Sunday, May 27, 2012

private links

---Sounds of Aronofsky

---What If . . . 

---"Data journalism is the new punk"

---Bill Murray's tour of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

---"Randers' ideas most closely resemble a World3 scenario in which energy efficiency and renewable energy stave off the worst effects of climate change until after 2050. For the coming few decades, Randers predicts, life on Earth will carry on more or less as before. Wealthy economies will continue to grow, albeit more slowly as investment will need to be diverted to deal with resource constraints and environmental problems, which thereby will leave less capital for creating goods for consumption. Food production will improve: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause plants to grow faster, and warming will open up new areas such as Siberia to cultivation. Population will increase, albeit slowly, to a maximum of about eight billion near 2040. Eventually, however, floods and desertification will start reducing farmland and therefore the availability of grain. Despite humanity's efforts to ameliorate climate change, Randers predicts that its effects will become devastating sometime after mid-century, when global warming will reinforce itself by, for instance, igniting fires that turn forests into net emitters rather than absorbers of carbon. `Very likely, we will have war long before we get there,' Randers adds grimly. He expects that mass migration from lands rendered unlivable will lead to localized armed conflicts." --Madhusree Mukerjee

---@annehelen's recommended reading on the scandals of classic Hollywood

---Introducing the Leap

---a 1979 interview with Woody Allen

---words to avoid

---movie references in The Simpsons

---The Power of Networks

---"To my mind, the thing that’s exploding into relevance in our era is not mass culture but the critique of mass culture — the Barthesian dissection of everything, no matter how trivial. This happens everywhere now, often in real time. And this critical analysis is often as vital and interesting and consumable as the culture it discusses. Consider, for instance, the way the TV recap has evolved into a nearly independent creative form. So the critical analysis of pop culture has itself become a kind of pop culture. We seem to be approaching some kind of singularity — a collapse of creativity and criticism into one."  --Sam Anderson

---Francois Truffaut: The Man Who Loved Cinema

---the Situationist International, remixed

---"I have absolutely no idea who my government is continuously bombing to death by drone, but I assume they deserve it"

---Michael Z. Newman's "Television Pictures"

---"newer" media and their various platforms are always largely anchored by the nostalgic remediation of older properties instead of anything truly "new"

---an open letter to Jay Leno

---Haneke's work does contain slight yet dazzling threads of hopefulness here and there, but for each of those threads there's at least two instances of unequivocal and irreparable carnage serving as a counterbalance. There's no bringing back the girl in Benny's Video, for example, or the boy in Funny Games, or the father in Time of the Wolf, and so on.  And so in Haneke's work, hopefulness isn't progress or potential so much as it's the byproduct of endurance--it isn't a slate-clearing sunrise so much as a (momentary?) passing of the tornado. Misery and despair so thoroughly blanket Haneke's filmography that one could argue quite plausibly that many of his stories' apparent victims wind up being victors, because the dead are spared from continuing the experience the unavoidable disasters of life." --Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard

---trailers for Skyfall, The Master, Deranged, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Great Gatsby, and Holy Motors

---Ridley Scott on storyboarding

---protests in Chicago and Montreal

---"users should assume they have absolutely no privacy"

---lastly, John Michael Hayes on Rear Window

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The military justifies its existence: 8 notes on Battleship

1) Battleship is as blunt and as obvious as a billboard. (After watching the film, I noticed two actual billboards promoting the Marines as I drove around town.) Drawing mostly on the Transformers films, but also Titanic, Top Gun, Star Wars, The Terminator, and a bit of AlienBattleship provides the viewer with a compendium of recent blockbuster cliches retrofitted to sell the US Navy. It makes sense to me that the filmmakers had to manufacture an alien villain for the US forces to fight against (with Swiss Army knife-like right arms that can twirl around to produce various weapons, no less).  In comparison to, say, Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the fighting men of Battleship remain curiously incurious about the extraterrestrials they bomb, since the enemy is merely a pretext to display the destructive capability and technological prowess of the US Navy. After all, if the alien ships just resemble large puddle-jumping Transformers, why would we get worked up about contact with an alien race?  Somehow the movie's unholy conflation of Hasbro and the US Navy seems oddly appropriate since in both cases, they mostly want to show off their toys.

2) Sample dialogue:

Crew member: "We need you now."

Lieutenant Alex Hopper (who looks at himself (not for the first time) soulfully in the mirror): "I can't."

Crew member: "If you can't, who can?"

3) From "Obama's Biggest Mistake": "[the] generals['] plan called for 130,000 troops to stay [in Afghanistan] for years more to come."

From "The $1.45 Trillion Fighter Jet": "While [Florida Governor Rick] Scott famously refused $2 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail in Florida, deriding it as an expensive boondoggle, his team shows no such hesitations about the $1.45 trillion F-35 project. The most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, it has suffered technical setbacks, nearly a decade of production delays, and substantial cost overruns; the Pentagon currently estimates each plane will cost $135 million to build and maintain."

Lastly, from Salon: "How much are we spending on national security these days? With major wars winding down, has Washington already cut such spending so close to the bone that further reductions would be perilous to our safety? In fact, with projected cuts added in, the national security budget in fiscal 2013 will be nearly $1 trillion."

I wonder, why do Obama's generals want to keep fighting in Afghanistan for years to come? Are wars needed to justify that trillion dollar expenditure? I wonder how much our tax dollars pay for the promotion of thunderingly booming films like Battleship?

4) More sample dialogue:

Admiral Shane: "Prepare to fire."

Crew member: "Sir, which weapons?"

Admiral Shane: "All of them."

5) In the movie, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) no sooner joins the Navy than we see him lying on the sand before a gorgeous Hawaiian sunset as Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) bends over him in her Daisy Duke shorts. A rough life he leads.

6) Battleship concerns an attack of some aliens off the coast of Hawaii.  Engaging in some Rimpac naval exercises at the time, some destroyers happen upon the aliens' large spooky dripping CGI metallic thing out in the water.  When the American ships get too close, a battle ensues, of course, and Alex's brother (Alexander Skarsgard) dies during the alien retaliation. As the tone turns serious for a moment, as people expire dappled with PG-13 hints of blood, the film raises a question: how much tragic grandeur can one extract from a movie based on a Hasbro board game?

7) One thing I learned: the Navy has little tolerance for hipsters.  Two of them appear early on (with beards, long hair, and boxy glasses), and they shake in their Converse sneakers when alien trouble arrives. The definition of contemptible, one cries out for the aid of all of the armed forces when he gets frightened.

8) To the end, Alex remains desperate for Admiral Shane's (Liam Neeson's) parental approval.  When it isn't sentimentalizing veterans or amputees, playing anthemic AC/DC songs, or presenting medals to heroes with a standing ovation, Battleship assumes that, in all things, we must turn to our wise military leaders for guidance.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

propaganda links

---our constitutional right to record

---propaganda in the US

---Facebook propaganda and the resistance

---Welcome to Life

---Ken Burns: On Story

---"I’m just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s — although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today — nevertheless, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that ‘we’re gonna get out of it,’ even among unemployed people, including a lot of my relatives, a sense that ‘it will get better.’ . . . It’s quite different now. For many people in the United States, there’s a kind of pervasive sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. I think it’s quite new in American history. And it has an objective basis."  --Noam Chomsky

---whitewashing, a history

---"If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs. The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars."

---Robert Downey Sr. and Paul Thomas Anderson have a chat

---"We're here to reaffirm Hollywood’s love, admiration and respect for the United States military."

---5) "Punch people in the face"--the lessons of Peter Grant

---100 ideas that changed film

---hissing in Eraserhead

---"I spent five hundred . . . pages trying to make this case, that the Sex Pistols had an entire tradition — an unspoken, unheard, invisible tradition — behind them. They were the avant-garde taking its revenge on the 20th century and saying, "Now, you're going to have to listen to us whether you like it or not." All of these artists and polemicists and critics, whether it was Richard Huelsenbeck or Guy Debord, all of them were saying, "You can't ignore us any longer, we've found our voice." And Johnny Rotten doesn't know or doesn't care, he's speaking for himself, but all those voices are in there. And I'm hearing something I've never heard before. And I don't know what this is. I'm so moved by it, so transported by it. I just wanted to hear more, and I'm afraid of what `more' might be. That's a great feeling, you know, to be afraid to turn on the radio, afraid to walk into a record store. Because it's going to do something to you, and you don't know what that's going to be."--Greil Marcus

---10 movie stunts

---trailers for Antapal, Won't Back Down, and Hyde Park on Hudson

---"Mary Dudziak’s new book, War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, is a crucial document. Dudziak, a legal historian at the University of Southern California, argues that we are experiencing `not a time without war, but instead a time in which war does not bother everyday Americans.' Her smooth foray into legal and political history reveals that in not just the past decade but the past century, wartime has become a more or less permanent feature of the American experience, though we fail to recognize it. She doesn’t say so explicitly, but we are experiencing a reverse Orwellian situation, in which the state, rather than elevating war to perpetuate itself, obscures war to perpetuate itself."

---"People are ready to see the war be wound down,” says Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network. “They don’t really understand. It’s been ten years, Bin Laden is gone, what exactly are we there for again?”

---The Substance of Style

---"I’m used to very strong women because my mother was particularly strong, and my father was away all the time. My mother was a big part of bringing up three boys, so I was fully versed in the strength of a powerful woman, and accepted that as the status quo. I think there are a lot of men who feel they’re being emasculated by having the woman be in charge; I’ve never had that problem. All the relationships in my life have been with strong women, from childhood. The relationship I’ve had in my life for the past 30 years is with a very strong Costa Rican woman. Oddly enough, I find it quite engaging to be working with a female when I’m directing. It’s kind of interesting." --Ridley Scott

---"The NDAA's section 1021 coup d'etat foiled" by Naomi Wolf

---the music of Jim Jarmusch

---"I think the general public is beginning to learn the value of information. To give an example, for a very long time nobody in the U.S. or the world was allowed to know the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq. There were wild guesses and they were all over the ballpark figures, until a young army private named Bradley Manning had the courage to steal that information from the U.S. government and release it. Now we know that despite their smart munitions and all their high-technology they have somehow managed to accidentally kill 150,000 civilians in two countries."

---Lastly, "Drones and the Theatrics of Power"

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Love means never having to say you're sorry": 9 things I liked about Dark Shadows

1) because the hippies are disposable vampire meat.

2) because it leaves you wondering . . . what does it mean if you cast your domestic partner Helena Bonham Carter in a role where (mild spoiler alert) she is killed by a vampire bite that drains all of her blood in 5 seconds.  Then, her body's thrown into a boat at night, rowed out to sea, and then dropped in the water with a concrete block tied to her to weigh her down.  What does that suggest about Burton's and Carter's relationship?

3) because of Burton's weird mixture of complacency, nepotism, nostalgia for the early 70's, longing for the sources of inspirations of his earlier movies (such as Edward Scissorhands (1990)), black humor, disdain for hippies, laziness, gothic hyperbole (as in Jane Eyre, which also begins with a newly recruited governess arriving a large spooky estate), insouciant plotting, cliche'd retro-inbred-eccentricity, etc.

4) because Depp (as Roderick-esque vampire Barnabas Collins) keeps staring slightly pop-eyed at early '70s cultural artifacts like a lava lamp, an Operation board game, or Karen Carpenter.  Thus, Dark Shadows juxtaposes 18th century formality with post-hippie kitsch--Nathaniel Hawthorne meets Laugh-In.

5) because Michelle Pfeiffer has a decent role as family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, which is enough to make me like the movie in any case, because her character gets to shoot up the Collins estate with a shotgun, because she deserves better than her last 13 movie roles, because America does not appreciate her enough, because she deserves to be treated at least as well as France treats Catherine Deneuve.

6) because, in part due to the loopiness of the original (1966-71) TV show, Dark Shadows has the kind of plot where prominent characters are forgotten and then suddenly reassert themselves, where affection for actors overrides story coherence, where Burton can say "I can play with my gothic tropes in my 150 million dollar playpen as long as I want to," where the boy David (Gulliver McGrath) communicates with the dead as if he has just wandered over from The Shining (1980), where Chloe Grace Moretz just sulks but her performance as Carolyn is still one of her better recent film roles.

7) because the movie's plot is driven by hopeless romanticism, since much of witch Angelique Bouchard's (Eva Green's) motivation to torment Barnabas comes from his centuries-old rejection of her love. At one point, Barnabas attempts to kiss Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote).  When she recoils, he asks "Hath my scent offended thee?"  She replies, "No, no!  It's just . . . people I love haven't loved me back."

8) because I inexplicably enjoyed listening to the Carpenters' "Top of the World" during one of the montages.  I used to despise that band.

9) because shadows are usually dark, because the movie features an utterly superfluous werewolf, because all of the sets must burn to the ground, because Depp as a smart-ass vampire is almost epically over-exposed and tired. Dark Shadows is so cheesy and unnecessary, it somehow ends up skirting the edge of sublime.

Friday, May 11, 2012

plenoptic links

---Andy Warhol eats a Whopper

---Tina Fey deconstructs Between Two Ferns

---sound in The Avengers

---oil and the third industrial revolution

---"We’re living through a much more radical shift from narrative and stories and reporting to entirely different and entirely unrelated ways of sharing knowledge." --Stijn Debrouwere

---the three point landing supercut

---250 years of human expansion

---corporations and their brands

---Slacker and Spoiler

---"People are so vulnerable and so willing to accept substitutes for human companionship in very intimate ways. I hadn’t seen that coming, and it really concerns me that we’re willing to give up something that I think defines our humanness: our ability to empathize and be with each other and talk to each other and understand each other. And I report to you with great sadness that the more I continued to interview people about this, the more I realized the extent to which people are willing to put machines in this role. People feel that they are not being heard, that no one is listening. They have a fantasy that finally, in a machine, they will have a nonjudgmental companion." --Sherry Turkle

---trailers for In God We Trust, The Loved Ones, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Grand Illusion, The Taste of Money, Gangster Squad, Branded, Argo, and Killer Joe

---56 Up

---the plenoptic digital camera

---De Palma's Passion 

The FBI general counsel's office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly."

---How to Film Protests

---behind the scenes of Moonrise Kingdom

---Twitter's mawkish "competitive mourning cycle"

---lastly, Super

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"The humans, what can they do but burn?": 5 notes on The Avengers

1) Movies where the MacGuffin is a small, blue glowing cube of limitless energy sound very familiar.  Also, blockbuster films have long relied upon military hardware and lots of soldiers running around to provide summertime oomph.  The Avengers has the great virtue of Joss Whedon's wit and humanity infusing every scene, but I still wonder how soon we will draw lines between this movie and, say, some howling clunky blockbuster-wannabe of the past like Armageddon (1998). We are just bored enough to pay to see men in primary-colored outfits duke it out against some army of Chitauri aliens that fly out of a hole in the sky in a Transformers-esque fashion.  Who would dare to say that it isn't good?  

2) Perhaps people like The Avengers so much because it celebrates a triumph of branding. The Hulk reinforces his brand by blending together a sensitive, indie, yet still hunky Mark Ruffalo with a green, childlike, cartoonish embodiment of aggression that smashes things.  Viewing the film is like watching Pepsi chat with McDonalds ironically about the inadequacies of Apple as Facebook dons a blue mask before ripping Nike's hammer away in a fit of pique.

3) I didn't care much for either Iron Man movie, although I did enjoy writing "A poignant moment: two robots look soulfully at each other before one flies away." In The Avengers, however, Tony Stark has much better material to mock, so his otherwise smug perpetual midlife crisis character shines here as never before in his Black Sabbath t-shirt. Now he gets to ironically comment on Thor's "red drapes," Captain America's silly retro blue uniform, and the "reindeer game" ersatz horned theatrical costuming of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) otherwise known as the Norse God of Evil.

4) Midway through the film, proclaiming that "freedom is life's great lie," Loki demands that a crowd of humans kneel before him (I always wonder, in the midst of these hubristic scenes, how much the executives of Paramount would like us, the viewing audience, to do the same before this film.  Loki points out that our natural state is subjugation, and given the way the entire human population has stampeded to see this film, perhaps we are proving him correct. As Jonathan Franzen writes in his new essay collection, "[our] species of humanity have given way to a universal crowd of individuals whose most salient characteristic is their being identically entertained" (34)). Movies like The Avengers sends me back to reread Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle, because it applies so well:

"The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than that which appears is good, that which is good appears. The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance.

The alienation of the spectator to the profit of the contemplated object (which is the result of his own unconscious activity) is expressed in the following way: the more he contemplates the less he lives; the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The externality of the spectacle in relation to the active man appears in the fact that his own gestures are no longer his but those of another who represents them to him. This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere."

5) I especially appreciated the (spoiler alert) very last shot, after the credits, of the entire Avengers crew gluttoned out, looking tired but bloated after eating shawarma. Easily the best moment of the movie, the scene is not only very funny, it also accurately mirrors the viewing audience's sated expressions as they walk out of the cineplex.  They've had their 142 minutes of superhero overindulgence, witty banter, CGI explosions, and vaguely defined reptilian creatures tumbling out of a portal over New York City. They have now seen the great hormonal intergalactic broughhaha of the early summer before it all turns into wearisome concussive balderdash soon enough (I'm guessing by May 18 with Universal's Battleship). At the beginning of The Avengers, some grim alien, as he gazes down upon earth, proclaims of those puny mortals, "Humans, what can they do but burn?" Over the hot summer, such judgment for our supremely distracted culture may arrive soon enough.

Friday, May 4, 2012

indie links

-- Alfonso Cuaron and the art of the long takes

---your security-industrial complex at work

---Farewell My Lovely

---"If chairs are such a dumb idea, how did we get stuck with them? Why does our culture demand that we spend most of every day sitting on objects that hurt us? What the hell happened?

It should be no surprise to readers of Jacobin that the answer lies in class politics. Chairs are about status, power, and control. That’s why we like them. Ask any furniture historian about the origins of the chair and they’ll gleefully tell you that it all started with the throne."

---The Clash: Westway to the World

---DJ John Peel's music library

---J. Hoberman's "The Organizer: Description of a Struggle"

---Scorsese' filmmaking tips

---Gone With the Wind's screen tests

---Smokin' Aces' title sequence

---Walt Disney's Taxi Driver

---"Unexceptionalism: A Primer" by E. L. Doctorow

---"the demonization of protest, the militarization of police, and turning local cops into `terrorism' officials"

---The Data Journalism Handbook

---Samuel L. Jackson: the "ultimate professional," except perhaps when he's condemning A. O. Scott

---"As appealing as the HD image may be, too many of the indie films I've seen lately come off the screen with the same glossy, digital sheen about them. Watch enough of them, and that gloss starts to read like plasticity."

---The Avengers '78

---Touch of Psycho


---Michael Fassbender: "His voice is as deep and gravelly as Harrison Ford’s, his carriage as upright and intense as Daniel Day-Lewis’s, the blue/green/gray eyes as attention-grabbing as Paul Newman’s. The entire roomful of women is Not Staring and Not Listening so comprehensively, politely (and Englishly), that I become unhinged and drag him outside to sit in the cold at the single, solitary pavement table. His tea is brought out to him. No cakes."

---trailers for Mansome, The Impossible, Ill Manors, The Amazing Spiderman, End of Watch, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Shut Up Little Man, This is 40, Prometheus, Lawless, and Up in Smoke

---"Our highest government officials, up to and including President Bush, broke international and U.S. laws banning torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Worse, they made their subordinates in the military and civilian intelligence services break those laws for them.

When the men and women they asked to break those laws protested, knowing they could be prosecuted for torture, they pretended to rewrite the law. They commissioned legal opinions they said would shield those who carried out the abuses from being hauled into court, as the torture ban requires. `The law has been changed,' detainees around the world were told. `No rules apply.'

Then they tortured."

---"Greetings Worm"

---Joss Whedon

---Laura Poitras, detained at airports

---lastly, Looking at You