Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The Once Halibut Theory

I've been cooking with habanero peppers lately. The habanero is the third hottest chili pepper in the world. It is so hot that if you don't wash your hands after handling one, your hands will start hurting in 20 minutes. And if you don't wash your hands and then have to go pee, you will begin to envy the monotony of female bathroom technique like never before.

Now, the reason I'm doing this isn't to defy Joseph Kahn's insistence that white people prefer food with no flavour. In truth, it's because I'm rather impatient and don't want to waste consumed calories on foods that are "subtle." I have a right to flavour-experiences. I will live in the extreme.

I try to eat a lot of fish. Fish have Omega Supreme Transformative powers, as well as the extraplanetary potential of Mercury Poisoning, and they're good for your skin or something. If you want to conquer Earth and shit diamonds, eat a lot of fish.

The problem is that some fish doesn't have much taste. I encounter this problem mainly with halibut. My mom claims that she remembers halibut used to pack more of a punch than it does these days. I won't vouch for the accountability of someone else's memory, but this got me thinking...

As a survival mechanism, wouldn't it be beneficial if species evolved to lose flavour? I mean, sure, we're several inches taller than the people our age were in the 1940s, but if we're ever in a plane crash with a bunch of rugby players in the middle of nowhere, something should have to protect us as soon as the fattest guy gets hungry. Those that would be picked to get eaten last would be those that evolved to have tasteless flesh. Like halibut.

From what I know about animals (speaking as an owner of a black lab, who knows enough to know that saying "My dog is black" is a poor way to win race relation disputes), I don't believe that animals are ever naturally spicy. One time I was at a party and some dude brought a tray of bison sausage, and I thought, damn, no wonder those bison got shot, they're spicy as hell. The guy informed me that those spices were artificially added later. This makes sense. It's also techniques like this that make it integral for beings to evolve to taste like as little as possible.

Having no taste makes survival easier.

How else could I have been thrust into a 9-month long Twilight Zone episode where people keep coming up to me and telling me that the movie Once introduced them to the concepts of Art and Humanity? There's one explanation: People are evolving to like boring shit. Don't try to be all open-minded by denying it. Be truthful, and admit it. Fans of Once display a scary passion where they'd kill for it.

If Once Lovers lived on an island commune, and I visited that commune, they would burn me in a Wicker Man.

In a way, I understand this passion. Raised without religion, the movies I love inform my identity. I'd rather talk in-person with people about movies we agree on than get in fights over ones where we don't. Some films are just too integral to one's identity. So when you say, Blue Velvet sucks, you're insulting me. I know what that's like.

It's also why it's so puzzling. What is it about Once that makes people look at it and think, "Yup, that's me"? When I watched the movie, I found it mediocre. I didn't hate it, but considered it too inconsequential to even be worth reviewing. Now that people in their 20s are losing their shit for it, I'm sort of embarrassed for them.

Nothing that makes movies incredible is contained in Once. The Irish drama stars Glen Hansard as a musician/vacuum cleaner repairman who falls for a girl played by Marketa Irglova. They record songs together, so the movie becomes a naturalistic musical--only director John Carney has not studied musical setpieces or short form videos, so his music and images create no emotional thrust.

The handheld camerawork doesn't leave room for thought-out compositions. And the songs themselves are dead-eyed indie rock boilerplate. Movies don't get more hermetically and stereotypically white than Once. It's anti-matter--a movie for those who wish to be manipulated, but in a naturalistic way so they don't realize it's happening, and who wish to define themselves through musical fashion, but try to steer away from rock star personalities. Did modern indie rock fans have any fun in high school, or did they listen to the mid-90s equivalents of City and Colour and Coldplay back then? Maybe they listened to the Fresh Prince and gangsta rap in junior high like I did, then they moved on to Soundgarden, KMFDM and White Zombie. Then it was Robbie Williams in their college years. Then Death Cab and the Once soundtrack. Tomorrow Yanni. That's not just a softening of musical style: Some of those acts are real artists.

Certain people evolve to tastelessness when they grow older. It's easier, I guess.

But I want to live.

I don't mean to pick on Once fans so much. It's just that they're fucking everywhere. When you review movies people you don't know always want to tell you about awesome movies they just saw. I recently did a year-end radio show where this was the whole premise for an hour.

As one of two guest critics, I was in the reverse-spot position of having callers tell me about the best movies of 2007. I like doing this show, but something was in the air that day. I knew it was gonna be a long hour when the first caller was raving about Mad Money. Other recommended best movies of the year were Shooter and A Beautiful Mind (which came out 7 years ago, but I let it slide.)

But the amount of people talking up Once eclipsed any other title. Even my perfectly sane co-guest was gaga for it. Genuinely curious (and determined to be polite), I responded to callers' raves with, "What did you like about it?" The answers would be along the lines of, "It was so beautiful. And when they're in the studio together, recording that song, that scene is just, ohh myyyy..."


Then last week, Sarah Riley, who usually has some of the best movie taste of anyone, just had to write me about Once.

"I cried like five minutes in. It's a beautiful film."

"Not you too!," I wrote back. There goes another one.

This much is clear. The movie Once does not care about me, for it has caused me much confusion about Darwin and halibut. For that, I cannot support it.

Never back down.


Mark said...

I liked Once ENOUGH, and yes, there are hundreds of people who like it WAY too much. (consider the DVD sleeve quote - 'Once may be the greatest music film of our generation'?? Dave Chappelle's Block Party motherfucker!) It's cute, it's nice, it's not schmaltzy with that ending, I think the music's pretty good even though normally I'd hate it, and it's something I can recommend to old ladies at work, unequivocally. It's a very pleasant film with minimal substance, and you're right that the worst thing about it is that it just stares at its main characters whenever they play music.

Mark Palermo said...

Mark, you are correct that Block Party is better than Once--more emotion, more cultural value, better music. You also earn instant karma points by agreeing with me that Jesse James, There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men were collectively last year's best movie, and by being the only critic besides myself to recognize enough merit in Hot Rod to put it on his top 10. But now I worry that you're getting soft in your old age by approving a film for being "pleasant" and "with minimal substance." If Once were a food, it would contain no habaneros. Never back down.

Anonymous said...

As someone who enjoyed the songs, slight story and performances by non-actors in this movie, I can say there's not much more to this movie than that. I would not kill for it, that's for sure, but I would recommend it.

To be clear (and I think she's great) this is the same Sarah Riley that tried to foist Bio-Dome on us, right?

Also, Hot Rod rules.


Mark Palermo said...

Mike, they would exile you from Once Island for such a half-hearted recommendation.

I do remember that Bio-Dome time. But Riley was very young and has since come a long way. It's also my experience that people 2 years younger than me seem to love Pauley Shore films. I missed being born into that demographic.

alex said...

Loathe as I am to hold forth on anything that upholds the myth of the divine and unquestionable baby boomer culture, I think The Commitments is my favorite musical film. Why? Because a)it's about the inspirational and cross-cultural potential of music, and b)it's pretty fucking funny and doesn't ever try to come across as an important and meaningful film about music. The one character who constantly goes on about the power of soul music is eventually revealed to be a charlatan, but that doesn't impact on how important the music becomes for the protagonists. Also, the main character looks like Dave Howlett.

Mark Palermo said...

If Re-Animator were a musical would you like it more than The Commitments? I only ask because everybody says Dave Howlett looks like Jeffrey Combs.

alex said...

If the Re-Animator were a musical I think it would look a little something like this:

riley said...

I'm a blog-footnote-martyr for your Once hatred!
OK, I have to clarify, I'm not geeked-out over Once. I categorize it less as a musical film and more of an album in search of a music video. But I totally have to disagree with you, P, on one or two points.
First off, my liking the film had pretty much nothing to do with being able to relate to it --
I'm not an indie irish rock musician.
Simply put, I just thought that essentially the movie was ABOUT relating, sharing something, and that bonding sentiment of finding common ground with people through self-expression, is nice.
And well, the other reason I liked it, is because Hansard has a cool and very emotional singing voice. And here's my second disagreement -- Carney's music and images may not have created emotional thrust for you, but Hansard's voice did that for me. I like his sound, and it was moving, in the context of the film or not, really.
So that's all I really have to say about that, and I have no further comment on the Pauly Shore incident either.
Stop internet-name dropping me!
ps -- I love hot sauce.

Mark Palermo said...

Namedropping you isn't a problem. See it goes like this: I say "Sarah Riley" and people go "Sarah Riley... ain't that the girl that was in The Killing of Kings and Later That Stevening?" Then they think, "Who directed that movie? Oh yeah, it was that Mark Palermo guy." So it's all just an elaborate scheme that goes full circle and helps everyone.

The Pauley Shore thing doesn't bug me. Yet it obviously upsets one of the other commentators on this blog to an unspecified degree. You owe it to the readership to have a final word on this. Anything can be defended, but you have to believe what you say.

For instance, I believe your response to Once is genuine. And yet, that it's a movie about sharing something only goes so far. It's fine that the two leads share something, but that can only resonate if it's also shared with the viewer. All I feel is their self-interest in their relationship. So it ends up being a movie that didn't translate why I should care about their story, this filmmaking style or this type of music. It speaks to them (and to you), but it's not my language. It didn't make that leap to make me believe.

riley said...

alright, screw it, although i doubt there's anything he could do with his career nowadays that would delight me, i could never renounce pauly shore. to this day i quote randomness from encino man without a second thought [um, well, in certain circles]. and yes, i own bio dome. it was $2.99.
but it's like you say, p, the movies we like don't define us. which is why it doesn't matter much that i sort of really enjoyed 'once'.
but hey, if you're still grappling with understanding why people are apeshit over it, try watching it on a date as i did -- i suspect the hormone rush coupled with a romantic mood helped with the 'belief' bit ;)

Mark Palermo said...

I appreciate your Shore passions. Sincerely. But I believe the movies we like do HELP define us.

I don't think going to see Once on a date would leave me feeling much.

Chuck Klosterman has a great essay about how Chris Martin from Coldplay and Lloyd Dobbler from Say Anything have ruined dating for everybody. They're a male ideal no girl will get, and no guy could ever want to be like. It was annoying when I read it, since I totally would have written that essay if he hadn't. Anyway, Hansard joins that list now.

Joefilmfan said...

As an asian guy, Once was the equivalent for me of a white guy watching a kung fu flick with all the kung fu cut out. If I have to watch a film with an all white cast singing folk songs - and I'm supposed to take this earnestly with zero irony - I expect some gunfighting or nudity in return. White people look good shooting guns or being naked. Coincidentally, Bruce Willis shoots guns while being naked in Last Man Standing. Now there's a film you can cry to.

By the way. Habaneros? I can barely find a jalapeno in Canada. What Mexican have you enslaved to grow these things there?

Mark Palermo said...

They have habaneros at my local grocery store. I don't know where they get them, and I don't know who buys them, but they're always in supply.

If you didn't hate sandwiches, you could walk into any Canadian Subway and see jalapenos. Wendy's is advertising a new jalapeno burger too. I haven't tried it, but the girl on the sign's mouth is animated on the commercial to indicate that it's hot. But by-law nothing at Wendy's can be too threatening. It's like how coffee must be completely watered down at every family restaurant. (Damn, I'm revealing my white person obsessions.)

Ben said...

I just wish you'd update your blog ONCE in a while . . .

Mark said...

This is like 3 months late, but:

the Wendy's jalapeno melt is actually ridiculously hot. I consider myself an advocate of spice but seriously, goddamn.

Also, yeah - it's time for this quarter's update!