Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When mass annihilation is not enough: 8 problems with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

In comparison to the brilliant Melancholia (2011), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World has 8 major problems with it:

1) The title.  "Will you be my friend?" the movie pleads.  Such neediness, even in an apocalyptic context, is unattractive.

2) The name of the asteroid is Matilda. Matilda? What is this--mass death from some cosmic Aunt?

3) The dog.  Depressed after learning of the infidelities of his wife, Dodge (Steve Carell) vaguely attempts suicide by drinking a little Windex in a park one night.  He wakes the next morning to find a Benji-like cute little dog near him and a Post-It note on his chest saying "Sorry."  He takes the dog with him on all of his subsequent adventures, which brings up the main problem with this movie:

4) The sugary sweetness of it.  We learn at the outset that Matilda will hit the earth in 21 days and destroy all life in the process.  Thankfully, (and one becomes even more thankful for this key point as the movie persists), everyone will die.  So, I can only imagine that some film executive at Columbia Pictures insisted that writer/director Lorene Scafaria sweeten the darker implications of this painful fact any way she could.  So, bring in a dog, stick exactly to romantic comedy formula, make Keira Knightley's hipster Penny character as winsome, ditsy, and quirky as possible (no matter what damage that does to her screen image), never actually show the asteroid, indulge in Steve Carell's noble tendencies, and so on.    

5) Then there's Steve Carell's sensitive sentimentality.  I was trying to remember--how is he a comic?  His character gets into humorous situations (a visit to Friendsy's [sic] restaurant that devolves into a tasteful hint of an orgy, an appearance at work at an insurance agency where the "Armageddon package is extra"), but Carell's living too much in a kind of embalmed Los Angeles rarefied world of celebrity to besmirch himself much with comedy these days. With his sensitive eyes, his argyle sweaters, and his morose, disaffected acting style, he's starting to resemble Mr. Rogers by way of Dr. Marcus Welby. His sense of decency has become repellently therapeutic. While everyone else on earth goes berserk, throws riots, shoots up heroin or whatever, Penny and Dodge decide they want long soulful conversations about being afraid of dying alone, preferably over a home-cooked dinner with red wine. The movie becomes a matter of being annihilated in style, with proper humanity and sensitivity, while everyone else proves a bunch of underwritten, freaked-out jerks.

6) The road movie adventures.  One scene (in which Penny, proclaiming herself an "optimist", decides to hitchhike) strongly evokes a parallel moment in It Happened One Night (1934), the first major romantic comedy. At another time, Penny and Dodge arrive at a house full of survivalists (even though they won't survive), one of whom (Derek Luke) will loan them a Smart car. Ultimately, Dodge seeks his old high school girlfriend (kind of) as Penny strives to return to England to her family (sort of).  Mostly, they're just circling around what appears to be Ohio.

7) (minor spoiler alert) Dodge reconciles with his dad (played by Martin Sheen of Apocalypse Now (1979) Get it?) after 25 years of estrangement.  They play harmonicas together to show how they have harmonized after all of that time, reminding us that it takes a mere global catastrophe to bring them tearfully together again.

8) Repeatedly, Scafaria depicts apocalyptic human derangement as a fundamental inability to change one's habits after they have been drained of meaning.  So, Penny clings to her records in the midst of a riot, a man mows his lawn, people still go to work, and Dodge throws out his wife's stuff from their apartment even though all of this shifting around of mise en scene is a moot point. The film, meanwhile, doesn't seem to want to acknowledge how it clings to its romantic comedy/road movie conventions in much the same way.  Matilda supplied the filmmakers with an opportunity to create something sublime, an aesthetic that invokes both awe and terror. As Alan Pratt writes, "nihilism’s impact on the culture and values of the 20th century has been pervasive, its apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror." By facing the "mood of gloom" head on, Melancholia becomes hallucinatory, visionary, and genuinely alarming. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is too busy seeking winsome moments of human consolation to fully face anything.   

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Real power comes from truth": Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter links

---"Yes, reader, I went expecting to sneer." --Roger Ebert

---the oddities of Lincoln's pop culture legacy

---"Still, there is something bracing about a film that’s not afraid to link the entire Confederacy, still an inexplicable source of pride in some parts of the country, with a race of humanity-enslaving vampires. I can’t wait to see how this thing plays in South Carolina."  --Bilge Ebiri

---"It constitutes a moral sin, if not an outright moral crime, and commits a grave insult against history."  --Glenn Kenny

---"There’s definitely some empty-calories, summer-movie fun to be found in this ludicrous genre mashup, most of it courtesy of maniacal Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, who stages hilarious, imaginative, almost free-form action sequences like nobody in the business. There’s a scene in this movie that involves an ax fight between the young Mr. Lincoln and a slave-trading vampire mastermind, set amid a stampeding herd of horses, who are alternately used as conveyances, obstacles and weapons. In its own idiotic and limited way, it’s a work of genius, and you could almost say that about the movie as a whole."  --Andrew O'Hehir

---making the "Waltz of Death" scene

---"And just as Lincoln said `the world will little note, nor long remember' the words he spoke, he certainly had no idea that 149 years later, giant projected digital electronic moving pictures would show him killing CG-enhanced vampires."  --Jake and Gabor Boritt

---"TOH: Why did you select Abraham Lincoln of all the presidents to be your vampire hunter?

SGS [Seth Grahame-Smith]: Well, I have to go back to how the idea originated. I was doing a book tour for "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and as part of the tour I would go to bookstores big and small all over the US.  This was in 2009 and it was the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, so no matter where I was in the country, no matter the bookstore, there were two displays: Abraham Lincoln biographies and "Twilight" books. This was absolutely the zenith of vampire literature. In a moment of cynical aberration, I wondered if it would have some crazy synergetic effect. It got me interested enough to get into Abraham Lincoln biographies.  I didn't know a lot more than middle school level information - the $5 top hat, honest Abe.  During that initial research, I became hooked.The more I read about Lincoln, the actual man got under my skin. I began to ask: how did he do all this, when he had nothing -- no looks, no connections, no money, no name, no family?

TOH: What specifically about Lincoln's story affected you?

SGS: His life was so incredibly dark and fraught with peril and misfortune. His baby brother died, his mother died when he was nine, he was estranged from his father.  With no worldly possessions or education, he dusted himself off and became a man of letters, married a woman of high station, and gained the highest office in the land, and then saved this land while burying two of his sons.  His story is dark and gothic.  It's like a super hero origin story: the outcast, disadvantaged youth who possesses some secret skill. With great power comes great responsibility, the hook from Spider-Man. When he achieves this power, he finds himself in the middle of the Civil War, taking the whole country on his shoulders and wrestling it into shape and then paying the price for doing this with his life."

---the burning bridge scene in Buster Keaton's The General alluded to in Abraham Lincoln

---"In the first scene, an 11-year-old Abraham watches as two (previously free) black adults being dragged away and a boy about Abe's age screaming and crying and fighting the man who's hauling them away. My first reaction to this was: Why are they acting like this is not something completely normal in their lives?

Let's be honest: During this time, black people had been slaves for decades. Even those not born as slaves had to be careful, since they might still get snatched up because they were black and someone could decide they must be property. Any black person with sense, including a child, would not be fighting and carrying on like this unless they wanted to get a severe beating.

And that's just what happens.

A white man starts whipping the young black boy, which is Abe's call to action. He goes after the man with an axe. This doesn't end well for anyone, and eventually the man with the whip starts beating on Abe, too. His mother jumps to his rescue while spouting some abolitionist slogans about how no man can be free unless all men are free.

This scene is supposed to show us that little Lincoln was raised up by slavery-hating people, and his willingness to put his own body on the line for a black person.

All of this is utter and complete crap. I'm sorry, but it is."  --K. Tempest Bradford

---"Real power comes from truth"

---"Mr. Bekmambetov has a knack for screen carnage and he has plenty to work with in “Abraham Lincoln,” which gives him untold bodies with which to paint the screen red. (The intentionally drab, at times duo-chromatic palette dulls the colorful spray.) Outside of Nazis and zombies or, better yet, Nazi zombies, nothing says easily disposable villains like slave-trading vampires. And there is, no question, something satisfying — as the pleasure of the story’s pop conceit hits your deep historical outrage — about watching Lincoln decapitate a slave-trading ghoul, at least the first few dozen times. If only Mr. Bekmambetov had a strong sense of narrative rhythm and proportion, and as great a commitment to life as he does to death and all the ways bodies can be digitally pulverized."  --Manohla Dargis

---"You’ve kicked some ass in past movies. Were you at all bummed that you only have one head count in this movie?

A little bit. I was glad that I at least got one. There’s certainly films where the wife or the woman doesn’t get involved at all, so it was nice to get involved in some capacity. And when I first signed on, part of what I was excited about was not being involved in the action, getting a little break from that. But when I was on set and actually saw people training around me and stuff like that, I got a little jealous. I really wanted to be a part of it."  --from an interview with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Mary Todd Lincoln

---"as Americans we put him [Lincoln] up on a pedestal and we hold him as sacred to the point of worship, and when we do that we do not allow him to be human, and complicated and conflicted. The more I learned about him the more I learned how conflicted he was about his decisions and how ordinary and humble his upbringing was. That’s what makes him extraordinary to me. In spite of those things, in spite of the misery that beset him early in his life, he did remarkable things. He educated himself. He rose out of that to do something great, and something complicated. It’s very daunting to take on Lincoln, so the more accessible he becomes, by understanding him as an everyman—he was not a superhero, he was not something larger than life, he made himself larger than life and that’s certainly a window into understanding who he was." --Benjamin Walker

---"Instead of deconstructing the icon and starting again, for me it was more about a beginning. I didn't have obligations or stereotypes in my head or my heart. I just started from scratch and learned about him. He didn't start out an icon for me, but he became one. I understood how powerful he was and how important he was, not only what he did for the United States, but for the world."  --Timur Bekmambetov

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

filmmaking links

---behind the scenes with Hitchcock and Frenzy

---an interview with Sofia Coppola

---Robert Rodriguez--filmmaking outside of Hollywood

---John Ford's lessons in filmmaking

---Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs 

---"On January 3, 1971, Ashby and his cast and crew decamped to San Mateo County just outside San Francisco, and for the following two wet, overcast months they trudged from one soggy location to another. In the buildup to filming, Ashby had spent a lot of time with Bud Cort, helping him understand his character; as they were filming out of sequence, it wasn't possible for Cort to feel his way into the role, so Ashby had to shoot more footage than usual to cover himself. Cort, a former stand-up comic, was loose and improvisational, while the focused, ultraprofessional Gordon viewed the script as gospel. Not surprisingly, their acting styles were sometimes in conflict. Ashby, however, guided Cort through the difficult moments and gave him the confidence to find the character by telling him: `I know you know what you're doing. Just don't ever be afraid, because I'll always be there for you.'

`I was an emotional minefield,' Cort recalls, `but I wanted the part, and he took a chance on me and in so doing became not only a director, but a father, a mother, a driving instructor, and a psychiatric nurse. It was a difficult part for me, but Hal was so sympathetic, so understanding. And I think back on it now, I must have driven him crazy, but he never ever complained, and he was there for twenty-four hours a day, six days a week.'

Ashby was relieved to be in Northern California, away from the Paramount suits; however, in the first few days of the shoot Ashby's production manager was woken at 1 a.m. with a complaint from Paramount's head of production, Jack Ballard. Ashby told Mulvehill to inform Paramount: `If [he] telephones this goddamn set one more time I'm not going to shoot, and if they want to have another director come up and shoot it, fine.'

Filming Harold and Maude presented many challenges, and Ashby was well served by a carefully selected crew, many of them hippies, and all of them passionate about film." --Nick Dawson

---America Young's tips for making a successful short

---6 filmmaking tips from David Cronenberg

---NWR (Nicolas Winding Refn)

---scenes deleted from Blue Velvet

---Josh Olson on Coppola's The Conversation

---"when Lonergan began shooting the film in 2005, after taking two years to write the screenplay, Margaret had a lot going for it. When it was finally released six years later, in late 2011 — after a brutal and bitter editing process; a failed attempt by no less a cinematic eminence than Martin Scorsese to save the project; and the filing of three lawsuits — several serious film people called it a masterpiece. And almost no one saw it."

---an oral history of Jaws

---5 films by Nicholas Ray

---the progression of an animated shot

---when celebrities sell out

---“Action is linear because there’s a cause and effect relationship,” believes Richard Chew. “You’re keeping the eye actively engaged. It’s very kinetic.” The choice of editing technique depends on the required cinematic value. “In a performance oriented dramatic scene you have to figure out, one, what’s the story point and the character arcs, where are you leading this, how much do you want to reveal because you can withhold stuff whereas in action you don’t. Take a simple example of a car chase you have to at least imply where it’s going to end up. I find with dialogue scenes a lot of the times you can take out the end or the beginning then start in the middle. You can’t do that with an action scene. Also, in dramatic dialogue, how your use of reactions is as important as what the dialogue is. The one thing that differentiates really good editing of dialogue scenes is how much we play or don’t play on the speaker. It’s important for us to see the impact of what is being said off screen on a character or characters to give weight to what is being said.”

---"Cinematic Composition" by Tim Wilson

---trailers for The Master, 2 Days in New York, Magic MikeAmericano, Whores' Glory, A Burning Hot Summer, Resident Evil: Retribution, and Tricked 

---the look of Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave

---Molly Haskell considers Claire's Knee

---lastly, bell hooks and Spike Lee's Girl 6

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rock of Schlock: 6 notes on Rock of Ages

1) I enter the tiny theater number 11 of the Regal Stadium cineplex.  Inside, the air is unusually stuffy. The few scattered people there seem deranged, solitary. Are they big Glee freaks who want to see Tom Cruise fawned over by groupies? Broadway musical enthusiasts nostalgic for bad '80s anthemic power ballads? One older man, sitting in front of me, fans his face with one hand.    

2) In the opening scene, Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) sits a bus traveling from Oklahoma to Los Angeles and sings "Sister Christian" after she looks at her record collection in her suitcase.  She intends to make it big as a singer in Los Angeles just like Ali (Christina Aguilera) did in Burlesque (2010). She doesn't appear to be carrying any clothes in her suitcase, just records.  The year is 1987. Various others on the bus start harmonizing with her:

"You're motoring
What's your price for flight?
In finding Mister Right
You'll be alright tonight."

The scene alludes to the "Tiny Dancer" sing-along in Almost Famous (2000), but whereas the former was dramatically prepared for and semi-realistic, in Rock of Ages we appear to be living in Sherrie's dreamworld, a musical fantasyland where random bus drivers, prostitutes, and Republican activists may burst into a Pat Benatar song at any second.

3) Sherrie arrives in LA, only to have her suitcase immediately stolen.  Drew Boley (Diego Boneta) attempts to save her luggage, but he's too late to capture the thief.  Still, Drew and Sherrie fall in love after he chivalrously finds her a job as a waitress at the Bourbon Club.  Some sample dialogue:

[Drew and Sherrie gaze off at the twinkling LA night skyline from their perch on top of the HOLLYWOOD sign]

Sherrie: "You're a nice guy, aren't you?"

Drew: "I try to be."  [Drew and Sherrie both smile.  They are young, blank, ambitious. They have very nice teeth.]

Sherrie: "I can't believe I'm here! I'm so happy!"

[They kiss.]

Sherrie: "You're gonna sing me a song."

[Drew hesitantly sings the first lyrics of a very well known power ballad as if for the first time.]

Sherrie: "It's so beautiful!"

4) In the lower circles of hell, I can see people sitting through this slick Gleepocalyptic cinematic-equivalent-to-muzak swill, but it still left me wondering . . . what is Catherine Zeta-Jones doing dancing to "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" as Patricia Whitmore, conservative rabble-rouser protesting against the sinful goings on on the Sunset Strip?  A sample protest sign: "Rockers burn in hell." As her LA mayor husband (Bryan Cranston) allows himself to be spanked by his mistress in his briefs while Patricia dances in church in defiance of a Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise in vintage Axl Rose gear) poster, are we supposed to find this funny? satirical? affectionate? nostalgic?  I couldn't honestly tell.

5) After the unholy remake of Arthur (2011), Russell Brand deserves to be involved in Rock of Ages, but what's Alec Baldwin getting out of playing Dennis Dupree, the stubbled owner of the Bourbon Club?  Was Paul Giamatti intrigued by the acting challenge of inhabiting Paul Gill, the smarmy pony-tailed manager of Stacee Jaxx? Do these people like turning into cartoon versions of themselves?  In musicals, one can accept thin characterization in part (one hopes) because musical performances make up for it, and in part due to how far away they are on stage.  Movie adaptations of musicals, on the other hand, tend to emphasize the superficiality of what's on display. Characters can seem too loud, too close to the camera, and painfully vapid. Too often, the dialogue functions as filler between songs, but what does it mean to bridge the gaps between lyrics like "I wanna know what love is.  I want you to show me"?  

6) So, perhaps I fail to understand the campy spirit of Rock of Ages.  I can only see Tom Cruise as relentlessly opportunistically hyping his brand, and if that means slithering around like a 48 year old variation of a 25 year old Axl Rose, wearing fake tattoo guns stuck in his leather pants, and drinking scotch with a baboon named "Hey Man," so be it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"The trick . . . is not minding that it hurts": Prometheus links

---"Fassbender goes to the bridge, and fires up the computers to see what’s going on. Colourful displays shimmer into being – motion sensitive read-outs unfold and hover in front of him, their only goal in life is to provide him with information, and look great. Fassbender smiles, perhaps marveling at the possibility that one day in the not so distant future, all this marvellous technology could be replaced by clattery keyboards, blinking LEDs and monochrome cathode ray tubes - almost like something out of a 70s horror movie. . ." --Henry Rothwell

---Noomi Rapace's screen test for Prometheus

---"Why doesn't Idris Elba care what's going on with his crew?
Doesn't Idris seem weirdly disinterested in all the super-dangerous mapping and crew members going lost in that alien pyramid? He's the guy who's got a whole 3-D map in front of him, and yet instead of guiding his scientists from room to room, he wanders off  . . . and appears pretty nonchalant  . . .  because he's not really paying attention to them." --from "10 Questions"

--the orrery, "an Age of Enlightenment way of looking at a solar system"

---Prometheus scans

---"There’s a familiar phenomenon of filmmakers hiding their loss of inspiration behind the ostensible social or political significance of their work. Ridley Scott does as much in Prometheus—not with politics but with chthonic mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-religious, pseudo-biological, and pseudo-mythological bombast, and a lumbering audiovisual scheme to match. . .

Scott has a longtime attachment to the science-fiction genre, and I figured that, after the lumbering, leaden, and wit-free slog of Robin Hood, he’d be out to prove that he still had his mojo. Instead, he took the same laborious pompier style as fell flat in Robin Hood and attempted to justify it with a ponderous subject. The movie lacks any joyful sense of discovery, such as emerges (intermittently) through the vainglorious bombast of Alien. Scott’s grim direction here seems to respond in advance to its critics: of course there’s no fun; the creation of human life and the destruction of it from that very source is serious business and deserves as grand and sober a treatment as possible. And perhaps it’s all to the good that there’s no humor in the movie; a single titter breaking through the blanket of dulled feelings would build rapidly into guffaws of derision that might threaten to drown out the dialogue to the end."  --Richard Brody

---The sound of Prometheus

---Peter Weyland's 2023 Ted Talk

---"Scott's new movie started life as a straightforward Alien prequel but, he explains, as he developed it with writers Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts, they strayed further and further from the source material. The film will, however, reveal the origins of the so-called 'Space Jockey', a giant, skeletal space being found dead at the beginning of Alien. Might he hold the key to the origins of life on Earth? That's what the crew of the Prometheus hope to discover on their ill-fated mission.

The film's mysteries are derived from Scott and co's research into myth and ancient civilisations, and he asserts a genuine belief in their possibilities.

`There's a famous Inca carving of a guy sitting on his back, in a frame, and underneath him is fire. He's wearing a helmet and looking up at the universe. To me, that's a goddam spaceship. A lot of Asian and Indian drawings are obsessed with the notion of fire coming from the skies in the form of chariots or vehicles. There are constant references in Egyptian artwork to a very large figure with a lot of small figures in worship. Is that a pharaoh, or a visitor? Why is he helmeted? The drawings of a head with one big eye: that's a man in a space suit.'

`All these things are considered mumbo-jumbo, but they were written about by Erich von Däniken in Chariots of the Gods [1968], and a lot of Erich's shit is now being reconsidered. Scientists are saying: now we know a lot more, we believe we're not the only life-form in the galaxy. I've always intuitively thought that, while everybody was laughing at Erich.'" --from Tim Walker's "Is Ridley Scott the Most Macho Man in Movies?"

---What is 10.11.12?

---"This sort of textual overdetermination is common in SF, helping underpin not just the sorts of strategies of estrangement it employs but the extremely fertile and generative ways it relates to reality. Yet in Prometheus it often seems to do exactly the opposite, suggesting not new understandings but gesturing towards old ones, whether in the form of the repurposing of the plot of 2001 (ancient artifact, trip to stars, crazy computer, impossible secrets), or the reminders of Blade Runner, Alien and Aliens (psychopathic androids, greedy corporations etc etc)."  --James Bradley

---the cultural influences in Prometheus

---"The movie opens with an alien “Engineer” preparing to seed a primordial planet—presumably Earth—with life. He accomplishes this by drinking a black goop which causes him to die in agony, disintegrating at the cellular level. It looks cool, but forces you to wonder: Is this really the best means available for this incredibly advanced species to introduce genetic material to a planet? It’s a little like finding out that Prometheus brought fire to humanity by setting himself on fire despite the ready availability of kindling."  --Julian Sanchez

---the Alien franchise, a conversation

---"Prometheus is scary only in the sum of instincts and talent for movie-making that have been lost."  --David Thomson

---"The theory that we are in fact just an experiment" --the Michael Fassbender interview

---"This is very much Ridley Scott’s world, a universe that we’ve seen before. But he’s tried to channel as much of that into the storytelling. Take the opening of the film—it’s this mysterious being who takes this strange substance and then falls apart in front of our eyes. I say to Ridley: ‘So where is he? Is this the planet Earth or another planet entirely?’ He tells me, and then I go: ‘Okay, do you want to tell people that? Should we put up a credit?’ And he says ‘No, don’t do that.’ That’s when I knew we were talking the same language. We want people to try and contextualize, and we believe that people are seeing this for a reason, that they want to connect the dots for themselves. And I think the discussions that have erupted after seeing this movie is proof of that—this is a very, very active viewing experience."  --Damon Lindelof

---a scene from Prometheus:

David--"What did you hope to achieve by coming here?"

Charlie--"What we hope to achieve was to meet our makers, to get answers, why they even made us in the first place."

David--"Why do you think your people made me?"

Charlie--"We made you because we could."

David--"Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?"

---"So then, if Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is poking at the edges of creation AND our central motivations, what’s left? If God is not to be found in our current definition, and if our constant thirst for knowledge might kill us all, where does that leave our culture? Finally, does the world rapidly progressing toward a sort of tech immortality pave the way for a humanity that is virtually unrecognizable?

This is why Prometheus is an important film, far more clever than the average summer movie, and worthy of introspection. I don’t know if all the answers are all in there, but I had a hell of a time considering the questions."  --Laremy Legel

Friday, June 8, 2012

third war links

---Branded trailer

---Schoolhouse Rock and the kill list

---A. O. Scott's zingers

---Parler Le Fracas

---Alien and the academics

---"First, it’s awkward and potentially destabilizing to say Pakistan is a U.S. ally but the U.S. has to fight a war against terrorists on its soil. Second, it’s politically perilous to ask a war-weary public to get used to fighting what’s effectively a third war in a decade"

---interviews with Samuel Fuller and Bill Murray

---"Southland Tales‘s visual flow is also that of these post-cinematic media that play such a role within it. Properly cinematic images are intermixed with a barrage of home video footage, internet and cable-TV news feeds, commercials, simulated CGI environments, and especially sequences in which the film’s characters are watching all of the above on multiple computer windows or screens. The compositional logic of Southland Tales is paratactic and additive, having little to do with conventional film syntax. Indeed, Kelly’s disjunctive flow is almost the polar opposite of Eisensteinian montage." --Steven Shaviro

---the first feminist film

---"The future of content is code" by Dani Fankhauser

---Roderick Heath on Hell's Angels

---Gilliam's preferred animated films

---Richard Brody considers Alphaville as Dennis Cozzalio reviews Dark Shadows as Gavin Rothery revisits Blade Runner

---"Look, the hard thing—I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too—is that once you have a project, you think about how you’re going to photograph the scene until you actually do it. I have always felt that the camera view is just as important as what’s in front of the camera. Consequently, I’m obsessed with how I’m shooting the scene. When you’re making a movie, you think about it all the time—you’re dreaming about it, you wake up with ideas in the middle of the night—until you actually go there and shoot it. You have these ideas that are banging around in your head, but once you objectify them and lock them into a photograph or cinema sequence, then they get away from you. They’re objectified; they no longer haunt you." --Brian De Palma

---a new form of fame

---the sixth mass extinction, the weather, the drought, and the sea's loss of "75 percent of megafauna"

---The Language and Style of Film Criticism, a review

---Hustwit's tips for documentary filmmakers

---"Most people I know in academia want to get out. Which is a pretty new situation. I’ve never encountered that before. When I arrived in Oxbridge, at the tender age of 18, it was massively upper class and very patrician and I had a very hard time there. As a tutor in Oxford over the years, I saw all that—superficially at least—modulate. You know, Etonians with bones through their noses, and Wykehamists carefully dropping their vowels, distressing their jeans and their accents. But at least in those years, the neo-managerial ethos hadn’t exerted its clammy grip, so much, over universities. [Neo-managerialism] is absolutely hideous. I mean, it has effectively brought to an end hundreds of years—at least a two hundred-year-old tradition—of the university as a centre of critique, in a society where critique otherwise is pretty hard to come by. That is a momentous and historic development, and I’m really rather glad, personally speaking, that it coincides with my exit." --Terry Eagleton

---cyberpunk redux

---trailers for 360, Django Unchained, Get Lucky, Wreck-It Ralph, Red Lights, and The Imposter 

---lastly, Moonrise Kingdom's books 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Snowed under: 8 notes on Snow White and the Huntsman

1) As I walked out of the cineplex late Friday night after watching the 10:15 showing of Snow White and the Huntsman, I wondered . . . what was the last decent film that I've seen by Universal Pictures? Huntsman consists of a jaw-droppingly disparate mixture of bizarre casting, pretentious dialogue ("You have travelled far--with a great burden"), and a disjointed committee-written storyline that keeps stopping dead as it cuts back and forth between Snow (Kristen Stewart wandering about various magical lands) and the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) as she rages and/or ages rapidly (or not. I got confused by the transitions between aging makeup) in her castle.

2) As a fan of Charlize Theron, I was okay with the movie until it cut to dirty Cinderella-esque Kristen Stewart starting a fire with two rocks in the castle's north tower. She's supposed to be the put-upon "innocent" emblem of "purity," but I just saw her lose her virtue to a vampire in a much ballyhooed bed-breaking scene in Twilight Saga: Eclipse, so stomaching her as Snow White was nigh impossible.

3) Eventually Stewart resembles Juliet, Joan of Arc, and Greta Garbo in Queen Christina (1933), so I can see why she chose the role, but not why the filmmakers gave it to her. At one point (minor spoiler alert), both the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and some guy named William compete for her love, so I immediately jotted down "Team Thor" and "Team William" in my notes. Will Stewart ever live down her Twilight associations?

4) I did see Mirror Mirror back in March, and found it pretty but harmlessly forgettable as Julia Roberts tried too hard to be a funny and likable evil queen.  That movie kept finding reasons to show off Armie Hammer's (Prince Alcott's) muscular chest, but the movie's light jokey tone did not mesh well with the more serious aspects (i.e. the starving villagers) of the fairy tale.

5) The corresponding hunk in this film, the huntsman of Snow, proves to be a rabble-rousing drunk corralled by the evil Queen to retrieve Snow from the Dark Forest.  A blank drunk he remains.  I couldn't see why he's mentioned in the title, or what he's doing in the film except to look handsome backlit by the flames of a nocturnal fishing village set afire by the Queen's henchmen.  He wields an axe much as Thor wields a hammer. He gets to kiss Snow later on, so I guess that's something.

6) For much of the latter half of the movie, all I could think of was Monty Python's Holy Grail (1975) and the Cate Blanchett-riding-on-a-horse-into-battle scene in the 2010 Robin Hood.

7) When the dwarves finally appeared, I wondered how the filmmakers got such major actors (a blind miniature Tiresias Bob Hoskins (!), Ian McShane, Nick Frost, and Toby Jones (I just saw him in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy!)) to appear altitudinally challenged. When Snow sees some holy deer in a magical fairy-land scene, Hoskins says "No one's ever seen this before" as everyone gazes dewy-eyed at all the benign and twinkling CGI. When Hoskins realizes that he's in Snow's presence, he says "She is life itself.  She will heal the land. She is THE ONE. Where she leads, I follow. She will bring an end to the darkness." Perhaps so, but Mirror Mirror's Snow played by Lily Collins was better cast, in part because I've never seen her before. No one behind Snow White and the Huntsman seems all that concerned with any of the actors' over-familiarity.

8) Since Theron has such effortless star presence, the film had the opposite effect on me than what was intended. Who wouldn't root for the evil campy Queen? Snow White can go fly a kite.