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film fatales #64: tig notaro: happy to be here (tig notaro, 2018)

Not sure if this qualifies as a movie ... where do you put stand-up comedy specials that run an hour or so? I'm calling it a movie, what the heck.

There is no confusion about the guiding light behind Happy to Be Here: Tig Notaro wrote it, directed it, and starred in what is essentially a one-woman show. Which is to say, it's a stand-up special. You don't come to Happy to Be Here worrying about the cinematography, you just want to know if it's funny. And comedy is perhaps more subjective than most genres. But Notaro isn't just about being funny. She deconstructs stand-up. Her jokes are of the shaggy dog variety, as she works her way around the topic, always threatening to reach the punchline, but never quite getting there. The punchline isn't necessarily the point. It's not that she frustrates the audience, but she messes with our expectations in a delightful way. She is not confrontational in Happy to Be Here ... she just wants us to join her on a journey as she tells us some stories that are funny. But the stories aren't the funniest part ... it's the getting there that matters.

The culmination is a long introduction to a special guest, her favorite group, the Indigo Girls. More than before, she plays with the audience, introducing the Indigo Girls only for nothing to happen, after which she teases us for thinking the Indigo Girls would actually show up, then teasing us for thinking they won't show up. This goes on for quite a while: introduction, no show, tease audience a couple of different ways, repeat. It would be a spoiler to tell how the routine ends up, and that in itself is a sign that Notaro is up to something different, for who would think a comedy special could have a spoiler?

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)


death bell (hong-seung yoon, 2008)

This is the latest film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 8 is called "Horrors Crossing Borders Week":

Sometimes, the most horrifying things are those in the unknown. With the added disorientation from a different than usual location and/or language, foreign horror allows us to not only see what other countries and cultures might find horrifying, but to break free of the traditions of our own country's horror spectacles. And, ya know, Halloween.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen horror film from a country other than the one you originate from/live currently.

Not the finest hour for the Challenge. I figured I was safe ... Korean horror, 88 minutes. Comments suggested a blend of Battle Royale, which I liked, and Saw, which I have avoided and thus don't know the connection. Battle Royale was a violent, over-the-top Hunger Games, and not surprisingly was kinda silly. It was good. Death Bell is violent and over-the-top and silly, but it's not good. The basic setup is intriguing: elite students at a Japanese school must correctly answer quiz questions, with one of them dying for each wrong answer. But there is little suspense, the various students aren't individualized enough to care about them, and the "solution" to the crime is anti-climactic. Not the worst film I've watched in the Challenge, but close. Of course, there is a sequel. Bonus points for a novel use of a washing machine.


music friday: nirvana, "where did you sleep last night?"

David Browne has a piece in today's Rolling Stone about Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York, which was released 25 years ago today. Browne does an excellent job of putting us back in time ... his angle is that he attended the taping for the show, which was a year earlier. As Browne notes, by the time the album was released, Kurt Cobain had been dead for more than half a year, which affected how the album was perceived.

The high point ... not sure that's the right term ... came when Cobain performed the traditional "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", a song recorded by many, including Lead Belly, who put out several versions in the 1940s. Cobain was working off of one of Lead Belly's recordings for his arrangement.

Browne writes of Nirvana's cover, "[T]he moment we all remember – when Cobain, pushing his voice up a register, shreds the word 'shiver' in the last chorus with a phlegmy rasp – remains one of the most jolting things I’ve experienced at a concert." Christgau wrote of the entire album, "The vocal performance he evokes is John Lennon's on Plastic Ono Band. And he did it in one take."