Thursday, September 15, 2016

post-fact links

---"Even those diehards are watching movies as part of a larger audio-visual diet that is in serious technological and cultural flux. I could easily say that Lemonade was the best movie I saw this spring and Stranger Things was the best movie I saw this summer, and if you reply that they’re not movies because they didn’t play in theaters or conform to a two-hour run time, I’d say you’re living in the past. The Hollywood studios still feel comfortable in that paradigm but they’re starting to look like the only ones. Maybe they’re the suicide squad." --Ty Burr

---“It’s just a clear indication of the marketplace where those high-end, niche art films just aren’t working globally,” said Marcus Hu, co-founder of independent distributor Strand Releasing. “Territories aren’t buying those kinds of movies anymore.”

---"Where are all our great romantic comedies?" by Liz Meriwether

---The Coen Brothers and Noah Baumbach discuss filmmaking

---"Wow" by Beck

---"the ultimate motivation of these performances is not to find communion or community, not with the other actors and not with the film audience, either. If there is a message to the audience in these performances, it’s best captured by one of Lawrence-as-Katniss’s final lines in the series as she describes her trauma nightmares: 'I’ll tell you how I survive it.'" --Shonni Enelow

---The Dark Knight: Creating the Ultimate Antagonist

---Roger Corman's filmmaking tips

---"Don't Wait. Write. Make a short film. Go to an open mike. Take an improv class. There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay." --Mike Birbiglia

---Kenzo World

---All the Slender Ladies: Body Diversity in Video Games

---"These movies didn’t just fail; they almost seemed to never exist in the first place, having been dismissed or disposed of almost immediately upon impact. And even if they did do OK for a weekend or two, they never reached beyond their predictable (and increasingly stratified) core audiences. Instead, they were dumbo-dropped into our ever-expanding cauldron of content, where they played to their bases, while everyone else turned to the newest videogame, or the latest Drake video, or some random 'Damn, Daniel' parody." --Brian Raftery

---On Set: Kristen Stewart

---Cinephilia and Beyond considers They Live

---trailers for Nocturnal Animals, Miss Sloane, Westworld, Too Late, and Guardians

---"How Snowden Escaped" by Teresa Tedesco

---"Instead of ushering a new era of truth-telling, the information age allows lies to spread in what techies call ‘digital wildfires’. By the time a fact-checker has caught a lie, thousands more have been created, and the sheer volume of ‘disinformation cascades’ make unreality unstoppable. All that matters is that the lie is clickable, and what determines that is how it feeds into people’s existing prejudices." --Peter Pomerantsev

---Richard Brody considers Hitchcock's Marnie and Marie Antoinette

---Dennis Cozzalio considers Elevator to the Gallows

---Dick Van Dyke sings "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" at a Denny's

---The References of Wes Anderson

---"Truffaut, in his interviewing, showed that a theory of composition could be lucently explained through process, that invention was not a happy accident but a habit of the mind. Hitchcock, in his replies, proved that the illusion of mainstream effortlessness rose from tiny choices made with intention and care. The legacy of their inquiry rests in today’s pop-cultural hermeneutics, self-reflexive television, probing podcast interviews. Hitchcock/Truffaut helped shape current creative life. But it reminds us, too, that art still holds mysteries beyond even the most vertiginous achievements of craft." --Nathan Heller

Saturday, September 10, 2016

4 notes on Ethan Hawkes' haircut in Maggie's Plan

1) After a dull start, Rebecca Miller's Maggie's Plan proved engaging enough with the combined talents of Greta Gerwig and Julianne Moore playing characters competing for the attention of a ficto-critical anthrolopologist named John Harding (Ethan Hawke). The movie develops wry momentum once Maggie (Gerwig) allows their combined interest in his drafting of a novel to become a romance. Once John suddenly kneels down before Maggie (dressed in a nightgown) to proclaim his love for her in a manner that reminded me of Gene Wilder doing something similar in The World's Greatest Lover (1977), I kept finding myself fixating on his deliberately ersatz haircut.

2) Perhaps, by this point, after so many Sunset movies, and the epic time expansion of Boyhood, Hawke could not just simply appear in a decent short haircut. Perhaps such conservatism didn't square with Rebecca Miller's vision of his slightly pretentious intellectual character, but did his hair have to be so misshapen and deliberately badly cut with its chicken comb top and its uneven strands going every which way? Is he supposed to look boyish? In Hamlet 2000 Hawke sported a respectable 90's pageboy cut that he would sometimes cover with a ski cap. In most of his movies, Hawke's do has looked fine, so why does he look like such a dork here?

3) Perhaps I'm just a guy with a guy's limitations watching a movie that patiently explores various ways in which women self-actualize as mothers or academics or lovers. I can see why Greta Gerwig picked the role. She gets to wear lots of prim outfits with knee-length socks as her character wrestles with her tendency to ignore men altogether as she prefers being a mother figure. Julianne Moore plays Georgette, a writer and a leading academic with an exotic Brazilian(?) accent who still harbors a weakness for John (Lord knows why). Maggie finds, after a certain point, that she rather likes Georgette, even though Maggie stole her husband away from her.

4) So, as Maggie's plan of getting John to reunite with his former wife reaches its many complications, I just kept staring at Hawkes' shag updo and feeling bad for him. At one point, John curses out Maggie for manipulating him, and I could understand. Anyone who has to spend so much time onscreen under that pile of postmodern pick-up sticks/going-every-which-way coiffure really should be annoyed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

scream room links

---The Evolution of the Comic Book Film

---"I get a middle-of-the-Venn-diagram thrill when I encounter either literariness in film writing or film as the subject or setting of literary writing. Granted most specialists probably feel similarly, but for me there's something uniquely difficult, and also potentially alchemic, in witing about movies. The writer is tasked not only with verbally transmitting image and movement, but also capturing something of the mood or fantasy evoked on screen, and grappling with medium-specific gestures so minor they're almost implied; here, the challenge is to convey but not overwork such moments, keeping both effect and subtlety intact, as if handing over a moth without dissolving its wings." --Veronica Fitzpatrick


---hathor / room

---"In the 1990s and early 2000s, I used to hear horror stories all the time. One well-known agent once threw his phone at an assistant, only he threw it so hard it went clean out the window. A top studio executive intimidated his staff so terribly that a lower-level executive kept a voodoo doll of him and would stab it on choice occasions. A media exec smashed two women’s heads together because he wanted to watch them kiss." --Stephen Galloway


---mistakes to avoid when shooting an independent film

---"The Video Essay as Art: How to Make a Great Supercut" by Conor Bateman


---"I've always been someone that's really fascinated by identity and really aware that it's a creation." --Tessa Thompson


---trailers for Doctor Strange, Justice League, Kong: Skull Island, La La LandWonder Woman, Blair Witch, A Tale of Love and Darkness, Nerve, Rules Don't ApplyThe Edge of SeventeenTrain to Busan, and The Magnificent Seven


---"The immediacy of media, the expectation that we can be anywhere now, is changing how we experience crisis and even our own mortality." --Emily Bell

---Spatial Bodies

---Matt Zoller Seitz studies the film pop culture references of Mr. Robot


---Alexander Payne: The Science of Failure


---"The most widely accepted definition of a troll is a provocateur—someone who says outrageous, extreme or abusive things to elicit a reaction in an imagined audience. For them, the reaction itself is the win. That doesn’t cover the various sub-species of troll in this well-catered goblin market. 


The key distinction, at this convention and among the petty demagogues here assembled, is between the attention hustlers—the pure troll howlers who play this grotesque game for its own sake and their own—and the true believers. Roosh is a true believer, and that puts him at a disadvantage. Roosh means what he’s saying, but he’s still aware that he’s playing a game — the same game almost everyone in this crucible of A-list internet con-men is playing. It’s the game of turning raw rage into political currency, the unscrupulous whorebaggery of the troll gone pro. These are people who cashed in their limited principles to cheat at poker. Milo is the best player here. Like Trump, and like a lot of successful politicians in this postmodern circus, they channel their own narcissism to give voice to the wordless, formless rage of the people neoliberalism left behind. They offer new win conditions for the humiliated masses. Welcome to the scream room. There’s a cheese plate." --Laurie Penny


---Star Trek: Rules of War

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"No one cares about reality anymore": 9 notes on Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups

Terrence Malick won't/has contempt for/dislikes shooting a scene, and that's what I found myself brooding on while watching Knight of Cups on Blu-ray. On one level, this omission makes for a more gnomic movie in which voiceovers sound like oracles, but there are clear problems with the practice. Apparently, Malick did not write a screenplay for Knight of Cups, so much of the time, the actors did not know what would happen in the next non-scene. I took pleasure earlier in the year in piecing together links that explored the extreme filmmaking legend/emperor with no clothes dichotomy of Malick's critical reception, so I felt unusually ready to appreciate the movie, which sometimes resembles an ad for its own profundity. Some notes:

1) I did enjoy the film more than I expected to, in part because individual sections, such as a montage of Los Angeles billboards, are stunning on their own, with much credit due to Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography.

2) So how does a Malickian non-scene work? For much of the film, Christian Bale (screenwriter Rick) strolls about LA or Las Vegas looking pained as he encounters groupies, parties, the occasional homeless person, the gorgeous interior decoration of apartments, top notch ocean-view hotel rooms, skyscrapers, etc., all seemingly designed, perhaps, as A. O. Scott pointed out, to make us jealous. Occasionally, women like Cate Blanchett (playing a former wife, Nancy) and Natalie Portman (Elizabeth) join him, but then we usually don't get to hear much of what they might be saying. Since these stars have nothing exactly to work with except for a major filmmaker egging them on, they often come across as uncertain about what to do. Perhaps Malick likes for them to be spontaneous, but it also leads to overacting. Portman no sooner arrives than her character starts to weep because she (as we learn in the voiceover) has become pregnant, and she doesn't know whether Rick or her husband is the father. I imagine that Malick ultimately cuts out the sound of much of the film's improv dialogue because it turned out to be banal and repetitive.

3) Also, whenever Malick returns to erstwhile major characters later in the movie (such as he does with Rick's dad played by Brian Dennehy), whatever significance Malick may want us to feel doesn't work at all. Here's where coherent earlier scenes would have really helped keep the film from drifting into self-important abstraction.

4) Malick loves to film the ocean crashing on the shore. After awhile, we know that the stars of the movie, as much as they avoid the waves initially, will eventually get their Giorgio Armani designer clothes wet, because what else is there to do? One can then think of how the water meets the sand, and all of its metaphorical and cosmological significance.

5) What of the tarot cards? As each section of the movie divides up under titles like "Death," "the Moon,"and "the Hanged Man," etc., I kept thinking of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, which is also a collection of metaphorical fragments that hints at further metaphysical depth.

6) Due to the lack of real scenes, characters end up being vaguely dramatized ideas. Antonio Banderas appears in one party scene as a fun-loving hedonist who samples women like ice cream flavors. He dances on the edge of the pool, and, of course, ends up romping around in the water fully dressed as all of the beautiful people look on. I had difficulty believing that we were ever really meant to accept Cate Blanchett or Natalie Portman as characters at all. They are, instead, stars, like Freida Pinto, happy to not have been cut from the movie altogether. In this regard, their beauty operates more like a brand--they heighten the movie with their star power regardless of whatever vague motivation that each non-scene may have. Having Portman show up late in the movie makes sense--she's worthy of a later entrance given her comparative star wattage.

7) Actors do twirl less than they do in To the Wonder (2012), but there is one blonde stripper/actress named Karen (Teresa Palmer) who dances around in every scene much like Sarah Jessica Parker did in L.A. Story (1991). 

8) Occasionally, Malick juxtaposes the human-made spectacle with a natural one, cutting from a massive state of the art multi-screen concert to a desert mountain landscape so that we can compare and contrast the beauty of each.  At times, the grand long shot visual style of the movie (always happy to turn up and focus on a helicopter or a jet flying overhead) reminded me of Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960), where the composition of the shot keeps commenting obliquely on the scene and the characters (when it isn't overwhelming them).

9) Knight of Cups may one day serve as a grand and magisterially detached portrait of our era, one in which the movie's hints of depravity and existential despair may not prove as lasting as its vivid depiction of Los Angeles design and its semi-satirical portrait of the rich at play. Even with the film's Delphic voiceovers and Christian Bale's pained expressions, human characterization ultimately does not appear to matter all that much. As Karen points out, "No one cares about reality anymore" anyway.

summer links

---"Summer has officially arrived, along with the mounting pressure to enjoy it before it passes. The filmmaker who most deeply investigated the contradictions of the sweaty months is Eric Rohmer, whose summer films contain placid surfaces rippled by violent speech. His characters are surrounded by beauty and inevitably beset by anxieties of how their time there is being wasted, ticking away." --R Emmet Sweeney

---You Are Awake

---"The trouble with the movies is that they so seldom get below the surface of a story and its characters, that their whole is rarely as good as the parts, and the characters of their players—Gary Cooper or Margaret Sullavan, for instance—are usually more powerful than the characters they play." --Manny Farber

---a four part analysis of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Nathaniel R, Kyle Stevens, and others on the Film Experience 

---"Streep made one small, but important, tweak at the table read. She changed Miranda’s last line, where she’s sitting in a chauffeured car with Andy, from 'Everybody wants to be me' to 'Everybody wants to be us.' On the press tour for Prada, Streep insisted that Miranda the movie character wasn’t based on Wintour. She said her performance was inspired by men, but kept their identities a closely guarded secret until now. 'The voice I got from Clint Eastwood,' Streep says. 'He never, ever, ever raises his voice and everyone has to lean in to listen, and he is automatically the most powerful person in the room. But he is not funny. That I stole from Mike Nichols. The way the cruelest cutting remark, if it is delivered with a tiny self-amused curlicue of irony, is the most effective instruction, the most memorable correction, because everyone laughs, even the target. The walk, I’m afraid, is mine.'"

---Matthew McConaughey Talks True Detective

---"De Palma went on, 'The studios gave us the keys to the kingdom, and we all made a lot of extraordinary movies before they discovered sequels.' He made the word sound repellent. 'But it’s a corrosive system. When I was working on The Fury, Frank Yablans”—who produced the 1978 film—'said, ‘Dino will pay you a million dollars to do Hurricane. Go see him right now.’ Dino De Laurentiis was an impresario of gaudy schlock. 'So I go to Dino’s office, and he holds up this picture of an island and says, ‘ Hurricane! You will live in my hotel and shoot it all!’ After I read this terrible script and was embarrassed that I’d been lured, I told myself, ‘You can’t stay here any longer.’" --Tad Friend

---Dave Adder of Typeset in the Future considers Blade Runner

---"Simply the Best: Blood Simple and the Fabulous Coen Brothers" by Danny Bowes

---trailers for The Birth of a Nation, American Honey, Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, I, Daniel Blake, Train to Busan, The Legend of TarzanThe Girl With All the Gifts, Keeping Up with Jonesesand American Pastoral

---"Whether the film’s influence extended beyond the movies and into reality is another question, but when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001, it was often said that footage of the crumpling Twin Towers could have come from a Hollywood movie – and one Hollywood movie in particular. Joe Viskocil, the pyrotechnics expert who designed The White House explosion in Independence Day, went so far as to say that he felt partially responsible. 'I felt guilty about making my work look so good,' he says. 'I started thinking maybe I did my job too well, and it might have been the nucleus of an idea for someone to say: ‘Hey, let’s crash a plane into the White House.’" But no one else in Hollywood showed much remorse. Directors, Emmerich included, kept on knocking down New York landmarks as if nothing had happened." --Nicholas Barber

---David Fincher: From a Distance

---Whit Stillman's 10 favorite films

---Famous Actors as Famous Authors

---Dissecting Dialogue in Film

---"The Dawn of 'Just Me": Zack Snyder's Neoliberal Superheroes" by William Bradley

--“I say the same thing over and over again. If I can create a sequence where you’re gazing at a woman or following a woman, it seems to me like a basic building block of cinema." --Brian De Palma

---Happy and Townie by Mitski

---All Along the Watchtower, Explored

---Thought Leader Talk

---"I think when something is exciting to you, a picture or a piece of music, what’s exciting is that you’re hearing the latest sentence in a conversation you’ve been having all your life. When you look at a painting, you don’t just see that painting, you see every other picture you’ve ever seen. That painting is in the context of every picture you’ve ever seen." --Brian Eno

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"Be gone, or I will have you whipped": the pleasures of Whit Stillman's Love and Friendship

Adapted from an early story by Jane Austen, Whit Stillman's Love and Friendship is delightful, with Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan Vernon dominating most every scene she's in, but I was confused by certain aspects of it. To whit,

a) no superheroes battle each other.

b) the movie, which is weirdly not a sequel, does not end with a large explosion and a chase scene.

c) Kate Beckinsale does not wear black leather, jump out of high buildings (landing on her feet), nor does she kill a single Lycan as she tends to do in her various Underworld movies.

Instead, Stillman relies upon Lady Susan Vernon's wit and satirical bite to drive a Regency era comedy that moves fast with lots of horse-drawn carriages rushing back and forth between estates. Stillman prefaces scenes with flagrantly artificial introductions of characters where the actors stand before the camera while we read something written on them in fancy Austen-esque font like:

The Divinely Handsome
Lord Manwaring

Also, curiously, Stillman often leaves key characters, such as Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearain) out of the movie almost altogether, never bothering to waste a scene on a figure who serves the plot but may not be needed otherwise.

As a typical consumer of recent cinema, I am used to moviemakers spoonfeeding information to my distracted brain, but Whit Stillman makes Love and Friendship tricky, subtle, and occasionally hard to follow. I went to see it with two lady friends, and we have gotten into various arguments about it since. When I claim that I like the machinations of Lady Susan, they assure me that I should not, that she's evil and manipulative. As a man, I, too, am susceptible to her charms. Once one learns to look beyond the conventions of mostly upper class early 19th century society, one realizes that Lady Susan takes what she wants, and justifies her behavior smoothly afterwards. When she runs into a man she doesn't want to see, she says "Be gone, or I will have you whipped." Likewise, when she has an affair with Lord Manwaring and his wife Lady Lucy (Jenn Murray) understandably objects, Lady Susan points out that "If she was going to be jealous, she should not have married such a charming man."

Perhaps in part because the death of her husband has left her poor, Lady Susan comes across as more alive than her more moneyed hence complacent peers. Her former husband's brothers' wife Catherine DeCourcey Vernon (Emma Greenwell) becomes alarmed by Lady Susan's visit to her country estate due to her reputation as an effective coquette, i.e. her ability to do great mischief by getting most any man around to fall in love with her. Yet, Catherine also acts transfixed around Lady Susan, as if hypnotized by a snake. I enjoyed Kate Beckinsale's performance, in part because she proves that she does not need all of that tight-fitting black leather and slow-motion fight scenes in the gothic dark to hold one's attention. She can accomplish that well enough as a supremely self-interested player.

In an American movie, Lady Susan might've been a femme fatale along the lines of Matty Walker in Body Heat (1981) or Barbara Stanwyck's role in Double Indemnity (1944), but Lady Susan need not kill anyone either. She enjoys the chess-like strategizing of manipulating others for its own sake, much as the Marquise de Merteuil does in Dangerous Liaisons (1988). When Lady Manwaring manages to poke a hole in Lady Susan's deceptions by exposing one of her letters to Reginald DeCourcey, Lady Susan handily defuses the scandal by questioning Reginald's trust in her. If anything, she makes her ability to transfix everyone look too easy, to the detriment of Chloe Sevigny's role as Alicia Johnson, an American wife who mostly just listens to Lady Susan's confidences. In contrast to Chloe's previous work with Kate in Whitman's excellent Last Days of Disco (1988), her participation in this movie as Alicia is limited by her husband Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry), who, as Lady Susan puts it, is "too old to be governable, too young to die."

Meanwhile, as everyone reels from "the most accomplished flirt in England," Tom Bennett as the upper-class twit James Martin proves hilarious every time he attempts to talk. I liked it when he brings up the 12 commandments and then tries to explain why he goofed. When he finds some peas on his plate during dinner, he says, "How jolly, tiny green balls. What are they called?" Stillman understands how Americans enjoy watching English nobility reduced by in-breeding, perhaps, to sheer fat-headed ludicrousness. Reginald DeCourcey proclaims James Martin to be insufferably "silly," but the man still has fun in his idiocy.

In the end, Love and Friendship works just as Lady Susan does, through its "captivating deceit," its "uncanny understanding of men's nature," and its insistent charm. Sometimes, even when we know better, we prefer the company of a knowing and beautiful fraud.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

anesthesia of the loudness links

---The American Dream in Film

---"Sequel after sequel has disappointed at the box office this year."

---Frank Zappa on fads

---the Strokes' "Drag Queen"

---a scene from American Psycho

---"X-Men, meanwhile, is iconography in reverse. No one — outside of their personal accountants — will associate Michael Fassbender with Magneto, or Jennifer Lawrence with Mystique, or James McAvoy with Professor X when they look back on their careers. These parts are IMDb filler; celebrity curios; walking, knowing smirks. If anything, equity-wise, X-Men roles carry a stigma: They’re pure paychecks." --Sam Donsky

---Beck's "Wow"

---"Our Brand Could Be Your Crisis" by Ayesha Siddiqi

---Notes on Pickpocket

---trailers for 11:55, Down by Love, Love and FriendshipThe Legend of TarzanRoadies, Carnage ParkThe Call Up, and Morgan

---"Ms. Eakin said spotlighting the range and diversity of female cinematographers underscored their strength. 'Everyone can stop questioning whether women can command a set and a crew and be creative and technical at the same time,' she said. 'We can and we do. We just need to get past it being this rarity.'" --Melena Ryzik

---a collection of Pauline Kael's reviews

---"The Video Essay as Art: Why Process Matters" by Conor Bateman

---"Rawness is fast emerging, in fact, as the central paradox of live streaming: The very intimacy and immediacy that make the medium attractive are also the things that make it almost impossible to keep clean." --Caitlin Dewey

---Brian De Palma's guilty pleasures

---Richard Hell's top 10 Criterion picks

---Cinephilia and Beyond considers Alien

---Stanley Kubrick: The Cinematic Experience

---"Such cruel paradoxes seem somehow built into Highsmith’s sapphic romance—written, as it were, into the fictional DNA. Highsmith, one might venture, was never able to rid herself of an ominous, dissipating sense of the pathological element in human life. Like a retribution, it was there in society’s repressive dictates and in her own psyche. These deep contradictions both undercut and intensify the nostalgic seduction supplied by the warm and glittery 1950s Manhattan setting. Carol and Therese seem to be forever swirling down Old-Fashioneds and double Gibsons, listening to Billie Holiday, and smiling a little too intently at one another. The Price of Salt, read straightforwardly, depicts the beginnings of the kind of relationship Highsmith herself could never enjoy. The novel is, I think, its author’s wish-fulfilment dream, but one in which anxiety-dream elements, the same stuff she transmuted elsewhere into bizarre suspense fiction, keep looming up like neurotic symptoms to invade the mise-en-scène. It’s a rarity—a love story lit by a weird, unwholesome, noirish glow." --Terry Castle

---"Sofia Coppola and the Female Coming of Age" by Allie Gemmill

---Intertextuality: Hollywood's New Currency

---"Watching Captain America: Civil War, in which positively nothing is at stake, I checked my watch 25 minutes into the film, sighing at the realization that there were nearly two hours remaining. How can audiences stand this? By submitting to the anesthesia of the loudness, I suspect, by comforting themselves with the knowledge that they are, at this moment, doing what culture expects of them. Seeing the “big” thing, the Super Bowl of yearly adventure epics." --Chuck Bowen

---What Makes a Movie Great?