Monday, November 23, 2015

The Noir Forebears of Jessica Jones

However innovative Jessica Jones may be as an edgy new Marvel series, an examination of the consequences of trauma, and a study of New York City, I also liked its embrace of the noir genre. Here's a list of some of Jessica Jones' antecedents:

1) In the opening scene of the first episode, one of Jones' clients becomes upset with the photographs that she has taken to prove his infidelity. When he turns violent, she throws him through the window of her office door, scattering incriminating photos across him in the process. In this visual sequence the show evokes the opening shot of Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), when photos depict a couple in a similar lewd, spied-upon position with a husband angry at the detective Jake Gitte's snooping. Thus, Jessica gets immediately associated with gumshoe Jake from the outset.

2) By throwing her client through the window that carries the name of her detective agency, Alias Investigations, Jessica also alludes to the beginning of John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941), when detective Sam Spade almost immediately needs to have his office door window changed because his partner Archer has been shot and killed in one of the movie's early scenes. Therefore, Jessica Jones refers to two of the premier founding noir detectives in the first few seconds of the show.

3) More obviously, Jones resembles Lisbeth Salander of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, especially when she wears a hoodie several episodes into the show. When she sits and contemplates what to do on her desk, she reminds us that Salander was also good at solving crimes, only with more of a hacker bent and a punk outlook. As battle-hardened as Krysten Ritter appears, her ski-lift nose and dark green eyes evoke a bruised Anne Hathaway.

4) Jessica Jone's citified contemptuous attitude also resembles Linda Fiorentino's heartless Bridget Gregory in John Dahl's underrated neo-noir The Last Seduction (1994).

5) Jessica Jones' love of whiskey and her day-drinking are reminiscent of Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy, respectively) and their glorious post-prohibition tippling in The Thin Man (1934). When he isn't completely soused, Charles actually does some detective work.

6) In Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946), Ingrid Bergman's Alicia Huberman tends to drink too much even as Devlin (Cary Grant) calls her "hard-boiled."

7) I also couldn't help being thinking of Calvin's version of the detective gumshoe, Tracer Bullet, with every night-lit office interior of Jessica's scummy apartment.

8) Amongst the heroine television detectives who know how to fight, let's not forget the unflappable Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) of The Avengers.

9) Given that we see talk show personality Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) from a sign on a bus, one can assume that we were meant to associate her loosely with Carrie Bradshaw of Sex in the City?

10) Kilgrave's (David Tennant's) ability to control people with his mind evokes the fears of mesmerists in the 19th century who were accused of manipulating people (usually women) for their own nefarious purposes.

11) Most of all, I liked Jessica Jones for the way the show eschews CGI, flying, and costumes for a complex portrayal of a flawed feminist woman. As Jessica Jones' showrunner Melissa Rosenberg pointed out:

"for audiences — not studios, but audiences — to allow for a woman to be morally ambiguous and at times ugly as a person in the same way that Tony Soprano and Walter White were, it wasn't acceptable. So that's one of the things that I wanted to do with a female superhero, I wanted to create one who was flawed like Iron Man. I wanted to make a female superhero who was like Tony Soprano."

Jessica Jones works best when it ignores Marvel's superhero conventions altogether.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

medianature links

---The Future in Film

---Grimes' "Flesh Without Blood / Life as a Vivid Dream"

---How Facebook Steals Millions of Views

---Missy Eliot's "WTF (Where They From)"

---"Movies like Star Trek Into Darkness and Spectre represent a strange and troubling confluence of incompatible pop cultural trends: Fandom’s increasing obsession with anticipating blockbusters with years of hype and theorizing, and Hollywood’s continuing obsession with endlessly remaking the same handful of stories over and over again. Each new tentpole release is met with thousands of words of conjecture and hundreds of screengrabs and GIFs; literally every single poster and publicity still and teaser and television ad and piece of ancillary merchandise is subjected to a level of scrutiny that would awe Talmudic scholars. We’ve arguably reached a point in film culture where movie marketing is more carefully analyzed than the movies themselves.

That could be because the movies themselves are so brazenly recycled from existing works, that they don’t actually demand much consideration. Spectre makes no secret of the source material it’s mining, and yet it persists for almost two hours in attempting to turn the organization’s leader into this grand enigma. The only person satisfied by this sort of unveiling is a fan who’s spent the last three years studying each Spectre trailer and plot synopsis, and correctly intuited that Waltz was playing Blofeld.

 For the rest of us, the whole enterprise is at cross-purposes. Why make a mystery out of something obvious?" --Matt Singer

---"Edward Snowden explains how to reclaim your privacy"

---trailers for A Very Murray Christmas, Life, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, Sunset Song, and Chi-Raq

---"the book offers a number of useful concepts. The first is a notion of 'medianatures,' which draws from Donna Haraway’s concept of 'naturecultures.' Here, Parikka intends to maintain Haraway’s commitment to nonbinary thinking and to working with entanglement, but he also wants to move us toward a theory of media that can account for nonhuman actors—chemicals, minerals, and micro-organisms. The notion of a medianature is meant to encourage us to not only think in terms of entanglement of the human and nonhuman, but to become very specific about what materials have been assembled and why." --Karen Gregory

---"The Doomsday Invention" by Raffi Khatchadourian

---David Bordwell considers women crime writers

---"These new movies won’t just be sequels. That’s not the way the transnational entertainment business works anymore. Forget finite sequences; now it’s about infinite series." --Adam Rogers

---Michael Haneke storyboards Code Unknown

---"The thing that has changed profoundly over the last 15 years, and I haven’t seen much writing about this, is that the experience of going to dailies has almost completely disappeared, because of shooting with video tape and now shooting digital. The impression is that… You’ve seen it! [Laughs] There are 20 plasma screens around the set as the scene is being shot. Every department has its own screen, so as the material gets shot, there is a direct feed from the camera to all of these screens. Everyone’s tired at the end of the day, everyone works very long hours, so why do they have to go and see it all again? From a practical point of view, that’s absolutely true, but in the days when we had to look at dailies, there was what I’ll call a religious component to this: you assembled at lunch on the following day, or the evening of the following day, and as tired as you were, all the heads of department came together. The only agenda was to look at what was shot the day before and to pick up the mood of the director — in the same way that the director wants to pick up the mood of everyone else. So there’s a kind of cross-fertilization that happens on overt and many times covert levels that I think accelerated a certain kind of creativity that is under threat now." --Walter Murch

---When Soldiers Come Home in the Movies

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bond Again--A Pictorial Primer for Spectre

See James Bond. James jumps from building to building towards the beginning of his new film Spectre. James Bond looks good shooting people while wearing a perfectly styled suit. We have seen him before. He reminds me of Frank Zappa's "I'm the Slime": "[He's] been around for years but very little as changed."

Here's Sam Mendes. He directed Spectre and Skyfall (2012) and once, long ago, American Beauty (1999), which struck me as insufferably pretentious. Pretentious, pretentious, pretentious, so naturally the movie won Best Picture for the Oscars that year. Mendes is a very serious filmmaker, which makes him ideally suited (I guess) for directing Spectre.

Here's an example of American Beauty being pretentious. In this scene, a plastic bag floats around, and a character in the movie finds it beautiful. Pretty, pretty plastic bag, so much unexpected beauty in the world.

See the current Bond girl, Madeleine Swann, as played by Lea Seydoux, dressed in a beautiful evening gown. Seydoux is a fine French actress, and she makes Spectre more tolerable, a film that otherwise consists mostly of a series of homages to other, better, previous Bond films, such as From Russia with Love (1963), which has some similar train scenes. Homage, homage, homage. Spectre feels more like a museum than a movie.

Here is Bond and Madeleine Swan flirting on the train just before a bad man tries to kill them. See them flirt, flirt, flirt as Bond (Daniel Craig) wears an noirish white dinner jacket reminiscent of Casablanca (1942). We've seen this scene before in From Russia with Love and North by Northwest (1959), but who cares when there's so much serious movie star glamour intermixed with the homages?

Here s Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. He's Evil, Evil, Evil. He has a cat and a scar, and he wears a Nehru jacket. I don't know why I thought of him in relation to Spectre. Surely, he has nothing to do with anything.

Here's Blofield, another Bond villain, from You Only Live Twice (1967). Villainous, villainous, villainous. Evil, evil, evil. Surprisingly, one can find distinct echoes of the man in Spectre.

See the real villain of Spectre sit in the distance, poorly lit, surrounded by an evil committee, and framed by a big door. Poorly lit, poorly lit, poorly lit. We can tell that he's the villain and he must be very powerful because Sam Mendes makes him so hard to see for so long.

See what I mean? Very poorly lit. During this big meeting, a man kills another man with his bare hands by poking his eyes out, and nobody reacts. That's how you can tell it's a big evil meeting.

Here's Madeleine Snow again acting surly in a hotel room in Tangiers as Bond trains his gun on a mouse, threatening to kill it. "Who sent you?" he asks the mouse, one of the few more playful moments in this very serious movie.

See Ben Whishaw play Q, the gadget man and computer genius of the movie. I really enjoyed Whishaw's starring role as John Keats in Jane Campion's excellent Bright Star (2009). Too bad he just plays a winsome geek in the Bond series.

See Ed Snowden. Even though he lacks all of the guns, action scenes, and race cars of James Bond, his real-life drama as portrayed in Citizenfour (2014) struck me as more exciting than anything in Spectre. Sam Mendes admits that Spectre reflects our "post-Snowden" era that raises questions like "What does surveillance mean?" and "What do we have to do to maintain our security and privacy?" 

Meanwhile, Daniel Craig glowers in his tight suit just before he fist fights a bad guy in a helicopter over the crowded square in Mexico City. Glower, glower, glower. Fight, fight, fight. Craig reportedly worked out an insane amount to prepare for this role, and I sometimes wished that he would lighten up a bit. He's a dutiful, surly Bond. As Craig said, "I'd rather break this glass and slash my wrists," instead of appear in another Bond film. The further the Bond series goes on, the more serious and gloomy it gets, just like the later Harry Potter movies. Craig almost makes me miss the mellower air of Roger Moore.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

future links

---I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler


---Why Props Matter and Settings Are Characters, Too

---"Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects. They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront." --Jeremy Scahill

---1.000.000 Frames: Movie Posters

---"Technology companies don’t need to pry into our brains to exploit us, Rinesi says; they have built windows into them, and those windows are open all the time." --Nick Statt

---the title sequence of Zombieland

---Drone Culture

---"The inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left."  --David Byrne

---"Today’s consumer is under a near constant barrage of visual and auditory stimuli across every device and medium; we can no longer rely on a passive audience to see an advertisement and take action. Therefore, today’s marketer must create experiences that cut through the noise of the media landscape and deliver brand impressions that are impossible to ignore.

With VR, you can give every consumer the best seat in the house." --Pete Sena

---How the Beatles Changed Album Covers

---"Welles’s detractors have been trying to punish him for his uncompromising approach to filmmaking—a directing style that looked, especially to Hollywood traditionalists, unorthodox—since before Citizen Kane was even released. By 1942, the year RKO butchered his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons, and blamed Welles for his own film’s disfigurement, the myth of the self-destructive auteur was already in place. But now when we look back on Welles’s work in Hollywood in the early 1940s, his real problems become clear: His dark vision of American capitalism was out of tune with the gung-ho years of World War II. That Welles pursued his original vision, even as he worked in a state of hand-to-mouth auteur financing, into the ’80s looks from our vantage point like a sign of strength and integrity." --A. S. Amrah

---We Don't Need Roads

---"We once glorified Twitter as a great global town square, a shining agora where everyone could come together to converse. But I’ve never been to a town square where people can shove, push, taunt, bully, shout, harass, threaten, stalk, creep, and mob you…for eavesdropping on a conversation that they weren’t a part of…to alleviate their own existential rage…at their shattered dreams…and you can’t even call a cop. What does that particular social phenomenon sound like to you? Twitter could have been a town square. But now it’s more like a drunken, heaving mosh pit. And while there are people who love to dive into mosh pits, they’re probably not the audience you want to try to build a billion dollar publicly listed company that changes the world upon." --Umair Haque

---"License to Play: Mark Cousins and the Personal Essay Film" by Thirza Wakefield

---"Sparkle’s mind was on a desert 7,000 miles away. Over the next 24 hours she would track an insurgent, watch as he was killed by a Hellfire missile, and spy on his funeral before ending her night with a breakfast beer and a trip to the dog park." --Kevin Maurer

---A Bit of History on Data

---"David Lynch's Elusive Language" by Dennis Lim

---trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Joy, The Man in the High CastleJane Got a Gun, and Crying in a Sweater

---"Hellfire missiles—the explosives fired from drones—are not always fired at people. In fact, most drone strikes are aimed at phones. The SIM card provides a person’s location—when turned on, a phone can become a deadly proxy for the individual being hunted.

When a night raid or drone strike successfully neutralizes a target’s phone, operators call that a 'touchdown.'" --Josh Begley

---Quentin Tarantino Push Ins

---Casey Neistat's Guide to Filmmaking

Sunday, October 11, 2015

data mining links


---Olivier Assayas' top 10 Criterion choices

---this week's Sunday reading

---"The Dark Beauty of Film Noir in 50 Shots" by Nora Fiore

---The Above

---La jetee

---"A couple of months ago, at a meeting of the Television Critics Association, the C.E.O. of FX, John Landgraf, delivered a speech about 'peak TV,' in which he lamented the exponential rise in production: three hundred and seventy-one scripted shows last year, more than four hundred expected this year—a bubble, Landgraf said, that would surely deflate. He got some pushback: Why now, when the door had cracked open to more than white-guy antiheroes, was it 'too much' for viewers? But just as worrisome was the second part of Landgraf’s speech, in which he wondered how the industry could fund so much TV. What was the model, now that the pie had been sliced into slivers? When Landgraf took his job, in 2005, ad buys made up more than fifty per cent of FX’s revenue, he said. Now that figure was thirty-two per cent. When ratings drop, ad rates drop, too, and when people fast-forward producers look for new forms of access: through apps, through data mining, through deals that shape the shows we see, both visibly and invisibly. Some of this involves the ancient art of product integration, by which sponsors buy the right to be part of the story: these are the ads that can’t be fast-forwarded." --Emily Nussbaum

---Junot Diaz's syllabi

---"The Making of John Wayne" by Anne Helen Petersen

---"Exxon (whose spokesman has disputed the Inside Climate News reporting) had a choice. As one of the most profitable companies in the world, Exxon could have acted as a corporate leader, helping to explain to political leaders, to shareholders and institutional investors, and to the public what it knew about climate change. It could have begun to shift its business model, investing in renewables and biofuels or introducing a major research and development initiative in carbon capture. It could have endorsed sensible policies to foster a profitable transition to a 21st-century energy economy.

Instead — like the tobacco industry — Exxon chose the path of disinformation, denial and delay. More damagingly, the company set a model for the rest of the industry." --Naomi Oreskes

---surveillance over Baltimore

---the nail houses of China

---Pavlovian Twitter

---China's new "Citizen Scores"

---"Why the UK trailer for Suffragette is watered down and just less revolutionary"

---10 things to learn from Going Clear

---trailers for Victoria, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Room, MacbethHail Caesar!, The Conformist, and 81 more from the Oscar's Foreign film race

---Tarantino from above

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Let's do the math": six dreams of Ridley Scott's The Martian

I enjoyed Ridley Scott's The Martian, but afterwards found myself dwelling on all of the dreams that undergird the movie's realistic surface. In comparison to the dark beauty of Scott's Alien (1979) and the extravagant mise en scene of Blade Runner (1982), The Martian is an oddly square, geeky, almost prim picture of our future in the year 2035, one in which Mars ends up appearing fairly dull as a place to live (but the movie is too well-built for us to notice that). What are some of the dreams that support this well-grounded vision?

1) A fully funded NASA. With movies like The Martian, Gravity, and Interstellar, the film industry can at least picture keeping the space program alive. Writer Andy Weir fully invests his narrative in supporting NASA, and who can fault him for that?

2) Science can solve most any problem. As Mark Watney (Matt Damon) keeps exhorting himself and others, "Let's do the math." He must figure out, sometimes through trial and error, multiple solutions to the immediate problem with keeping himself alive after being accidentally left by the rest of the crew on Mars. Indeed, Mark constantly confronts complicated dilemmas with a can-do spirit that proves infectious. As he says, "technically, I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!" At one point, in the midst of trying to manufacture water, he blows himself up (with minor injuries). But he returns to work out a solution. His success with growing potatoes evokes both the American depression-era use of the tuber as well as the Irish famine. As much as anything, his scientist's cheer, his bemusement with trying to professionally fight the long odds against his survival, keeps The Martian engaging and funny. The Martian kept reminding me of Apollo 13 (1995), especially in the way various severe extraterrestrial problems could get solved by a highly caffeinated gang of scientists and engineers back on earth. When things go wrong, most problems are those that a gang of scientists can solve. This movie is not interested in doom, only setbacks.

In my killjoy negative way, I couldn't help being reminded of the many seemingly insurmountable complications left back on earth (terrorism, climate change, illegal refugees, overpopulation, religious extremism, etc.) so neatly explored in darker science fiction movies like Children of Men (2006). The Martian neatly sidesteps all of that by sticking largely to the blank, largely untouched surface of Mars and the propagandistic agenda of supporting NASA.

3) Traveling by solar power. At one point, Mark drives his rover across Mars, stopping every day to let solar panels absorb enough sunlight to recharge the vehicle to go on. What a perfect guilt-free form of transportation, one that even allows for meditative breaks along the way.

4) Duct tape. Watney repeatedly shows how duct tape can fix a broken helmet, a blown-out hole in his work station, etc. Duct tape can fix anything.

5) As in the case of Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Martian very carefully demonstrates how the United States can work with China to solve any extraterrestrial issues, as well as find broader international cooperation with the space program. Inconvenient things like wars, ethnic strife, etc. do not come up as everyone back on earth cheers for Mark waiting in the sky.

6) Mark mentions that he understands loneliness at one point, but The Martian depicts the introvert's ultimate dream: the pleasure of having an entire planet to yourself. Back on earth, Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wonders what could Mark be brooding about back on that distant planet, but then the movie cuts to Watney cheerfully boogieing to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" in his rover. Often Mark comes across as tickled with his Robinson Crusoe lifestyle and the continuing unlikelihood of his existence. He's free to have total privacy, a mythical relationship as a pioneer on his adopted planet, and later, total fame as the entire world looks on when he figures out a way to communicate with those on terra firma. Who knows if returning to earth may be something of a letdown?

Monday, October 5, 2015

cynosure links

---What Orwellian Really Means

---First and Final Frames: Part 2

---Hell's Club

---Ridley Scott narrates a scene from The Martian

---"The films of a century ago may look like a foreign landscape, but 1915 was the year when cinema, as we now know it, was born."  --Pamela Hutchinson

---"Social Media Self-Defense" via @Snowden

---filmmaking tips from Martin Scorsese

---Andy Weir recommends some science fiction titles

---"Whatever your hopes or fears about movies and their influence, there is no doubt that they shape us. But can they be the equivalent of literature, something complex that given our deep attention fires all the right neurons making us somehow better? Can movies cure what ails us?" --Shari Kizirian

---Cinephilia and Beyond celebrates Bonnie and Clyde

---George Miller's masterclass in filmmaking

---"In North By Northwest during the scene on Mount Rushmore, I wanted Cary Grant to hide in Lincoln’s nostril and then have a fit of sneezing.

The Parks Commission of the Department of Interior was rather upset at this thought.

I argued until one of their number asked me how I would like it if they had Lincoln play the scene in Cary Grant’s nose.

I saw their point at once." --Alfred Hitchcock

---the 21st century's 12 best novels (according to the BBC)

---"Last week, a coalition of environmental and financial groups announced that more than two thousand individuals, four hundred institutions, and Leonardo DiCaprio had agreed to divest their financial holdings, which total 2.6 trillion dollars, from fossil fuels." --Katy Lederer

---trailers for Vinyl, Spectre, and Mistress America

---the opening of Raging Bull

---Greta Gerwig discusses Mistress America

---Nathaniel R's first impressions of Todd Haynes' Carol

---"The movie’s a personal favorite of mine—on the night I got canned from my job at the website for the defunct Premiere magazine back in 2008, I started a blog that I named after the movie. As for why, it’s a hard question to answer exactly. It’s not just my regard for the movie itself, but also that the movie pulls together a lot of my own enthusiasms, and the enthusiasms associated with film itself. A cursory look beneath its gorgeous surfaces reveal all manner of cultural correspondences and themes that make it look like a crucial cynosure of 20th Century concerns. The books that Dave pulls out of his duffel bag when he checks into the hotel—The Portable Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe—evoke a whole world of American Aspiration, and also bring to mind some of literary critic (and World War II veteran) Paul Fussell’s observations on the 'greatest generation,' observations made well before Tom Brokaw coined that term. Director Minnelli’s work was greatly admired and occasionally deplored by the future directors of the French New Wave, and Jean-Luc Godard included a pointed Some Came Running reference in his own house-of-mirrors attempt at commercial cinema, 1963’s Contempt. Then, of course, there’s the fact that the movie is, in a sense, the story of a has-been writer. But let’s not read too much into that." --Glenn Kenny

---Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach talk about a scene in Dressed to Kill

---Willie Promo via Fandor's Keyframe Daily