Wednesday, July 31, 2013

execution dependent links

---architecture in cinema

---"Smart dumb is The Fugs, punk rock, art schools, Gertrude Stein, Vito Acconci, Marcel Duchamp, Samuel Beckett, Seth Price, Tao Lin, Martin Margiela, Mike Kelley, and Sofia Coppola." --Kenneth Goldsmith

---"Just take a look at last year’s theatrical slate: Almost all of the most interesting American pictures were from directors who emancipated themselves from Hollywood, either by choice or out of necessity" --Scott MacDonald

---the intro to Snowpiercer

---Martin Scorsese considers the language of cinema

---"This is a petrifying moment in our lives. We have never known a world without internet, mobile phones, instant messaging. In other words, we have access to everything at all times and yet all paths seem blocked. We have more tools, more choices, and yet we live as if constantly paralysed.  . . .There is almost an injunction on today's youth to lead fascinating lives. But if we fail, and most of us are doomed to, we'll be considered losers," continues Bergès-Frisbey.

---Eric Hynes on 1980s cinema

---the white culture of violence

---One Last Dive

---40 years of cinema

---"the essay film may serve as a springboard to launch into a vital investigation of knowledge, art and culture in the 21st century, including the question of what role cinema itself might play in this critical project: articulating discontent with its own place in the world." --Kevin B. Lee

---Movies in Movies

---10 screenwriting insights and Wim Wenders 50 rules of filmmaking

---Do I Look Suspicious?

---"The zombie also functions as a powerful allegory for maturation to adulthood in modern America, symptomatic of the recession. Prospective workers have witnessed a drop in available jobs, worsening conditions in existing ones, and a rise in office and temp culture, where purpose and fulfillment often seem like an afterthought. In their place, notions of money and competition are incentivized above all, leading to general disconnectedness that induces a zombie-like state of routine drudgery, where the agency to seek out meaningful work feels stripped away rather than abdicated." --Jesse Damiani

---"It Don't Gitmo Better Than This" by Molly Crabapple

---@SpikeLee's essential film list

---the first few minutes of Passion and The Canyons

---behind the Mad Men title sequence

---"The purpose of a movie in the New Abnormal is to establish a sequel and then a franchise. To get there, studios are looking for pre-awareness — which means starting with a superhero or comic hero or an established IP. That’s an intellectual property like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, what we used to call a book. Something people have already heard of and will be excited about just because the movie exists. Movies based on an original idea, starting from scratch, are incredibly hard to market. You have to open them in America first and buy a lot of television time. Internationally, it’s completely impossible. An original idea — a drama, or a romantic comedy — can’t be sequelized. It’s a one-off. Now, a great script that’s execution-dependent can still get made by what I call the 'Mount Olympians,' by the five or so directors on the A list. Or they can get made as 'tadpoles.' But they are not commissioned any more. And that’s one of the saddest differences between the Old Abnormal and the New."  --Lynda Obst

---Keith Phipps considers 2001 and Planet of the Apes

---"I mean, what can I do? I have to be somewhere on Earth, correct?" --Ahmir Questlove Thompson

---trailers for American Hustle, A Teacher, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Gravity, Miss Violence, American Milkshake, A Single Shot, After Tiller, 12 Years a Slave, The Counselor, and Dear Mr. Watterson

---"I don't think you catch people's attention with normalcy. Seeing the same world through the eyes of a healthy married woman with three kids might be interesting, but it doesn't catch people's attention. I think the mechanism of shock triggers a more acute sensitivity. You have to put people in a certain frame of mind. I think a filmmaker has to be shrewd. Not in a bad way, not like, 'I'm a shrewd businessman. I can get away with anything.' But in terms of sensitivity, being shrewd means putting people in the right frame of mind. Then you can tell them, 'Come with me on a journey…'"  --Agnes Varda

Monday, July 29, 2013

Shamanistic neon: the Film Doctor's one sentence review of Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives

“In everything I do, I ask myself the same two questions: What would I like to see? What would I like to feel? I don’t want to understand or define these feelings so much as just go with the flow.” --Nicolas Winding Refn

"Vengeance is mine, I shall repay," says the Lord

Moving slowly as if submerged in neon red portentous mythical amber (with glitter ball karaoke interludes), his left profile ever drained of emotion, iconic mysterious Julian (Ryan Gosling) drags a man by his teeth down a dimly lit hallway in Bangkok when he's not walking slowly, fists clenched, past seedy Bangkok kickboxing rings and red neon-lit brothels back-lit by greenish yellow brickwork as a beautiful woman groans and thrashes and swoons on a bed before her idol Ryan(!) I mean Julian staring impassively, his iconic dreamy eyes focused on the middle distance, his arms tied to the chair with just the right amount of understated kink, looking up at the swirling neon blue glitter ball lights, his chin stubble immaculately immobile as the Godlike policeman Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) slices an assassin in front of a child or blinds another gangster pinioned in a chair or throws burning wok oil in the face of another hapless hood as the beautiful Thai models close their eyes and Kristin Scott Thomas (Crystal/mother/Satan/Lady Macbeth) shouts obscenities in fancy restaurants as the impassive Bangkok policemen sit and listen to the karaoke that Chang sings religiously, a blue print of the Great Wall of China behind him in the orange/green neon gleam in mannered noir splendor, and oh man did I ever prefer Drive.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Everydayness of Fruitvale Station

I woke up this morning thinking of the level of insensitivity, boredom, and the jaded unreflective non-reaction that requires ever greater amounts of trolling to get the attention of people. What have the studios been attempting to sell us this past summer? Tanking Disneyfied resurrection burgers with megadeath fries. John Reid (Armie Hammer) rises from the dead as the Lone Ranger with special desert-spiritualized powers. R.I.P.D. gives us resurrection blockbuster-wannabe action-movie style, with freeze-frame explosions going on all around Ryan Reynold's character Nick as he walks in post-death befuddlement and wonder through a warehouse.  He strolls underneath a police car in mid-flight before he ascends past a frozen jet into a Men in Black heaven (with the one black buddy cop (Will Smith) tidily removed). Nick no sooner dies than he's whisked right back as a ghost to Boston where he can pine over his lost wife, transform into an old Chinese guy (to appeal to the Chinese market?), and shoot deados (villains who have the politically correct advantage of being already dead). Back in 1967, Pauline Kael noted how Bonnie and Clyde has "put the sting back into death." Today's tentpole-wannabes do everything they can to anesthetize the viewer to mortality. What could be more deadening than going to see a movie full of dying millions which a studio has calculated will lure millions on a given weekend?

Which brings me to the low budget impact of Fruitvale Station. When I asked my wife if she wanted to see it yesterday morning, she said, "Won't that be propagandistic?" When I asked a friend, he said "I'm not into racial tension/emotional/weepy movies, and it's not a big action film." Regardless of all that, I found Fruitvale Station surprisingly strong, mostly due to its sense of restraint. Writer/director Ryan Coogler does occasionally appear to heighten the pathos of Oscar Grant's (Michael B. Jordan) story at times (emphasizing his bond with his daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) with a slow motion shot of them racing together). Coogler also includes a scene where Oscar witnesses a dog getting run over by a car before angrily calling out "Will anybody help?" as he tries to help the dying canine on the side of the road. So one can criticize the movie for being a little emotionally manipulative, but in contrast to all of the oomph-laden megadeath going on elsewhere, Fruitvale Station has some impressive differences:

1) It gets you to care about the absurd death of one human being (shot in the back by a transit officer early in 2009) by immersing you in his life for the 24 hour period beforehand.

2) Instead of things having to matter in a grand way, Fruitvale Station is most poignant when nothing special is going on. Oscar enjoys eating his grandmother's gumbo with his family as part of his mother's (Octavia Spencer) New Year's Eve/birthday celebration. Oscar drives around the Bay Area in his car, listening to rap music, stopping to get gas. After midnight, in a celebratory downtown San Francisco, Oscar persuades a shopkeeper to allow his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and two other women to use his bathroom. Just as the movie is full of non-happenings, the BART subway stop Fruitvale Station is essentially a bleak publicly funded grey non-place. Its name ironically evokes orange groves in some California-Edenic sunset glory even as it supplies a hard concrete floor on which to suffer police harassment that proves deadly.

3) Whereas Spike Lee depicted a riot as a consequence of a young black man's death at the hands of "New York's finest" in Do The Right Thing (1989), Fruitvale Station doesn't dwell on the aftermath of the shooting so much as it invites you to consider Oscar's attempt to get back his job at a grocery store. He helps a young woman order fish for some southern fried cuisine, and promises his daughter Tatiana a trip to Chuck E. Cheese's. He's by no means virtue personified, fit for sainthood (one of his flashbacks takes place in prison and he considers selling marijuana in the course of his day), but as subtly acted by Michael B. Jordan, Oscar carries the hopeful possibility that one finds in a 22 year old. In the face of Oscar's ordinary day, all of the studio holocausts look small in comparison.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Coyote love: 7 notes on what I remember from R.I.P.D.

1) Too innocuous and forgettable to hate, R.I.P.D. is the perfect amnesic cocktail, a puffball of bad computer-generated cotton candy, a Saturday morning cartoon that reflects the derangement of our globally warmed late summer, too insubstantial to even merit thought, let alone criticism.

2) Kevin Bacon's key line: "Hell can kiss my ass."

3) Jeff Bridges plays Roycephus, the grumpy ghost cornpone law man cowboy (Rooster Cogburn meets Yosemite Sam). Thinking of his death, Roy says in a rare moment of sensitive pathos: "Coyotes made love to my skull."

4) Ryan Reynold's character sums up the movie when he learns that R.I.P.D. stands for the Rest in Peace Department): "I get it. Cute."

5) A key dramatic moment in R.I.P.D: Roycephus loses his cowboy hat.

6) Some day, we may learn that the afterlife of R.I.P.D. is accurate, and what we clearly deserve: when you die, you rise into the heavens over Boston with the 150,000 other people expiring that day like CGI gnats ascending into an immense metaphysical exhaust fan. There you meet a snarky Mary-Louise Parker (Proctor) cracking wise with lines like "I'm here to help you. I know that you can get there" with a painfully obvious bottle of Fresca product placement. The desk-filled heavenly administration with Steely Dan muzak would like to remind you of the Kafkaesque Beetlejuice or Brazil, but it's really just an echo of an echo of an echo of Men in Black 4.  

7) The buddy cops of R.I.P.D. are sent to earth to battle "deados," convenient villainous dead people shamming life who, when unmasked, resemble unsavory drunken buffoons (the movie's delayed-adolescent intended audience?), all teeth, blubber, and bad CGI, various Blutos who provide opportunities for car crashes, shoot-outs, and fat jokes. When Roycephus shoots them, they vanish in a swirl of grey computer-generated mist, like R.I.P.D. vanishing from your brain.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

zombie swarm links

---early Ronald McDonald

---a hint of the M.I.A. documentary

---Paris, Texas

---"we should mandate that 50% of films produced are made by women. That would be possible with public money. Instantly the culture would change. It can be done."  --Jane Campion

---ways to create a zombie swarm

---"A court that is supreme, in the sense of having the final say, but where arguments are only ever submitted on behalf of the government, and whose judges are not subject to the approval of a democratic body, sounds a lot like the sort of thing authoritarian governments set up when they make a half-hearted attempt to create the appearance of the rule of law."

---The Mill Showreel 2013

---"The next thing Calvo remembers is the sound of his mother-in-law screaming. He ran to the window and saw heavily armed men clad in black rushing his front door. Next came the explosion. He’d later learn that this was when the police blew open his front door. Then there was gunfire. Then boots stomping the floor. Then more gunfire. Calvo, still in his boxers, screamed, 'I’m upstairs, please don’t shoot!' He was instructed to walk downstairs with his hands in the air, the muzzles of two guns pointed directly at him. He still didn’t know it was the police. He described what happened next at a Cato Institute forum six weeks later. 'At the bottom of the stairs, they bound my hands, pulled me across the living room, and forced me to kneel on the floor in front of my broken door. I thought it was a home invasion. I was fearful that I was about to be executed.'"  --Radley Balko

---how the hand held camera changed film

---The Dissolve

---Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animation sequences

---European cinema's best smoking scenes

---"the administration doubled-down on what look suspiciously like extrajudicial executions, faute de mieux, after shuttering Bush’s black sites and deciding not to send anyone else to Guantánamo"  --Stephen Holmes

---Rooney Mara's perfume ad

---"I'm OK with the term muse as long as you acknowledge the muse wrote the script, too." --Greta Gerwig

---"Earth a 150 years in the future has become a third world planet. There's a scarcity of resources." --Matt Damon

---"Brian De Palma brought hip, freewheeling funkiness to the American film renaissance of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Wised-up, cinema-savvy audiences across the country knew to seek out his movies for their scruffy wit and showmanship and aesthetic innovation, not just for their counterculture attitude. With Greetings (1968) and (especially) Hi, Mom! (1970), he developed his own celluloid version of street theater and improvisational comedy. And when he made his leap into Hitchcock-inspired thrillers, with Sisters (1973), he didn’t just revamp techniques he’d learned from the Master of Suspense—he renovated them with new devices like split screen, and imbued them with his own sensual yet satiric sensibility. His temperament and style were so complex and unique that he needed journalistic support to help him break out of a college-town niche to wider audiences. He found it in the most influential critical voice of the day, Pauline Kael, who was, in her unique way, articulating a view of movies as a glorious hybrid art. --Michael Sragow

---Sarah Slamen's testimony

---selfies

---behind the scenes of Boogie Nights

---Talking Heads, live 1975

---"Comply or we'll implant our own eavesdropping devices on your network."  --Declan McCullagh

---trailers for Out of the Furnace, Fruitvale Station, Oldboy, Austenland, Machete Killsand The Way, Way Back

---Herzog and Morris discuss The Act of Killing

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hi-Yo Silver and the taxidermic crow: 10 notes on Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger

Like an immense beached whale rotting at the local Regal cineplex, The Lone Ranger fascinates me with its epic pleasing spectacle of Disney writing off hundreds of millions of dollars. Whereas the corporation's last massive flop John Carter was extremely hard to follow, The Lone Ranger has a compellingly convoluted sense of itself. I did enjoy the movie's two major set piece action scenes involving runaway trains, but the rest of the movie raises many questions:

1) How much did the last three Pirates of the Caribbean movies make The Lone Ranger feel tired at the outset?

2) Why is the Lone Ranger called the lone ranger if he has Tonto by his side?

3) Is the frame narrative of a boy running into an elderly Tonto in a 1933 San Francisco Wild West show supposed to remind us of those Disney animatronic president exhibits or the early freak show scene of David Lynch's The Elephant Man?

4) What should we make of the frame narrative boy's 1933 bag of roasted peanuts appearing out in the 1869 desert when Tonto throws the bag onto a corpse in a shallow grave? Is that a playful meta-cinematic gesture?

5) What is The Lone Ranger's exact relationship with its source material, i.e. the 1933 radio series and the 1949-57 TV show? One gets a hint at an answer when the Lone Ranger yells out "Hi-Yo Silver!" as his horse rears back dramatically underneath him. Tonto promptly replies, "Don't ever do that again."

6) Is The Lone Ranger's villain Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) supposed to resemble Scar of The Lion King (1994)?

7) Did Verbinski include Helena Bonham Carter as the one-legged Madame Red Harrington (her ivory artificial leg housing a rifle) to simultaneously remind us of innumerable interchangeable Tim Burton movies as well as Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) in Planet Terror (2007)?

8) Why does Tonto occupy himself with "feeding" a taxidermic crow on his head for much of the movie? I'll try to tackle this last question:

9) Depp admitted that the inspiration for Tonto came from a Kirby Sattler painting in which a Native American has a crow flying behind his head, an image which Depp deliberately misread. As Depp said, "I thought: Tonto’s got a bird on his head. It’s his spirit guide in a way. It’s dead to others, but it’s not dead to him. It’s very much alive." At one point in the film, Tonto punches the Lone Ranger, and then says the bird made him do it. At another point, Tonto's crow headdress shifts and somehow opens its beak (see above) just before Tonto escapes from jail without explanation (one of several plot holes in the movie). Even before we learn that Tonto has escaped, a crow flies overhead during a massacre of several Marshalls in the desert. Late in the movie (spoiler alert), the elder Tonto disappears and a crow takes his place in the Noble Savage exhibit before flying out of the Wild West circus side show. So did the elder Tonto turn into a crow? Did Tonto fly out of jail? All of this bird imagery even extends to the damsel-frequently-in-distress Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson), the widowed wife of Dan Reid (James Badge Dale). The railroad kingpin Cole (Tom Wilkinson) has designs upon Rebecca, and at one point likens her to "a bird in a cage."

10) Perhaps all of this bird imagery stems from Depp's eureka moment in front of the Sattler painting, but it reminds me of Norman Bates' interest in birds in Hitchcock's Psycho. There's something grotesquely stuffed (like those animatronic presidents) about Tonto's pantheistic mysticism, and that already-killed-off quality extends to the Native Americans depicted in the film. Just as the crow arrives on the scene already dead, so does the Comanche chief proclaim "We are already ghosts" before a cavalry massacres the tribe one evening. Secondly, in his origin story, the youthful Tonto makes a bad trade with two white men (exchanging the location of a silver mine for a pocket watch). He then learns that his entire tribe was killed off by the two greedy speculators who want all of the silver to themselves. When Tonto finds everyone dead, all of the teepees burned, he spies a dead crow in the river, and lifts it out (but does not quite place it on his head). Meanwhile, the Lone Ranger himself gains metaphysical points for kind of returning from the dead, but he's given a classic Disney resurrection pass that the Native Americans do not receive.

Some related links:

---"The task was to make Tonto relevant." --Gore Verbinski

---"Tonto first appeared in 1933, in the 11th episode of "The Lone Ranger" radio show, when creators George Trendle and Fran Striker realized that a solitary ranger with a radio show needed someone to talk to." --Rebecca Keegan

---"I've had it up to here with this Indian malarkey."  --Johnny Depp in Dead Man

---"Depp's Tonto is filled with a New Age-y spirituality that requires massive bouts of overacting. At least the original Tonto didn't make you wonder if he'd had some kind of brain damage. On the other hand, what choice did Depp have? He could not make Tonto a 'noble savage,' obviously, because that's racist. He could not make Tonto a straight sidekick, because that would also be racist. He could not make him a victim or a killer. So instead the character is a mishmash of stabs at sympathy: He's a victim of genocide, a revenger, a lunatic, an exhibition performer. It's a mess. An embarrassing mess." --Stephen Marche

---"Depp's Tonto isn't like Hugo Weaving's Fu Manchu baddie from Cloud Atlas--he's much more like Iron Eyes Cody's crying Indian from the Keep America Beautiful campaign." --Walter Chaw

---"Tonto's sad backstory and eccentric behavior are Jack Sparrow-like, but the performance owes more to stone-faced silent movie stars such as William S. Hart and Buster Keaton." --Matt Zoller Seitz

---"But you have to realize you may see a shot that’s two and a half seconds long, but it’s like 'Okay, get the techno crane on to the top of the train, strap it down, reset to one, get the train moving…' So you’re giving up three hours of your shoot day to get a two and a half second shot. That’s what is troublesome about those sequences and I don’t use a second unit, so it’s all first unit photography. So you just try to do them in ways that are cost-effective. You’ve got forty extras inside a train car for this particular day and you try to finish out other parts of the sequence where you might see those forty extras. It’s a painful algorithm, but you just chip away at it. So we basically shot it over the entire production."  --Gore Verbinski discussing how he shot the train sequences

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day links

---the opening of Manhattan

---"Here gun to kill bad man."

---"At press time, a coalition representing the nation’s estimated 3 million American Indians had released a statement completely forgiving the United States for its systematic butchery and subsequent confinement of their people, saying that the new Lone Ranger movie 'had made it all worth it.'"

---the title sequence of Juno

---an outtake from The Master

---"Southland Tales is a story without specific meanings. It's a Rosetta Stone to help me learn the tongue of our age, the language of flipping between dozens of Internet browser tabs and holding five conversations at once, while the earth decays and the government scrambles to scotch-tape a fractured country together. For reasons I can't -- and don't want to -- understand, it helps me cope with the logorrhea of a given day, the unceasing garbled stream of messages from the near-future."  --Abraham Riesman

---three reasons: Fish Tank and Wild Strawberries

---Mickey Mouse in Vietnam

---"the entire web is basically becoming a slow-motion Snapchat, where content lives for some unknowable amount of time before it dies, lost forever"

---"I'm not sure that I have a personality."  --Joyce Carol Oates

---Ozu / Passageways

---The History of the Aspect Ratio

---The Great Gatsby VFX

---10 documentaries about punk rock

---income inequality

---"The Art of the Trailer"

---"The Existential Hitman"

---the candidate and the president discuss NSA spying

---Pitt and Fallon yodel

---Why do you think I should work for the NSA?"

---Mick Garris discusses Scanners

---overpopulation

---trailers for I Give It a Year, Drinking Buddies, The Counselor, A Band Called Death, The Bastards, Passion, Afternoon Delight, Wadjdaand Inside Llewyn Davis, 

---a clip from The Birth of a Nation

---“To appreciate Kiss Me Deadly, you have to love movies passionately and to have vivid memories of those evenings when you saw Scarface, Under Capricorn, Blood of a Poet, Less Dames du Bois de Boulougne and The Lady of Shanghai. We have loved films that had only one idea, or twenty, or even fifty. In Aldrich’s films, it is not unusual to encounter a new idea with each shot. In this movie the inventiveness is so rich that we don’t know what to look at–the images are almost too full, too fertile. Watching a film like this is such an intense experience that we want it to last for hours. It is easy to picture its author as a man overflowing with vitality, as much at ease behind the camera as Henry Miller facing a blank page. This is a film of a young director who is not yet worrying about restraint.” --Francois Truffaut

---Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

---"what is necessary is to show the hero at the precise moment where we expect him, with his instinct, judging.

This brings us to Howard Hawks. Apart from a few scenes with harsh lighting, sometimes unbearable, with him, everything is prepared. An important point, rhetoric in exposition, too dry for a brutal resolution. There is a strong anticipation for something to happen, this is evident, and what is really surprising, is how it’s not expected, and this action which one would assume would be difficult, is actually done with an ease. Just like how Hitchcock plays with the fear, the kind of fear that is associated with danger, haunting the audience with suspicions, in a similar vein Howard Hawks’ gaze, how does he transform his subjects? Through an analytic examination and their geometric material. In this physical world where folkloric American heroes live, no missteps are allowed, and for the filmmaker: no bravura, fog or metaphor. I do not know of any filmmaker that is more indifferent to cinematic plastic form, with his banal editing, but on the other hand, more sensible to the gestures of characters, and pacing." --Maurice Scherer