Tuesday, December 29, 2015

microcomplaint links

---The Best of Cinema: 2015 Edition

---Final Cut: An Audiovisual Essay

---30 Camera Shots

---the best video essays of 2015

---"This summer, walking near my old apartment in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood just outside Boston, I spotted a wholesome-looking college dude in expensive glasses, spotless sneakers without socks, and a Ramones T-shirt tucked into a pair of pressed, front-pleated khaki slacks. Although the Ramones’ presidential eagle had long joined the Rolling Stones tongue and the Pink Floyd prism in the pantheon of meaningless, ubiquitous screen-print designs, something about seeing this particular prepped-up lickspittle in a Ramones T-shirt gave me pause." --Eugenia Williamson

---120 Years of the Cinematic Kiss

---Interview: Carol's Production Design Judy Becker

---Camera Evolution Explained in Just 11 Portraits

---"To me, Anomalisa is political. In a very small sense. It’s about being able to see other people, and I think so much of what is wrong right now in the world is that people don’t see each other. We literally do not see each other as human beings — as people with fear and desires and longings. And therefore, you’re able to treat other people as objects that you can use to get what you want. It’s a hard thing to do, to see people on a personal scale. It’s a very hard thing." --Charlie Kaufman

---trailers for Chimes At Midnight, Desierto, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, High-RiseEverybody Wants Someand Le Mepris 

---My Life in Monsters

---"The smartphone in particular has facilitated extemporaneous caviling. Irritations that the passage of time may have soothed can, in the moment, be immediately expressed to an audience. Often these complaints take the form of a narrative developing in real time: the talkative taxi driver, the hostile airline ticket clerk, the interminable security line, the malodorous seatmate and crying baby. Such threads frequently pick up steam as the audience validates or shares the narrator’s posts; the nuisances others must contend with can make for excellent vicarious entertainment, and accreting Likes tend to fuel the microcomplainer." --Teddy Wayne

---"The Best Photo Books of 2015" by Teju Cole

---the best movie books of 2015

---"Passing Time in Frances Ha" by James Zborowski

---"Still, right away I could tell what was firing up so many viewers, particularly online: in the world of Marvel Comics, a female antihero—a female anything—is a step forward. But a rape survivor, struggling with P.T.S.D., is a genuine leap." --Emily Nussbaum

---the screenplay for Mistress America

---Stay Safe

---Persona Swap

---The Best of GoPro 2015

---"The ‘meet cute’: 10 inventive movie moments when lovers first meet" by Tess Morris

---Tarantino's Visual References

---Two Takes on Johnny To's Election

---the best Vimeo videos of 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"The droid is not for sale": the Film Doctor's one sentence review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens mostly left me brooding about Disney's carpet-bombing marketing techniques, the movie's depiction of fascism with the First Order emulating Hitler's Triumph of the Will under a blood-red flaming sky aptly reflecting the real-life sinister Mickey Mouse-faced brain-washing corporation synergizing its movie with other brands (Lego, Target, Subway) in the many ads that we were forced to watch oh so obediently, like so many mind-droned stormtroopers, in the AMC Showplace cineplex beforehand, but also there's the (spoiler alert) way the movie plays on the older audience's sense of nostalgia for the 1970s as Carrie Fisher and an oddly cheerful looking Harrison Ford (when was the last time we've seen him smile in a movie? 1990?) exchange soulful looks as if in a sci-fi-high school baby boomer reunion, not to mention Tarantino's gripes about monopolistic Disney distribution over-reach, the movie's poaching of both a catless Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver from Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), the latter of whom (as Kylo Ren) keeps impotently slashing up spaceship interiors with his cross-shaped lightsaber before he kneels (as we are meant to kneel, worshippers of the synergized Force of the mouse God) before a Darth Vader mask that someone accidentally left in the oven as the new more politically correct generation (scrappy Rey (who, ironically, will not sell the droid) and Fenn, going through the hero's motions) take their strategic positions for various target audiences as J.J. Abrams reshuffles, remixes, and rebakes most of the plot points of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope with enough swirling X-Wing Starfighters and TIE Fighter dogfight sequences to keep one's eyes occupied (in this universe, most everyone (except, perhaps, the Wookie) turns out to be secretly blood-related, and father/son issues are resolved on some platform over a great abyss), while Luke retains the most mystique and interest by just staying away like a guru on a mountain top who is ostensibly less burdened with product tie-ins, junket interviews, and promotional appearances during this crucial holiday season.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Star Wars Files

---The Star Wars main title and crawl

---"Star Wars in 1977: How the Saga Began With That ‘Old Desert Rat’ Obi-Wan Kenobi" by Tim Gray

---"10 Films that Influenced Star Wars" by Tim Robey

---The Star Wars Prequels Might Be Good

---“I don’t consider it cashing in, but I have invested in a toy company operation." --George Lucas

---Every Use of the Force Ever and Every On-Screen Death of the Original Star Wars Trilogy

---"Brian De Palma, the director of Carrie, helped to write the opening crawl ('Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire'). Christopher Walken was originally cast as Han Solo, and Solo was partly based on Francis Ford Coppola." --Joshua Rothman

---Star Wars Minus Star Wars--Between the Lines

---"Was Star Wars Influenced by a French Science Fiction Comic?" by Reed Beebe

---Star Wars bloopers

---"Apple and Star Wars together explain why much of the world around you looks the way it does" by Nicholas de Monchaux

---the original reviews of Star Wars

---"The issue was ultimately, they looked at the stories and they said, 'We want to make something for the fans,'" Lucas said. "People don't actually realize it's actually a soap opera and it's all about family problems - it's not about spaceships. So they decided they didn't want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing so I decided, 'fine.... I'll go my way and I let them go their way.'"

---Lucas discusses the origins of Star Wars

---Anna Kendrick in the Star Wars Battlefront trailer

---the film careers of the original cast of Star Wars

---"A more focused study, however, is needed to truly understand that the Star Wars films are actually the story of the radicalization of Luke Skywalker. From introducing him to us in A New Hope (as a simple farm boy gazing into the Tatooine sunset), to his eventual transformation into the radicalized insurgent of Return of the Jedi (as one who sets his own father’s corpse on fire and celebrates the successful bombing of the Death Star), each film in the original trilogy is another step in Luke’s descent into terrorism. By carefully looking for the same signs governments and scholars use to detect radicalization, we can witness Luke’s dark journey into religious fundamentalism and extremism happen before our very eyes."

---the despecialized edition of Star Wars

---the outer rim characters of Star Wars

---Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy

---"The picture that the Lucasfilm faithful relentlessly call A New Hope but everyone else calls Star Wars came out in 1977. It and its sequels (and TV movies and cartoons and toys and bedsheets) burrowed deep into popular culture. And if the people at the Walt Disney Company, which bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, have anything to say about it, the past four decades of Star Wars were merely prologue. They are making more. A lot more. The company intends to put out a new Star Wars movie every year for as long as people will buy tickets. Let me put it another way: If everything works out for Disney, and if you are (like me) old enough to have been conscious for the first Star Wars film, you will probably not live to see the last one. It’s the forever franchise." --Adam Rogers

---behind the scenes of the Star Wars Cantina bar set

---"Star Wars, Elvis, and Me" by A. O. Scott

---Siskel and Ebert defend Star Wars

---Star Wars drunk driving PSA

---Hardware Wars

---The Top 5 Most Shameless Star Wars Rip-Offs

---"5 Reasons Why Star Wars Spaceships Make No Sense" --Kyle Mizokami

---60 Minutes considers Star Wars: The Force Awakens

---Rare Star Wars photos from movie set

---the Star Wars fonts

---Star Wars: The Force Awakens supercut trailer

---"5 Things Star Wars Fans Don't Understand About Star Wars" by David Wong

---Star Wars: 15 Books About the Films That Created a Galaxy and Changed the World"

---"What's Behind the Star Wars Phenomenon"

---"The Real Science Inspired by Star Wars" --Michael Greshko

---Star Wars: The Force Awakens critical reactions

---6 Star Wars movies in just 3 minutes

---"Droids and The Force: How the Science in Star Wars Is Actually Real" --P.W. Singer and August Cole

Sunday, December 13, 2015

2015 Movie Link Mashup

---What is "Lynchian"?

--"When you stand on your feet at the back of a movie house and watch the same movie over and over, you begin to understand process," she says. "You see the way films tell stories, you see the effect they have on the audience, you see where they work and where they don't. It's the best way to learn — on the firing line — but in my day, it was literally the only way to learn. There were no film schools." --Jeanine Basinger


---Prince's cover of "Creep"

---The 25 Best Film of 2015: A Video Countdown

---behind the scenes of Lost in Translation and Tangerine

---filmmaking tips from Sean Baker

---Best Cinematography of 2015

---“Persistently, I have the vision of a house in the country with the blond wife whom I love, with the children whom I adore, on the land and with the trees I adore. I know this will never be, yet will be partially that tantalizing measure (of a man) leads me on. My God and my beloved, it can never be! And yet I love, in flesh and bone and clothes in love, as all mankind.”  --Patricia Highsmith

---"The 10 Best Comedy Sketches of 2015"

---"It’s only a movie. Don’t worry about it, just do your best, and let the public decide." --Alfred Hitchcock

---"The Mysterious Chords of Youth" by Dennis Cozzalio

---"Young Employee’s concern—what can we possibly do about Instagram, basically—was an expression of a worry that’s creeping up behind almost everyone in the business of distributing media for a living. Loss of power resulting in a loss of access resulting in further loss of power. It’s a disruptive new take on the media death spiral! And it’s one of the reasons that, lately, you might have noticed your media behaving a little strangely."  --John Herrman

---Richard Brody considers Orson Welles' The Trial

---trailers for The Nice Guys, Batman V Superman, I Saw the Light, Independence Day: Resurgence, X-Men: Apocalypse, Anesthesia, Captain America: Civil War, The Big ShortThe Legend of Tarzan, and Knight of Cups

---"I am sincere in my preference for my men's clothes – I do not wear them to be sensational. I think I am much more alluring in these clothes" --Marlene Dietrich

---2015 Movie Trailer Mashup

---"Poor fugees—after escaping the worst atrocities and finally making it to England, our government hunts them down like cockroaches," says Jasper, Michael Caine's character in the dystopian masterwork Children of Men

---"Borders" by M.I.A.

---"These are the cities of tomorrow," said Kleinschmidt of Europe's rapidly expanding refugee camps. "The average stay today in a camp is 17 years. That's a generation."

---“The way you start to break down systemic racism is to start building individual relationships with people who are not like you.” --Killer Mike

---The Best News Bloopers of 2015

---A Thanksgiving Miracle

---"A Strong Case for Deleting Your Facebook Account" by Meredith Lepore

---“The endpoint makes you reflect,” Mr. Hochmuth said. “Do I want to keep browsing and clicking and being obsessed? Or do I want to do something else?”

---an Anomalisa featurette

---“You’re going to have to walk over dead people,” the LA police officer, who asked not be named because he had not been cleared to speak to the media, said. “You’re going to have people clutching at you and begging for help. But you have to keep going. There’s no medicine in a gunfight.”  --Andrew Gumbel

---Bunuel and Surrealism: Revolt into Love

---"I'd love to play Hamlet." --Kate Winslet

Saturday, December 5, 2015

8 existential questions about Sofia Coppola's A Very Murray Christmas

1) When Jason Schwartzman incidentally appears to incidentally play drums and sing a duet in A Very Murray Christmas, were we meant to wonder what would have happened if Sofia Coppola had directed Rushmore (1998)?

2) Given that Paul Schaffer accompanies Bill Murray for much of the show on the piano, where was David Letterman?

3) Given that Bill Murray moodily looks out over the New York night skyline, romps around in a fancy hotel, and conveys a strong sense of being alone and sad in the indifferent city, how much is A Very Murray Christmas a continuation of Lost in Translation (2003)? As Sofia Coppola admits, "Him [Murray] singing in a tux was my motivation."

4) Given all of the previously mentioned parallels, where was Scarlett Johansson?

5) Isn't Sofia Coppola too cool to overly rely upon empty celebrity glamour, thereby placing both George Clooney and Miley Cyrus in a dream sequence (with Clooney fixing himself and Bill martinis on Schaffer's piano)? Or is the show inevitably all about celebrity glamour, but tastefully executed with enough existential Christmas blues and failure to make it palatable?

6) How much is A Very Murray Christmas an extended Saturday Night Live skit with Murray revamping his ironic "Nick the Lounge Singer" crooner shtick from the 1970s? Does the show succeed in part because Murray can't sing all that well?

7) Is that bartender really David Johansen of the legendary pre-punk New York Dolls? What has he been up to recently?  Is he intentionally cultivating a resemblance to Tom Waits?

8) Who would have thought that Miley Cyrus could sing a compelling version of Silent Night? It is refreshing to see her not have to work so hard (as she usually does) to hold the audience's attention. How much do Sofia Coppola's movies succeed in part because she does not appear to be trying too hard? Is that kind of naturalism in a director becoming increasingly rare?

Friday, November 27, 2015

"These aren't the droids you're looking for": 8 questions about Star Wars

We've been watching Star Wars otherwise known as Episode IV--A New Hope (1977) in its unrevised version in my science fiction class. Here are some questions that come to mind:

1) What exactly happens to the Stormtroopers or the Rebel Alliance fighters when they get hit by a laser from a laser gun? What does violence mean in the Star Wars universe?

2) When we see Anna Kendrick and others vanish from their clothes as Obi-Wan Kenobi does when hit by Darth Vader's light saber, are we supposed to think that the Star Wars Battlefront video game being advertised is part of some rapture-deranged cult? Is a basic part of the appeal of the Star Wars franchise that we can escape the burden of the flesh after we perish? Or are we just subconsciously happy to see that someone as classy as Alec Guinness escapes from the movie?

3) Why is there a room-sized trash compactor in the Death Star?

4) Why are there so many men in their 40s who view the whole Star Wars phenomenon with such childlike religious fervor? I have seen grown men in their thirties bizarrely "fighting" with their light saber iPhone apps. What was the exact sweet spot age--10? 8?--to have first seen Star Wars in the theaters and then worship Han Solo from thereon?

5) Why haven't the three deplorable Star Wars prequels (Revenge of the Sith, etc.) done anything to dampen public enthusiasm for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Has the failure of those movies somehow enhanced the franchise through some sort of media herd hypnosis reverse psychology?

6) Is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) likable because she's peevish and idealistic?

7) When Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia find themselves trapped on the edge of an abyss and fired upon by Stormtroopers, why does Luke happen to have a Batman utility belt around his waist complete with a rope and a grappling hook? Did he need this stuff back on the farm on Tatooine? Was this detail prepared for in some way?

8) Is the Force, as loosely practiced by Luke, a reference to the Zen practice of eliminating the self to attain fluid motion?  Is Obi-Wan's advice to Luke to do away with his conscious mind when seeking the Force a practical suggestion for the consumer of the ever-expanding Star Wars universe? Does the non-thought of the Force help explain the extraordinary fervor of question 4? When Obi-Wan uses the Force to hypnotize the Stormtroopers to let him and the droids go by ("These aren't the droids you're looking for,") is this yet another example of the submissive behavior that the consumer unconsciously emulates? Did George Lucas intentionally include cult-like practices of mind control in the franchise?

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Noir Forebears of Jessica Jones

However innovative Jessica Jones may be as an edgy new Marvel series, an examination of the consequences of trauma, and a study of New York City, I also liked its embrace of the noir genre. Here's a list of some of Jessica Jones' antecedents:

1) In the opening scene of the first episode, one of Jones' clients becomes upset with the photographs that she has taken to prove his infidelity. When he turns violent, she throws him through the window of her office door, scattering incriminating photos across him in the process. In this visual sequence the show evokes the opening shot of Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), when photos depict a couple in a similar lewd, spied-upon position with a husband angry at the detective Jake Gitte's snooping. Thus, Jessica gets immediately associated with gumshoe Jake from the outset.

2) By throwing her client through the window that carries the name of her detective agency, Alias Investigations, Jessica also alludes to the beginning of John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941), when detective Sam Spade almost immediately needs to have his office door window changed because his partner Archer has been shot and killed in one of the movie's early scenes. Therefore, Jessica Jones refers to two of the premier founding noir detectives in the first few seconds of the show.

3) More obviously, Jones resembles Lisbeth Salander of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, especially when she wears a hoodie several episodes into the show. When she sits and contemplates what to do on her desk, she reminds us that Salander was also good at solving crimes, only with more of a hacker bent and a punk outlook. As battle-hardened as Krysten Ritter appears, her ski-lift nose and dark green eyes evoke a bruised Anne Hathaway.

4) Jessica Jone's citified contemptuous attitude also resembles Linda Fiorentino's heartless Bridget Gregory in John Dahl's underrated neo-noir The Last Seduction (1994).

5) Jessica Jones' love of whiskey and her day-drinking are reminiscent of Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy, respectively) and their glorious post-prohibition tippling in The Thin Man (1934). When he isn't completely soused, Charles actually does some detective work.

6) In Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946), Ingrid Bergman's Alicia Huberman tends to drink too much even as Devlin (Cary Grant) calls her "hard-boiled."

7) I also couldn't help being thinking of Calvin's version of the detective gumshoe, Tracer Bullet, with every night-lit office interior of Jessica's scummy apartment.

8) Amongst the heroine television detectives who know how to fight, let's not forget the unflappable Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) of The Avengers.

9) Given that we see talk show personality Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) from a sign on a bus, one can assume that we were meant to associate her loosely with Carrie Bradshaw of Sex in the City?

10) Kilgrave's (David Tennant's) ability to control people with his mind evokes the fears of mesmerists in the 19th century who were accused of manipulating people (usually women) for their own nefarious purposes.

11) Most of all, I liked Jessica Jones for the way the show eschews CGI, flying, and costumes for a complex portrayal of a flawed feminist woman. As Jessica Jones' showrunner Melissa Rosenberg pointed out:

"for audiences — not studios, but audiences — to allow for a woman to be morally ambiguous and at times ugly as a person in the same way that Tony Soprano and Walter White were, it wasn't acceptable. So that's one of the things that I wanted to do with a female superhero, I wanted to create one who was flawed like Iron Man. I wanted to make a female superhero who was like Tony Soprano."

Jessica Jones works best when it ignores Marvel's superhero conventions altogether.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

medianature links

---The Future in Film

---Grimes' "Flesh Without Blood / Life as a Vivid Dream"

---How Facebook Steals Millions of Views

---Missy Eliot's "WTF (Where They From)"

---"Movies like Star Trek Into Darkness and Spectre represent a strange and troubling confluence of incompatible pop cultural trends: Fandom’s increasing obsession with anticipating blockbusters with years of hype and theorizing, and Hollywood’s continuing obsession with endlessly remaking the same handful of stories over and over again. Each new tentpole release is met with thousands of words of conjecture and hundreds of screengrabs and GIFs; literally every single poster and publicity still and teaser and television ad and piece of ancillary merchandise is subjected to a level of scrutiny that would awe Talmudic scholars. We’ve arguably reached a point in film culture where movie marketing is more carefully analyzed than the movies themselves.

That could be because the movies themselves are so brazenly recycled from existing works, that they don’t actually demand much consideration. Spectre makes no secret of the source material it’s mining, and yet it persists for almost two hours in attempting to turn the organization’s leader into this grand enigma. The only person satisfied by this sort of unveiling is a fan who’s spent the last three years studying each Spectre trailer and plot synopsis, and correctly intuited that Waltz was playing Blofeld.

 For the rest of us, the whole enterprise is at cross-purposes. Why make a mystery out of something obvious?" --Matt Singer

---"Edward Snowden explains how to reclaim your privacy"

---trailers for A Very Murray Christmas, Life, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, Sunset Song, and Chi-Raq

---"the book offers a number of useful concepts. The first is a notion of 'medianatures,' which draws from Donna Haraway’s concept of 'naturecultures.' Here, Parikka intends to maintain Haraway’s commitment to nonbinary thinking and to working with entanglement, but he also wants to move us toward a theory of media that can account for nonhuman actors—chemicals, minerals, and micro-organisms. The notion of a medianature is meant to encourage us to not only think in terms of entanglement of the human and nonhuman, but to become very specific about what materials have been assembled and why." --Karen Gregory

---"The Doomsday Invention" by Raffi Khatchadourian

---David Bordwell considers women crime writers

---"These new movies won’t just be sequels. That’s not the way the transnational entertainment business works anymore. Forget finite sequences; now it’s about infinite series." --Adam Rogers

---Michael Haneke storyboards Code Unknown

---"The thing that has changed profoundly over the last 15 years, and I haven’t seen much writing about this, is that the experience of going to dailies has almost completely disappeared, because of shooting with video tape and now shooting digital. The impression is that… You’ve seen it! [Laughs] There are 20 plasma screens around the set as the scene is being shot. Every department has its own screen, so as the material gets shot, there is a direct feed from the camera to all of these screens. Everyone’s tired at the end of the day, everyone works very long hours, so why do they have to go and see it all again? From a practical point of view, that’s absolutely true, but in the days when we had to look at dailies, there was what I’ll call a religious component to this: you assembled at lunch on the following day, or the evening of the following day, and as tired as you were, all the heads of department came together. The only agenda was to look at what was shot the day before and to pick up the mood of the director — in the same way that the director wants to pick up the mood of everyone else. So there’s a kind of cross-fertilization that happens on overt and many times covert levels that I think accelerated a certain kind of creativity that is under threat now." --Walter Murch

---When Soldiers Come Home in the Movies

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bond Again--A Pictorial Primer for Spectre

See James Bond. James jumps from building to building towards the beginning of his new film Spectre. James Bond looks good shooting people while wearing a perfectly styled suit. We have seen him before. He reminds me of Frank Zappa's "I'm the Slime": "[He's] been around for years but very little as changed."

Here's Sam Mendes. He directed Spectre and Skyfall (2012) and once, long ago, American Beauty (1999), which struck me as insufferably pretentious. Pretentious, pretentious, pretentious, so naturally the movie won Best Picture for the Oscars that year. Mendes is a very serious filmmaker, which makes him ideally suited (I guess) for directing Spectre.

Here's an example of American Beauty being pretentious. In this scene, a plastic bag floats around, and a character in the movie finds it beautiful. Pretty, pretty plastic bag, so much unexpected beauty in the world.

See the current Bond girl, Madeleine Swann, as played by Lea Seydoux, dressed in a beautiful evening gown. Seydoux is a fine French actress, and she makes Spectre more tolerable, a film that otherwise consists mostly of a series of homages to other, better, previous Bond films, such as From Russia with Love (1963), which has some similar train scenes. Homage, homage, homage. Spectre feels more like a museum than a movie.

Here is Bond and Madeleine Swan flirting on the train just before a bad man tries to kill them. See them flirt, flirt, flirt as Bond (Daniel Craig) wears an noirish white dinner jacket reminiscent of Casablanca (1942). We've seen this scene before in From Russia with Love and North by Northwest (1959), but who cares when there's so much serious movie star glamour intermixed with the homages?

Here s Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. He's Evil, Evil, Evil. He has a cat and a scar, and he wears a Nehru jacket. I don't know why I thought of him in relation to Spectre. Surely, he has nothing to do with anything.

Here's Blofield, another Bond villain, from You Only Live Twice (1967). Villainous, villainous, villainous. Evil, evil, evil. Surprisingly, one can find distinct echoes of the man in Spectre.

See the real villain of Spectre sit in the distance, poorly lit, surrounded by an evil committee, and framed by a big door. Poorly lit, poorly lit, poorly lit. We can tell that he's the villain and he must be very powerful because Sam Mendes makes him so hard to see for so long.

See what I mean? Very poorly lit. During this big meeting, a man kills another man with his bare hands by poking his eyes out, and nobody reacts. That's how you can tell it's a big evil meeting.

Here's Madeleine Snow again acting surly in a hotel room in Tangiers as Bond trains his gun on a mouse, threatening to kill it. "Who sent you?" he asks the mouse, one of the few more playful moments in this very serious movie.

See Ben Whishaw play Q, the gadget man and computer genius of the movie. I really enjoyed Whishaw's starring role as John Keats in Jane Campion's excellent Bright Star (2009). Too bad he just plays a winsome geek in the Bond series.

See Ed Snowden. Even though he lacks all of the guns, action scenes, and race cars of James Bond, his real-life drama as portrayed in Citizenfour (2014) struck me as more exciting than anything in Spectre. Sam Mendes admits that Spectre reflects our "post-Snowden" era that raises questions like "What does surveillance mean?" and "What do we have to do to maintain our security and privacy?" 

Meanwhile, Daniel Craig glowers in his tight suit just before he fist fights a bad guy in a helicopter over the crowded square in Mexico City. Glower, glower, glower. Fight, fight, fight. Craig reportedly worked out an insane amount to prepare for this role, and I sometimes wished that he would lighten up a bit. He's a dutiful, surly Bond. As Craig said, "I'd rather break this glass and slash my wrists," instead of appear in another Bond film. The further the Bond series goes on, the more serious and gloomy it gets, just like the later Harry Potter movies. Craig almost makes me miss the mellower air of Roger Moore.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

future links

---I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler


---Why Props Matter and Settings Are Characters, Too

---"Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects. They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront." --Jeremy Scahill

---1.000.000 Frames: Movie Posters

---"Technology companies don’t need to pry into our brains to exploit us, Rinesi says; they have built windows into them, and those windows are open all the time." --Nick Statt

---the title sequence of Zombieland

---Drone Culture

---"The inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left."  --David Byrne

---"Today’s consumer is under a near constant barrage of visual and auditory stimuli across every device and medium; we can no longer rely on a passive audience to see an advertisement and take action. Therefore, today’s marketer must create experiences that cut through the noise of the media landscape and deliver brand impressions that are impossible to ignore.

With VR, you can give every consumer the best seat in the house." --Pete Sena

---How the Beatles Changed Album Covers

---"Welles’s detractors have been trying to punish him for his uncompromising approach to filmmaking—a directing style that looked, especially to Hollywood traditionalists, unorthodox—since before Citizen Kane was even released. By 1942, the year RKO butchered his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons, and blamed Welles for his own film’s disfigurement, the myth of the self-destructive auteur was already in place. But now when we look back on Welles’s work in Hollywood in the early 1940s, his real problems become clear: His dark vision of American capitalism was out of tune with the gung-ho years of World War II. That Welles pursued his original vision, even as he worked in a state of hand-to-mouth auteur financing, into the ’80s looks from our vantage point like a sign of strength and integrity." --A. S. Amrah

---We Don't Need Roads

---"We once glorified Twitter as a great global town square, a shining agora where everyone could come together to converse. But I’ve never been to a town square where people can shove, push, taunt, bully, shout, harass, threaten, stalk, creep, and mob you…for eavesdropping on a conversation that they weren’t a part of…to alleviate their own existential rage…at their shattered dreams…and you can’t even call a cop. What does that particular social phenomenon sound like to you? Twitter could have been a town square. But now it’s more like a drunken, heaving mosh pit. And while there are people who love to dive into mosh pits, they’re probably not the audience you want to try to build a billion dollar publicly listed company that changes the world upon." --Umair Haque

---"License to Play: Mark Cousins and the Personal Essay Film" by Thirza Wakefield

---"Sparkle’s mind was on a desert 7,000 miles away. Over the next 24 hours she would track an insurgent, watch as he was killed by a Hellfire missile, and spy on his funeral before ending her night with a breakfast beer and a trip to the dog park." --Kevin Maurer

---A Bit of History on Data

---"David Lynch's Elusive Language" by Dennis Lim

---trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Joy, The Man in the High CastleJane Got a Gun, and Crying in a Sweater

---"Hellfire missiles—the explosives fired from drones—are not always fired at people. In fact, most drone strikes are aimed at phones. The SIM card provides a person’s location—when turned on, a phone can become a deadly proxy for the individual being hunted.

When a night raid or drone strike successfully neutralizes a target’s phone, operators call that a 'touchdown.'" --Josh Begley

---Quentin Tarantino Push Ins

---Casey Neistat's Guide to Filmmaking

Sunday, October 11, 2015

data mining links


---Olivier Assayas' top 10 Criterion choices

---this week's Sunday reading

---"The Dark Beauty of Film Noir in 50 Shots" by Nora Fiore

---The Above

---La jetee

---"A couple of months ago, at a meeting of the Television Critics Association, the C.E.O. of FX, John Landgraf, delivered a speech about 'peak TV,' in which he lamented the exponential rise in production: three hundred and seventy-one scripted shows last year, more than four hundred expected this year—a bubble, Landgraf said, that would surely deflate. He got some pushback: Why now, when the door had cracked open to more than white-guy antiheroes, was it 'too much' for viewers? But just as worrisome was the second part of Landgraf’s speech, in which he wondered how the industry could fund so much TV. What was the model, now that the pie had been sliced into slivers? When Landgraf took his job, in 2005, ad buys made up more than fifty per cent of FX’s revenue, he said. Now that figure was thirty-two per cent. When ratings drop, ad rates drop, too, and when people fast-forward producers look for new forms of access: through apps, through data mining, through deals that shape the shows we see, both visibly and invisibly. Some of this involves the ancient art of product integration, by which sponsors buy the right to be part of the story: these are the ads that can’t be fast-forwarded." --Emily Nussbaum

---Junot Diaz's syllabi

---"The Making of John Wayne" by Anne Helen Petersen

---"Exxon (whose spokesman has disputed the Inside Climate News reporting) had a choice. As one of the most profitable companies in the world, Exxon could have acted as a corporate leader, helping to explain to political leaders, to shareholders and institutional investors, and to the public what it knew about climate change. It could have begun to shift its business model, investing in renewables and biofuels or introducing a major research and development initiative in carbon capture. It could have endorsed sensible policies to foster a profitable transition to a 21st-century energy economy.

Instead — like the tobacco industry — Exxon chose the path of disinformation, denial and delay. More damagingly, the company set a model for the rest of the industry." --Naomi Oreskes

---surveillance over Baltimore

---the nail houses of China

---Pavlovian Twitter

---China's new "Citizen Scores"

---"Why the UK trailer for Suffragette is watered down and just less revolutionary"

---10 things to learn from Going Clear

---trailers for Victoria, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Room, MacbethHail Caesar!, The Conformist, and 81 more from the Oscar's Foreign film race

---Tarantino from above

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Let's do the math": six dreams of Ridley Scott's The Martian

I enjoyed Ridley Scott's The Martian, but afterwards found myself dwelling on all of the dreams that undergird the movie's realistic surface. In comparison to the dark beauty of Scott's Alien (1979) and the extravagant mise en scene of Blade Runner (1982), The Martian is an oddly square, geeky, almost prim picture of our future in the year 2035, one in which Mars ends up appearing fairly dull as a place to live (but the movie is too well-built for us to notice that). What are some of the dreams that support this well-grounded vision?

1) A fully funded NASA. With movies like The Martian, Gravity, and Interstellar, the film industry can at least picture keeping the space program alive. Writer Andy Weir fully invests his narrative in supporting NASA, and who can fault him for that?

2) Science can solve most any problem. As Mark Watney (Matt Damon) keeps exhorting himself and others, "Let's do the math." He must figure out, sometimes through trial and error, multiple solutions to the immediate problem with keeping himself alive after being accidentally left by the rest of the crew on Mars. Indeed, Mark constantly confronts complicated dilemmas with a can-do spirit that proves infectious. As he says, "technically, I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!" At one point, in the midst of trying to manufacture water, he blows himself up (with minor injuries). But he returns to work out a solution. His success with growing potatoes evokes both the American depression-era use of the tuber as well as the Irish famine. As much as anything, his scientist's cheer, his bemusement with trying to professionally fight the long odds against his survival, keeps The Martian engaging and funny. The Martian kept reminding me of Apollo 13 (1995), especially in the way various severe extraterrestrial problems could get solved by a highly caffeinated gang of scientists and engineers back on earth. When things go wrong, most problems are those that a gang of scientists can solve. This movie is not interested in doom, only setbacks.

In my killjoy negative way, I couldn't help being reminded of the many seemingly insurmountable complications left back on earth (terrorism, climate change, illegal refugees, overpopulation, religious extremism, etc.) so neatly explored in darker science fiction movies like Children of Men (2006). The Martian neatly sidesteps all of that by sticking largely to the blank, largely untouched surface of Mars and the propagandistic agenda of supporting NASA.

3) Traveling by solar power. At one point, Mark drives his rover across Mars, stopping every day to let solar panels absorb enough sunlight to recharge the vehicle to go on. What a perfect guilt-free form of transportation, one that even allows for meditative breaks along the way.

4) Duct tape. Watney repeatedly shows how duct tape can fix a broken helmet, a blown-out hole in his work station, etc. Duct tape can fix anything.

5) As in the case of Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Martian very carefully demonstrates how the United States can work with China to solve any extraterrestrial issues, as well as find broader international cooperation with the space program. Inconvenient things like wars, ethnic strife, etc. do not come up as everyone back on earth cheers for Mark waiting in the sky.

6) Mark mentions that he understands loneliness at one point, but The Martian depicts the introvert's ultimate dream: the pleasure of having an entire planet to yourself. Back on earth, Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wonders what could Mark be brooding about back on that distant planet, but then the movie cuts to Watney cheerfully boogieing to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" in his rover. Often Mark comes across as tickled with his Robinson Crusoe lifestyle and the continuing unlikelihood of his existence. He's free to have total privacy, a mythical relationship as a pioneer on his adopted planet, and later, total fame as the entire world looks on when he figures out a way to communicate with those on terra firma. Who knows if returning to earth may be something of a letdown?

Monday, October 5, 2015

cynosure links

---What Orwellian Really Means

---First and Final Frames: Part 2

---Hell's Club

---Ridley Scott narrates a scene from The Martian

---"The films of a century ago may look like a foreign landscape, but 1915 was the year when cinema, as we now know it, was born."  --Pamela Hutchinson

---"Social Media Self-Defense" via @Snowden

---filmmaking tips from Martin Scorsese

---Andy Weir recommends some science fiction titles

---"Whatever your hopes or fears about movies and their influence, there is no doubt that they shape us. But can they be the equivalent of literature, something complex that given our deep attention fires all the right neurons making us somehow better? Can movies cure what ails us?" --Shari Kizirian

---Cinephilia and Beyond celebrates Bonnie and Clyde

---George Miller's masterclass in filmmaking

---"In North By Northwest during the scene on Mount Rushmore, I wanted Cary Grant to hide in Lincoln’s nostril and then have a fit of sneezing.

The Parks Commission of the Department of Interior was rather upset at this thought.

I argued until one of their number asked me how I would like it if they had Lincoln play the scene in Cary Grant’s nose.

I saw their point at once." --Alfred Hitchcock

---the 21st century's 12 best novels (according to the BBC)

---"Last week, a coalition of environmental and financial groups announced that more than two thousand individuals, four hundred institutions, and Leonardo DiCaprio had agreed to divest their financial holdings, which total 2.6 trillion dollars, from fossil fuels." --Katy Lederer

---trailers for Vinyl, Spectre, and Mistress America

---the opening of Raging Bull

---Greta Gerwig discusses Mistress America

---Nathaniel R's first impressions of Todd Haynes' Carol

---"The movie’s a personal favorite of mine—on the night I got canned from my job at the website for the defunct Premiere magazine back in 2008, I started a blog that I named after the movie. As for why, it’s a hard question to answer exactly. It’s not just my regard for the movie itself, but also that the movie pulls together a lot of my own enthusiasms, and the enthusiasms associated with film itself. A cursory look beneath its gorgeous surfaces reveal all manner of cultural correspondences and themes that make it look like a crucial cynosure of 20th Century concerns. The books that Dave pulls out of his duffel bag when he checks into the hotel—The Portable Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe—evoke a whole world of American Aspiration, and also bring to mind some of literary critic (and World War II veteran) Paul Fussell’s observations on the 'greatest generation,' observations made well before Tom Brokaw coined that term. Director Minnelli’s work was greatly admired and occasionally deplored by the future directors of the French New Wave, and Jean-Luc Godard included a pointed Some Came Running reference in his own house-of-mirrors attempt at commercial cinema, 1963’s Contempt. Then, of course, there’s the fact that the movie is, in a sense, the story of a has-been writer. But let’s not read too much into that." --Glenn Kenny

---Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach talk about a scene in Dressed to Kill

---Willie Promo via Fandor's Keyframe Daily

Friday, October 2, 2015

"What good is the right to free speech?": a review of Laura Poitras' Citizenfour

I was stunned by Laura Poitras' Oscar-winning Citizenfour, both for its seeming nonchalance and its intensity, and because Poitras manages to pack so much tension and paranoia into scenes in which very little is going on. For much of the first half of the documentary, we mostly watch Edward Snowden hang around a nice hotel room in Hong Kong during the summer of 2013. He talks with Glenn Greenwald and a reporter from The Guardian, types on his laptop, watches the news as his release of top secret NSA-related information gradually dominates the worldwide press, tries to fix his hair, and occasionally looks out the window at the Hong Kong skyline much as Scarlett Johansson's character Charlotte did in Lost in Translation (2003).

Edward keeps insisting, in a distinctively low-key way that the powers-that-be will want to twist the story of the NSA's lies and transgressions in regards to our privacy into one that concerns him and his "crimes" alone, but I couldn't help fixating on his intelligent brandless demeanor. At first he wears a white t-shirt and jeans. He wonders about what to do about his stubble. One can sense that he's getting a bit uncertain and nervous about what will happen to him (later he goes underground, and (as we know) resurfaces somewhat in Russia), but meanwhile he lets Greenwald and others tell the story of the NSA as they will. Due to his job, Mr. Snowden had access to amazing amounts of top secret information flowing across his computer screen, including real-time drone footage. We also learn that people with that kind of access can focus on our data stream in real-time, tracking our phone calls, computer communications, purchases with a credit card, etc. We might get used to having our privacy violated in this way for the good of "national security," but as Citizenfour keeps asking us--at what cost? Do we have freedom of speech under total surveillance, or does the entire concept of freedom get cancelled out in the midst of the Patriot Act curtailment of civil liberties? When I bring up the idea with friends, they tend to assume that no one will ultimately care about whatever data stream they leave behind, but Citizenfour never allows that kind of complacency to reduce its tension.

Meanwhile, as Snowden comes clean as the whistleblower and appears talking on video in the international press, the US authorities charge him with several crimes under the Espionage Act, in effect accusing him of being a spy. We see him suddenly getting lots of phone calls from mysterious people, so he hides out (now wearing a black suit) for a while in Laura Poitras' hotel room to get away from media scrutiny. I was struck by the movie's postmodern sense of drama. Mr. Snowden need not engage in a car chase, evade machine gunfire, or dally with some supermodel to gain worldwide attention. In fact, Citzenfour emphasizes how all of those Bond cliches have become passe. So many people, media outlets, corporations, and governments use so many dubious and increasingly desperate devices to gain attention and thereby attempt to influence others. In dramatic contrast, Snowden does next to nothing on screen as the dark implications of his release of information continues to spread today.