Sunday, August 28, 2011

Absence felt: Luc Besson's Colombiana starring Zoe Saldana

When it comes to liking Colombiana, I don't claim that the film is profound or original, but it leavens its gangster conventions with a French appreciation for beauty. Writer/ producer Luc Besson lifts the concept of a winsome trained assassin from his 1990 La Femme Nikita, some story elements (escapes through ventilator shafts, a car crashing into a police car as the cops eat burgers) from his The Fifth Element (1997), and a child who wants to learn how to become a professional killer from his Leon: The Professional (1994).

While one can accuse Besson of becoming a hack who lazily produces and co-writes exploitative movies like From Paris with Love (2010), I like to think that he works stylistic refinements on a theme in Colombiana. In Leon, for instance, 12 year-old Matilda (Natalie Portman) announces that she wants to become an assassin by spraying her neighborhood blindly with gunfire (much to Leon's chagrin). In Colombiana, 9 year old Cataleya's gangster uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) abruptly shoots several bullets into a passing car as a way to impress on his niece that she should choose a regular education in Chicago. The scene doesn't entirely make sense as he holds out a backpack and a gun in each hand for her to decide between. As the car crashes, the suburban neighborhood freaks out, and the police alarms start up, Emilio walks off with his niece as if nothing has happened, but Besson's pattern of associations remain: killing is a matter of focus and discipline. One needs to know when and where to train one's gun just as a filmmaker needs to know where to point his or her camera.

Whereas From Paris with Love mostly establishes how John Travolta can play the ultimate boorish high-fructose corn syrup-loving American, asserting his midlife crisis by mindlessly shooting as many people as possible while making forlorn references to his former Pulp Fiction glory, Colombiana carries more subtle pleasures. For instance, Besson betrays his liberal bias by having Cataleya (the very assured Zoe Saldana) riddle with sniper fire a scummy CIA agent's photo of himself with George W. Bush while another larger photo of Obama reigns untouched higher up on the wall (although, technically, the scene is set in 2007, so Obama hadn't been elected yet). I also liked the way Cataleya enjoys watching surveillance feeds of her apartment house in her idle moments so she's ready for a massive SWAT team of FBI agents when they do arrive.

Besson likes to juxtapose the small and wily against the grotesquely large and stupid (much as Charlie Chaplin did). As the bulky FBI officers swarm the building's staircases, hallways, and underground garage, Cataleya sneaks around in the air ducts and the ventilator shafts in her underwear (she didn't have time to get dressed) as she carries a large rifle for a later scene. Cataleya is all focus. She lives for one reason: to kill the men who killed her parents when she was 9 years old. Everything else, even the Chicago family who adopts her, is secondary.

Colombiana left me wondering: why bother with any sympathetic male characters at all? Cataleya uses an artist/painter named Danny (Michael Vartan) for sex, but his attempts to get to know her better just emphasize the superfluous nature of his affection. The FBI detective on Cataleya's trail, Special Agent Ross (Lennie James) walks with a Columbo-esque splayed foot gait, but he gradually becomes likable due to the effectiveness of his dogged investigative techniques. We learn about how a random iPhone photo of Cataleya, once downloaded into a police file, can instantly be found and analyzed morphologically by the FBI to help trace her exact whereabouts. It seems typical that the movie's technology has a more intriguing personality than many of the characters.

Still, what is the appeal of a hitman or woman? They appear to justifiably remove human scum (their corrupt scumminess always carefully shown in advance) from this overpopulated world, and in the hands of Besson they often do it with a high-powered rifle from a window in the building across the street, or with a towel or a toothbrush if needed in close combat (they are adaptable to circumstance). They sneak into your house at night and leave a lipstick drawing of an orchid on your chest as you sleep. None of this is ethical, but it is aesthetically pleasing. After all, Cataleya likes to draw. In Grosse Point Blank (1997), Marty (Jon Cusack) confesses to his former girlfriend's father Mr. Newberry that he's been working as a professional killer, and Mr. Newberry replies, "Oh! Good for you. It's a growth industry." Assassins cater to our boredom with the everyday persistence of things. They practice a profession of removal that seems to follow a ruthless but familiar business model. In part by being so thin, Cataleya trims away society's fat. She makes absence felt, and that's reason enough to enjoy her erasures.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Techno-cinematic media links

---the birth of a star: Dietrich's screen test for The Blue Angel

---Kubrick's motifs

---The Catch Me If You Can title sequence

---rioting and the price of food

---Ari N. Schulman's "GPS and the End of the Road":

"What Percy and these other writers are getting at is that just as important as what we see in the world is how we go about seeing it. We are adept at identifying points of interest, but pay scant attention to the importance of our approaches to exploring them; our efforts to facilitate the experience of place often end up being self-defeating. What Percy’s strategies aim to do, in part, is to put the traveler into a state of willingness and hunger to encounter the world as it is, to discover the great sights with the freshness, the newness, that is so much of what we seek from them. Alain de Botton also describes this attitude as the solution to the guidebook problem, and identifies it as the mode of receptivity.

Practices like geocaching and geotagging rely on this receptivity. Geocaching asks the user to be an active participant in seeking, and to seek something unknown. Viewing geotagged photography may impel us to go forth into the world and seek with our own eyes what the images present to us, thus claiming them in some way for ourselves. It is a tricky balance: as always, photographs, especially when so readily viewed at the very places they were taken, hold the potential to substitute for rather than deepen our own awareness. But these practices at least give some idea as to how location-based technologies can encourage us to orient ourselves to the world in its primary, phenomenal sense — as a realm of places.

But GPS navigation, in its present form, seems to do quite the opposite: it dulls our receptivity to our surroundings by granting us the supposed luxury of not having to pay attention to them at all. In travel facilitated by “location awareness,” we begin to encounter places not by attending to what they present to us, but by bringing our expectations to them, and demanding that they perform for us as advertised. In traveling through “augmented reality,” even the need for places to perform begins to fade, as our openness to the world gives way to the desire to paper over it entirely. It is an admission of our seeming distrust in places to be sufficiently interesting on their own. But in attempting to find the most valuable places and secure the greatest value from them, the places themselves become increasingly irrelevant to our experiences, which become less and less experiences of those places we go."

---Orson Welles meets the press after his War of the Worlds broadcast

---Portal: No Escape

---Zinoman asks what frightens the horror filmmakers

---Chaos Cinema: the decline and fall of action filmmaking

---Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard analyze Jaws:

"EH: What makes Jaws special, in my opinion, is the way it balances those (necessary and satisfying) sensational moments with more nuanced effects, effects that don't require large-scale mechanical constructions or demolitions experts but are no less special. Spielberg's first film, the made-for-TV thriller Duel, managed to create menace and foreboding from very little, using camera angles and judicious editing to frame an ordinary truck with an unseen driver as the terrifying embodiment of masculine violence and random destruction. Jaws has a more inherently frightening villain, but it similarly creates most of its effect through pure filmmaking bravado.

The opening sequence, after the credits, is a perfect example. The film begins with a gorgeous nighttime scene as a group of young summer tourists have a party around a fire on the beach. A guy and a girl catch each other's eyes from across the campfire and run off across the dunes, the girl stripping in silhouette, laughing as she runs, the guy stumbling drunkenly after her. Anyone who's seen a few horror or slasher movies know that only doom is awaiting them in the dark, as it always does for young people who run off into the night to have sex. The imagery is dim and shadowy, the dark blue of the sky blending into the denser darkness of the water, which could hide anything, but the mood of these opening scenes is initially as poetic as it is foreboding. The sight of the girl's head bobbing in the water is chilling, as are the point-of-view shots from beneath the water. Those shots, ostensibly from the shark's perspective, recall the underwater shots in Creature From the Black Lagoon, one obvious old Hollywood reference point for Spielberg's film, announced right up front in these early scenes. As these moody images slowly lead towards the horrifying moment when the girl first feels a faint nibble below the water and then begins frantically thrashing around, John Williams' infamous dun-dun-dun-dun-dun shark theme starts stealthily creeping into the music, increasing the sense of dread.

Later, the girl's hand washes up on the beach, the first evidence of the shark that will soon terrorize the area, and Spielberg delivers a sensational closeup of the detached hand with crabs scuttling all over and around it, a horrifying image that reinforces the impact of the opening sequence. But Spielberg leads into this gory image patiently, with a shot of the police officer who'd discovered the hand, blowing a whistle to summon help. The whistle slides out of his slack mouth as he sits weakly in the sand, facing away from his discovery, which is hidden from the audience as well by the tall dune in the background. Spielberg understands that this shot, in which we feel the horror through the policeman's reaction without knowing precisely what he'd found, is just as important as the explicit closeup that follows, if not even more so."

---Tarantino and the blank sheet of paper

---Gallego's video essay A Certain Tendency in Modern French Cinema:

“I need images, I need representation which deals in other means than reality. We have to use reality but get out of it. That’s what I try to do all the time.” – Agnès Varda

---the Coen brothers' World Cinema short

---surveillance technology and torture in Bahrain and other push-button autocracies:

"The toolbox allows more than the interception of phone calls, e-mails, text messages and Voice Over Internet Protocol calls such as those made using Skype. Some products can also secretly activate laptop webcams or microphones on mobile devices. They can change the contents of written communications in mid-transmission, use voice recognition to scan phone networks, and pinpoint people’s locations through their mobile phones. The monitoring systems can scan communications for key words or recognize voices and then feed the data and recordings to operators at government agencies."

---Walter Murch on mixing sound

---essential directors: Jean Renoir to Douglas Sirk

---a John Waters documentary

---This Heatwave is No Accident

---trailers for Chicken with Plums, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Thelomeris, Carnage, Underworld: Awakening, Alois Nebel, Drive, and The Rum Diary

---the realism of Contagion

---lastly, in the words of Steve Jobs:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"I live, I love, I slay, . . . I am content": the love song of Conan the Barbarian

Let us slay then, you and I,

I stab,
I glower,
I twirl about.
I maintain a high grunt per scene ratio.

I casually roll boulders down a hill
To free a colony full of buxom slaves.

I strut,
I say "Yargh,"
I steal.
I gaze soulfully
At my loyal African sidekick
(A Zamoran pirate)
Named Artus (Nonso Anozie).
When he asks if he can help me with my vengeance,
I turn to look into the sunset,
And say "This is something I must do alone."

I fight high-jumping CGI sand warriors
Summoned by the evil incestuous Marique (Rose McGowan),
The witchy daughter of Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang),
Who killed my dad.

I am brutal, bleak, recherche, and secretly quite sensitive.
I lie upon the rocks of Kohn Kolba and sunbathe my oiled buff chest.

I rarely wear a shirt.
I say to my nemesis, "I want your head"
And do not mention the Governator.
I avenge my father's death at the hands of the evil Shadowlord
Because I was born in battle,
A babe raised on mother's blood (not milk),
Sprung by my father's sword C-section in the midst of flames and fighting.

I seek protein milkshakes in the deserts of Hyberia.
I do what I can to stop
The meddlesome encroaching reign
Of supernatural evil,
So when I thirst, I thirst for blood.

When my sidekick asks me
If Khalar Zym has Godlike power
Now that he has the mask of Acheron
And "eyes red as fire,"
I turn and stare soulfully
At the distant skull cliff
(Lifted from King Kong)
And say "He is just a man," and then walk on alone . . .

I must save the pureblood nun Tamara (Rachel Nichols)
From being crucified upon a circular rock of stone.
As the great CGI columns of Khon Kolba
Crumble around us.

If I feel cold,
It is the cold edge of steel in oceans of blood.
As I fend off the mighty tentacles of Zognar
In the dungeon of Argalon,
My loyal sidekick says,
"This is madness.
She must be very beautiful."

Still, if Tamara gets quarrelsome,
I do not suffer from male insecurities with women;
I tie her to a rock.

I am uncomplicated.
I have the simplicity
And charm of a barbarian,
But if you defy me,
I will lop off your nose;
And if I find you again,
Many years later,
I will stick my finger
Where your nose used to be
To get information.

I must beware of Marique's twisted guile,
Her metal claws and Gothic red tattoos.

Still . . . I must go alone.
My sidekick Artus is visibly moved
And says "May you find what you seek,"
I boldly walk upon the moody shores of Shapir at dusk,
Sword in hand.

I am Conan of Cimmeria, I am content.
Somebody's got to do the slaying.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Notable film and media links

---on race and Hollywood, the Association of Black Women Historians' critique of The Help, and Valerie Boyd's review:

"Like the novel on which it’s based, the movie adaptation of “The Help” will likely be a huge hit with white audiences. But for black viewers it is condescending and frequently insulting, despite admirable performances by Davis and Spencer, who bring a measure of complexity — actual flesh and blood — to the characters of Aibileen and Minny. It speaks volumes about the ongoing racial chasm in this country that a feel-good movie for white people will leave many black filmgoers feeling sad — and pessimistic that America can ever become anything more than “a nation of cowards.”

---Eyes on the Prize's intro

---David Foster Wallace considers our addiction to entertainment

---Steven Santos' Deep Focus: Prince of the City

---the American drought

---"You no longer need a couch to be a couch potato."

---Paul Mason's "Slumlands":

"There is a long curve of water and, as far as the eye can see, there are shacks, garbage, washing, tin, bits of wood, scraps of cloth, rats and children. The water is grey, but at the edges there's a flotsam of multicoloured plastic rubbish. This is the Estero de San Miguel, the front line in an undeclared war between the rich and poor of Manila. Figures emerge from creaky doors to move along bits of walkway. In the deep distance is the dome of a mosque; beyond that are skyscrapers.

Mena Cinco, a community leader here, volunteers to take me in - but only about 50 yards. After that, she cannot guarantee my safety. At the bottom of a ladder, the central mystery of the Estero de San Miguel is revealed: a long tunnel, four feet wide, dark except for the occasional bare bulb. It's just like an old coal mine, with rickety joists, shafts of light and pools of what I'm hoping is water on the floor. All along the tunnel are doors into the homes of as many as 6,000 people. . . .

This is the classic 21st-century slum. A billion people live in them, one in seven of the world's population. By 2050, according to the United Nations, there could be three billion. The slum is the filthy secret of the modern mega-city, the hidden achievement of 20 years of untrammelled market forces, greed, neglect and graft."

---Brando's screen test for Rebel Without a Cause

---50 best music moments in film history

---how the US crushes youth resistance:

"The Normalization of Surveillance. The fear of being surveilled makes a population easier to control. While the National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s email and phone conversations, and while employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States, young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check Web sites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, are monitoring their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use the GPS in their children’s cell phones to track their whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes. Increasingly, I talk with young people who lack the confidence that they can even pull off a party when their parents are out of town, and so how much confidence are they going to have about pulling off a democratic movement below the radar of authorities?"

---clothes on film

---an interview with Billy Wilder

---trailers for Littlerock, Trespass, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Coriolanus, Tanner Hall, and The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.

---Paul Newman sells Maxwell House

---Alfonzo Cuaron's Parc Monceau shot

---Anne Hathaway's reply to the paparazzi

---Francis Ford Coppola: "Please steal"

---zombies in wedding photos, the new meme

---the entire Twilight series summarized

---Industrial Revolutions

---Making The Shining, Michel Ciment's interview with Kubrick, and Haden Guest's "The Killing: Kubrick's Clockwork":

"The synchronized, semaphorelike movement of doors throughout The Killing suggests some sort of mysteriously vast machine, an intricate apparatus vaguely built around the horse race itself, whose very signal to begin is, after all, the precision opening of the multiple gates that simultaneously release the horses and trigger the robbery. The machine metaphor elaborated throughout The Killing is also closely tied to Ballard’s assertive camera movements and the remarkable extended tracking shots that follow characters with an unsettling fixity, as in the scene introducing Clay. Keeping exact pace with Clay as he ambles toward the anxious embrace of his winsome girlfriend, Fay (Coleen Gray), Ballard’s gliding camera cuts a neat cross section through a series of connected rooms in its path, transforming the apartment interior into a type of controlled tunnel that exactly describes and limits the possibilities of movement—a striking illustration of entrapment that subtly parallels the camera’s and actor’s “tracks” with those of the horse race. Indeed, a comparison between man and horse runs throughout the film, captured cruelly in the whinnying, equine look of Carey’s face as he is shot—after his car tire is punctured by a horseshoe, no less—in a distorted carnival-mirror reflection of the horse he himself has killed just moments before. In addition, during the long execution of the robbery itself, each member of the gang seems to be locked in an extended relay race, tracked by the mobile camera as they move across the screen, their actions closely commented upon by a stentorian voice-over narration echoing that of the horse race announcer."

---@drnorth analyzes David Fincher's Se7en

---Jane Fonda's earlier career by Patricia Bosworth

---Kay Hymowitz wonders "What's happening to men?"

---Kathleen Murphy's interview with Howard Hawks

---lastly, Edgar Wright finds a walking montage

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jason Zinoman's Shock Value and the invention of the modern horror film

I very much enjoyed Jason Zinoman's Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror (Penguin Press). Written in the same vein as Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollwood (2008), Shock Value left me wondering if Harris' study influenced Zinoman. Both authors pinpoint a paradigm shift in filmmaking history and then explore the individual creative choices that brought it about. Harris focused on the Best Picture nominees of the 1968 Oscars and the way they reflected seismic change in what the young baby boomers preferred in their movies. In Shock Value, Zinoman turns to the decade that spanned Rosemary's Baby (1968) to Alien (1979), and unpacks how horror evolved from the faded gothic melodramas of the 1960s (characterized by campy costumes, bats, crumbling buildings, and Vincent Price) to the more artistic highly influential films of the 1970s including Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Last House on the Left (1972), The Exorcist (1973), Carrie (1976), and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). In the process, Zinoman examines the creative processes of filmmakers such as John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, Tobe Hooper, William Friedkin, Wes Craven, Roman Polanski, George Romero, and Dan O'Bannon.

Some choice quotes:

"[In 1967, Vincent] Price telegraphed what he thought many people already believed--this whole [horror] genre was absurd. . . . Horror needed a makeover."

"Night of the Living Dead was also proof for a generation of directors that you didn't need the support of a studio, big or small, to make an effective horror film that would attract large audiences. You didn't need money, much experience, or stars. You didn't even have to leave Pittsburgh. Film students noticed. Night of the Living Dead might never have received a huge national release, but it ran for years at small movie theaters and inspired countless directors to pick up a camera. It did for horror what the Sex Pistols did for punk."

"Rosemary's Baby was something relatively new: a horror film for adults."

[In 1969, Roman Polanski taught a film class concerning Rosemary's Baby for Arthur Knight]:

"Polanski focused on the nuts and bolts: lenses, angles, editing. Polanski explained that Rosemary's Baby was shot with handheld cameras and on the street, far away from the studio lot. It was important, he said, to keep the shots moving, and to use a wide-angle lens that slightly expanded the faces of his actors and the screen so he could sneak the horror into the corners of the frame. The oddness of this view could be exploited. He also said that he made sure to shoot a little askew. Characters' faces could be cut off. Only half of the action would be revealed, adding to the sense of unease. The scares would hover at the edges. Polanski explained that when using wide-angle there is a certain distance from an actor that still won't distort their face. It was a master class in the technique of horror. `From Polanski I realized,' said John Carpenter, a student in the class,`you really have to know what the f--k you are doing to make movies.'"

[When it came to fashioning the end of Rosemary's Baby, Polanski resisted studio pressure to show anything more than a] "final glimpse of a sinister pair of eyes":

"The Old Horror, the kind where the seats buzzed when the monsters appeared, required the payoff, but this film was never about the Devil. By not showing us the cartoon devil, Polanski removed the last traces of childish comedy, the final gimmick."

"Carpenter and O'Bannon were hardly experts in Freud or Heidegger, but they understood the importance of the vague, elusive power of an unseen horror through another source: the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, the reclusive misanthrope and literary godfather of the modern horror genre who wrote fevered tales with brilliants self-contained mythologies. His brand of terror he referred to as `cosmic fear.' Fear by itself can be unpleasant, but cosmic fear evokes an almost spiritual sense of wonder, of awe that is quite distinct from the shocks of cheap monster movies."

"The majority of horror and sci-fi films were not badly made," director John Landis says about the monster movies of the fifties and sixties. "They are not badly written, badly acted, or badly made--until the monster shows up. And then it's some guy in a stupid suit. The monsters are stupid and the plot is smart. That changed in the seventies when the plots became stupid and the monster smart."

"[Tobe] Hooper and [Kim] Henkel . . . met every night at Hooper's house and talked over ideas. They watched the original Frankenstein together as well as Night of the Living Dead. Hooper, building on the loves of his childhood, immediately thought of a dreamlike tale about the supernatural. `We referred to the way we put together as "nightmare syntax,"' Henkel said. Hooper liked this idea, but also wanted the movie [The Texas Chain Saw Massacre] to be funny, in a dark satiric way, a twisted spin on ordinary life. He had recently seen A Clockwork Orange and was drawn to the comic incongruity of the moral ugliness on-screen being played to the music of Beethoven and Singin' in the Rain. The beautiful, thought Hooper, can often be found in the horrible. He wanted the movie to be about how easy it is to shut off your conscience when stuck in extreme circumstances."

"Most of the time Hooper's point of view remains neutral. Before heading into the house for the first kill by Leatherface, the roaming camera sets up behind a blond girl on a swing. As she stands up and walks toward the house, it stays at a distance, showing us neither her perspective nor that of the killer inside the house. The insect-eye shot emphasizes the scale of the rickety two-floor building. We follow this victim, but at a distance. We are not getting assaulted here. With his camerawork, Hooper argues that the most frightening thing is to see terrible violence happen and know that there is nothing you can do about it. . . . Hooper puts you in the position of complete, mystifying helplessness."

"[Walter] Hill revered Howard Hawks and subscribed to one of his principles: `Have three good scenes and the rest of the time don't offend anyone.'" He liked the one scene in Alien's script when "an alien incubated in a person and then exploded out."

"What he [Brian De Palma] learned from Hitchcock was a film vocabulary. He discovered how to build suspense, how to trick audiences by making them identify with a character, and the singular usefulness of a shot from the point of view of a character. De Palma clearly borrowed from Hitchcock, but he also went much further with sex and violence, and he rebelled against him as much as his peers did. You can see this in the movie that began his most fertile decade of films, Sisters, released in 1973. Bernard Herrmann composed the music. After De Palma explained how he wanted the title sequence to be silent, Herrmann told him bluntly that would be a mistake: `Nothing horrible happens in your picture for the first half hour. You need something to scare them right away,' he insisted. `The way you'll do it, they'll walk out.'
`But in Psycho,' De Palma responded, the eager student, `the murder doesn't happen until forty . . .'
`You are not Hitchcock. He can make his movies as slow as he wants in the beginning. And do you know why? Because he is Hitchcock and they will wait.'"

"After Carrie,' Wes Craven says, "everyone had to have a second ending."

[Concerning Michael Myers' lack of a clear motivation in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978)]:

"Carpenter's firm belief, developed reading Lovecraft, watching The Thing, and in long discussions with classmates at USC, was that explaining ruins a good story. Influenced by the terror of Samuel Beckett, he wanted an empty space at the heart of the movie, where the answers usually are. The absence of meaning defined him. It wasn't that Myers didn't fit into the categories of cinematic killers with which audiences had become familiar. He didn't fit into any category. The mystery about this strange killer remained. In the credits, he was called simply `The Shape.' He was not supernatural, but not human either. He was the thing in-between."

"The central message of the New Horror is that there is no message. The world does not make sense. Evil exists, and there is nothing you can do about it."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

future links


---the future according to films

---the religion of being healthy

---John Berger's "Fellow Prisoners":

"Have you noticed small commodities are increasingly difficult to remove from their packaging? Something similar has happened with the lives of the gainfully employed. Those who have legal employment and are not poor are living in a very reduced space that allows them fewer and fewer choices—except the continual binary choice between obedience and disobedience. Their working hours, their place of residence, their past skills and experience, their health, the future of their children, everything outside their function as employees has to take a small second place beside the unforseeable and vast demands of liquid profit. Furthermore, the rigidity of this house rule is called flexibility. In prison, words get turned upside down.

The alarming pressure of high-grade working conditions has obliged the courts in Japan to recognize and define a new coroners’ category of “death by overwork.”

---future living conditions: the apartment, and the house

---Christopher Johnson's Microstyle

---Rob Horning's "Social Media, Social Factory":

"By relentlessly increasing the pace of obsolescence, social media prompt us to improvise more and more desperately; they cultivate a panic that we are being left out, left behind, that the zeitgeist of the instant will pass without our participating in it and claiming our share. We have more capability to share ourselves, our thoughts and interests and discoveries and memories, than ever before, yet sharing is in danger of becoming nothing more than an alibi that hides how voracious our appetite for novelty has become. It starts to be harder for our friends and ourselves to figure out what really matters to us and what stems merely from the need to keep broadcasting the self. And so we vacillate between anxious self-branding and the self-negating practice of seeking some higher authenticity: We have to watch ourselves become ourselves in order to be ourselves, over and over again."

---making Bellflower

---The Help cast interview

---Jeremy Grantham's "Resource Limitations 2":

"Shortages of metals and fresh water will each cause severe problems, but in the end we will adjust our behavior enough to be merely irritated rather than threatened, although in the case of metals, the pressure from shortages and higher prices will slowly increase forever."

---Osterweil's "Towards a New Film Criticism"

---rechecking your smart phone

---the beginning of MTV

---Kristen Wiig: 7 Minutes in Heaven

---Haque's "Why this crisis isn't going anywhere"

---A. O. Scott goes Back to the Future

---an interview with Vivien Leigh

---steelweaver's thoughts about collective reality fragmentation:

"I believe part of the meta-problem is this: people no longer inhabit a single reality. I mean people collectively and individually: collectively, there is no longer a single cultural arena of dialogue. We have the simulacrum of one, in the form of Question Time and governmental “Big Conversation” initiatives, but in reality we have fragmented off into a thousand little sub-sectors of paradigmatic dissension. Whilst there are all sorts of interesting cultural phenomena that fit this description, this relates most relevantly, in our terms, to the tear-jerking incomprehension of techno-scientists when faced with, for example, climate deniers."

---Dennis Cozzalio's midterm report

---George Siemens on social media

---your evil yard and the status quo bias

---the Tarantino mixtape

---the 25 best film school rankings

---Detroit Wild City

---lastly, Beat the Devil

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What is the deal with Olivia Wilde? and 10 other questions about Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens left me befuddled, so here are some questions.

Spoiler alert. This post was intended for those who have seen the movie.

1) What is the deal with Olivia Wilde's character Ella Swenson? First, she chases around the man-with-no-name (Daniel Craig) for obscure reasons (She wants to know where he came from). Then, after she dies from an alien blow, Native Americans burn her corpse, whereupon she is reborn Phoenix-style and nude by the campfire. She turns out to be a shape-shifting alien (who speaks fluent Apache) from another planet in search of her parents? What the heck? I can imagine the conversation amongst the movie's 27 screenwriters went something like this: "Ella dies, so that's a sad scene, giving Craig a chance to emote. Then, she's reborn, so she can appear in the PG-13 version of nude, which should help with the movie's marketing. Win, win."

2) Is the inverted river boat stranded in the desert an allusion to Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982)?

3) Why are the aliens after gold? Is it because the filmmakers are?

4) Why do the Native Americans and the cowboys join forces to fight the aliens? Is it another example of the Dances with Wolves (1990) effect, a revisionist way for American audiences to feel good about the Native American holocaust?

5) Why is Paul Dano in the movie as Harrison Ford's character's delinquent son Percy Dolarhyde? Is he supposed to remind us of his work in the infinitely superior There Will Be Blood (2007)? Does that make Ford's Colonel Dolarhyde some bizarre variation on Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)?

6) In the production notes of the Cowboys & Aliens' webpage, I learned that, in the 1875 town of Absolution, "nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear."

If that is the case, why do we hardly ever see that side of the Colonel? He does take time to torture a man early on, but he's genial and laid back (in a distracted Harrison Ford kind of way) for the rest of the movie, chatting with young Emmet (The Last Airbender's Noah Ringer) about being brave. He even gives the boy his knife.

7) How many weird correlations are there between Cowboys & Aliens and Jonah Hex?

8) Why does C&A share a scene with Transformers: Dark of the Moon which closely resembles the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of 1986?

9) Why do the aliens have retractable little arms in their chests? Are they meant to be cute? Are they a variation on the mouth within the mouth of the creature in the Alien series?

10) Did Jon Favreau & Co mean to make the aliens look like the fish-footman in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?

11) Why does Cowboys & Aliens share a scene with Super 8 in which a bunch of people are found mesmerized inside a cave? In the more recent film, they are all glassy-eyed and hypnotized by a great glowing alien thing above them. Afterwards, they forget they were ever there. Does that have something to do with the way Jon Favreau wants us to react to the movie?