Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mother's milk: Grown Ups and Adam Sandler's comedy of regression

Why? Why does Adam Sandler exist? What explains his success? Is it just because he appeals to his audience's leftover male infantile aggression? Has his monetary success become a fait accompli, a given, so that when Sandler calls Drew Barrymore or Christopher Walken or Chris Rock or Salma Hayek or Steve Buscemi, they always inexplicably agree to appear in his movies? When I first saw Mr. Deeds (with Winona Ryder!) on a scratchy VHS video back in the early 2000s, I was dumbfounded, appalled, astonished. I have since seen and reviewed many of his movies, but that sense of wonder at the popularity of his brand of smirking stupidity has never gone away. It has instead deepened over time, especially now that Sandler's schtick has managed to gain the patina of critical respectability in films like Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People.

What is his secret? Perhaps it's because his movies create a space in which the viewer can feel good about regressing into some useless youthful zone. If the viewer's feeling juvenile, this space allows his infantile interest in poop and bodily functions to be endlessly and unrealistically rewarded. For that reason, Sandler's jokes need not be all that funny, nor his movies all that good. It's all part of the permissive slacker atmosphere that he allows the audience to revel in like overgrown children returning to Romper Room. In Grown Ups, a 4 year old child still drinks from his mommy's breast in front of mildly scandalized guests. That's Sandler's aesthetic in a nutshell.

Returning to his comedic base with Grown Ups, Sandler scarcely seems to have to try at all, so he throws together a gang of his comic pals (Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider) to form The Big Chill of poot humor. In its assurance of success, Grown Ups is so incredibly lazily made I wouldn't be surprised if the camera man had trouble keeping awake during the shoot. There is not a plot so much as a gang (a bunch of guys who used to play in a kids' basketball team) assembled in a cottage on the side of a lake for the weekend (to make sense of their lives after their coach's death) in the vague hope of something funny arising out of the air. Sandler now lives in such a stultifying airless vacuum of the super rich, he casts around for some sort of friction somewhere. The film contains stabs at humor, but mainly he wants the viewer to feel like he belongs, and can partake in Sandler's drawling ambience of smug inconsequence.

Sandler does betray some anxieties. He wants to write about his life of great wealth without alienating his audience. He also shows signs of wanting to mature, to not be a bad influence, to dial down his bathroom humor without losing his fan base. If Sandler were Woody Allen, he's reached his Stardust Memories phase when he resists people who keep asking him to make movies like "his earlier, funnier ones." Sandler's character (Leney Feder) still sticks his finger up Rob Schneider's derriere during a funeral, but his heart is not in it, so the film is comprised of half-hearted gestures toward alternatives. Wallow in late 1970's nostalgia? Visit a water park? See some fireworks? How about another basketball game? The movie's free-floating sense of what happens next becomes almost abstract. So, the guys fill the time with sketchy jokes that are not really emphasized so much as trotted out and repeated semi-ironically. You get hair-piece jokes, flatulent woman with bunions jokes, practical jokes played on a passed-out drunk jokes, a guy getting racked more than once jokes, slapping someone in the face with a dehydrated banana jokes, KFC product placement bucket on a man's head jokes, spraying a woman in the face with breast milk jokes, etc. Much of the verbal humor comes across as tentative, as in a comedy workshop with the guys chuckling along self-consciously, and with Sandler saying "That's a good one," or not.

Grown Ups is also strikingly full of sentimental gestures. Kevin James falls on a bird, so a child places it in a shoebox and helps it to recover. Salma Hayek's character torments herself for accidentally giving away who the real tooth fairy is to her daughter. Leney Feder worries over his spoiled son's initial lack of desire to throw a rock. All of the guys and their wives dance to late 70s power ballads. They scatter the coach's ashes ceremonially (a scene that directly steals from The Big Lebowski). Leney (spoiler alert) loses the basketball game on purpose so that his working class opponents can feel good about themselves, and of course, the film ends with a mass group hug. Somewhere in the midst of growing up, Sandler has become a purveyor of Cracker Barrel schmaltz for the Kiwanis Club crowd. His sense of domesticated constraint, like the canned pleasure of the amusement park, settles over his film like fallout.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer links

---Kubrick vs Scorsese

---@DCozzalio explores the ominous power of Mannequin 2: On the Move:

"I realized that on the seven separate occasions I tried and (apparently) failed to sit through Mannequin 2: On the Move, the movie, rather than taking me into a true state of unconscious sleep, set me instead into a kind of waking torpor, a paralysis of nerves and brain activity not unlike the sensation of being exposed to neurological blocking agents that can in some instances simulate death. Being exposed to Mannequin 2: On the Move, in high-definition no less, was apparently more than my fragile system could handle, and the movie sent me into a simulation of total sensory failure. Unable to move or otherwise wrest myself from the movie’s icy grip, even though I thought I was unconscious and dreaming, I was actually watching the movie, helplessly, with no escape until the final credits. . . . I saw Mannequin 2: On the Move eight times in a span of two weeks and have so far lived to tell the tale. May this serve as a cautionary tale for those who might otherwise blithely dismiss this ‘80s style romantic confection as just another movie. No, it has powers; I think it might even have sentient intelligence, or perhaps body-altering capabilities. There’s something else going on here, and I’m completely afraid that I might soon find out what."

---Pinkberry: The Movie somehow reminds me of Tom Cruise

---Ed Howard considers Invasion of the Body Snatchers

---Kelli Marshall's thoughts on stars and scars

---Marion Cotillard

---John Naughton analyzes the internet:

"One of the things that most baffles (and troubles) people about the net is its capacity for disruption. One moment you've got a stable, profitable business – say, as the CEO of a music label; the next minute your industry is struggling for survival, and you're paying a king's ransom to intellectual property lawyers in a losing struggle to stem the tide. Or you're a newspaper group, wondering how a solid revenue stream from classified ads could suddenly have vaporised; or a university librarian wondering why students use only Google nowadays. How can this stuff happen? And how does it happen so fast?

The answer lies deep in the network's architecture. When it was being created in the 1970s, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, the lead designers, were faced with two difficult tasks: how to design a system that seamlessly links lots of other networks, and how to design a network that is future-proof. The answer they came up with was breathtakingly simple. It was based on two axioms. Firstly, there should be no central ownership or control – no institution which would decide who could join or what the network could be used for. Secondly, the network should not be optimised for any particular application. This led to the idea of a "simple" network that did only one thing – take in data packets at one end and do its best to deliver them to their destinations. The network would be neutral as to the content of those packets – they could be fragments of email, porn videos, phone conversations, images… The network didn't care, and would treat them all equally.

By implementing these twin protocols, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn created what was essentially a global machine for springing surprises. The implication of their design was that if you had an idea that could be implemented using data packets, then the internet would do it for you, no questions asked. And you didn't have to ask anyone's permission.

The explosion of creativity – in the form of disruptive applications – that the world has seen since the network emerged in the 1980s may have taken a lot of institutions and industries by surprise, but it was predictable, given the architecture. There are a lot of smart programmers in the world, and the net provided them with a perfect launch pad for springing surprises. What kinds of surprises? Well, the web itself. It was largely the creation of a single individual – Tim Berners-Lee, who in 1991 put the code on an internet server without having to ask anyone's permission.

Ten years after Berners-Lee started work, a disaffected, music-loving teenager named Shawn Fanning spent six months writing software for sharing music files and, in 1999, put his little surprise on an internet server. He called it Napster and it acquired over 60 million delighted users before the music industry managed to shut it down. But by that time the file-sharing genie was out of the bottle.

While all this was going on, plenty of equally smart programmers were incubating more sinister surprises, in the shape of a plague of spam, viruses, worms and other security "exploits" which they have been able to unleash over a network which doesn't care what's in your data packets. The potential dangers of this "malware" explosion are alarming. For example, mysterious groups have assembled "botnets" (made up of millions of covertly compromised, networked PCs) which could be used to launch massive, co-ordinated attacks that could conceivably bring down the network infrastructure of entire industries, or perhaps even countries. So far, with the exception of Estonia in 2007, we haven't seen such an attack, but the fear is that it will eventually come, and it will be the net's own version of 9/11.

The internet's disruptiveness is a consequence of its technical DNA. In programmers' parlance, it's a feature, not a bug – ie an intentional facility, not a mistake. And it's difficult to see how we could disable the network's facility for generating unpleasant surprises without also disabling the other forms of creativity it engenders."

---the infinite photograph

---the best album art

---Oxford American chooses the best southern movies, including Winter's Bone

---the empire of consumption

---Richardson celebrates To Catch a Thief

---A. O. Scott likes Dazed and Confused

---Courtney Love's Behind the Music

---while Linda Holmes suffers from dystopia fatigue, Clive Bloom explores the appeal of zombies:

"There are three main types of the species: a behavioural zombie, who acts no differently from the living; a neurological zombie, who has a normal brain but no conscious experience; and a soulless zombie, who lacks the essential nature of what it means to be human. A P-zombie is a body that essentially lacks all conscious experience, but looks exactly the same as the living. If you hit it, it would react as if programmed, but would have no experience of pain. In effect, Rene Descartes thought that animals were mere P-zombies. Scary, eh?

P-zombies owe their theoretical existence to social scientists and philosophers who wished to argue against certain forms of physicalism or behaviourism. If behaviour is consciousness (as physicalists have argued), then how could the living dead react in the same way as a person with consciousness but have none themselves?

In 1996, David J. Chalmers, in his book The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, imagined a world of zombies identical to our world but lacking conscious human nature. Chalmers, today a philosopher at the Australian National University, tried to crush the physicalist argument via rigorous philosophical logic. Of course, and rather problematically, this logic did not exclude Chalmers from being a P-zombie himself, a worrying, if tantalising thought - something to bear in mind next time you're faced with a class full of expressionless students.

As for that mindless, unshaven guy mumbling to himself as he shuffles down the corridor: remember, he's not a zombie - he's the dean."

---lastly, the robot remix

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tom Cruise's 10 seduction techniques in Knight and Day: a pictorial guide

What would you do if you were to star in a movie and you knew that nobody liked you?

1) First, just before the movie premieres, you appear in a fat suit at an award ceremony to show that you can laugh at yourself.

2) Then, you arrange for the leading lady June Havens (poor Cameron Diaz) to fall in love with you. Make sure she propositions you during a gun fight.

3) You reinvent your brand by wearing Wayfarers (as in Risky Business) and inserting more comedy into your Mission Impossible-esque action scenes.

4) During the course of the movie's True Lies-esque plot, your character "dies" and is resurrected up high on a rooftop in Spain, thereby confirming your ascension to Godlike status.

5) You don't forget to pause amidst all of the gunfire and walk fearlessly (bullets careening all around) to kiss June on the lips when she pouts and feels neglected, because by God this time you care.

6) You make sure that the movie has a proper pseudo-feminist undertone. After watching you effortlessly kill innumerable faceless bad guys in a stress-free PG-13 manner, June becomes empowered by your example.

7) You act "crazy" as a rogue secret agent to show how previous jumping-on-the-sofa/ scientology/criticizing-Brooke Shields hijinks were all in good fun.

8) For the film's MacGuffin, you include a "zephyr"--a self-sustaining battery that would solve all of the world's energy needs, thereby alleviating any worries that audience members may have on that topic.

9) You take off your shirt several times so that June can ogle your toned pecs.

10) Lastly, you include in your movie a cute photo of your real self as an Eagle Scout child so that everyone can say awwww....

In sum, you treat your movie as a public relations campaign--2 hours of grinning, mugging propaganda to win those damn former fans back into the fold, where they belong.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Anticipating the die-off: notes and quotes about Michael Ruppert's Collapse

Something about Michael Ruppert's Collapse (now out on DVD) and the issue of peak oil makes me want to quote instead of write, perhaps because the topic is so all-encompassingly heavy:

“What movie did you see last night?”

“A documentary called Collapse. ”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s just one guy explaining why human civilization in its present form is doomed.”

“Huh. But did you have a good time?” ---from Catsoulis' NYT review

From The Wall Street Journal: "What is the central message of your movie?"

Mr. Ruppert: "It is not possible to continue infinite consumption and infinite population growth on a finite planet."

From the Netflix packaging of the Collapse DVD:

"In an avant-garde soliloquy, investigative journalist Michael Ruppert details his unnerving theories about the inexorable link between energy depletion and the collapse of the economic system that the supports the entire industrial world. Helmed by filmmaker Chris Smith (American Movie), Ruppert's monologue explains how the lies and political propaganda fed to Americans by big business will eventually lead to human extinction."

Note: this left me wondering--total human extinction? Our population is now rapidly approaching 7 billion. Earth can only comfortably sustain about 1 to 2 billion people, according to a chemistry professor friend of mine. As Ruppert points out, the population really started to increase around the year 1900 with the onset of cheap oil. One peak oil theorist speculates that there will be a die-off where the population will likely drop back down to 1 or 2 billion by 2050. That's what I've been brooding over after watching Collapse (since I have no trouble accepting many of Ruppert's basic points. I've been mulling over peak oil theories since I read Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies back in 2oo3.)

What will happen when the oil peaks? How will the population decline? No one really knows (Ruppert talks of a 20 year-long crash). Here's one theory as to what will happen, courtesy of Jeremy Leggett:

"The price of houses will collapse. Stock markets will crash. Within a short period, human wealth -- little more than a pile of paper at the best of times, even with the confidence about the future high among traders -- will shrivel. There will be emergency summits, diplomatic initiatives, urgent exploration efforts, but the turmoil will not subside. Thousands of companies will go bankrupt, and millions will be unemployed. Once affluent cities with street cafés will have queues at soup kitchens and armies of beggars. The crime rate will soar. The earth has always been a dangerous place, but now it will become a tinderbox.

....As with the Great Depression, economic hardship will bring out the worst in people. Fascists will rise, feeding on the anger of the newly poor and whipping up support. These new rulers will find the tools of repression -- emergency laws, prison camps, a relaxed attitude toward torture...."
From Roger Ebert's review of Collapse:
"I have no way of assuring you that the bleak version of the future outlined by Michael Ruppert in Chris Smith's Collapse is accurate. I can only tell you I have a pretty good built-in B.S. detector, and its needle never bounced off zero while I watched this film. There is controversy over Ruppert, and he has many critics. But one simple fact at the center of his argument is obviously true, and it terrifies me.
That fact: We have passed the peak of global oil resources. There are only so many known oil reserves. We have used up more than half of them. Remaining reserves are growing smaller, and the demand is growing larger. It took about a century to use up the first half. That usage was much accelerated in the most recent 50 years. Now the oil demands of giant economies like India and China are exploding. They represent more than half the global population, and until recent decades had small energy consumption.

If the supply is finite, and usage is potentially doubling, you do the math. We will face a global oil crisis, not in the distant future, but within the lives of many now alive. They may well see a world without significant oil."

What does the Collapse director Chris Smith think?

How convinced are you, now, about the accuracy of the things he [Ruppert] says?

"My opinion on these issues changes on a daily basis. This film made me think about these issues and to try to educate myself. And I discovered that there’s a huge number of scientists and scholars that fall on both sides of every issue that Michael talks about. The conclusion I’ve since come to is that no one really knows anything. Some think we’re headed for another crash, some people think that the market will continue to recover. There was a huge meeting on peak oil in Denver recently and so many articles came out of that. Different Ph.D.'s and industry experts say that we’re at this point in history where oil may have passed its peak. But then there was an article in the New York Times a month ago or so that was very convincing, and it said that we might actually have endless resources. I know a lot more about it than I did going into it, but I haven’t formed any conclusions."

In Collapse, Ruppert also talks of the bumpy plateau at the top of the peak oil curve--when oil prices rise and shut down economic activity. The prices then fall, boosting the economy, but then the process repeats. This cycle disrupts the economy until people and companies start defaulting on loans which leads to bailouts. Ruppert claims that we've been on this plateau for the past several years. I always imagined the peak oil crisis in terms of gas suddenly jumping to a hundred dollars a gallon, but apparently it can also cause severe financial meltdowns without the price noticeably getting that high.

Scott Tobias' take on Collapse:

"Shooting the tortured, chain-smoking Ruppert inside what looks like a bunker, Smith’s film takes the form of Errol Morris’ The Fog Of War, illustrating long, feverishly intense monologues with dazzling montages. Ruppert may appear like just another crackpot, the sort of obscure, raving prophet who regularly offers up worst-case scenarios in Glenn Beck’s War Room. (Or Stephen Colbert’s Doom Bunker, for that matter.) But he isn’t an ideologue, which makes his Chicken Little panic more authentic—as do his confident voice and meticulously crafted arguments. The scope of his argument is suspiciously immense, yet thought through to the smallest detail; every time a `Yeah, but' question comes up (as in `Yeah, but what about these alternative energy sources?' or `Yeah, but what about human innovation?'), Ruppert has an answer. `I don’t deal in conspiracy theory,' he says. `I deal in conspiracy fact.'

That said—and this is important to remember—Collapse is by no means an endorsement of Ruppert’s worldview. Smith (American Movie) has enough faith in his audience to allow them to sort it out for themselves. He gives Ruppert the floor, but his occasional interjections question whether his subject has walled himself into an argument by accepting only the information that supports his point of view. And in several exceptionally poignant moments, he also allows us to see an angry, lonely, vulnerable man whose life epitomizes the title as much as the globe does. There are many layers to the man and the movie, and it’s hard not to leave the theater shaken."

Lastly, in his essay "Collapse goes mainstream," Matt Cardin attempts to place Ruppert's theories in perspective:

"It’s probably difficult or impossible for somebody who hasn’t been following the peak oil story for the past several years to understand the depth of the `Holy crap' feeling that many of us are experiencing right now. A large part of that feeling comes simply from the fact that, as I’ve mentioned here before, lots of things appear to be playing out according to the long-forecasted `plan,' including, most prominently, the expected development in which oil-and-energy issues have moved to the forefront of public discourse. Of course that has nothing, or at least not much, to do with the question of whether peak oil is actually `real' — a word that raises the need to distinguish between peak oil, the geological phenomenon, and peak oil, the theory that ties oil’s fortunes to the very survival of growth-based economies and industrial-technological civilization. In our ever-intensifying age of 24/7 digital linkage and global conversation, it’s impossible to ferret out how much of what we’re collectively thinking and feeling comes from reality itself, as in, the reality outside the media web, and how much is simply a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

What’s incontrovertible is that we’re right now living through the giddiest age of apocalyptic cultural ferment that any of us have ever experienced. I think it’s safe to say that it tops the ones that accompanied the turn of the 20th century, and the advent of World Wars I and II, and the Depression era, and the social and cultural upheavals and meltdowns of the sixties and seventies, and the turn of the 21st century. It even tops 9/11, although in fact it incorporates the 9/11 feeling of an imminent breakdown in everything. Maybe the only thing that equals it is the nuclear terror of the Cold War era. Because now, as then, the fear isn’t just of a national or international breakdown or some such thing (although obviously that one is currently in play, too) but of a show-stopping calamity that would write `The End' on the last page of the book that is the human race, or at least on the book that is civilization as we have known for at least a century or two (since the full implementation of the Adam Smithian economic growth model and the rise of technocratic industrialism). The ecological term `die-off' has gained currency. The word `collapse' is on everybody’s minds and lips."

In any case, Ruppert's theories in Collapse can help one understand problems in Europe, other issues in the United States, and the BP oil spill.

Related links:
Jon Stewart's thoughts about our quest for energy independence
Forbes makes some peak oil investment suggestions
Lloyd's of London ISS report

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Notable film and media links for June 17, 2010

---teevee ads on their way to your grocery store

---the many faces of Megan Fox

---the interruption society

---online music moves to the cloud:

"The broadcast and on-demand models are governed by different rules, but they share one important feature: neither depends on downloading files or finding storage space on a personal computer. Lurking behind these models are two enormous companies that will likely change the landscape of online audio in a matter of months: Google and Apple. Google will soon offer a streaming music service for its Android phone that, like all of these services, uses the increasingly vital concept of the cloud—your music is all on a server, which you can access from any computer or smart phone, with little trouble and no wires. Apple, whose iTunes store is the biggest music retailer in America, bought the online streaming service Lala last year and then promptly shut it down. This suggests that there may soon be an, a Web-based streaming system that will leave behind the model of buying discrete tracks. In music’s new model, fees are charged not necessarily so that you can physically possess a file but so that you can have that song whenever you want it."

---Sofia Coppola's trailer for Somewhere

---7 salutes to the Odessa Steps sequence

---time to live in the endless city

---Pogo's Toy Story remix

---Bellamy and Howard consider the contemporary relevance of Sunset Boulevard (one of my favorites) and All About Eve:

EH: "Director/co-writer Billy Wilder is striking a delicate balance here. Sunset Boulevard is a lament for a lost era, for those forgotten stars who failed to make the transition to sound, whose careers faltered when faced with the new economies and aesthetics of sound filmmaking. There's something poignant even about the mere appearance of Buster Keaton, looking somehow wasted and gaunt, a premonition of the meditation on mortality and performance that he'd later deliver in the Samuel Beckett-written Film. There's no doubt that Wilder feels genuine regret for the talents lost or forgotten during the transitional period from silents to talkies. At the same time, the film doesn't idealize the past, doesn't suggest that everything was better before sound came in and ruined it all; surely that would be hypocritical and silly coming from a director who started out as a writer and always knew the value of good dialogue. Instead, the film suggests that commerce always ruled, that the silent era represented not some golden age of artistic creativity but simply a different form of commerce, catering to different tastes and serving up different forms of spectacle. In the film, DeMille (gamely playing himself) rejects Norma and her ludicrous vanity project script not because he's dedicated to his own noble artistic vision, but because he's learned how to tailor his commercial products to new temperaments, while Norma is still serving up old-school kitsch. She hasn't learned how to make modern trash."

---I can't wait to see Collapse

---Holly Golightly, modern woman?

---reconsidering Touch of Evil

---the essential privacy of writing:

"The Schuyler collection is only one in what has become a flood of posthumous publications, encompassing work by Elizabeth Bishop, Henry Roth, Ralph Ellison, and Vladimir Nabokov. I am not against the publication of this material, at least in some form. What I fear is that many readers are coming to believe that a writer who holds something back from publication is somehow acting unnaturally. Nobody understands the extent to which, even for the widely acclaimed author with ready access to publication, the process of writing can sometimes necessitate a rejection or at least an avoidance of one’s own readers. That silence is a part of writing—that the work of this day or this week or even this year might for good reason be withheld—is becoming harder and harder to comprehend. There have always of course been posthumous publications. And there have always been controversies as to whether or not publication was in line with the author’s wishes. But the idea that somebody might choose not to publish—or might choose to publish in a small circulation magazine rather than a large circulation one—can look downright bizarre in the age of the blog and the tweet. The space between the writer and the reader is evaporating."

---Slant writers fondly remember St. Elmo's Fire

---existential Avatar Days

---film criticism past, present, and future

---the advantages of forgetting

---Tarantino and Clooney boogie

---the art of manliness, which I find poignant now that men are no longer needed

---the Madonna/Gaga comparison

---Dylan and Seuss together at last

---lastly, the science of vampires:

"Many natural changes after death were judged to be evidence that the late lamented had turned into a bloodsucker. Like hair, fingernails don't actually continue to grow after death, but as fingers decompose, the skin shrinks, making the nails look abnormally long and clawlike. You begin to look as if you're turning into a predatory animal. Dead skin, after sloughing off its top layer, can look flushed and alive as if with fresh blood. Damp soil's chemicals can produce in the skin a waxy secretion, sometimes brownish or even white, from fat and protein—adipocere, "grave wax." In one eyewitness account from the 18th century, a vampire is even found—further proof of his vile nature—to have a certain region of his anatomy in a posthumous state of excitement. The genitals often inflate during the process of decomposition.

And what about the blood reported around the mouths of resurrected corpses? That too has a natural explanation. Without the heart as a pump to keep it circulating, blood follows the path of least resistance. Many bodies were buried face down, resulting in blood pooling in the face and leaving it looking flushed. Sometimes blood also gets lifted mouthward by gases from decomposition. Vampire stories recognize that death is messy."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Budweiser, bravado, and Baghdad: 6 questions about The A-Team

When the '80s came along, we entered a world of steroided-out superheroes, starting with Superman. Sly, Arnold, even Bruce Willis would re-fight the Vietnam war, and win. A country that in LBJ's words had truly become a helpless giant, needed a fantasy where it was not impotent, where it was as strong as Arnold, as invulnerable as Robocop. ---Robert Towne

1) What vision of American jingoistic beer-drinking uber-masculine chortling cigar-smoking arrogance is The A-Team trying to sell us? Early in the film, after having a Budweiser-product placement party around a kiddie swimming pool, the team pops into Baghdad and with frictionless ease takes some plates used for counterfeiting American dollars from some Saddam Hussein loyalists. In fact, we see the implementation of the plan as Hannibal (Liam Neeson) explains what the plan is (the two scenes are interspliced together). I was surprised that the team didn't go on to have a campfire outside of Abu Ghraib, toast each other with more Budweisers, and say "It don't get no better than this!"

2) Why does B. A. Baracus (Quinton `Rampage' Jackson) turn against violence? He hates to fly, understandably enough with mad Murdoch (Sharlto Copley) piloting whatever helicopter, transporter jet, or jeep he might happen to be on, but while he's in jail, Baracus also develops a religious(?) aversion to killing. I understand that the original televised Baracus (Mr. T) had the same fear of flying. Did one of the screenwriters think it might be fun to ironically throw in some Gandhi-esque nonviolent protest into an action film?

3) How, exactly, does Hannibal (Neeson) escape from a prison crematorium? First, he smokes a special cigar that makes him resemble a corpse. Then, when he's about to be cremated, Hannibal wakes just in time, punches the flaming jets away, and then jumps out into what? A sprinkler system? Do crematoriums have sprinkler systems?

4) Didn't Neeson used to be in better movies?

5) What is Jessica Biel doing in The A-Team aside from providing a possible love-interest for Face (Bradley Cooper)? She plays Charisa Sosa, a captain who has the ability to initiate some covert ops of her own. In a film that has explanatory flashbacks in case you don't remember a character or a scene, I really couldn't tell what her character was doing. Perhaps, given that everything is just another pretext for another action scene, it doesn't matter.

6) Why does The A-Team emphasize fate so much? In this 10-years-in-development movie that obliged Twentieth Century Fox to hire 11 screenwriters, Hannibal talks frequently of planning, saying things like "I love it when a plan comes together." When he happens upon B.A. Barracus in the midst of a product-placement GMC van-jacking early on, he says "I don't subscribe to coincidence. I believe that no matter how random things might appear, there's still a plan." So, he looks for a cosmic plan--i.e. fate. Perhaps fate becomes important because of the frictionless ease in which The A-Team accomplishes their missions. They successfully implement 80 missions in 8 years! That's about one death-defying mission per month. At one point, I believe they ironically quote from Braveheart (1995): "Tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!" It's a good thing that they're being ironic, for what would such a quote mean to the invulnerable?

In the end, The A-Team reminded me uncomfortably of the Mission Impossible series. The blockbuster wanna-be action becomes so slick, fast, and stylized, all suspense is neutralized in advance. Instead, they smile and laugh with manly wise-cracking bravado in an endless closed loop of self-congratulation.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Life is wasted on people": notes on Noah Baumbach's Greenberg starring Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig

I went to see Noah Baumbach's Greenberg not expecting much, but I was surprised by how compelling the film turned out to be. In outline, the story seems like nothing: Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) house sits for his brother in Los Angeles. He can't drive. He has an unspecified reason (agoraphobia? OCD?) for recently being in a mental hospital, and he strikes up a fitful relationship with his brother's personal assistant Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig). Why does this film (written by Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh) work so well? What does it have to do with the mumblecore movement? Some tentative answers:

1) First, Ben Stiller dispenses with his usual star trappings and largely redeems himself for his recent work in the formulaic Museum movies and, say, 2004's Starsky & Hutch. Intent upon doing nothing, Stiller's character Roger is often a self-absorbed "prick," living at odds with the current blank circumstances of his life. At one time, he might've been successful in a rock band, but he rejected an offer to sign on to a label, and now, decades later, his erstwhile band mates still blame him for the loss of that possibility. Roger still lives like an adolescent at the age of 40, caught between what might have been and the life he has not planned for, and this tension within his sense of himself leads to unexpected collisions. At one point he takes the quote "Youth is wasted on the young" further and modifies it to "Life is wasted on people."

2) Baumbach seems intent upon conveying a slice of contemporary life, but one never knows if Greenberg will turn humorous or harrowing. For instance, Roger has to take care of his brother's sick dog, and I found myself exaggeratedly concerned with the dog's welfare late in the movie as Roger navigates a large party and experiments with cocaine mixed with Zoloft. The film is also full of unexpected turns and goofy details. For example, at one point Florence has to go to the hospital, and while Roger's friend Ivan (Rhys Ifans) suggests that they get her flowers, Roger instead buys her a burger and humorously holds it up to her face when she regains consciousness. At another time, he prepares guacamole, chips, and Dreamsicles for an impromptu pool party that he sets up but then refuses to join. He's antisocial, easily angered, and often insufferable. To strike back at the world, he writes letters of complaint to Starbucks, major airlines, and pet taxi companies in a manner that suggests a kinship with Saul Bellow's 1964 novel Herzog.

3) Greenberg is so refreshingly character-driven that plot complications become nearly superfluous. Greta Gerwig's Florence does not treat herself well when it comes to men. She listlessly lets Roger half-seduce her as she says things like "Is that a train?" and "I'm wearing a cheap bra." One gradually realizes how much she's let her job as a personal assistant dictate her larger choices. She thinks that as long as she's not really involved, as long as she plays at different roles, then she can live without consequences, but she ends up cheapening herself. Gerwig skillfully conveys this disconnect in her character with absent-minded aplomb. She's extremely good at looking like she doesn't know the camera's there.

4) As for the mumblecore aspect, Baumbach not only casts Gerwig, who has starred in numerous films of that kind, but he also includes one of the Duplass brothers (Mark) in a party scene in the film. (The Duplass brothers, noted directors of such mumblecore films as The Puffy Chair and Baghead have a new mainstream film Cyrus starring Jonah Hill about to be released.) I remember seeing the brothers' Baghead last year on DVD, which also stars Gerwig. I wondered if Baumbach wanted Greenberg to allude to the emotional spontaneity of the mumblecore movement without falling into its usual traps--awkward handheld camera motion, murky improv dialogue, and amateurish pseudo-realism. In contrast, Greenberg comes across as extremely controlled and well-written, and yet loose enough to still retain that sense of authenticity. In his IMDB page, Baumbach says "I grew up in the heat of 70s postmodern fiction and post-Godard films, and there was this idea that what mattered was the theory or meta in art. My film is emotional rather than meta, and that's my rebellion." Greenberg shows how Baumbach has learned how to draw a surprisingly emotional resonance from a modest concept for a film.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The '70s as the last golden age of filmmaking: 10 things I learned from Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

I've been enjoying Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock'n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, Peter Biskind's 1998 chronicle of the rise and frequent falls of the major directors of the 1970s (notably Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Hal Ashby). These guys helped rejuvenate the industry before the corporate studio-driven 1980s kicked in. As in the case of his more recent Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, Biskind sometimes lets juicy Hollywood gossip overwhelm his insights about the filmmaking process, but here are 10 things I learned from the book:

1) Whenever studio heads screened a groundbreaking film, almost invariably, some executive stood up and proclaimed the movie utter trash. For example, even after the audience laughed and cheered throughout George Lucas' American Graffiti (1973), Ned Tanin stood up and said "This film is unreleasable." Studio head Jack Warner said after watching Bonnie and Clyde (1967), "That's the longest two hours and ten minutes I ever spent!"

2) Writing is key to becoming a director. George Lucas' wife Marcia once pointed out that "George was not a writer, and it was Francis [Ford Coppola] who made him write, [and] said, `If you're gonna be a filmmaker, you have to write.' He practically handcuffed George to a desk." At another time, Martin Scorsese composed a screenplay with Mardik Martin in his cold Plymouth Valiant in the winter: "We were used to that," said Scorsese. "We were film students. Film students wrote anywhere."

3) Of all of the directors discussed, Peter Bogdanovich appeared to have the swiftest rise to success and the steepest fall from grace. After the critical and popular success of The Last Picture Show (1971) (when Peter broke up with his wife for Cybill Shepherd) and Paper Moon (1973), critics viewed his next picture, an adaptation of Henry James' "Daisy Miller" as a vanity project designed to promote Shepherd's career. Part of the problem lay in the way Bogdanovich revelled in his glory. Biskind includes this exchange between Peter and Cary Grant: "Will you stop telling people that you're in love. Stop telling people you're happy," said Cary.
"Because they're not in love and they're not happy. And they don't want to hear it."
"But Cary, I thought all the world loves a lover."
"Don't you believe it. It isn't true. Just remember one thing, Peter, people do not like beautiful people."

Later, Bogdanovich directed a musical At Long Last Love (1975) that tanked. Then, after his relationship with Playmate Dorothy Stratten ended with her murder, Bogdanovich's filmmaking career continued to decline. Biskind quotes him later in the 1990s at a New York party saying "Remember me? I used to be Peter Bogdanovich."

4) In books like this, largely based on many interviews that Biskind conducted with people in the film business, paragraphs occasionally carry disclaimers at the bottom in parentheses in which the director or star under discussion denies the drug use or the affair just brought up. These interjections get to be amusing after awhile. Some examples: "(Hopper denies the event took place.)" "(Milinaire refuses to comment.)" "([Amy] Irving denies sleeping with Hoffman.)" Biskind admits the book is distorted by all of the drugs taken at the time, the self-serving memories, and the fictional ambiance of Hollywood. He characterizes the research of the book as a "maze of mirrors."

5) At times, Biskind comes up with a refreshingly exact description of a director's style. He characterizes Robert Altman's M*A*S*H as the work of an auteur: "There were the themes, the `anti-s': militarism, clericalism, authoritarianism. (The New York Times noted that it was `the first American movie openly to ridicule belief in God.') There was the improvisation, the ensemble acting, the self-consciousness that drew attention to the filmmaking, the loose-knit narratives that dispensed with the traditional beginning, middle, and end, where the energy of the individual sequences carried the piece. And finally, there was the layered soundtrack with overlapping dialogue." Altman was older than many of the other major directors, and his output was often not that successful commercially, but he persevered in part because his movies were often so cheaply made. I would have liked to have seen Biskind balance out his portrait with consideraton of Altman's later successes such as The Player (1992).

6) Don't trust a romantic scene in a Warren Beatty film when the music drowns out the dialogue. As Warren and Julie Christie "walk through the rose garden of a grand estate" in Heaven Can Wait (1978), they appear to be madly in love, but according to Biskind, what she's actually saying "in her clipped British accent" is "I can't believe you're still making these fucking dumb movies when, I mean, there are people all over Europe making fabulous films, about real things, Fassbinder and so on, and you're still doing this shit."

7) Sometimes Orson Welles could be difficult to live with. At one point, he moved in with Peter Bogdanovich and Cybill: "Orson Welles was living in a bedroom off Peter's study. He turned it into a toxic waste dump full of half-eaten dinners and redolent cigar butts. Cybill couldn't stand having him around."

8) Of the more successful directors, Steven Spielberg best described what making a blockbuster entailed, in this case Jaws. As he put it, "I thought, This is what a hit feels like. It feels like your own child that you have put up for adoption, and millions of people have decided to adopt it all at once, and you're the proud ex-parent. And now it belongs to others. That felt very good."

9) Faye Dunaway did not appear to get along with Roman Polanski during the shoot of Chinatown (1974). She reportedly threw a paper cup full of urine at his head after he forced her to do a scene when she needed to go to the restroom. Somehow that anecdote suits the mood of the film perfectly. Once again, after the initial Paramount screening, someone said, "What kind of dreck is this shit?"

10) Many of the directors eventually reached a Heaven's Gate moment of hubris and excess when their massively expensive, obscenely over-budget production tanked at the box office in about a week. This happened with William Friedkin (the director of the massively successful The Exorcist 1973) when he made Sorcerer (1977). This happened with Francis Ford Coppola when he directed One From the Heart (1982). Though highly regarded for his Vietnam epic The Deer Hunter (1978), Michael Cimino did not fare as well with Heaven's Gate (1980) considered one of the epic bombs of movie history. I've found that I can watch it on DVD in bits and pieces. Even though the film is massively overblown, self-indulgent, and tedious at times, it is extremely well-shot, and it's fun to see Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken, and Isabelle Huppert in their prime. Also, Jeff Bridges got to hang out with Kris Kristofferson, which no doubt helped prepare him for Crazy Heart.

At any rate, the directors in Biskind's tome often suffered from "too much, too soon" disease. Their early massive successes messed them up later on. As Biskind puts it, "the new Hollywood directors were like free-range chickens; they were let out of the coop to run around the barnyard and imagined they were free. But when they ceased laying those eggs, they were slaughtered."

The book left me wondering--how much do current directors such as the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola, Chris Nolan, and Wes Anderson owe to these wunderkinds of the 1970s? Will there be another period like it again? Many of the '70s auteurs take a bleak view of changes in the industry since 1980. Robert Altman said: "Last summer [of 1997] trying to find a picture to see, I went to the multiplexes in Beverly Hills. Every single screen was playing Lost World, Con Air, My Best Friend's Wedding, and Face/Off. There wasn't one picture that an intelligent person could say, `Oh, I want to see this.' It's just become one big amusement park. It's the death of film." As Friedkin puts it, "Star Wars swept all of the chips off the table. What happened with Star Wars was like when McDonald's got a foothold, the taste for good food just disappeared. Now we're in a period of devolution. Everything has gone backward toward a big sucking hole."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Marlon Brando meets the press and other links

---Marlon Brando meets the press

---studying the elusive "fag hag"

---Taxi Driver's backstory

---an interview with Terry Southern:

INTERVIEWER: Over the years I heard talk of a “missing scene” or a sequence that was deleted from Strangelove. What’s the story on that?

SOUTHERN: Well that would be the fabulous so-called pie-fight episode. You may recall the scene near the end of the film, in the War Room, after the bomb has been dropped, when Strangelove suddenly stands up from his wheelchair, and says, “Mein Fuehrer, I can valk!” And he takes a step? Recall that?

INTERVIEWER: I do indeed.

SOUTHERN: Well, in the missing sequence, after taking one step he falls flat on his face and starts trying to get back in his wheelchair, but each time it scoots out of his grasp. Meanwhile, parallel to this action, in another part of the War Room, the Russian Ambassador is caught again trying to take pictures of the “Big Board.” George C. Scott nails him, and again they’re fighting in the War Room. So Scott exposes about eighteen micro-mini spy cameras on the ambassador—in his wristwatch, cuff links, tiepin, on his ring finger, everywhere. But Scott says, “I think these are dummy cameras. I think he’s got the real McCoy concealed on his person.” And he turns to the detail of MPs who have come in. “I want you to search him very carefully, boys,” he says, “and don’t overlook any of the six bodily orifices.” And the Russian ambassador goes through this quick calculation, “vun…two…” and then when he reaches the last one, he freaks. “Vhy you Capitalist swine,” he says, and he reaches out of the frame, gets something and throws it at George C. Scott. I should mention that we have previously established a huge catering table that was wheeled in, laden with food, so they don’t have to leave the War Room during this crisis. The ambassador reaches out of the frame, grabs something from the table and throws it at Scott. We don’t see what it is immediately but Scott ducks, and this big custard pie hits the president in the face. The mere indignity of this is so monstrous that the president just faints dead away. Scott grabs him and keeps him from falling, and he’s holding him in his arms like a martyred hero. “Gentlemen,” he says to the others, “our President has been struck down in the prime of his life…by a custard pie. I say Massive Retaliation!”

---how technology undermines our ability to focus:

"Technology use is growing for Mrs. Campbell as well. She divides her time between keeping the books of her husband’s company, homemaking and working at the school library. She checks e-mail 25 times a day, sends texts and uses Facebook.

Recently, she was baking peanut butter cookies for Teacher Appreciation Day when her phone chimed in the living room. She answered a text, then became lost in Facebook, forgot about the cookies and burned them. She started a new batch, but heard the phone again, got lost in messaging, and burned those too. Out of ingredients and shamed, she bought cookies at the store.

She feels less focused and has trouble completing projects. Some days, she promises herself she will ignore her device. “It’s like a diet — you have good intentions in the morning and then you’re like, ‘There went that,’ ” she said.

Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.

“The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.”

That empathy, Mr. Nass said, is essential to the human condition. “We are at an inflection point,” he said. “A significant fraction of people’s experiences are now fragmented.”

---also, Carr's thoughts about the superficial webby mind. In the same vein, the problems with our polluted mediated mental environment:

"If the mental environment we live in has a single distinctive feature, the way that oxygen defines our atmosphere, it is self-absorption. That’s what a mental environment gone awry has produced; that is the toxic outcome of our era’s unique pollution. Some years ago, working on a book, I watched every word and image that came across the largest cable system in the world in a 24-hour period — more than 2,000 hours of ads and infomercials, music videos and sitcoms. If you boiled this stew down to its basic ingredient, this is what you found, repeated ad infinitum: You are the most important thing on Earth, the heaviest object in the universe. From the fawning flattery of the programming to the mind-messing nastiness of the commercials, it continually posited a world of extreme individualism. Even more than, say, violence, that’s the message that flows out the coaxial cable. Characters on television may turn violent to get what they want now, but it’s the what-they-want-now that lies nearer the heart of the problem."

---Marilyn Ferdinand discusses Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

---remembering Thelma Ritter

---a video interview with Mr. Hitchcock

---tattered movie palaces

---a time lapse journey through Japan

---what's your time perspective?

---do the young already live in a dystopian future? Laura Miller looks at recent teen-oriented science fiction:

"The experience of growing up under nearly continuous adult supervision—the circumstances that made writing about autonomous contemporary sixth-graders so difficult for Rebecca Stead—has tinged these novels as well. The protagonists in the technological dystopias of earlier generations frequently contended with surveilling cameras, hoping to either elude or defy them. Face-offs between the human eye and a soulless lens still occur; the teen hacker who narrates Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother,” a privacy-rights anthem set in near-future San Francisco, provides helpful instructions on how to make a concealed-camera detector out of a toilet-paper tube and a handful of spare L.E.D. lights. Often, however, the attitude is sullen resignation; in “Incarceron,” the hero, Finn, can do no more than note the small red lights of the prison’s ubiquitous “Eyes” staring down at him from the rafters. When Katniss is finally delivered into the Hunger Games arena, a tract of forest, she never even bothers to look around for the cameras; she knows they’re embedded everywhere. “It has probably been difficult for the cameras to get a good shot of me,” she thinks as she climbs down from a tree. “I know they must be tracking me now though. The minute I hit the ground, I’m guaranteed a close-up.”

---a montage of action movie cliches

---the battle of the biopics

---Catherine Grant's compilation of Citizen Kane video essays

---lastly, the ethics(?) of torture porn

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rock star excess vs the myth of monogamy: 7 notes on Nicholas Stoller's Get Him to the Greek

Would you prefer wild parties with rock stars or a meaningful long term relationship based on trust?

Given all of Get Him to the Greek's The Hangover-esque marketing, that's what the film boils down to. While I enjoyed much of the first half, I grew increasingly disenchanted as the movie (written and directed by Nicholas Stoller) hunted around for a message. Some notes:

1) Record company intern Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) has only 72 hours to get "rock god" Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from London to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles for a show that will resurrect his career. Much partying and The Hangover-ish wild times ensue. Aside from The Hangover, what other movies does Get Him to the Greek steal from?

a) Pierce Brosnan's Die Another Day also features the Clash's "London Calling" as a transition to London.
b) (spoiler alert) Snow dramatically falls from a rooftop into a pool at night just like Russell (Billy Crudup) does in Almost Famous. Stoller heightens his version of the scene with some blood. Almost Famous also shares with Greek the whole innocent-learns-from-decadent-rock-stars theme (with moralistic phone calls from home). Mercifully, Snow never sings "Tiny Dancer" with his band on a bus.
c) Greek shares with Pulp Fiction an adrenaline shot to a character's chest, in this case in an attempt to revivify a comatose party scene in Las Vegas.
d) Aaron Green also dumps the injured body of a heroin dealer off at the entrance of a hospital in a manner reminiscent of Trainspotting.

2) It turns out that Snow has father issues with his ne'er-do-well musician dad (Colm Meaney). How many other recent films have father issues?

a) In Iron Man 2, Tony feels guilty for not completing his father's work.
b) In Robin Hood, Robin therapeutically recalls his dad's political agitations on behalf of the Magna Carta.

3) How is Brand? He's most fun when he spoofs his character's oblivious self-absorption early on. When he calls himself an "African White Christ from Space," he's quite funny, but the more we get to know him, the more conventional he gets. Snow comes up with the phrase "the myth of monogamy," but he also just wants to "feel something again," so he tries to reconnect with his old girlfriend. Stoller seems intent upon making him tiresome.

4) How is P. Diddy as rock executive Sergio? He's excellent at browbeating his employees at Pinnacle Records. One likes him just because he doesn't reform.

5) How about Jonah Hill? As a male dweeb, he suffers every indignity--vomiting on himself, suffering a rape by dildo, and sticking a balloon full of heroin up his derriere. As Mr. Everyschmuck, he is Hardy to Russell Brand's Laurel. He often finds himself in the awkward position of explaining by cell phone his adventures to his girlfriend Daphne (Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss). She has a nicely squelching reply: "Herpes is incurable."

6) Why do so many recent Hollywood releases fall apart in the third act? Even as the movie frequently reminds the viewer of what little time remains until the big show at the Greek theater, Get Him to the Greek's attempts at narrative urgency sags and distends in Las Vegas. Sergio gets hit by a car. Aaron smokes some weed laced with Clorox, angel dust, and assorted other drugs, which causes him to have a fit. Whereas The Hangover kept one engaged due to its essential black-out mystery, Get Him to the Greek shows signs of increasing desperation as it hunts around for something sufficiently climactic. Snow admits that he's lonely just after falling into the pool. Someone proposes a threesome.

7) Ultimately, The Hangover succeeds in part because it never considers getting ethical. Get Him to the Greek stumbles as Apatow's Funny People did upon its scruples, its profitable(?) need to affirm family values of the American heartland. For all of its straying, Get Him to the Greek clearly prefers the myth of monogamy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

distracting links

---Caitlin Kelly considers the dilemma of writing for page views:

As someone who has become increasingly aware of on-line work and how to grease and speed the machinery, it’s pretty clear that if every piece I posted had a headline or early mention of Lady Gaga or Sarah Palin or the oil spill, I’d be golden.

And if I have nothing new to add on any particular topic, knowing it’s the topic of the day, or am merely shilling for eyeballs (and getting them), does it matter? If I deliberately choose to write about something obscure (educating my readers) or less popular (niche) or investigative (quite possibly depressing and complicated), I’m kissing my bonus goodbye.

Integrity versus bonus. Dark, smart, tough stuff versus lite/happy/cute videos. It’s not a divide I want to straddle, but some of us do. Feeding the beast doesn’t always mean producing my best work, stories and ideas that I — and some of the clients I hope with to work in the future — deeply value.

I find it depressing, but instructive, that my top five best-read (of more than 700 posts) stories here are on pop culture. Sigh. I don’t even care much about pop culture, so it’s a fairly rare event when I care enough and know enough to think I might have something worthwhile to add to that particular chorus.

---Albert Brooks in the 1979 trailer for Real Life

---a Pulp Fiction infographic

---Orson Welles not doing so well

---iPad for directors

---Natali discusses Splice

---delusions of grandeur in the age of the internet:

"The delusions are fueling a chicken-and-egg debate in psychiatry: Are these merely modern examples of classic paranoia fed by the current cultural landscape, or is there something about media like reality television and the Internet that can push people over the sanity line?

“Most likely these people would be delusional anyway,” said Dr. Joel Gold, a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, who said he saw five patients at the hospital from 2002 to 2004 with Truman Show delusion. Dr. Gold and his brother, Dr. Ian Gold, the Canada research chair in philosophy and psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, came up with the term “Truman Show delusion.”

“But the more radical view is that this pushes some people over the threshold; the environment tips them over the edge,” said Dr. Joel Gold, who is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University. “And if culture can make people crazy, then we need to look at it.”

---Alain de Botton on distraction, also how the web shatters focus, rewires brains (thanks to @stevensantos)

---how immersion in digital technologies is changing us

---grossly misleading movie posters

---"We're attention seeking whores, really."

---Beware of the Treevenge

---celebrating Nicholas Cage and other overactors

---Clay Shirky's media diet

---lastly, David Bordwell considers the cross and the decline of staging scenes in film