Under the Silver Lake

Andrew Garfield plays a paranoid trashbag hipster Redditor Philip Marlowe trying to solve a surreal Lynchian Lite shaggy dog mystery in a neo noir LA populated primarily by beautiful aspiring starlets and a handful of the kinds of men who could be played by bearded Topher Grace (one even is), and I just don’t know where I come down on this one! It’s a mix for me, my friends. And it’s not even as simple as “I liked these parts, I didn’t like these parts”, because there are fundamental elements to this movie’s, I don’t know, thesis? ethos? irony? that I feel like I flip on continuously, like closing one eye and then the other and watching something in your field of vision jump back and forth. One minute I really like that this is a movie about social & artistic conspiracy theories that’s deliberately stuffed with clues and patterns and easter eggs for the real life Sams to rabbit-hole through for weeks, and then the next minute I’ve cooled on that, dismissing it as too self-amused and recursive by half. Then I wonder if maybe that’s the point, a sort of indictment of the fanboy culture of trying to “solve” a movie, and we’re supposed to come out the other side of these 2.3 hours tired, having learned….something, about art & meaning. 

On that metric I am more clear though: I do not think that worked. That being maybe the whole last third. I don’t think this movie could sustain trying to be Thoughtful for that long. Honestly, I think it wasn’t that deep, or even quite as weird as it thought it was, though maybe it could have been. One of them at least.

At the end of the day, I actually feel the real value in mixed movies like Under the Silver Lake are in what weirdo pictures they’ll inspire other people to make. Because you can watch this movie and just really mine material, because there is a lot in the frame and those frames are damn well put together—and not just the ones scrupulously recreating shots from other movies. It is just funny enough, just startling enough, and just off-putting enough to get your mind jumping a bit, and even if you’re jumping to what you would have made instead, well maybe that means more art will get out there in the world someday. Art that won’t be ghostwritten by the Songwriter.

So, spoiler line here….

…..what Emily and I would have done with our own Under the Silver Lake was super clear to both of us. For Emily, she would have carried through with Sam getting evicted and then show that this was all leading to him becoming the new Homeless King, that the role is Dread Pirate Roberts’ed onto each successive person who figures out the mystery. A resonant and satisfying ending from a real life playwright, that’s skill baby! And for me, I found the billionaires plot nearly more toothless than sexist, but both enough that I probably would have just ditched most of it to stay closer to the Dog Killer and the eyebrows man with the zine. No matter what though Sam would 100% die at my end, killed by The Owl’s Kiss of course. He’d only encounter her in person at the very end, in a scene where almost every strange character he’s come across throughout the movie seems to have appeared, converged more like, like all the curlicue mysteries are collapsing on themselves into a single point, and it culminates with him being murdered by an Old Hollywood cryptid of a naked woman wearing a taxidermy owl mask, never able to share with anyone that she exists. Now that’s my kind of ironic.

★★½

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 is this summer’s equal but opposite movie to Dark Phoenix, it too arriving seemingly unannounced and unasked for, a belated fourth installment of what we kinda thought was a trilogy, but with the difference being that Toy Story 4 absolutely makes a case for its existence, and is good. Like most Pixar features, it is ostensibly a kids movie, but a pretty convincing argument could be made that it was crafted in some part for the people who were kids back when the first Toy Story came out in 1995. For an audience now aged about 28-36, prime age for having kids themselves, there is something very comforting about watching a movie populated with the warm characters you grew up with, modeling the pains and joys of parenting as they always have, but this time also presenting a life path that doesn’t involve having a kid of your own, and assuring you that that is fine. That life too can be a beautiful and rewarding adventure, a choice as valid as any.

And this is also a movie in which Tony Hale voices a plastic spork gripped in existential terror at being brought suddenly and unbidden to life, and spends all of act one trying to fling himself into garbage bins, warbling “Traaaash!”, which is certainly, as the now-30-year-old kids say, a whole ass mood.

I expect Pixar movies, particularly their consistently very strong Toy Story franchise, to be beautifully animated, and this one sure is. That opening scene in the rain storm? Get right out of here! All the gorgeous lighting gilding their sweet plastic faces, the little details of wear & tear on the toys (Buzz’s peeling sticker!), the hyper-real mat of dust on that outlet strip nestled in an uncleaned nook of an antique shop—it’s just beautiful, a beautiful looking movie. And I expect Toy Story movies to be genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, and this one soundly hits that mark as well. I mean Toy Story 4 features beloved Man Of the Moment Keanu Reeves voicing a showboating Canadian stuntman toy named Duke Caboom who harbors a heart still broken from being jilted by the cold Quebecois boy he was once gifted to. “Réjean!” Keanu Reeves cries out in manful mourning, killing me. And that’s before we even get to Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as a quick-talking double act pair of anarchist plushies who are just, *so* good at brainstorming. I also expect zip and creativity, and Toy Story 4 has that too, with a never dull, 100-minute plot, stakes not too big not too small, and sparkling swings like developing Lost Toy Bo Peep into a clever, swashbuckling porcelain Furiosa, complete with her own trick arm, careening through a charming rest stop town in a scrappy, bizarre, high octane little vehicle that looks like a skunk.

But what I did not expect from Pixar’s Toy Story films, was Forky. I did not expect this universe to ever address the inherent darkness of its premise: that these are sentient beings who are “owned” by children, to whom they offer perfect slavish devotion, bordering on worship. And I SUPER did not expect them to just carry this forward to a logical but bananas conclusion, which is that children in the Toy Story world are functionally gods, whose attention and love can literally endow trash with life, of which these tiny deities know not of, leaving their creations to fend for themselves in matters of theology and existence. Come again, Toy Story??? Amazing. Forky may be a literal spork, but he is a wrench thrown in the workings of this universe, breaking it open into something much more philosophically fascinating, and this weirdo existential direction is one I am happy to take in the toy movies. To infinity and fucking beyond.

★★