November 12th, 2007

Admit One

Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit

Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited is an astounding piece of cinematic achievement, and I mean that with but a wee bit of hyperbole there. It's not an instant classic, not something that'll endure throughout the ages, perhaps, but it is a feat of wizardry. It is a magic trick in film stock.

Put it this way: We went to the 7:15 showing tonight. At 7:15, the lights went down, we watched some ads, about a zillion trailers for indie films (a lot more than I remember seeing normally), then we watched the Hotel Chevalier short, which Wes shot in a few days with Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman and then edited on his own computer. It served as a prologue of sorts to the feature presentation, which was comprised of many of these short story moments. So many little vignettes, so many mini story arcs within the main one that, as Carolyn noted, you could take one out of the film and it'd work on its own separately. (Wes understood this because he uses one of his favorite devices, the slow-motion walk set to music which usually signifies the end of a story, at least three times through the course of the film.)

But that's not the real magic trick. Sticking little stories to one big one isn't such a magic trick. What is, however, is the journey you take along with Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody. You may not be on the same spiritual journey as they claim to be, but you gamely go along for the ride. And the journey takes forever. The problem with so many short stories playing themselves out here is that every time one ends, you think it's the end of the film as well. So you get quite a few codas before what is ultimately quite a satisfying ending considering all you've been through, complete with the visual metaphor you've been waiting for since you noticed that certain device waaaaaaaaaaaay back when.

And the magic trick? Well, remember how I said we started the previews and then the short at 7:15? The film ended, I sat through the full credits (and if someone can get me an original copy of Joe Dassin's "Les Champs-Élysées", as iTunes won't let me download anything but cover songs of this tune unless I buy the entire Darjeeling soundtrack and I don't want to, I'd love ya forevs) and once everything was over and the ushers started cleaning the aisles, I got up and turned my cellphone back on.

It wasn't even 9:15 yet.

So that's the magic trick. Wes Anderson was able to make an incredibly long movie, an amazingly long movie, one which really amplifies the long journey taken on the train (and did I mention the absolutely beautiful train sets? And the absolutely beautiful natural landscape of India? And the absolutely beautiful cinematography? And the rich, saturated colors?) and left you feeling as tired out as you would after a journey of such great length, in a 91-minute run time.

No, seriously. Check it out on IMDB. It's an hour and a half long. And it feels twice that.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing, really. The good is that the pacing is such that you really do get to savor the beauty of the meticulously-prepared scenes, the truly emotional-yet-detached moments which Anderson loves (Anjelica Huston's scenes are a perfect example, and done quite well) and the long shots of the wide-open countryside which serve as perfect contrast to the tight shots of the claustrophobic train corridors. The camera lingers when necessary, even over slow dolly shots (hey, it's on tracks, too) which just keep on going.

Yet it's only an hour and a half.

The bad part is that we're wired to watch a film and recognize the emotional climax leading up to the actual ending, full stop, roll credits. And although I was well aware of all these little arcs resolving themselves, I felt like I was getting faked out each time. And each time I got faked out, the movie felt like it was stretching on longer and longer until I felt like we were reaching Lawrence of Arabia-esque running times.

But it's only an hour and a half.

Wrap that 'round your noggin.

But do enjoy the scenery while you're at it. It really is a beautiful movie. You just have to let things go, let the film take you at whatever speed it wants to, and try to remember that the Darjeeling Limited's a local train and makes many stops before its final destination.

(Oh, and big points for Hotel Chevalier as it successfully manages to convey through ambiance, atmosphere and one outdoor shot that is indeed set in Paris -- without once showing the Eiffel Tower.)
Typewriter Guy

speaking of trying too hard to see hidden mickeys...

Universal Hub links to a study of Boston-area coffee shops which concludes that women "...wait an average of 20 seconds longer for orders than male customers even when controlling for gender differences in orders." UH notes:
Author Caitlin Knowles Myers, an assistant professor of economics at Middlebury College, says the wait was even more pronounced in shops with male employees - women workers were less likely to try to hold women customers up. Not only that, but the baristas seem particularly disgusted by ugly customers - they had to wait longer for their orders than the beautiful people.
The story goes on to note that nearly 300 customer interactions were noted in eight "unnamed coffee shops in the Boston area", where observers noted each customer's gender, ranked their appearance, and timed their order. And they found a twenty second discrepancy upon average -- yet the statistical analysis, as noted on slate.com, shows that this discrepancy is measured in mere seconds. There isn't a significant difference in wait times. But those kinds of conclusions don't get grant moneys, kids! Let's look in now on a random Boston Coffee Shop and see how our professor friend is getting along...

PROF: Hey, barista!

BORED BARISTA: What?

PROF: You've got a lot of explaining to do.

BORED BARISTA: What?

PROF: I've been sitting here all afternoon, timing your order fulfillment times and listing them by gender and customer attractiveness.

BORED BARISTA: What?

PROF: My findings are conclusive: You, sir, make female customers wait an average of twenty whole seconds longer than male customers!

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Tom Lehrer is Smug

How Dane Cook eats a Reese's

MAD Magazine, in its last few great years before Bill Gaines died, ran a short one-pager about how different stand-up comedians would tell the "Waiter, there's a fly in my soup" joke. Steven Wright's began "I went to a restaurant... I had reservations, but I went anyway..." (ok, that's a great line) and George Carlin observed "They don't always fly, man, sometimes they crawl... but you never see anybody saying 'Waiter, there's a crawl in my soup!'" Whichever writer did that one, they did an amazing job capturing each comedian's voice.

Recently on the Something Awful forums, there's been a thread on which comedians folks find unfunny and annoying. And the name of Dane Cook, College Favorite, was bantered around a lot. Now the thing about Dane is... well, Dane's that dudebrah who Typical American College Kids wanna hang out and slam a few beers with, and his jokes, his rambling monologuing jokes with screams and flailing about and stuff, are just the kinds of stories you'll hear at some of the better parties when someone's blotto enough to tell about the time they nearly shat themselves on Father McCoughlin's lawn in front of Kasey and Joanna. It's only funny because the guy telling it's being a complete spaz about it.

In case you're not quite familiar with Cook's delivery, SA Forums goon D14BL0 (hey, that's the handle) has gone and, in the tradition of MAD Magazine, demonstrated how Dane Cook would tell the joke "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side!" All emphasis and spelling is D14BL0's, and he captures Cook's voice perfectly.
So there I was walkin' down the sidewalk with my WALK MAN, listenin' to some tunes, minding my own business. When SUDDENLY. This CHICKEN. Is standing there at the crosswalk - which, by the way, I found out is not actually a cross that you walk on, but a walkway, for which you cross streets - This chicken [chuckle] is standin' on the fucken crosswalk. And he's looking up at the sign on the other end, and he sees the big red hand. You know, the one that looks like an Indian saying "HOW!", right? Ha! Ha! Ha! This chicken means business, my friend. He is obeying the laws of walk crossing.

So he's waiting for the sign to change, right? And when it finally changes, he BOLTS across the street. I mean, this little fucker was runnin like a Kenyan, right? So right now, I'm confused, and intrigued. I'm intrigued. I'm sittin' there just amazed. A chicken. Crosses the road. At a cross. Walk. And then runs to the other side.

So what do I do? I fucken follow that chicken. I chased him down for four fucken blocks, man. Four fucken blocks. I was pushing over old ladies PSH GET OUTTA DA WAY GRANDMA, right? So I'm chasing this chicken, right? In broad daylight, in heavy peh-des-tree-ann traffic, and I finally end up catching up with him. So I catch my breath and go "Hey bro. Dude. Why'd you cross that street back there, man?" And he looks up at me and he says "To get to the other side".
You've been a great crowd, goodnight.