Sunday, April 28, 2013

Michael Bay's Miami hustle: a one sentence review of Pain and Gain

With its short attention span, terminal ageist body consciousness, increasingly frenetic concern with keeping the young ADD viewer amused, and many shots heightened with guns, sunlight, bright Miami Vice colors, Schlotzsky's Deli product placement, blood, strippers, fat jokes, a shot-off big toe eaten by a chihuahua, biceps, American flags, and SWAT teams attacking in slow-mo, the surprisingly not wholly deplorable Pain and Gain skims along like a splatter flipbook of Michael Bay hack fixations starring Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo ("I believe in fitness") implementing his curdled American dream ("I'm a doer, not a don'ter!") as a likable Miami hustler who uses his supposed employment in the CIA and his brutalization of a "scumbag" millionaire (Tony Shaloub) as a way to score with dimwitted Sorina Luminita (Bar Paly evoking Transformers: Dark of the Moon's Rosie Huntington-Whitely who in turn evokes Megan Fox) by saying "That gun is government issue, and in a sense, so am I," the film following a Spring Breakers-esque aesthetic with Florida sun-bleached excess, desperate innocents turning to sloppy naive gangsterdom based on a Miami New Times story about true-life extortion, kidnapping, and a double murder amateurishly cleaned up in part by a chainsaw that gets clogged with human hair ("The bloodied heads were as slippery as rain-slicked coconuts") wherein the always humorously bulbous Dwayne Johnson (playing ex-con coke-addicted Jesus freak Paul Doyle) absentmindedly roasts some human hands on a grill in public to get rid of the fingerprints (neighborhood lady waving at him) before Lugo angrily calls him and the burning body parts back inside their bad-guy lair; still, Bay isn't that comfortable telling a slightly more adult story given that he's devoted much of his career to ad copy catering to the fetishes of teenage guys, so Pain and Gain backslides into familiar testosterone-filled Armageddon (1998) visual tropes (i.e., macho men walking proudly towards the camera as an  explosion erupts behind them) as much as it soldiers on with its unexpectedly lengthy true-life story about enterprising bodybuilders emulating recent deplorable United States foreign policy techniques (indefinite retention and torture (but sweetened with cute variations, like hanging the businessman upside down from a dry cleaning overhead conveyor and swirling him about the room)), and everyone wanting that ocean-front view of the sunny Atlantic stretching out to the Bahamas-horizon of easy-street living instead of being stuck with the pain of a "shame sandwich" existence as a working-class spotter having to smile and cater to contemptuous clients in another fitness gym.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"If you ride like lightning, you're gonna crash like thunder": 10 questions about The Place Beyond the Pines

1) What exactly is the place beyond the pines?  Aside from the fact that the city of Schenectady means "the place beyond the pine plains" in Mohawk, I can only think of two major scenes in the movie where the woods play a prominent role:

a) When Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) rides his motorcycle far into the woods where he meets Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). They later become buddies.

b) When another key character gets lured/forced out to the woods where he risks execution.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne has the woods suggest the wild, immoral landscape that the controlled civilized world of the town keeps at bay. What does writer/director Derek Cianfrance intend here?

2) Why does Avery's son AJ (Emory Cohen) act like he's in Jersey Shore?

3) Derek Cianfrance likes to trail his camera behind Gosling as he walks away, leaving his head and shoulders in the frame. Doesn't Darren Aronofsky like to use a similar shot in The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010)?

4) Why do men keep trying to force Romina (Eva Mendes) to accept wads of cash just outside of the restaurant where she works?  (Place tends to rely on repetition of scenes, locations, and camera techniques, perhaps, to unify its otherwise wide-ranging multi-generational plot).

5) What is the exact relationship between Gosling's work in Drive (2011) and The Place Beyond the Pines? In both films, Gosling plays a reticent, charismatic, and talented driver/motorcycle rider who commits crimes (the last of which goes bad). In both films, he also falls for an inaccessible woman who has a man already (and child). In an interview, Gosling points out that "Drive is a very surreal movie, more of a dream, and this [Place] is a film all about ramifications and the consequences of your actions." True enough. Yet, I kept thinking of Drive (one of my favorite films of 2011) while watching Pines.

6) Is Luke a kind of reply to the Driver in the earlier film, a more delinquent/stupider/psychotic version of a character?  Does Cianfrance mean to demythologize the former movie?

7) What does The Place Beyond the Pines suggest about fatherhood and the way an absent father creates legacies for future generations to address?   

8) Does Cianfrance mean for the viewer to think of that verse from Numbers 14:18: "The LORD [is] long suffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing [the guilty], visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation]"?

9) When Place suddenly shifts to 17 years in the future, and Avery's attending the funeral of his father, are we meant to think of Michael Corleone attending his father's funeral on a sunny day late in The Godfather (1972)?

10) Given Luke's instinctual talent for speed and escape, why does he (of all people) ruin his life in an attempt to stay in one place and raise his son?

Friday, April 12, 2013

hyperlapse links

---“I don’t want my movies to feel like movies,” she says. “I want them to feel like life.” If there’s less smart talk than small talk in her films, it’s because she believes that’s how life is. “People don’t really express themselves that articulately in real life.” When she constructs a scenario, Coppola says she’s thinking in images. To get more of the in‑the‑moment feel, she encourages improvisation from her actors.

“Remember Scarlett [Johansson] perched in the window ledge in Lost in Translation, looking out over Tokyo?” she asks. “You project your feelings on her. That’s what I’m going for. I want the visual ways to tell the story rather than have the characters talk.” What’s unsaid speaks volumes.

For Coppola, “The scripts are notes to let cast and crew know what I want to do. I don’t make a shot list. There’s no sense in that until you see the actors rehearse the scene. So, I’ll say, ‘In this scene I want to show X.’ I feel camera placement is really intuitive. It helps to have a script supervisor who keeps track of what I want to accomplish in each scene.”

She breaks down the script while writing it. “I see the movie in three acts and have a sense of how I want each act framed. With Bling Ring I knew I wanted the early acts to be in wide shots and gradually proceed to tighter shots.”

---The Endless Night

---Street View Hyperlapse

---"Equality Street"

---the back-to-the-camera supercut

---Neill Blomkamp discusses District 9

---Ian Grey's "Show Stopper"

---"Twin Peaks has always been a place that has existed—but in the mind."

---Joel Bocko's movie book archive

---"what's important is to develop the mind-set in which composition and technique are as visible as story and acting."  --Roger Ebert

---Time-Lapse Earth

---the edit room floor

---movie poster cliches

---"when musicians act"

---90 years of Warner Brothers


---Brandon Cronenberg on Antiviral

---the dance scene of Godard's Band of Outsiders

---Skyfall's titles

---The Art of the Heist

---Tarantino's cinematic food

---"Here is where this Ameriad begins, in a Colorado cabin erected on the RKO lot in 1941 and surrounded by mounds of asbestos flakes, and with three adults and a kid and a sled. Something like both the Rosetta Stone and Sistine Chapel ceiling of cinema history, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) may have been finally supplanted in the globe’s most authoritative film critics poll (Sight & Sound’s) as the be-all, end-all "greatest" film ever made, but it remains an unparalleled feat of modern cultural hubris and textual density. In the course of 120 years of Babylonian exegesis, ranging from fast newspaper reviews and blog ejaculates to doctoral theses and Lacanian psychoanalytics, no other film has been analyzed and written about so much, and no film has therein generated such a varied and copious library of critical and analytic response. In fact, one could go so far as to say that no film, given the warehouses of dead trees and the warehouse servers of files in question, has remained so defiantly raw and fresh despite the amount of discourse devoted to it. From Andre Bazin’s 1957 employment of Kane as an auteurist foundation text to Pauline Kael’s over-famous 1974 essay Raising Kane to Laura Mulvey’s BFI Classics volume (1992) and beyond, each shipment into the subindustry of critical address surrounding the movie cannot help but demonstrate, the whole while, the analysis’s own singular inadequacy, and cannot help but pale before the scope and richness of the film itself."  --Michael Atkinson

---framing the shots of @lenadunham's Tiny Furniture

---trailers for Behind the Candelabra, Elysium, Only God Forgives, Me and You, The Past, Animals, and The English Teacher

---Danny Boyle's comments on a scene in Trance

---Raimi's filmmaking tips, Robert Bresson's notes, and Hitchcock's thoughts on editing

---"Do not frighten president Putin"

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Bland Invasion: The Film Doctor's one sentence review of Stephenie Meyer's The Host

Given that the earth has been taken over by color-coordinated conformist aliens named "Souls," you would think they would suffice as villains (as in the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but Stephenie Meyer appears to be more interested in setting up kissing opportunities for her conflicted heroine Melanie/Wanderer/aka Wanda (Saoirse Ronan) amidst offhand echoes of Twilight franchise: the stiff, inert postures and the blank, denatured, perfunctory mise en scene (in this case lots of silver cars, desert landscapes, and guys wearing white suits); instead of a science fiction thriller, one experiences much harvesting of wheat inside of a large cave, a bearded William Hurt, of all people, leading the tiny human rebel alliance when he's not acting soulful with a rifle, and Wanda (since she carries within her two selves, both the alien and a human) torn between two guys, Team Ian and Jared, when she's not remonstrating with herself in voiceover, saying things like "Good luck with that!" and "Why are you smiling at him?" as various incidental occurrences (Wanda's younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) cutting himself with a sickle, the Seeker (Diane Kruger) accidentally shooting one of her own kind with a gun) offer reminders of tension in a story that keeps reverting to the bland.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The apotheosis of the Hasbro man of action doll: 7 notes on G. I. Joe: Retaliation

"boys had no problem adopting a new play pattern that allowed them to dress and accessorize their own man of action" --Don Levine, the father of G.I. Joe

Insofar as the filmmakers managed to keep the viewer's mind off of the silliness of the movie's roots in Hasbro man dolls, G. I. Joe: Retaliation proved distracting enough in its proto-youthful-rightwing-propagandistic-postmodern-fascistic-military-fantasy way. Some notes:

1) Channing Tatum (Duke) only shows up briefly to play some video games with franchise-saver Dwayne Johnson (Roadblock) before he's killed by a surprise midnight helicopter attack on the "Joes" in the Pakistani desert (I believe a blown-up jeep falls on top of him). This plot point was surprising, leaving me wondering now what?

2) Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Jaye (Adrianne Policki) must go undercover to fight the evil Zartan who has disguised himself as the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). As Roadblock says, "Our mission is to escort the enemy to the gates of hell!" and "The world ain't saving itself!" Zartan enhances the president's popularity ratings by sending out the "Joes" to pick up some nuclear warheads from some Pakistani compound before "terminating them with extreme prejudice."  He then sets up a new special forces unit named Cobra, initiates a nuclear disarmament summit of most of the world leaders in Fort Sumter, SC, and tortures the actual president (housed in a bunker near the White House) in a PG-13 way by having one of his "new" Secret Service men menace the poor guy with a pair of pliers. In its way, one could find correlations between G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Richard Kelly's Southland Tales (2006).  Something about the Rock's cartoonish machismo lends itself to hallucinatory, adolescent, deranged, and conspiratorial story lines.

3) Director Jon M. Chu prides himself on the 3-D pyrotechnics of the carefully color-coordinated (red being the villainous color) ninja sword-fighting scenes thousands of feet up in the air against the side of the Himalayas. The scene does stand out (although I wasn't clear on who was involved, or why the good guys needed to carry another guy in a body bag, or what the Himalayas have to do with anything).  One wonders, though, amidst all of the swirling aerial ballet, about the martial arts skill required to simply cut the rope holding the enemy ninja up.

4) Bruce Willis (General Joe Colton) comes out of retirement to show off his house full of semi-automatic weaponry cleverly hidden in various drawers and closets. For some reason, he keeps calling Jaye "Brenda" when he isn't talking about his cholesterol being a little high. He also shows off a pistol once owned by General Patton. Oorah.

5) G.I. Joe: Retaliation's two unexpected correlations with Zero Dark Thirty:

a) Retaliation begins much as ZDT ends, with a midnight raid on a compound in Pakistan.  It seems a shame that Kathryn Bigelow didn't find a way to include Channing Tatum saying "Drive it like you stole it!" just before the men land in her movie.

b) Zartan (as president) proclaims at one point, "Waterboard. I never get bored."

6) Zartan eventually (spoiler alert) leads the world's leaders on a merry bout of nuclear gamemanship, launching warheads willy nilly before unleashing "Project Zeus" from various satellites in a scene oddly reminiscent of Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964) mixed with Diamonds Are Forever (1971) (the war room incongruously located amidst the historical dioramas of a Civil War exhibit in Fort Sumter). With London randomly destroyed and much of the world threatened with Cobra annihilation, the president does note that they won't have to worry about having to worry about global warming anymore.

7) When one of his advisors recommends that he "wait and see," Jonathan Pryce says, "I don't want to be the president who waited and saw. History rewards the bold. Get me the G.I. Joes!"