Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter links

---The Possibility of Hope

---Meet Marlon Brando

---Coney Island

---Drone strikes visualized

---jobs in the filmmaking industry

---On Cinematic Direct Address by Catherine Grant

---"Above all, watching Heaven’s Gate in what may be presumed to be its final form (unless the inveterate tinkerer Cimino has more tricks up his sleeve), I was struck by how inseparable the film’s beauty now seems from what we know of its disaster. Swooning over a wide shot of an old-time train steaming through a Wyoming valley, you can’t help but remember the story of how Cimino insisted on having an authentic steam engine shipped across the country on a flatbed truck. Delighting in Huppert’s quicksilver performance—the moment when, naked but for a quilt around her waist, she lets out a shout of pure animal joy—you also immediately understand why the studio executives thought she was so wrong for the part, and why audiences of the time were confused by this wispy, heavily accented French actress in the role of a steely frontier whorehouse-runner. And even as you marvel at the film’s breadth of vision and exquisite attention to historical detail, a part of you identifies with the studio heads slapping their foreheads at Cimino’s perfectionism and grandiosity—this is not the work of an artist who knows what it is to kill his darlings. Seen through the scrim of three decades, the movie’s excess of visual and sensory pleasure can’t help but recall the excesses of its production. And our knowledge that no movie like Heaven’s Gate will ever be made again—in part because of shifts in the industry wrought by Cimino’s own folly, in part simply because of changes in technology and taste—adds an extra pang of melancholy to the film’s final image: a man standing on the deck of a boat that’s gradually receding out of sight."--Dana Stevens

---the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Sacrilege"

---the consecration of Tilda

---Three Reasons: Badlands

---The Great Sam Peckinpah

---"Almost every movie makes too much sense. That’s why we call them movies — they’re very different from life. And usually in a movie, at the end, you feel satisfied because everything is in order, and everything makes sense… But from my point of view real life doesn’t make sense. Every day you experience stuff that is not necessarily perfectly scripted… When you dream your unconscious makes connections with things that are not supposed to be connected. I really do think it’s the same in real life, I think life would be super-boring if everything was scripted." --Quentin Dupieux

---The Pretenders

---desistfilm

---What is a repetition? A repetition is the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle.” --Walker Percy

---trailers for World War Z, Arthur Newman, The WolverineSafety Last!, and 2 Guns

---12 directors

---"In the essence it’s just . . . stuff where he wanders around Cairo trying to uncover the mystery of his puzzle. At the same time, you meet all these interesting characters and every once in a while somebody throws a knife at him, or he beats somebody up, or somebody beats him up. Typical Middle Eastern stuff."  --George Lucas

---"The sabretooth cat and the angry badger"

Friday, March 22, 2013

eyeline links

---The Film Before the Film

---Rashomon

---The Clash live

---102 Minutes That Changed America

---"The Many Faces of Barbara Stanwyck" by @annehelen

---1930's bloopers

---"There’s also sorrow in the juxtaposition of a slow push into Gordon-Levitt’s face, half-hidden behind hands clasped together in a classic thinker’s pose, with inserts of the girl’s lifeless body at the edge of the water. It was during this back-and-forth, as the camera measures Gordon-Levitt by way of his non-reaction to shoes, hair, and odd-shaped bracelets, that I mentally wrote the note “Dear Dear Wendy: Sorry.” Until then, though, I couldn’t necessarily articulate what made this sequence of shots seem so powerful. Watching it again, I belatedly realized something: Gordon-Levitt’s eyeline never changes. We see him ostensibly looking at different details each time, but that’s never cued by eye movement. And then I realized something else, which I can’t believe I never noticed before: Those inserts aren’t from the angle at which he’s viewing them. From where he is, her feet should be at the top of the frame; instead, they’re at the bottom, shot from her other side. The other two shots are likewise reversed. You could call that an error, I suppose, but coupled with the fixed eyeline, what it suggests (and I think this is what I always responded to, unconsciously) is that Gordon-Levitt can’t process what he’s seeing. It’s so unthinkable to him that he can only take in tiny portions at a time. He’s abstracted the sight of her into objects. The images are technically “wrong,” but that contributes to the scene’s overwhelming sense of wrongness." --Mike D'Angelo

---Gates of Heaven

---shooting Zero Dark Thirty

---the longer shots of Children of Men

---Toy Story meets Grand Theft Auto

---the problem with Phoenix

---50 opening scenes

---the spaces of Up

---"How many of the men and women who attend meetings about the kill lists have participated in Situation Room viewing of post-strike footage of the predator and drone raids? A retired senior intelligence officer said that some of those who have attended have wryly characterized it as watching 'snuff movies.'”

---Kurosawa: The Last Emperor

---In the Mood for Doyle

---"taxing the oil and gas industry does nothing but harm the country"

---the end credit sequence of The Dirties

---Drive

---"The Last Letter"

---The World According to Koreeda Hirokazu

---Scorsese and the restoration of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

---trailers for We Steal Secrets, The Battery, Something in the Air, The ColonyTomorrow You're Gone, and Kick-Ass 2  

---Psycho's best shots

---Tina Fey revisits Sarah Palin

---Calum Marsh and Richard Brody intellectualize Spring Breakers as Dana Stevens eyes the exits

---"Programmers expect themselves to generate the same quality code at 2 a.m. as they did at 2 p.m. earlier—and are willing to medicate themselves in order to do so. Human investors compete with algorithms trading at ultrafast speeds and responding to our orders before they are even executed. Our digital competitors are quite literally trading in our future.

In each of these cases, the bloggers, designers, lovers, programmers, and investors all sacrifice their connection to real-world rhythms in order to match those dictated by their technologies. Reporters miss out on the actual news cycle and its ebb and flow of activity. Programmers work less efficiently by refusing to recognize naturally peak productive hours. Designers miss out on quite powerfully determinative cultural trends by focusing on the mediated responses of insomniac television viewers. Businesses ignore the natural ebb and flow of market cycles, and poison their own consumers by attempting to stimulate them all season, every season.

Imagine, instead of trying to ride roughshod over these cycles, actually using or even exploiting recent discoveries about our common neurochemical responses to the four-week lunar cycle. Each week, a different neurotransmitter seems to dominate. One week, acetylcholine emphasizes new social contacts. In the next, serotonin enhances productivity. In the third, increased dopamine emphasizes risk-taking and recreation. In the last, norepinephrine heightens our analytic skills. Instead of forcing or drugging ourselves to fight these patterns, we can engage them to enhance our results."  --Douglas Rushkoff

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Messing with the sacred: 8 notes on the betrayals of Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful

"[The 1939 Wizard of Oz is] sacred material to a lot of people, and they don't want their memories messed with."  --Sam Raimi [quoted in the March 8 Entertainment Weekly]

I was appalled by Oz the Great and Powerful and its many betrayals:

1) Disney first betrays L. Frank Baum, because, as Christy Mathers points out, all of his 17 Oz books had heroines for leads. Who does Disney replace Dorothy with as a female character? A china doll (Joey King) who clings to James Franco's leg at one point.

2) Instead of having Dorothy as the lead, James Franco plays the "reluctant hero" who in no way deserves the acclaim that the "legend of Oz" bestows upon him. In the 1939 Wizard of Oz, the original Oz was a con man who had no dreams, as Franco says in the more recent version, of becoming a "great" man. As played by Frank Morgan, the original wizard is a common but charming low-rent hustler in Kansas and Oz alike. When Dorothy asks if she can join him in visiting the crown heads of Europe, he asks, startled, "You know any?" Later, in Oz, when Dorothy accuses him of being a "bad man," he replies, "I'm a very good man, just a very bad Wizard." Given how Toto will expose his media-created image of Oz by pulling back the curtain on his manipulations behind the scenes, it is essential that Professor Marvel remain a fraud so that Dorothy comes to realize "There's no place like home" on her own just as the tin man, the scarecrow, and the lion don't need a Wizard to make up for what they they believe they lack. I don't even want to think of how Franco's Oscar Diggs must self-actualize to turn his circus-performer self into Oz.

3) Toto has an astonishing amount of agency for a little dog, escaping from the wicked witch twice (if one counts her earlier version as Miss Gulch), leading the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion to Dorothy in the Wicked Witch's castle, exposing the fraudulence of the Wizard, and, incidentally, causing the Wizard to float away on a balloon without Dorothy. By sitting on a tractor and holding out one paw, Toto almost steals the scene where Judy Garland sings "Over the Rainbow." In the new film, in Toto's stead, Disney computer-generates an insipid servile monkey sidekick named Finley, who stupidly pledges its service to Oscar, and carries Oscar's over-sized suitcase awkwardly around for much of the movie (an insult to the independence of monkeys everywhere). As a genuine yet also mildly subversive dog, Toto is much more compelling a creation than the sentimental monkey with the voice of Zach Braff.

4) In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, under the tutelage of Glinda, starts at the exact beginning of a small golden spiral that becomes the yellow brick road, a means of travel that proves a central character and a metaphor for Dorothy's and her friends' various progressions. In Oz the Great and Powerful, the yellow brick road could be any road, a means to get around, no more significant than Highway I-95.

5) I like how the technological limitations of the original 1939 film defined how the witches appeared or disappeared, or performed as titular Goddesses. You would expect the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) to fly away from Munchkinland, but instead she bursts into flames and vanishes. Glinda assumes corporeal form out of a floating blob of color, or she appears superimposed on a field of poppies, waving her wand.  In Oz the Great and Powerful, the extraordinarily miscast new witch looks grumpy with a jowly green face.  She flies back and forth like just another superhero, quickly proving tiresome, more spurned than evil.

6) What do the new witches do?  For one, they remind me of much better films that the actresses have recently been in, such as Weisz's The Deep Blue Sea, for instance.  An impressive star presence even in Take This Waltz, Michelle Williams, as Glinda, mostly just radiates wholesomeness and the vague possibility of some future muted G-rated affair with Oscar. When a bad witch feels obliged to torture Glinda in Oz's main square, I winced at the scene's lack of imagination. Hollywood employs torture as a means to drum up some drama when nothing else comes to mind. In the 1939 Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch turns over a maroon hour glass and leaves it up to the viewer (and Dorothy) to imagine what unspeakable atrocities she will inflict on her captive.         

7) Long ago, about 57 hours into 127 Hours, but also during the 2011 Oscars, I burned out on James Franco, so to see him as the giant Disney face of Oz was definitive miscast overkill. Is his recent slate of roles in Lovelace (as Hugh Hefner), Interior. Leather Bar, and Spring Breakers (as Alien) Franco's way of distancing himself from Disney's pseudo-innocent opportunism by making his public image as scuzzy as possible?

8) Given that I remember watching it on television every year religiously as a child, the 1939 Wizard of Oz was fundamental, the kind of film that helped established one's youthful relationship with movies. Even given Sam Raimi's sensitive take on the subject, Disney distorts and pollutes that memory, using the former movie's iconography for profit. In a Soviet-era revisionist way, Oz the Great and Powerful besmirches and deadens one's appreciation for a classic. I used the metaphor of the strip mine to help characterize what A Good Day to Die Hard does to the original 1988 Die Hard.  Now, we get a TV series dedicated to unpacking what happens between Norman and his mother years before the storyline of Hitchcock's Psycho. It leaves me wondering what will remain of the feeling of the "sacred" in Hollywood's classic canon.

Friday, March 8, 2013

cypherpunk links

---Terence Davies on Ealing

---Annapurna Pictures' sizzle reel

---zombie Audrey Hepburn

---Jonathan Rosenbaum, Present

---Bowie's "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)"

---"if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud – whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between – will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device."

---Jeff Bridges' photos

---"Historically, the United States has stood ready and able to throw billions of dollars at a military campaign with no clear rationale or well-defined objective,” said spokesman Harland Dorrinson. “Our capacity to wage war willy-nilly is now in jeopardy.”

In the past, Mr. Dorrinson said, the Pentagon has had the resources to fight three meaningless and completely random wars at any given time, “but now in our planning meetings we are cutting that number back to two.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R—S.C.) agreed about the catastrophic effects of the Pentagon cuts, telling reporters, “The ability of the United States to project its military power in an arbitrary and totally capricious way must never be compromised.”

---"We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month."

---Nathaniel R. considers the best shot of The Wizard of Oz

---13 bar scenes

---3 takes on Lubitsch's Design for Living

---"Thoughts on the Mighty Kong"

---The Matrix in 60 seconds

---Ang Lee's filmmaking tips

---"The Galgenhumor of our era," Appelbaum told me in an email, "revolves around things that most people simply thought impossible in our lifetime." He lists a number of chilling examples, including indefinite detention under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, warrantless wiretaps, drone strikes, state-sponsored malware, and the Patriot Act.

"It isn’t a great time to be a dissenting voice of any kind in our American empire," he continues. But it isn’t the myriad of ways that civil liberties have been gutted that we’ll look back upon. "What we will remember is the absolute silence of so many, when the above things became normalized."

---trailers for The Bling Ring, Much Ado About Nothing, Milius, To The Wonder, The Look of Love, Frances Ha, What Maisie Knew, Disconnect, and The Conjuring

---What is Cinema Verite?

---life in Hong Kong

---3 Reasons: On The Waterfront

---breaking the fourth wall 

---A Tex Avery sampler

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Who can see the lies?": 7 notes on Side Effects

1) As has often proven true with Steven Soderbergh's recent films (especially Contagion), Side Effects invigorated me with its subtly vicious tone, its willingness to diagnose a problem without offering a solution, and the questions that it raises about the way people control and entrap each other.

2) Soderbergh's films frequently carry underlying themes that add layers of complexity to otherwise straightforward genres. In part a Robert Altman-esque depiction of the bizarro world of male strippers, Magic Mike like The Girlfriend Experience (2009) also meditates on the exploitative effects of the post-2008 recession that can easily lead to prostitution. Much like Soderbergh's Bubble (2005), Side Effects depicts a damaged central character, Emily Taylor (Mara) who inadvertently murders someone, but it also shares with films like Body Heat (1981) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) a plot line that gradually becomes unmoored from its premises, leading the viewer to question all of the information s/he has gathered midway into the movie (which makes it difficult to write about without providing spoilers).

3) Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has already shown how quickly Rooney Mara's beauty can become unpredictable, detached, and alien. Soderbergh's nonjudgmental filmmaking style perfectly suits her because they both share a blank affect that can mask all kinds of monstrous subterfuges and underlying agendas. The pharmaceutical industry has a not so subtle agenda: profit. Psychiatrists (such as Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law)) cannot help being torn between curing patients and assisting big pharma for money. The occasional patient may be sacrificed in the process, but also Side Effects depicts how a doctor might be subject to a media campaign that shatters his practice: either through advertisements or through talk shows, news shows, etc., the media distorts and sensationalizes antidepressants.

4) While I enjoyed Mara's mutant charm, Jude Law--in one of his best roles since playing Dickie in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)--surprised me the most with his intelligent take on Dr. Banks. In an early scene, Banks saves a weeping Haitian from police brutality when he determines, in French, that the man had seen his deceased father go by in a taxi.  When the cop asks him how that can be, Banks replies that given Haitian cultural mores, such a vision is not uncommon. In other words, Banks sees through the situation in a way that the policeman couldn't. His role in the movie's many deceptions requires him to spot nuances in people's behavior in order to out-strategize others to try to survive.  

5) Side Effects also considers the various ways in which doctors can constrain their patients and abuse their power, i.e. by committing them to wards, restricting their access to telephones (as in Notorious (1946)), injecting them with tranquilizers when they become agitated, and by siccing the police on them when they try to escape.

6) As Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) says at one point, "A number of years ago I had a patient who was having an affair, came in here every week like he was going to confession, cried, repented, didn't stop. Then one day he comes in and says it's over, finally got a handle on his issues like some great epiphany. It was about six or seven years later his wife turns up and says he has a whole other family in another state. He'd been lying to her and he was lying to me. The kids blamed me. The wife blamed me. Even the patient blamed me. There were times I blamed me. The point is, the cardiologist could see it coming from the tests. It's in the blood. But who can see the lies?"

7) What are the side effects?  Dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, weight gain, diminished sex drive, sleepwalking. What kind of Faustian deal do the sad make every day as they take their antidepressants?  As Paul Biegler points out, "Patients are squeezed in a pharma sandwich, pressured on one side by physicians with big money riding on drug companies, and subtly cajoled on the other by direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs (DTCA)." What does it mean to have one's mood so crudely fixed, with such mechanistic tradeoffs? Are people healed or do they become automatons? Couldn't one say that, for some, depression is a natural response to deranged circumstances?