Monday, December 31, 2012

filmmaking links

---The Ultimate Introduction to DSLR Filmmaking

7 Rules for Writing Short Films

---Top 20 Cinematic Techniques

---"Your Basic Filmmaking Kit Crew: A 3-Level Guide"

---"Want to write a Black List script? Well, if this year’s choices are to be believed, including the following plot points in your screenplay seem to be the best way to highlight your work for (relative) glory: true stories (14 pop up on the list), teens with cancer (weirdly, there are 2 such scripts, and a bonus 1 about a teen who discovers her dad has cancer), the discovery of major secrets (at least 11), the involvement of “the future” or a reimagined past (11), lawyers (3), coming-of-age tales (12, sort of, but also all of them, sort of), “the one that got away” (4, sort of), WWII (4), drugs (4), robberies (5), film history (2), kidnapping or missing people (7), losing virginity (2), and space (3). Can you put those all into one script, just for good measure? Instant hit!"

---Jerry Seinfeld's writing process

---Jim Jarmush's use of music

---"[Godard] goes even further than Truffaut in ‘capturing the truth of the streets’, as the city of Paris, with all its textures and rhythms, functions almost as a character itself. This approach to filmmaking is perhaps best encapsulated by a quote from around the time the film was released, when he declared: ‘all great fictional films lean towards documentary just as all great documentaries lean towards fiction.’"

---behind the scenes of one shot of The Avengers

---David Fincher discusses filmmaking

---Sofia Coppola's Lick The Star

---Roger Deakins' tips for cinematographers

---"I'm a self-taught filmmaker.  I never went to film school." --Christopher Nolan

---J. Hoberman: 10 filmmakers that will define cinema's next decade

---filmmaking tips from Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, and Wes Anderson

---"What does filling the frame entail? Well, for one, you should be able to identify your subject – that’s composition 101. The remaining space should be filled with elements that either echo your subject, strengthen the story, or give the subject context. But in no way should they distract the eye from the primary subject. And each smaller element should be placed in the remaining space in a balanced manner." --Ming Thein

---"14 Trends Filmmakers Watch in 2013"

---an excellent filmmaking-related twitter account: @DigitalDuckInc by Roger Duck

---an excellent screenwriting blog: Go Into the Story by Scott Myers

---2012: The Cinescape

---"From this writer’s point of view, one thing low-budget filmmakers should try to focus more on is linear story telling. I have sat through a few films that jump around different timeframes, instead of concentrating on telling a good story well. Plot twists are all well and good, but a rookie or sophomore effort should be able to demonstrate a story simply and powerfully told.

One such film that left me scratching my head continually was Cuckoo, which was a shame considering the name cast involved like Richard E Grant and Laura Fraser.

I am not one of these people that want their movies served up on a silver logic platter; but I don’t want to be racking my brain at every turn to understand the plot or character motives. If there is a science-fiction element involved, then the chances are that your story might need a time jumping element to prosper, but I think it should avoided in more straightforward genres.

Stilted dialogue is another area low-budget filmmakers should concentrate on avoiding. One of the better films I watched on my Brit indie journey was Confession. This was the perfect example of judicious casting and natural dialogue. It didn’t appear rehearsed to within an inch of its life, the characters talking like you would expect yourself to converse in everyday settings with a dash of humour or veiled threats.

Another ambitious film that benefits from sharp dialogue is The Drummond Will, a beautifully played black-and-white comedy set in the country that had me laughing away. Its playful absurdity and upbeat score harked back to British comedies of old and just goes to show what a tight script and quality comic actors can bring to a genre where Britain has an enviable track record from years past.

It cannot be stressed enough how important dialogue is to elevating films above the numerous choices that your average punter will face at the cinema, rental shop or online. If one can draw the audience in with believable characters from the outset, they will provide a great deal more leeway in terms of the plot.

It’s worth taking time learning to pick up on the cadence of conversation. Not only will it give you much needed distance from your script, but it will help you write flowing dialogue that doesn’t feel forced or shoe horned in to advance the story.

Also try to create a world that people maybe haven’t seen before in film or, at least, a world that hasn’t been given due respect by flashier mainstream filmmakers. The devil really is in the detail here and your unique insider view of a particular job, industry or milieu can truly make your film stand out. The mental health aspect of Confession and writer/director Viv Fongenie’s enterprising Ollie Kepler’s Expanding Purple World, for example, adds an intriguing extra layer to the relationship drama that binds the stories together."  --from "Essential tips for low budget British indie film success"

---"Color and The Look of a Film: Visual Analysis"

---"As for the cast, if we wanted to use an actor we’d promise them an IMDb credit, footage for their reel, a chance to see themselves on the big screen and lunch. Though we didn’t always give them lunch. In fact, I don’t think we ever did." --from Andy Young's "How to Make a Feature Film for Under $200"

---"10 Short Films to Inspire and Motivate"

---"6 Tips for a Better Edit"

---my June 20, 2012 filmmaking links

---influential filmmaking sites, blogs, apps, and tumblr accounts

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Django Unchained and the representation of slavery

"[The film will] be award worthy if Steve McQueen did it.  It's all a dark and really gritty look at the realities of slavery. So is [Django Unchained]. It's just coached in a spaghetti western/blaxploitation movie/HongKong bullet ballet, but it's as legitimate as that, and ultimately movies should be entertaining." --Samuel L. Jackson

After enjoying much of Django Unchained (when I wasn't asking myself, should I be liking this?), I wondered how to enter the critical fray when I hit upon the nicely detached critical word "representation." Some critics have been understandably offended by the movie while others applaud Tarantino's willingness to engage with the difficult subject of slavery. Is Django Unchained "ethically serious" as A. O. Scott puts it, or does it exploit the sufferings of slaves for cheap sensationalistic entertainment? Tarantino appears to do both simultaneously. The director/writer takes an image such as a slave torn apart by dogs, or a band of horseback-riding men wearing masks and carrying torches, and then he finds ways to further complicate our responses by adding on layers of satire or cheesy spaghetti western film technique (abrupt zooms) or allusions to loaded movies such as Griffith's innovative but racist The Birth of a Nation (1915). Should one make jokes in sharp juxtaposition with the representation of the degradation of a slave? Does the subject demand a serious respectful treatment, especially given the way Americans still have not fully come to terms with slavery?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I find it useful to compare Django Unchained with Pulp Fiction (1994), especially Samuel L. Jackson's roles in both films.  The quintessential scene of Tarantino's career is still the one where his hitman character Jules Winnfield [Jackson]says these words that he claims come from Ezekial 25:17:

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."

Then Jules and Vincent (John Travolta) summarily execute several drug dealers in their apartment. This delightful equation between revenge and old testament judgment, what others might call the Law, characterizes much of Tarantino's work. It helps dramatically justify the slaughter of villains (as in Inglourious Basterds (2009)). It makes Jules look oddly ethical even though he later admits that "I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to [someone] before I popped a cap in his ass," but Pulp Fiction often entertains these ethical conundrums where gangsters humorously meditate on questions of retribution. Both Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained concern an African American and a white guy teaming up in the classic Huckleberry Finn American dream of racial friendship. In both films, Tarantino has the (spoiler alert) white guy die, leaving the possibility for the African American's redemption and triumph at the end, especially since Jules considers walking away from his criminal world altogether. Pulp Fiction's tightly interwoven time-reversing structure also calls attention to Django Unchained's sloppier story configuration. My friend was bothered by the way the movie was unnecessarily elongated with two climaxes, not one, with an unlikely twist that makes the film far less plausible (with Tarantino appearing in a minor role as if to distract us from the structural flaw).

Meanwhile, what has happened to Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained?  Now, he's playing Stephen, the most despicable head house slave of Calvin Candie's (Leonardo DiCaprio) plantation, an Uncle Tom figure who looks exactly like the Uncle Ben of Uncle Ben's rice, a man who oppresses other slaves by incorporating within himself all of the loathing of his master.  Stephen appears in the movie by exclaiming "What's that nigger doing on a horse?" when Django (Jamie Foxx) rides up with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) along with Calvin and his entourage. Tarantino manages to find subtle ways to complicate Stephen's character by hinting at Stephen's small rebellions against his master (he appears to forge his master's signature on a check, for instance), but Stephen is still a drastic change for Samuel L. Jackson, and I wonder how much he enjoyed playing this minstrel-like character (like Aunt Jemima), a man who must act the way whites wanted to perceive African Americans at the time.

So, I guess the larger question of the movie boils down to this: does Django's final revenge against all of the figures of oppression of Calvin Candie's plantation aesthetically justify scenes in which slaves are degraded beforehand? Are the semi-ironic, self-aware, and cheesy film techniques of the spaghetti western appropriate for this subject matter? Can Tarantino convey outrage over the injustices of slavery and joke about it too, often within the same scene? The film evokes the complicated representations of slavery in Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno" (1855), but whereas that story gives the reader time to examine the underlying assumptions of its characters, Tarantino's movie may be too busy entertaining the viewer to adequately question the moral quandaries that it raises.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

femme fatale links

---Mark Fiore's high-tech Christmas

---The Criticwire Survey: The Best Film Criticism of 2012

---action scenes of 2012

---Peter Gutierrez's study guide for the Dark Knight Trilogy

---Distorted Times 

---"Attendees at the conference said it is unethical to keep admitting students to programs and training them for jobs that don't exist while they are racking up piles of debt only to risk finding university employment as just an adjunct, or obtaining some other low-wage job for which a graduate degree is not necessary, or ending up on food stamps." --Stacey Patton

---"Let's Go" by Stuck in the Sound

---the original four page sketch for Looper

---Jackie Brown: Quentin and Pam's Big Score

---the evolution of the James Bond opening title

---"The Instant of My Death will not simply illustrate what we are saying. I want to follow it to the point where, taking us beyond all the categories upon which we too easily rely, it helps us to render them problematic, fragile, uneasy."

---Interiors considers the spaces of Woody Allen's Manhattan

---"The term 'triangulation' as it is used in politics, is said to be a dirty word, a cynical tactic. But in this case, as one modern strategist phrased it, 'isn't about compromising on principles or policies, but about preempting conservative wedge issues by addressing them through progressive policies' -- or, finding a way to accomplish your goals without alienating one side or another, through careful use of language and limits. This may involve strategic tradeoffs or compromises on short-term goals in order to position yourself to accomplish greater ones in the future. Think about the practical, empirical wisdom in those words: It's true because it works.

Lincoln weaves images of such triangulation through the entire film. It's even there in the visual positioning of the three men in the telegraph room, and in the last sentence of the speech above: balance, fairness, justice. It's there in the House of Representatives, with the Lincoln Republicans on one side of the chamber, the opposition Democrats on the other and the Speaker (or the member holding the floor) at the front, moderating between them. At times, the apex of the triangle is reversed, shifted to a point in the balcony at the rear of the hall, where Mrs. Lincoln (Sally Field) or various Negro citizens might be witnessing the historic proceedings."  --Jim Emerson


---a scene from The Awful Truth

---Richard Brody considers Altman's The Long Goodbye

---"The archetypal noir femme fatale is the character Kathie Moffat, played by the dark beauty Jane Greer, in Out of the Past (1947). Kathie has no work; she is solely after money and will kill for it. She is literally a woman of the darkness. Her lover Jeff (Robert Mitchum) describes their affair in Acapulco: `I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked.'"

---Anil Dash's "The Web We Lost"

---the zero budget software suite for filmmakers

---behind the scenes of The Master

---storyboards for Blade Runner and The Birds 

---making The Blues Brothers and Bob Dylan's ride with John Lennon

---trailers for No Subtitles Necessary, I'm So Excited, Pacific Rim, Side Effects, Welcome to the Punchand Dreams of a Life 

---"In recent years, [Tarantino's] own written criticism, which has never been published, has functioned as a prelude to his screenwriting. 'I do my film writing until I come up with a story," he tells me. '[Criticism] keeps me going, keeps me investing in things, and keeps me thinking in an artistic way, and in a critical way, too.'

He told The New York Times in September, 'As I was working on an essay about how Corbucci's archetypes worked, I started thinking, I don't really know if Corbucci was thinking any of these things when he was making these movies. But I know I'm thinking them now. And if I did a Western, I could put them into practice.'

Django also allowed Tarantino to 'put into practice' the ideas that went into another private project he banged out after Basterds. It is, he says, a novella-length critical analysis of Don Siegel's and Robert Aldrich's films of the 1970s, some of them revisionist Westerns made within the New Hollywood era." --Karina Longworth

---Django (1966)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zero Dark Access

---“'These documents, which took nine months and a federal lawsuit to disgorge from the Obama administration, show that politically-connected film makers were giving [sic] extraordinary and secret access to bin Laden raid information, including the identity of a Seal Team Six leader,' said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton."

---"A July 13, 2011, internal CIA email indicates that Bigelow and Boal were granted access to `the Vault,' which is described the CIA building where some of the tactical planning for the bin Laden raid took place: `I was given your name as the POC in [redacted] who could determine the feasibility of having a potential walk-through of…the Vault in the [redacted] building that was used for some of the tactical planning in the Bin Laden Raid [sic]. In consultation with the Office of Public Affairs and as part of the larger chronicling of the Bin Laden raid, OPA will be hosting some visitors sanctioned by ODCIA this Friday afternoon.”  (The name of the sender is blacked out.)  “Of course this is doable,' an official responds."

---"We’re trying to keep [Boal's] visits at HQs [sic] a bit quiet, because of the sensitivities surrounding who gets to participates in this types of things [sic]," CIA spokesman Marie Harf wrote to a colleague in June 2011. "I’m sure you understand."

---Zero Dark Propaganda

---"I want to explain why this point matters so much. In US political culture, there is no event in the last decade that has inspired as much collective pride and pervasive consensus as the killing of Osama bin Laden.

This event has obtained sacred status in American political lore. Nobody can speak ill of it, or even question it, without immediately prompting an avalanche of anger and resentment. The news of his death triggered an outburst of patriotic street chanting and nationalistic glee that continued unabated two years later into the Democratic National Convention. As Wired's Pentagon reporter Spencer Ackerman put it in his defense of the film, the killing of bin Laden makes him (and most others) `very, very proud to be American.' Very, very proud.

For that reason, to depict X as valuable in enabling the killing of bin Laden is - by definition - to glorify X."   --Glenn Greenwald

---Has torture become acceptable?

---"The film fails to consider the notion that the CIA and the intelligence industry as a whole, rather than being solutions to what threatens us, might be part of the problem."  --Peter Maass

---"Torture scenes have been around as long as cinema. They're food for the reptilian brain."

---"Clearly, the Times doesn't want to be perceived as putting its thumb on the scale on either side in the torture debate. That's understandable, given traditional journalistic values aiming for neutrality and balance. But by not calling waterboarding torture -- even though it is, and the paper itself defined it that way in the past -- the Times created a factual contradiction between its newer work and its own archives."

---Bigelow also wanted to shoot the entire raid two ways—once objectively and once through the night-vision goggles the SEALS wore. The goggles have an unearthly black-on-green effect that’s usually added in postproduction; in Zero Dark Thirty, the scenes were actually shot through those lenses. 'You just can’t artificially create it,' she says. 'When I look through night-vision goggles, I see the way light sparkles on whatever particulate matter is in the air—it creates a kind of exquisite filmic haze.'”

---an ad for Black Ops 2

---"They actually received--in our film--no success from those interrogations. They didn't get anything that they used, so I find it really confusing why they would say it's pro [torture]."  --Jessica Chastain

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The film doctor's 10 most disliked films of 2012

[Note: I tried to avoid bad movies this year, but some proved painful just the same. Things I learned: beware of cute dogs, Colin Farrell, and Taylor Kitsch.]

10) Seven Psychopaths

This meta-pseudo-Tarantino doodle dithers in the desert. Will the eccentric psychos finish their screenplay or shoot each other? Christopher Walken talks to himself on a tape recorder. Tom Waits emotes with a rabbit.

9) Savages

With fake scars on his face, Taylor Kitsch plays an expert veteran "killer." Benicio Del Toro, sporting an Elvis pompadour, leers over Blake Lively. Oliver Stone caters to stoners.

8) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Thankfully, everyone will die.

7) Lockout

Smart-ass Snow (Guy Pearce) must save a princess, I mean the US president's daughter (Maggie Grace), from an outer space maximum security prison overrun by demented convicts. Since they are all out in space, who cares?

6) Total Recall

Colin Farrell's character Douglas Quaid does not know what the hell he's doing in this ersatz Blade Runner multi-ethnic cityscape, saying things like "If I'm not me, then who the hell am I?" and "Everyone seems to know me but me," even though he incongruously possesses a kick-ass secret agent skillset such as the ability to quickly bloodlessly PG-13 kill a roomful of anonymous jackbooted riot police masked goons, fly jet-cars, and evade a comely Kate Beckinsale (alias Lori Quaid) who made me giggle with every appearance she makes as the angry villainess.

5) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Epic, tireless PG-13 vampire lovemaking montages, magic powers aplenty, Michael Sheen squealing like a deranged Napoleon. The computer-generated baby Renesmee (with a curiously small head) gurgles and grins on cue.

4) Rock of Ages

Tom Cruise slithers around like a 48 year old variation of a 25 year old Axl Rose, wearing fake tattoo guns stuck in his leather pants, drinking scotch with an underpaid baboon named Hey Man. In the lower circles of hell, I can see people grooving to this rockin' Gleepocalyptic answer to '80s anthemic power ballads.

3) This Means War

Two addlepated chucklehead CIA spies vie for the affection of Tweety Bird.

2) The Raven

Truly, the Pit.  So bad I couldn't even review it. Edgar Allan Poe's immortal prose treated with all of the sensitivity and psychological nuance of a razor-edged pendulum abruptly sawing some slob in half.

1) Battleship

As people expire dappled with PG-13 hints of blood, Battleship raises a question: how much tragic grandeur can one extract from a 131 minute military advertisement based on a board game? The movie's unholy conflation of Hasbro and the US Navy makes sense. They both just want to show off their toys.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

war on Christmas links

---The Best Films of 2012

---a Dark Knight retrospective

---driving in Russia

---"Control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states. The logic is straightforward: a despotic state can control its domestic enemies by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business…the public are to be observers, not participants, consumers of ideology as well as products."  --Noam Chomsky

---"To me, Godard did to movies what Bob Dylan did to music: they both revolutionized their forms." --Quentin Tarantino

---the evolution of the Bond trailer

---"Like everything we do here, the design process at Criterion starts with the film."

---"Essentially Best Buy is like an animal in a trap: it has to chew through its own leg fast enough to escape with its life. Most of the category killers that have come to this impasse haven’t been able to do it. Which is why you can no longer pick up a movie at your local Blockbuster."

---storyboards from 15 films

---filmmakers hanging out together

---3 reasons: Heaven's Gate

---Wide-Awake and "Hollywood's Year of Heroine Worship"

---Jon Stewart and the war on Christmas

---"The widening ability to associate people's real-life identities with their browsing habits marks a privacy milestone, further blurring the already unclear border between our public and private lives. In pursuit of ever more precise and valuable information about potential customers, tracking companies are redefining what it means to be anonymous."

---"the cybermob failed to silence me" --Anita Sarkeesian

---trailers for Sound City, Oblivion, Confession of a Child of The Century, Blancanieves, Downloaded, American Mary, The Girl, Star Trek into Darkness, In Vogue, The Editor's Eye, and Upstream Color    

---What is Brazil?

---Races and Faces

---The Last Pictures Project

---"Bigelow, the first and only female director to win an Oscar, knows something about being a woman in a macho environment. Her films have rarely focused on female protagonists, and it’s hard to avoid the possible parallels between her and Maya. Beyond that come the bigger questions signified by Maya’s presence in that room. Does a society that produces female CIA agents (and reelects a black president) gain the right to commit atrocities in its own defense? Is torture justified if the torturer is a university-educated woman, and the tortured a bigoted Muslim fundamentalist?"  --Andrew O'Hehir

---"Kathryn--it was really important to her to not take any political stand.  She did not want to make a propaganda film" --Jessica Chastain

---"Zero Dark Thirty doesn't explicitly say that torture caught bin Laden, but in portraying torture as one part of the successful search, it can be read that way."

---50 meta movie moments

---"If you want your country to rule the world as an aggressive and militaristic empire, then accept the inevitable consequence of that: that there will be huge numbers of people in the world who resent and even hate your country for that behavior. Don't cheer while your country constantly kills, invades, occupies, and dominates the internal affairs of countless other nations - and then expect to be liked. Immorality aside, producing this reaction is one reason not to do such things. This kind of imperial behavior, inevitably and in every era, generates extreme levels of animosity and, ultimately, returned violence." --Glenn Greenwald

---Climate 101 and "2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide a second"

---"In March, 1917, while walking on Broadway, Buster Keaton bumped into a friend from vaudeville who happened to know Fatty Arbuckle, the famous silent movie comedian and Chaplin’s rival. Asked if he had ever acted in motion pictures, Keaton said no, and was invited to drop by Arbuckle’s studio on 48th Street the following Monday. Keaton first declined, because Arbuckle had stolen one of his vaudeville routines in the past, but then changed his mind because his curiosity was piqued by the opportunity to see how movies are made and especially how the gags are filmed."  --Charles Simic

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"America is not a country. It's just a business": layers of venality in Killing Them Softly

"It's not personal, Sonny.  It's strictly business." --Michael Corleone in The Godfather

I didn't know what to expect when I went to see Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, but after watching eight moviegoers leave the theater in the midst of the film, I had fun imagining why people hated it. Was it because most of the movie took place in rainy slum areas of New Orleans, or was it perhaps due to Dominik's cheerful curse-filled immersion in the tawdry milieu of scummy lowlifes?  Greasy junkie Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) has such skanky-looking hair, one can practically smell his rank body odor. Or was it because of the movie's allusions to uncompromising gangster films such as Goodfellas (1990), The Friendship of Eddie Coyle (1973), and The Godfather (1972)? The American populace likes its gangsters prettified like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the upcoming Gangster Squad. They don't like having their noses smeared in the detritus of the 2008 economic recession--the closed businesses, empty parking lots, abandoned buildings, and squalid bars where the rhetoric of the 2008 presidential campaign on omnipresent televisions drowns out the characters' conversations. Dominik relishes the underside of spaghetti freeways where men in black leather jackets get wet in the rain as they beat each other up. Where's the glamour in that?

If one can view Killing Them Softly as a rude tonic designed to add a layer of social satire to a depiction of recession-era crime, then one can appreciate its nuances in spite of the incongruities of Dominik's attempt to graft Cogan's Trade, a 1974 George V. Higgins noir novel onto a 2008 version of an unnamed city (New Orleans). I admire the integrity of Higgins' sordid vision (he also wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) which became the celebrated 1973 movie by Peter Yates starring Robert Mitchum), and I appreciate Eddie Coyle's dirty realism, its Irish-American Boston underworld that served as a reply to the relative glamour of The Godfather (although, surprisingly, Pauline Kael blasted Eddie Coyle's relative rootlessness, its "shallow and tedious" world while praising the more autobiographical intensity of Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973)). But, I doubt that the less ethnically specific thugs of 2008 would have necessarily worn the rose-colored shades and the tacky leather jackets (not to mention the the large muscle cars they drive) in Killing Them Softly. Dominik may figure that culturally we're primed enough to groove on Tarantino-esque 1970s nostalgia, but then the many clips of Obama, Bush, and McCain spouting political bromides sound odd given the many visual signifiers of another era.

Still, Dominik keeps finding creative ways to tweak the mythical implications of his actors.  Ray Liotta's gangster persona has mellowed since his manic portrayals of the "Wild" in Something Wild (1986) and his gleeful thug Henry Hill in Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). As Markie Trattman, the man who stupidly admits to his fellow poker players that he once robbed the very Mob poker game that they participate in, Ray has a giggly moment that evokes his earlier joy in crime. But then greasy Russell and Frankie (Scoot McNairy) hold up the game again, stealing thousands of dollars, thereby making Trattman the fall guy by association. Markie must face the consequences of enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) being brought in to fix things by the peculiarly squeamish corporate mob bosses (notably the nervous Driver (Richard Jenkins, whose role shares the petty administrative side of his Sitterson character in The Cabin in the Woods)). Dominik's casting of James Gandolfini as the erstwhile hitman Mickey gradually becomes outright funny. The mob hires Mickey to "wack" one of the robbers, but Mickey lives in despair because his wife wants him to sign divorce papers before he returns to jail. He drinks nonstop and consorts with prostitutes until he reaches total stupefication. Like Russell, Mickey illustrates the problem with giving in to every base male impulse (something that many other gangster films would celebrate). Mickey gets so strung out, he can't even function, thereby goofily complicating all of the authority that Gandolfini brings to the role.

As Jackie Cogan, Brad Pitt first appears about fifteen minutes into the movie to the tune of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around," thereby equating his arrival with the day of judgment.  As Cash sings, "Then the father hen will call his chickens home/ The wise men will bow down before the throne." In his black boots and leather jacket, Jackie conveys a calm but contemptuous ethical core, of a sort. He may be a killer, but he's restrained and business-like in his thinking, and he helps the viewer see through the hypocrisies of Driver's corporate mob overlords just as easily as he can manipulate the smellier denizens of his underworld. Pitt occasionally mixes up his star appeal with daring choices, so one can view his work in Killing Them Softly as his temporary return to Fight Club (1999) edginess (Lord know what will happen to his star persona after the release of World War Z). Like Leon in Leon: The Professional (1994), Jackie cleans up after the movie's messy plot, which helps one partially respect his character in spite of his blunt methods.  I imagine that Pitt knew that audiences may not like the movie's confrontational aesthetics, but, he's talented and famous enough to just not care.

Speaking of aesthetics, Andrew Dominik's use of sound in Killing Them Softly provides compelling thematic discordances.  He begins the movie with jarring cuts between an Obama speech and various songs that foreshadow the movie's basic dichotomy juxtaposing a newly impoverished underworld with the larger financial meltdown precipitated by Wall Street excesses (one form of corruption unleashing another). When Trattman gets beaten up in the rain, Dominik expressionistically mixes in the sounds of water splashing on metal, a train's horn, and other discordant noises that punctuate the oblivious cruelty of the scene. At times, the political jargon of the politicians on TV (Bush ironically talking of "widespread loss of confidence") drowns out the voices of the characters. At other times, Dominik places us in Russell's nodding off point of view as sound and vision fades in and out, making us realize how much Russell relies on drugs to not be aware of the trouble he's in. Moreover, Dominik's score reminded me of Scorsese's use of music in Goodfellas.  The director even includes the 1933 "It's Only a Paper Moon" in a way that parallels Blanche Dubois' pitiful singing in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. 

By mocking Obama's call for community, Cogan echoes Michael Corleone's business ethics. When Obama claims that "Out of the many we are one" on TV, Cogan snorts and replies by affirming American individualism, but only in The Godfather-like sense that business is another word for genuinely murderous self-interest. As he says, "In America, you're on your own. America is not a country. It's just a business. Now pay me." In the midst of inviting the viewer to compare criminal venality with larger Wall Street corruption and economic collapse, Dominik has fashioned a politically loaded portrait of America that proves too truthful and ugly to be very commercial. It's just not soft enough.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

permadeath links

---the clapperboards of Inglourious Basterds

---Lucas, Coppola, and Kurosawa

---"the decay in the rule of law"--Assange on the national surveillance state

---Grand Theft Auto: RISE

---Full-fledged ubiquity of social media is not panoptic, as it’s sometimes mislabeled. Instead it brings about lateral surveillance or 'participatory surveillance,' the many observing the many. It enacts a sort of “horizontal control,” inducing us to spy on one another to regulate one another’s behavior and generate marketing data. As law professor Eben Moglen declared, 'every time you tag anything or respond to anything or link to anything, you’re informing on your friends.'

The ideological enthusiasm for 'participation' disguises the emptying out of privacy, and the inescapable scrutiny and social documentation ushers in 'self-surveillance' — a grimmer way of describing online self-fashioning or identity construction. In using social media, we become fatally aware of how we can sell ourselves and thus intensify self-marketing practices. We put ourselves forward as a brand in order to register in these commercially oriented, quantification-driven systems. As use of these sites become more pervasive and normative, we start to seem to have no choice but to self-brand because it is the only way to take the measure of ourselves."  --Rob Horning

---Bradley Manning's Kafkaesque world


---Le Taxidermiste

---"I didn't entertain that thought [of failure]," he said. "If I did, I'd probably own a video store right now, and it'd be out of business right now, and I don't know what the hell I'd be doing. I just figured I couldn't have a fallback plan, 'cause I couldn't allow myself to fall back. All or nothing. There's directing and there's wanting to direct without ever having directed before, and they're two different dudes. And the thing about wanting to be a director, and wanting this to be your artform... Aside from getting a 16mm camera, or Super 8 camera, and making something, which is definitely within your power, and even more within people's power now, to test out these theories. But in the '80s, when I was a young guy, there was no proof of it at all. You could act, and see if there's something there. If you want to write, you can get a piece of paper, and see if there's something there. But if you want to direct, actually direct a feature film, and you've never done anything, it's all theory. So at 3 in the morning, from time to time, you wonder 'Is this a mistake?' You think you might have it, but you don't know. I'm talking about before I literally did anything. This mountain you're trying to climb, before you even know you're a mountain climber."  --Quentin Tarantino

---behind the scenes of Pulp Fiction

---trailers for A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, Tabu, Girls: Season 2, Pacific Rim, Let Fury Have the Hour, Django Unchained, and The Attacks of 26/11 

---"I am a writer who draws."  --Saul Steinberg

---New York and its carbon dioxide 

---"It comes from punk DIY culture. In order to survive you have to be creative and resourceful. If you’re creative and resourceful, you can make it. It’s not like you have a guitar tech there. If there’s a problem you have to overcome it, you have to deal with it. We dealt with it at Sub Pop every day. Where’s the money going to come from? How are we going to keep the phone running? We survived because we were creative and resourceful. All the bands we worked with, same thing. As a startup if you don’t have that, you’re toast."

---Where Did This Come From?

---The Universal Arts of Graphic Design

---"Post Industrial Journalism"

---10 lessons about Heaven's Gate

---"The real problem is not that there are no guidelines written down—though the administration itself seems now to acknowledge that what it has is insufficient—but that we the people don’t know what they are. The idea that the president can authorize the killing of a human being far from any traditional battlefield without any publically accessible set of constraints, conditions, or requirements is unacceptable in a country committed to the rule of law. In his first and only speech on security and our national ideals, at the National Archives in May 2009, President Obama insisted that adherence to the rule of law is essential in the fight against terror, and to that end, promised to be transparent about his actions `so that [the people] can make informed judgments and hold us accountable.'"

---making the Silent Hill 2 end title sequence

---"I’m optimistic and delighted every time I open up Twitter on my browser, while Facebook is something I only click on once or twice a day and always with a small sense of dread."

---the advantages of permadeath