8 thoughts on “Movies 2022

  1. Sword of Trust (2019)
    Dir. Lynne Shelton
    Starring: Marc Maron (Mel), Jon Bass (Nathaniel), Michaela Watkins (Mary), Jillian Bell (Cynthia)
    68/100

    This film is a mixed-bag, flawed, but entertaining moments that tilts the scales, creating somewhat fond feelings for the film. Maron’s performance is another reason for this as well as a subplot involving his character.

    Here’s a description of the plot: Mary and Cynthia try to pawn a recently received sword, which they claim proves the South actually won the Civil War. Mel, the pawnshop owner, being a sensible person, thinks this is nuts, and an insult to his intelligence. But after his assistant, Nathaniel, shows him a youtube Civil War conspiracy theorist offering big money for relics that can prove his claim, Mel changes his mind and hatches a plan to get the money.

    ***
    There were some solid laugh-out-loud moments, which is one reason I think fondly of the film. I’m not very familiar with Maron, but not did I enjoy his comedic moments, but there were some surprising dramatic moments in this film—surprising not only because at least of the moments came out of left field, but Maron’s dramatic acting was quite good. (I would compare that left-field moment to the Quint’s U.S.S. Indianapolis story in Jaws. It’s a very different movie, but both scenes were a left turn that I didn’t see coming.)

    At the same time, while these dramatic moments were effectively poignant, I still don’t see the connection with the larger theme of the movie—specifically, the skewering of conspiracy theorists, specifically Trump supporters that embrace election fraud falsehoods. At the end of the film, Mel seems to give in a bit to his old girlfriend, displaying several acts of kindness. But this underscores the lack of graciousness and mercy towards the people the film makes fun of. Is there no compassion for them from progressives?

    One last disappointment, and it relates somewhat to the last point above—namely, the film’s failure to satisfy viewers with an understanding of these Trump supporters. The film actually teases the viewer with this promise. I’m thinking specifically of Mel’s speech in the van, where he explains the reason he’s going to see the guy in person, in spite of the foolishness of doing so. (I liked this moment.) The end is a cop out, pulling the rub under viewers, to some degree.

  2. The Sparks Brothers (2021)
    Dir. Edgar Wright

    “Throughout all the years I’ve been making music, if you get on a tour bus, and you sit on a long ride with a bunch of other musicians, eventually the conversation will go to Sparks.” That’s what the musician Beck said in this documentary about Sparks, or more specifically brothers Ron and Russell Mael, the nucleus of the group. Surprise was how I reacted to this comment–because I had never heard of Sparks, at all. It’s not like I’m a musical expert, but I’m interested enough in music to think that I would have at least heard of this group. In any case, I only watched this because of a friend’s recommendation, and I’m glad I did.

    I’ll mention two reasons I enjoyed the film—one, Edgar Wright’s creative and amusing direction, and, two, learning about the brothers and their interesting music. Surprisingly, their actual music was the least appealing thing—it’s everything else that I found interesting. (I’ll say more about this later.) In this way, they remind me of my reaction to John Cage, the iconoclastic composer and thinker.

    If I have one criticism, it’s the lack of deeper analysis of Sparks’ aesthetic and approach. The Mael brothers don’t say a lot about their approach, nor do the featured talking heads–well, not enough to satisfy me anyway.

    ***
    One thing that seems to set this band apart from other groups, doing similar things, is the naturalness and sincerity behind the music, which makes the satire and humor much more subtle—but also likely more confusing and odd for at least some viewers. A group like The Residents, for example, (who came to mind while watching this) is blatantly bizarre,
    putting them clearly in the underground, avant-garde category. Nor are they blatantly satirical (read: over-the-top) like Weird Al or even Spinal Tap, which can result in failing to notice the satire and humor. Sparks does has just enough qualities for viewers to think they are a legitimate pop group. But there odd features, the subject matter and lyrics, as well as Russ’s singing style, and both of the brothers’ stage personae, can creates a dissonance that could leave listeners with some doubts. They basically seem to have placed themselves and their music in gray zone, at least to some.

    Earlier, I mentioned that other aspects of Sparks, besides the music, interested me. Their perseverance and commitment to their art are an example of this. In their appearances in the film, they seem like low-key individuals–there are almost no expressions of passion or anguish–including when they speak about struggles and slow periods in their career. This give the impression that they chug through these hard times and move onto to new things, unwavering and confident, in almost a machine-like fashion. I think this is very different from artists who don’t have a lot of commercial success–particularly those that actually tasted mainstream success and actually make music that has this potential. I came away with the sense that money and fame were far less important than their artistic vision (but to be honest I didn’t think the film really tried to dig into these topics).

    I also like the visual and performance features of the group. I wished Wright dug into this more–including Ron’s stage persona with silent film icons like Chaplin and Hulot. It seems clear that Ron is going for this. At the same time, his early stage persona seemed to be an ambiguous mixture of Chaplin and Hitler. Was that a mistake or intentional?

    Russ’s stage persona seems more subtle–namely, there is less affectation. His persona and stage performances seem natural and genuine, as if it reflects Russ, more than being a construct like Ziggy Stardust. But I’m uncertain about this. There’s a doll-like, pretty-boy quality–similar to other pop lead vocalists, and give their penchant for satire and humor, I wonder if this is an artifice designed to make the satire more effective and biting. Again, as far as I can recall, this isn’t a question the film really explores.

    Although the music itself, at least on the surface, doesn’t really appeal to me, and I’m not keen on analyzing lyrics, the film showed me enough to do both (or at least plan to).

    1. The coworker who recommended I see Annette also recommended this, since the Sparks brothers wrote Annette. I haven’t gotten to it yet because I have other things on the to-view list.

    2. Yeah, the documentary definitely increased me interest in seeing Annette.

      By the way, did you hear of Sparks before? while growing up? I don’t remember them at all, although when I heard “Cool Places” (with Jane Wiedin), the song sounded vaguely familiar.

      Edit:

      The one thing I forgot to mention. I like their album covers. I believe Ron’s undergraduate degree is in art, and I think it shows in their album covers.

      null

      Kimono My House

      (I like the title, Kimono My House as well.)

      1. I was aware of them, and I heard a few things (Cool Places was a minor MTV hit, so I totally remember that), but nothing stuck with me. When we were in our first years of college, there was a Christian alt-pop-dance group called Sparks and I kept getting the two bands confused. The Christian band was only okay, and I think they only put out two or three albums.

        1. Tangential follow-up.

          Sparks the Christian band was Greg and Rebecca Sparks, who released two albums as Sparks and one as Greg and Rebecca Sparks.

          I knew I was forgetting part of the story, and (as often) AllMusic had the answer. Greg and Rebecca spun off from an earlier dance group called Bash ‘n the Code, whom I did like very much.

          Turns out Greg and Rebecca are still touring and performing together, which is nice to hear.

          This was my favorite Bash ‘n the Code song. “Big Mouth” (1987).

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