Sunday, May 29, 2011

Notable film and media links (Surfside Beach edition)

---Harold Lloyd TV interview in 1962

---Apocalypse Now storyboards

---how to create a Hitchcockian opening

---laws of motion in a cartoon landscape

---Andrew considers contemporary cinephilia:

"At the very least, I do believe that 21st-century cinephilia meets Neil’s broad type of “church” expectation, and it’s refreshing to see marginalized or otherwise ignored cinema given the consideration and distribution traditionally reserved only for those in the canon. Yet there are times I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a downside to this immediate access to everything, or if those concerns are clearly just a sign of my age. Something Frances wrote has been turning in my head all day – “The obsession that drives fandom is not so different from that which drives cinephilia – to commit to either requires passion, amassed knowledge, long hours spent in an alternate world.” While there are no shortcuts when it comes to the time required to watch a film, I feel that there’s something lost when one can, with the greatest of ease, amass the collected works of a given director in an afternoon. For years, Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 was a holy grail for many; a nearly impossible film to see. Last year, I watched it on my iPhone while riding on the New York City subway; an act that was wrong on many levels.Access alone isn’t a threat to cinephilia, but perhaps oversaturation, overexposure and increased temptation precludes specialization? Might not the way (or rate) at which we consume media affect our ability to adequately reflect on it? This of course raises the whole “slow criticism” argument, but perhaps that’s best saved for another time…"

---Film on Paper

---3000 back issues of Boxoffice Magazine

---Leon Neyfakh's "Our Data Ourselves"

---how Fox sells fear by Tim Dickinson:

"To watch even a day of Fox News – the anger, the bombast, the virulent paranoid streak, the unending appeals to white resentment, the reporting that’s held to the same standard of evidence as a late-­October attack ad – is to see a refraction of its founder, one of the most skilled and fearsome operatives in the history of the Republican Party. As a political consultant, Ailes repackaged Richard Nixon for television in 1968, papered over Ronald Reagan’s budding Alzheimer’s in 1984, shamelessly stoked racial fears to elect George H.W. Bush in 1988, and waged a secret campaign on behalf of Big Tobacco to derail health care reform in 1993. "He was the premier guy in the business," says former Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins. "He was our Michelangelo."

---MetaFilter links to all things Mulholland Drive related

---slightly NSFW outtakes from Bridesmaids demonstrates their comedic techniques

---awesome people hanging out together

---Smith's "The Blog as Mask and Gravestone":

"But here is the thought that makes death formidable again: it is the moment after which I will never post to my blog again, after which I will never write another Facebook status update, I will never again tweet. My soul cries out: “But I can’t live without doing these things!” And death answers back: “No. But you can die.”

This is to say that my life is wrapped up with an activity from which I will have to leave off at death. But it is also the activity, I am increasingly coming to think, of actively constructing my self, and this activity, when it leaves off in death, will leave an accurate and vivid trace of a life. My online activity is, as I already put it, both mask and gravestone at once.

This may not be an entirely different experience than the one Robert Burton had when he brought out the fourth and fifth and sixth editions of The Anatomy of Melancholy. But the immediacy of blogging, and its lack of finality, make it much more like life itself than a book ever could be, with the backlogged publishers who promise it and the slow-churning presses that produce it. There is no publisher to blame if my blog is not sufficiently far along in its perfection at the moment of my death, no editorial wrangling or grinding production process. There is only me, and what I hope might be a mirror of me, diffused then through the Web of my culture by means I don’t understand: a mirror of me mirroring the world by sitting in a chair and looking at a screen and, every now and again, out the window."

---can data save the studios?

---Bellamy and Edward converse about the films of Terrence Malick

---Prikryl's "The Genius of Buster" Keaton

---Cathy Davidson on the technology-affecting-our-brains debate:

"Here are two facts: (1) we now know from the new science of attention and the most recent findings in neuroscience that our brain is not, as was previously thought, an inheritance that comes with all of its components fixed and certain; the brain is a learning organism and that means it is constantly changed by its environment, but what it experiences, and by its interactions. But (2) except in B-horror movies ("The Brain that Wouldn't Die" or "The Brain from Planet Arous" and so forth), the brain doesn't power itself and it doesn't power us. The brain R us. That is, what we experience our brain experiences. If we give it a steady diet of junk food or alcohol or Ritalin, it changes. If we give it a steady stream of "Jersey Shore," that's what it learns. If we give it a steady diet of item-response multiple choice testing (the ridiculous form of testing which, we know, does nothing except prepare students to do well on that particular form of testing), it learns how to think like those tests. If we inspire ourselves to curiosity, expose ourselves to challenges and then succeed and reinforce our ability to take challenges, our brain learns how to extrapolate from challenges. And if we spend all day on line doing idiotic things, then, well, that is what we learn how to do well---spending all day on line doing idiotic things. We are what we do. Our brain is what it does.

But that's not about technology, it's about humanity. Between the human brain and the computer screen, comes us, our will, our desires, our habits, our training, our work, our incentives, our motivations, our culture, our society, our institutions, all of the things that make us human. It's NOT the Technology, Stupid! It is about what we--you and I--do with the technology. It always has been, it always will be."

---Grohl interviews Kristen Wiig

---a stuntman remembers Raiders of the Lost Ark

---Tom Shone on the retro blockbuster trend

---lastly, The Movie Orgy snippet by Joe Dante

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Once again to the brig: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

[Note: Here's a time capsule review of the last film of the "trilogy" from my newspaper days. In the May 13, Entertainment Weekly, Depp said of the previous movies, "They had to invent a trilogy out of nowhere. It was plot-driven and complicated. I remember talking to [Gore Verbinski, director] at certain points during production of 2 and 3 and saying `I don't really know what this means.' He said, `Neither do I, but let's just shoot it.'" Now that Michael Bay has apologized for the crappiness of the last Transformers movie, I wonder when Depp will admit that On Stranger Tides makes no sense?]

For much of the 20th century, pirate movies bombed. Then, in 2003, Disney executives thought they would adapt an amusement park ride into a film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Johnny Depp got the lead as Captain Jack Sparrow, and he approached the role in an oddly fey impish way (with mascara and dreadlocks) that had the Disney suits throwing conniption fits, since they wanted a more conventional macho figure. To everyone's surprise, the film turned out to be pretty good, and Disney made plenty of money.

Now in 2007, the third installment weighs in as the blockbuster most likely to earn hundreds of billions of dollars for the rest of the summer, and there's a sense of futility of even commenting on the thing, given how many will go and see it regardless of what critics will say. In 2006, the studio began shooting At World's End without a finished script. Since I lost interest in the second installment (Dead Man's Chest) after the first half hour, I had dim hopes for this one, but it did prove diverting for an hour before plot incoherence set in. Captain Jack died in the last film, so now he's off in an underworld titled "Davy Jones' Locker" and it's up to poor Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and even his former enemy Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to go to the end of the earth to fetch him back to the land of the living. Just to keep things complicated, the East India Co's Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) seeks to end the age of piracy by taking over the ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman with Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his squid-like tentacled face.

So Elizabeth and Barbossa go visit Captain Sao Fang (Chow Yun-Fat) in Singapore to get some navigational charts to the underworld. To get into Sao Fang's gangster stronghold, Elizabeth has to strip, marking the first and last time that Knightley does anything suggestive.
The usually good actor Chow Yun-Fat has a scar and an odd lisp, and he keeps saying "More steam!" during the scene, but then the monkey sets off a bunch of fireworks in the compound as the British soldiers rush in. Everyone has a good sword fight, and then our heroes are off to get Sparrow, which involves plunging their ship over the edge of the world.

When Sparrow finally appears, he's on a landlocked ship with an entire crew of digitally inserted computer-generated versions of himself, which hints at the filmmakers' desperate attempt to provide more Johnny Depp. Betraying a blockbuster mentality, they confuse more with better. At another time, Jack talks to miniature CGI versions of himself dropping down through his dreadlocks, but then some mystical rock crabs transport the ship across the land, and Jack meets up with his buddies. He says "Why should I sail with any of you? Four of you have tried to kill me in the past. One of you succeeded." But they persuade him anyway, and then they try to reform the Brethren Court of pirate organizations to take on evil Captain Beckett in one last massive battle of the high seas.

As all of the pirate organizations squabble and betray each other, Keith Richards shows up for a sweet cameo as Jack's pirate father. While Depp drew on his friendship with Richards to help create some of his pirate mannerisms, there's no particular reason to assume that Richards can actually act. So, his much ballyhooed arrival is a letdown, though he does strum a guitar a little.

Otherwise, like its predecessor, At World's End has the jarring habit of jumping into the next scene/island/ship without explanation. Perhaps Disney made this film this way so that youngsters can rewatch the film and gradually piece together what's happening. It's awkward not knowing why a barnacled man disentangles himself from a wall in the brig, just to bewail his lost son. Moreover, I could never tell why Orlando Bloom is in the film at all, except perhaps to provide a handsome face to match Keira Knighley's.

After many murky plot shifts, At World's End climaxes with a battle scene where two ships shoot cannon fire at each other as they both get sucked in a gigantic whirlpool in the rain. The hapless Will finally proposes to Elizabeth as they swordfight with many computer-generated creatures. As Jack Sparrow twirls around the main mast, hanging on a rope, I found myself wishing that he would get killed by a stray bullet and stay dead.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Film Doctor's third anniversary

Three years ago today, the Film Doctor started posting reviews, including this one concerning Michael Clayton.

Some links:

---three reasons: Something Wild

---making Hanna

---the art of the title sequence: Game of Thrones

---revisiting A Clockwork Orange

---detail shots of Bottle Rocket

---criminalizing cameras

---the faux-vintage photo and nostalgia for the present

---Ben McGrath's "The Dystopians":

"Orlov’s 2008 book, “Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects,” identifies the ingredients of what he calls “superpower collapse soup”—a severe shortfall in the production of crude oil, a worsening foreign-trade deficit, an oversized military budget, and crippling foreign debt—and argues that his adopted country, with its “American-style Potemkin villages” and “highly compensated senior lunch-eaters,” is not only vulnerable but likely to fare worse. (“Make no mistake about it: this soup will be served, and it will not be tasty!”) “Now we’re in hospice care,” he told me. “The bailouts you see can be viewed as ever bigger doses of morphine for a patient that’s not long for this world.”

---using After Effects for The Social Network

---the original ending of Election (which is faithful to the book)

---Jason Bellamy and Sheila O'Malley choose their "movies"

---Toy Shining

---The Hangover filmmakers take many risks with their new trailer

---A. O. Scott and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

---the appeal of the apocalypse

---the Say Anything scene that Cusack improvised

---Roseanne Barr lets loose:

"I grabbed a pair of wardrobe scissors and ran up to the big house to confront the producer. (The “big house” was what I called the writers’ building. I rarely went there, since it was disgusting. Within minutes, one of the writers would crack a stinky-pussy joke that would make me want to murder them. Male writers have zero interest in being nice to women, including their own assistants, few of whom are ever promoted to the rank of “writer,” even though they do all the work while the guys sit on their asses taking the credit. Those are the women who deserve the utmost respect.) I walked into this woman’s office, held the scissors up to show her I meant business, and said, “Bitch, do you want me to cut you?” We stood there for a second or two, just so I could make sure she was receptive to my POV. I asked why she had told the wardrobe master to not listen to me, and she said, “Because we do not like the way you choose to portray this character.” I said, “This is no fucking character! This is my show, and I created it—not Matt, and not Carsey-Werner, and not ABC. You watch me. I will win this battle if I have to kill every last white bitch in high heels around here.”

---lastly, Repo Man

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Humor from a woman's point of view: 9 notes on Bridesmaids

“Studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy that experience a woman’s point of view . . . "

[Note: many of these notes came from Mrs. Film Dr. I enjoyed the film, but feeling a bit out of my depth in this case, I stole what insights I could from her before she returned to her Hawthorne biography.]

1) Most romantic comedies don't really get the vulgarity of women, particularly when women are in a good mood, or when they are pissed off. The cursing was very apt in Bridesmaids. It conveys the silly vulgarity that women have, but only around each other. If there were men involved, they wouldn't be that way. At one point, Annie (Kristen Wiig) pretends to be a penis by shutting one eye when joking around with her friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). The film ends up being sweetly crude, with an odd honesty to it (at one point Annie points out her "boobs are sweaty").

2)Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids demonstrates the underhanded, mean-spirited way that women often fight with each other. It's rarely overt. They take it all underground. The movie concerns the rivalry between Annie (Wiig) and the rich Helen (Rose Byrne) over the friendship of the bride-to-be Lillian. Annie acknowledges that Helen is prettier than she is, and more graceful.

Immediately feeling threatened, Annie begins thinking of ways to undercut Helen. She doesn't like this "better" woman usurping her role as a best friend. She doesn't want to share. The one-up-"man"ship at the engagement party where the two women take turns giving a speech in honor of Lillian serves as an early example of this behavior. Here, it's not really about how much they care about Lillian, but about being able to show their "best friend" status to everyone else. The rivalry also gets complicated by money, since Annie's cake business is failed and she has a crap job at a jewelry shop. Helen, meanwhile, lives in an estate, and has endless funds to buy a new friend. Since Helen is the kind of woman that she and Lillian would normally have made fun of, Lillian's seeming transfer of affections seems to diminish the basis of their original friendship. But since Lillian is marrying "up," and Helen is her husband's boss's wife, by be-friending her she may be (symbolically) proving to her husband that she's worthy of marrying into his class. Annie reads her "change" as treacherous.

3) When Annie and Helen have an argument about whether or not people change, that scene probes Annie's deep-seated dislike (and distrust) of Lillian's inevitable change after she gets married. Helen's engagement party for Lillian at a posh country club betrays her attempt to change Lillian. Here, Lillian is out of her element, but obviously wowed by the status that her marriage (and her friendship with Helen) has allowed her. She has risen above her girlhood beginnings. Later, to retaliate against Helen and to show that people don't change, Annie takes the bridesmaids to a cheap Brazilian restaurant because that's the kind of thing she and Lillian would have done when they were younger. Lillian even says that Annie always takes her to places that look crappy on the outside but then serve delicious food. (Here, Annie is wrong, however, as the various bridesmaids come down with instant food poisoning.) Helen has missteps too, such as when she takes Lillian to a French designer who makes an awful-looking wedding dress. Yet, the two women continuously compete in this way--Annie in reminding Lillian of her girlhood, Helen in showcasing what she could become.

4) Jon Hamm plays the commitment-phobe Ted. Objectified by women due to Mad Men, Hamm appears to enjoy portraying a scoundrel, a guy who uses women for sex. As he tells Annie, the next morning, "I really want you to leave, but I don't know what to say without being a dick." The movie suggests that a person should not be involved in a sex-only relationship with someone he or she has feelings for, because Annie always hates herself afterwards. Lillian points out that Annie puts herself in situations where she feels bad, so she's fully at fault for the Ted business. Annie kids herself into believing that she can change Ted, yet he's quite candid about his lack of interest in her. Hamm's uncredited appearance in this role is a nicely ironic commentary on his own objectification.

5) In dramatic contrast to Ted, Chris O'Dowd charms as the love-interest cop Rhodes. His Irish accent tends to slow down scenes with Kristen in a manner reminiscent of Ralph Bellamy. He's middle class like Annie (whereas Hamm's character is rich: he drives a Porsche).

Rhodes begins to appreciate Annie's quirky humor when she does a little soft shoe dance to prove that she's not drunk--a scene similar to Naomi Watts' dance before King Kong in the 2005 version. At any rate, the Rhodes subplot works in part because he's not the usual central interest in the storyline, as Anne Helen Petersen points out.

6) One scene, late in the movie, alludes to My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), when Annie and Lillian exchange a long look before Lillian leaves in a limo. Throughout the earlier film, Roberts' character has been competing for her male friend (played by Dermot Muclroney), and at that moment, she realizes that she has to let him go. At the end of Bridesmaids, you get the same sort of bittersweet quality as it blends friendship with renunciation.

7) Bridesmaids is especially good with ensemble set piece scenes such as the one in a jet where Annie drunkenly says "Help me, I'm poor" as she infiltrates the first class compartment. Another especially hilarious scatological scene takes place, incongruously, in a pretentious bridal shop called Belle en Blanc. The director Paul Feig allowed the actresses to improvise variations as they shot these scenes. As he says,

"The one for me that stands out is the airplane scene, and just all of the stuff that Kristen’s doing. It was definitely scripted out, some of those lines she was hitting, but it was just her taking it and running with it. I shot them over and over and over again partly selfishly because she was making me laugh so much, I just wanted to see what she was going to do if I started it again. [Laughs] So yeah, it was always throwing such curveballs at us, but it was the whole cast. It just worked well.

We started with a structured thing and we had lines lined up and that sort of then devolved into, `Try this,' or `Try that,' or I’d give them an idea. The girls always had a laugh because my catchphrase is `Dealer’s Choice!' Which means just take it anywhere you want it to go, do whatever you want with it, and let’s see if we get anything out of it."

8) Feig strikes me as the kind of director who excels at letting his performers contribute effective ideas to the movie. In an article in the May 20 Entertainment Weekly, Melissa McCarthy (formerly of The Gilmore Girls) talks of how, for the audition, she interpreted the Megan character in terms of "cropped Dockers, athletic sandals, pearls, maybe a carpal-tunnel bandage." The bandage is prominently on display in the movie. As she says, "I love playing an eccentric woman who's really confident. Yes, Megan looks different for somebody in the movies who's not playing crazy, but that's just because everyone in the movies is always in a hyper state of perfection."

9) Megan frequently steals the movie in part because she prefers women that talk (and fight) straightforwardly. She's the aggressor, and she recommends that the shower theme be Fight Club, where they just grease up and hit each other. Given the way the film plays out, that would have been psychologically healthier.

The subject for various visual gags because of her body type, Megan appears to be, ironically, the only woman who is comfortable in her own skin. She has fun seducing an Air Marshall, and she helps Annie realize that she's not fighting back enough. In some ways, she's the Falstaff of the group, the one allowed to indulge in her appetites, and she tells the truth. She seems very unfeminine in her way, but part of that is because she doesn't act fake, ever. So, oddly (but typical of the honest humor of Bridesmaids), the character we are conditioned to consider the butt of the most jokes turns out to have the most chutzpah.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thor Agonistes

In the CGI realm of Asgard,
One blond Norse is built like an offensive guard.
He stands in a golden light so garish,
He resembles some guy in a Maxfield Parrish.

Proud Thor stands by the door.
He wants more,
The throne of Marvel comics' Norse lore.
His cape is made of red velour.

Anthony Hopkins plays Thor's one-eyed dad,
Who gets mythically mad,
And banishes Thor to earth's lowlife squalor,
To languish there evermore.

Travelling by wormhole Thornado,
Thor lands in New Mexico's dark sand,
There to meet Natalie Portman
Who drives a white van.

As astrophysicist Jane, Portman goes gaga
Whenever Thor struts through the door.
He's a hunk of an otherworldly saga,
Who smashes his mug upon the floor.

Thor has to learn humility and tact
To get his cute little hammer back.
Thor needs to find some grace
To fight a monster that shoots lasers from its face.

I wanted to like Thor due to Kenneth Branagh,
But I grew weary of the ersatz costume drama.
The film works better in the US,
Where Portman does not appear so Black Swan-stressed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

apocalyptic links 2: on stranger tides

---truthful summer posters

---Adam Curtis considers "sharing of emotions online" the "Soviet realism of our age":

"[Curtis] quotes Carmen Hermosillo, a West Coast geek and early adopter of online chatrooms who in 1994 argued that, although the internet is a wonderful thing, your emotions become commodified. "It is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some island of the blessed where people are free to indulge and express their individuality," she wrote. "This is not true. I have seen many people spill out their emotions – their guts – online and I did so myself until I began to see that I had commodified myself." Says Curtis, "On Facebook and Twitter, you are performing to attract people – you are dancing emotionally, on a platform created by a large corporation. People's feelings bounce back and forth – happy Stakhanovites, ignoring and denying the system of power. It's like Stalin's socialist realism. Both Twitter and socialist realism are innocent expressions of the ideology of the time, which don't pull back and show the wider thing they are part of.We look back on socialist realism not as innocent but as a dramatic expression of power; it expresses the superiority of the state, which was the guiding belief at the time.I think sometime in the future people will look back at the millions and millions of descriptions of personal feelings on the internet and see them in similar ways. This is the driving belief of our time: that 'me' and what I feel minute by minute is the natural centre of the world. Far from revealing that this is an ideology – and that there are other ways of looking at human society – what Twitter and Facebook do is reinforce the feeling that this is the natural way to be."

---"Astonish us"--Pauline Kael

---a Wes Anderson montage

---the prison-industrial complex is . . .

---the top posts of The Dancing Image

---some of Woody Allen's favorite books:

"Salinger’s protagonist is driven mad by the ugliness in life. What drives you nuts?

The human predicament: the fact that we’re living in a nightmare that everyone is making excuses for and having to find ways to sugarcoat. And the fact that life, at its best, is a pretty horrible proposition. But people’s behavior makes it much, much worse than it has to be."

---Auerback notes the great global growth slowdown

---Kubrick: a Filmography

---100 years of British film

---Melanie Lynskey remembers Heavenly Creatures

---"Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal" by Junot Diaz:

"I cannot contemplate the apocalypse of Haiti without asking the question: where is this all leading? Where are the patterns and forces that we have set in motion in our world—the patterns and forces that made Haiti’s devastation not only possible but inevitable—delivering us? To what end, to what future, to what fate?

The answer seems to me both obvious and chilling. I suspect that once we have finished ransacking our planet’s resources, once we have pushed a couple thousand more species into extinction and exhausted the water table and poisoned everything in sight and exacerbated the atmospheric warming that will finish off the icecaps and drown out our coastlines, once our market operations have parsed the world into the extremes of ultra-rich and not-quite-dead, once the famished billions that our economic systems left behind have in their insatiable hunger finished stripping the biosphere clean, what we will be left with will be a stricken, forlorn desolation, a future out of a sci-fi fever dream where the super-rich will live in walled-up plantations of impossible privilege and the rest of us will wallow in unimaginable extremity, staggering around the waste and being picked off by the hundreds of thousands by “natural disasters”—by “acts of god.”

Sounds familiar, don't it?"

---Christian Keathley analyzes a scene in Anatomy of a Murder

---Eli Pariser and the online filter bubbles

---Brody explores the Wes Anderson/French New Wave connection

---Evans' "The Lost Roles of Ghostbusters"

---Marion's smirk in Psycho:

"Screenwriter Joseph Stefano, adapting Robert Bloch’s novel, employs an odd device here that I can’t recall encountering in any other film: Marion imagines conversations that haven’t happened yet, predicting how her boss, her sister, and the oilman whose cash she swiped will react when she doesn’t show up for work on Monday. (You see this kind of hypothetical flash-forward from time to time, but this is the only instance I know of that confines it to voiceover.) It’s an elegant solution to one of cinema’s more intractable problems: how to convey what a character is thinking when he or she’s entirely alone. What’s more, it’s exactly the sort of useless speculation in which we all indulge at times of great stress—in effect, we become screenwriters (or perhaps playwrights) ourselves, inventing plausible dialogue for the people in our lives, anticipating their behavior. The sense of accumulating guilt and anxiety is palpable.

Hitchcock, of course, makes it even more palpable by gradually darkening the sky, brightening the headlights (both oncoming and from the rear), and turning on the waterworks. But most of the sequence consists of Janet Leigh looking straight into the camera in medium close-up, in an extraordinary sort of quasi-non-performance. Back in 1998, arguing with people about the differences between the original film and Van Sant’s remake, I maintained that Leigh (unlike Anne Heche, who plays Marion in the ’98 version) all but empties her face of emotion here, thereby allowing us to project our own feelings onto the deliberate blankness. Looking at it now, I see that that’s not really true. Leigh bites her lip, furrows her brow, and at one point assumes an expression so bizarre that it gets its own paragraph below. She’s definitely acting. And yet there’s something mesmerizingly iconic about this series of close-ups that didn’t translate at all when Van Sant attempted to recreate it with Heche."

---Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix(?) on American Bandstand (1965)

---Liquid Atmospherics: Wong Kar-wai-related links by Catherine Grant (@filmstudiesff)

---lastly, Ed Howard and Jason Bellamy converse about the work of Wong Kar-wai

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why is Fast Five so popular?

"Five's' Huge $83.6M Opening Kick-Starts the Box Office"--The Wrap

The question is why? My attempt at some answers:

1) What are the names of the five movies? The Fast and the Furious (2001), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), Fast & Furious (2009), and now Fast Five.

2) Which Hitchcock film has uncanny parallels with Fast Five? Notorious (1946). Both films start in the States and move quickly to Rio de Janeiro for the remainder of the storyline. While there's no real equivalent to Ingrid Bergman's Alicia Huberman as she juggles Nazis, Cary Grant, and the CIA, Dom and Brian do have to walk a fine line between an underworld kingpin named Reyes and an American super-cop named Luke Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). At any rate, both movies feature nice talismanic shots of the Christ the Redeemer sculpture that spreads its arms over the city. Given that Dom loses a gaudy cross on a necklace and then breaks into a policewoman's flat to steal it back (thereby setting up a romance between them), one figures that director Justin Lin enjoys throwing in some Catholic imagery whenever possible.

3) What other major classic film keeps coming to mind? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), in part because Dom's and Brian's long, long fall into water resembles the famous jump that Paul Newman and Robert Redford take into a ravine (however, Dom and Brian fall with a 1965 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport). In Butch, the American gangsters repeatedly rob a train by stopping it the old-fashioned way. In Fast Five, Dom and his gang ride up to the side of speeding train in a large jeep-like vehicle and use acetylene torches to burn off one metal wall of a train car before stealing some cars, an unlikely occurrence that brings up question number 4.

4) Isn't Fast Five incredibly implausible? Yes, and that (along with Vin Diesel's issues with acting) is a large part of its appeal. As soon as Brian successfully uses a race car to knock over a large prison bus to free Dom (which would normally flatten anyone), one realizes that very few of the action stunts in this movie make any kind of logical sense at all, nor do any of the filmmakers care. On one level both Diesel (who co-produced) and Paul Walker are in their way very serious about keeping their franchise afloat, since neither has much of any career going otherwise. So, any action scene gets amped up to 11. For instance, late in the movie, muscle-bound Dom fights it out with super-cop Luke in an epic battle that involves much crashing through walls, loud banging noises, and the colliding of flexing, bulging biceps. Each scene is so deliriously overwrought, it becomes delightful.

5) What of Vin Diesel's acting? In the best Sylvester Stallone fashion, he stands there, chest bulging out of his wifebeater, and mumbles out lines like "You ain't gonna be like that," when Brian talks of his father "never being there." At another point, in the midst of stealing back his cross necklace, he says to the fetching policewoman (Elsa Pataky), "Why would you believe anything I would tell you?" He has such difficulty getting out the line, you'd believe anything he says. At another time, Dom philosophically mentions that "Running ain't freedom," and again, one wants to agree. True, the movie's dialogue is mostly a hash of ghastly cliches, but these guys are so endearingly cuddly as they run from the law, assemble witty gangs of progressive, multicultural robbers, and set up the next high-speed heist, even Luke Hobbs can't help but sympathize with them over time.

6) In the midst of rising gas prices, what place do Hot-Rod muscle-car worshipping movies have nowadays when many feel obliged to purchase a Prius or something? As the age of playful driving recedes in the midst of traffic jams, and people prefer cyberspace to actual streets, the Fast franchise gains strength the more fantastic and otherworldly it gets. Before peak oil hits, why not race to the finish?

7) So, why is Fast Five so popular? Even given how it should feel like a walking corpse as it rehashes the same testosterone-laced conventions one more time ("We're gonna need a faster car"), the movie has charm of an oddly unpretentious sort, and that's a relief in the midst of so many other more ponderous, loud metallic, CGI-filled franchises just waiting to be released this summer.