Nonfiction writer Jon Krakauer in front of McCandless' last place of residence

My partner and I watched Sean Penn’s really stunning, really sympathetic portrait of Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild last night and afterward, debated the meaning of creative nonfiction. At least the idea of creative nonfiction–both the literary genre and as it applies to film–was my concern. And as is often the case, we argued. Our misunderstandings emerge from a place where I often think one thing, get frustrated with his incomprehension of the thing I am deliberating, and metaphorically throw my hands in the air. Talking to me must not be an easy thing for any sane person to do.

I digress. Creative nonfiction. I think it’s a great metaphor for the Hollywood approach to film (or should I say movies)? Into the Wild, The Orchid Thief, Jarhead, A Million Little Pieces: all recent, acclaimed, best-selling works of nonfiction. I’m not saying they were personal favorites. But I acknowledge their commercial success, and the glint in the eyes of Hollywood producers, who would translate these essentially “true” stories to mass movie entertainment.

But what are filmmakers’ responsibilities to real life? To the sequencing of events, for example? To the dialogue of real people, both those that existed and those created for the sake of the narrative, and the infinite truths that each of these living (or dead) people know about their own stories?

Christopher McCandless, in one of the few photographs from his travelsIn the case of Into the Wild, for example. I have no doubt that Jon Krakauer, in his bestselling work of nonfiction, did extensive, carefully cited research. He spent hours, days, years, uncovering the story of the 22 year-old who graduated from Emory, donated his life savings (more than twenty thousand dollars) to Oxfam (good for him), and set off to tramp around the country, untethered to material goods and in search of true experience.

But how can a film with dozens of actors who have never met the real man, a writer/director who has never met the deceased young man, and millions of filmgoers, seated in darkened theaters or watching from laptops in private corners of their homes, truly know the experience of Chris McCandless? Yes, the film is based on his journals and interviews with family and friends he met on the road. But is this the truth? Whose truth? And don’t all of us who have learned and been entertained by the story, in a sense, diminish McCandless’ experience, revering and mythmaking (or converesely, criticizing and demeaning) this human through our communal processing?

I don’t mean to be critical. More to meditate and discover. True story to film is, of course, a natural and longstanding thing. And in the case of Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, I don’t think he has characterized the adventurer McCandless poorly. It is the sheer fact of the characterization I’m interested in. The ways that authors and audiences seize facts and events and shape them for their own purposes.

The poet Sharon Olds, who contributes to "Into the Wild"Another example of creative nonfiction in this studio film: the use of a poem by Sharon Olds. Olds may be one of my favorite poets, brutal and gorgeous, unflinching and transcendent. In my view, the poet takes the quotidian events of her own experience–watching her little boy play with others at a birthday party, talking to her daughter about Mickey Mouse–and crafts these real moments into art. The boys become metaphors for soldiers of war or the violence indivisible from gender; the mother and daughter a lesson on sex and finding beauty, not shame, in the female body. Olds is one-of-a-kind. Sean Penn, too, admires her, and utilized her poem “I Go Back to May 1937” for an extended montage midway through his film to give body to the family of McCandless.

This combination of real people (the McCandless family), contemporary poetry (Olds’ poem about her own parents), and aesthetic concern (Penn’s interest in showing the intricacies of a typical American family) are the ingredients for what we see on the big screen. Little of this is concretely tied to the wanderings and networks of McCandless’ inner life. We can presume, from the writings that he left, that we’re embracing the essence of his thoughts and feelings. Can we be certain that the many parties involved have captured what McCandless himself felt?

Memoirist and journalist Vivian Gornick, one of the greats, reflects on the New Journalists’ use of creative nonfiction in this way: “We all felt that immediate experience signified. Wherever a writer looked, there was a narrative line to be drawn from the political tale being told on a march, at a party, during a chance encounter.”

The double-edged sword of creative nonfiction. To tell the truth and to tell a story. Perfect accompaniments or polar opposites? And how does creative nonfiction–in a literary sense–compare with Hollywood films whose purpose is to fictionalize real events for entertainment?

Filed under: culture, film, writing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Another Sad Report: Dennis Hopper Dead at 74

Sad news. Dennis Hopper has died of prostate cancer.

From Easy Rider to Apocalypse Now to his terrifying, hard-to-take-your-eyes-away performance as Frank in Blue Velvet (not for the faint of heart), Hopper was one of the best actors around. RIP.

Filed under: entertainment, film, , , , , , ,



» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
August 2020


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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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