Chuck Klosterman In Three Sections

Chuck-Klosterman-by-Kris-Drake-USE-THIS.jpg

I feel like you can break down Chuck Klosterman’s bibliography into three types of books, so that’s what I’m gonna do. Firstly, you have the “essay” books. These are the books that Klosterman is most famous from and for, including Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto and Eating The Dinosaur, among others. They include essays whether on an overarching topic or not, and just his random thoughts and muses from things on music, sports, sociology and such, drawing on an idea from a piece of pop culture. Secondly, we have his narrative fiction novels with Downtown Owl and The Visible Man. These are his foray into fiction storytelling, but still are just basically a different conduit for him to wax about small town America or frame his theories on human interaction through a different book medium. Lastly, are his essays with an overarching theme that ties each essay and chapter together such as I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling With Villains and But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About The Present As If It Were The Past. These have essays that may vary in topic, but are still about the theme at large and contribute to a corner of that picture, hoping to paint something new with all these ideas tackling it from different directions. I’m not here to say anyone is better, it’s just interesting to see the progression Klosterman has taken in how he intends to approach his ideas, since it’s a clear leap from one idea to the next in how he frames these books.

1. Essays

I think “Fargo Rock City” is his best book, and coincidentally or not it’s his first one, mostly because it doesn’t fall into any boring memoir traps and focuses on the topic at hand rather than shoehorning himself into everything. When I first heard it was a memoir I was a little apprehensive because I could care less about how popular music affected one dude because it’s literally the same case for millions around the world. Klosterman always talks about the minutiae and differences about growing up in a small town in the mid-west, but he always does it with a tone where he seems to think he’s the only with this upbringing and that there aren’t millions of people who have grown up the same way he did and he’s not honouring us with this special look into small town lifestyle. Anyways, “Fargo Rock City” was good because he focused on the music and charted how it progressed and grew in and of itself and didn’t relate back to himself that much.

“Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs” isn’t as good as “Fargo Rock City” mainly because it lacked the throughline that his first one possessed. I never really buy into that thing where people say you either love something or you hate it, but with these certain Klosterman essays I find you’ll either 100% agree with his opinion/theory or will 100% think he’s off base and thus think his whole argument is dumb and pointless. I love dissecting pop culture and I love how Klosterman will take a seemingly random thing like The Real World, Pamela Anderson or Saved By The Bell and explore some tangential themes of societal roles, sexual identity and ideas about perceived time and identity. Like, I said before, though, if you’re on board with the idea or piece of pop culture, you’ll love it, and thus I know this book would be most popular with Gen Xers, but I can easily see someone hating it due to his wild posits and smug attitude.

Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story is a lot like “Fargo Rock City” in that it’s a memoir framed around rock music essays, except this time it’s a lot more memoir-based and focused on the various women in Klosterman’s life and how his relationships succeeded and failed with them. Suffice to say I could not have cared less, because there’s nothing more I hate than writers writing about their love life because they always treat it like some life or death thing that seems so important to the person living that life, but to us reading it it always feels so trite and vapid.

While his first two books have some connectivity, they’re largely just an excuse to write about whatever. Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade Of Curious People And Dangerous Ideas and Eating The Dinosaur on the other hand are just truly a collection of random essays, and thus they all average out to be pretty average with some good and some not-so good. Again, I gravitate to the music essays, so “IV” is great in that it features a ton of his profiles on bands that are maybe some of my favourite things of his to read.

2. Novels

I was really interested to see how Klosterman would fare entering the realm of novels and while they were fine in and of themselves, they didn’t really offer anything new. Downtown Owl is right within his wheelhouse where he gets to paint a picture of small town life, that he is very good at, even when he’s being weirdly elitist about it. He’s great at connecting you to these characters and this small-town world in such a short amount of time.

The Visible Man has a cool concept of a guy that can make himself invisible, but Klosterman doesn’t take it on a “fun” route or anything like that, rather it’s more about the terror it brings to the humanity of those in possession of this power that you wouldn’t think about on a surface level. I did like this framing device because it was a smart and easy way for Klosterman to tell a story, but also an easy way to get out all his theories and ideas about human behaviour that he normally would just have in a pop culture essay. He was able to siphon his thoughts through a psuedo Hannibal Lecter type character (ie. someone being pried for info while they pontificate about random stuff to get into the head of the interviewer). Unfortunately, the novel is quite short and doesn’t really go anywhere in its story or ends up at any credible philosophical ending.

3. Connective Theme Essays

Klosterman’s most recent books “I Wear The Black Hat” and “But What If We’re Wrong” tackle his essay approach in a whole other way. Each essay is made to build up the overarching theme of the book, villains in the first book and the idea about how we think about certain things in the past or present in the latter, whether it be through his usual haunts of music, sports and so forth or through more scientific examining. I felt that “I Wear The Black Hat” failed because while its parts were good it didn’t really add up to anything new, it just confirmed whatever everybody always knows/thought about the concept of “villains” in modern culture.

“But What If We’re Wrong” takes Klosterman books to another level because he actually goes to experts about things and interviews them, because they know all about the scientific side of things, while Klosterman then covers the sociological and culture side of things. He outlines the thought and backs it up with the scientific thought and then approaches it with his idea and what he believes it says about a certain thing.

Advertisements

My Top 10 Favourite Films Of 2013

Before Midnight Best Banner

1. Before Midnight

This film is so raw and honest that nothing can even come close to it. I’m an unabashed fan of realism on film, and this one explores relationships like none other. The build-up of the predecessors do nothing but to make it more meaningful.

2. 12 Years A Slave

The most powerful movie I’ve seen all year and the first in awhile to make me actually feel something when I left the theatre. Ejiofor was overlooked in the awards race, but his performance still is resonating in me.

3. Gravity

The most uncomfortable I’ve been watching a movie in forever. My claustrophobia and being afraid of heights didn’t help me in watching it, but it made it much realer and hit harder than many other films could even dream.

4. The Wolf Of Wall Street

Probably the funnest movie of the year, glorifying sex and drugs and making it seem like the best thing ever. What a ride, and great performances all around to legitimatize it in this world.

5. Inside Llewyn Davis

One of the most personable films of the year with the best music. The Coens somehow keep introducing classic to their filmography.

6. Her

The most beautiful film I’ve seen all year. A poignant and important take on relationships as well as how modern-day technology shapes us.

7. Dallas Buyers Club

Great film heralded by legendary performances by McConaughey and Leto. Strong message and just inherently winnable.

8. The Past

An enormous surprise to me with a film that just kept compounding elements to be the incredible shock of the year for me.

9. Prisoners

So incredibly overlooked and underrated when it came to awards season, but it remains one of the best thriller I’ve see in quite a long time.

10. Star Trek Into Darkness

I really didn’t have a slot filled in here, but I remembered how much fun I had with the Star Trek sequel that I decided to throw it in here for its enjoyment in adventure and how it personifies what a summer blockbuster should be.

‘Stoker’: Review

Stoker Banner

Stoker has a goddamn weird make-up of in-front of and behind the camera talent. Park Chan-Wook’s English-language debut, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, written by Wenthworth Miller, yes that dude from Prison Break, and starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman and Dermot Mulroney. ALRIGHT. I really wanted to like this more than I did, not that it’s really all that bad, but it’s a pretty average and by the number film if not for some great visual flourishes.

There’s attempts to make something beyond your whole “incest” themed and weird familial relationship thing, but it never truly manifests. It does everything it tends to pretty averagely. The acting is good all around, but never pushes into that next level to make me actually remember anything. It’s a soap-opera in a turn of words, in that it explores the relationships of these people in such close quarters with each other and how that so crazily reflects off of them.

Where the film feels pretty normal on its storytelling front, its visuals attempt to help the film along and provide an alternate and deep viewing on what the film is beginning to portray. It’s disparaging when the content is so mediocre, but the visuals around it are so much better and attempt to mask what the base part of the film is presenting.

 

‘Only God Forgives’: Review

Only God Forgives Banner

Off the heels of Drive which looking back split a lot of people, mostly due to his violence, but one that I enjoyed quite well, another Gosling/Refn combo film seemed like something that wouldn’t fail to entertain. A spiritual in-tone sequel, Only God Forgives ends up being exactly what critics of Drive thought it to be. It’s focused so heavily on shock value that it overshadows anything else that possibly could make the film great.

Refn seemingly only knows how to direct Gosling as a mute who fights and kills to get anything across. I know he thinks it’s honourable and cool to have a silent assassin type, but it eventually just becomes trite and more of a parody than something you can actually take seriously. Kristin Scott Thomas’ character is the exact same as Gosling, but instead of violence I’m supposed to taken aback by her choices of words and phrasing. Refn is basing all of our reaction to this character by us being shocked when a   50+ year-old woman says something like “cum dumpster.” It, of course, doesn’t work at all and is very laughable at how bad it is.

There isn’t much to take from this positively, I guess the fight scene(s) are fine for what they are if short and anti-climactic. Anything “thought-provoking” that Refn is obviously striving for never resonate and it all remains a schlock mess of a B-movie. It’s a shame that such a film had to succumb to this and fall to such depths.

2.5/10

‘Kick-Ass 2’: Review

Kick-Ass 2

I enjoyed Kick-Ass enough when it came out in 2010. It was a cool twist on the superhero genre that was just really becoming monumental then, and was a nice diversion. Working off two fronts, being an alternative to the soft PG-13 comic book movies, Kick Ass was crude, violent and had a pre-teen girl saying “cunt.” Also, it played off of that couple months when everyday people dressing up as superheroes and fighting “crime” was all the rage.

To put it simple, the sequel is a fine enough follow-up, but really wholly unnecessary. Kick-Ass was fun, and in theory a sequel was thought to be enticing, but never really built off anything from the first film, or expanding the universe in any great detail. It’s a serviceable film, ie. it’s not bad, but largely forgettable in only really attempting to ape the first film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is really perfectly cast, and does some nice stuff here, but again it’s largely a retread of everything covered in the first film.

I think the biggest problem with the film is its handling of Chloe Grace Moretz and her Hit-Girl character. The break-out star of the first film was quite obviously Hit-Girl, the foul-mouted eleven-year-old, who kicked ass and killed men three times her age in the most brutal way possible. She was fun and was a nice shock to the system in a character we’ve never seen before. This time around she was given absolutely nothing to do, and really just seemed to exist in the film just to have her exist. She was given some stupid b-plot about her being forced to co-exist with stereotypical “popular” girls in high school, that was pointless, went nowhere and had no bearing on the film other than just to fill time.

Really the film is fine in what it intends to do, shock and awe in the comic book genre in something that isn’t a family-friendly affair. It does that, it entertains, but it’s really just a carbon copy of its average predecessor.

6/10

‘Behind The Candelabra’: Review

Behind The Candelabra

I always just knew of Liberace as that sequined piano player from way back when. Of course, as I and people nowadays know him as a gay icon and often a punchline for that type of humour. But, as the film portrays, it’s fascinating seeing how in the 1970s he was obviously gay, but made sure to the nth degree that the public didn’t know that, and that he kept up appearances as a straight man. Obviously, back then it would have been a killer to his career, and the danger and threat of AIDS wasn’t even a thought in people’s minds.

Not knowing really anything about Liberace, I can only understand how he was to a certain degree, but Michael Douglas portrayed him perfectly to what I imagine he was like, or at least played to how we view him. It’s almost scary how good Douglas is in the role, inhabiting him so expertly that it was often off-putting when he showed off his eccentricities and plying into Matt Damon’s character. Damon is equally great as what ends up being Liberace’s boy toy, a troubled individual who learns to love fame when attached to Liberace and all the spoils that come with it.

It’s a common narrative we’ve seen before, especially in bio-pics, Damon is the hot, young thing that is unsure of all this attention, but eventually embraces it, almost to an unhealthy degree. He gets comfortable, and a little too steadfast in his position. Then he realizes he’s more expendable then he ever thinks, and is so easily replaced, much to his chagrin. We’ve seen this before, but the framing of the story and the acting that delivers it makes it feel like it’s the first time we’re seeing it.

Soderbergh’s directing isn’t flashy, it hardly ever is, but’s it’s competent and confident like always, and often lets the story play out rather than try and enhance it unnecessarily through camera tricks. There is one scene in particular that stands out, Douglas and Damon are walking through Liberace’s lavish house as Damon complains they don’t get out and do stuff together, Soderbergh’s tracks them through the house, showing off the incredible luxury and prominence these men live in.

I think largely Behind The Candelabra is successful because it’s consistently interesting and explores a topic that few know all that much about. I always knew of the man, but never really understood who Liberace was and Soderbergh, Douglas and Damon paint a perfect picture.

8/10

‘Trance’: Review

Trance Banner

It’s funny watching Trance within a half-day of watching Side Effects because before sitting down to watch them I’d always get the two confused. They are both a mystery shrouded smaller film from seasoned veterans who have done it all in the business. I even started thinking about the directors in relation to each other, jokingly referring to Danny Boyle as the British Steven Soderbergh. Now, I’m probably reaching, but there are definitely some similarities between the two. Both are great obviously, with Boyle being more visual and Soderbergh more precise in the editing and cutting. Both have touched on sci-fi with Sunshine and Solaris, both have bio-pics in 127 Hours and Erin Brockovich, both have “zombie” movies with 28 Days Later and Contagion, both have commercial successes in Slumdog Millionaire and the “Ocean’s” movies. There’s really not a point to this, just an observations of some parallels drawn between two of the best directors of our generation.

So, Trance is kind of a mind-fuck of a movie. I knew it had to do with some heist, but wasn’t anticipating exactly how it would all go down. Telling from the title, hypnosis is used frequently throughout by Rosario Dawson in order to try and get amnesia-stricked James McAvoy to remember where he stashed a stolen painting. Vincent Cassel’s character is the robber who stole the painting, and remains the catalyst who forces him to undergro these sessions to try and get him to remember the location. Things spiral out of control with everything becoming more confusing as layers get placed on top of already dense layers. We see someone put into a “trance,” and we see their visions and what they believe to be reality and what this trance causes them to thin. As the film moves on it’s constantly cloudy to whether we are seeing reality, or are still in the vision of someone’s trance, seeing things that do not truly exist in that way in the real world.

It’s hard to keep track of all these happenings, as once the film hits a certain clip it’s just endless twists and turns that demand you to pay attention or else you’ll have no clue what the hell is happening, and why people who were seemingly dead are still alive. Double-crosses, triple-crosses, addiction, intertwining relationships, the film packs a lot into a pretty simple base plot, and complicates everything and flips previous norms. Without spoiling anything, the film deals heavily with relationships as one of its themes, what they mean, how they break down, what happens when you revisit them under different circumstances. It’s a nice sidewinder to the film and helps give it some substance.

I’m pretty sure I understood it all and worked it out, that said the climax was hilarious and had me laughing out loud. The realm of reality is twisted quite often in the film, and a touch is fine, but when your climax is laugh-inducing, that’s not the best sign. Also, Rosario Dawson is full frontal naked in this movie, and I’m praying that her body wasn’t altered by a computer or something, because that thing looks like God’s masterpiece. Thank you, Danny Boyle.

7/10