Monday, May 31, 2010

"Don't leave me hanging here": notes and an interview exploring the appeal of Sex and the City 2

Why are the critics being so harsh on Sex and the City 2? The film does have major problems, notably lots of poshlust, hype, loud scenes (with babies crying), histrionics, garish interiors, and the general smugness that comes from possessing a built-in fan base, but I went to see the movie in the spirit of trying to understand. What do the female fans get out of it? What kind of subtle messages get passed from Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda to all of the women of the world?

1) In one scene, for instance, Miranda and Charlotte drink cocktails in a private bar in Abu Dhabi and confide with one another about how motherhood can be hard, and how they sometimes get fed up with their motherly duties, and yet Miranda feels guilty. Meanwhile, Carrie worries about her and Big becoming a "boring married couple," especially now that her husband has taken to watching television in bed instead of seeking to find "sparkle" in their relationship. Samantha was once my favorite of the SATC ladies back in the days of the HBO show due to her aggressive and yet cool predatory sexuality. Now, as the eldest, she's become the poster child for menopause, getting hot flashes in the desert and yelling out "The estrogen has left the building!" in a sometimes depressingly needy way. I remember her being more restrained on the show (as everything was), but now she appears sitting in her Times Square office with her panties down her legs as she applies hormone cream.

2) So, all of the women convey real concerns to broad swaths of their demographic, and the audience may not care about the garishness of the film since it speaks directly to them, to their concerns with the urgency of tapping Morse Code between the walls of male-dominated prison cells known as the local Cineplex. This need to connect, to affirm their point of view, to suggest fashion choices, and air grievances oblige film critics to look again and consider different criteria.

To explore this point further, I interviewed my significant other, a longstanding fan of the HBO show who has seen every episode at least once on DVD. We spoke in a Tarantino-esque breakfast diner near Surfside Beach, SC. She said she would like to be called "Hot babe."

FD: Why do you like the show so much?

HB: Why? I've always had lots of girlfriends. I like shows about female relationships because those friendships have often been the longest lasting and most important relationships of my life, and I appreciate a show that emphasizes that.

FD: How do you compare the show to the movie versions?

HB: The shows can build on the nuances of the characters in ways the movies can't. For example, in the new movie, there's not much of a Miranda story, but if she didn't appear much in a particular TV show, it wouldn't matter because next week there would be an emphasis on her. In the movie, you miss out on what's going on in her life.

FD: And yet you liked the movie?

HB: Yes.

FD: What do you think of the harsh critical reaction to SATC2?

HB: I'm not sure that it's a very good movie, but the TV show is about characters. Movies tend to have an obvious plot, which is a masculine conceit. In female-authored texts, character is more important. It doesn't need a traditional plot. We get instead another installation of the characters we love, and that's what matters.

FD: What do you think of Carrie's quandary about her marriage with Mr. Big?

HB: I can perfectly understand how she feels. She married the man of her dreams, but then what happens? He can't live up to her romantic expectations, because she has him. Part of you wants the security of being married and part of you wants the freedom to go out and flirt.

FD: As she does with Aidan?

HB: Right.

FD: What did you think of Mr. Big and his fondness for his TV and his sofa?

HB: He rightly believes that home is a place where you can be yourself. When you're dating, you're out more than you're in.

FD: What did you think of the fashion component of SATC2?

HB: You feel like you've been shopping, and you haven't spent a penny.

FD: Didn't you find a lot of the clothes garish? So much gold and silver...

HB: Oh yeah, but it doesn't matter. I just like looking at all those clothes without having to commit to any. I liked the Dior tee-shirt and the taffeta skirt that Carrie wears, a mixed print-like look.

FD: What's your response to the criticism that the movie is too full of fantasies?

HB: It's no less a fantasy than men watching The A Team, but they don't talk about the fantasy elements of male-oriented blockbusters. The beauty of SATC is that the emotional center of the characters is very real. The rest is fantasy. I agree with an interview that I read recently where Sarah Jessica Parker remarked on that element of the show. We want to see things over the top because we know we can't have them. That doesn't make those elements any less delicious.

FD: What is your favorite scene?

HB: When Miranda and Charlotte have those drinks. Miranda says "I'll open myself first. Don't leave me hanging here." That's a reveal. That's the way you develop intimacy by revealing something very personal. You have to be willing to trust the other person with your secrets. The audience is privy to that too. That's what makes the movie work.

Related links:

Jodi Dean's thoughts on SATC2

How SATC changed Manhattan

A sociological analysis of SATC

Anne Thompson's view

Michael Patrick Harris dissects a scene

SATC2 and the art of the pan
In defense of SATC2

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost-free links

---the 21 most insane movie shoots

---The Cahiers du Cinemart trailer (thanks to @cinebeats)

---places to avoid

---Breathless returns

---social network overkill fatigue from The Onion:

"As you've no doubt guessed from reading a dozen similar articles in The Washington Post, now's the part of our "trend piece" where we quote an industry expert like Leonard Steinberg, a Boston University communications professor and specialist in his field who remarks in a rather defeated tone that Foursquare represents a revolutionary new way for businesses and customers to interact.

"Through its competitive elements like badges and points, Foursquare helps generate brand loyalty," said the Ph.D.-holding individual, whose decades in higher education were basically shit upon by our inane questions about various bits of Foursquare ephemera. "It's a unique and transformative social networking tool."

"Can I go now?" he added.

Although it recently hit the million-user mark, Foursquare has yet to approach the vast subscriber base of Facebook and Twitter. But that all could change as people become increasingly reliant on the…okay, here, here, let me sum up this whole "news" story for you: Aging, scared newspapermen throw themselves at the latest mobile technology trend in a humiliatingly futile attempt to remain relevant."

---Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Bronte Sisters Power Dolls

---problems with journalists seeking attention:

"What I sensed was that while the laws of supply and demand governed everything on earth, the easy money was in demand—manufacturing it, manipulating it, sending it forth to multiply, etc. As a rule of thumb (and with some notable exceptions), the profit margins you could achieve selling a good or service were directly correlated to the total idiocy and/or moral bankruptcy of the demand you drummed up for it.

This was easier to grasp if you were in the business of peddling heroin, Internet stocks, or celebrity gossip; journalists, on the other hand, were at a conspicuous disadvantage when it came to understanding their role in this equation. In the past, newspapers had made respectable margins selling a non-inane product largely because people had little choice but to herald their sublets and white sales alongside the journalists’ tales of human suffering/corporate corruption/government ineptitude. The times were prosperous enough that much of the print media even chose to abstain from taking a share of the demand-creation campaigns of liquor and tobacco brands in the seventies and eighties. Indeed, journalism, it went without saying, was about delivering important information about the world—information people (and democracy!) needed, whether they knew it or not. That journalism’s ability to deliver that information—to fill that need—ultimately depended, to an unsettling degree, on the ability to create artificial demand for a lot of stuff that people didn’t actually need—luxury condos, ergonomically correct airplane seats, the latest celebrity-endorsed scent—was an afterthought at best, at least in the newsroom." More on this topic.

---Helping Johnny Remember, a freaked out 1960s PSA

---50 beautiful movie posters

---"The Death of the Open Web":

"But a kind of virtual redlining is now under way. The Webtropolis is being stratified. Even if, like most people, you still surf the Web on a desktop or laptop, you will have noticed pay walls, invitation-only clubs, subscription programs, privacy settings and other ways of creating tiers of access. All these things make spaces feel “safe” — not only from viruses, instability, unwanted light and sound, unrequested porn, sponsored links and pop-up ads, but also from crude design, wayward and unregistered commenters and the eccentric ­voices and images that make the Web constantly surprising, challenging and enlightening.

When a wall goes up, the space you have to pay to visit must, to justify the price, be nicer than the free ones. The catchphrase for software developers is “a better experience.” Behind pay walls like the ones on Honolulu Civil Beat, the new venture by the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London, production values surge. Cool software greets the paying lady and gentleman; they get concierge service, perks. Web stations with entrance fees are more like boutiques than bazaars.

The far more significant development, however, is that many people are on their way to quitting the open Web entirely. That’s what the 50 million or so users of the iPhone and iPad are in position to do. By choosing machines that come to life only when tricked out with apps from the App Store, users of Apple’s radical mobile devices increasingly commit themselves to a more remote and inevitably antagonistic relationship with the Web. Apple rigorously vets every app and takes 30 percent of all sales; the free content and energy of the Web does not meet the refined standards set by the App Store. For example, the Weather Channel Max app, which turns the weather into a thrilling interactive movie, offers a superior experience of meteorology to that of Weather.com, which looks like a boring cluttered textbook: white space, columns of fussy bullet points and thumbnail images."


---Craig considers the making of The Graduate

---a history of the modern pixel

---some nice photos from Machete

---lastly, to get ready for Sex and the City 2, check out the product tie-ins and the quick version

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The revulsion, the debasement, and the shame: 5 notes on MacGruber

1) MacGruber left me with an overwhelming sense of embarrassment. Mercifully, except for me and a pal, the theater was empty, thank God, but I still wondered if anyone saw me leave that part of the Cineplex.

2) In the midst of all the sickly-saccharine hyped previews for The Karate Kid and Jonah Hex, I didn't expect to stumble upon one of the worst films of the year, and for the first 15 minutes or so I chuckled along with the exposition where I learned that Mac is a "Real American hero" who foiled a terrorist plot, etc. Cheerfully played by Saturday Night Live actor Will Forte, MacGruber returns from the dead to square off against ultra-nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (a jowly Val Kilmer) for blowing up his bride at the altar.

3) Mac's brand of humor follows the Pink Panther/Get Smart model (fumbling goofball hero errs constantly, but still succeeds in the end). MacGruber is also a copy of a copy of MacGyver, a mid-1980s TV show (film version now in development) involving a man who refuses to carry a gun. Instead he slaps together ingenious mechanical solutions (a weapon from a knife,rubber band, and a Q-tip, for example) to foil the bad guys in life and death situations.

4) But then, the debasement kicked in. Once Mac suffers the setback of his A-Team accidentally getting blown up by his own explosives, the military takes him off the case. Suddenly, Mac pulls down his pants and offers to fellate Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) in exchange for helping him form a new team. With no transition, Mac crumbles into a servile, whiny nonentity who reminded me of the limits of what actors might endure to get noticed. Mac demeans himself repeatedly as he spouts off poop and anal jokes with the grim insistency of someone banging at a telephone pole with an aluminum baseball bat. At one point Mac appears with a celery stalk stuck up his rear to distract the bad guys (a joke that sad Ryan repeats later. Is there a limit to the indignities of being in a Hollywood release these days?). At another point, during a beer break, Vicki St. Elmo (poor but game Kristen Wiig with feathered blond hair) stands up and announces that she has to use the bathroom.
"To do number one or number two?" asks Mac gleefully.
"I'm not saying," replies Vicki, smiling.
"Then it's number two!"
At moments like this I wonder--who is this fourth grade humor directed to in this R-rated film?

5) In all, MacGruber is this year's answer to Land of the Lost, a soulless, Godless stretch of craven time-sucking attention-whoring dreck, an absence masquerading as a presence, an emperor with less than no clothes on (but with a celery stalk). 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 humanoids twitch on a screen. We see a man debased, so we are debased, and there's nothing to consider but the reminder that we all have the potential to sink this low. Later in the movie, Mac gets a couple ironic montage sex scenes to register his potency. He says, "I like holes!" Vicki says, "I'm a virgin." He says, "Not for long!" We also get treated to an image of MacGruber cheerfully defecating upon a corpse. What does it say about us, what kind of post-Borat cultural desolation have we attained when a movie like this gets wide distribution in Cineplexes across America?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The unrepentant outlaw: 9 notes on Jeff Bridges in Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart

Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart skillfully evokes such rich musical and cinematic heritages, one can only sketch them out:

1) Musically, one thinks of the "outlaw" country singers
Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr., and so on. According to Cooper, Kris Kristofferson was so moved by the resemblance between Bad Blake and himself, he had to leave the screening to go compose himself.

2) Cinematically, the film reminds one of Bridges' previous work in The Last Picture Show. It also made me think of Honeysuckle Rose, Red Rock West, Hud, Lonely Are the Brave, and Leaving Las Vegas.

3) I like the way the film's opening scenes in a scruffy New Mexico bowling alley are both a tribute to The Big Lebowski and a progression beyond it. Bowling was ideal for the previous classic film because it remains the perfect ironic retro sport for the consummate slacker, and the movement of the bowling ball down the lane supplied the Coen brothers inspiration for both great tracking shots and fantasy sequences. And yet, Bridges' Lebowski is also a schlub who has a Raymond Chandler-esque mystery adventure happen to him, not because he does anything to warrant it. For all of its many strengths, The Big Lebowski still supplies wish-fulfillment for the overgrown stoner set (including Julianne Moore in the Dude's bed, no less).

In the case of Crazy Heart, the bowling alley also shows us how low Bad Blake has sunk and how ill-suited to modern life he is. Instead of arriving with an entourage, he drives up alone in his '78 Suburban affectionately named Betsy. He has his belt buckle undone, and a milk jug of piss to empty on the parking lot. He lights a cigarette and walks inside, only to learn that:

a) there's no smoking inside, and
b) his manager has already contractually forbidden him from keeping a tab at the bar.

4) Delightfully, Bad is a self-destructive rebel throwback. In an age where sanctities about healthy living increasingly replace religion, Bad eats steak dinners, chain-smokes (cinematically speaking, smoking a cigarette is now worse than committing murder), and chain-drinks whiskey even as it obliges him to vomit into a trash can during a performance. He crisscrosses the west, driving from gig to gig with hemorrhoids so bad they feel like a "nest of fire ants up my ass," as he phrases it. He wears his name (Bad) and his country western look like a mask-- a gray beard, shades, a cowboy hat, and grey slacks.

5) Earlier in the year, when Jeff Bridges appeared in various profiles as well as a video short made by Newsweek with several other movie star Oscar-winning wannabes, I was put off by his attempts to live up to his Taoist ultra-laid-back persona, but now that I've seen Crazy Heart, I find his immersion in Bad's character compelling. Why?

6) Because Bud is both a swine and an artist. With the help of music producer T. Bone Burnett, Crazy Heart does a better job than Almost Famous at creating a convincing stage persona enhanced by Bridges' decent singing and plausible hit songs written by Stephen Bruton and Burnett. I don't even normally like country music, but somehow first-time director Scott Cooper makes Bad sound and look genuine, even in relation to the "artificial" more commercial country music coming out of contemporary Nashville. Cooper succeeds in part by casting Colin Farrell, of all people, as Tommy Sweet, the much more successful country star who feels indebted to Bad for teaching him most everything he knows. Farrell's slight awkwardness in the role (he is, after all, from Dublin) emphasizes how he's a pretender in comparison to Bad. Naturally, being older, less telegenic, and drunkenly impractical, Bad does not have Tommy's marketability.

7) Why else is Bridges compelling? Because he keeps seducing former cast members of Donnie Darko. Beth Grant (formerly the evil Kitty Farmer) appears as Bad's first groupie in the film.
Then, Darko's sister Maggie Gyllenhall plays Bad's major love interest Jane Craddock, a fledgling reporter. Her role is slightly underwritten, since we never really know what draws her to him (especially given the age difference between them), aside from his country star charisma. There's one scene when she starts to cry, smearing her mascara, because Bad has written such a beautiful song in her bed, and then she imagines he will move on and forget her. The scene mostly emphasizes the film's murkiness about her character. Her overly cute kid, Buddy, eats biscuits with Bad (a scene with alliterative overkill). Will Bad become a good father for Buddy? Probably not.

8) Bad remains a pleasantly unrepentant ne'er-do-well for much of Crazy Heart. He passes out at the wheel of Betsy and rolls his truck. He also conks out by the toilet in his underwear. But just when you think he's finally dead from alcohol poisoning, a friend, cheerfully played by Robert Duvall, picks him up and takes him fishing. When Bad's doctor tells him he faces emphysema, cancer, and a stroke, Bad just stares at him. Can he have some more of those painkiller prescriptions? Bad faces various judgments for his self-destructive habits, but they also marinate his brain and make him more fun to watch. His old-fashioned decadence supplies melodramatic material for his songwriting.

9) Lastly, I liked Bad because he gets viciously rejected multiple times, most coldly by a grown son that he's neglected since he was a four year old boy. Even though we know Bad deserves it, Bridges carefully conveys his character's desolation. For all of his warm country songs and his chummy techniques on stage, Bad is in essence a cold, self-involved man who hides behind an outlaw mask. Still, his artistry redeems him a little, and that is what makes Crazy Heart so resonant.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Film Doctor's second anniversary

Two years ago today, the Film Doctor started posting reviews, including this one concerning Children of Men.









Some links:

---apocalyptic real estate

---Raquelle shares Robert Mitchum's appearance on What's My Line

---Cinetrix considers punk Islam

---media dependency

---futuristic communications with walls

---community-based filmmaking, The Cosmonaut, and Chuck Tryon's response

---the awkwardness of the overpopulation debate:

"Thus far, consuming via baby-making has been a no-judgment zone for most Americans, even the most "green" among us. Babies sure are cute. And creating a family is a complex, highly personal art. Many mothers I know say that having a child is the most miraculous experience they've ever had. Turns out, harsh as it sounds, that it's also one of the most environmentally irresponsible.

It's easy to understand why we don't weigh these public ramifications in our procreation decisions, but it doesn't make it right."

---Stephen Frears and Tamara Drewe

---Iron Sky?

---Dan North and the Simpsons' trip to the moon

---the consequences of eating crap:

"A bit of historical context: The fast food industry was "revolutionized" and came to world dominance while Soviet communism was collapsing. And corn was the cornerstone of that revolution. In critiques of "our national eating disorder" that inspired the makers of King Corn, Michael Pollan observed: "If you take a McDonald's meal, you're eating corn . . . It holds together your McNuggets, it sweetens your soda pop, it fattens your meat . . . So when you're at McDonald's, you're eating Iowa food. Everything on your plate is corn." This is true of most fast foods and processed foods. One can begin to think about commercial U.S. culture as "corn-fed" in a broader sense: corn-fed culture has fueled the rise of a particular sort of American politics and economics during the "globalization" process. Vandana Shiva (1993) may describe the fast food empire as an imperialistic "monoculture." But for many U.S. citizens, the proliferation of McDonald's in Moscow and East Europe was proof of the "end of history" and a cause for triumphalist celebration. To be sure, McDonald's became a locus of considerable resistance: the French saw the proliferation of U.S. fast food chains as a threat to family farms and localized food cultures. But in a public sphere in which the interests of industrial food and American military might are often conflated, fast food franchises became a default symbol for freedom. American soldiers during the invasion of Iraq expressed dismay that the Iraqis had "nothing" in comparison to the liberating Americans, where even in the smallest of towns, fast food eateries were ubiquitous."

---The Breaking Winds cover Lady Gaga

---search results and recent changes in journalism

---Marilynne Robinson contemplates the mystery of consciousness

---lastly, Bellamy and Howard discuss Hitchcock's decidedly not minor To Catch a Thief

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Rise and rise again until lambs become lions": 11 questions about Ridley Scott's Robin Hood

Why are critics being so harsh on this film?

1) Is it because it does not contain any fighting robots?

2) Is it because the beautiful Kate Blanchett as Marion Loxley is still kind of middle-aged and neurotic as the film's love interest?

3) Is it because the movie is insufficiently high tech, obliging Scott to rely on lots of movement--people running, horses galloping, arrows flying--to keep his easily-bored audience engaged? Is it because Scott does not include obvious computer-generated special effects?

4) Is it because Russell Crowe is too Hemingwayesque, burly, quiet, and grizzled when we would prefer someone younger, lithe, and playful, like the fox in the 1973 Disney version of Robin Hood?

5) Is it because Monty Python and the Holy Grail has parodied much of this film in advance?

6) Is it because the climactic battle scene on the shores of the Cliffs of Dover carries odd echoes of Saving Private Ryan and Elizabeth: the Golden Age?

7) Is it because Robin Hood displays too much of an egalitarian liberal socialist bent as it indirectly critiques recent American Crusades in the Middle East? Or is it because we don't like to see collectivist proto-hippie organizations frolicking in the woods? Don't they have to worry about poison ivy?

8) Is it because we enjoy Luc Besson films and chocolate eclairs too much to imagine the French as villains? (That can't be it.)

9) Is it because Robin's glib Horatio Alger-esque ascension to the highest ranks of the English military is too easy, too unlikely? He mostly just gives a good speech when the nobility and King John is around.

10) Is it because there's something too excalibur about Robin's fascination with a sword that has "Rise and rise again until the lambs become lions" written on it? According to Robin, it means "Never give up."

11) Or is it simply because Ridley's large, old-fashioned, $237 million, possibly doomed, earnest, epic film is too easy a target?

Related link:

the difficulties of making Robin Hood

Thursday, May 13, 2010

iLinks

---filmmaking in Beirut

---is it possible for Tom Cruise to act spontaneous?

---what happens to your brain distracted by the internet:

"Above all, Carr points to the past 20-some years of neurological research indicating that the human brain is, in the words of one scientific pioneer, "massively plastic" -- that is, much like our muscles, it can be substantially changed and developed by what we do with it. In a study that is quickly becoming as popular a touchstone as the Milgram experiment, the brains of London cab drivers were discovered to be much larger in the posterior hippocampus (the part of the brain devoted to spatial representations of one's surroundings) than was the case with a control group. These masses of neurons are the physiological manifestation of "the Knowledge," the cabbies' legendary mastery of the city's geography. The drivers' anterior hippocampus, which manages certain memory tasks, is correspondingly smaller. There's only so much space inside a skull, after all.

References to the cabbie study don't often mention this evidence that cognitive development may be a zero-sum game. The more of your brain you allocate to browsing, skimming, surfing and the incessant, low-grade decision-making characteristic of using the Web, the more puny and flaccid become the sectors devoted to "deep" thought. Furthermore, as Carr recently explained in a talk at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, distractibility is part of our genetic inheritance, a survival trait in the wild: "It's hard for us to pay attention," he said. "It goes against the native orientation of our minds."

Concentrated, linear thought doesn't come naturally to us, and the Web, with its countless spinning, dancing, blinking, multicolored and goodie-filled margins, tempts us away from it. (E-mail, that constant influx of the social acknowledgment craved by our monkey brains, may pose an even more potent diversion.) "It's possible to think deeply while surfing the Net," Carr writes, "but that's not the type of thinking the technology encourages or rewards." Instead, it tends to transform us into "lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment."

---more on how our digital tools enslave us

---Bordwell on "Watching a movie, page by page"

---interview with Bret Easton Ellis:

"My current conception of LA started in some ways with your novel Less Than Zero and then also from seeing old movies like Sunset Boulevard. I think that maybe part of what makes LA so weird is that there’s a palpable sense of desperation in the air. A lot of young people who want to make it.

Oh, totally.

That showed up a lot in your new novel, Imperial Bedrooms.

Big time.

There’s the character of Rain, obviously, who is willing to do anything to get a role in a film, but also there’s a part where Clay watches a video of the young actor who lived in his apartment before him, and he sees “the fake smile, the pleading eyes, the mirage of it all.” Do you encounter that kind of person in real life?

All the time.

And do they ask you for things?

Yeah. It’s Vegas here. It’s a gambler’s town. You come here and the odds are overwhelmingly against you, but you do it anyway. And you know what? I really think that—and I’ve said this before—but I think that LA forces you to become the person you really are. I don’t think LA is a place where you’re allowed to reinvent yourself. It absolutely isn’t. There’s an isolating quality to a life lived out here. I don’t care how many friends you have. I don’t care if you have a relationship. Whatever. It’s just an isolating city. You’re alone a lot. And I think it forces you to become the person you really are. It doesn’t allow you to hide. I think New York is a much easier place to kind of reinvent yourself. In LA, over time, the real person you are ultimately comes out, or else people can’t deal with that and they flee before it happens."

---Dan Clowe's new book Wilson

---The Adjustment Bureau, otherwise known as The Fedora, the Box, and the Mad Man.

---Sergio Leone sells cars as David Lynch peddles coffee

---the new age of data

---"Freaking awesome shot!"--Hokahey explains how to teach film to eighth graders

---the growth of social media

---the 5 best film books

---Zombie and Kick-Ass Beatlemania

---Russell Crowe! Heel! Good boy.

---lastly, the death of embarrassment:

"It is not only public grooming that you'll see more of these days; public displays of affection have become more frequent (and more amorous) as well. As one young Manhattan resident recently complained in the New York Times, "Everywhere I go, people are fondling each other as if the entire city were a cheap motel room." At work, over-sharing is becoming as vexing an office problem as gossip. Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Bernstein wrote recently of the challenge of erasing from her mind the image of a colleague who, in pursuit of his bicycling hobby, described "shaving his entire body to reduce aerodynamic drag." We have even devised an acronym - TMI, or "Too Much Information" - to capture the uncomfortable experience of listening to people natter on about their personal problems.

What ever happened to embarrassment? Why are an increasing number of us comfortable bringing our private activities - from personal hygiene to intimate conversation - into public view? Bernstein and others place some of the blame on the desensitization wrought by reality television and social networking sites like Facebook, both of which traffic in personal revelation. To be sure, television and Internet video sites such as YouTube have made all of us more comfortable in the role of everyday voyeurs. We watch others cook, work, shop, argue, sing, dance, stumble, and fall - all from a safe remove. The motley denizens of reality television regularly put themselves into questionable and embarrassing situations so that they can later discuss, for our viewing enjoyment, how questionable and embarrassing their conduct was. If we are less easily embarrassed, it must be in part from vicariously experiencing so much manufactured embarrassment on the screen."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A lot of Sturm und Drang signifying money: 9 notes on Iron Man 2

After watching Iron Man 2, I left the theater wondering if I can spend another summer watching such schlock. Daniel Day-Lewis chose to cobble shoes in Florence, Italy for a period of time in the later 90s. Perhaps I could arrange to do the same? Anyway, some notes:

1) A poignant moment: two robots look soulfully at each other before one flies away.

2) In this highly self-protectively ironic movie, you do see occasional signs of emotion: looking like the Cowardly Lion, the otherwise contemptuous Mickey Rourke wails when his character's dad dies in Russia. Also, Gwyneth Paltrow conveys impossible-to-contain joy when she learns that Tony has made her the CEO of Stark Industries. Otherwise, you mostly get Tony's ironic smarminess and much rock 'em sock 'em robot action.

3) As if still besotted and surprised by the success of Iron Man, the sequel revels in its fame and hype. Characters frequently stand before cameras and adoring fans. They bathe in the strobe lighting of the paparazzi flash bulbs, creating media images within images, magazine covers, TV appearances, screens within screens, an overlapping proliferation. The film seeks validation through media reproduction, the more copies the better.

4) The chief problem with Iron Man 2 is its smugness, the assumption of profit, the assumption of being technologically more "advanced," the superhero's no-longer-secret identity as rock star.

5) Iron Man 2 keeps returning to an Expo of one kind or another. Is this Favreau sucking up to Comic-Con fans? What is the difference between these glitzy Las Vegas-style Expo scenes and the gala photo-op premiers of the actual movie?

6) In terms of story, Iron Man 2's plot sags, drifts, drunkenly plunges down blind alleys, absentmindedly provides pretexts for action scenes, lurches toward a showdown at yet another Expo. Robert Downey Jr. lampoons his own tendency to indulge in drugged excess. He is the ne'er-do-well superhero, the midlife crisis putz corrosively saving the world amidst his squalor and his breakdowns. He brags, fails, brags again. His only sympathetic quality is his uselessness.

7) The film has a curious gear-head Popular Mechanics high school shop-class affect. You can build a better protagonist. Both hero and villain work hard with their acetylene torches and laser toolkits, erecting particle accelerators and metallic projections of masculinity that clank, clang for the increasingly deaf audience.

8) There's always Scarlett Johansson going all Emma Peel in her leather cat suit. Director Jon Favreau generously gives his character his own fight scene. Don Cheadle's sullen version of Lt. Rhodes leaves you wondering about what Terrence Howard thinks of losing the role after starring in the first Iron Man (the film's one bit of human interest). Samuel L. Jackson appears with an eye-patch to give the proceedings some Pulp Fiction gravitas. Sam Rockwell's histrionic turns as Justin Hammer helps one appreciate his work in Moon.

9) Regardless, you can rest assured of witty banter between Hammer drone attacks. In the midst of battle, Tony says "Drop your socks, and grab your Crocs. It's about to get wet." At least, the movie is self-aware about its stupidity.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

links

---life in 2020:

"Computers will be able to track everything we do. Everything. As Frog's Mark Rolston tells it, they'll monitor your health as easily as you might update your Facebook page. They'll shop for you, no need to wade through department-store racks. If you see a great pair of shoes on someone walking down the street, your mobile handset or AR-equipped glasses can identify them, and then do the price-shopping for you. You'll be able to interact with an Xbox 360 without ever touching a control. See Project Natal."

---Get out of there!

---132 instantly available Criterion films

---Ridley Scott's color schemes

---the shortcomings of the superhero genre

---Deciphering the mysteries of Inception:

"Speaking to the LA Times last month, Nolan described Inception as being in the same vein as late 1990s efforts such as The Matrix, Dark City, and The Thirteenth Floor, as well as his own Memento. All of the above share the sense that the reality which we see around us may not be entirely real. Where Inception also seems to differ is that its characters are fully aware of the nature of their surroundings: the film posits the idea that it is possible to enter a shared dream state with other human beings, a sort of virtual reality of the consciousness. Nolan specifically rejected the idea that his film might borrow "second-life" tropes from movies such as Avatar, Surrogates, Gamer, or the Tron movies, however. He said he was inspired to write the story, which took him a decade, by his own experiences with lucid dreaming during the moments in between sleep and wakefulness.

He told the Times:

You can look around and examine the details and pick up a handful of sand on the beach. I never particularly found a limit to that; that is to say, that while in that state your brain can fill in all that reality.

I tried to work that idea of manipulation and management of a conscious dream being a skill that these people have. Really the script is based on those common, very basic experiences and concepts, and where can those take you? And the only outlandish idea that the film presents, really, is the existence of a technology that allows you to enter and share the same dream as someone else."

---the history, meaning, and practice of suicide

---interview with David Foster Wallace

---a handsome trailer for another film that will oblige critics to take a stand: The Killer Inside Me. Jessica Alba also stars in Machete with . . . Robert De Niro?

---Borges on art

---15 great unscripted scenes

---capitalizing on Naomi Klein's No Logo:

"All brands are built around a unique promise or selling proposition, but as Klein argued, whatever a brand is supposed to stand for, it has little to do with the material facts of how the product is manufactured. Nike’s “Just Do It” pledge of individual achievement and Apple’s attitude of hip nonconformity could mask sweatshops, communities damaged by outsourcing, or an exploited environment. The anti-corporate activism chronicled in No Logo used this gap between what a brand promised to consumers and how its corporate parent actually behaved to perform a bit of public relations jiu-jitsu. When their bad faith was revealed to the world, the economic strength of the brand bullies became a major liability. The need to preserve shareholder value forced companies such as Shell and Nike to get their act together and make sure their corporate deeds aligned with their marketing froth.

A decade on, there is no question who won that fight. From eco- to organic, fair trade to locally sourced, sweatshop safe to dolphin friendly, sales pitches that 10 years ago would have reeked of patchouli oil and set the red baiters on full alert are now thoroughly mainstream. Companies like Whole Foods (and its quarterly “5 Percent Day,” when each location donates 5 percent of its net sales to a nonprofit) or the Vermont-based Seventh Generation (a natural soap and detergent company devoted to all forms of sustainability, whose co-founder and executive chairman is known as the “inspired protagonist” of the firm) are massively successful operations."

---time management on the internet

---Facebook's eroding privacy policy: a timeline. Also, Facebook and MacDonalds, together at last.

---lastly, how to eat dinner with Bill Murray