Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

The Perplexing Confection of ‘Asteroid City’

June 27, 2023
Notes
Transcript
On this week’s episode, Sonny Bunch (The Bulwark), Alyssa Rosenberg (The Washington Post), and Peter Suderman (Reason) try to figure out how this Vulture feature on the work that went into making Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse depicts an abusive workplace. Then they review Wes Anderson’s new film, Asteroid City, a movie about a fictional play anthologized on a fictional TV show set in a fictional town. (The essay collection Sonny mentions, Do Not Detonate Without Presidential Approval, is available from Penguin Random House here; he strongly recommends checking it out if you desire to learn more about the influences on the film.) Make sure to swing by Bulwark+ for a discussion of some of our favorite stage adaptations. And if you enjoyed this episode, share it with a friend!
This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:11

    Welcome back to a Cross movie owl presented by Bulwark class. I’m your host Sunny Vonage Culture Editor of The Bulwark. I’m joined as always by Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Washington Post Peter Suiterman over Reason Magazine, Melissa Peter, how are you today?
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:22

    I am swell.
  • Speaker 3
    0:00:24

    I am so glad to be talking about movies with friends.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:27

    First, up in controversies and controversies. It’s widely acknowledged that Spider Man across the Spiderverse is one of the best looking movies of the year. Indeed, the last several years, critics have delivered great acclaim to the production for its merging and melding of animation styles into something that feels kind of suey generous, really. The the sort Bulwark that is a welcome reminder that we don’t have to settle for the CGI uniformity of the sorts promulgated by Pixar and Illumination. You know, things can look different, and they can look good if you’re willing to put in the work.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:58

    Writing in Vulture Chris Lee is sad to let you know that actually hard work is bad. Four, that’s right four of the thousand or so folks who worked on the movie. I complained to him about working conditions on across Spiderverse. Turns out that it was a terribly abusive working place. Many people were upset.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:14

    Amongst the things we learned, producer Chris Lord is a perfectionist and would often have animators draw scenes several times until they got them right. That’s about it. That’s it. That’s it. Long hours, many iterations of Bulwark.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:28

    You know, it’s a sweatshop really. Look, there were other complaints. One animator was mad that some of his drawings were tinkered with because now he’s not sure if he could include it. In his portfolio and another animator was outraged that sometimes the artists on staff were paid to stand by. That’s right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:42

    They were paid to do no work. Can you imagine the awfulness here? Here’s what he had to say about that. Quote, some of them had been flown over to Vancouver. Gotten an apartment to work on this movie and then sat on their hands for maybe three months.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:55

    That’s the worst thing you can do to an artist. Is hire them and then tell them to do nothing. End quote, look, I don’t mean to be be dismissive, but I think there are actually much worse things that you can do to artists. I don’t know. I I mean, I can think of many off the top of my head.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:08

    The Volterpiece echoes stories from earlier this year about the conditions of VFX workers on big budget Marvel movies, how they’re working long hours on tight deadlines, So those films can hit their schedules. But the difference between this and that, it’s really just qualitative. Right? Like, those movies look like garbage suggesting that the crunch time work is having an adverse negative effect on the final product. Well, across the Spider Works looks amazing, which suggests to me that this is actually good.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:36

    It’s good actually. I don’t know. Peter, I’m just like, I here’s my big question here. I don’t understand why I as a critic or as a consumer should care at all about people in the movie business being asked to work long hours, like virtually everyone else in the movie business is frequently asked to work long hours. What am what am I missing here?
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:56

    What have what have I failed to understand about the oppressiveness of this working situation.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:02

    You’re asking me this and not Alyssa?
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:04

    That’s why I wanted to I
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:05

    I I side with management and capital, what what do you think my answer is gonna be? Like, this is a like, I’m a libertarian. Like, I my answer is if they don’t like it, they can quit. And I actually
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:15

    And a lot of them did.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:16

    It’s dismissive. And it’s and, like and it it’s not satisfying to anyone. And and the people who are complaining about this will not like that answer. I’m aware. And I it’s tote it’s glib and it’s, like, it’s it’s it’s easy But I also think that there is there is some real truth to this, and in in particular if you are a visual effect artist right now.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:38

    One of the things we have learned from this story about the the Marvel visual effects folks is that there is a shortage of people who are good at visual effects in Hollywood right now and that people who are good at this can, in fact, land new jobs. So when I say quit, I don’t mean quit and, like, don’t work again. I mean, they’re seem to be a lot of places that are hiring right now. And if you don’t like a particular job, one advantage, it’s not all advantages obviously, but one advantage. Of working in a kind of a gig economy like Hollywood is that there are always other projects that you can join if you have a if you are a talented specialist.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:13

    So, you know, in in some ways, I sympathize because whenever I hear stories about the hours worked on Hollywood films, I’m always like, my goodness. Like, I I appreciate this, and I love movies. And this is insane. I don’t I think both of you read at least parts of the big Taylor Sheridan profile that was published within the last week or so, and one of the things he talked about was, you know, he would like, the people he respected most on set were the kind of below the line craftsman even like the caterers. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:43

    He was like, I care about them a lot because they’re there when I show up and they’re there when I leave. And I’m working sixteen to eighteen hour days. Right? So he’s a guy making millions and millions of dollars and he can’t get out of of the time, but also the people making thirty bucks an hour. Making not a whole lot of money at least in terms of, you know, how these projects are budgeted.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:01

    Like, he cared about them a lot. Right? This was like, oh, that’s a great remark. This is the way it should be. I like I get it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:06

    It’s just insane the hours that these people work. And I totally agree. At the same time you get into the movie business, this has been known forever for all of my life for as long as I have been reading, about movies and one of the reasons why why I was always, like, at the point in my life when I was deciding what I was gonna do, where I was like, could I do that? I’m not sure I could, and so I I did something else that allows me a different kind of schedule. Like, I also just think it’s It’s important to note as you did, Sonny, that this is a very small number of people who are complaining about this.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:39

    Out of a very very large number of skilled craftspeople working on a film like this. There are at least hundreds, if not, as you said, thousands of people working on the back end, the post production you know, sort of, I guess, the production in for an animated film of something like Spiderverse. And which is one of the reasons why these films even when they cost less like Spiderverse, which was a hundred million dollar movie, which one of the reasons why they cost so much is because they have these credits that go on for twelve minutes. And I guess I just sort of like I sympathize, it can be quite difficult and quite frustrating to work for a group of bosses who don’t always know exactly what they want immediately. It can be just like emotionally and physically draining to have to just sort of to get different orders and, like, say, oh, I want one thing.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:29

    Now I actually want something totally different. No. Could you please stay up till two in the morning. Right? Like, it’s exhausting and unpleasant.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:35

    I’m not gonna defend the idea that, oh, this is wonderful. But it is also it is also frequently part of the artistic process. And anybody who has done anything that is creative where it’s not just paint by numbers where you have to make a lot of difficult creative decisions in real time and where it is collaborative, that process is not inevitably and not always, but frequently, unavoidably, a difficult time consuming process in which the first thing you do isn’t the right thing. And we’ve all worked as editors here, you know, it’s one of the things that we’re that sort of we all share. We’ve all worked as editors, and it’s not, of course, being an editor means working usually with just with one writer and maybe with another editor or a couple of other editors, not working with dozens of other people and not working for a huge number, you know, a bunch of different bosses.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:30

    This movie had three different directors. But that process that process, you don’t know what you’re gonna get, you know, and and what you need. Sometimes until you see it and it can be a difficult process to sort of work through with another person of saying, oh, this is what the article should be. No. Actually, I think this is what the article should be.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:50

    Like how should we do this? No. Actually, we need to go back and rework this. And you you don’t want it to be. You don’t set out planning to make it like that.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:59

    But sometimes it’s unavoidable because the first thing isn’t right and if you have a commitment to making the thing right, then what you do is you just say, okay. I guess I’m staying late. I guess I’m working longer hours. Or it’s not gonna get done, it’s not gonna be right, and you have and that’s the choice you have. And I appreciate that the creators of Spiderverse decided to make the film right rather than just decided, you know what?
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:22

    We’ll just we’ll leave it as it is.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:24

    Yeah. I mean, that’s so, like, I I feel two things simultaneously. One, working long hours sucks. Working long hours is not fun. People don’t like to do it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:32

    I don’t like to do it. It’s always annoying when I have to you know, when I I don’t really have to do this anymore thankfully. I’ve progressed beyond that part of my job, but like Sometimes I would have to put in twelve hour days at a newspaper or a magazine putting an issue to bed. Those days sucked. That is what it is.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:48

    At the same time, I’m sorry, I feel I just don’t I do not care. I do not care at all about complaints that one of the producers wanted it to look a certain way and wasn’t and did not stop until it looked that way or wasn’t sure exactly how it should look. And went through many iterative processes until he got to a point where he’s like, oh yeah, that’s that’s the thing that was in my head. I don’t care about the artist Koo say, well, how am I supposed to know, you know, tell people this is my work. I I like, I understand that you have a portfolio and you wanna go to the next thing, but you know what is good for your portfolio is being like, hey, I worked on the the hundreds of millions of dollars making Spiderverse movie that, you know, is probably gonna win best animated Oscar.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:29

    Like, You know, I’m sorry. I just like Alyssa, am I am I just bereft of empathy here? Am I It’s one of the many ways in which I’m a bad person.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:38

    You know what? Sunny, I absolve you on this one.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:40

    Thank you. Thank you.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:41

    As the, you know, bleeding heart trained union organizer on this podcast, I think it’s worth drawing a distinction between a job that is unpleasant or is a bad fit or even is just not a great job and a job that’s abusive because those are distinct categories of things. And what the people who are interviewed in this story described is a job that was in some ways Ron DeSantis, but they’re not alleging that they weren’t paid. They aren’t alleging that their work was sort of stolen or ripped off in some way. And they’re not telling a story about working conditions that made a worse final product. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:21

    And what’s been very interesting about Vultures reporting on the state of visual effects is that It has provided an explanation for a lot of what we have been seeing on screen over the past couple of years. A sort of diminished house style at Marvel, you know, things that are less well lit, less sort of visually distinct, fight scenes that don’t have sort of clear narratives. Ron DeSantis stories of sort of a rushed and overloaded and ill coordinated working conditions in concert with a group you know, the sudden elevation of a group of directors who have never worked on blockbusters before, has both explanatory power and is a story about sort of a change in the sentiments and solidarity of people in a given profession. And I understand why you know, Vulture published this story. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:08

    I mean, they clearly have become sort of a place for people to go. But I think I didn’t find this story as compelling as either sort of a labor or an art story, because it lacks both that explanatory power, and it lacks complaints that you know clearly point to flawed sort of morals or leadership or workplace behavior. It sounds Ron DeSantis. It sounds like it may not have been a great match or for or experience for these these people. But I don’t think it is sort of demonstrative of anything larger.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:41

    At least not from what, you know, the reporting in this piece suggests.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:46

    Right. I mean, the the way the the way the piece was kind of framed was this, you know, like, oh, look at this awful workplace environment. And when you think awful workplace environment in Hollywood, you think Harvey Weinstein. You think casting couches, you think or or like dangerous sets where stunts aren’t being done properly or, you know, something else. But like, again, I was just reading a story and I was like, you had to work hard and then the hard work paid off on the screen.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:14

    You know, like I’m like sitting there trying not to go full on Draper and just scream that’s what the money is for at the screen, but like I’m sorry that’s the job. That’s the job. And you know, it’s it is again, it’s it’s it feels petty in a way to to compare this to the Marvel story. Because again, what it comes down to is like, Well, the reason the Marvel story is interesting is because like bad working conditions and uncertainty about what is happening in these movies and the effects sequences leads to a bad product. And that is what is bad.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:42

    Not necessarily that, you know, animators are working eleven hour days or whatever. It’s like what what is on the screen is bad. I get it feels like there should be some other broader standard than that, but I really don’t think there is. Like, if those stories about Marvel had been about the the guys at Ouida working on Avatar too, I think we all would have been like, well, yeah, but you can see it on the screen.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:04

    Yeah. I mean, the stories about Marvel are also allocating sort of, you know, penny pinching and companies not, you know, being paid for the work in a way that makes it unsustainable. There is sort of a larger business story there as well. And about sort of the concentration of market power in Marvel, in particular. But yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:23

    No. I think, you know, there’s a difference between story about someone who is finicky. And it it there was something in this piece I think that made me slightly disinclined to trust the sources in a way that maybe is not fair. But the idea that for something like into the spider verse, A director is supposed to walk in and know exactly how he wants it to look on the first go. When you have so many sort of overlaid styles of animation, sometimes all in the same frame.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:57

    It’s just it it felt to me like a misunderstanding of the artistic project. Right? Yeah. And sort of a you know, there’s a difference between someone being in a position where they’re going from having made a tiny indie to a huge blockbuster and literally not having a sense of how to direct a fight scene at all, for example, and having to sort of lead that to the second unit. And a movie where someone is a group of people are trying something new and very visually audacious and needing to take some time to work it out.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:30

    Yeah. Alright. So what do we think? Is it a controversy or a controversy that people worked hard to make something good, Peter?
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:37

    Oh, it’s totally controversial. I I just I can’t believe that that happened. This is a controversy, and it’s just it does not strike me as obviously a big deal, though. You know, I just seems like some people did not enjoy the process.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:52

    Yeah. Alyssa.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:53

    It’s an controversy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:54

    It is an controversy and I have to I was like I was genuinely kind of shocked by people who I almost wonder if they actually read the story before they started sharing it on Twitter. You know, not that anyone would ever share a story without reading it. Of course, I would never accuse anyone of doing that, but seeing some of the breathless like, wow. I can’t believe the working conditions on across the Spiderbers were so bad. And you click through and read the story, it’s like, we had to sit there and do nothing for months.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:20

    Like, okay. I don’t know, man. That’s not the worst thing I’ve ever heard on a movie set. Alright. Make sure to swing by Bulwark class for our bonus episode this week.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:28

    We’re gonna be talking about stage adaptations for the screen speaking of which onto the main event. Asteroid city, which is not technically the cinematic adaptation of a stage play, because there is no stage play named asteroid City. But just as there isn’t a Stefan Zwick novel named the Grand Buddha Pest Hotel, we all kind of understood what was going on there. Did we not? Asteroid city, it’s a pretty naughty movie for me, naughty in the k n o t t y since In the sense that I did not love the framing device here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:59

    Okay. So we, the audience who are watching the movie, are watching what amounts to an episode of Play House ninety, the CBS anthology program that ran in the mid to late fifties, that brought plays to people’s homes. Brian Cranston is the host. He’s introducing us to both the hit play, asteroid city, which is penned by Tennessee Williams like playwright named Conrad Earp, who’s played by Ed Norton. And also during the act breaks, a kind of explanation of how play came together.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:28

    The backstory of its writing, the creation of its characters, by actors, and an actors studio like Trope. The play and the making of the play eventually kind of collapsed in on each other creating a sort of meta play about the play. So what is asteroid city about? Widow Aggy Steinbeck, a war photographer who bears a passing resemblance to Stanley Kubrick and is played by Jason Schwartzman, has come to a small desert town So his science minded son can receive a prize from the junior Star Gazers. Here he is joined by a number of quirky kids and their quirky families, including famous actress Mitch Campbell played by Scarlet Johansson, a Sarah Longwell Monroe type who worries about being found dead in a tub.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:07

    Pills scattered about. She’s trying to find her character for a new play. Perhaps the two single parents can help each other find themselves aided by the quarantine the city has put under following a visitation to asteroid city by an alien. Surrounding midge and Auggie as they exist in lockdown are a collection of Asteer kind of Andersonian types. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:27

    Tom Hanks is playing Bill Murray as August father-in-law. Jeffrey Wright is a general with a flare for the Cool loves to get big speeches. I’m not gonna go through all the actors here. We don’t have time. We just don’t have time for that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:39

    But here’s here’s a list of some of them and not be kind of stripped from the rules they play. We got Tilda Swintin, Leev Schreiber, Stephen Park, Maya, Steve Carroll, Rupert Chao, Tony Revelore and Andrea Brody amongst others, just a just a stacked cast, an absolutely stacked cast. And one thing I’ve always admired about Anderson is his ability to take these sorts of overstuffed cast and give each of them a distinct sensibility and personality. I I wouldn’t describe any of these as fully human characters exactly, but they all do feel real in the abstract if that makes sense. Makes sense to me.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:11

    I don’t know if it makes sense to you. They all get a moment to shine, oftentimes involving smart edits with impeccable comic timing by Andersen and editor Barney Pilling. Hard to pick a favorite of these smaller roles, but for me, it was either Matt Dillon as the mechanic trying to figure out what’s wrong with the Steambeck family station wagon or Liev Schreiber as the Putupon Father of a weird kid who keeps asking people to dare him to do stupid and dangerous things. Unfortunately, Astroid City as a whole doesn’t work for me. It’s just it doesn’t work and largely because of the framing device.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:41

    It’s too complicated, too meta. Anderson breaks the fourth wall here in a in a way that I don’t think he has done previously in his career, and I think it’s to his detriment as the artifice is the point with the mad little worlds he builds. And another reason it doesn’t work for me is because I think you have to have a working knowledge of mid century American theater. To make sense of the whole thing, or you’re going to be lost? Mostly though, it just wasn’t funny enough to overcome the other problems.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:08

    I can deal with being confused so long as I’m not bored, And this was the rare the very the only time I’ve ever been sitting in a West Anderson movie Jonathan Last checking my watch to see how much time is left. I don’t know, guys. I assume this is a me problem rather than a West problem. I’m working to alleviate that me problem. I bought the companion of essays do not detonate without presidential approval.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:28

    I’m reading it right now. Fascinating stuff, giving me a lot of background I lacked. But maybe the maybe the framing device will click for me on second viewing. Maybe I don’t know. We’ll see.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:37

    Alyssa, were you left as cold as I was by this picture?
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:40

    No. Not at all. Oh, sunny, man. I was counting on you to be like the other like, parent in this podcast and to be as as affected by this movie as I was. So I will, like, say, as caveat that my daughter is like a way for the week at Camp grandma and grandpa.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:59

    And so I was probably, you know, primed to be absolutely destroyed by something with Prococia’s little girls in it. But in particular, Auggie’s strange little daughters, just end their reaction to their mother’s death just kind of wrecked me. You know, Sonny didn’t mention in the plot summary, but one of those sort of background things in the movie is that Oggy’s wife has died, and he three weeks ago, she’s been cremated and is being carried through the American Southwest in a tupperware, and he has not told the kids because he just can’t bring himself to do it. And so when he does his daughters who are sort of ignored in this whole setup. Like, they’re too young to be junior stargazers.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:39

    They’re kind of wandering around a little bit feral, but have fashioned themselves as, like, three completely competent witches, one of whom I think is also a zombie. Another one of whom is wearing vampire teeth. But they, like, bury her in cast a spell convinced that they’re going to bring her back, and it ruined me, just completely and utterly ruined me. But I think the movie works on a larger level, and I actually liked the framing device. Quite a bit in part because I think it’s sort of a challenge.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:12

    It’s Anderson Derek himself. Right? Because what he is essentially saying to the audience is, I am showing you is artifice all the way down. Right? You are watching a fake television show that is about a play that doesn’t exist and therefore, we don’t actually know if the characters who are making the play are real.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:34

    And you’re going to sort of fall into the play like you’re down, you know, Alice’s rabbit hole. And I am going to sell you on all of the levels of this. I am going to reinforce the art of vice at every turn I’m going to break in and tell you what is happening, and you are still going to fall for all of these different levels of these people completely. So not only do you have sort of the plot of asteroid city itself, but you have a brief, almost up style love story between the, you know, ostensible writer of the play and its ostensible star. You have, you know, a brief sort of moment of reunion between the star and the actress who was gonna play his wife before the scene was cut.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:20

    You have this very funny little glimpse into the studio where they’re developing the play. Right? Like the sight of Fisher Stephens, like wandering or unpretending to sleepwalk, is delightful. And so he’s, you know, he sells you on that and then gives you all these wonderful little character sketches in sort of asteroid city itself. You know, the most poignant of which is obviously sort of the relationship between Oggy and Mitch, but, you know, also between this sort of like slightly overwhelmed Christian school teacher and, you know, the her charges who are totally overwhelmed.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:55

    But and yet sort of nonplussed by having seen an alien. And, you know, that cowboy from this traveling musical troop who she initially found kind of irritating, but who ends up kind of stepping in and helping her wrangle the kids in a difficult moment. You have, you know, this explosion between Liev Shreiber and his son You know, it’s just you have this, you know, the reapproachment between Oggy’s, you know, brainiac son, Woodrow, and these scientists played by Tilda Swinton. And it’s just like, everything out at the movie is so on every level, so sort of a goodhearted and human And it’s I mean, you know, there’s a reason that the most developed sort of side plot about a parent and child outside of the sort of Aggy and midge stuff. Is the scene between Live Shriver and his annoying silence.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:44

    You know, why do you keep daring yourself? Because the movie is Anderson’s dare to himself. And to my mind, like, he jumped off the roof of the motor court and lands pretty much without a hitch.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:55

    Boy, I you kept saying he sells you on it and have to say he did not sell me on any of those levels. I like, my my my issue with the my my issue again with the framing device is that it kind of collapses in on itself. And I think that’s I think there’s an intentionality to that. It’s it is a I think part of what he is getting at here. And again, this is why I wish I had a better understanding of American theatrical productions from, like, nineteen thirty to nineteen fifty five.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:20

    Because I feel like there’s a there’s a moment here where he moves into the theater of the absurd Right? And that’s the the moment where their the characters are all talking to the screen, and we cut from black and white to color. And it but but by doing this, he is again, he’s collapsed seeing the the framing device in on itself, like, is the whole thing is the whole American ninety format here actually the play?
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:43

    I’m no idea.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:44

    Maybe. I’m
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:44

    not seeing Well, see, and
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:46

    this is this is the problem I’m sorry. Like, I don’t mind I actually really like Ron DeSantis history of doing things artificially, like creating fake novels and working within it. Grand Buttapest Hotel is the best example of this where he’s got where it’s like a a girl is reading a novel and the novel starts with an introduction by author and then we go to the story and the story is then told in flashback. And like you can follow it’s like it’s like inception. You can follow all the way levels down.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:11

    You can’t do that here. It doesn’t Bulwark. It collapses in on itself. The dream collapses. Peter, you certainly liked it more than I did.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:16

    I don’t know about alyssa.
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:17

    Yeah. I liked it more than you did and maybe not quite as much as Alyssa because I felt like it worked at every single little moment. Every acting choice, every bit of casting, every little design piece, every set piece and sequence. I loved every little bit of this in a pointless level. And it didn’t quite come together for me in the end because I felt like what it was trying to do with something that is I think if I understood what it is trying to do, was trying to do it a little bit too obliquely, or maybe maybe I just didn’t understand what it’s trying to do.
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:55

    I’m not sure. But it it seemed to me like ultimately this, you know, this sort of the the big idea here comes through in the end when you have all the the characters saying, well, I don’t understand what the play is about. And it is throwing the confusion that the movie is creating for the viewer, in the viewer’s face. It is saying you’re not going to understand this completely. It is not going to all fit together like a little puzzle box.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:18

    Instead, you are going to have to wrestle with it, and we are not going to tell you what the meaning is. We’re gonna we’re gonna give you this what’s the thing? The mantra, they repeat. You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep. What does that mean?
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:29

    What does that mean, man? No. It means you just sort of have to you have to be alive to the meaning of things, but things don’t have a meaning. And if you fall asleep, you won’t have a life. But if you’re not asleep right, like, you’re not gonna puzzle it out.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:42

    You’re just gonna have to accept the fact that it can’t be.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:46

    Except the mystery.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:47

    And you’re gonna have to deal with that for the rest of your for the rest of your life. And I I I appreciate that idea. But I also feel like it’s both too simple and too obliquely presented as a big idea. At the same time, every like I said, every single little thing here, every single little thing. I just was on board with it in every moment.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:06

    I wasn’t, like, bored of this movie. I was, like, I I I was I was deeply amused by every little beat. And in fact, the opposite of it was the opposite of like looking at my watch, wondering what was gonna be over. Because it’s shocking to me how much this movie packs in in terms of both little tiny details and gags and and visual elements and recurring motifs, and also all of these incredibly distinctive characters. Some of whom actually don’t have that many lines.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:35

    Who are not characters who you follow, you know, deeply for an hour and a half. And there’s just so much more going on in this movie than you see now frequently in movies that are two and a half or three hours long. And it’s just an and a hyper efficient film that, like, almost too much. Like, there’s this you know, the end I was almost left thinking I probably could have done with another ten minutes there, which is rare. But it’s the right length.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:58

    Every little beat works. Every acting choice works. I mainly wanted to see more of Jeff Goldman as the alien. Like, I I think that’s really where, like, my heart was with was with Jeff Goldman. And Alyssa said something that that I I thought as well which was that this movie was kind of profoundly humane.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:16

    And there was a weird way in which in which it reminded me of a bunch of things that West Anderson has done before, you know, there’s all of that emphasis on, like, high school theater in in Rushmore that this movie really seems to kind of pull from and and or not pull from, but to develop some of those same ideas But even more than that, this movie struck me as being a lot about empathy for people and accepting them along with their not just along with their flaws, but but like understanding that people are made by their flaws and by the things that don’t sort of work about them. That the things that are broken about them. And that is the big idea in a lot of ways of bottle rocket. His very first movie, his least twee, I guess, if you’re ready. His least sort of a hyper, you know, self consciously composed film.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:05

    But you have the character of Dignon in that movie who is play who is just kind of a screw up. And he’s we’re like, in the end, we’re we are supposed to understand that him being a screw up does not in any way take away from his dignity as a person. And that’s that movie is about the the the dignity of of dignon. Right? And and this movie kinda gets it at some of the same things of, like, the ways in which our lives can be broken and people can be messed up and can be sad and confused and we’ll never really understand what life is all about.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:39

    But, you know, we just have to accept that other people still have worth and value and that we can come together to create art and I don’t know. There’s aliens also. That’s it. That’s what I got. That’s pretty good.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:50

    It’s like, it’s a it’s a good movie. It’s just I don’t I didn’t quite love it in its hole.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:56

    I think one thing I like a lot about Anderson and have come to, like, more and more as a parent is that I think he is the rare sort of major filmmaker working today who is very interested in children and their inner lives. And the logic of the way they make decisions and approach the world. And, you know, I think he’s most comfortable with, you know, sort of teenagers and preteenagers. But both this and moon rise kingdom struck me as just attentive to the lives and emotions of kids in a way that you just don’t often see in movies, period. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:39

    I mean, Even Pixar movies for the most part these days are not about children. Right? They are about, you know, souls who refuse to grow up and depressed and village jazz musicians and abstracted emotions and, you know,
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:54

    Yeah. The people who really matter.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:56

    Yeah. Exactly. And but, you know, in Moonrise Kingdom, you know, you have this interest in children who are strange in a way that makes it very hard for them to live in the world. And, you know, this is a movie about you know, this group of strange kids who are kinda in their tribe. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:14

    And it’s this, you know, sort of their this desert that is kind of unpleasant to their parents and becomes a weird quarantine zone becomes this sort of makeshift ideal society for them briefly. You know, even something like the little you know, then the little girls get the least amount of attention in this movie. But, you know, their sort of insistence at the diner. They’re like, they’re not princesses. They’re like strange fantastical and even kind of fearsome creatures.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:42

    Is such a spot on observation about how little kids often are. And Well,
  • Speaker 3
    0:31:49

    it just I mean, it plays into the movie’s theme about, like, we’re all living the way we live life is by creating art. And they are creating art and they’re just by living each day. And they are they are being imaginary creatures. Rader. They’re they are
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:02

  • Speaker 3
    0:32:02

    No.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:02

  • Speaker 3
    0:32:02

    imagining a life that is in some ways not their literal life, but then they they play Right? They are enacting little plays constantly throughout the movie.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:11

    Yeah. And, you know, the extent to which, like, Tom Hanks’ character just sort of like breaks down and defers to their wishes. And it’s like, alright, my daughter is gonna be buried in a tupperware and a motor court because it’s what’s really important to my granddaughters. You know, I I just find I find Ron DeSantis sort of interest in and respect for children. To be so compelling and unusual.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:36

    And, you know, I I think he takes smart kids seriously too. And he does not he has no need to make them, you know, young adult heroes. Sometimes he makes them smart sometimes he makes them difficult, but he just he respects them and is interested in them as they are. And I feel like his tenderness for kids has really grown since he made Rushmore. And, you know, rushmore is sort of a story about ultimately about how, like, Max Fisher should learn to be an actual kid.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:10

    And in these later movies, Anderson keeps coming back to sort of meeting kids where they are, and they’re convoluted you know, imperfect, but really tender logic. And it’s made him you know, Anderson has been one of my favorite film makers for a long time, but this quality has made it him, I think, increasingly important to me.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:31

    Yeah. I think again, I I think that sometimes this works better for him in some films than others. For instance, I think it’s great in isle of dogs, which is very heavily stylized, half dealing with dogs, have dealing with kids. I think it works better when the the kids are more minor characters like in royal tenant bombs, oozie and Ari, the little weird sons of Ben Stiller. So this is this is one of the the ways in which I am a total weirdo is that I actually kind of hate Moonrise Kingdom.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:01

    I think it’s his worst movie. By a fair margin, I do not care for it at all. It’s for a lot of reasons, but part of it is I just don’t I don’t know. I don’t like it when he spends a lot of time with kids. It makes me it it feels weird to me.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:16

    But didn’t you also feel I mean, you felt kind of uncomfortable with sexualizing sure of that storyline, which I think you’re a legitimate reaction to that film even though I it’s it I mean, Moonrise Kingdom is one of my favorite Anderson movies. But I also understand feeling uncomfortable watching with some of what he has done since being there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:32

    I think I I think I actually probably would have been fine with moon kingdom if it wasn’t for the very the one very specific scene on the beach where they’re like dancing in their underwear. Like, I was just like, ah, this makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like this. I don’t think this I don’t necessarily think this should be on film. Even though it’s not, you know, it’s not like a sexualized thing, it’s still, you know, whatever.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:51

    It made me uncomfortable. There’s nothing like that in this for the record. This is much this is this is different. Again, I my big problem with this movie again is just the the structure of it does not work within its own parameters, unless the the again, unless the parameters here are we are watching the evolution of the American stage over a twenty five year period play out in this one production, which I think might be what he’s going for. But I also don’t know because I don’t know it well enough.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:19

    And it’s not like it’s not like the French dispatch, which is probably one of my two or three favorite movies that he’s made, which I love because I love the structure of that film, which is like, here is what it’s like to lay out a magazine. Here’s the order of stories. You get the short ones, then the longer ones, then the culture stuff at the end. Boom. That’s a magazine.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:36

    And here it is in movie form. I don’t know. This just there and you
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:40

    you have an intimate and detailed understanding of magazines, unlike say, mid century theater.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:45

    Right. So that’s that’s the thing. Right? Maybe I maybe I liked the French Dispatch more than some others did because I am, you know, so steeped in that that world because that is my that is my milieu. And maybe I feel left out here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:57

    I don’t know. I don’t know. Long in the short of it is I will be going I will say that again Anderson is one of the few filmmakers I respect enough to, like, get out there and do my own work, do my own research. To to get more in line with his thinking on a subject. So maybe it’ll work better for me in in a month or two.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:15

    I will say just as a final joke, it’s quite funny to see Adrian Brody playing sort of mid century theater director in this movie who’s, you know, like wildly successful and sort of confident in a lot of ways after having seen him play Arthur Miller and blonde. So I think that’s, like, that’s a fun sort of joke both about mid century theater history and also about contemporary cinema.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:39

    It is funny just in briefly since we’re we’re running out of time here. I I do think it’s funny that Adrigan Brody has become a key part of the Anderson troop because I think Anderson knows exactly how to use Brody’s like kind of angular physicality best. Like, he work he he like really knows how to direct Adrian Brody physically in a way that I don’t think anybody else has quite managed. And he’s great in this. He’s great in this and French dispatch and the Grand Buttopest Hotel.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:06

    So and
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:07

    Darjeeling Limited, which I don’t think much of Grant like totally, but he’s pretty good in it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:12

    I haven’t watched that movie in forever. I should revisit. But I I like I like that more than most people did. Anyway, neither current nor there. Alright.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:18

    So what do we think? Thumbs up or thumbs down on asteroid city Peter.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:23

    Thumbs up. It’s a lesser Anderson film, but a lesser Anderson film is still better than almost anything else I’m likely to see in a given Alyssa.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:31

    Thumbs way up if you’re a parent, you know, pack a hanky.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:34

    Thumbs down for me though I reserve the right to change that to a thumbs up at a later date. Wow. I I I I reserve the right to backtrack on this if I watch it again and am struck by everything working in a way it didn’t work the first time. So
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:52

    Sunny bunch is wrong on the Internet.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:54

    Now, it never happened. Has never happened before, and because I gave myself an out here, it has still never happened. If I decide to change my mind. Alright. That is it for this week’s show.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:03

    Make sure to head over to Bulwark Plus for our bonus episode on Friday. And tell your friend strong recommendation from a friend is basically the only way to grow podcast audiences. You don’t go well die. If you did not love today’s episode, please commit to me on Twitter at sonny I’ll convince you that it is in fact a Metro in your podcast feed. See you guys next week.
Bulwark+ members enjoy weekly bonus episodes here.