Recommendations: Mad God, Waiting Room, and the Card Counter


Every week, we bring you recommendations of things to watch, listen to, play, read or otherwise consume with your sensory device. This week, Hawk recommends Phil Tippet’s long-awaited film crazy godCaemeron listened to Fugazi on repeat, and Paul thinks you might enjoy The card counter.

Movie recommendation: crazy god

Falcon Ripjaw: Phil Tippet, creator of legendary creatures and animator for star wars, Robotcop, jurassic park, and many others, has finally released the magnum opus he had almost abandoned. After three decades of waiting, crazy god is finally here, and what a treat it is.

There isn’t really a traditional narrative structure, as the film is almost completely devoid of any dialogue. It’s all storytelling through imagery, with a strong focus on hell, war, and death. The bottom line is that a man called The Assassin is sent to hell in a diving bell with a bomb to destroy everything. And things generally don’t go very well for him.

Not that we need more conviction, but crazy god is further proof that Tippet is one of the best in the business. The film is an incredible achievement in stop-motion animation, with intricate models that are fluidly designed and beautifully animated against intricate settings. Not that I would ever be able to do it myself, but I have a basic understanding of how stop-motion works and how Tippet animates these things and incorporates so many small details and even camera movements is absolutely amazing. I love this art form and hope it sees a resurgence soon (although I recognize the titanic amount of work that goes into it).

Also… are we sure Phil is okay? This movie is dark. It’s horrible, disgusting and absolutely nightmarish. The slave creatures constantly produced by the machine, made from what appear to be the insides of electrocuted giants literally defecating under torture, are often violently killed by other creatures or machines. A man is torn apart and some kind of baby demon is crushed, and there are plenty of other grimy, sickening places, creatures, and events that all come together in a harrowing 80 minutes. It’s aided by the spongy sound effects and jarring music, which sometimes plays backwards to accentuate the hellscape.

But it’s also incredibly fascinating to watch it unfold, with so much imagination on that screen and so much to interpret from each new scene. I might watch this multiple times just to find out what else I can find in the dense collection of visuals here. It’s not even just an interpretation either: the little props and details of the models are going to be a lot of fun to examine and spot what was used to bring some of these things to life, or contemplate how they did it. did. I know Tippet almost gave up crazy god all those years ago, and I’m glad he decided to pick it up to finish it. It was worth the wait.

Song of the Week: “Waiting Room” by Fugazi

Cemeron Crain: The phrase “song of the week” can conjure up something about new singles or what’s hot on the charts right now, and that’s fine if others want to take it that way when ‘they highlight things in this space, but I have a different idea, which might be a little weird, but hopefully some of you can dig in. This is the song that stuck in my head all week.

I’m sure there are reasons why this week was Fugazi’s “Waiting Room.” Especially the first line, “I’m a patient boy”, which I found to rise to the top of my consciousness as I performed particularly tedious tasks. (If you’re curious, this mainly involved cleaning the spinach.)

Patience is a strange thing. We talk about running out of it, and I think that’s appropriate. It’s like a resource – a reserve of energy exerted as a bulwark against a rising tide of frustration. And when that breaks, or the figurative wall of patience has eroded, chaos ensues.

But I’m a patient boy, even if I’m less of a boy than a man. I wait, I wait, I wait. Take pleasure in the meticulous realization of a project.

Sure, a waiting room is different, but there’s a skill involved in effective waiting. I digress enough from the song, I know.

If you’re not familiar, Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” is from 1988. It was reportedly inspired by the failure of Ian MacKaye’s previous band, Embrace. That’s what Wikipedia said. So it has always been more about people than things. A metaphorical waiting room, and of course the waiting room as a symbol resonates with twin peaks.

More importantly, it’s a great song.

Another movie recommendation: The card counter

Paul Keelan: For many, The card counter can feel like the middle of the Schrader pack. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing: the mediocre Schrader outperforms most American filmmakers in their “A” game. Yes, the screenplay may be a little rough around the edges, but it still offers an unflinching and scrupulous examination of a tricky moral quagmire. It also suits Schrader’s signature motifs and sensibilities like a shovel, creating a hyper-reflective character study of a man tortured by unseen contrition.

Oscar Isaac (William Tell) is fluid and subtle throughout the sale – selling each monotonous monologue with an inscrutable poker face. Like a true card-playing maestro, he constantly oozes stoicism – suppressing a lifetime of regrets and poor decisions with phlegmatic poise. Tye Sheridan (Cirk) stealthily puts on his own charismatic performance. His role is much less prominent – oddly reminiscent of his idiosyncratic work in Rick Alverson The mountain and Entertainment. The ease with which a well of emotion emerges while playing terse/naive characters is alluring enough – his recent roles may seem mundane, but closer study will produce complex psychological dynamics. My only disappointment was Tiffany Haddish (La Linda). She plays refreshingly against type, but some of her line-reading felt stilted and ungainly.

Oscar Isaac looks sternly in The Card Counter

The card counter is at its best when it comes to capturing the everyday nature of professional gaming. Semi-professional poker tournaments are incredibly dull. Schrader meticulously recreates the depressing and sleepwalking atmosphere of gambling halls. The card/casino games are also explained concisely and clearly – with William Tell’s narration providing brief tutorials on roulette wheel percentages, Texas Hold ‘Em techniques and the art of card counting. Nonetheless, the main suspense and enigma of the film stems from Tell’s mysterious past. The real questions are existential/psychological – we care more about why he devoted himself to acting and raising a weird kid (Cirk) than whether he succeeds.

Slowly, the motives crystallize as stories of incarceration and wartime indiscretions come to light. The backdrop of harrowing prisons of war gives clues as to why Tell seems to enjoy the strict rigmarole and sad atmosphere of the casino. Casinos offer a world of hermetic routine and predictable uncertainty, a world where everything is sterile, regulated, homogeneous and repetitive. Schrader captures these qualities exquisitely. You can feel the banality, the sameness in every scene. You can smell the chlorine in the motel pools. You can taste the bitter coffee in the frumpy roadside cafes. You can feel the plastic tactility of cheap poker chips. You can hear the nauseating racket of slot machines. You can see the garish flickering of fluorescent redundancy.

The film accentuates these qualities to reveal an unspoken ideology – to uphold the (a)moral and (a)political neutrality of its protagonist. And as if following the example of its unfortunate protagonist, The card counter also chooses to mechanically retreat into familiar territory – opting for the rest and sense of superiority engendered by self-imposed solitary confinement. It’s a bold and subversive proposition – redefining prison as a space of catharsis, and repetition as a spiritual escape.

The card counter is now streaming on HBO Max.


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