Saturday, April 21, 2012

cinematic links

---Happy Birthday David

---Wesley Morris' Pulitzer Prize-winning criticism

---Shadowing The Third Man

---Los Angeles Plays Itself

---David Lynch's 10 weirdest scenes

---"In 50 years there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education."

---the corridor as a cinematic space, by Omar Ahmed

---"We are now entering the second wave of concern about resource limitations, one to which concerns about energy supply and climate warming have been added. Other concerns haven’t penetrated the media that deeply yet, and discussing the increase in our numbers seems to be a taboo subject that has met with resistance. Meanwhile, the tone of the debate is more positive and optimistic than it was during the 1970s. For example, worldwide, ways of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide expelled into the air to fight climate warming are widely being discussed: how this can be done by more economical energy use, by replanting forests, or by burying the carbon dioxide. And we seem satisfied by the forecasts that our numbers will stabilize around 2050, not realizing that our resource use and its consequent waste production are not connected into a perfect cycle, but are linear. Stabilizing the world’s population while maintaining resource use at such an incredibly high level cannot but lead to rapid exhaustion and overpollution. We are getting closer and closer to those limits, and during the last thirty years the network of interactions has tightened into a fyke. Our higher numbers and demands give us less time to maneuver away from disaster."  -- from Rob Hengefeld's Wasted World

---Collusion for Chrome

---a montage of Spike Less dolly shots

---the last years of Philip K. Dick


---"Print journalism is in trouble, criticism is in crisis, Hollywood sucks, but the decline of the Voice has been going on longer than the death of cinephilia. When I first began publishing there, my friends already thought it was passé. That said, the paper really began its decline when it went free in 1996 and a new “professional” editor was brought in to regulate the anarchic staff. A new venture-capitalist ownership made things worse, even as the highly profitable classified ads migrated online. The quality suffered and there were some atrocious firings, but things became immeasurably worse once New Times took over in 2006—that was like living under occupation, replete with periodic bloodbaths. I’m amazed that I lasted as long as I did. (It’s also remarkable that, faced with shrinking space and unpleasant demands, the New Times-installed film editor Allison Benedikt was able to maintain a credible section.) By the time they got to me they were pretty much out of “high-”salaried writers to lay-off—and I’m sure my role as a union activist was an added value. --"Film Criticism After Film Criticism: The J. Hoberman Affair"

---Brody considers Vigo's L'Atalante

---Pink Floyd and Public Image Limited on American Bandstand

---Today, the Pentagon deploys a fleet of 19,000 drones, relying on them for classified missions that once belonged exclusively to Special Forces units or covert operatives on the ground. American drones have been sent to spy on or kill targets in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya. Drones routinely patrol the Mexican border, and they provided aerial surveillance over Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In his first three years, Obama has unleashed 268 covert drone strikes, five times the total George W. Bush ordered during his eight years in office. All told, drones have been used to kill more than 3,000 people designated as terrorists, including at least four U.S. citizens. In the process, according to human rights groups, they have also claimed the lives of more than 800 civilians. Obama's drone program, in fact, amounts to the largest unmanned aerial offensive ever conducted in military history; never have so few killed so many by remote control.

---6 filmmaking tips from Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher

---"Instead of trying to create real people and what they're doing, let's turn it around and create almost an entirely animated film and then backwards engineer the people into that film," DeFaria said. "As a matter of fact, let's not even engineer the people into the film, let's engineer their faces. So you've got these little faces inside these little helmets. But there was a big hiccup that we came to I didn't realize until later, which was that we began building it as an animated film and Alfonso had an idea that he wanted the shots to be incredibly long, and I said, 'How long?' And he said he wanted the first shot to be really long. And I said, 'You mean, 40 seconds?' 'No, 17 minutes.'"

---"Are non-Americans now the primary audience of Hollywood cinema?"

---trailers for Looper, The Bourne Legacy, Cosmopolis, Magic Mike, The Samaritanand Pitch Black Heist

---the fight for the fifth screen

---"Though pop culture is most often performed by the young, the directors and programmers and gatekeepers—the suits who control and create its conditions, who make the calls and choose the players—are, and always have been, largely forty-somethings, and the four-decade interval brings us to a period just before the forty-something was born. Forty years past is the potently fascinating time just as we arrived, when our parents were youthful and in love, the Edenic period preceding the fallen state recorded in our actual memories."

---lastly, Double Oh

Monday, April 16, 2012

Insulated by technology: a spoilerific analysis of a later scene in The Cabin in the Woods

Spoiler alert!  Do not read further if you haven't seen The Cabin in the Woods.  This analysis is intended for those who have.

"Whedon shared an idea for an orchestrated horror story in which the scary cabin is part of a sealed environment controlled from an underground lab. Then he mentioned his idea for the title. `As soon as he said he was calling The Cabin in the Woods, I was in,' Goddard said." --this quote and upcoming ones all stem from an interview by Maria Elena Fernandez

I've been fixated on the metaphorical implications of the underground lab and the "corporate techie types," Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), two ordinary-looking middle-aged men who begin The Cabin in the Woods oddly discussing the travails of one of their wives baby-proofing their home.

"When we first started it, Joss pitched that originally, `I want to start it with two guys in a break room, talking about fertility.'” --Drew Goddard

Why start the film that way?  The two men appear banal as if they have just walked out of The Office, bored, at ease with each other, and blase about the mission in front of them that they have performed many times before.  They are complacent about this business of orchestrating a sophisticated attack on 5 teenagers in their sealed environment in the "woods." The viewer gradually realizes that Sitterson and Hadley are amoral monsters, but they seem very realistic.  Are they stand-ins for CIA agents? Whedon and Goddard? The military? Distant operators of drone technology?  Spies?  Jaded thrill-seeking horror-movie viewers? Film producers? Agents of fate or Old Testament justice?  Puppet masters? Media professionals? Whatever they may resemble, the two otherwise likable men are clearly insulated by their technology and habits, used to observing horrific things on screens without any personal investment or perceived risk.  They enjoy the privileges of a secure income, high levels of technical knowledge, and the ability to manipulate and observe with impunity the young and the gullible. They are bright and competent, if a bit unaware of the implications of their actions. Richard Jenkins can appear even more horrific if one remembers that he also starred in Eat Pray Love (2010).

"So much of this movie is the difference between youth and adulthood. As we become adults, we have this need to marginalize youth and make them into archetypes. So it’s the adults making them into archetypes, because my experience with youth is they’re never archetypes. They’re all complicated, multifaceted individuals, but we feel this need to categorize them and put them into cliques." ---Goddard

One gets to see just how callous the corporate types can be later when a climactic bloody battle between the teenager Dana (Kristen Connolly) and a redneck zombie on the dock of the lake abruptly becomes background visuals on monitors in the lab as the technical crew celebrates the supposed end of a successful evening while indifferently partying and listening to (of all things) REO Speedwagon's "Roll with the Changes." The dated, cheesy quality of the song accentuates their middle-aged lack of taste. Dana's torment is not enough by itself--they need music! We see various crew members using their opportunity to mingle and flirt as they sip drinks.  Dana's horror becomes decorative movement on the monitors much like sports on the flat screen TVs of a sports bar. Whedon and Goddard oblige us to consider how much we vicariously share in the lab technicians' lack of emotion. How much is the scene bothersome because it interrupts and obscures the bloody fight scene on the dock?

Other aspects of the film to analyze: its allusions to Psycho, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and The Shining, the encyclopedic use of monsters (making the film a kind of all-inclusive discourse on horror method), and the way Chris Hemsworth helps Whedon and Goddard mock the concept of the hero, as it were, redeeming him for his work in Thor.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stasis, vacuum, wisecracks: Luc Besson's Lockout

Oh, that sinking feeling--I shouldn't have bet on this puppy. When I went to see Lockout, I was hoping for a light noir ersatz Blade Runner knockoff with anti-prison industry overtones and Guy Pearce cracking wise much as Bruce Willis does in the original Die Hard (1988). I got some of that and yet much less, a clanging ordeal to endure. I have a weakness for movies associated with Luc Besson (who produced this one and came up with the "original" concept idea).  I keep hoping that Besson will pull off something with the colorful pizazz of The Fifth Element, or the Parkour-inflected visual flair of District B13, or another variation of the lithe La Femme Nikita hitwoman in movies such as last year's Colombiana. Besson keeps cooking up these films like savory French sausages (les saucisses), but the quality control seems erratic, so you get nightmare versions of belligerent foreign policy in the form of John Travolta stupidly shooting up Paris in From Paris with Love or an angel visiting Paris to help out a scam artist in the stylishly vacant Angel-A.

For Lockout, Besson dreamed up a (one would think prohibitively expensive) maximum security prison out in space in 2079 where around 500 convicts are put to sleep in pods (reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey) using a psychological technique called "stasis" that can cause dementia in minor characters who might know some key bit of information. After sinister government officials determine that the smart-ass Snow (Guy Pearce) must head out to space to save the US president's daughter Emilie (a wooden Maggie Grace) from being trapped in a prison uprising, the movie becomes steadily less compelling. I don't mean to sound callous, but aside from the president's concern for his daughter, who really cares if all of the reawakened convicts take over?  It's not like they can terrorize the countryside.

As the film persists, new events tend to happen with less and less consequence. Space shuttles appear, leaving one to wonder why they look exactly the same in 2079. The international space station crashes into the prison, just to have something to do. Snow makes cracks about wishing that Emilie would shut up. I increasingly found myself focusing on the cheesy orchestral soundtrack designed to bolster the proceedings with horns and feisty violins, but the more the music insisted on thrills, the more overblown and forced the movie became. To save her from peril, Snow dyes Emilie's blond hair black and punches her in the face so she can (kind of) blend in with all of the other mugs in their orange uniforms.

One loopy convict named Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) threatens the proceedings with a bit of Trainspotting delirious anarchy as he executes the innocent and drools over Emilie, but the villains only succeed in looking menacing. Later, Besson includes a Star Wars-esque dog fight between small spaceships as Snow and Emilie hunt for an escape pod on level 5.  I should've escaped at that point and snuck into the theater showing The Cabin in the Woods.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"I only think with a pencil in my hand": James Wolcott on Pauline Kael's writing technique

I've been enjoying James Wolcott's 1970s memoir Lucking Out: my life getting down and semi-dirty in seventies New York  (Doubleday, 2011), especially his account of his friendship with Pauline Kael ("the greatest film critic then or now").  Here are some choice quotes about Kael's writing techniques:

"Pauline didn't have the luxury of Wordsworthian contemplation, not with her pressure-cooker schedule, a vicious cycle of deadlines that had her meeting herself coming and going.  She did her writing on the second floor of her house in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, bent over a drawing table facing light-flooding windows looking out on her long, descending lawn to the road below.  She wrote in pencil with a rubber thimble on her thumb, her phenomenal concentration pouring from the point of her pencil across the page as she followed the line of argument wherever it led, keeping every circuit open.  In his memoir-mediation Sontag and Kael: Opposites Attract Me, Craig Seligman recalls sitting on the veranda of Pauline's house, staring vacantly, when Pauline asked him what he was doing. `Thinking,' he replied. `I only think with a pencil in my hand,' Pauline said, a bit of an overstatement, but what it was overstating had a core validity; the pencil point was the drill bit that drove through surface resistance, releasing unconscious energies and correspondences.  She scorned reviewers who outlined their pieces in advance, executing a blueprint, saying of one such practitioner, `That's why his pieces read like term papers.'  She wanted the writing to read like one long exhalation that would seize the reader from the opening gunshot and then drop him off at the curb after a dizzy ride.  The first draft was given to her daughter, Gina, for typing, and then corrections were made on the typescript. Pauline would then be driven to the city, where by day the piece would go through The New Yorker's fanatically fly-eyed round of copyediting and fact-checking while at night she would catch screenings of the movies she would review for the next column, returning to Great Barrington to write over the weekend and then back again to the city, a rapid turnaround that could have devolved into a repetitive grind for someone simply filing copy.  But Pauline was still riding the crest of the crescendo that was Deeper into Movies (1973), the collection of reviews that stamped her name as the most important and embattled film critic in America, her championing of The Godfather, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Cabaret, Steven Spielberg's Sugarland Express (when most critics preferred Terence Malick's Badlands) helping augur the seventies resurgence of American cinema that left us with such beautiful scars and drizzly haze.  It was the feudal age of criticism too, when criticism retained the ability to make readers mad in both senses of the word, angry-mad and crazy-mad . . .

In his book, Seligman quotes one of Pauline's editors at The New Yorker, John Bennet, describing the complexity of her creative-destructive grid work. `Balzac, madly revising at his most caffeinated, Proust at his most hypodermically caffeinated, had nothing on Pauline when it came to crossing out, writing all over the margins, taping extra sheets of paper to the margins to make even more revisions--revisions of revisions, inserts inside inserts.' Entire paragraphs were x-ed out and new ones inserted, sentences were transposed within paragraphs that themselves were moved around like modular furniture, commas delicately planted by The New Yorker's notoriously comma-promiscuous copy department (resulting in sentences that resembled a higher plane of constipation, bogged down in late-period Henry James particularization) were plucked out and em dashes liberally thrown in like left jabs.  Even without the benefit of literacy, strictly as an eye exam, her pieces looked more alive on the page than those of anyone else (save for Donald Barthelme and his typographic Monty Python circus).  Nearly ever cut and addition she made was to foster idiomatic verve, direct contact, and acceleration, the hum of a live broadcast.

Tender feelings were a fraudulent cover for larger failures of nerve. (Pauline agreed with Nabokov's contention that sentimentality and brutality were the flip sides of a subservient mind.)

It was Pauline's practice and principle to beam a movie into her brain once and move forward, believing that the first responses were true responses and that repeated viewings gave rise to rationalizations, a fussy curatorship--a consensus-building exercise in your mind full of minor adjustments that took you further and further away from the original altercation (although she did go see Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller a second time, anxious to confirm her original feeling that it was a great melancholy beauty of a movie worth going to the wall for). She wanted the nerve endings in her reactions exposed, not neatly tapered and trimmed."

Thanks to Craig of The Man from Porlock for recommending this book.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

augmented reality links

---the first 5 minutes of Lockout

---the ominous implications of Google's Project Glass

---"[Laura Poitras] has had her laptop, camera and cellphone seized, and not returned for weeks, with the contents presumably copied. On several occasions, her reporter’s notebooks were seized and their contents copied, even as she objected that doing so would invade her journalist-source relationship. Her credit cards and receipts have been copied on numerous occasions. In many instances, DHS agents also detain and interrogate her in the foreign airport before her return, on one trip telling her that she would be barred from boarding her flight back home, only to let her board at the last minute. When she arrived at JFK Airport on Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, she was told by one DHS agent — after she asserted her privileges as a journalist to refuse to answer questions about the individuals with whom she met on her trip — that he 'finds it very suspicious that you’re not willing to help your country by answering our questions.'"

---Need Supply Co.'s Spring Video 2012

---Anne Helen Petersen decodes the new Beyonce tumblr

---those pesky historical parallels with the US attempt to withdraw from Afghanistan

---how Titanic sank

---trailers for Savages, Take This Waltz, Miss Bala, Exit, 7 Days in Havana, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, Lola Versus, and To Rome with Love

---"Independent filmmaking is a gut-wrenching crap shoot. Every now and then, a film hits; most of the time, it doesn't." --Matt Zoller Seitz's "Slouching Toward Hollywood"

---"Written by MIT researchers for an international think tank, the Club of Rome, the study used computers to model several possible future scenarios. The business-as-usual scenario estimated that if human beings continued to consume more than nature was capable of providing, global economic collapse and precipitous population decline could occur by 2030."

---Titicut Follies

---"I can’t think of another woman writer of Kael’s generation who made people quite so angry as she did. She pushed people in a way that had nothing to do with gender, or the usual feminist transgressions into patriarchal literary territory. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Joan Didion traded on the way the times made her fragile — she cataloged her nervous breakdowns alongside her narrative of the debauched drug culture of Northern California. Susan Sontag, for all her critical genius, took the role of a modern Cassandra, prophesying our cultural and political doom. Mary McCarthy is a first rate critic, and when you read on her theater she is dazzlingly sharp — but she’s cold and sharp. You get the sense she might not really have liked the theater; there is brilliant discrimination without the grit or the glowing pleasure.

Kael got discrimination from the movies, but she got the grit and glowing pleasure, too; and on the page she comes across as indomitable, buoyant. She’s provocative, and she always seems to have the last word. I suspect that Kael’s voice makes her a special target for vitriol. Readers are less perturbed by brilliance if it comes by way of self-effacing anxiety (Joan Didion), or if it borrows the specialized language of the academy (Susan Sontag), if it undermines itself or if doesn’t hold the majority of us accountable. Kael spoke to people in a voice they recognized, but she demanded something more from them than they were accustomed to. Perhaps readers feel the need to cut Kael down to size because she wouldn’t do the work for them." --Amanda Schubert

---David Lynch's best movie--Rabbits

---Jason Bellamy revisits Bull Durham

---making Martha Marcy May Marlene

---"What brought about this massive regime of secrecy that the new transparency schemes have been designed to disguise or excuse?"  --Sarah Leonard's "The Fog of More"

---Jeff Desom's Rear Window timelapse

---"Roger Corman, of course, was the king of this kind of film, and as the documentary Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel makes abundantly clear, he's adored for his efforts. It should be no surprise to any cinephile or gorehound worth his or her salt that seemingly every American filmmaker or actor of note to come up in the '60s and '70s started their career with a Corman production, but it may be surprising that Corman himself probably started the American New Wave of this period with rebellious instincts that held the bloat of the studio system in active contempt."

---I'm A Blogger

---all of your tweets on one page

---lastly, the Sincerest Form of Parody

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Never repress anything": 5 questions about Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method

Delightfully constrained, given to occasional lapses in narrative coherence, David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method struck me as both humorous and thought-provoking.  What to make of ground-breaking psychiatrists earnestly analyzing their sexual impulses and taking notes?  Set in the early 20th century, the film reminded me of Scorsese's The Age of Innocence--lots of desire under buttoned-up Edwardian clothes, seven years of letters being written back and forth between Vienna and Zurich as Jung (a bespectacled Michael Fassbender) and Freud (Viggo Mortenson) figure out what to do with the madly passionate and brilliant Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) who tends to thrust her jaw out and convulse when she isn't jumping into the Burgholzi clinic's pond as she confronts her father issues (many people in this movie have father issues). From an early age, Sabina found that her father's spankings excited her, and Jung takes a while to consider what to do about this patient who develops the hots for him. Jung, meanwhile, has a chilly blonde and rich Swiss wife named Emma (Sarah Gadon) who wants to bear him a son when she isn't buying him a sailboat with symbolically red sails.  As Freud puffs on his cigar and walks repeatedly past a sculpture of a sphinx in some park in Vienna, the two doctors analyze each other's dreams as best they can ("I believe the log represents the penis").

Torn by his dread of violating his patient-doctor ethics, Jung still has to figure out what to do about Sabina. As she says, "I want you to punish me." Uncertain, Jung finds himself lured by the loose talk of bearded Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), one of Freud's more unscrupulous proteges ironically in need of therapy at Burgholzi. An anarchist, an early hippie, and my favorite character in the movie, Otto lives by the rule "Never repress anything," and its fun to see him convert Jung into seriously considering polygamy, falling prey to the intrigue that he's inclined toward anyway (as in The Black Swan, Cassel again proves adept at stealing his scenes).

While I like the film overall (it made me realize how much I respect Cronenberg even more than Freud), it did leave me with some questions:

1) What's the deal with the sphinx?

2) What are we to make of Cronenberg's use of water imagery? The film moves from Sabina's muddy immersion in a pond, to Jung and Sabina blissfully curled up in the hull of his sailboat as it drifts unmoored, to Jung (spoiler alert) emulating Michael Corleone of The Godfather: Part II (1974) as he sits on land and looks meditatively out over the water in the final shot of the movie. Are we supposed to associate water with passion, freedom, immersion in subconscious drives? Also, Jung has a prophetic dream of a flood of blood overwhelming Europe, hinting at the first World War.

3) Jung tells Freud that with his psychoanalytical techniques he has opened the door to a new land.  Later, the two men travel to America in a Titanic-like ship where Freud causes the first major rift in their relationship by refusing in divulging in his dreams, saying that "To do so I would lose my authority."Are these things related?

4) Later, Jung confesses to Sabina that she is the love of his life. Why doesn't Cronenberg sufficiently dramatize this? Given her desperate quest to seduce him earlier, the film tends to relish but not really flesh out these ironic reversals.

5) How much are Freud's and Jung's theories oversimplified and caricatured to fit into the confines of this movie? The film did make me want to read Jung's essay "Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

generational links

---Daniel Clowes: The Cartoonist's Goal

---Paths of Hate

---"Nobody ever talks about generational conflict. Who wants to bring up that the old are eating the young at the dinner table? How are you going to mention that to your boss? If you're a politician, how are you going to tell your donors? Even the Occupy Wall Street crowd, while rejecting the modes and rhetoric and institutional support of Boomer progressives, shied away from articulating the fundamental distinction that fills their spaces with crowds: young against old."

---the class of 2011

---the rise of female slackers

---current world population

---"Famous Faces in Their Film Debuts"

---"What was my offense? I worked on climate change research that indicated the world is a lot warmer today than it was in the past. Because that research caught the public's attention when it was released in 1998, I became one of dozens of climate researchers who have been systematically targeted by a well-funded anti-science campaign."

---Bobby Rush wears a hoodie

---The Django Unchained primer

---the visceral evolution of trailers

---Ed Howard considers She's Gotta Have It by @SpikeLee

---"when you have robots fighting a war in a foreign country, the population of that country is going to be slow to gain trust, which can make occupation or even just persuasion quite difficult. You can see this in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the populations have been slower to develop empathy for American forces because they see them as people who send machines to fight a war."

---the 50 greatest cartoons

---"the real-time video era will hit us more like tsunami than a stream. Every conference talk. Every concert. Every birthday party. Every LOLcat on the verge flopping into the toilet when swiping at catnip. (Will he? Won’t he? For aficionados of feline follies what was once a 20-second YouTube clip will transmogrify into a two-hour time killer.) Our cameras will capture more and more of the great moments and the mundane ones of our lives — eventually we may never turn them off, except to charge the batteries."

---trailers for Total Recall, Safety Not Guaranteed, and The Big Fix

---a clip from Stranger Than Paradise

---the problem with the word "terrorism"

---Pam Cook analyzes the opening scene of Eyes Wide Shut

---Michael Caine's film acting tips

---lastly, filmmaking lessons from Roger Corman