Monday, October 23, 2017

Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread trailer

In the same vein,

---my notes on Anderson's Inherent Vice (2014)

---my review of There Will Be Blood (2007)

---my notes on The Master (2012)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Michael Clayton's Toxicology Report (2008)

From "How Michael Clayton Presaged 2017" by James Parker:

"It taxes my reviewerly brain to try to synopsize this movie, because the real mysteries, it turns out, are not the ones you don’t or can’t understand, but the ones that endlessly, bottomlessly disclose meaning. They increase in relevance. And Michael Clayton is mysterious like that: better today than it was in 2007. Writer-director Tony Gilroy is a Hollywood paradox: a visionary journeyman, a machinist-poet who churned through many entertainments, including the original Jason Bourne trilogy, on his way to Michael Clayton. The earlier work holds hints and presagings. In The Devil’s Advocate, Satan (Al Pacino) runs a great big Manhattan law firm, sucking nice young attorneys skyward on backdrafts of temptation, up into the infernal spires and the penthouses of Tartarus. And Jason Bourne, amnesiac hit man, is a very pure existential cipher—a man on the run, profoundly alone, surveilled by demons, desperate to discover who he is and how he was made. But there’s no lively, twinkling Satan/Pacino in Michael Clayton, no CIA master villain. Evil is not an active principle in this universe; it is a sluggish compound of evasion, appetite, and self-interest. It gathers around your ankles." 

From my review:

"Michael Clayton is too labyrinthine to explain very easily, but I thoroughly enjoyed its ice cold vision. Corporations continue to master the art of public relations, but when their wholesome image masks cancerous business practices, you can find utterly fake people like Karen Crowder practicing their lines in front of a mirror before the cameras roll. Tilda Swinton played the evil ice queen in The Chronicles of Narnia, and she continues to play one here. With her pale skin and business formal outfits, she shows how despair and ambition can coil behind a chilling facade.Repeatedly in the film, U/North’s televised ads proclaim that “We plant the seed,” and “We grow your world together,” but underneath all of the glowing pictures of smiling children and wheat fields blowing in the breeze, Michael Clayton delivers a toxicology report of corporate and legal depravity that appears all too real."

Black Panther trailer

Here's the trailer for Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler, which looks excellent--via

In the same vein, my review of Fruitvale Station.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Incompetent projection and the time when Dennis Cozzalio tried to go see mother!

I'm getting increasingly fed up with the Regal Cinema near my house. Now, at least two of its screens are inadequately lit, and after watching a very dim version of Blade Runner 2049 the other Saturday afternoon, I'm thinking of boycotting the place entirely. Here's the ever-excellent Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule on a similar experience at an AMC theater:

"I paid around $48 for the privilege of escaping the crowds at the central AMC Burbank multiplex hub, heading instead to the AMC in the adjacent mall where mother! was playing at a schedule-friendly 6:45 p.m. This theater has never boasted the finest all-around experience to be had, but with their digital projectors always reliably bright, and with the addition of now-apparently-de-rigueur reserved (and reclining) seats, I figured it was a safe bet. After sitting through 20 minutes of barely visible trailers, thanks (I assumed) to the fact that the house lights were at full brightness throughout, some underpaid kid flipped a switch and the searing lamps embedded in the ceiling threw the tiny auditorium into a more acceptable level of darkness.

Unfortunately, the projected image was still dim-- Jennifer Lawrence’s dream house looked as if it was being viewed through a glass opaquely. Maybe someone (in the house? at the theater?) forgot to pay the electricity bill? The smudgy dimness extended to exterior shots in ostensible bright sunlight too, and the movie’s occasional transitional fades to bright white looked tobacco-stained and in need of a healthy shot of Wisk Detergent, with Bleach. The faces of every actor in the movie—Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer—were rendered unreadable by the level of murky shadow they were left to fight their way through, the daring work being unfurled before the audience sullied, bastardized, visually diluted to a literal shadow play.

After about 10 minutes of this, long enough to determine that the canaries-in-a-coalmine lighting scheme was not one imposed upon the drama by the Our Grand Puppeteer, I walked down to the snack bar to ask the manager, who I’d earlier overheard recommending the movie to a patron while I stood in line for my Diet Coke, if something could be done. I described to him what was happening, and he kindly accompanied me back to the #6 cracker box so I could show him myself. We walked in, stood at the back and watched for a few seconds. He admitted that, yeah, the image looked a little dark. 'Maybe a bad bulb or something,' he offered."

In my case, it's happened to me twice, once with Kong: Skull Island and then last weekend. Given that Blade Runner 2049 is a noir science fiction film anyway, at one point, a character said "It's too dark in here" and I whispered "That's what I said" to my companion. Given that the Regal Entertainment Group corporation has show so little interest in my welfare beyond treating me as a ready receptacle for ads, and more ads, and more ads out in the lobby, and buckets of obscenely overpriced soda, and more loud ads when I'm trying to just sit and rest before a movie, why shouldn't I devote this blog to chipping away at their profits over time? In Charleston, one can go to the excellent Terrace Theatre, and in Columbia, SC, the Nickelodeon provides customers with a considerate brightly-lit and excellent cultural experience, but out here in the sad more exploited boonies, we live under the corporate thumb of the indifferent Regal Entertainment Group CEOs who clearly don't care if customers wince under their propagandized perpetual lying distraction machines in the interest of eventually viewing the actual film (which still could, perhaps, be pretty good, if one could see it). Must they monetize every second in which I pay to be aware in their endlessly compromised environment? Why suffer this overly dark projection and a thousand evil fattening Coca-Cola ads for 12 dollars plus for a matinee ticket anymore? In the future, as in right now, the screen will be too dim and the ads too omnipresent to watch the next post-apocalyptic movie. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

From "The Clickbait Candidate" by James Williams

From "The Clickbait Candidate" by James Williams:

A better name for ‘social media’ would be ‘impulsive media.’ The unprecedented abundance and instantaneity of information in the digital era has turned our world into a never-ending flow of novel attentional rewards. Yet transcending these limits of space and time — moving from information scarcity to abundance — does not mean our informational world has become limitless: it is still limited by our capacity to navigate it. Thus, we have now become the main limits; the constraints of our psychology now play the defining roles. A major implication of this is that we now spend much more of our finite willpower to maintain our previous levels of self-regulation. Too often, though, we find that we don’t have enough willpower saved up to spend to avoid distraction.

In the brave new cognitive world that results, then, innumerable packets of information come screaming across the sky (to remix Pynchon’s phrase) — all our candidates, comedians, memes, meeting notes, native advertisements, love letters, likes, posts, product placements, poems, exhortations, titillations, and cats — all competing on the same instant playing field, whose center is everywhere and boundary is nowhere, for the grand prize of our attention. And whichever one is best at pushing our buttons will win. We have many buttons."

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold trailer

--via the ever-excellent @CriterionDaily

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Death Wish trailer

After the Las Vegas shooting, this Death Wish trailer has not aged well, and the movie has not even been released. I was more disturbed by the implications of trailer than by anything in Blade Runner 2049.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"It's like a slot machine": from "the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia" by Paul Lewis

From "'Our minds can be hijacked': the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia" by Paul Lewis

"[Tristan Harris] explored how LinkedIn exploits a need for social reciprocity to widen its network; how YouTube and Netflix autoplay videos and next episodes, depriving users of a choice about whether or not they want to keep watching; how Snapchat created its addictive Snapstreaks feature, encouraging near-constant communication between its mostly teenage users.

The techniques these companies use are not always generic: they can be algorithmically tailored to each person. An internal Facebook report leaked this year, for example, revealed that the company can identify when teens feel 'insecure', 'worthless' and 'need a confidence boost'. Such granular information, Harris adds, is 'a perfect model of what buttons you can push in a particular person'.

Tech companies can exploit such vulnerabilities to keep people hooked; manipulating, for example, when people receive 'likes' for their posts, ensuring they arrive when an individual is likely to feel vulnerable, or in need of approval, or maybe just bored. And the very same techniques can be sold to the highest bidder. 'There’s no ethics,' he says. A company paying Facebook to use its levers of persuasion could be a car business targeting tailored advertisements to different types of users who want a new vehicle. Or it could be a Moscow-based troll farm seeking to turn voters in a swing county in Wisconsin.

Harris believes that tech companies never deliberately set out to make their products addictive. They were responding to the incentives of an advertising economy, experimenting with techniques that might capture people’s attention, even stumbling across highly effective design by accident.

A friend at Facebook told Harris that designers initially decided the notification icon, which alerts people to new activity such as 'friend requests' or 'likes', should be blue. It fit Facebook’s style and, the thinking went, would appear 'subtle and innocuous'. 'But no one used it,' Harris says. 'Then they switched it to red and of course everyone used it.'

That red icon is now everywhere. When smartphone users glance at their phones, dozens or hundreds of times a day, they are confronted with small red dots beside their apps, pleading to be tapped. 'Red is a trigger colour,' Harris says. 'That’s why it is used as an alarm signal.'

The most seductive design, Harris explains, exploits the same psychological susceptibility that makes gambling so compulsive: variable rewards. When we tap those apps with red icons, we don’t know whether we’ll discover an interesting email, an avalanche of 'likes', or nothing at all. It is the possibility of disappointment that makes it so compulsive.

It’s this that explains how the pull-to-refresh mechanism, whereby users swipe down, pause and wait to see what content appears, rapidly became one of the most addictive and ubiquitous design features in modern technology. 'Each time you’re swiping down, it’s like a slot machine,' Harris says. 'You don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes it’s a beautiful photo. Sometimes it’s just an ad.'"

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 links

I've taught the 1982 original (director's cut version) of Blade Runner multiple times in my science fiction class. It's always fun to go revisit Pauline Kael's scathing review of it. Also, I've been enjoying these links as suspense mounts for Blade Runner 2049.

---an excerpt from Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner.

---Black Out 2022

---behind-the-scenes clips

---"What a Sequel 35 Years in the Making Can Tell Us about the Future of Sci-Fi" by Brian Rafferty

---"7 Thing You Need to Know" by Zack Scharf

---a Harrison Ford profile

---concerning Roger Deakins

---an interview with director Denis Villeneuve

---lastly, the film's creators discuss the sequel

From "Noah Baumbach Reveals the Key Movies that Made Him Want to Be a Filmmaker" by Eric Kohn

--from an article by Eric Kohn concerning Noah Baumbach's cinematic influences via Indiewire:

"Noah Baumbach has been making movies for more than 20 years, and in that time, has developed a distinctive voice in American cinema. His stories of neurotic New Yorkers are loaded with memorable moments of self-obsession and narcissistic showdowns. But Baumbach didn’t become a filmmaker overnight; he learned much about filmmaking from watching other movies. Raised by novelist Jonathan Baumbach and film critic Georgia Brown, Baumbach grew up surrounded by cinema, and it played a critical role in his evolving love for the medium.

The filmmaker looked back on some of these key influences during a conversation at the Film Society of Lincoln Center shortly before a screening of his latest effort, the ensemble comedy The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which Netflix releases later this month."

In the same vein,

my notes on Frances Ha and Mistress America.