Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shut up and deal: New Year's links

Happy New Year!

Some links to help ring in the new year:

---Zigzigger's faves for 2009 (with thanks to Catherine Grant)

---Harper's yearly review


---The decade in feminist pop culture

---"A Thousand Words," a short film by Ted Chung

---Roger Ebert's best films of the decade

---Happy New Fear!

---2009 from The Atlantic's bloggers' point of view

---Digitial culture links for the new year (from Tama)

---The 14 biggest design moments of the decade

---Michael Guillen's top 10 favorite interviews of 2009

---A. O. Scott's 19 favorite movies of 2009

---The best things on the internet in 2009

---Lastly, an End-of-the-Decade Clip Party

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From Fellini to Fergie: 11 notes on Rob Marshall's Nine

1) When Nine works, it's due to the collective talents of its stars who won't stand for a scene to fail. When it succeeds, it does so out of sheer competitive celebrity wattage.

2) From Pauline Kael's review of 8 1/2:

"8 1/2 is an incredibly externalized version of the artist's `inner' life--a gorgeous multi-ringed circus that has very little connection with what, even for a movie director, is most likely to be solitary, concentrated hard work.
It's more like the fantasy life of someone who wishes he were a movie director." Rob Marshall's remake takes the fantasy to an even further remove. Nine views like 8 1/2's Las Vegas-act postmodern remix. One has to accept its essential cheesiness to enjoy it.

3) I imagine that Daniel Day-Lewis chose the part of Guido Contini because it was the opposite of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Lewis brings his intensity to this character who anguishes about his writer's block, and he sings surprisingly well, but I still got the impression that the 1982 musical by Arthur Kopit and Mario Fratti supplies a rickety framework for his acting talents, even with Anthony Minghella's help with the screenplay. Guido stands in for Fellini, and as Nathaniel R. points out, Lewis is not "good at being a blank slate for the man behind the curtain."

4) How does one watch the film? By making comparisons to 8 1/2 (even though I understand I was supposed to just compare it to the stage musical). I was irked by the fact that so few of the actors are actually Italian, as if Rob Marshall decided at the outset that 1960s Italian cinema is universal enough to allow him to co-opt roles with stars of any nationality he likes. "Be Italian!" indeed.

5) Sophia Loren appears as if she'd rather compete with Penelope Cruz than play anyone's mother.

6) I don't see why Judi Dench is in the film at all, since there's no equivalent to her costume-designing character Lilli in 8 1/2. I guess she's Guido's confidante, but I all I could think of was Bond's M.

7) Penelope Cruz sings and dances to "A Call from the Vatican" with stunning erotic panache before demeaning herself with the ditsy frumpy role of Guido's mistress Carla that was dated back in 1963. At one point, when Guido's leaving, Carla pouts and says "I will be here waiting for you with my legs open." Her character emphasizes how Nine awkwardly straddles the line between Fellini's old-fashioned view of women and anything more contemporary (a problem exacerbated by the fact that actresses keep throwing themselves at Guido).

8) Of all of the women in Nine, Marion Cotillard is most impressive as Guido's wife Luisa. I like the way Marshall expanded on Fellini's original. Anouk Aimee was mostly just scornful and cold, but Cotillard gets to express more emotional range that moves from bemusement over her philandering genius director husband to jealous resentment, and then outright rage. Her songs, especially her vengefully erotic rendition of "Take It All," steal the movie.

9) Also, oddly in the context of her work in such vacant romantic comedies as Bride Wars, Kate Hudson shines as a journalist for Vogue who tries to seduce Guido, in part because her enthusiasm for Italian fashion (men with thin ties and Alfa-Romeos) makes her character more plausible than most. Why wouldn't she love it? Her excitement in performing "Cinema Italiano" encapsulates the film's appropriation of Fellini's visual style.

10) With Nicole Kidman playing Claudia, a mash-up between the much younger Claudia Cardinal muse in 8 1/2 and Anita Ekberg's superstar Italian Marilyn Monroe character in La Dolce Vita, she has to live up an awful lot even as her character complains about not having a script. More than anyone else, Kidman has to rely on her star wattage. When Claudia and Guido escape the paparazzi and start to wander in the night-lit streets of Rome, I found myself thinking where's the kitten? Then a kitten meows, and Claudia looks down at it (without placing it on her head). That light, casual meta-cinematic gesture works better than anything else in the movie.

11) Marshall's casting of Fergie as Saraghina was a mistake. One could do a shot by shot comparison between the Saraghina scene in 8 1/2 and the new one and see how the latter moves from parody to too many close-ups to straight travesty very quickly. Marshall takes one of the great free-associating lyrical moments of cinema and reduces it to a mediocre music video reminiscent of Madonna's "Cherish."
Perhaps Marshall chose Fergie in an attempt to make Nine more appealing to a younger audience, but she is not fat enough, grotesque enough, or sensual enough. Instead, Marshall blands out the freakish impact of the original. That's the risk he continually runs in fashioning Nine. Even with the stars of this magnitude, it is still hard to compete with a master.

Notable film and media links--end of the decade edition

---Internet-age "writing" syllabus

---The profound importance of Paul Blart: Mall Cop:

"My point here is that Paul Blart is as ugly and misshapen as the year it's part of. Future scholars could study it just as rigorously as, say, ugly '50s anti-Communist paranoia or '60s movies featuring dudes with sitars. No joke.

It's still a terrible movie, though."

----What happens when you do a close photoshop analysis of a Victoria Secret photo?

---the trashily delightful Nation's Pride

---The influence of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz

---The true meaning of Christmas for $12.98. Also, Christmas with The Thin Man

---The influence of Psycho's bloody shower, according to Kakutani's review of David Thomson's new book:

"Toward the end of his thought-provoking book “The Moment of Psycho,” the film historian David Thomson gives us a long list of movies made possible or informed by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic “Psycho” — a list that includes not just Brian De Palmahomages to Hitchcock like “Dressed to Kill” and slasher films like “Halloween” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and their innumerable spawn, but also some less obvious choices:

¶The continuing Bond franchise, which, Mr. Thomson notes, cashes in on the “tongue-in-cheek attitudes toward sex and violence” pioneered by Hitch.

¶“Bonnie and Clyde,” which, like “Psycho,” left audiences alarmed at their capacity to enjoy violence in the darkness of a movie theater.

¶“Jaws,” which, like Hitchcock’s films, used artfully cut sequences and carefully paced scenes to manipulate audiences and amp up their feelings of fear.

¶“Taxi Driver,” which, like “Psycho,” features a “lone-wolf outsider” who both frightens and repels us, even as he allows us to “see a glimpse of ourselves in him.”

Stanley Kubrick’s movies “Lolita,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Shining,” which, like “Psycho” and so many other Hitchcock films, share “an extreme appetite for technique that sometimes forgot ‘content’; a recognition of watching as perhaps the central expression of modern intelligence and a surgeon’s interest in the eye.”

---Does The Huffington Post exploit its bloggers?

While somewhat buzzed after tea (sweetened, I was told, by some sort of special honey), I remembered to ask Arianna if she worried about the number of writers being left unemployed by the new "freebie" culture.

"Our site is not built around the freebie," she said. "Our site is built around very hard-working editors and reporters who do all the curating and aggregating and original content. Then bloggers can write when they want, if they want." The Huffington Post's founder and editor in chief acknowledged that the question of how to fund journalism and pay a living wage "is still being worked out."

---Dan North explains the reveal

---Nancy Meyers and her movies designed for women

---Top Vimeo videos of 2009 (again thanks to the brilliant kottke.org)

---13 important DIY films of the decade

---Video games' evolution thanks to social media

---Lastly, Anthony Lane looks at Donald Spoto's new biography of Grace Kelly:

"Hitchcock is the figure who wraps together the opposing views of Grace Kelly, and folds them into a single mystery. He knew and relished all the rumors, but would never have been so vulgar as to brandish what they proposed, like an emblazoned flag, in the course of the three films with Kelly. One quick flutter would suffice. He was the first director to listen closely to the gentle crack in that well-bred speaking voice (“improperly placed,” according to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts), and to register the wicked elongation of her vowels: “Oh now, don’t say you can’t go,” a scarlet-clad Grace tells Ray Milland in “Dial M for Murder,” lowering that final syllable into a two-toned croon. (She is cheating on him, and her lover is in the room.) During a famous exchange with François Truffaut, Hitchcock argued that “if sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

After the die-off: notes on John Hillcoat's The Road

"Behold the valley of slaughter"--graffiti on a billboard in The Road

"The clocks stopped at one seventeen one morning. There was a long shear of bright light, then a series of low concussions. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. I think it's October but I can't be sure. I haven't kept a calender for five years. Each day is more gray than the one before. Each night is darker - beyond darkness. The world gets colder week by week as the world slowly dies. No animals have survived. All the crops are long gone. Someday all the trees in the world will have. The roads are peopled by refugees towing carts and road gangs looking for fuel and food. There has been cannibalism. Cannibalism is the great fear. Mostly I worry about food. Always food. Food and our shoes. Sometimes I tell the boy old stories of courage and justice - difficult as they are to remember. All I know is the child is my warrant and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke."

So says "Man" (Viggo Mortenson) early on in John Hillcoat's The Road, the too faithful film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. I've been a fan of the novel since its first publication in 2006, so when I got to see the movie last week, I had high expectations. Hillcoat effectively recreated the Man's action-packed encounters with cannibals, but in spite of Viggo Mortenson's best efforts, the film tends to emphasize the weaknesses of the novel. Some notes:

1) Merriam-Webster online defines "die-off" as "a sudden sharp decline of a population of animals or plants that is not caused directly by human activity." As mentioned in the quote above, most animals on earth die at the beginning of the book and the movie for no clear reason (although one can presume that the catastrophe is man-made). And yet, later a bug and then a (spoiler alert) dog (?!) appear at the Disney-esque conclusion of the film. The film, like the book, is indecisive, unrealistic, and murky about the destruction of nature. It reminds me of Dan Archer's point about the political implications of apocalyptic thinking: "Those who believe that we are living in endtime feel no concern about for the environment because it has no future." Given its contradictions, The Road hasn't fully thought through nature's role in this kind of storyline.

2) Even given the extreme unlikeliness of all of nature dying whatever the reason, The Road depicts a human die-off. With ballooning numbers of our species on this planet and its inability to sustain our population given its limited resources, a human die-off strikes me as inherently plausible. It has happened in various times in human history such as on Easter Island, but what form would a mass human die-off take? Will it be caused by disease, war, starvation, or a combination of all three? To its credit, The Road takes an unflinching look at that possibility.

3) McCarthy's novel immerses the reader in the Man's actions. We often don't know what he's thinking, so we can wonder about what he will do next to survive. Since the film doesn't have time for that kind of narrative momentum, Hillcoat tends to dwell on the relationship between the Man and his son, which tends to make the film more sentimental. The boy keeps asking things like "Are we the good guys?" and "Are we gonna die?" and so on.

4) As the Man and his Boy work their way south to the beach, fighting off cannibals when needed, starving, and pushing a grocery cart before them in the grey-filtered gloom, I got annoyed with the film's relentlessly grim tone. Their extreme deprivation gives the film its dramatic impetus, but except for small moments of pleasure (they enjoy a rare can of Coke--post-apocalyptic product placement), the film is unrelievedly bleak and earnest. The movie hasn't enough human playfulness to balance out the gloom.

5) For instance, when a redneck cannibal gang shows up in a big truck, one can't help thinking of the similar gang in The Road Warrior, but the ones in the Mad Max series had a b-movie flair, a twisted fashion sense involving brightly colored mohawks and bondage gear.
In comparison, the cannibals in The Road are just dreary ragged creeps with bad teeth. More realistic? Yes, but somehow less interesting cinematically.

6) In Children of Men, Theo enjoys smoking dope with Jasper or popping a ping pong ball back and forth by mouth with Julian. In The Road, by comparison, the Man is a consistent killjoy survivalist. His exceptionally beautiful unnamed wife (Charlize Theron) decides she wants to die early on because many of the other families are doing it (peer pressure suicide?), but the Man does not. Looking pained, he earnestly wants her to live, and they debate it for awhile. But no, she has to walk off into the darkness symbolic of her death. Later, an Old Man shows up (Robert Duvall with lots of dirty makeup) to say things like "I knew this was coming. They were warning us" before he weeps at seeing the boy because it reminds him of "heaven." The soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis tends to consist of the same three piano notes. At one point, the Man and his Boy wake up in a ruined church with a prominent sunlit cross overhead. The filmmakers seem so eager to convey the old testament Biblical cadences of McCarthy's novel, the film ends up awed by its prophetic self-importance.

7) By the time the Man approaches his end and gives his son his few last dying words of wisdom ("Don't eat people. Carry the fire within," etc.), I had had enough. I can only take so much portentous post-apocalyptic schmaltz, no matter how solemn and faithful to the novel it may be.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Have yourself a post-apocalyptic Christmas

Have yourself a post-apocalyptic Christmas
May your day be doomed
From now on
Starvation fills the world with gloom.
Here we are not as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Viggo Mortenson tries to protect his son
From cannibals and earthquakes
And Zombieland-like landscapes once more.
With global warming and peak oil
And species dying left and right,
James Cameron reinvents nature
In 3-D Avatar,
So we can feel alright.
Who would have thought
Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.
would make the sedate Sherlock Holmes
a manic action figure?
Who would think after watching
There Will Be Blood in our Speedos
That Daniel Day Lewis
Would mimic Marcello Mastroianni
And be chased around by women
crying Guido, Guido, Guido!?
Have yourself a post-apocalyptic Christmas
Don't despair, be thankful!
Alvin and the Chipmunks
Have arrived
in the world's first Squeakquel.
Through the years
We will all watch together
If the Fates allow
Meryl Streep flirt with Alec Baldwin
To cheer up the post-menopausal crowd
Have yourself a merry post-apocalyptic Christmas now!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Notable links of the film and media kind--December 17, 2009

---The digital future of magazines

---Avatar's feminist side

---The evolution of horror movie poster design

---The Princess and the Frog comparative analysis

---9 films that influenced Inglourious Basterds

---The noughties and our yearning for chaos:

"One of the most striking things about the Noughties is that when terrible things did happen – when planes really did start falling out of the sky – we greeted them with barely concealed excitement.

We watched them being replayed over and over again on CNN, drinking in the wild overestimates of casualty numbers and nodding along enthusiastically as experts confidently predicted all the cataclysmic consequences to follow. It was a form of mass hysteria – something akin to Freud’s death wish, but writ large.

If the past 10 years had one defining characteristic it was that they allowed human beings to give full expression to their yearning for chaos, one of their darkest unconscious desires. It was the decade in which people’s appetite for destruction became almost insatiable.

I don’t mean that an above average number of natural disasters occurred – though, God knows, we had our share, what with the south-east Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

Nor do I mean that the past 10 years witnessed a significant increase in acts of terrorism or that many of them were perpetrated by suicide bombers in thrall to a sinister death cult.

Rather, it was the way these phenomena were latched on to, the apocalyptic fantasies they gave rise to. It was as if people wanted the world to be consumed in an orgiastic frenzy of ultra-violence, whether at the hand of Mother Nature or an Islamist cell in possession of a ‘dirty bomb’."

---Top shaggy dog films of the 00s

---The difficulties of defining mumblecore

---Perhaps the most important movie out there

---The decade-defining romance of Mulholland Drive

---Dan North explains the reveal

---Fantastic Mr. Fox links

---"Pop Ate My Heart": Lady Gaga analyzed:

Lady Gaga does not abandon the visual component of her music. Rather than the videos being ancillary products designed to promote the music, Gaga treats the tracks on the album as equal opportunities for visual expression. This is a one of Gaga’s principal aims as an artist; she has said that “It's the artist's job to create imagery that matches the music—something powerful that will really grab the audience and create a memorable impression,” and claims that

"What has been lost in pop music these days is the combination of the visual and the imagery of the artist, along with the music—and both are just as important. So, even though the carefree nature of the album is something that people are latching onto right away about my stuff, I hope they will take notice of the interactive, multimedia nature of what I'm trying to do. The things I like to do and the theatrics, I like to incorporate them into the choreography. With my music, it's a party, it's a lifestyle, and it's about making the lifestyle the forefront of the music."

---Celebrity, Academic Style's decade review

---Remembering Kurosawa

---Mad Men reinvents men's fashion

---Lastly, early David Bowie

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cinderella, Tiana, and Disney's abysmal history: 8 notes on The Princess and the Frog

"We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective." --Disney CEO Michael Eisner's internal memo

"I mean, really, Ariel gets a calypso-singing crustacean, Cinderella has mice that can sew, and the black princess gets a raggedy half-toothless firefly – when she isn’t spending the movie being the animal sidekick herself." --Shannon Prince

"The Princess and the Frog couldn’t just be a movie. It had to be a moment, complete with tie-in merchandise carefully trotted out well in advance of the premiere: The Dress! The Doll! The Hair Products!

Given all that, Disney’s first princess in 12 years has a lot to live up to. And its filmmakers tread a fine line between attempting authenticity and keeping the fantasy alive. This being Disney, there are certain tropes that must be in place: Spirited Heroine sets out on a journey. Encounters all sorts of travails along the way, travails which will prompt her to break into song. Animal friends help her in her journey; they, too, can’t help breaking into song. Handsome, often cross-cultural, prince pops up, but evil forces conspire to keep them apart. He sings, too. Back in the day, the Handsome Prince usually saved the day, but this being 2009, the Spirited Heroine generally gets to save the day—and Handsome Prince—thereby actualizing her own Inner Princess. The Handsome Prince and the Actualized Princess hook up; live happily ever after, etc., etc." --Teresa Wiltz

"LaToya Peterson, editor of the website Racialicious.com — which has been tracking much of the controversy surrounding The Princess and the Frog — says that she is hopeful and sceptical when it comes to seeing the movie. `I`m hopeful because Disney was so quick in making changes to make sure the portrayal of a black girl is a lot less stereotypical,' she says from her office in Washington. `Then again, Disney has such an abysmal history of representing characters of colour. I mean, they’re usually represented as animals.'" --Chris Ayre

"Who wants a puppy?" --Big Daddy La Bouff (John Goodman) in The Princess and the Frog

1) What exactly is Disney's abysmal history in terms of its depictions of race? Cracked.com provides a nice eye-opening summary.

2) What are some of the changes made to Tiana's character (Anika Noni Rose) in the course of making The Princess and the Frog? During the movie's composition, the writers at first depicted her as maid, but in in the movie's final incarnation, she's a waitress/aspiring restaurateur for much of the movie. Also, her original name was Maddie, but that name was changed as it was seen as being too close to Mammy. How else did Disney seek redemption? They visited with Oprah three years ago, sought her approval, and gave her the part of Tiana's mother Eudora.

3) I confess that I liked much of The Princess and the Frog, in part because I could sense the corporate media behemoth squirming as it tried to distance itself from its usual evil ideology.

4) If you study different versions of the Cinderella myth, you learn how Cinderella used to be wily, self-sufficient, and humorously conniving in her efforts to get the prince, that is, until the official Disney Cinderella came along in 1950. Disney's Cinderella passively waited around until a bumbling fairy godmother, some hard-working animals, and a handsome prince catapults her effortlessly to royal status. Now we have the Cinderella complex, popularized by Colette Dowling, which, in the words of the Wikipedia article on the topic, "is based on the idea of women that the story portrays, as being beautiful, graceful and polite but who cannot be strong independent characters themselves (although Cinderella does exhibit independence based on her skills and determination), and who must be rescued by an outside force, usually a man (e.g. the Prince)." Given the parallel existence of the Peter Pan syndrome, one wonders how much Disney's sugary example has messed up millions of boys and girls for life.

5) In contrast to the Disneyfied Cinderella, Tiana makes it very clear that she's willing to work hard to obtain the restaurant she wants in 1920's era New Orleans. So she waitresses and saves her tips in cans until she can raise the down payment on a beat-up old building. She's so intent on getting as she says "what you want through hard work," Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) chides her for being a "stick in the mud" when they are both frogs. He says "You do not know how to have fun," but she proves him wrong when she helps defeat some frog-hunting rednecks. I imagine Disney animators included the 3 Stooges-esque rednecks to counterbalance any charges of stereotyping attached to the snaggle-toothed Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) who says things like "follow the bouncing butt" before breaking into song.

6) Given Disney's tendency to lazily plagiarize from or allude to its earlier movies, what is the major influence of The Princess and the Frog? I think The Jungle Book. Once the storyline shifts to the Bayou, Louis the lovable jazz horn gator (Michael-Leon Wooley) reminded me of Baloo the Bear crossed with Louis Armstrong. The animators acknowledge the debt to The Jungle Book when Mama Odie shows up sporting Kaa, the snake as her helpmate.

7) I am a huge fan of New Orleans, and The Princess and the Frog revels in the city's rich cultural traditions. I liked all of the references to beignets, Mardi Gras royalty, gumbo (although Tiana repeatedly only needs to add two squirts of Tabasco to save any problematic gumbo in the film), Sidney Bechet, voodoo, the city's celebrated graveyards, and zydeco music.

8) Does The Princess and the Frog help the Disney corporation make amends for its abysmal history? Not entirely, but I found it entertaining to see them try. As long as they profit on the "spectacle of innocence," it's gratifying to see some signs of conscience, signs of guilt. Tiana's knowing, slightly ironic stance in the film calls attention to the underlying hypocrisies of Disney's usual song and dance.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Notable film and media links--December 11, 2009

---When Indie stars sell out

---Lester Bangs didn't like the Cramps

---The Parkour movement in Russia

---Chuck Klosterman talks about the media

---The Athabasca oil sands problem, nicely animated

---A Japanese music video for the channel surfer with an extremely short attention span

---"Friendship" in the age of Facebook:

"Yet what, in our brave new mediated world, is friendship becoming? The Facebook phenomenon, so sudden and forceful a distortion of social space, needs little elaboration. Having been relegated to our screens, are our friendships now anything more than a form of distraction? When they've shrunk to the size of a wall post, do they retain any content? If we have 768 "friends," in what sense do we have any? Facebook isn't the whole of contemporary friendship, but it sure looks a lot like its future. Yet Facebook—and MySpace, and Twitter, and whatever we're stampeding for next—are just the latest stages of a long attenuation. They've accelerated the fragmentation of consciousness, but they didn't initiate it. They have reified the idea of universal friendship, but they didn't invent it. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that once we decided to become friends with everyone, we would forget how to be friends with anyone. We may pride ourselves today on our aptitude for friendship—friends, after all, are the only people we have left—but it's not clear that we still even know what it means."

---Bella and the geek monster

---The A-Z of Spike Jones

---The future of Apps:

"Apps themselves aren't new--they're just the `programs' and `software' of old, repackaged and given a totally new spin by the mobile net--but they've become prominent because of advancing technology. And in a World where some TVs now run apps, where toddling babies can wirelessly Tweet what they're up to and cybernetic limbs seem closer to reality, then the only conclusion is that apps will soon be powering/tweaking/boosting/personalizing every bit of future tech in our lives."

---Dead malls

---Behind the scenes of The Princess and the Frog

---Skhizein, an award-winning short film

---Trippy bubbles (nevermind the statistics)

---Facebook's latest privacy "debacle"

---Photoshop fail, failing again

---A day in the internet

---Lastly, Orson Welles none too thrilled with rosebud

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Film Doctor's ten most disliked films of 2009

10) Confessions of a Shopaholic

I was appalled by John Goodman's grotesque break dancing and Kristin Scott Thomas' sad imitation of Miranda Priestly, but the worst thing was the nightmarish talking mannequins.

9) The Informers

I like some of Bret Easton Ellis' work, but this instantly dated movie based on his collection of early, sloppy, anecdotal short stories becomes an exercise in pseudo-hip nihilistic enervation. The movie climaxes with one young actor proclaiming a need for "someone to tell him what's right and what's wrong" when in truth he needs a better agent.

8) Bride Wars

I spent much of the movie wondering what had happened to Kate Hudson, and what was the deal with her raccoon-like eye shadow?

7) The Twilight Saga: New Moon

I confess to kind of liking Twilight, but with the sequel I got bored with Bella, bored with Forks, Washington, the flannel shirts, the proliferation of shirtless monsters, etc. Edward Cullen's once contemptuous aristocratic snottiness became banal.

6) Bruno

See the people twitch with shock and outrage at Sacha Baron Cohen's mean-spirited antics. See them trapped within the confines of the screen. Ha, ha, ha! Later, they will sue, sue, sue.

5) Angels and Demons

The most complacent twaddle with the most convenient detective/archeological investigation I've ever seen, with a Saturday-afternoon-TV-movie gimmick of various bishops getting killed off to create urgency.

4) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

An obvious choice, but I did spend several days afterwards recuperating in bed. I've largely blocked it from my memory.

3) 2012

I couldn't bring myself to review it. I normally like the idea of the end of the world. Now I can only wonder at John Cusack's personal apocalypse--how he had to bring himself to say, with a straight face, over and over, in interview after interview, how he admired the characters of the "elegantly written" screenplay.

2) Post Grad

I have nothing against Alexis Bledel (aside from her persistent loud yammering in the house as my significant other rewatches Gilmore Girls on DVD again), but this unfunny, unromantic travesty insults both Michael Keaton and one of my personal heroes--Carol Burnett. The film is grindingly, achingly lame, inept, painful, and demeaning to all concerned.

1) Land of the Lost

Adapted from a beloved Saturday TV show, Land of the Lost sounds the death knell of irony, immature guy films, and, I hope, Will Ferrell's career. Watch Chaka grope poor Anna Friel as random crap happens on a freeze-dried alternative-universe-with-a-dinosaur set. A good justification for the apocalypse if there ever was one.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Notable film and media links--December 3, 2009

---Is Colin Firth the "best actor of his generation"?

---Sign of the apocalypse or media stunt? Man twitters at the altar.

---Charlie Brown animator Bill Melendez and his influence on Wes Anderson (with thanks to Tracey).

---It's about time: eco-friendly killing.

---North by Northwest on acid. In the same vein, Domo Darko.

---Ed Howard and Jason Bellamy converse about Lawrence of Arabia:

ED HOWARD: What I appreciated about the film was how subtle it was, how introspective it was for an epic. In some ways, a lot of it doesn't even feel like a conventional epic. Sure, it's long, and filled with those widescreen crowd scenes that are pretty much the aesthetic bread and butter for the genre. It's even packed with Biblical allusions and Christ allegories, aligning it with the grand religious tales, from The Ten Commandments to The Passion of the Christ, that always seem to be prime subjects for these spectacles. But what sets Lawrence of Arabia apart from typical epics (which generally underwhelm me) is its texture. David Lean has a real eye—and ear; the film's soundtrack, beyond its bombastic score, is stunning—for details, for carving out emotions and themes from the smallest touches.

---Kubrick and Napoleon.

---Major directors discuss the movies that matters to them:

Sally Potter: "As a child, I probably knew every frame of Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. I knew the sequences off by heart. I think what indelibly struck me was not so much the comedy of it, which often felt slow, as the compassion in the observation: this observation of small moments, a swinging door. The emptiness of the soundtrack, which just has one or two effects dropped into it. Almost the feeling of it as a kind of meditation on loneliness and the social behaviour of people attempting to have a good time. It was the tragic part of the comedy that impressed me and the minimalism of the means with which it was realised. I think as a child I was experiencing it as a minimalist transcendent meditation more than as the work of a comic genius.

I just quickly looked up something about Tati and discovered something which I hadn't known before, which was that he lived most of his life in poverty, having to raise mortgages on his previous films to raise money for the next ones. The solitariness of that position as a film-maker I realised was imbuing the films themselves with the melancholy. I found that a fascinating piece of hidden information about the work."

---The evolution of the hipster.

---As part of the recent typography craze, check out this perfect video mash-up between the excellent Helvetica and Lady Gaga's work called "Neutra Face."

---Amongst the many best films of the decade/year lists, I liked John Water's, Richard Brody's, and Martin Scorsese's best of the 90s.

---Mini-mall marketing genius.

---Time to throw the laptop away: Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti.

---The art of getting noticed: Frederico Alvarez's Panic Attack!

---It is true that you can get noticed and published quickly thanks to Twitter.

---Our industrialized wasteland.

---Lastly, the mysterious Charlotte Gainsbourg/Beck video "Heaven Can Wait."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

9 Reasons Why Fantastic Mr. Fox is the Coolest Film

1) FMF shows how sly indie smarts can defy the corporate factory farm machine.

2) The film suggests there is a subversive affinity between artists and thieves. Somewhat like Godard and Truffaut in their youth, Mr. Fox is a chicken thief who has difficulty kicking the habit. Anderson inspires us by ripping off what inspires him, including allusions to Toy Story (a character trapped in a milk crate), The Third Man (the sewer sequence), The Man in the White Suit (Bean has an apple cider machine that makes the same noise that Alec Guinness'character's invention makes), Bonnie and Clyde (men with guns hiding in the bushes for an ambush), and West Side Story (Rat (Willem Dafoe) snaps his fingers in a way reminiscent of the movie's choreography).

3) FMF juxtaposes the passionate instincts of the wild with Anderson's trademark cerebral creative control. Fox cannot help himself because of his wild nature. Late in the film, a wolf appears in the distance. Anderson keeps the wolf in an extreme long shot, and even though the wolf shares with Fox a paw pump of solidarity, the wildest creature stays aloof, separate, and by implication superior to the rest of the animals who have to find ways to accommodate humanity.

4) In every shot, FMF celebrates the detail. Mr. Fox has an impeccable fashion sense--thin ties and corduroy suits. Wes Anderson took photographs of all of the furniture in Roald Dahl's house, had miniature versions made, and scattered them throughout the movie. I found FMF annoying in its way, because so many ingenious details and inventive shot compositions demand a re-viewing. One feels obliged to play the film slowly on DVD and freeze-frame scenes to catch everything.

5) I'm not sure, but it seems that The Darjeeling Limited becomes part of a train set in FMF that consoles Kristofferson when he is blue.

6) FMF treats the difficulties of parenting and sibling self-esteem issues without being annoying.

7) FMF shares with Watership Down a concern with the way humans violate the land for petty reasons.

8) FMF celebrates the moment. Anderson makes sure to add some unexpected flourish to every scene. Even in the midst of an action scene, he will pause to show how Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), Mr. Fox's dim but loyal possum sidekick, did have "blueberries" written on his paw, even though he forgot to bring them. We also learn, again in the midst of an exciting sequence, that Kylie's good about paying off his debts, thereby earning a nice credit card. After the rat dies, the gang has a poignant moment, thinking that the rat did redeem himself, but then Mr. Fox says with metaphysical aplomb, "At the end of the day, he's still just a dead rat in a garbage pail behind a Chinese restaurant."

9) Sly, conniving, resourceful, devious--what creature is cooler than a fox? Just as Mr. Fox and his gang elude the evil farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, so does Fantastic Mr. Fox eludes the viewer's attempt to apprehend it. I've never seen such an intellectually engrossing children's movie.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Notable film and media links--special Thanksgiving edition--November 26, 2009

In this narcissistic age of Reality TV, Black Friday, melancholy war-based video games, gender-biased oppression at home, kids returning to the nest, and Zombie buildings, it is important to give thanks for

---inventive new ways to film people being thrown from windshields,

---new websurfing and Twitter techniques,




---dystopic vampire films reminiscent of peak oil,

---oddly formal Japanese music videos,

---The Onion headlines,


---Facebook and Twitter-related legal conundrums,

---Psycho,

---Zadie Smith's thoughts about the pros and cons of novels and essays:

"I know, now that I've finished them, that I wrote my own essays out of exactly the kind of novel-nausea Shields describes. I was oppressed by a run-of-the-mill version of that narrative scepticism Kafka expresses so well in one line in "Description of a Struggle": "But then? No then." Simply put, my imagination had run dry, and I couldn't seem to bring myself to write the necessary "and then, and then" which sits at the heart of all imagined narratives. When you're in this state – commonly called "writer's block" – the very idea of fiction turns sour. But in a strange circular effect, it has been the experience of writing essays that has renewed my enthusiasm for the things fiction does that nothing else can. Writing essays on Kafka, on Nabokov, on George Eliot, on Zora Neale Hurston, I was newly humbled and excited by the artificial and the fully imagined. The title of the book, Changing My Mind, is meant to refer to the effect great fiction like this always seems to have on me. I once thought, for example, that I didn't want ever to read another lengthy novel about family life – and then I read The Corrections. That book gave something to me I could never get from an aphoristic personal essay about the nature of art (I think that "something" might be "a convincing imitation of multiple consciousnesses", otherwise known as "other people"). And vice versa. I don't think I'm alone in that feeling. As general readers, who thankfully do not have to live within the strict terms of manifestos, we are fortunate not to have to choose once and for all between two forms that offer us quite different, and equally valuable, experiences of writing."

---the history of cute,

---funky new production companies like Encyclopedia Pictura:

"The table is a rectangle. Candles burn in a shrine to a Hindu-looking deity. Hypnotic Balinese gamelan music plays on a circa-1970s component stereo. A cardboard box full of quartz crystals glows with the orange light of the sun setting over the prickly, timber-clad ridge. In attendance tonight are four males, a female, and a red-spectacled Amazon parrot. Everyone gathered has a freshly showered look, wet hair, and sunburned noses; they spent the day laboring in the late-summer heat, building an outdoor kitchen. A thirty-year plan is already in effect, based on the principles of permaculture, sustainable communities, infinite possibilities. They'd like to purchase the rest of the parcel — Grandpa's house and acreage — in order to create a back-to-the-land version of Walt Disney Studios or Lucasfilm, complete with individual habitats, zip lines, and highly advanced digital-filmmaking technology, a "mythological and magically inspiring place that isn't synthetic and fake, built with living things and populated with real people," according to Isaiah Saxon, the undisputed center of the triumvirate, first among equals. Their immediate goal is to feed and house the roughly twenty computer artists it will take to produce their next project — a full-length IMAX 3-D movie."

---lists,

---good music of the last ten years,

---infographics, and lastly,

---a celebration of food in cinema.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Violent delights have violent ends": a pictorial primer on The Twilight Saga: New Moon















See the Volvo XC60 SUV.
It appears prominently in The Twilight Saga: New Moon,
because Edward Cullen drives it to his high school.
According to the ad, "There's more to life than a Volvo,
that's why you drive one," especially if you are a vampire.













This is Bella Swan.
Bella has a hard time in New Moon,
because her two boyfriends dump her repeatedly
due to their various monster agendas.
This makes Bella sad.
Sad, sad, sad,
and so she mopes,
mopes, mopes, mopes
through much of the movie.















See Jacob Black.
Jacob likes Bella, but he finds it hard
to compete with Edward,
so he works out
and fixes motorcycles to pass the time
as Bella mopes.














It's not that Kristen Stewart can't act.
It's that she's
constantly emoting,
constantly obsessing
over Edward,
Edward, Edward, Edward,
as the opportunistic bands
play mope rock on the soundtrack.
She has no life
beyond her fixation on him,
another pitiful human
always harping on her desire
to transform herself into a vampire.




















Jacob doesn't have much of a character
that I could see (I guess I'm not on team Jacob),
so he makes up for it by looking buff
and turning into a wolf when needed.
















Not this kind of wolf.
An ordinary wolf would not be exceptional enough,
but that becomes the problem with New Moon.
Bella increasingly gets surrounded
with the exceptional and the special.
After awhile, the exceptional becomes banal.













See Jacob transformed into big, mean
computer-generated werewolf.
See the werewolf snarl.
Snarl, snarl, snarl.
Instead of carrying maidens off
or rampaging around on their own time,
as werewolves used to do,
these werewolves have a mission
to protect the little people
of Forks, Washington.
That makes Jacob noble, but also dull,
even with his shirt off.




















After much teenage angst,
Angst, angst, angst,
(spoiler alert)
Edward attempts suicide
by walking all sparkle motion
into the sunlight in Italy
where humans can see him.
Why does he attempt suicide?
Because he thinks Bella is dead?
Why would he think so?
Because he wants to make an allusion
to Romeo and Juliet?
Or because he too wants to look like
an Abercrombie and Fitch model?
I would probably know
if I had read the novel by Stephanie Meyer.




















Anyway, we get to meet
the Volturi gang of head honcho vampires
which mostly consists of Michael Sheen
bulging his eyes
and Dakota Fanning
appealing to the tween market
in a neoclassical room
with some classy Latin phrases
carved in the stone walls.











Ultimately, Edward had no
real good reason to leave Bella after all,
saying "I couldn't live in a world
in which you didn't exist."
Fortunately, Bella does exist!
I kept expecting him to say,
"I'm a fat-headed guy full of pain.
It tore me up not having you."
But that was Cary Grant's character
who said that in Hitchcock's Notorious.














With Bella and Edward reunited on the screen,
all of the millions of Twilight fans are happy.
















And Bella and Edward can run through the woods.
Run, run, run,
without the grunge flannel,
without the Abercrombie and Fitch shirtless torso look,
and without the dull mope rock of opportunistic bands.
Now they can run and smile
in their Banana Republic clothes.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The pleasures of a clean design: notes on Objectified

In the current crowded and distracting cinematic landscape, I found it pleasant to sit down to Objectified, a modest documentary about everyday design by Gary Hustwit, the maker of Helvetica. Hustwit trains his camera on about seventeen designers as they fiddle with garden shears, wander around their Japanese gardens, or brainstorm ideas with Post-It notes on a wall. Some notes:

1) I liked how designers aesthetically present themselves. Amongst the guys, beard stubble, severe haircuts, and hipster plastic-framed glasses are very popular.

2) Designers tend to have very clean workspaces that emphasized how cluttered my life is in comparison. Much of modern life, both indoors and out, is full of crappily designed stuff. Objectified tends to focus one's attention on small items, like a Japanese toothpick or a potato peeler, and appreciate the story behind it.

3) Much of good design depends on a process getting rid of things that detract from the functionality of an object. For instance, the iphone devotes itself to the small screen. Nothing else is needed. Good design often entails stripping away superfluity until one arrives at a Zen-like streamlined thing.

3) What are some of the best companies in terms of design? Apple, Ikea, and Target.

4) We are in the third wave of design. Due to the microchip, there are fewer reasons to shape objects the way we are used to. For instance, the digital camera no longer has any reason to look like an old-fashioned film camera, but we want it to look like that out of habit. The designers are sometimes exasperated by the way people accept leftover "horse and buggy" design elements into our lives. There's no reason to ever sit in an uncomfortable chair ever again.

5) I liked the way Marc Newsom leaves various fabrics and metals lying around his studio to inspire him. He says he's basically inventing the future, and he's trying to not allude to the past at all. It looks like a great way to get paid to play.

6) Objectified sags a bit in the latter third as it confronts the question of sustainability. Most everything these people dream up end up in a landfill somewhere, and the need to invent sustainable design is just getting started. Hustwit focuses on workers stripping used computers for parts, but the thought of things like cardboard cell phones doesn't amount to much yet.

7) Regardless, designers shape a future where the objects we choose to surround us increasingly define ourselves, and I liked Objectified's quiet assertion of that fact.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Notable film and media links--November 17, 2009

---Cate Blanchett and Desire.

---The 101 best music videos of the decade.

---"Black Button," the short that inspired Richard Kelly's The Box?

---In an interview promoting The Road, Cormac McCarthy notes how our age of multiplicity devalues cultural artifacts:

JH: Viewers are being hardwired differently. In film, it's harder and harder to use wide shots now. And the bigger the budget, the more closeups there are and the faster they change. It's a whole different approach. What's going to happen is there will be the two extremes: the franchise films that are now getting onto brands like Barbie, and Battleship and Ronald McDonald; then there are these incredible, very low-budget digital films. But that middle area, they just can't sustain and make it work in the current model. Maybe the model will change and hopefully readjust.

CM: Well, I don't know what of our culture is going to survive, or if we survive. If you look at the Greek plays, they're really good. And there's just a handful of them. Well, how good would they be if there were 2,500 of them? But that's the future looking back at us. Anything you can think of, there's going to be millions of them. Just the sheer number of things will devalue them. I don't care whether it's art, literature, poetry or drama, whatever. The sheer volume of it will wash it out. I mean, if you had thousands of Greek plays to read, would they be that good? I don't think so.

---Sociological Images notes the De-gaying of A Single Man.

---Star Trek bloopers.

---Facebook as alibi and one way to apprehend a criminal.

---A. O. Scott considers the last decade of movies:

"Perhaps the easiest and most satisfying way to make sense of the unruly cinematic abundance of the past 10 years is to sift through it for masters and masterpieces, kicking the tires to see what has been built to last. Whatever else was going on, a handful of great filmmakers made a handful of great films, just as in other decades. Steven Spielberg, freed in the ’90s by the successes of “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” from the burden of importance, made a series of bracingly imaginative entertainments — “Minority Report,” “Catch Me if You Can,” “War of the Worlds,” “Munich” and “The Terminal” in addition to “A.I.” — that were both nimble and deeply resonant. Clint Eastwood, in his 70s, entered the most prolific and diverse phase of his career as a director, breathing new life into long-established Hollywood genres, including the boxing picture (“Million Dollar Baby”), the crime thriller (“Mystic River”) and the combat epic (“Letters From Iwo Jima”). Martin Scorsese collected his overdue Academy Award for “The Departed”; Joel and Ethan Coen won their first Best Picture Oscar, for “No Country for Old Men,” in the midst of popping out a film a year. Gus Van Sant, Robert Altman, P. T. Anderson, Spike Jonze, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Todd Haynes. The canon of American cinema, since the early ’60s a catalog of acknowledged auteurs, expanded significantly in the new century."

---The top 50 documentaries of the decade.

---Time helps us prepare for the end of the world, although it appears that the promoters of 2012 overdid it some, so now we get these bland scientific reassurances.

---Citizen journalism in action.

---The history of the internet in a nutshell.

---The heavenly video game that will save us all.

---Lastly, bad boys Tarantino and Almodovar grow up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Twilight Saga: New Moon media phenomenon: notes and links

I've been intrigued by the extreme Beatlemania-esque media attention generated by The Twilight Saga: New Moon. I liked Twilight in a slightly ironic way, finding "vampish humor in its Gothic excess," but the frenzy for the franchise keeps building, and I admire how Summit Entertainment has doled out choice nuggets of press to keep the fans involved. In her blog Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style, Anne Petersen was surprised by the amount of interest generated by her post "Why Kristen Stewart Matters" back in September, and she recently followed that up with "The Politics of Twilight Web Traffic":

"Twilight posts, sneak peeks, trailers, gossip, and speculation have turned into a self-perpetuating phenomenon: even if people don’t necessarily care about them, and even if there’s not really news, if you post it, the fans will come. And the fans will continue to come as more information is promised — as my friend Nick recently posited in our co-authored forthcoming article on celebrity twittering, `there can never be enough information on a star; therefore, more information is always needed.' The fan hopes for one crucial piece of info — a picture, a quip, a video snippet — that promises provide access to the authentic kernel of the star. In the case of Twilight, the revelation of the apparent Pattinson/Stewart relationship only further expands the desire for more information: now that we’ve seen them touching, can’t we see them kissing? Won’t that tell us everything we need to know? About them, our own hopes invested in their romance, and love in general?"

Given all of the speculation about a possible Pattinson/Stewart relationship, I am reminded of the contrived studio romance between Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont in Singing in the Rain. Summit probably doesn't mind if people think there is something going on, so the media feeds that frenzy with "Are they or aren't they" articles even as the stars deny the rumors. For Entertainment Weekly, Kristen Stewart settles the matter by saying "We are. We aren't. I'm a lesbian."

Related links:

---How Twilight bait is gumming up the internet.

---the New Moon marketing campaign in a nutshell.

---Screencrave wonders if Bella is a feminist's nightmare.

---Chuck Tryon of The Chutry Experiment weighs in on the New Moon phenomenon as "a fascinating example of how internet buzz can develop around a transmedia franchise such as the Twilight books and movies and what it might mean for film fandom."

---Vanity Fair gradually releases new photos of Robert Pattinson.

---Details magazine reflects on the insecurities caused by all of this vampire lust.

---New Moon director Chris Weitz explains the Twilight series' appeal.

---Cinematical interviews New Moon screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg.

---Anne Thompson interviews Pattinson.


---Harper's Bazaar has Stewart and Pattinson wear Givenchy and Dior Homme.

---For The New York Times, Kristen Stewart deals with the media frenzy:

"For now, Ms. Stewart is just focused on getting through that mall tour in one piece. `It’s not even like I’m scared that they are going to rush the stage,' she said, `although they could totally assassinate me at any time if they wanted. When so much energy is thrown at you, it has to throw you for a loop.'”

---The inevitable backlash.