Monday, December 27, 2010

cloud links

---"The Revolution Is Being Shot on Digital Video" by Dhargis and the best short films on the web

---22 films to anticipate in 2011

---British pop fashion

---3 of Joan Crawford's defining roles

---Peter Weir discusses The Way Back

---problems with the Google's new cloud ChromeOS and careless computing (also Google v Apple)

---Mat Whitecross on film directing:

Your next book, Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Film-Maker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player by Robert Rodriguez, must have been an inspiration for you.

"Yes, I remember growing up and really wanting to be a film-maker. I didn’t understand how films were made. There wasn’t a huge amount of information at the time. It seemed like an impossible dream to go off and become a director – there was no sure-fire route. There still isn’t. I remember going to the careers adviser at school and saying I want to be a director and he pretty much laughed at me and said, ‘Well you can’t!’

So when that book came out it was so inspiring because Rodriguez basically said, look, if you were a musician or a writer you would go off and write and write and no one ever sees what you do. And in the same way, if you play a guitar you will go off to your garage and practise until your fingers bleed and you are really good. With film you don’t get that opportunity. You get given a million pounds and you can often make a film which is a disaster because you don’t know what you are doing and you are practising as you go along. What Rodriguez said is, just grab hold of a camera and go off and shoot and practise, and that is how you learn by making your mistakes in private."

So what was your first project?

"I used to go off and make films with my friends when we were kids. My dad bought a video camera for me when I was about 14. I didn’t have any editing equipment but we would just edit in the camera, which is quite a good discipline. So you would be watching other films and ripping off ideas.

They were pretty sloppy horror films and slapstick comedies. Lots of Monty Python influences all ending in slapstick violence. But the good thing was I could get it out of my system and work out what worked and what doesn’t. And you realise that you can cut together something which is just as engaging as anything you see on TV, even if it isn’t as polished!"

---Santa's new privacy policy

---"Winona Forever" by Pappademas

---Fast Five trailer

---all of the 3D anyone should ever need

---"We can’t just be ourselves; we have to make ourselves a personal brand that we desperately need our friends, i.e. networked nodes, to buy into."

---@annehelen ponders the mysterious popularity of KE$HA:

"Now, if Ke$ha actually understood herself — and her image — as a critique of the rest of the pop industry, we might have ourselves something. While I don’t find Gaga to be as emancipatory or transgressive as some others do, I do think that she very much understands the aspects of pop culture that she’s satirizing, parodying, or blowing out of the water. Ke$ha, on the other hand, is so entrenched in pop culture that any potential trangression of “garbage chic” was co-opted before it even whispered critique. She’s Britney/Gaga/Madonna Lite — all signifier, zero substance. Her ahistorical-ness stems from the fact that she could have been programmed by a computer — a “sexy robot” meant to arouse prurient and pop desires. In this way, she is the embodiment of what the postmodernists warned us about; the culmination of late stage capitalism, where economic imperatives (make money by getting teenagers to buy ring tones!) hollows out all meaning, the spectacle that distracts us from the fact that nothing — no politics, no soul, not even charisma — lies beneath. In short: THERE IS NO THERE, THERE."

---vintage Japanese propaganda posters

---David Foster Wallace's philosophical side:

"Whatever the explanation for his preoccupation with solipsism in Wittgenstein, Wallace never abandoned his fixation on sealed-off people. Few readers of Infinite Jest will forget the lonely fate of the Hal Incandenza, who becomes so alienated from the world that his speech becomes unintelligible to others, or the lifeless zombiehood that befalls anyone who watches the novel's eponymous film, which is so entertaining that its viewer becomes incapable of doing anything other than watch it. But Mark Costello pointed out to me an important irony: for someone as obsessed with isolation as Wallace, he was "obviously a social novelist, a novelist of noticed details, on a near-encyclopedic scale." Where other novelists dealing with solipsism, like Markson and Beckett, painted barren images with small compressed sentences, Costello observed, "Dave tackled the issue by massively overfilling his scenes and sentences to comic bursting"—indeed to the point of panicked overstimulation. There was a palpable strain for Wallace between engagement with the world, in all its overwhelming fullness, and withdrawal to one's own head, in all its loneliness. The world was too much, the mind alone too little. "You can't be anything but contemptible living for yourself," Costello said, summing up the dilemma. "But letting the world in—that sucks too."It's not exactly what you'd call an intellectual conundrum. But it was the lived one."

---the rise of the hybrid startup

---"Never Let Them Go: 2010 and the Movies" by MZS

---Chinese ghost towns

---Hanna Rosin considers the rise of women

---canned hunts:

"In most canned hunts tame or semi-tame game species, reared in captivity, are placed in enclosures of varying sizes, and the gate is opened for the client, who has been issued a guarantee of success. Canned hunts are great for folks on tight schedules or who lack energy or outdoor skills. Microchip transponder implants for game not immediately visible are available for the proprietor whose clients are on really tight schedules. And because trophies are plied with drugs, minerals, vitamins, specially processed feeds, and sometimes growth hormones, they are way bigger than anything available in the wild. Often the animals have names, and you pay in advance for the one you’d like to kill, selecting your trophy from a photo or directly from its cage. For example, Rachel, Bathsheba, Paul, John, and Matthew were pet African lions that would stroll over and lick their keepers’ hands before they were shot in Texas."

---Bertolucci analyzes 10 of his scenes

---lastly "Creep," a doll video

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I have seen Tron: Legacy and my life will never be the same.

I have seen the world of Tron.

It's pretty radical,

with blond women

stylized like cars

who smile mysteriously,

and lots of wild Disney stuff,

with streaking lights that look oh so very trippy . . .

In the world of Tron, you can never see the sun,

but you do see a lot of neon.

It reminds me of a bar downtown,

where the baby boomers, like Jeff Bridges, babble on about Zen

[actual quote: "You're messing with my Zen thing, man!"]

and the Disney executives strive so hard to be hip

so they hire Michael Sheen to camp it up as Castor,

the David Bowie-esque cane-wielding albino Oz fellow,

and they construct a story around a young cipher, I mean,

a guy named Sam Flynn (Garett Hedlund) who just wants to ride his 'cycle

and fight whatever villains the Disney executives place in front of him.

Sam has a dog,

and he misses his dad, Kevin,

a tech industry genius like Zuckerberg,

only with more facial hair

and the sad feel of the Dude selling out.

Once Sam gets into the Grid,

he fights with gladiatorial neon frisbees,

called discs,

and rides light Cycles,

and flies in light jets with turrets (as in Star Wars).

Even more, Kevin arranges for Sam to impress a girl

much like Leeloo of The Fifth Element

or Miranda of The Tempest. Her name is Quorra.

Quorra (Olivia Wilde) is full of wonder.

She likes to lounge on Kevin's sofa after eating dinner,

and wear a pageboy brunette haircut reminiscent of

Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box,

or Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction.

Quorra (spoiler alert) helps get Sam to the portal

before Kevin's younger fascist CGI version of himself,

Clu marshalls an army of program clones into invading earth

by giving a speech as Kevin sneaks around the compound

like Obi-Wan Kenobi in his Jedi Knight hood.

Will Clu get to download Kevin's frisbee floppy disk

full of the secrets of the universe?

Will Sam reconcile with his dad

for hooking him up with Quorra?

Will the Disney executives make money

from their 80s nostalgia,

speeding gizmos,

bloodless death,

and streamlined art design?

I have seen Tron: Legacy

and my life will never be the same.

Questions for review

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The feminine prerogative: 8 notes on Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right

1) Currently, The Kids Are All Right enjoys a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet it still (spoiler alert) ends with a group hug. The film views like a top-notch television drama with many touching moments of sundering and reconciliation.

2) Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, the movie mostly focuses on a middle-aged lesbian couple Jules and Nic (played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, respectively). They are so emotionally aware, so sensitive to each other's needs from scene to scene, so in touch with their feelings, the movie kept making me laugh. It's ironic that the storyline ultimately concerns infidelity, because neither Jules nor Nic can scarcely say a word without gauging the other's reaction.

3) Then, like thunder, Mark Ruffalo enters the picture as Paul, the sperm donor, who strikes up a friendship with his biological children (the teenage Joni--and former Alice--Mia Waskikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) who have been raised by their biological mothers, Jules and Nic.
With only his motorcycle, his co-op garden, and his organic restaurant, Paul still proves a threat to Jules and Nic's fragile accord. Can this movie allow a man, even such a laid back Californian like this one, to impose his masculine prerogative on things? NO!!! He may not. That's the film's agenda in a nutshell.

4) That said, Paul does try to weaselly insinuate himself into the Jules and Nic household, using his biological connection to try to establish retroactive family ties.

5) Meanwhile, Laser befriends a crude punk named Clay (Eddie Hassell) who likes to jump on top of (and fall off of) dumpsters with his skateboard when he's not urinating on a stray dog's head. Oddly, Laser prefers to listen to Paul, not his mothers, when it comes to dumping Clay. Perhaps because he didn't have to raise them, Paul can teach the teenagers ways to gain their independence, but he's cast from the household as an interloper all the same.

6) Given the film's many strengths (especially the acting, the witty screenplay, and its emotional honesty), I still wonder if the critics like this movie in part because it affirms their enlightened political views, not to mention the importance of eating locally, driving a Prius, and wearing Birkenstocks sandals and/or Converse sneakers. Does a movie's Rotten Tomatoes approval rating shoot up if a Volvo SUV appears in several of its scenes?

7) I wish The Kids Are All Right had a little more edge, a greater willingness to mock its politically correct, green, extremely sensitive California ethos. That is why Bening's portrayal of Nic's anger is so crucial. At times, in her scene-stealing fury, she threatens to turn all of the prevailing liberal pieties on their heads. As she hilariously says one night at a restaurant with Jules and friends:

"Just fucking kill me, okay? I'm sorry guys, but I just can't with fucking hemp milk and the organic farming and if I hear one more person say they love heirloom tomatoes, I'm going to fucking kill myself, okay? And did you know that we're composting now? Oh yeah. Oh no, don't throw that in the trash. You have to put it in the composting bin where all of the beautiful worms will turn it into this organic mulch and then we'll all feel good about ourselves. I can't do it, okay? I can't fucking do it."

8) Ultimately, The Kids Are All Right left me all ready to burp, scratch my belly, and eat a Big Mac while watching college football. Do we have any Funyuns in the house?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Lady and the Frank: 10 questions about the critical reception of The Tourist

Why are critics being so harsh on this film?

1) Is it because Angelina Jolie does not jump off of any speeding semis as she does in Salt?

2) Is it because we've gotten used to Johnny Depp wearing lots of makeup? Perhaps it is because Johnny has a haircut that makes his face look plump?

3) Is it because The Tourist alludes to the train scenes of Hitchcock's North by Northwest, the tile rooftop chases of To Catch a Thief, the bathroom-under-siege scene of Foreign Correspondent, or the Venice scenes of Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley? Would the critics have preferred a more prestigious cinematic pedigree?

4) Is it because no one (except for Jolie's character) knows what the mystery man of the film, Alexander Pierce, looks like? Are we supposed to think of George Kaplan of North by Northwest or Keyser Soze of The Usual Suspects?

5) Is it because the critics prefer Jolie as an assassin (Wanted), Grendel's mother (Beowolf), or Lara Croft to the well-dressed, ladylike, demure, and "ravishing" Elise Clifton-Ward of this film? According to Jolie in Vogue, "I was looking for a very short thing to do before Brad started filming Moneyball. And I said I needed something that shoots not too long, in a nice location for my family. Somebody said there’s a script that’s been around, and it shoots in Venice and Paris. And I said, ‘Is it a character I haven’t played before?’ And they said, ‘Yes, it’s a lady.’ Uhhuhhuhhehhehheh." [Note: when it comes to defending The Tourist, Jolie doesn't help much.]

6) Is it because Paul Bettany's role as Inspector John Acheson reminded them too much of the fighting angel apocalypse of Legion?

7) Is it because today's movie critics cannot stand a film full of star quality, room service, love, a Parisian cafe, a classy restaurant, a private jet that a villain turns on a dime, motor launches in Venice canals, a gorgeous hotel suite (where Balzac and Proust stayed once, no less), and a fancy-dressed ball?
Is the film too European, too stately, and too refined for them to take?

8) The film's director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, made The Lives of Others (2006), which won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film of that year! Is that not a good enough background for a director?

9) Or is it because Depp plays an awkward American schmuck named Frank, a community college math teacher and the obvious person for the male audience member to identify with? Is it because Frank needs lessons from Elise in how to summon her to dinner on the train? Is it because Depp is the closest thing we have to Cary Grant these days?

10) Ultimately, do critics dislike The Tourist because it reminds them how far our tastes have moved away from old-fashioned movie glamour?

Meanwhile, recent awkwardness concerning The Tourist and the Golden Globes . . .

Saturday, December 11, 2010

hive mind links

---WikiRebels, the documentary and the first information war

---prophetic Videodrome

---Klosterman's "Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead":

"Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do.

The Internet reminds of us this every day.

Here’s a passage from a youngish writer named Alice Gregory, taken from a recent essay on Gary Shteyngart’s dystopic novel “Super Sad True Love Story” in the literary journal n+1: “It’s hard not to think ‘death drive’ every time I go on the Internet,” she writes. “Opening Safari is an actively destructive decision. I am asking that consciousness be taken away from me.”

Ms. Gregory’s self-directed fear is thematically similar to how the zombie brain is described by Max Brooks, author of the fictional oral history “World War Z” and its accompanying self-help manual, “The Zombie Survival Guide”: “Imagine a computer programmed to execute one function. This function cannot be paused, modified or erased. No new data can be stored. No new commands can be installed. This computer will perform that one function, over and over, until its power source eventually shuts down.”

This is our collective fear projection: that we will be consumed. Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed. Yet this war is manageable, if not necessarily winnable. As long we keep deleting whatever’s directly in front of us, we survive. We live to eliminate the zombies of tomorrow. We are able to remain human, at least for the time being. Our enemy is relentless and colossal, but also uncreative and stupid."

---Richard Brody considers Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning

---Porky in Wackyland

---Pauline Kael's favorite film: Menilmontant

---smoking Jeff Bridges

---calculated celebrity derangement

---an ad for the Nexus S and the problems with fast food marketing

---Russian bungee cord jumping

---the world of Boing Boing

---young graduates making their own jobs

---Jaron Lanier and the "one book":

"Like Andrew Keen in “The Cult of the Amateur,” Mr. Lanier is most eloquent on how intellectual property is threatened by the economics of free Internet content, crowd dynamics and the popularity of aggregator sites. “An impenetrable tone deafness rules Silicon Valley when it comes to the idea of authorship,” he writes, recalling the Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s 2006 prediction that the mass scanning of books would one day create a universal library in which no book would be an island — in effect, one humongous text, made searchable and remixable on the Web.

“It might start to happen in the next decade or so,” Mr. Lanier writes. “Google and other companies are scanning library books into the cloud in a massive Manhattan Project of cultural digitization. What happens next is what’s important. If the books in the cloud are accessed via user interfaces that encourage mashups of fragments that obscure the context and authorship of each fragment, there will be only one book. This is what happens today with a lot of content; often you don’t know where a quoted fragment from a news story came from, who wrote a comment, or who shot a video.”

While this development might sound like a good thing for consumers — so much free stuff! — it makes it difficult for people to discern the source, point of view and spin factor of any particular fragment they happen across on the Web, while at the same time encouraging content producers, in Mr. Lanier’s words, “to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind.” A few lucky people, he notes, can benefit from the configuration of the new system, spinning their lives into “still-novel marketing” narratives, as in the case, say, of Diablo Cody, “who worked as a stripper, can blog and receive enough attention to get a book contract, and then have the opportunity to have her script made into a movie — in this case, the widely acclaimed ‘Juno.’ ” He fears, however, that “the vast majority of journalists, musicians, artists and filmmakers” are “staring into career oblivion because of our failed digital idealism.”

Paradoxically enough, the same old media that is being destroyed by the Net drives an astonishing amount of online chatter. “Comments about TV shows, major movies, commercial music releases, and video games must be responsible for almost as much bit traffic as porn,” Mr. Lanier observes. “There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but since the Web is killing the old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating its own seed stock.”

In other passages in this provocative and sure-to-be-controversial book he goes even further, suggesting that “pop culture has entered into a nostalgic malaise,” that “online culture is dominated by trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media.”

Online culture, he goes on, “is a culture of reaction without action” and rationalizations that “we were entering a transitional lull before a creative storm” are just that — rationalizations. “The sad truth,” he concludes, “is that we were not passing through a momentary lull before a storm. We had instead entered a persistent somnolence, and I have come to believe that we will only escape it when we kill the hive.”

---The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

---the cinetrix and Rich Girl cinema, Kuersten reacts with Rich Kid cinema

---financing films through Facebook

---cognitive prosthetics

---John Lahr's Elia Kazan profile

---Joel Bocko considers Chytilova's Daisies

---lastly, Charlie Stross' "Invaders from Mars":

"We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals. They have enormous media reach, which they use to distract attention from threats to their own survival. They also have an enormous ability to support litigation against public participation, except in the very limited circumstances where such action is forbidden. Individual atomized humans are thus either co-opted by these entities (you can live very nicely as a CEO or a politician, as long as you don't bite the feeding hand) or steamrollered if they try to resist.

In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Film Doctor's 10 most disliked films of 2010

10) Grown Ups

Smirking comics in their 40s display male infantile aggression in front of their kids before the inevitable mass group hug. Sandler's domesticated constraint, like the canned pleasure of the amusement park, settles over his film like fallout.

9) Eclipse (of the Twilight Saga)

I mostly remember the heavy odor of estrogen in the theater and Edward's puling last question for Bella: "Will you marry me?" An uneasy werewolf/Cullen family alliance battle a bunch of damp vampires from Seattle.

8) From Paris with Love

I normally like Luc Besson's work, but here Travolta revels in his American homicidal boorishness and we're supposed to approve?

7) The Wolfman

Benicio del Toro snarls it out with his dad (Anthony Hopkins) under lots of makeup. Emily Blunt keeps leaving the estate, and who can blame her?

6) Alice in Wonderland

All of the wit, madness, and menace of Carroll's two classics get ground into the usual bland, safe, predigested Disney pap. Johnny Depp moons around as the sentimental hatter. Alice gets empowered.

5) Clash of the Titans

Watch the unusually tendrilly and toothy underwater mega-turtle Kraken bubble out of the sea to devour everyone. Yikes! As Perseus (Sam Worthington) says to his troops before going to meet Medusa (in her black bra), "I know we're all afraid, but my father told me some day, someone was going to have to take a stand. Some day, some one was going to have to say enough. This could be that day. Trust your senses, and don't look that bitch in the eye!"

4) Knight and Day

Tom Cruise just wants to be loved.

3) Piranha 3D

This Jaws-wannabe wants to be hip, but piranhas gnaw like Brillo Pads on their victims, leaving behind so much diaper rash gore.

2) Chloe

Amanda Seyfried tries very hard to be mysterious and alluring.

1) MacGruber

The supreme embarrassment, this year's Land of the Lost, a soulless, Godless stretch of craven time-sucking attention-whoring dreck. Watch MacGruber cheerfully defecate on a corpse. With his beard-stubble and mullet, Will Forte may think he's cute, but his brand of terminally ironic humor has all of the appeal of watching a humanoid twitch on screen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"We are Sex Bob-Omb and we are here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff": 7 deep truths of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

"Scott Pilgrim is the first movie to articulate our popular culture."
---Guillermo del Toro

"From the opening 8-bit Universal logo (and matching MIDI theme) to a frenetic finale in which Scott brawls with Ramona's last ex, evil music producer Gideon (Jason Schwartzman, hopping down a faux pyramid à la the one from Q*bert), Wright creates an A/V whirligig to mirror teens' ever-connected day-to-day existences, a state of being in which eyes and ears are perpetually trained on cell phones, iTunes, the Internet, HDTV, and/or game consoles. His film's flash is, ultimately, as central to the proceedings as is Scott's plot-driving odyssey toward awareness of self . . . " ---Nick Schager

" . . . if Scott Pilgrim ends up as important a film as Breathless, it's only something we'd know about decades down the line. But let's just say I wouldn't be surprised. It unquestionably will be, and already has been, dismissed on similar terms as Godard's breakthrough film - a silly film for young people - but it's really quite astounding." ---Scott Nye

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may well be my favorite film of the year. Some reasons why:

1) Because it successfully foregrounds technique over content. In Walker Percy's novel The Moviegoer, Binx Bolling describes two different forms of a search. One is the old-fashioned way of reading deep into books, what he calls the "vertical search." The other he happens upon more casually, when he takes a walk in his neighborhood and pays attention to his environment--the "horizontal search." Eventually, he finds that he prefers the horizontal search to the vertical.

In a similar way, Scott Pilgrim obliges the critic to shift the analytical emphasis from content to form. Instead of obliging the viewer to focus on the usual dull pseudo-realistic presentation of a story, Scott Pilgrim expands horizontally in one's mind as an oblique network of allusions and techniques. The movie demands that we view it differently, as if we are following director Edgar Wright's subversive imaginative play on a screen.

2) Take, for instance, Ramona's Evil Ex number 3, Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh). He has attained psychic powers due to his vegan diet. As he says, "I partake not in the meat, nor the breast milk, nor the ovum of any creature with a face." His eating habits somehow give him the ability to levitate, play a wicked bass, and throw Scott Pilgrim through walls, but then Scott tricks him into drinking some coffee with half and half. After Todd violates his diet, the Vegan police arrive (in a Smart Car, no less), cite two other violations in his Vegan diet (including the fact that he ate chicken parmesan), and then deprive him of his powers. The entire scene struck me as a perfect example of the increasing legislation of diet nowadays, whereupon we like to increasingly associate one's food choices with virtue or higher Laws. Anybody who has gone out with a vegetarian learns to anticipate the fascist implications of every meal.

4) When Scott runs up against Evil Ex number 2, Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), he encounters the movie star in the midst of a film shoot at Casa Loma, a favorite Toronto landmark. As they do battle, the scene seems to meditate on the nature of celebrity hero-worship. After Lucas threatens Scott, he reacts in a dreamy voice with "He's famous and he's talking to me." Even after Lucas punches Scott, Scott still asks for his autograph.

5) Wright has a mania for replication. Soon after Evil Ex Number 1, Matthew Patel, suddenly sprouts a gang of dancing demon hipster chicks for no apparent reason, Lucas summons his crew of body doubles to fight Scott as he wanders off to get some coffee. Increasingly, the 7 Evil Exes resemble Godlike figures with magical powers.

6) Naturally (?), the ultimate villain is Gideon Graves, a record executive played by Jason Schwartzman who wears thick-framed glasses reminiscent of his Max Fischer character in Wes Anderson's Rushmore (1998). Can a director legitimately semi-resurrect one of the great cinematic characters and allude to him indirectly? Has any director ever done that before? Even though Wright claims that Graves was meant to refer to the Phil Spector-esque character in Phantom of the Paradise, just the hint of Max won me over.

7) And what of the film's whiplash transitions that Guillermo del Toro likes so much? Its use of words on the screen that evokes the verbal play of Citizen Kane? Its many video game references that are, according Wright, always at least 15 years old? Wright's cinematic influences? The film's extraordinary fidelity to Brian Lee O'Malley's comic? Are the 7 Evil Exes obliging us to think of The Seven Samurai or Snow White? When Sex Bob-Omb sells out, are their thin ties and suits a nod to the early Beatles? How does one begin to analyze Wright's nuanced use of different colored hair? What of the Kurosa Ikiru-esque scene out in the snow on a swing? When Scott crumples a cup in his hand, is that an allusion to Jaws when Hooper crumples a styrofoam cup to mock Quint? There appears to be no limit to Scott Pilgrim's gleeful hall-of-mirrors hyperdrive referentiality.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Robert Cumbow revisits Vertigo and other links

---Hans Rosling's 200 year data visualization

---25 opening credit sequences

---the Somewhere featurette

---Robert Cumbow revisits Vertigo:

"Vertigo is without question the epitome of the “second chance” film. A plot-type rather than a genre, the “second chance” film spans all genres. The second half of the 1933 King Kong repeats on Manhattan Island, more or less in reverse, the events and imagery of its first half on Skull Island, giving Kong the opportunity to undo the ignominy of his capture, to recover the lost Ann Darrow and re-establish his kingship. The Wild Bunch concerns itself with, among other things, a second chance for a coterie of aging outlaws to even off past mistakes and finally “do it right.” In Chinatown, detective Jake Gittes (a cinematic son of Scotty Ferguson) confesses that when he used to work for the D.A. in Chinatown, he had a case in which he was supposed to keep someone from getting hurt and ended up making sure that she was hurt; and it’s clear that he regards the events of the film as his opportunity to redress that guilt and get it right this time. Thus, the “second chance” motif cuts across genres—horror, western, noir—and establishes itself as one of the fundamental story patterns. Other examples include Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Brian DePalma’sVertigo pastiche Obsession, Femme Fatale, DePalma’s entry in the 1990s sub-sub-genre of “keep trying until you get right” films (Groundhog Day, Run Lola Run, Sliding Doors), and Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone."

---Self-Styled Siren interview

---stopping the world

---anatomy of a stoning

---6 environmental short films

---the best new blogs of 2010

---Battle: Los Angeles trailer

---design trends of movie posters

---I Love You Phillip Morris trailer

---Daniel Akst's "America: Land of the Loners?":

"Science-fiction writers make the best seers. In the late 1950s far-sighted Isaac Asimov imagined a sunny planet called Solaria, on which a scant 20,000 humans dwelt on far-flung estates and visited one another only virtually, by materializing as “trimensional images”—avatars, in other words. “They live completely apart,” a helpful robot explained to a visiting earthling, “and never see one another except under the most extraordinary circumstances.”

We have not, of course, turned into Solarians here on earth, strictly limiting our numbers and shunning our fellow humans in revulsion. Yet it’s hard not to see some Solarian parallels in modern life. Since Asimov wrote The Naked Sun, Americans have been engaged in wholesale flight from one another, decamping for suburbs and Sunbelt, splintering into ever smaller households, and conducting more and more of their relationships online, where avatars flourish. The churn rate of domestic relations is especially remarkable, and has rendered family life in the United States uniquely unstable. “No other comparable nation,” the sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin observes, “has such a high level of multiple marital and cohabiting unions.”

---Joseph Kosinski and Tron

---Gabriella Coleman's "The Anthropology of Hackers":

"Many hackers express some degree of ambivalence over the politics of hacking asPatrice Riemens has argued and as hackers themselves have raised. This is not the case with a small but well organized cadre of hackers located primarily in Latin America, Europe, andNorth America who have charted collectives, many of them influenced by the political philosophy of anarchism. To grapple with anarchism as a political philosophy (which, similar to hacking, is plagued with a parade of misconceptions), we turn to David Graeber's fantastic pamphlet, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. We also read Jeff Juris's ethnographic work about technology activists during the counter-globalization era Networking Futures."

---Eat, Pray, Sell Italian Coffee

---Imogen Smith celebrates Pre-Code cinema:

"The appeal of pre-Code movies lies not in sex, violence or vulgarity (there’s more than enough of those in the infinitely more explicit cinema of the last forty years) but in their attitude, which conveyed the pessimism and irreverence of their time. Radical cultural changes in the wake of World War I, the farce of Prohibition, the 1929 stock-market crash and the Great Depression combined to create a pervasive disillusionment and loss of respect for authority and traditional values. With rapid changes in fashion and technology, violent upheavals in economic and political conditions, society was wide open, hectically elated in the twenties, confused and frightened in the thirties. For a few years the lack of rigorous censorship allowed movies to channel the mood of the country and to capture society warts and all. They depicted adultery, divorce, rape, prostitution and homosexuality; bluntly portrayed alcoholism and drug addiction, glorified gangsters, con artists and fallen women. With a distinctive blend of cynicism and exuberance, they offered escapist entertainment but also bitter and sometimes radical visions of a society on the verge of breakdown. Oscar Levant famously quipped that he knew Doris Day before she was a virgin; Hollywood too was grown up before it was innocent."

---lastly Scocca's interview with David Foster Wallace:

"Q: Besides Conroy, are there any nonfiction writers who inspired your work, or—?

DFW: Oh golly. Ever since I was in college, I've been an enormous fan of both Joan Didion and Pauline Kael. And I don't know--I think prosewise, Pauline Kael is unequaled. I mean, maybe McPhee, at his very best, is as good.

And so I don't know what influence they have, but in terms of just being slobbering fans of? Conroy's first book, Tobias Wolff, Tobias Wolff, This Boy's Life. Oh, God. There's a book by a mathematician named Hardy at Oxford called A Mathematician's Apology.

Hardy gets mentioned in Good Will Hunting, by the way. Have you seen that movie?

Q: No.

DFW: Oh. Well, there's a brief mention of Hardy. Anyway. There are quite a few that are just really really really really good. But I'd say Pauline Kael above all of them is sort of, I think, the best. Annie Dillard's really good, but she's much more sort of restrained."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

detournement links

---"The Production of Meaning"

---"The Story of Electronics"

---Dargis considers filmmakers on the internet:

"Although David Lynch’s name is still attached to several sites, his entertaining is inactive. There you could buy his coffee or artwork and watch videos of him delivering hypnotically entertaining weather reports from his home in Los Angeles. (Forecast: Sun.) He still reports the weather via Twitter: “Here in LA: Blue skies, golden sunshine, a gentle breeze. 59°F 15°C. Have a great day!” Microblogging turns out to be the perfect vehicle for his oracular utterances (“I’m pretty sure I’m connected to the moon”) and cheery salutations. On separate occasions he has wished Dennis Hopper happy birthday, given a shout-out to Demi Moore and asked Werner Herzog, “Can you tell the story about saving someone’s life in front of your house?”

Mr. Herzog’s own Web site,, meanwhile, is a one-stop emporium for all things Herzogian, including DVDs and testimonials. This is where you can read his celebrated “Minnesota Declaration,” a brief manifesto and salvo against cinema vérité which he delivered at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1999. (“Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.”) You can also learn about the time and place of his next film seminars, the so-called rogue film school (London, March 2011), which has its own Web site (, and why in January the jury at the International Berlin Film Festival gave the prize for best director to Roman Polanski for “The Ghost Writer.” Simply put, for Mr. Herzog, “no other film in competition which showed such apparent excellence of its director.”

---Robert Palmer's documentary about punk rock

---Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle: "what appears is good; what is good appears"

"The solitude. Of men, sometimes women, who refused to settle on a place, a role, a “stable” identity. They walked through my life for a few years when I was a boy—carpenters, child-care workers, counselors, psychiatric patients. Some of them were my teachers.

Were they happy or sad, kind or mean? None of the above. They were discontented with the choices offered to them. They were acutely aware of their discontent, and they were trying to find a way to act on that awareness. Now, in 2010, when conformity comes in an endless array of shapes and sizes and styles, these people would be classified under “the sixties,” and then assigned one of the following subheadings: Selfish, Lost, Narcissistic, Alcoholic, Bipolar, Privileged, Disturbed, etc. But that’s not the way I remember them. Back in those days, no one categorized, celebrated, or condemned them. You just watched and listened, and read their personal dissent in their eyes, their silences, their gestures. It’s a kind of existence that is largely gone now. The people who lived it either adapted or shifted gears, stabilized or imploded. Some became realtors or contractors. One of them, the one I loved the most, took off one night and wrapped his car around an oak tree.Five Easy Pieces was and is a great film because it gives us such a clear and unobstructed view of this particular type of American exis tence, brought into being at a certain interval in our history when the expectations of class and family carried more weight than they do now—“Auspicious beginnings—you know what I mean?” Film production is a cumbersome and lengthy affair, and the finished product, no matter how good, almost always lags behind or stands apart from its moment. Occasionally, though, when the conditions allow, movie and moment are one. Like Warner Bros. at the dawn of sound or Preston Sturges at his blindingly brilliant peak, Five Easy Pieces speaks with eloquence and simplicity from and to the America of its time, from melancholy opening to ineffably sad closing shot. In 1970, it was a revelation. Today, it remains a shattering experience, in part because it contains an entire way of life within its ninety-eight minutes."

---Nathan Ihara notes the culture of appropriation:

"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.” --Jim Jarmusch

---Sean Young, Dune, and David Lynch

---"This Sporting Life, Billy Liar, and the British New Wave" by Movieman0283

---7 billion people on this earth

---Two in the Wave trailer

---It Came from Kuchar

---Gareth Edwards of Monsters

---Richtel's "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction"

---lastly, the internet's cyber radicals

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Harry Potter, the Deathly Hallows, and the mystery of the suspicious Entertainment Weekly review

Have you seen Liza Schwarzbaum's review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Part 1? I don't know the writer, but after having watched the underwhelming movie (and noting how the narrative effectively stops dead once Harry, Hermione, and Ron go camping), I returned to Schwarzbaum's reaction with renewed interest. The writing is so vague, so smitten, and so reverent, it left me wondering if a fix was on:

"We all know the end is near. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1 breaks the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's epic modern literary classic into two movies, and haunting every frame of this assured and beautiful first half is the knowledge that soon, in 2011, the screen journey will be over. I don't know which had the greater effect: my real melancholy at the thought of looming finality, or the elegance of this necessarily dark and serious penultimate film, in which characters/actors we have watched since childhood are now resourceful young adults. But I do know I felt a swell of love and awe wash over me from the very first wickedly creepy scene until the profoundly moving last one. Under the direction of David Yates — in Goldilocks terms, he's Just Right, having gently guided the series to more consistent excellence in pace and tone with the last two installments — Part 1 is the most cinematically rewarding chapter yet.

What a marvel it is, this Harry Potter movie business! What a spell the experience casts, now that every detail is so familiar to us, from the ghostly sound of the signature minor-key musical theme to the sight of Voldemort's hideous noseless face! All the grand British thespians who bring Rowling's convocation of wizardly characters to life, from Alan Rickman and Imelda Staunton to Michael Gambon and Robbie Coltrane, do so with utterly serious gusto. As for Hogwarts besties Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, we've lived side by side for so long with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint that their (re)appearance carries honest emotional weight: We've known them since they were kids! [snarky italics added]"

Well, yes, Deathly Hallows trots out the usual gang of top-notch British actors, and it has its occasional fun scene, but the playfulness of the love potions in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has now been replaced with much concern over wands, specifically which wands will be used to fight that last BIG BATTLE (ZAP!) between Voldemort and Harry in Part 2 due to be released on July 15, 2011. Voldemort wants a super nuclear mega-wand with big black bulges for his side of that special effects extravaganza. Harry gets his broken. Much heavy duty wand activity is going down in this film.

Still, can one respectfully ask if this is a review or further promotional copy? I looked around the Entertainment Weekly editorial page and found that it is owned by Time Inc. Then a bit of internet research led me to this Time Warner webpage, where one learns that the Harry franchise and this magazine are owned by the same company. Hmmm.

Perhaps, there wasn't marketing pressure on Schwarzbaum to love this film. Perhaps she's doing all of the swooning on her own, but I found The Deathly Hallows oddly Twilight-esque once the Emma, Harry, and Ron threesome start hanging out in one blank, beautiful, gloriously-lit landscape after the next. A romantic triangle? Much nature imagery? Emma Watson even appears to adopt the sulky mien of Kristen Stewart. Given that the filmmakers need to find some of the few places on earth free of the omnipresent marketing of recent Harry Potter product, I suppose that scenes of sunset-enhanced nature would do the trick (one can see the same pretty dead tree behind them in various scenes). Anyway, back to EW's review:

"In The Deathly Hallows, of course, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are deep in their struggle toward adulthood, truly on their own and unprotected, except by one another. (Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is nowhere to be seen this time.) The final showdown between the Chosen One (Harry) and the Dark Lord (Voldemort, embodied with chilling, hairless silkiness by Ralph Fiennes) is still to come. Meanwhile, the schoolmates are on a continued mission to find and destroy the Horcruxes, those magical bits of his black soul that Voldemort has hidden in order to hang on to immortality. The world is an anxious, paranoid place, what with the Dark Lord's Death Eaters on the loose. The look of the movie is apocalyptically desolate too — when it's not baroquely sepulchral, as it is in the bowels of the Ministry of Magic. An early scene at Voldemort's dinner table, surrounded by his senior Death Eaters, is terrifying."

The Voldemort dinner scene mostly boils down to some PG-13 torture of a minor Hogwarts teacher and one CGI snake attacking the camera. I actually preferred the Ministry of Magic Brazil-esque paranoid sequence when Harry, Hermione, and Ron assume the disguises of middle-aged bureaucrats to infiltrate the proceedings (although I find it ironic that a movie with such a totalitarian hold over the media threatens its characters with a fascist takeover). Still, Schwarzbaum fails to mention that an excess of "apocalyptically desolate" imagery can be a drag after, say, four or five, or six or seven movies in a row. I always wonder if Rowling feels obliged to include all of this requisite gloomy mise en scene as a way to counterbalance the basic silliness of the magic. As the threesome face down various terrorist-wand attacks, I found myself wondering--as the franchise feeds off of so much nostalgia and teenage brand-identification, does anyone mind how repetitive the franchise has become? Does it bother anyone that J. K. Rowling now has her threesome hunt around for a sword, a locket, a mystical symbol, etc., just like the young characters do in Sucker Punch, The Hobbit, not to mention the innumerable other kiddie-quest flicks already released? At one point, Harry finds a much needed magic sword in a frozen pond, and these lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail came to mind:

"King Arthur: I am your king.

Peasant Woman: Well, I didn't vote for you.

King Arthur: You don't vote for kings.

Peasant Woman: Well, how'd you become king, then?

[Angelic music plays... ]

King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king.

Dennis the Peasant: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

Arthur: Be quiet!

Dennis the Peasant: You can't expect to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!"

Anyway, back to Schwarzbaum's gushing:

"All this takes a toll on Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Or maybe, as Rowling so astutely weaves into her books, it's the not-so-magically dispelled fears, doubts, and longings of true adulthood that weigh the trio down. Either way, Yates, working with cinematographer Eduardo Serra (Girl With a Pearl Earring), keeps the picture poised between the gaping future (i.e., Harry's scheduled showdown with Voldemort) and the groping present, as the three friends test their adult support of one another. In one of the movie's sweetest wordless moments, Harry comforts Hermione. Ron has stormed off after a fight with Harry, Hermione is sad and troubled, and Harry spontaneously leads his dear friend in a dance. The scene isn't in the book; it's the rare deviation of an addition to the sacred text, rather than an unavoidable cut made for Muggle-driven movie purposes. Yet the gesture is so tender, and such a welcome breath of warmth in such a dark time, that the grace note demonstrates an integrity I feel sure Rowling would applaud. This is who Harry Potter has grown up to be: a young man strong enough to love his friends (including dear, devoted Dobby the house elf; O Dobby!), clever enough to outwit his foes, and brave enough to face his future. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1 also bravely faces the future, slipping with expert ease among the thrilling mass of complications (and complicated set pieces) that Rowling throws fans in the final sprint, then guiding the faithful to the fate that awaits everyone in this world, the moment called The End. A-"

After a review like that, what is the minus for? I imagine Rowling did applaud that sweet "tender" moment because she produced the movie. For this reviewer, Potter's little dance briefly alleviated the tedium of the entire second half of the film, but I wouldn't want to interfere with the nostalgia of the "faithful" as they all "bravely face" the next big Warners Brothers' cash-in this summer. I, for one, will be glad when all of this expertly marketed Horcrux huggermuggery is over.