Monday, October 23, 2017

Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread trailer

In the same vein,

---my notes on Anderson's Inherent Vice (2014)

---my review of There Will Be Blood (2007)

---my notes on The Master (2012)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Michael Clayton's Toxicology Report (2008)

From "How Michael Clayton Presaged 2017" by James Parker:

"It taxes my reviewerly brain to try to synopsize this movie, because the real mysteries, it turns out, are not the ones you don’t or can’t understand, but the ones that endlessly, bottomlessly disclose meaning. They increase in relevance. And Michael Clayton is mysterious like that: better today than it was in 2007. Writer-director Tony Gilroy is a Hollywood paradox: a visionary journeyman, a machinist-poet who churned through many entertainments, including the original Jason Bourne trilogy, on his way to Michael Clayton. The earlier work holds hints and presagings. In The Devil’s Advocate, Satan (Al Pacino) runs a great big Manhattan law firm, sucking nice young attorneys skyward on backdrafts of temptation, up into the infernal spires and the penthouses of Tartarus. And Jason Bourne, amnesiac hit man, is a very pure existential cipher—a man on the run, profoundly alone, surveilled by demons, desperate to discover who he is and how he was made. But there’s no lively, twinkling Satan/Pacino in Michael Clayton, no CIA master villain. Evil is not an active principle in this universe; it is a sluggish compound of evasion, appetite, and self-interest. It gathers around your ankles." 

From my review:

"Michael Clayton is too labyrinthine to explain very easily, but I thoroughly enjoyed its ice cold vision. Corporations continue to master the art of public relations, but when their wholesome image masks cancerous business practices, you can find utterly fake people like Karen Crowder practicing their lines in front of a mirror before the cameras roll. Tilda Swinton played the evil ice queen in The Chronicles of Narnia, and she continues to play one here. With her pale skin and business formal outfits, she shows how despair and ambition can coil behind a chilling facade.Repeatedly in the film, U/North’s televised ads proclaim that “We plant the seed,” and “We grow your world together,” but underneath all of the glowing pictures of smiling children and wheat fields blowing in the breeze, Michael Clayton delivers a toxicology report of corporate and legal depravity that appears all too real."

Black Panther trailer

Here's the trailer for Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler, which looks excellent--via firstshowing.net.

In the same vein, my review of Fruitvale Station.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Incompetent projection and the time when Dennis Cozzalio tried to go see mother!

I'm getting increasingly fed up with the Regal Cinema near my house. Now, at least two of its screens are inadequately lit, and after watching a very dim version of Blade Runner 2049 the other Saturday afternoon, I'm thinking of boycotting the place entirely. Here's the ever-excellent Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule on a similar experience at an AMC theater:

"I paid around $48 for the privilege of escaping the crowds at the central AMC Burbank multiplex hub, heading instead to the AMC in the adjacent mall where mother! was playing at a schedule-friendly 6:45 p.m. This theater has never boasted the finest all-around experience to be had, but with their digital projectors always reliably bright, and with the addition of now-apparently-de-rigueur reserved (and reclining) seats, I figured it was a safe bet. After sitting through 20 minutes of barely visible trailers, thanks (I assumed) to the fact that the house lights were at full brightness throughout, some underpaid kid flipped a switch and the searing lamps embedded in the ceiling threw the tiny auditorium into a more acceptable level of darkness.

Unfortunately, the projected image was still dim-- Jennifer Lawrence’s dream house looked as if it was being viewed through a glass opaquely. Maybe someone (in the house? at the theater?) forgot to pay the electricity bill? The smudgy dimness extended to exterior shots in ostensible bright sunlight too, and the movie’s occasional transitional fades to bright white looked tobacco-stained and in need of a healthy shot of Wisk Detergent, with Bleach. The faces of every actor in the movie—Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer—were rendered unreadable by the level of murky shadow they were left to fight their way through, the daring work being unfurled before the audience sullied, bastardized, visually diluted to a literal shadow play.

After about 10 minutes of this, long enough to determine that the canaries-in-a-coalmine lighting scheme was not one imposed upon the drama by the Our Grand Puppeteer, I walked down to the snack bar to ask the manager, who I’d earlier overheard recommending the movie to a patron while I stood in line for my Diet Coke, if something could be done. I described to him what was happening, and he kindly accompanied me back to the #6 cracker box so I could show him myself. We walked in, stood at the back and watched for a few seconds. He admitted that, yeah, the image looked a little dark. 'Maybe a bad bulb or something,' he offered."

In my case, it's happened to me twice, once with Kong: Skull Island and then last weekend. Given that Blade Runner 2049 is a noir science fiction film anyway, at one point, a character said "It's too dark in here" and I whispered "That's what I said" to my companion. Given that the Regal Entertainment Group corporation has show so little interest in my welfare beyond treating me as a ready receptacle for ads, and more ads, and more ads out in the lobby, and buckets of obscenely overpriced soda, and more loud ads when I'm trying to just sit and rest before a movie, why shouldn't I devote this blog to chipping away at their profits over time? In Charleston, one can go to the excellent Terrace Theatre, and in Columbia, SC, the Nickelodeon provides customers with a considerate brightly-lit and excellent cultural experience, but out here in the sad more exploited boonies, we live under the corporate thumb of the indifferent Regal Entertainment Group CEOs who clearly don't care if customers wince under their propagandized perpetual lying distraction machines in the interest of eventually viewing the actual film (which still could, perhaps, be pretty good, if one could see it). Must they monetize every second in which I pay to be aware in their endlessly compromised environment? Why suffer this overly dark projection and a thousand evil fattening Coca-Cola ads for 12 dollars plus for a matinee ticket anymore? In the future, as in right now, the screen will be too dim and the ads too omnipresent to watch the next post-apocalyptic movie. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

From "The Clickbait Candidate" by James Williams

From "The Clickbait Candidate" by James Williams:

A better name for ‘social media’ would be ‘impulsive media.’ The unprecedented abundance and instantaneity of information in the digital era has turned our world into a never-ending flow of novel attentional rewards. Yet transcending these limits of space and time — moving from information scarcity to abundance — does not mean our informational world has become limitless: it is still limited by our capacity to navigate it. Thus, we have now become the main limits; the constraints of our psychology now play the defining roles. A major implication of this is that we now spend much more of our finite willpower to maintain our previous levels of self-regulation. Too often, though, we find that we don’t have enough willpower saved up to spend to avoid distraction.

In the brave new cognitive world that results, then, innumerable packets of information come screaming across the sky (to remix Pynchon’s phrase) — all our candidates, comedians, memes, meeting notes, native advertisements, love letters, likes, posts, product placements, poems, exhortations, titillations, and cats — all competing on the same instant playing field, whose center is everywhere and boundary is nowhere, for the grand prize of our attention. And whichever one is best at pushing our buttons will win. We have many buttons."

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold trailer


--via the ever-excellent @CriterionDaily

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Death Wish trailer

After the Las Vegas shooting, this Death Wish trailer has not aged well, and the movie has not even been released. I was more disturbed by the implications of trailer than by anything in Blade Runner 2049.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"It's like a slot machine": from "the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia" by Paul Lewis

From "'Our minds can be hijacked': the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia" by Paul Lewis

"[Tristan Harris] explored how LinkedIn exploits a need for social reciprocity to widen its network; how YouTube and Netflix autoplay videos and next episodes, depriving users of a choice about whether or not they want to keep watching; how Snapchat created its addictive Snapstreaks feature, encouraging near-constant communication between its mostly teenage users.

The techniques these companies use are not always generic: they can be algorithmically tailored to each person. An internal Facebook report leaked this year, for example, revealed that the company can identify when teens feel 'insecure', 'worthless' and 'need a confidence boost'. Such granular information, Harris adds, is 'a perfect model of what buttons you can push in a particular person'.

Tech companies can exploit such vulnerabilities to keep people hooked; manipulating, for example, when people receive 'likes' for their posts, ensuring they arrive when an individual is likely to feel vulnerable, or in need of approval, or maybe just bored. And the very same techniques can be sold to the highest bidder. 'There’s no ethics,' he says. A company paying Facebook to use its levers of persuasion could be a car business targeting tailored advertisements to different types of users who want a new vehicle. Or it could be a Moscow-based troll farm seeking to turn voters in a swing county in Wisconsin.

Harris believes that tech companies never deliberately set out to make their products addictive. They were responding to the incentives of an advertising economy, experimenting with techniques that might capture people’s attention, even stumbling across highly effective design by accident.

A friend at Facebook told Harris that designers initially decided the notification icon, which alerts people to new activity such as 'friend requests' or 'likes', should be blue. It fit Facebook’s style and, the thinking went, would appear 'subtle and innocuous'. 'But no one used it,' Harris says. 'Then they switched it to red and of course everyone used it.'

That red icon is now everywhere. When smartphone users glance at their phones, dozens or hundreds of times a day, they are confronted with small red dots beside their apps, pleading to be tapped. 'Red is a trigger colour,' Harris says. 'That’s why it is used as an alarm signal.'

The most seductive design, Harris explains, exploits the same psychological susceptibility that makes gambling so compulsive: variable rewards. When we tap those apps with red icons, we don’t know whether we’ll discover an interesting email, an avalanche of 'likes', or nothing at all. It is the possibility of disappointment that makes it so compulsive.

It’s this that explains how the pull-to-refresh mechanism, whereby users swipe down, pause and wait to see what content appears, rapidly became one of the most addictive and ubiquitous design features in modern technology. 'Each time you’re swiping down, it’s like a slot machine,' Harris says. 'You don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes it’s a beautiful photo. Sometimes it’s just an ad.'"

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 links

I've taught the 1982 original (director's cut version) of Blade Runner multiple times in my science fiction class. It's always fun to go revisit Pauline Kael's scathing review of it. Also, I've been enjoying these links as suspense mounts for Blade Runner 2049.

---an excerpt from Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner.

---Black Out 2022

---behind-the-scenes clips

---"What a Sequel 35 Years in the Making Can Tell Us about the Future of Sci-Fi" by Brian Rafferty

---"7 Thing You Need to Know" by Zack Scharf

---a Harrison Ford profile

---concerning Roger Deakins

---an interview with director Denis Villeneuve

---lastly, the film's creators discuss the sequel


From "Noah Baumbach Reveals the Key Movies that Made Him Want to Be a Filmmaker" by Eric Kohn

--from an article by Eric Kohn concerning Noah Baumbach's cinematic influences via Indiewire:

"Noah Baumbach has been making movies for more than 20 years, and in that time, has developed a distinctive voice in American cinema. His stories of neurotic New Yorkers are loaded with memorable moments of self-obsession and narcissistic showdowns. But Baumbach didn’t become a filmmaker overnight; he learned much about filmmaking from watching other movies. Raised by novelist Jonathan Baumbach and film critic Georgia Brown, Baumbach grew up surrounded by cinema, and it played a critical role in his evolving love for the medium.

The filmmaker looked back on some of these key influences during a conversation at the Film Society of Lincoln Center shortly before a screening of his latest effort, the ensemble comedy The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which Netflix releases later this month."

In the same vein,

my notes on Frances Ha and Mistress America.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The joy of my Apple Watch series 3: a poem

"the same digital platform that offers us social interaction, news, entertainment and shopping all in one place makes its money by making it cheap and easy to send us commercial or political messages, often guided by algorithms." --Zeynep Tufecki

"eventually, you will not be able to imagine life without something buzzing attached to your body." --Navneet Alang

With my spandex and my man bun,
I leap, twirl, and dive in the pool,
my new Apple Watch series 3 expertly
sluicing as it exhorts me to run,
fly, and spin to complete its circles,
the freedom of constant social media
reminders lifting me to contemplate
the hagiography of Steve Jobs,
his stubble magnified to a great
wheat field on a massive screen
as my Apple watch series 3 beeps, tracks,
and pings its grand dream of constant internet
reaction, its algorithmical call and response
always blinking on my wrist,
so many apps and ads scrolling on its tiny screen
bringing love, hipness, connectivity,
and peace, the soft sunlight of a fall morning
replaced with circles, phone calls, texts, links,
emoji tracking my heart rate, relative speed,
exact location under a delirious grid of cell
phone towers like a bouncing ball
of ever expanding data, 1000s of tinny pop
songs in my earpods serenading me as I stay
connected, connected, connected
all the time, time, time, a happy retro image of
Mickey Mouse smiling as the second hand
ticks, ticks, ticks in the Apple Watch series 3's
simplest and most ominous iteration. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs trailer

Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs trailer.

In the same vein,

A sequence analysis of Moonrise Kingdom by Morgan Honaker

9 reasons why Fantastic Mr. Fox is the coolest film

Notes on the film techniques of Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson / / From Above by Kogonada

Matt Zoller Seitz considers my favorite Wes Anderson film Rushmore

Saturday, September 16, 2017

From "The Battle for Blade Runner" by Michael Schulman

From "The Battle for Blade Runner" by Michael Shulman:

"As for the future that Blade Runner envisioned, Ridley Scott’s bleak 2019 seems prescient in our age of environmental degradation, omnipresent machines, and general foreboding. What is Apple, after all, if not a tech behemoth on par with the Tyrell Corporation? It even has its own enigmatic robo-woman with eerie flashes of humanity. Not long ago, I asked her, 'Siri, do you dream of electric sheep?' 'Electric sheep,' she purred back. 'But only sometimes.'"

Noir Jukebox by Corey Creekmur

Noir Jukebox from Corey Creekmur on Vimeo (with thanks to Catherine Grant)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

From a Vulture interview with John Cleese

From a Vulture interview with John Cleese:

What are you working on now?

I have a show I’m working on at the moment called Why There Is No Hope.

Sounds funny.
It is funny. Some people immediately see the title as funny and other people go what?! There is no hope that we’ll ever live in a rational, kind, intelligent society. To start, most of us are run by our unconscious and, unfortunately, most of us have no interest in getting in touch with our unconscious. So if the majority of people are run by something they don’t know anything about, how can we have a rational society?
. . .

There’s absolutely nothing that gives you any hope about the future of human society?
Nothing.

Nothing?
Nothing.

So why get up in the morning?
Just because you can’t create a sensible world doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the world you’re in. I think Bertrand Russell once said that the secret to happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible. Once you realize that things are pretty hopeless, then you just have a laugh and you don’t waste time on things that you can’t change — and I don’t think you can change society. I’ve spent a lot of time in group therapy watching highly intelligent, well-intentioned people try to change and they couldn’t. If even they can’t change …

As someone who’s spent a lifetime working in and thanking about comedy, is there one joke you can point to as being the funniest thing that you ever said?
Interesting. It would probably have been something unscripted. Eric Idle and I were performing in Florida once, taking questions from the audience, and a woman stood up and asked me, apparently seriously, “Did the Queen kill Princess Diana?”

What’d you say?
Certainly not with her hands.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

From Franklin Foer's "How Silicon Valley is erasing your individuality"

From Franklin Foer's "How Silicon Valley is erasing your individuality," an essay adapted from his new book World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.

"Facebook represents a dangerous deviation in media history. Once upon a time, elites proudly viewed themselves as gatekeepers. They could be sycophantic to power and snobbish, but they also felt duty-bound to elevate the standards of society and readers. Executives of Silicon Valley regard gatekeeping as the stodgy enemy of innovation — they see themselves as more neutral, scientific and responsive to the market than the elites they replaced — a perspective that obscures their own power and responsibilities. So instead of shaping public opinion, they exploit the public’s worst tendencies, its tribalism and paranoia.

During this century, we largely have treated Silicon Valley as a force beyond our control. A broad consensus held that lead-footed government could never keep pace with the dynamism of technology. By the time government acted against a tech monopoly, a kid in a garage would have already concocted some innovation to upend the market. Or, as Google’s Eric Schmidt, put it, “Competition is one click away.” A nostrum that suggested that the very structure of the Internet defied our historic concern for monopoly.

As individuals, we have similarly accepted the omnipresence of the big tech companies as a fait accompli. We’ve enjoyed their free products and next-day delivery with only a nagging sense that we may be surrendering something important. Such blitheness can no longer be sustained. Privacy won’t survive the present trajectory of technology — and with the sense of being perpetually watched, humans will behave more cautiously, less subversively. Our ideas about the competitive marketplace are at risk. With a decreasing prospect of toppling the giants, entrepreneurs won’t bother to risk starting new firms, a primary source of jobs and innovation. And the proliferation of falsehoods and conspiracies through social media, the dissipation of our common basis for fact, is creating conditions ripe for authoritarianism. Over time, the long merger of man and machine has worked out pretty well for man. But we’re drifting into a new era, when that merger threatens the individual. We’re drifting toward monopoly, conformism, their machines. Perhaps it’s time we steer our course."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Iconography and the Yammering Haters: a Review of Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do" Video

As someone who remembers the flowering of the music video during the 1980s and the ascendance of figures like Madonna and Michael Jackson as they newly explored the form, I usually don't have much to say about the dull marketing calculations of recent music videos. A typical example would be Katy Perry's recent "Swish Swish," a forgettable video that alludes to Space Jam (1996) to little effect. Full of celebrity cameos, sight gags, and grotesquery, "Swish Swish" exemplifies the contemporary degrading cartoon Idiocracy attention-seeking visual internet squalor that does not linger in the mind.

Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do" video, however, strikes me as something else. As Anne Helen Petersen points out in her Buzzfeed essay "The Great White Celebrity Vacuum," Swift largely has not produced much new work during the last six months, and the "Look" song and video mark her return to the public eye with multiple iconographic images that point back to her previous incarnations and personae. In dramatic contrast to the relative sweetness of, say, "Shake It Off" (2014), "Look What You Made Me Do" comes across as a vindictive, fierce, and paranoid Swift interrogating her own media image with every millisecond of the video seemingly test-marketed for maximum meme-worthy impact, and I like the semiotic intensity of it all (without pretending to get the many, many references to incidents in her highly publicized and debated past). Swift has arrived at a cold and angry level of fame, but the video also asserts the power of her celebrity. After all why would someone cut the wing off of a jet marked "REPUTATION" with a chainsaw? In comparison to Perry's slippy hijinks, Swift's "Look" is hagiographic--all about power with her dominating every shot composition in a triangular tableau that reminds me of some of evil robot Maria scenes in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) which Madonna also used to good effect in her "Express Yourself" video.

After a humorously Gothic beginning with Swift's zombie alluding to Jackson's "Thriller" video, she digs up the grave of her reputation (a reply to Petersen's essay), then reappears in a bathtub full of jewels before assuming her throne with a bunch of snakes giving her tea. I've read of how all of this imagery alludes to various celebrity tiffs, put downs, when its isn't ripping off other videos, but I enjoyed imagining other reasons for snakes, a Cleopatra/Britney Spears reference, perhaps? Has Swift's fan base and internet buzz become the same kind of writhing vicious commentary, a perpetually petty yammering chorus of snark (such as one finds on Twitter, for instance) aspiring for influence on a staircase? In The Circle, one can find a good depiction of this chorus when Emma Watson's character Mae chooses to go fully "transparent" for her Mark Zuckerberg-esque mentor Bailey (Tom Hanks), allowing herself to experience the ultimate celebrity nightmare of being on a continual internationally-accessible video feed from when she wakes up in the morning until she goes to bed at night. When she does so, everyone who follows Mae constantly comments on everything she does with a creepy tweet-like relentlessness that shows how horrific contemporary media exposure can be. Not only is Mae drastically over-exposed, everyone else is reduced by the movie's Facebook-like social media to endless miniaturized bickering commentary, all of it fed by the need for attention coupled with the dictates of social media engineers ("oligarchic platform owners") profiting over human gullibility and cell phone addiction.

Then, the "Look What You Made Me Do" video cuts to a car accident with Swift suddenly looking a lot like Katy Perry as she's thrown onto the dashboard and steering wheel before paparazzi arrive to pruriently photograph her. I enjoy the way the shot evokes the twisted aesthetics of Jake Gyllenhaal's work in Nightcrawler (2014) and its emphasis on just how sick the public has gotten to be as it sates itself on images of car crashes, death warmed over for the evening news, all of it making J. G. Ballard's Crash (1973), and by extension the Cronenberg 1996 movie adaptation, a documentary prophecy rather than a novel.

It's also fun to see Swift serve up her power-play with Spotify as a robbery with other women in cat masks. In that moment in a video full of expensive sets rapidly deployed, Swift wields a baseball bat as she robs the streaming service, at one point holding up a stack of burning money. Does this shot intend to refer to the Heath Ledger's Joker and his nihilistic burning of money in The Dark Knight? Ultimately, Swift did win her feud with Apple Music when they, in Kaitlyn Tiffany's essay, "agreed to pay royalties to everyone during its free trial." So, does that count as a robbery with money to burn? At any rate, the shot does show off Swift's power to affect big business with her marketing decisions.

In the end, I still don't get why Swift's persona feels obliged to cut off the wing of a jet with a chainsaw, but the image has a gleeful destructiveness. So, yes, Swift's newest incarnation stands before a lit cross-like T as her earlier media selves squirm and fall down below, but one could also say that's an image of the celebrity celebrating a video that quickly breaks records across the world, no matter what others say or tweet or post, etc. Whatever her faults, with these kinds of images, Taylor Swift reminds the viewers where we stand or fall in the vicious hierarchy of celebrity.          

Sunday, August 27, 2017

a note on Steven Soderbergh's creative method

“You go through three phases trying to express yourself in any art form” explains Soderbergh. “First, you imitate. Next, you begin to document what you’re thinking and feeling and use the crafts you’ve learned through imitation. Then there’s the third phase: taking the emotions and feelings you’ve experienced—which are autobiographical—and creating a fictional story with which to express them. That was the big leap for me, because emotionally, sex, lies, and videotape is very autobiographical, and yet nothing in the film actually occurred. And by being fictional I was able to be clearer in what I was trying to get across.” --from Michael Dare's sex, lies, and videotape essay on Criterion

Turning the Screw by Johannes Binotto


Turning the Screw from Johannes Binotto on Vimeo.

A study of the mise-en-scene of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur. As Jeff, Robert Mitchum remains supremely sleepy throughout.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Internet addiction and Adam Alter's Irresistible

"The environment and circumstance of the digital age are far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in our history. In the 1960s, we swam through waters with only a few hooks: cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs that were expensive and generally inaccessible. In the 2010s, those same waters are littered with hooks. There’s the Facebook hook. The Instagram hook. The email hook. The online shopping hook. And so on. The list is long—far longer than it’s ever been in human history, and we’re only just learning the power of these hooks.

Compared to the clunky tech of the 1990s and early 2000s, modern tech is efficient and addictive. Hundreds of millions of people share their lives in real time through Instagram posts, and just as quickly those lives are evaluated in the form of comments and likes. Songs that once took an hour to download now arrive in seconds, and the lag that dissuaded people from downloading in the first place has evaporated. Tech offers convenience, speed, and automation, but it also brings large costs. Human behavior is driven in part by a succession of reflexive cost-benefit calculations that determine whether an act will be performed once, twice, a hundred times, or not at all. When the benefits overwhelm the costs, it’s hard not to perform the act over and over again, particularly when it strikes just the right neurological notes.

A like on Facebook and Instagram strikes one of those notes, as does the reward of completing a World of Warcraft mission, or seeing one of your tweets shared by hundreds of Twitter users. The people who create and refine tech, games, and interactive experiences are very good at what they do. They run thousands of tests with millions of users to learn which tweaks work and which ones don’t—which background colors, fonts, and audio tones maximize engagement and minimize frustration. As an experience evolves, it becomes an irresistible, weaponized version of the experience it once was. In 2004, Facebook was fun; in 2016, it’s addictive."  --from Adam Alter's Irresistible (a book that has been preoccupying me recently)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A respectful reaction to Richard Brody's paragraph about Atomic Blonde

I've been lazy and shiftless this summer, disappointed in Baby Driver, respectfully confused by Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and quick to loathe Ghost in the Shell with its numb robotic rigidity, but I was very impressed with Atomic Blonde, so I thought I'd supply some respectful annotations to Richard Brody's paragraph [in italics below] about the movie in The New Yorker:

"This standard-issue spy-by-the-pound yarn [Ha!]--set during the last days of the Berlin Wall [I happened to propose to my wife when the Berlin Wall fell, which struck me as good symbolism at the time. We're still married, and Atomic Blonde cleverly mines the historical moment for good mob scenes and dramatic juxtapositions of espionage skullduggery with joyful city-wide celebrations]--is both enlivened and deadened by its unusually realistic and numbingly plentiful violence. [I was concerned about that possibility too, but it struck me that there's all the difference in the world between Keanu Reeves realistically (?) fighting many men in John Wick (2014) and Charlize Theron doing the same in Atomic Blonde (David Leitch directed some of the former and all of the latter). The action scenes of the latter left me thrilled even to the point of wondering, when one considers Wonder Woman as well, why anyone should even watch male action heroes anymore? Haven't we pretty much seen all that they can do? But Charlize Theron's delightfully ice-cold Lorraine Broughton doesn't bother to explain herself. There's no back story for her (as some critics have complained). She just pulls off a stiletto heel and uses it to take down several guys in a speeding car. With so much post-Imperator Furiosa-infused killer attitude, she doesn't need any back story. And Brody says nothing about Broughton's fashion choices, again one of the movie's most important aspects.] Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, an M.I.6 agent sent to the still divided to locate--with the help of British colleague (James McAvoy) [who proves impressive in part because he somehow manages to hold his own next to Theron. McAvoy's performance as David Percival is pleasantly deranged and corrupt.]--a wristwatch containing a list of Western spies [I liked the use of the fancy wristwatch as a McGuffin, having received a used black and silver Tiger Tudor watch for Christmas last year. I enjoy how such watches implicitly rebuke the moronic Apple Watch Series 2 with its emphasis on nudging people to flail around all day], and to rescue a Stasi turncoat (Eddie Marsan), who has the list memorized. This action is seen in flashbacks, intercut with scenes of the bloodied, bruised, and embittered Lorraine's chilly debriefing by her handlers (Toby James [who reminds one pleasantly of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)] and John Goodman [who has been in every movie, it seems, that I've seen in the last three years]. The deceptive twists and cynical moods of espionage [What's wrong with that? Brody writes as it that's a bad thing.] take place in nostalgically bleak Cold War cityscapes [just in Berlin--and Berlin comes off looking cool, reminding me of the Sex Pistols' song "Holidays in the Sun"--

"The Berlin wall

I got to go over the wall
I don't understand this thing at all"

I mean, really, is there a better emblem of the terminal stupidity of the cold war?], but the fine points of spycraft are either reduced to mere winks or amplified to bone-thwacking and gore-spraying martial artistry [Brody does not acknowledge that what makes this movie compelling is that Charlize Theron goes beyond any kind of usual kick-ass ability to something almost impersonally and rudely sublime. In real life, her teeth were injured! By doing her own stunts, she suffered much for her edgy contempt for ordinary women's star vehicles, but no, Brody cares about the "fine points of spycraft."] Theron keeps her cool throughout the pummeling gyrations [said begrudgingly], but the film strains to achieve a breathless panache and lurid swagger for which David Leitch's direction is too heavy-footed and literal [I thought the direction was playful and creative, the cinematography full of bruised, lurid, decadent colors.]; a deft, metal-bashing automotive ballet comes too late to help. [I don't remember exactly what he's talking about here. Brody doesn't mention a clever Hitchcock-esque moment when Broughton arranges for an entire city street full of protesters to raise their umbrellas to block a hitman's bullet.] With Sofia Boutella, as a French agent with an artistic streak." [Brody doesn't mention the movie's clever '80s soundtrack, the way Broughton's on-going discussion with the intelligence officers back in London balances the action with sharp dialogue, or, for that matter, how the movie generally has a surprisingly smart screenplay by Kurt Johnstad and Antony Johnston, in a world of lesser-written contemporary releases. I have great respect for Richard Brody often and The New Yorker always, but in this case, I beg to differ.        

Thursday, August 3, 2017

captive attention links

---Not a Grande Dame by Catherine Grant

---Incident by a Bank

---trailers for Thor: Ragnarok, Proud Mary, Call Me By Your Name, UnaReady Player OneJustice League9 DoigtsMother!, and Suburbicon

---"What is the defining characteristic of the femme fatale, that film noir archetype of the scheming woman who preys on men? Even more than greed or coldheartedness, it might be deceit: a virtuosic ability to manipulate men with lies and playacting. The femme fatale is spawned by male anxiety—not prompted by women’s wartime emancipation, as many have argued, but arising from the age-old fear of being fooled by women, and the misogynistic belief that they are inherently duplicitous and inscrutable. This shapes the way actresses play femme fatales: they are often giving a performance of a performance, enacting a charade of feminine sweetness and frailty that satisfies the expectations and desires of their marks. In Eddie Muller’s Dark City Dames, Jane Greer recalls that when she played the enchanting thief, liar, and killer Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past (1947), director Jacques Tourneur wasted no time on the character’s psychology, simply instructing her: 'First half—good girl. Second half—bad.' He told her to play it 'impassive,' conveying the depths of her evil through a shocking depthlessness. A woman like Kathie or Kitty almost doesn’t seem to have a real self beneath the layers of lies: she is, as a disgusted Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) tells Kathie, 'like a leaf the wind blows from one gutter to another.'" --Imogen Sara Smith

---Anatomy of a scene: Valerian 

---five action sequences from Atomic Blonde

---"I still feel that we’re still in the early years of what digital will ultimately become." --Henry Blodget

---Aldous Huxley on Technodictators

---"If there’s a defining mood to Brooks’s work as writer/director/star, it’s one of profound restlessness and dissatisfaction, often followed closely by the shame of leading a life of privilege and comfort and its never being enough. As David, Brooks wants for nothing but perspective, and the price for that perspective is the liquidated value of his material possessions and a sizable share of his dignity and self-worth. In the film’s moral reckoning, it’s a fair sum." --Scott Tobias

---"'Cool' was our mantra on this film, and it became very empowering" --Cindy Evans

---The Legacy of Paranoid Thrillers

---"The premise of hijacking is that it undermines your control. This system is better at hijacking your instincts than you are at controlling them. You’d have to exert an enormous amount of energy to control whether these things are manipulating you all the time. And so we have to ask: How do we reform this attention economy and the mass hijacking of our mind?" --Tristan Harris

---"Charlize Theron Is Not Here to Make Friends" by Anne Helen Petersen

---Romero's filmmaking tips

---Zygote

---"They are all attempting to capture your most scarce resource — your attention — and take it hostage for money. Your captive attention is worth billions to them in advertising and subscription revenue." --Tobias Rose-Stockwell

---Schorem

Thursday, June 8, 2017

bruised links

---"Jaan Pehecchaan Ho" from Gumnaam and Ghost World via @dcairns

---"A Brief History of the GIF" by Lorraine Boissoneault

---trailers for Beatriz at Dinner, Baby Driver, Good Time, Becoming Cary GrantLogan Lucky, and Okja

---"So when it came time for her own directorial debut, Ms. Lister-Jones knew she wanted to work with a woman behind the camera. Only women behind the camera, actually: For her indie comedy Band Aid, released Friday, June 2, Ms. Lister-Jones hired an all-female crew, from the grips to the drivers to the production assistants.

'I wanted to see what it would feel like,” she said, “if a community of women exclusively created a piece of art together.'" --Melena Ryzik

---"Saturnz Barz" by the Gorillaz

---the pleasures of wealth and fame and Johnny Depp

---Maya Deren's Film Philosophy

---"my interest was telling this story [Ghost World] in a slightly exaggerated, nightmarish, almost film-noir version of the world. A social and critical satire depicting America’s fabric woven from falsehoods and lies, hypocrisies and scams. It just seems to be what happens in a capitalist society. There’s politicians and TV evangelists and corporations, and none of them have the best interest of the average citizen." --Terry Zwigoff

---the best aggregators of film links? @CriterionDailyMovie City News, and @nathanielr's link lists

---"The handsomest Frenchman on earth, swaddled in an outsize yet epaulet-perfect trenchcoat, hiding deep blue pools of blankness under the brim of a fedora, stares into Parisian drizzle through a rain-blurred windshield, inserting keys from a huge ring until he finds the one that fits. A steel-haired, middle-aged, world-weary gambler comes up with the grandest con of his day while cruising the nightspots and fleshpots of backstreet Montmartre, but his moment of deepest melancholy comes from a single gaze upon the bare back of a young girl he’s sheltered as she sleeps with his young protégé. A bald, stocky Jewish Frenchman, wearing a Stetson and sunglasses at night, barrels his Cadillac convertible down the Champs-Élysées in search of diversion. Alain Delon in Le Samouraï, Roger Duchesne in Bob the Gambler, the great filmmaker of action and attitude Jean-Pierre Melville in life." --Ray Pride

---"one of the fascinating things about the cinematic image is precisely that it’s difficult to pin it down." --Laura Mulvey

---"On the music of Ghost World" by Terry Zwigoff

---“I remember it was Day 2, my body was hurting, and my face is all bruised up, and my eye was swollen shut,” Ms. Theron said. “I remember thinking to myself, really?” --from "Women Who Have the Chops (and the Punches and the Kicks)" by Julie Bloom

---Orson Welles: Hollywood Magician

---an excerpt from Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You by Charles Taylor

---"Bill Condon’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast presents an odd and dilated experience of this particular kind of uncanny nostalgia, without any acknowledgment of its own weirdness. It is at once discomfitingly familiar and unfamiliar. By consistently hitting certain marks hard (precise musical cues, familiar costumes, lines of dialogue, and a multitude of shot-for-shot reenactments that feel like torpid tableaux vivants), it relies upon the viewer’s assumed willingness to completely integrate the new fetish object and the lost original. In so doing, it suggests that the pleasures of mere recognition offered by this uncharismatic filmic doppelgänger should be enough to regain or even surpass the enchantment of its original for the return viewer. This is a remake that refuses to acknowledge the inevitable uncanniness of its status as such. In its dogged familiarity, however, the specter of the original only becomes more and more insistent. In the lackluster and slightly down-tempo musical numbers, it becomes harder and harder to be present in the movie theater while another (better) version is being simulcast on the screen of memory." --Sara Chihaya

---10 tips for filmmakers

---"Netflix Isn't Killing Movies, Hollywood Studies and Theaters Are" by Jordan Zakarin

---"Sofia Coppola on Bill Murray, Nicole Kidman, and the Movie that Made Her the Second Woman to Win Best Director at Cannes" by Lynn Hirschberg

---"To me, it’s telling the same story but from the women characters’ point of view. I would never want to remake someone else’s movie, but I love the premise of it. When I saw the movie I thought it was so… I don’t know… weird. It stayed in my mind. It’s a very macho guy’s point of view in this women’s world, so it started making me think about what it must have been like for the women during wartime. They were raised to relate to men, that was their whole role in the Southern world of that era, and now there’s no men. It was wartime but these women were left behind." --Sofia Coppola

---"It’s also important to remember that most of these images are actually sequences of images: Peter O’Toole blowing out the match followed by the sun rising over the desert, the baby carriage rolling down the steps amid the chaos and brutality of the attack by the Cossacks. And beyond that, each separate cinematic image is comprised of a succession of still frames that creates the impression of motion. They are recordings of instants in time. But the moment you put them together, something else happens. Every time I get back into the editing room, I feel the wonder of it. One image is joined with another image, and a third phantom event happens in the mind’s eye – perhaps an image, perhaps a thought, perhaps a sensation. Something occurs, something absolutely unique to this particular combination or collision of moving images. And if you take a frame away from one or add a couple of frames to the other, the image in the mind’s eye changes. It’s a wonder to me, and I’m far from alone. Sergei Eisenstein talked about it on a theoretical level, and the Czech filmmaker František Vlácil discusses it in an interview included on the Criterion edition of his great medieval epic Marketa Lazarová (1967). The film critic Manny Farber understood it as elemental to art in general – that’s why he named his collection of writings Negative Space. This 'principle', if that’s what you could call it, is just as applicable to the juxtaposition of words in poetry or forms and colours in painting. It is, I think, fundamental to the art of cinema. This is where the act of creation meets the act of viewing and engaging, where the common life of the filmmaker and the viewer exists, in those intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless. This is where a good film comes alive as something more than a succession of beautifully composed renderings of a script. This is film-making. Does this 'phantom image' exist for casual viewers without an awareness of how films are put together? I believe it does. I don’t know how to read music and neither do most people I know, but we all 'feel' the progression from one chord to another in music that affects us, and by implication some kind of awareness that a different progression would be a different experience." --Martin Scorsese

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Comfortable in no man's land: the pleasurable questions of Wonder Woman

'Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.’ --William Moulton Marston (the original creator of Wonder Woman)

I enjoyed director Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman in part because the movie begs several questions that I've been brooding on, such as why did the filmmakers choose the first World War for its story and not some more recent period? 

Why is the battle scene where Wonder Woman climbs up from a trench and takes on a classic stalemated no man's land the strongest one in the movie? How does Wonder Woman resist superhero blockbuster fatigue? I don't usually care much for heightened characters with unrealistic CGI-driven powers. How is it that Gal Gadot's version of a superhero almost makes her superpowers beside the point? What is the relationship between Wonder Woman's mythological origin/worldview (with its emphasis on Ares, Zeus, Hippolyta, etc.,) and the more historical one of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine)? Even as naked and bathing Steve Trevor describes himself as being an "above average" specimen of mankind, is he even needed in this movie? When Wonder Woman decides to go find and fight Ares as a way to stop war, is she being naive or somehow smarter than Steve?  

When we see Robin Wright playing Antiope as Diana Prince's fighting coach on Paradise Island, are we supposed to see her work here as some fundamental opposition to her usual role as the conniving Claire Underwood in the much more cynical House of Cards? How much is the success of Wonder Woman due to its lack of cynicism? When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) faints underwater after crash landing his plane near Paradise Island, is he meant to look weak and helpless before waking to find an Amazon staring at him on the beach and saying "A man!" somewhat like Miranda does in Shakespeare's The Tempest when she beholds her first man:  "How beauteous mankind is, Oh brave new world," etc.? When Wonder Woman rather whimsically decides to climb the ladder and start running toward a machine gun nest across no man's land, are we supposed to think of hundreds of thousands of men being nihilistically slaughtered in movies such as Gallipoli (1981) and Paths of Glory (1957)? Does it help somehow that the movie doesn't have Nazis, so that one can also associate this movie with Jean Renoir's more sympathetic portrait of the Germans in Grand Illusion (1937)?

Wonder Woman is an ideological opposition to male dominance in a svelte package, an oddly compassionate goddess-woman who can scarcely see a wounded war veteran without wanting to do something about it. I'm not sure how it works. Perhaps Jill Lepore's book can help explain things.  At any rate, Diana Prince proves refreshing as an antidote to stupid masculine oppression everywhere.

Related links:

---"Top Ten Things About Wonder Woman" by Anthony Lane

---"Jenkins sets her “Wonder Woman” in the First World War instead of the Second, and, in a way, this makes a certain chronological sense, since the Marston family’s models were the formidable women who fought for suffrage, equal rights, and birth control in the nineteen-teens and twenties." --Jill Lepore

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The mystery of creation and terminal sequelitis: a discussion about Alien: Covenant

One afternoon recently, deep in the heart of the Film Doctor compound, Wickham F. and I discussed Alien Covenant:

FD: We both came out of Alien: Covenant reasonably entertained, but I had a lots of mixed feelings about the movie. I've taught the original Alien (1979) in my science fiction class, and Alien: Covenant struck me as being way way too similar to that film. It had the same music, the same scenes in terms of the way the aliens took over people, and a lot of the same plot developments. It seemed more like a remix than a sequel in which Ridley Scott was intent upon returning the viewer to favorite moments in the past in some sort of greatest hits. Alien: Covenant came across as such a bizarre cannibalizing of the original movie, which does hold up amazingly well. Part of the charm of Alien is that the technology is so crude . . .

W: It's a man in an alien suit.

FD: So much of the movie could be terrible, but because of the biology, the imagery, and the design hold up so well.

W: Yes, by H.R. Giger.

FD: I have great respect for the first movie, but this one is, what, number 7?

W: I think, ultimately, there is this inherent problem with the Alien films, in that they have to somehow get to a mysterious planet where they're all going to get killed.

FD: Right.

W: And there has to be some motivation for them to get there, and they always go unsuspectingly. There are plot structure elements that are very repetitive from movie to movie. But still, Prometheus was a very daring choice for Ridley Scott as the director, because he kept telling people, it's not really an Alien prequel. And then, the studio executives objected to that, so that at the end of Prometheus, he sneaked in an alien to accommodate the suits. Scott attempted to make a different type of movie set within the Alien universe, and because that film got so much backlash, so much confusion, basically, when people where going in expecting one thing and getting something way more philosophical with inconvenient plot holes and weird character motivations. I imagine that Scott was more recently feeling pressure to make something more akin with those original Alien movies. So, even with trailers, you could tell they were saying "There's a xenomorph, they're landing on a planet, and there are head crabs. We're going back to what you love, people. Come on out to the theater."

FD: Isn't that a form of completely selling out? At the same time, Alien: Covenant has some thought-provoking mise en scene--a massive open space with twisted roasted corpses all around that reminds one of Pompeii, massive human head sculptures.

W: I'm assuming that we're in full spoiler territory here. 

FD: Michael Fassbender's portrayal of the android David is compelling, but at the same time, Alien Covenant comes across as a bit pretentious, with David playing Wagner and sometimes reciting Shelley's "Ozymandias."

W: Meanwhile, no one makes science fiction horror movies anymore. And if they do, no one makes them like Ridley Scott. I think Alien: Covenant is something of a bait and switch. It gets you in the door, thinking they're going to touch down on a planet, and bad things are going to happen. The movie starts off that way, but then Scott keeps building upon the mythology he began with Prometheus, which is the idea of creation, of God, the question where do we come from as humans? In Prometheus, David asks one of the scientists, "Why was I made?" The guy is drinking. He's kind of a buffoon, and he answers, "Because we felt like it."  And David replies, "How unpleasant it would be if someone told you that was why you were made?" (I'm paraphrasing.) And then, David takes some of the alien goo, and puts it in the scientist's drink. 

At the time, audience members thought what the hell? And what I like about Alien: Covenant is that you have this android preoccupied with creation. We all know that Ridley Scott is obsessed with androids, even going back to Blade Runner (1982). So, Scott appears to be imprinting onto this recent movie his philosophical inclinations and questions, such as do robots have a soul? In Blade Runner, androids were obsessed with living. Due to their short longevity, they just wanted to live, and they weren't given that opportunity, because they are terrorists, basically. 

So now, Scott explores the mystery of creation by developing David who is frustrated with where he came from. So, I can understand why some fans are upset, because Scott is basically and totally doing his own thing.

FD: But he's repeating his own thing.

W: He's repeating himself to some extent, but he's also mucking with the alien mythology. He's saying, to hell with all of that James Cameron stuff in Aliens (1986). Also, Alien 3 and is stupid. I'm going to build my own weird backstory to the Alien ethos with my own agenda. 

FD: When it comes to David, he's a delightful character. I like him in the scene where all of the humans freak out because an alien pops out of somebody (and Alien: Covenant fully explores other ways that infant aliens can burst out of human flesh in unexpected places. It seems like after awhile, you are going to run out of places to pop out of), but beyond that, I enjoyed how in the midst of a scene where everyone is completely freaking over this gruesome birth, David remains utterly cool. He has nothing to fear. He's completely calm and collected, and therefore delightful. 

To keep going with spoilers, it turns out that David is a complete fan of the aliens. He enables them in various ways. He wants to encourage their reproduction and spread them across the various planets. David wants to treat them as superior beings, but ultimately these aliens never do a whole lot except go [hissing noise] and then kill people. It seems like, if the filmmakers want to treat the aliens as exceptional, then the aliens need to start developing language, but mostly, still, they are fun bugaboo horror villain characters who are not that much different from demented cats.

W: They have two mouths.

FD: Alien (1979) was so good about keeping the alien mysterious, and there was also the strong sense of the biological imperative, that the alien has to survive cleverly. Now, with Alien: Covenant, the aliens replicate, and get killed. A lot of that initial interest in their sophistication and mystery has been lost because we're getting used to them.

W: Yes. That's a problem with prequels. They tend to get rid of the mystery of villains, such as Darth Vader. I think you have to take the first Alien as a completely different beast, no pun intended. It's a slasher movie in space, stripped down, with believable characters, space truckers, etc. It's a minimalist film in comparison to the bloated blockbuster of today.   

FD: And yet, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) remains such a great female lead, and an influential character. With Alien: Covenant, one kind of remembers Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Billy Crudup playing a weak captain named Christopher Oram. We also learn that James Franco played another leader who was killed off at the beginning. The crew mourns for him, but I couldn't figure out if we were supposed to be sad or happy because the character played by Franco was killed. I was cheered by the fact that he was dead on arrival like Kevin Costner in The Big Chill (1983).

W: There are some featurettes for Alien: Covenant that effectively set up the characters for the movie in ways in which the film itself does not. The featurette sets up some of the romantic subtexts and the relationships between the crew members, and you don't get any of that in the final product. As for your point about the problems with the villainous alien itself, I think that was probably due to studio pressures to return to the proven formula.

FD: In every week of 2018, we will get another tentpole sequel blockbuster-wannabe, and Alien: Covenant already seems to point in that direction. Potential audience members will get really really sick of all this rebaked reliable product, infinite repetition and terminal sequelitis.

W: This movie tries to please everyone.

FD: So, basically, you're saying that Prometheus proved too original, and so Alien: Covenant retreats from that. 

W: Yes, Prometheus took more chances. The problem with Alien: Covenant is two-fold. The characters are criminally underdeveloped, so when they get picked off, you don't care at all. They're just fodder. Secondly, Alien: Covenant relies too much on the basic horror movie trope of minor characters wandering off without much motivation into dark corners just so they can get killed. 

FD: After all, an exploration of the mystery of creation comes across as lacking if it's driven and defined by craven studio calculation. Ridley Scott deserves more than that.

W: He most certainly does.   

Other discussions with W. consider The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Loved Ones (2009), and World War Z (1013).

Monday, May 29, 2017

A sentence from the Library of America's Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z

I've been very much enjoying the recently published Shake It Up, edited by Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar. It provides a jukebox sampling of lively loopy rock, soul, and folk journalism that shifts giddily from Eve Babitz seducing a cheerfully newly thin Jim Morrison in "Jim Morrison is Dead and Living in Hollywood" to the decidedly grim portrait of the up-and-coming band Led Zeppelin slogging across America (in a way that most definitely does not resemble Almost Famous (2000)) eventually traumatizing Ellen Sander in "Inside the Cages of the Zoo," from Lester Bangs not being all that sympathetic when Elvis died to Ed Ward not finding Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run all great after all. The book is full of twists when one might expect more praise--Chuck Eddy not caring much for the later Ramones, for instance. And the style often comes across as pleasantly drug-addled and deranged. I felt that this one sentence by Camden Joy's piece entitled "Total Systems Failure" deserved honorable mention here:

"Then the record companies ran out of Nirvana specialty reissues and Sonic Youth did not make another Daydream Nation and stupid Mark E. Smith assaulted his girlfriend while Elvis Costello forfeited his place in the pantheon and generation-defining classics were on the tips of the Breeders' and Uncle Tupelo's tongues when the band members turned on another as Nick Cave and Morrissey became jokes and Bob Mould and Mike Watt continued on cluelessly and the gifted pop band Christmas came back as the utterly irrelevant smug swingers Combustible Edison and traditionally deserving dues-paying types like Vic Chesnutt and the Fastbacks could not get a commercial purchase on the popular imagination as everybody from the Posies to Pearl Jam to Archers of Loaf never figured out how to make an album entirely important from start to finish, forgetting the point of pop stardom is to bring together huge clumps of otherwise unaffiliated folks, and Pavement couldn't follow up the Pacific Trim EP with the requisite jubilant breakthrough (their Let It Be) and Cat Power and the Mountain Goats defiantly clung to Dylan pre-'65 and Tom Waits was too late with The Black Rider and Yo La Tengo were inexplicably overlooked (how does that begin to happen?) and the fetish for releasing crappy home demos--whose very lack of finish lent them the steady hiss of a gradually disappearing public--succeeded only in stealing mid-decade credibility from keenly perfectionist pop stars like Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Lowe and They Might Be Giants precisely when they issued their masterpieces."

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Film in Deep Focus by Morgan Honaker

Morgan Honaker examines the implications of the recycled narrative in recent movies as part of her Film in Deep Focus video essay series. I've been brooding on the extreme repetitiveness of tentpole releases ever since I watched Alien: Covenant last week (a film which has an uncomfortable number of similarities with Alien (1979)). It's a pleasure to see Morgan analyze these trends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Film Doctor's 9 Year Anniversary

On May 18, 2008, I began copying my former newspaper movie reviews onto The Film Doctor blog. Now, almost 9 years later, I know better, but I still post things on occasion. Here's a link to my notes on Inglourious Basterds (2009).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

complicit links

---Amy Heckerling visits Criterion

---Decisions, Decisions by Cristina Alvarez Lopez and Adrian Martin

---Matt Zoller Seitz considers Rushmore

---"The female glance is deeply attuned to textures, to shades of light. You can feel the temperature of the bodies around you, the anxiety and claustrophobia or, alternately, the expansiveness and delight. It’s an almost synesthetic mode of filmmaking, focused not on plot, or narrative, but the capacity of an image to convey a feel. It forces identification with, and empathy for, the way women experience the world — an experience that’s often marked by passive observation and the rhythms of the domestic world. Scenes shot in this way can feel paranoiac, distracted, and disjointed, but that’s just the reality of living in a world where your body, your value, your power is constantly surveilled. If the male gaze disassembles and disempowers, then the female glance puts that world back together on its own terms." --from Anne Helen Petersen's "The Radical Feminist Aesthetic of The Handmaid's Tale"

---Richard Kelly's filmmaking tips

---“The problem is audience behavior. People are going to movies less and less, and when they're going, everyone's going to see the same movie.”

---"[T]here is mounting anxiety among theater owners, studio executives, filmmakers, and cinephiles that the lights may be starting to flicker."

---"Why does everyone hate Anne Hathaway?"

---"Get Out and the Death of White Racial Innocence" by Rich Benjamin

---"Well, in this case, there was a script, which was the evolutionally history of the universe [audience laughs]. And lately – I keep insisting, only very lately – have I been working without a script [To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, Song to Song], and I’ve lately repented the idea. The last picture we shot, and we’re now cutting, went back to a script that was very well ordered. There’s a lot of strain when working without a script because you can lose track of where you are. It’s very hard to coordinate with others who are working on the film. Production designers and location managers arrive in the morning and don’t know what we’re going to shoot or where we’re going to shoot. The reason we did it was to try and get moments that are spontaneous and free. As a movie director, you always feel with a script that you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And with no script, there’s no round hole, there’s just air. But I’m backing away from that style now." --Terrence Malick

---David Bordwell's analysis of a scene in A Quiet Passion

---"Looking at To-Be-Looked-At-ness--Feminist Videographic Criticism" by Catherine Grant

---Mark Freeman considers The Graduate

---Complicit

---“I like people pushing, people not conforming,” Kidman said. “I love the widening of the boundaries, pushing through the extremism. I love filmmakers and storytelling. I am not interested in popcorn movies. I go to see them and like to be moved by them, but as an actor I examine humanity and why we’re here.”

---trailers for HHhH, Flames, Thor: Ragnarok, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriGhost in the ShellRedoubtable, A Ghost StoryIt, and I Am Heath Ledger

---"Judge has said that one reliable source of comedy for him is the way humanity simply isn’t prepared for modernity, which ensnares us in vast systems of control in order to sustain itself. What he couldn’t have imagined while making Idiocracy in the early 2000s was that technology was about to thrust humanity into an era for which we are even more ill equipped. It was around that moment that Silicon Valley inventions — blogging platforms, social media, YouTube — began sweeping away old orders and gatekeepers in a way that was both exhilarating (because we were more in charge of our destiny than ever before) and mortifying (because we were, well, more in charge of our destiny than ever before). Idiocracy was released the same year that Time magazine heralded this new age by naming us all the Person of the Year. A decade later, Donald Trump earned that honor, along with the presidency. If anything can explain the short time horizon on which Idiocracy and reality merged — if you believe they have — perhaps it is that technology left us completely, terrifyingly, to our own devices." --from Willy Staley's "Mike Judge, the Bard of Suck"

---"Being There: American Cypher" by Mark Harris

---"The GIF as a Tool of Rereading, Resistance, and Re-narrativizing in Social Media Spaces" by Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt

---The Chameleonic Charlize Theron