Friday, October 12, 2018

From Joseph Epstein's essay "Life's Little Luxury"

"Movies with charm at their center are no longer being made. The directors able to make them or even interested in doing so—the Leo McCareys, the Preston Sturgeses, the Billy Wilders, the George Cukors, the Blake Edwardses, the Stanley Donens—are long gone. Nora Ephron attempted with some success to make such movies, in the spirit of our time, but she has had no followers. Quite possibly charm is no longer marketable. With fewer and fewer models of it available, it may go the way of chivalry, good manners, and unmotivated kindness.
If one cannot define charm with real precision, how, then, does one recognize it? One recognizes it, as one does its compatriots in inexact definability, pretty much case by case, instance by instance. One recognizes charm when one feels it, sees it. Charming is the song we don’t want to stop playing, the painting that won’t leave our minds, the piece of writing we don’t want to end, the man or woman we wish never to leave the room. Charm, when present, enlivens and lights up a room, makes the world seem a more enticing place. Not quite true that charm, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, for there are levels of sophistication in the realm of charm. Some charm is subtler than others; some more obvious. Not everyone is likely to be charmed by Noël Coward; most people are likely to be charmed by the Marx Brothers." --Joseph Epstein

Monday, October 8, 2018

From "Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040"

"The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change."  --Coral Davenport
For some reason, this topic has been on mind recently, after watching First Reformed.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

links du jour

---"Sunday links" by Illuminations

---"Best of September" by The Film Experience

---Dennis Cozzalio considers Fahrenheit 11/9

---Sarita Cannon considers A Raisin in the Sun for Criterion

---Art of the Title presents Deep State

---Catherine Grant celebrates ten years of Film Studies for Free

---"Jane Fonda is paying close attention" by Michael Schulman

---Script to Screen

---the most prescient film I've seen recently on DVD: Nine to Five (1980) 

---the most eerily apt film I've seen: The Death of Stalin

---"Kavanaugh Hearing Cold Open" by SNL

---best novels read over the summer: Rachel Cusk's Outline and Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation

---from "Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy?" by Evan Osnos:

"Occasionally, Zuckerberg records a Facebook video from the back yard or the dinner table, as is expected of a man who built his fortune exhorting employees to keep 'pushing the world in the direction of making it a more open and transparent place.' But his appetite for personal openness is limited. Although Zuckerberg is the most famous entrepreneur of his generation, he remains elusive to everyone but a small circle of family and friends, and his efforts to protect his privacy inevitably attract attention. The local press has chronicled his feud with a developer who announced plans to build a mansion that would look into Zuckerberg’s master bedroom. After a legal fight, the developer gave up, and Zuckerberg spent forty-four million dollars to buy the houses surrounding his. Over the years, he has come to believe that he will always be the subject of criticism. 'We’re not—pick your noncontroversial business—selling dog food, although I think that people who do that probably say there is controversy in that, too, but this is an inherently cultural thing,' he told me, of his business. 'It’s at the intersection of technology and psychology, and it’s very personal.'"

From "The Most Honest Book About Climate Change Yet" by Nathaniel Rich

"Authors like to flatter themselves by imagining for their work an 'ideal reader,' a cherubic presence endowed with bottomless generosity, the sympathy of a parent, and the wisdom of, well, the authors themselves. In Carbon Ideologies, William T. Vollmann imagines for himself the opposite: a murderously hostile reader who sneers at his arguments, ridicules his feeblemindedness, scorns his pathetic attempts at ingratiation. Vollmann can’t blame this reader, whom he addresses regularly throughout Carbon Ideologies, because she lives in the future, under radically different circumstances—inhabiting a 'hotter, more dangerous and biologically diminished planet.' He envisions her turning the pages of his climate-change opus within the darkened recesses of an underground cave in which she has sought shelter from the unendurable heat; the plagues, droughts, and floods; the methane fireballs racing across boiling oceans. Because the soil is radioactive, she subsists on insects and recycled urine, and regards with implacable contempt her ancestors, who, as Vollmann tells her, 'enjoyed the world we possessed, and deserved the world we left you.'" --Nathaniel Rich

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Flight of the Jailbirds: Con Air (1997) starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and John Malkovich

[I was surprised to learn that Con Air made it into the Criterion canon, I guess alongside The Rock (1996). Perhaps, the fine people at Criterion were being a bit ironic in their choice? Perhaps, the 3 Reasons video is a fake. At any rate, here's another time capsule piece from my early days as a newspaper movie reviewer.]

I dreaded watching Con Air, chiefly because it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, half of the team that brought you Top Gun, Bad Boys, Days of Thunder, and the especially loathsome The Rock. The bad boy producers Bruckheimer and Simpson specialized in these hormonal, pumped up, squealing electric guitar machismo movies.

Recently, Simpson died of a drug overdose, and so Con Air constitutes Bruckheimer's attempt to make massive bucks on his own. The results are mixed, but better than I expected. In Hollywood these days, movie stars look to big moneymaking actions flicks to enhance their salaries. Val Kilmer's stock rose with the 3rd Batman. Soon we'll see Winona Ryder as a fighting android in the fourth Alien film for the same reason.

So, given this principle of serious actors turning to pulp fiction for money, Con Air contains a convention of actors one would normally associate with much classier movies. John Cusack plays an intellectual ranger (read wimp in this movie) who tracks the convicts' plane and spends most of his time arguing with a DEA man who only wants to blow the plane out of the sky.

John Malkovich plays a delightful criminal mastermind who gets to strut around the movie using his unusually precise speaking style to celebrate villainy. Steve Buscemi makes a humorous appearance as a Hannibal Lector-esque mass murderer who brags about wearing the head of a little girl as a hat, but otherwise does nothing remarkable. He shows up all zoot-suited up in a mask and a strait jacket just like Anthony Hopkins wore in Silence of the Lambs, but once Malkovich's character sets him free to wander around the plane, you think oh, that's Steve Buscemi. Whoopee.

Con Air begins with Nicolas Cage as a marine (Cameron Poe) killing a man with his fists of steel in a bar brawl. While Poe's in jail (this sequence has a spooky resemblance to the jail scenes of Raising Arizona), we witness Poe writing repeatedly to his ultra-cute daughter and wife. There's a biblical dimension to his cartoonlike character: he MUST survive a criminal takeover of a prison plane in order to get back to his parole and long lost family. Even as the filmmakers pile one challenge on top of another, Poe serenely fights for his little girl. It is really quite affecting in its emotionally manipulative way.

So, criminals hijack a convict plane, fly to a remote desert airstrip to blow up a bunch of rusty cars and trucks, and then eventually fly into the middle of Las Vegas at night. The film has a luscious cinematography full of desert sun, sky, and gleaming weaponry, which, like the acting, seems way too fancy for such a silly plot.

Indeed, the movie often resembles a music video with its pounding electric guitar score, voluptuous slow motion violence, and hallucinatorily clear imagery. In one sequence, Poe drops a corpse off the into Carson City, and we see that corpse fall up close most of the way down, the gorgeous fluttering down of a dead con in the sun, before it lands as a joke on an older couple's car that had just been waxed.

By the time the movie gets around to its multiple climaxes/chase scenes in the colorful world of downtown Las Vegas, I found it difficult to know what to say here. Is the film stupid, fascist, gratuitously violent, and anal-retentively macho? Yes. Is it also beautifully filmed cheesy fun with fine actors who all seem to enjoy having their paycheck increased? Yes again.

Cage becomes so noble, he even finds time to save a diabetic and a female guard threatened with rape on the plane. In his mission to save these people and get his little bunny toy to his daughter, he slaughters numerous bad guys put in the way of his holy mission. As whole army battalions get blown up, Cage's search for a syringe for the diabetic resembles the quixotic quest of a man determined to carry a glass of water through a hurricane. As in the case of the movie as a whole, it may not make sense, it may seem stupid, but you gotta admire the technique.

Three Reasons: Con Air by Criterion?

I'm a bit flummoxed by this Criterion choice. My June 12, 1997 review will follow.