Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jurassic Bore: A Prediction of the Infinite Forgettability of a Blockbuster

Keep them wanting more of the same.

"Chris Pratt was charming in Guardians of the Galaxy, so let's give him another look-see."

Oh, let's go watch the Indominus-Rex escape and kill. Let Chris Pratt distract the lady folk with his harmless semi-humorous hunkiness, now that he's lost weight, as he bravely faces the snarling velociraptors. Let's count on today's kids not remembering the previous three iterations of the Jurassic franchise (Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park III) back around the time when they were born. Oh, it's a terrific ride, escaping devouring Spinosauruses!

Defeated, bored, I'll let this movie, plus soda ads, claim my sad attention for a couple of summer hours. I'll watch it ironically! Oh, oh, oh, that Spielbergian trope of blood dripping down during a quiet moment or water in a glass jiggling to prepare us for the next big surprise, a sneaky dino attack. Yowza! A minor Asian character just became dino-meat. Giant CGI lizards are scary and they move fast. Thousands of people on an island may die! See them run screaming from the fast and mean raptors. Bring in the paramilitary forces. Pratt zips by on a motorcycle in a tracking shot with a small band of rough-and-ready survivors with their helicopters and machine guns. Will he save Claire Dearing who is frozen with fear, standing with her flare in the dark and the heat? It's summer time and you're bored and you demand your human ripped flesh, CGI sacrificial spoils, a fast food media dinner for the supremely entitled.

No one cares about the pans from the many Rotten Tomatoes critics as the popcorn-crunching crowd shoves in to see today's distraction from the overheated complacent summer, today's blood sport, as the American empire sags and forgets itself and its drone bombings, its futile wars in the teens of the 21st century, a period of never mind the ever-heating atmosphere, the droughts, the mass killers seeking attention and the ever-receding Amazon jungle as the flipflop-wearing corpulent crowd in t-shirts and shorts rides the amusement park replacement for nature, a spectacle designed to draw your eyes to the grey fuzzy computerized fakery of large evil lizards. As another audience member, you kind of like it insofar as you remember it at all. Some of Pratt's jokes were funny. You liked that one scene. Afterwards, you walk out to the sun and the heat of the cineplex parking lot and check your phone for updates of pans of other blockbusters as you wait in traffic until you get home to another form of amusement on another smaller screen.

Have you bought the LEGO video game version yet? I will ultimately be too oppressed by the loud bludgeoning of the munching, slamming, crunching visuals to want to review it. Enjoy the latest bodies primed for the slaughter. Dino-jaws masticate as two screaming tourists have been taken up by a pterodactyl into the jungle. Hear the tourists' distant screams.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

infernal machine links

---All Studios Everything

---the visual effects and the editing of Mad Max: Fury Road

---In Praise of Chairs

---The Inception of Movie Editing: D. W. Griffith

---"The knottiest problem for mainstream film critics regards the preponderance of trash that they have to treat seriously, or at least entertainingly – what can you say about Michael Bay adventures and Adam Sandler comedies week after week? Today’s most quick-witted reviewer, The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane, has never really resolved the dilemma. He seems to write in two completely different registers, depending on whether the film is a noisy Angelina Jolie shoot-‘em-up (in which a fundamental disregard is implied by the vamping plot summaries and Catskill lounge humor) or a small-budget French pastoral drama (in which a fundamental respect is conveyed by subdued backgrounding and delicate scene analysis).

But Kael wrote with the same spontaneity and intelligence about popular entertainment as about the films of Renoir and Antonioni. The key was that her criticism continued to flow from the experience of viewing the film – if it made her feel good, then it was good." --Sam Sacks

---What Addie Saw

---The Definition of Film by Richard Misek

---"One of the lines from Kraus that matters the most to me is 'Ein Teufelswerk der Humanität,' an infernal machine of humanity. In the mid-’90s, when I started to feel worried about what was happening to literature with the introduction of the third screen, and with the increasingly materialistic view of human nature that psychopharmacology was producing, I was looking for some way to describe how technology and consumerism feed on each other and take over our lives. How seductive and invasive but also unsatisfying they are. How we go back to them more and more, because they’re unsatisfying, and become ever more dependent on them. The groupthink of the Internet and the constant electronic stimulation of the devices start to erode the very notion of an individual who is capable of, say, producing a novel. The phrase I reached for to describe all this was 'an infernal machine.' Something definitionally consumerist, something totalitarian in its exclusion of other ways of being, something that appears in the world and manufactures our desires through its own developmental logic, something that does damage but just seems to keep perpetuating itself. The sentence that summed this up for me owed a lot to Kraus’s writing: 'Techno-consumerism is an infernal machine.'" --Jonathan Franzen

---Three Reasons: Stage of Siege and Olivier Assayas' top 10 Criterion choices

---"Claude Rains: An Actor's Side-Eye" by @selfstyledsiren

---The Director's Series: David Fincher 2.3

---Tarantino's visual film references

---"I agree that much is that exciting about contemporary cinema – the films of Hou, Tsai, Jia, Apichatpong, Assayas, Lynch, Martel, Kiarostami, Gomes, Alonso, and many others – is perhaps less related to the joys of narrative, in the nineteenth-century novel sense, than with the music, energies, tactility and exploratory, altering forms we associate with both mise en scène, avant-garde film and modernist poetry."  --Tom Paulus

---186 would-be Criterion movies


---"Parenti’s observation summed up a deep sense of puzzled frustration I’ve been feeling for a long time, which has been growing in intensity since the Reagan era and even more so since 9/11 and the unleashed Bush agenda. Fear, exploited and unchecked, triggers a deep, 'rational' insanity. We’re driving ourselves into a new Dark Age.

The driving force is institutional: government, the mainstream media, the military-industrial economy. These entities are converging in a lockstep, armed obsession over various enemies of the status quo in which they hold enormous power; and this obsession is devolving public consciousness into a permanent fight-or-flight mentality. Instead of dealing with real, complex social issues with compassion and intelligence, our major institutions seem to be fortifying themselves – with ever-increasing futility – against their imagined demons.

Parenti went on, in his interview with Vincent Emanuele: 'So, less money for public housing, more money for private prisons. It’s a literal transfer of resources to different institutions, from a flawed social democratic institution like public housing, to an inherently evil, but still very expensive and publicly funded institution, like prison.'

As American society militarizes, it dumbs itself down." --Robert C. Koehler

---Hearing Paul Thomas Anderson

---End Game

---trailers for The End of the Tour, Macbeth, American UltraFresh Dressed, Survivor, We Are Your Friends, and Jupiter Ascending

---"[Hitchcock] thought that montage was cinema at its most pure." --David Trotter

Sunday, May 24, 2015

8 notes on the deplorable, seductive aesthetics of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972)

"Basically, all the women just seemed like pawns."

When someone pointed this out about the female characters of The Godfather, I readily agreed, acknowledging that it related to Sicilian culture and the prevailing gender dynamics of the 1940s, but the observation still irks me because The Godfather is still one of my favorite films. Does it cater to some underlying sexism in its male viewers? Some spoiler-filled notes:

1) Michael Corleone can only pay lip service to the tradition that stresses the importance of a man spending time with his family, since he lies to his wife and sister. Those relations with the women are collateral damage, easily dispensed with.

2) It's easy to admire Michael's character arc. He kills Captain McCluskey and Sollozzo. Later, he arranges for others to kill for him. The viewer still likes him anyway, since it is all strictly business, and it is intriguing to watch how he assumes and holds on to power even as the movie illustrates how his brother Santino's weaknesses cause him to lose it. Michael was a war hero before. Now, Michael has shifted his killing techniques, using smaller, efficient, more focused operations.

3) One likes Michael, in part, because he's got zero time for or interest in the Las Vegas showgirls placed before him by his brother Fredo. Fredo is corrupt and weak due to how quickly he accepts Moe Greene's power over him. He allows that to happen perhaps due to the pleasures of the job in Moe's casino.

4) Meanwhile, after his extended stay in Sicily, Michael just gets cooler and cooler because he knows that he can kill off all of his enemies in an upcoming ironic baptism montage featuring Sofia Coppola, oddly enough, as the baby. That scene will, as he puts it, "take care of all of [his] problems." All that will remain will be the perfunctory lies to his wife and sister, hardly worth worrying about.

5) Meanwhile, the movie programs the viewer to accept Santino's death just as most everyone who dies in a bloody fashion appears to deserve it. Santino's gory riddled-with-bullets machine gun death is perhaps better motivated than the equivalent scene in Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

6) By the end of The Godfather, Michael has become a cheap loathsome hood who snarls at Diane Keaton, but I don't care because of the way the entire movie seduces me to like him even though I should know better. He's so smart in his villainy. When Michael says "I'm with you now," to his father Vito, he technically loses his soul, but soon enough the viewer is far too impressed with his cool bluff before Sollozzo's hoods in front of the hospital to care. Michael calmly notes that his hands don't shake as he handles the Zeppo lighter of the freaked out baker. What makes that scene effective is the way Michael's realization, his cool under fire, matches the viewer's. He looks at his hands. "Hmmm," he says to himself. "I'm not nervous at all." That subtle gap between the action and the observation of the action makes Michael such an compelling figure. We see him observing himself, assume the reins of the family's power, and he recognizes how that power is in part a front, a bluff (just as he bluffs Sollozzo's men by placing his hand in his coat as if he has a gun). For Michael, power is a manner of being that sits and considers its next move long in advance. He's self-aware of the corruption of power. One can imagine him highly conscious of how it will likely all play out in advance.

7) Still, as much as I like to imagine Michael as the unmoved mover, he snarls at Kay by the end of the movie. Even as he lies to her despicably, he's still the object of worship with his minions bending down to kiss his hand as the door shuts in her face. The door shutting alludes to the endings of both On the Waterfront (1954) and Notorious (1946).

8) Meanwhile, The Godfather provides us with a study in different ways to shoot a garroting scene. The earlier one, in which Luca Brasi dies, displays the advantages of stabbing your victim in the hand, pinning him to the bar so that he can't do much except writhe and bug out his eyes as the garroting gangster slowly lowers him to floor.  The later garroting of Carlo is part of a larger investigation into ways to incorporate broken glass into a murder (a cinematic tradition that stretches back to the eyeglass breaking scene in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925)). Carlo's kick through the front windshield of a moving car as he's being garroted surprises the viewer as if he had just kicked his way through the movie screen. His death is the climactic one soon after the ironic baptism montage that explores so many ways to have people die through or behind glass. Moe Greene's death is an explicit homage to Potemkin, since he's shot through one eyeglass. Also, Barzini gets shot way up high on some steps outdoors, so that when he rolls down he provides us with another homage to the Odessa Steps scene. With so many classy ways to kill people, The Godfather can thrill with its gore even as it appeals to the film scholar's knowledge of cinematic history.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

doof links

---Wasting Time on the Internet: the seminar

---Making Mad Max: Fury Road

---"Mad Max Is a Feminist Playbook for Surviving Dystopia" by Laurie Penny

---How Did Film Noir Evolve?

---Bad Blood

---the character backstory for Doof

---"6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy" by David Christopher Bell

---It’s hard to wrap your head around this Kendrick: She’s beautiful, but she’s something more, something strong, even abrasive. Without a publicity apparatus to round her rough edges, she can come off as both alienating and profoundly alive. It’s not that she’s 'authentic' — a word that’s come to connote a type in and of itself — so much as reflective of a different understanding of a woman’s capability to change her mind, self, and desires.

Which, somewhat ironically, is a point that’s popped up in recent profiles: Elle suggests that 'Kendrick has found a way to meld the famous-person world with the one the rest of us live in, taking every opportunity to remind us — largely via social media — that she’s still an occasionally weird and sometimes flawed human, not just a body hosting an increasingly desirable brand.'"  --Anne Helen Petersen

---"Mad Max Beyond Furious" by Dennis Cozzalio

---"The Cultural Impact of James Bond" by Jay Dyer

---Bilge Ebiri explores the family dynamics of Mad Max: Fury Road

---Final Shot

---"Furious and Furiosa" by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

---The Fermi Paradox

---The Apocalyptic Cars of Mad Max: Fury Road

---A Brief History of PG-13

---"Watching a film by Olivier Assayas is a little like wandering into the bedroom of a teenager, taking in the aesthetic décor that clings to his or her walls and bookshelves—posters, pop records, hastily cut-out collages of idols, and literature—and being left to draw a logical conclusion based on these ephemeral scraps. This idea of collage, assembling or reinventing an identity, has always been a concept inherent to punk and youth culture: British punk historian Jon Savage coined the term 'living collage' to describe European teenagers in the 1970s who tore apart thrifted vintage clothing at the seams to fuse and repurpose them with safety pins. Assayas’ work is essentially the filmic equivalent of that same idea: he populates his frames with torrents of ideas and surfaces and lets loose cinematographers Yorick Le Saux and Eric Gautier to pan wildly, struggling to encapsulate everything into their widescreen, handheld compositions." --Mark Lukenbill

---filmmaking tips from Orson Welles and Thomas Vinterberg

---Lynne Ramsey--The Poetry of Details


---Movie Moms

---trailers for Chimes at Midnight, Black Mass, Tu Dors Nicole, Slow Westand A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

---100 Years: Armenian Genocide

---"This speaker-stacked, guitar-thrashed monstrosity was meant to rally the troops in the way drummers marched with soldiers in ancient battles. It has a supercharged V8 engine with a mobile stage, a wall of speakers and sub-woofers, and air conditioning ducts meant to drive home the beat of the accompanying Taiko drummers. The Doof Warrior swings from a bungee cord mounted to the front as he shreds metal while flames are thrown from a double-necked electric guitar." --Hannah Elliott

---Owen Wilson Says Wow

---"We recently passed 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere; the status quo will take us up to 1,000 ppm, raising global average temperature (from a pre-industrial baseline) between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius. That will mean, according to a 2012 World Bank report, 'extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,' the effects of which will be 'tilted against many of the world's poorest regions,' stalling or reversing decades of development work. 'A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided,' said the World Bank president.

But that's where we're headed."

---"In Praise of Vulgar Feminism" by Agata Pyzik

---"Rosebud is more probably Welles’s intuition of the illusory flashback effect of memory that will affect all of us, particularly at the very end of our lives: the awful conviction that childhood memories are better, simpler, more real than adult memories – that childhood memories are the only things which are real. The remembered details of early existence – moments, sensations and images – have an arbitrary poetic authenticity which is a by-product of being detached from the prosaic context and perspective which encumbers adult minds, the rational understanding which would rob them of their mysterious force. We all have around two or three radioactive Rosebud fragments of childhood memory in our minds, which will return on our deathbeds to mock the insubstantial dream of our lives."  --Peter Bradshaw

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Denying her wounds came from the same source as her power": a review of Wild

Wild is earnestly made. Reese Witherspoon suffers enough on camera (perhaps just as much as Jennifer Aniston does in Cake?) to make her performance Oscar-worthy. I've not read the original memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, but it works as a quest narrative. A young woman seeks to cleanse herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after greatly debasing herself (promiscuity, heroin) after losing her mother to cancer. As Cheryl (Witherspoon) walks slowly through the desert, she must learn to lighten her "monster" pack (a characters in its own right), reflect on her earlier errant ways through many flashbacks, and perhaps learn to accept herself with proper epiphanic force by the time she arrives in Washington state.

Wild conveys well the quirky things that can happen to you while camping. Every man Cheryl meets seems like he could be a potential rapist; one journalist on the highway treats her as a hobo whose lifestyle might be fodder for The Hobo News (as much as she denies it). She meets a fox, a llama, frogs who jump up on her sleeping bag, a strangely polite singing child, and some Oregon cows. She learns of the importance of properly fitting hiking boots in the midst of providing REI with dream product placement. Also, Cheryl gives the movie a literary kick whenever she writes a quote from Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, or Robert Frost on the trail register. For example, she writes "If your Nerve deny you - Go above your Nerve" by Dickinson.

I have much respect for Reese Witherspoon's talents as an actress (especially in Election (1999)). Here her character displays a monastic desire to atone for her various sins (aside from Cheryl's, one could also throw in Witherspoon's decision to star in This Means War (2012)). Instead of wearing a hair shirt in the wilderness, Cheryl allows her heavy pack to scrape up her body, and she suffers through days of eating cold mush when she can't get her propane stove to work. Still, I can't help finding something programmatic in the way that these bestselling memoirs, these packages of uplift demand that the protagonist reach the very lowest of the low (heroin stupor, sleeping with the dealer in a hovel, disposing of her mother's horse, etc.), before she can redeem herself with the picturesque Three Sisters mountain as a backdrop. This memoir convention necessarily leads to depictions of extremely unethical behavior because where's the interest in only partially going wrong when the reader can vicariously enjoy the memoirist's total debasement and self-loathing?

Also, I was not pleased with Laura Dern's portrayal of Cheryl's flaky, life-affirming earth mother Bobbi, something of a type who fights to affirm her children (Cheryl and her brother Leif) in the face of an abusive alcoholic husband, cancer, and so on. When Cheryl confronts her mother's relentless positivity given their extreme poverty, Bobbi replies "We're rich in love." At another point, Cheryl shares with a fellow camper this quote from her mother: "There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty." In the midst of these cheesy affirmations, I could only think of Dern's excellent work in the decidedly bleaker movies of David Lynch.

[To all of this, my wife replies . . . There's a reason why the mother is portrayed this way, in spite your unflinchingly patriarchal desire to demean her. The movie is based on a memoir. Whenever we choose to remember our positive influences who are no longer with us, we over-positivize them. Strayed's mother becomes Christ-like after her death because she has to be. The mother becomes the religion that Cheryl adopts only after losing her. If the mother stayed alive, she would be filled with idiosyncrasies and problems. You deify people who have left you, because you can. Cheryl's whole goal, the whole point of the movie is that she wants to become the daughter that her mother had raised. She needed the wilderness as a place to grieve the loss of her mother, and allow her memories of her mother to bring her joy. Her mother is always going to be larger than life, and be probably not very cinematic as a result. Laura Dern can't possible play somebody that grand. It's not Dern's fault. It's not the memoir's fault. It's the nature of death and grief. 

I do agree, however, that the memoir as a genre has conventions in which the reader is invited to vicariously share in extreme behavior. This form has been around since the captivity narratives during the Puritan era, and they depend upon on extremes to be successful. However, at their core, these narratives have one person's story about how to live in this world. The best ones force us to examine our own way of being. By handling the excesses of her behavior in flashbacks, the movie Wild skillfully allows Cheryl to spend most of the film time in learning how to be herself, to regain her humanity. The wilderness allows her to enliven her senses again. 

As Thoreau wrote [I reply], "In wildness is the preservation of the world."


Saturday, May 9, 2015

9-11, the Marvel Industrial-Complex, and a Mystery to Be Endured: a Film Class Conversation about The Avengers: Age of Ultron

FDr: "Many of you liked The Avengers: Age of Ultron, didn't you? How many of you thought it was better than Casablanca or Citizen Kane? [the students didn't want to generalize that way]. Okay, let's start with Citizen Kane."

[8 out of 10 students liked it better than Citizen Kane]

FDr: "8! Orson Welles just had his 100 year birthday recently, so you all are mean." [In comparison, Casablanca held up reasonably well.]

W: "I don't really know why I liked Age of Ultron."

FDr: "It's hard for me to remember hardly anything in it. I've seen a bunch of superhero films before, and they all merge in my head. I tend to forget the movie even before it ends."

J: "I liked the aesthetics of the movie."

FDr: "Which characters were you drawn to particularly?"

J: "Ooooh, Captain America."

FDr: "Oh really?  Some people would say he's one of the blandest ones."

J: "I know, but I enjoy him. Hello, Chris Evans." [laughter]

E: "I liked the humor and the sarcasm in the movie."

B: "A lot of people thought it was just another dumb superhero movie, but in a lot of ways it is totally different from many of them."

FDr: "How?"

B: "When Iron Man and the Hulk fight, we're starting to see that they have to turn against each other. Now that Shield's done for there's nobody who can control the Avengers. They are the most powerful thing on earth. That brings about the major questions that the Watchmen started like who's watching the Watchmen?"

J: "There's a civil war film coming out that this movie sets up--Captain America: Civil War" [to be released on May 6, 2016].

E: "They're fighting against each other."

FDr: "Okay, do you remember the scene in which the Hulk battles Iron Man and then ends up destroying a building? Did you notice any references after the building fell?"

E: "9-11."

FDr: "Yes, and I believe everyone was meant to walk away from that scene getting the reference, people getting covered with dust and dirt fleeing the destruction. People died in that scene, correct?"

E: "Uh-huh."

FDr: "Given that the Hulk and the Iron Man arbitrarily fight here, isn't that a massive trivialization of 9-11?"

B: "The filmmakers might have also taken some inspiration from Man of Steel, because there the final battle is between Zod and Superman. They just level the entire city. It shows how strong these people are and the effects of their actions. In other movies, Hulk may thrown a tank a great distance, and no one would die, but here there's actual consequences for their actions."

FDr: "Do you feel it? Or do you just sit there and say, cool, building falls over. Wow. Punching. Ooooo, Action."

E: "I liked the way The Avengers: Age of Ultron makes a point about how the people hate them. People are scared because they know that there can be consequences."

FDr: "Where are ordinary humans in this movie? Some of the Avengers are human, such as Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Tony Stark. Much of the time it seems like regular people are around just to be concerned with at the last second when the superheroes realize that they need to save them all. So, they pause to save a little boy in a cheap manipulative fashion. Meanwhile, who cares?"

B: "I think the whole point of them destroying a building and causing so much collateral damage is that so there will be a reason for the legislation to be passed in Captain America: Civil War. It's the same thing that you get in Batman Vs. Superman. Batman needs a reason to take on Superman for the plot, and it's for the same purpose, because Superman's destroying too much and becoming something like a God."

FDr: "How can Batman take on Superman? How can Batman last two seconds with Superman?"

D: "Superman's main enemy for a long time is a billionaire who can obtain Kryptonite so he can screw him over, so Batman will just get some Kryptonite. Problem solved."

FDr: "What do you make of the fact that we visit Hawkeye's house for awhile? He turns out to have a cute little family, and Thor has to be careful about stepping on his toys, another product placement for Legos. That also struck me as a Transformers moment, given Michael Bay's penchant for middle American homes with golden light."

L: "I thought the filmmakers should have killed Hawkeye. He was one of the few human characters, and it would have been devastating to see his family react to his death."

FDr: "I might've actually felt something. That's my basic problem with these kinds of movies. I don't feel anything at all."

E: "I only felt anything when they said J.A.R.V.I.S. is dead. I felt sad for like .2 seconds, but it didn't matter when anybody else died."

FDr: "That's my basic problem--I get so desensitized, I really profoundly don't care. Everybody, all of the Avengers could die, and that would be pleasantly different, but it wouldn't be good for Marvel studios. Does that make any sense to you all? There's too much money riding on this movie to take any creative risks, too much iconography that interferes with characterization. Meanwhile, the Marvel Industrial-Complex expands exponentially. The studio puts all of their money in to this, and it's got to work. And then every week this summer, the tentpole films will be relentless in trying to claim your attention. Don't you find that a little bit depressing?"

B: "Did you see the forecast for all of the Marvel movies coming up?"

FDr: "There's going to be like 25 more at least in the next five years. It's going to go on and on and on, 2020, 2025, 2030. It's like the one genre the studios think is a guaranteed success. The studio executives are sure these films are going to make a bunch of money. You would hope that there's going to some day be a massive revolt, I hope, where everybody agrees over social media that no one should go see this film."

LR: "There was a commercial for Ant Man." [laughter]

W: "It's going to be like the changeover with westerns. Hollywood cranked out many westerns over a long period of time, and then it ended. It will happen with superhero films too."

FDr: "Let's hope so. Meanwhile, the critics claim that the villain Ultron is so good, which I don't understand because he's just a robot without a nose."

D: "I thought the villain was just a total trope; another robot built for peacekeeping purposes is now bent on the destruction of humanity. When talking to friends about it, I called it Transformers: Age of Ultron at least 20 times."

B: "I thought that Ultron was a pretty bad guy overall."

FDr: "Why?"

B: "We live in a technical age, and this is like a computer program that can go anywhere. If you think about it, if J.A.R.V.I.S. wasn't there stopping him, Ultron could have just nuked the entire world in 3 seconds. The movie doesn't show him to be as powerful as he could be."

E: "What really bothered me about Ultron is that the man who provides his voice, James Spader, is also on The Blacklist show, and basically he plays the same character in both the show and the movie."

D: "Last year in an English class, we studied a quote from Flannery O'Connor that says "Evil is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be endured." The only superhero film that addresses that properly is The Dark Knight, and in all of the rest of the superhero movies you find just another villain trying to kill all humans that needs to be dealt with."

FDr: [I go off a small diatribe about the new laws in France that resemble the Patriot Act, and how Richard Brody compares Ultron to the N.S.A. [See my previous post.]]

D: "It would be cool if Ultron was taking advantage of other robots and things, but in the end he's just a figure."

W: "One of the things that I liked was the way Ultron shows a little fear towards J.A.R.V.I.S. earlier on."

FDr: "A little bit of emotion there. Where is there any emotion at all in this movie? There was a scene that reminded me a little bit of Casablanca, when a formally dressed Natasha talks with Bruce over cocktails in a bar."  

L: "I hated that scene."

FDr: "Why?"

L: "The action of the movie was good, but the romantic writing felt flat for me. They could have done so much more."

FDr: "I think of the movie in terms of nerd emotions. You don't normally have romance in these kinds of movies at all. When you say you like Age of Ultron better than Citizen Kane, you are saying that you don't want anything that's intellectually challenging at all? You all just want, like, breakfast cereal, something that's very sweet, candy-like, and full of violence that you can munch on? When you compare this movie to what is considered classic, can you sense the difference?"

J:  "Well, the biggest difference lies in the amount of explosions."

LR: "Watching this movie helped me appreciate the other movies that we watch in class more, because we usually examine all of the interesting techniques. Ultron, in comparison, just didn't have that many. It has CGI and all that, but otherwise it's boring."

W: "The classic movies we've seen either use film techniques really well or by using them in a different way, but in the case of Ultron, the filmmakers throw a bunch of special effects at you so that you enjoy it."

L: "I missed the caliber of the writing and the talent in the older movies, like Singin' in the Rain. The actors are so much more talented than the actors we have today. I mean, Robert Downey Jr. is great, but besides that I don't really think so."

FDr: Chris Evans. [laughter]

J: "He's nice to look at. There's a lot of action even from the very beginning of the movie."

FDr: "Yes, it begins in medias res as in the first Indiana Jones film. You have this shot here [see my last post]. The one film technique I noticed is the tendency to try to have as many superheroes as possible in the shot simultaneously fighting. There's another similar shot late in the movie when everyone's battling all of the robots at once. Then there's also the statue of them all fighting in a frozen tableau."

E: "It bothered me that at the beginning you have no idea why they're fighting. They take on an enemy that didn't even go on throughout the rest of the movie. Here are these two twins that want Loki's scepter."

FDr: "You've got to get the Loki scepter to get the little glowing thing out of it. How much are we supposed to take seriously the five rocks?"

W: "They're in all of the Marvel movies."

FDr: "They are?"

D: "Yes, and then the twins take away from the characterization of the others when you have 8 superheroes."

L: "When you see the twins, his power is so much less cool than hers. Scarlet Witch can control things with her mind."

JH: "I really liked the flashback scenes, because it helps give a greater depth of the characters. It adds more layers of meaning, instead of more action."

FDr: "I agree, but aren't those flashbacks more like dream visions?"

E: "They were like fears."

B: "The Thor one is like telling you about the next Thor movie."

FDr: "Meanwhile, Thor ends up going down to the earth with his scientist buddy. My wife and I were totally confused by it. You can call that intellectual or just incoherent."

B: "It had something to do with Norse mythology."

FDr: "I like the way you say the Scarlet Witch has cooler superhero powers, because that seems typical of superhero aesthetics. I personally can't stand Thor. He is insufferable, because he's a God and he's inherently boring for that reason."

E: "I noticed that small kids at the theater got restless quickly. Any scene that didn't involve a lot of fighting, they got really bored and were running up and down the aisles."

FDr: "One could say modern-day superhero films are designed for adults who think like children, people who play video games into their 30s and 40s--that's the ideal audience? Sort of like permanent immaturity, permanent nerdiness endlessly and commercially affirmed forever?" [Somehow, we shift to discussing Vision.]

LR: "I found the whole idea of Vision a little bit too convenient. All of a sudden they can create this perfect guy who can just happen to pick up Thor's hammer and fulfill a purpose for the plot."

B: "Vision is pretty much just exactly Deus Ex Machina. The comic books explain that he's completely human but he doesn't have a flesh and blood body."

FDr: "I just recognized Paul Bettany in all of that red and blue makeup, and thought 'Oh good. He's got work. I'm glad to see he's employed.' [laughter] So, to conclude, what can you say in the movie's defense that I'm ignoring?"

B: "It's just a great movie. It takes on a serious theme where people are dying, and cities are being destroyed, and there's going to be consequences for the Avengers' actions throughout the entire arc of the upcoming movies. The humans are about to pass legislation that gives them all of the power over all of the superheroes. And it starts a war."

FDr: "Good point. Other last thoughts?"

J: "The movie accomplishes exactly what it needs to do, get you from the first movie to the third one."

L: "Still, you take away the flashiness and the actors and the story, and you don't have much left."

E: "I confess I got tired of watching the movie's continual emphasis on the many ways in which you can destroy a robot."

LR: "On a surface level, the movie succeeds, but if you're looking for something deeper than that, then you're not going to get much out of it."

FDr: "Thank you all."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"All that shall remain will be metal": 11 notes and links concerning Avengers: Age of Ultron

1) Age of Ultron grimly reminded me of previous easily forgettable blockbuster sequels that tend to have murky cinematography and robots colliding frequently with multiple clangs of metal. As in Spider-Man 2, someone needs to stop a runaway train, betraying a brief concern for humans. As Angelina Jolie does in Salt (2010), an Avenger jumps from a bridge onto a speeding semi. At one point, Ultron says "All that shall remain will be metal," which struck me as an apt summary of the aesthetics of the movie.

2) "A poignant moment: two robots look soulfully at each other before one flies away."

3) "species of humanity have given way to a universal crowd of individuals whose most salient characteristic is their being identically entertained" --Jonathan Franzen

4) "By all means claim Age of Ultron as fun, but it looks very much like the kind of fun the suits want you to have – an utterly impersonal, corporate triumph. Watching these logo-simple characters (the starred shield, the arm-and-hammer, the not-so-jolly green giant), I wondered whether we weren’t meant to be cheering for the likes of Marvel, Disney, Google, Apple and Coca-Cola as they boosted their global market share." --Mike McCahill

5) "I began to forget the breathless, teetering, tottering, careening, catapulting Avengers: The Age Of Ultron about twenty minutes into its 141-minute running time." --Ray Pride

6) "[it] leaves me wondering about the fundamental emptiness of the local Cineplex, the pointlessness of summer tentpole productions full of multicolored men flying around, signifying nothing."

7) "Now the allegory involves an enemy created within, a kind of superintelligence that, becoming independent of human oversight and control, turns on those it’s meant to protect. That’s the politics of Avengers: Age of Ultron: the wars that we’re now fighting are against our own defenses run amok. It’s more like Age of N.S.A., extending the concept of the universal data-scoop to define all humans as enemies of the total-security mechanism."  --Richard Brody

8) "Far from being an incidental character trait, Natasha's inability to bear children is inextricable from "Age of Ultron's" central theme: evolution." --Sam Adams

9) “'When the Earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it,' Ultron says at one point in Avengers: Age of Ultron. 'And believe me, he’s winding up.' That’s just one of the ways this artificial-intelligence-cum-self-multiplying-robot explains his evil plan. . . . But these plans, along with the villains who concoct them, never feel too threatening anymore."  --Bilge Ebiri

10) Didn't X-Men: Days of Future Past have a better Quicksilver (with a superior slow motion scene) than the one in Avengers: Age of Ultron?

11) Immediately after Avengers: Age of Ultron ended, most of the audience members around me got onto their smart phones as if to make up for lost time.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Twitch and burn: Maps to the Stars

Even though I usually like cold, mean movies, I did not enjoy Maps to the Stars. It goes so far, all recognizable humanity disappears. The more I thought about its need to shock, the less I liked it. David Cronenberg's film makes me want to defend the LA rich and famous. In its urge to go further in the bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you Sunset Boulevard satirical vein, Maps to the Stars has most every major character (with the merciful exception of Robert Pattinson's humorously clueless Jerome Fantana) prove to be a deplorable, bloodsucking monster who does not so much behave as twitch like the legs of dead frogs that have just received an electrical jolt. Characters burn, drown, strangle each other, shoot dogs, celebrate the accidental deaths of children, sell their feces, menstruate on $12,000 sofas, microwave frozen breakfast burritos, sit moodily by the pool at night, and most of all, allow themselves to be professionally massaged (lots and lots of massages). Meanwhile, charlatan Dr. Stafford Weiss (a droll John Cusack) walks around his designer home in little elf-like upturned shoes when he isn't punching his daughter as his wife Christina (Olivia Williams!) weeps loudly for some reason in her large egg-like designer tub. Writer Bruce Wagner depicts people who have gone beyond predatory to the blankly murderous, but nowadays mere savagery is not enough. The film depicts abuse as a given, incest as the norm, and murder as passe. Even Bret Easton Ellis would be appalled. The stars of Maps to the Stars are so programmatically loathsome, I would like to officially endorse the soulful complexity of actual child stars, aging actresses, self-help gurus, and schizophrenic children who contrive to burn down their family home in the LA area. They all deserve better.