Monday, December 31, 2012

filmmaking links

---The Ultimate Introduction to DSLR Filmmaking

7 Rules for Writing Short Films

---Top 20 Cinematic Techniques

---"Your Basic Filmmaking Kit Crew: A 3-Level Guide"

---"Want to write a Black List script? Well, if this year’s choices are to be believed, including the following plot points in your screenplay seem to be the best way to highlight your work for (relative) glory: true stories (14 pop up on the list), teens with cancer (weirdly, there are 2 such scripts, and a bonus 1 about a teen who discovers her dad has cancer), the discovery of major secrets (at least 11), the involvement of “the future” or a reimagined past (11), lawyers (3), coming-of-age tales (12, sort of, but also all of them, sort of), “the one that got away” (4, sort of), WWII (4), drugs (4), robberies (5), film history (2), kidnapping or missing people (7), losing virginity (2), and space (3). Can you put those all into one script, just for good measure? Instant hit!"

---Jerry Seinfeld's writing process

---Jim Jarmush's use of music

---"[Godard] goes even further than Truffaut in ‘capturing the truth of the streets’, as the city of Paris, with all its textures and rhythms, functions almost as a character itself. This approach to filmmaking is perhaps best encapsulated by a quote from around the time the film was released, when he declared: ‘all great fictional films lean towards documentary just as all great documentaries lean towards fiction.’"

---behind the scenes of one shot of The Avengers

---David Fincher discusses filmmaking

---Sofia Coppola's Lick The Star

---Roger Deakins' tips for cinematographers

---"I'm a self-taught filmmaker.  I never went to film school." --Christopher Nolan

---J. Hoberman: 10 filmmakers that will define cinema's next decade

---filmmaking tips from Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, and Wes Anderson

---"What does filling the frame entail? Well, for one, you should be able to identify your subject – that’s composition 101. The remaining space should be filled with elements that either echo your subject, strengthen the story, or give the subject context. But in no way should they distract the eye from the primary subject. And each smaller element should be placed in the remaining space in a balanced manner." --Ming Thein

---"14 Trends Filmmakers Watch in 2013"

---an excellent filmmaking-related twitter account: @DigitalDuckInc by Roger Duck

---an excellent screenwriting blog: Go Into the Story by Scott Myers

---2012: The Cinescape

---"From this writer’s point of view, one thing low-budget filmmakers should try to focus more on is linear story telling. I have sat through a few films that jump around different timeframes, instead of concentrating on telling a good story well. Plot twists are all well and good, but a rookie or sophomore effort should be able to demonstrate a story simply and powerfully told.

One such film that left me scratching my head continually was Cuckoo, which was a shame considering the name cast involved like Richard E Grant and Laura Fraser.

I am not one of these people that want their movies served up on a silver logic platter; but I don’t want to be racking my brain at every turn to understand the plot or character motives. If there is a science-fiction element involved, then the chances are that your story might need a time jumping element to prosper, but I think it should avoided in more straightforward genres.

Stilted dialogue is another area low-budget filmmakers should concentrate on avoiding. One of the better films I watched on my Brit indie journey was Confession. This was the perfect example of judicious casting and natural dialogue. It didn’t appear rehearsed to within an inch of its life, the characters talking like you would expect yourself to converse in everyday settings with a dash of humour or veiled threats.

Another ambitious film that benefits from sharp dialogue is The Drummond Will, a beautifully played black-and-white comedy set in the country that had me laughing away. Its playful absurdity and upbeat score harked back to British comedies of old and just goes to show what a tight script and quality comic actors can bring to a genre where Britain has an enviable track record from years past.

It cannot be stressed enough how important dialogue is to elevating films above the numerous choices that your average punter will face at the cinema, rental shop or online. If one can draw the audience in with believable characters from the outset, they will provide a great deal more leeway in terms of the plot.

It’s worth taking time learning to pick up on the cadence of conversation. Not only will it give you much needed distance from your script, but it will help you write flowing dialogue that doesn’t feel forced or shoe horned in to advance the story.

Also try to create a world that people maybe haven’t seen before in film or, at least, a world that hasn’t been given due respect by flashier mainstream filmmakers. The devil really is in the detail here and your unique insider view of a particular job, industry or milieu can truly make your film stand out. The mental health aspect of Confession and writer/director Viv Fongenie’s enterprising Ollie Kepler’s Expanding Purple World, for example, adds an intriguing extra layer to the relationship drama that binds the stories together."  --from "Essential tips for low budget British indie film success"

---"Color and The Look of a Film: Visual Analysis"

---"As for the cast, if we wanted to use an actor we’d promise them an IMDb credit, footage for their reel, a chance to see themselves on the big screen and lunch. Though we didn’t always give them lunch. In fact, I don’t think we ever did." --from Andy Young's "How to Make a Feature Film for Under $200"

---"10 Short Films to Inspire and Motivate"

---"6 Tips for a Better Edit"

---my June 20, 2012 filmmaking links

---influential filmmaking sites, blogs, apps, and tumblr accounts

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Django Unchained and the representation of slavery

"[The film will] be award worthy if Steve McQueen did it.  It's all a dark and really gritty look at the realities of slavery. So is [Django Unchained]. It's just coached in a spaghetti western/blaxploitation movie/HongKong bullet ballet, but it's as legitimate as that, and ultimately movies should be entertaining." --Samuel L. Jackson

After enjoying much of Django Unchained (when I wasn't asking myself, should I be liking this?), I wondered how to enter the critical fray when I hit upon the nicely detached critical word "representation." Some critics have been understandably offended by the movie while others applaud Tarantino's willingness to engage with the difficult subject of slavery. Is Django Unchained "ethically serious" as A. O. Scott puts it, or does it exploit the sufferings of slaves for cheap sensationalistic entertainment? Tarantino appears to do both simultaneously. The director/writer takes an image such as a slave torn apart by dogs, or a band of horseback-riding men wearing masks and carrying torches, and then he finds ways to further complicate our responses by adding on layers of satire or cheesy spaghetti western film technique (abrupt zooms) or allusions to loaded movies such as Griffith's innovative but racist The Birth of a Nation (1915). Should one make jokes in sharp juxtaposition with the representation of the degradation of a slave? Does the subject demand a serious respectful treatment, especially given the way Americans still have not fully come to terms with slavery?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I find it useful to compare Django Unchained with Pulp Fiction (1994), especially Samuel L. Jackson's roles in both films.  The quintessential scene of Tarantino's career is still the one where his hitman character Jules Winnfield [Jackson]says these words that he claims come from Ezekial 25:17:

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."

Then Jules and Vincent (John Travolta) summarily execute several drug dealers in their apartment. This delightful equation between revenge and old testament judgment, what others might call the Law, characterizes much of Tarantino's work. It helps dramatically justify the slaughter of villains (as in Inglourious Basterds (2009)). It makes Jules look oddly ethical even though he later admits that "I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to [someone] before I popped a cap in his ass," but Pulp Fiction often entertains these ethical conundrums where gangsters humorously meditate on questions of retribution. Both Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained concern an African American and a white guy teaming up in the classic Huckleberry Finn American dream of racial friendship. In both films, Tarantino has the (spoiler alert) white guy die, leaving the possibility for the African American's redemption and triumph at the end, especially since Jules considers walking away from his criminal world altogether. Pulp Fiction's tightly interwoven time-reversing structure also calls attention to Django Unchained's sloppier story configuration. My friend was bothered by the way the movie was unnecessarily elongated with two climaxes, not one, with an unlikely twist that makes the film far less plausible (with Tarantino appearing in a minor role as if to distract us from the structural flaw).

Meanwhile, what has happened to Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained?  Now, he's playing Stephen, the most despicable head house slave of Calvin Candie's (Leonardo DiCaprio) plantation, an Uncle Tom figure who looks exactly like the Uncle Ben of Uncle Ben's rice, a man who oppresses other slaves by incorporating within himself all of the loathing of his master.  Stephen appears in the movie by exclaiming "What's that nigger doing on a horse?" when Django (Jamie Foxx) rides up with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) along with Calvin and his entourage. Tarantino manages to find subtle ways to complicate Stephen's character by hinting at Stephen's small rebellions against his master (he appears to forge his master's signature on a check, for instance), but Stephen is still a drastic change for Samuel L. Jackson, and I wonder how much he enjoyed playing this minstrel-like character (like Aunt Jemima), a man who must act the way whites wanted to perceive African Americans at the time.

So, I guess the larger question of the movie boils down to this: does Django's final revenge against all of the figures of oppression of Calvin Candie's plantation aesthetically justify scenes in which slaves are degraded beforehand? Are the semi-ironic, self-aware, and cheesy film techniques of the spaghetti western appropriate for this subject matter? Can Tarantino convey outrage over the injustices of slavery and joke about it too, often within the same scene? The film evokes the complicated representations of slavery in Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno" (1855), but whereas that story gives the reader time to examine the underlying assumptions of its characters, Tarantino's movie may be too busy entertaining the viewer to adequately question the moral quandaries that it raises.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

femme fatale links

---Mark Fiore's high-tech Christmas

---The Criticwire Survey: The Best Film Criticism of 2012

---action scenes of 2012

---Peter Gutierrez's study guide for the Dark Knight Trilogy

---Distorted Times 

---"Attendees at the conference said it is unethical to keep admitting students to programs and training them for jobs that don't exist while they are racking up piles of debt only to risk finding university employment as just an adjunct, or obtaining some other low-wage job for which a graduate degree is not necessary, or ending up on food stamps." --Stacey Patton

---"Let's Go" by Stuck in the Sound

---the original four page sketch for Looper

---Jackie Brown: Quentin and Pam's Big Score

---the evolution of the James Bond opening title

---"The Instant of My Death will not simply illustrate what we are saying. I want to follow it to the point where, taking us beyond all the categories upon which we too easily rely, it helps us to render them problematic, fragile, uneasy."

---Interiors considers the spaces of Woody Allen's Manhattan

---"The term 'triangulation' as it is used in politics, is said to be a dirty word, a cynical tactic. But in this case, as one modern strategist phrased it, 'isn't about compromising on principles or policies, but about preempting conservative wedge issues by addressing them through progressive policies' -- or, finding a way to accomplish your goals without alienating one side or another, through careful use of language and limits. This may involve strategic tradeoffs or compromises on short-term goals in order to position yourself to accomplish greater ones in the future. Think about the practical, empirical wisdom in those words: It's true because it works.

Lincoln weaves images of such triangulation through the entire film. It's even there in the visual positioning of the three men in the telegraph room, and in the last sentence of the speech above: balance, fairness, justice. It's there in the House of Representatives, with the Lincoln Republicans on one side of the chamber, the opposition Democrats on the other and the Speaker (or the member holding the floor) at the front, moderating between them. At times, the apex of the triangle is reversed, shifted to a point in the balcony at the rear of the hall, where Mrs. Lincoln (Sally Field) or various Negro citizens might be witnessing the historic proceedings."  --Jim Emerson


---a scene from The Awful Truth

---Richard Brody considers Altman's The Long Goodbye

---"The archetypal noir femme fatale is the character Kathie Moffat, played by the dark beauty Jane Greer, in Out of the Past (1947). Kathie has no work; she is solely after money and will kill for it. She is literally a woman of the darkness. Her lover Jeff (Robert Mitchum) describes their affair in Acapulco: `I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked.'"

---Anil Dash's "The Web We Lost"

---the zero budget software suite for filmmakers

---behind the scenes of The Master

---storyboards for Blade Runner and The Birds 

---making The Blues Brothers and Bob Dylan's ride with John Lennon

---trailers for No Subtitles Necessary, I'm So Excited, Pacific Rim, Side Effects, Welcome to the Punchand Dreams of a Life 

---"In recent years, [Tarantino's] own written criticism, which has never been published, has functioned as a prelude to his screenwriting. 'I do my film writing until I come up with a story," he tells me. '[Criticism] keeps me going, keeps me investing in things, and keeps me thinking in an artistic way, and in a critical way, too.'

He told The New York Times in September, 'As I was working on an essay about how Corbucci's archetypes worked, I started thinking, I don't really know if Corbucci was thinking any of these things when he was making these movies. But I know I'm thinking them now. And if I did a Western, I could put them into practice.'

Django also allowed Tarantino to 'put into practice' the ideas that went into another private project he banged out after Basterds. It is, he says, a novella-length critical analysis of Don Siegel's and Robert Aldrich's films of the 1970s, some of them revisionist Westerns made within the New Hollywood era." --Karina Longworth

---Django (1966)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zero Dark Access

---“'These documents, which took nine months and a federal lawsuit to disgorge from the Obama administration, show that politically-connected film makers were giving [sic] extraordinary and secret access to bin Laden raid information, including the identity of a Seal Team Six leader,' said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton."

---"A July 13, 2011, internal CIA email indicates that Bigelow and Boal were granted access to `the Vault,' which is described the CIA building where some of the tactical planning for the bin Laden raid took place: `I was given your name as the POC in [redacted] who could determine the feasibility of having a potential walk-through of…the Vault in the [redacted] building that was used for some of the tactical planning in the Bin Laden Raid [sic]. In consultation with the Office of Public Affairs and as part of the larger chronicling of the Bin Laden raid, OPA will be hosting some visitors sanctioned by ODCIA this Friday afternoon.”  (The name of the sender is blacked out.)  “Of course this is doable,' an official responds."

---"We’re trying to keep [Boal's] visits at HQs [sic] a bit quiet, because of the sensitivities surrounding who gets to participates in this types of things [sic]," CIA spokesman Marie Harf wrote to a colleague in June 2011. "I’m sure you understand."

---Zero Dark Propaganda

---"I want to explain why this point matters so much. In US political culture, there is no event in the last decade that has inspired as much collective pride and pervasive consensus as the killing of Osama bin Laden.

This event has obtained sacred status in American political lore. Nobody can speak ill of it, or even question it, without immediately prompting an avalanche of anger and resentment. The news of his death triggered an outburst of patriotic street chanting and nationalistic glee that continued unabated two years later into the Democratic National Convention. As Wired's Pentagon reporter Spencer Ackerman put it in his defense of the film, the killing of bin Laden makes him (and most others) `very, very proud to be American.' Very, very proud.

For that reason, to depict X as valuable in enabling the killing of bin Laden is - by definition - to glorify X."   --Glenn Greenwald

---Has torture become acceptable?

---"The film fails to consider the notion that the CIA and the intelligence industry as a whole, rather than being solutions to what threatens us, might be part of the problem."  --Peter Maass

---"Torture scenes have been around as long as cinema. They're food for the reptilian brain."

---"Clearly, the Times doesn't want to be perceived as putting its thumb on the scale on either side in the torture debate. That's understandable, given traditional journalistic values aiming for neutrality and balance. But by not calling waterboarding torture -- even though it is, and the paper itself defined it that way in the past -- the Times created a factual contradiction between its newer work and its own archives."

---Bigelow also wanted to shoot the entire raid two ways—once objectively and once through the night-vision goggles the SEALS wore. The goggles have an unearthly black-on-green effect that’s usually added in postproduction; in Zero Dark Thirty, the scenes were actually shot through those lenses. 'You just can’t artificially create it,' she says. 'When I look through night-vision goggles, I see the way light sparkles on whatever particulate matter is in the air—it creates a kind of exquisite filmic haze.'”

---an ad for Black Ops 2

---"They actually received--in our film--no success from those interrogations. They didn't get anything that they used, so I find it really confusing why they would say it's pro [torture]."  --Jessica Chastain

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The film doctor's 10 most disliked films of 2012

[Note: I tried to avoid bad movies this year, but some proved painful just the same. Things I learned: beware of cute dogs, Colin Farrell, and Taylor Kitsch.]

10) Seven Psychopaths

This meta-pseudo-Tarantino doodle dithers in the desert. Will the eccentric psychos finish their screenplay or shoot each other? Christopher Walken talks to himself on a tape recorder. Tom Waits emotes with a rabbit.

9) Savages

With fake scars on his face, Taylor Kitsch plays an expert veteran "killer." Benicio Del Toro, sporting an Elvis pompadour, leers over Blake Lively. Oliver Stone caters to stoners.

8) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Thankfully, everyone will die.

7) Lockout

Smart-ass Snow (Guy Pearce) must save a princess, I mean the US president's daughter (Maggie Grace), from an outer space maximum security prison overrun by demented convicts. Since they are all out in space, who cares?

6) Total Recall

Colin Farrell's character Douglas Quaid does not know what the hell he's doing in this ersatz Blade Runner multi-ethnic cityscape, saying things like "If I'm not me, then who the hell am I?" and "Everyone seems to know me but me," even though he incongruously possesses a kick-ass secret agent skillset such as the ability to quickly bloodlessly PG-13 kill a roomful of anonymous jackbooted riot police masked goons, fly jet-cars, and evade a comely Kate Beckinsale (alias Lori Quaid) who made me giggle with every appearance she makes as the angry villainess.

5) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Epic, tireless PG-13 vampire lovemaking montages, magic powers aplenty, Michael Sheen squealing like a deranged Napoleon. The computer-generated baby Renesmee (with a curiously small head) gurgles and grins on cue.

4) Rock of Ages

Tom Cruise slithers around like a 48 year old variation of a 25 year old Axl Rose, wearing fake tattoo guns stuck in his leather pants, drinking scotch with an underpaid baboon named Hey Man. In the lower circles of hell, I can see people grooving to this rockin' Gleepocalyptic answer to '80s anthemic power ballads.

3) This Means War

Two addlepated chucklehead CIA spies vie for the affection of Tweety Bird.

2) The Raven

Truly, the Pit.  So bad I couldn't even review it. Edgar Allan Poe's immortal prose treated with all of the sensitivity and psychological nuance of a razor-edged pendulum abruptly sawing some slob in half.

1) Battleship

As people expire dappled with PG-13 hints of blood, Battleship raises a question: how much tragic grandeur can one extract from a 131 minute military advertisement based on a board game? The movie's unholy conflation of Hasbro and the US Navy makes sense. They both just want to show off their toys.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

war on Christmas links

---The Best Films of 2012

---a Dark Knight retrospective

---driving in Russia

---"Control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states. The logic is straightforward: a despotic state can control its domestic enemies by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business…the public are to be observers, not participants, consumers of ideology as well as products."  --Noam Chomsky

---"To me, Godard did to movies what Bob Dylan did to music: they both revolutionized their forms." --Quentin Tarantino

---the evolution of the Bond trailer

---"Like everything we do here, the design process at Criterion starts with the film."

---"Essentially Best Buy is like an animal in a trap: it has to chew through its own leg fast enough to escape with its life. Most of the category killers that have come to this impasse haven’t been able to do it. Which is why you can no longer pick up a movie at your local Blockbuster."

---storyboards from 15 films

---filmmakers hanging out together

---3 reasons: Heaven's Gate

---Wide-Awake and "Hollywood's Year of Heroine Worship"

---Jon Stewart and the war on Christmas

---"The widening ability to associate people's real-life identities with their browsing habits marks a privacy milestone, further blurring the already unclear border between our public and private lives. In pursuit of ever more precise and valuable information about potential customers, tracking companies are redefining what it means to be anonymous."

---"the cybermob failed to silence me" --Anita Sarkeesian

---trailers for Sound City, Oblivion, Confession of a Child of The Century, Blancanieves, Downloaded, American Mary, The Girl, Star Trek into Darkness, In Vogue, The Editor's Eye, and Upstream Color    

---What is Brazil?

---Races and Faces

---The Last Pictures Project

---"Bigelow, the first and only female director to win an Oscar, knows something about being a woman in a macho environment. Her films have rarely focused on female protagonists, and it’s hard to avoid the possible parallels between her and Maya. Beyond that come the bigger questions signified by Maya’s presence in that room. Does a society that produces female CIA agents (and reelects a black president) gain the right to commit atrocities in its own defense? Is torture justified if the torturer is a university-educated woman, and the tortured a bigoted Muslim fundamentalist?"  --Andrew O'Hehir

---"Kathryn--it was really important to her to not take any political stand.  She did not want to make a propaganda film" --Jessica Chastain

---"Zero Dark Thirty doesn't explicitly say that torture caught bin Laden, but in portraying torture as one part of the successful search, it can be read that way."

---50 meta movie moments

---"If you want your country to rule the world as an aggressive and militaristic empire, then accept the inevitable consequence of that: that there will be huge numbers of people in the world who resent and even hate your country for that behavior. Don't cheer while your country constantly kills, invades, occupies, and dominates the internal affairs of countless other nations - and then expect to be liked. Immorality aside, producing this reaction is one reason not to do such things. This kind of imperial behavior, inevitably and in every era, generates extreme levels of animosity and, ultimately, returned violence." --Glenn Greenwald

---Climate 101 and "2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide a second"

---"In March, 1917, while walking on Broadway, Buster Keaton bumped into a friend from vaudeville who happened to know Fatty Arbuckle, the famous silent movie comedian and Chaplin’s rival. Asked if he had ever acted in motion pictures, Keaton said no, and was invited to drop by Arbuckle’s studio on 48th Street the following Monday. Keaton first declined, because Arbuckle had stolen one of his vaudeville routines in the past, but then changed his mind because his curiosity was piqued by the opportunity to see how movies are made and especially how the gags are filmed."  --Charles Simic

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"America is not a country. It's just a business": layers of venality in Killing Them Softly

"It's not personal, Sonny.  It's strictly business." --Michael Corleone in The Godfather

I didn't know what to expect when I went to see Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, but after watching eight moviegoers leave the theater in the midst of the film, I had fun imagining why people hated it. Was it because most of the movie took place in rainy slum areas of New Orleans, or was it perhaps due to Dominik's cheerful curse-filled immersion in the tawdry milieu of scummy lowlifes?  Greasy junkie Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) has such skanky-looking hair, one can practically smell his rank body odor. Or was it because of the movie's allusions to uncompromising gangster films such as Goodfellas (1990), The Friendship of Eddie Coyle (1973), and The Godfather (1972)? The American populace likes its gangsters prettified like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the upcoming Gangster Squad. They don't like having their noses smeared in the detritus of the 2008 economic recession--the closed businesses, empty parking lots, abandoned buildings, and squalid bars where the rhetoric of the 2008 presidential campaign on omnipresent televisions drowns out the characters' conversations. Dominik relishes the underside of spaghetti freeways where men in black leather jackets get wet in the rain as they beat each other up. Where's the glamour in that?

If one can view Killing Them Softly as a rude tonic designed to add a layer of social satire to a depiction of recession-era crime, then one can appreciate its nuances in spite of the incongruities of Dominik's attempt to graft Cogan's Trade, a 1974 George V. Higgins noir novel onto a 2008 version of an unnamed city (New Orleans). I admire the integrity of Higgins' sordid vision (he also wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) which became the celebrated 1973 movie by Peter Yates starring Robert Mitchum), and I appreciate Eddie Coyle's dirty realism, its Irish-American Boston underworld that served as a reply to the relative glamour of The Godfather (although, surprisingly, Pauline Kael blasted Eddie Coyle's relative rootlessness, its "shallow and tedious" world while praising the more autobiographical intensity of Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973)). But, I doubt that the less ethnically specific thugs of 2008 would have necessarily worn the rose-colored shades and the tacky leather jackets (not to mention the the large muscle cars they drive) in Killing Them Softly. Dominik may figure that culturally we're primed enough to groove on Tarantino-esque 1970s nostalgia, but then the many clips of Obama, Bush, and McCain spouting political bromides sound odd given the many visual signifiers of another era.

Still, Dominik keeps finding creative ways to tweak the mythical implications of his actors.  Ray Liotta's gangster persona has mellowed since his manic portrayals of the "Wild" in Something Wild (1986) and his gleeful thug Henry Hill in Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). As Markie Trattman, the man who stupidly admits to his fellow poker players that he once robbed the very Mob poker game that they participate in, Ray has a giggly moment that evokes his earlier joy in crime. But then greasy Russell and Frankie (Scoot McNairy) hold up the game again, stealing thousands of dollars, thereby making Trattman the fall guy by association. Markie must face the consequences of enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) being brought in to fix things by the peculiarly squeamish corporate mob bosses (notably the nervous Driver (Richard Jenkins, whose role shares the petty administrative side of his Sitterson character in The Cabin in the Woods)). Dominik's casting of James Gandolfini as the erstwhile hitman Mickey gradually becomes outright funny. The mob hires Mickey to "wack" one of the robbers, but Mickey lives in despair because his wife wants him to sign divorce papers before he returns to jail. He drinks nonstop and consorts with prostitutes until he reaches total stupefication. Like Russell, Mickey illustrates the problem with giving in to every base male impulse (something that many other gangster films would celebrate). Mickey gets so strung out, he can't even function, thereby goofily complicating all of the authority that Gandolfini brings to the role.

As Jackie Cogan, Brad Pitt first appears about fifteen minutes into the movie to the tune of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around," thereby equating his arrival with the day of judgment.  As Cash sings, "Then the father hen will call his chickens home/ The wise men will bow down before the throne." In his black boots and leather jacket, Jackie conveys a calm but contemptuous ethical core, of a sort. He may be a killer, but he's restrained and business-like in his thinking, and he helps the viewer see through the hypocrisies of Driver's corporate mob overlords just as easily as he can manipulate the smellier denizens of his underworld. Pitt occasionally mixes up his star appeal with daring choices, so one can view his work in Killing Them Softly as his temporary return to Fight Club (1999) edginess (Lord know what will happen to his star persona after the release of World War Z). Like Leon in Leon: The Professional (1994), Jackie cleans up after the movie's messy plot, which helps one partially respect his character in spite of his blunt methods.  I imagine that Pitt knew that audiences may not like the movie's confrontational aesthetics, but, he's talented and famous enough to just not care.

Speaking of aesthetics, Andrew Dominik's use of sound in Killing Them Softly provides compelling thematic discordances.  He begins the movie with jarring cuts between an Obama speech and various songs that foreshadow the movie's basic dichotomy juxtaposing a newly impoverished underworld with the larger financial meltdown precipitated by Wall Street excesses (one form of corruption unleashing another). When Trattman gets beaten up in the rain, Dominik expressionistically mixes in the sounds of water splashing on metal, a train's horn, and other discordant noises that punctuate the oblivious cruelty of the scene. At times, the political jargon of the politicians on TV (Bush ironically talking of "widespread loss of confidence") drowns out the voices of the characters. At other times, Dominik places us in Russell's nodding off point of view as sound and vision fades in and out, making us realize how much Russell relies on drugs to not be aware of the trouble he's in. Moreover, Dominik's score reminded me of Scorsese's use of music in Goodfellas.  The director even includes the 1933 "It's Only a Paper Moon" in a way that parallels Blanche Dubois' pitiful singing in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. 

By mocking Obama's call for community, Cogan echoes Michael Corleone's business ethics. When Obama claims that "Out of the many we are one" on TV, Cogan snorts and replies by affirming American individualism, but only in The Godfather-like sense that business is another word for genuinely murderous self-interest. As he says, "In America, you're on your own. America is not a country. It's just a business. Now pay me." In the midst of inviting the viewer to compare criminal venality with larger Wall Street corruption and economic collapse, Dominik has fashioned a politically loaded portrait of America that proves too truthful and ugly to be very commercial. It's just not soft enough.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

permadeath links

---the clapperboards of Inglourious Basterds

---Lucas, Coppola, and Kurosawa

---"the decay in the rule of law"--Assange on the national surveillance state

---Grand Theft Auto: RISE

---Full-fledged ubiquity of social media is not panoptic, as it’s sometimes mislabeled. Instead it brings about lateral surveillance or 'participatory surveillance,' the many observing the many. It enacts a sort of “horizontal control,” inducing us to spy on one another to regulate one another’s behavior and generate marketing data. As law professor Eben Moglen declared, 'every time you tag anything or respond to anything or link to anything, you’re informing on your friends.'

The ideological enthusiasm for 'participation' disguises the emptying out of privacy, and the inescapable scrutiny and social documentation ushers in 'self-surveillance' — a grimmer way of describing online self-fashioning or identity construction. In using social media, we become fatally aware of how we can sell ourselves and thus intensify self-marketing practices. We put ourselves forward as a brand in order to register in these commercially oriented, quantification-driven systems. As use of these sites become more pervasive and normative, we start to seem to have no choice but to self-brand because it is the only way to take the measure of ourselves."  --Rob Horning

---Bradley Manning's Kafkaesque world


---Le Taxidermiste

---"I didn't entertain that thought [of failure]," he said. "If I did, I'd probably own a video store right now, and it'd be out of business right now, and I don't know what the hell I'd be doing. I just figured I couldn't have a fallback plan, 'cause I couldn't allow myself to fall back. All or nothing. There's directing and there's wanting to direct without ever having directed before, and they're two different dudes. And the thing about wanting to be a director, and wanting this to be your artform... Aside from getting a 16mm camera, or Super 8 camera, and making something, which is definitely within your power, and even more within people's power now, to test out these theories. But in the '80s, when I was a young guy, there was no proof of it at all. You could act, and see if there's something there. If you want to write, you can get a piece of paper, and see if there's something there. But if you want to direct, actually direct a feature film, and you've never done anything, it's all theory. So at 3 in the morning, from time to time, you wonder 'Is this a mistake?' You think you might have it, but you don't know. I'm talking about before I literally did anything. This mountain you're trying to climb, before you even know you're a mountain climber."  --Quentin Tarantino

---behind the scenes of Pulp Fiction

---trailers for A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, Tabu, Girls: Season 2, Pacific Rim, Let Fury Have the Hour, Django Unchained, and The Attacks of 26/11 

---"I am a writer who draws."  --Saul Steinberg

---New York and its carbon dioxide 

---"It comes from punk DIY culture. In order to survive you have to be creative and resourceful. If you’re creative and resourceful, you can make it. It’s not like you have a guitar tech there. If there’s a problem you have to overcome it, you have to deal with it. We dealt with it at Sub Pop every day. Where’s the money going to come from? How are we going to keep the phone running? We survived because we were creative and resourceful. All the bands we worked with, same thing. As a startup if you don’t have that, you’re toast."

---Where Did This Come From?

---The Universal Arts of Graphic Design

---"Post Industrial Journalism"

---10 lessons about Heaven's Gate

---"The real problem is not that there are no guidelines written down—though the administration itself seems now to acknowledge that what it has is insufficient—but that we the people don’t know what they are. The idea that the president can authorize the killing of a human being far from any traditional battlefield without any publically accessible set of constraints, conditions, or requirements is unacceptable in a country committed to the rule of law. In his first and only speech on security and our national ideals, at the National Archives in May 2009, President Obama insisted that adherence to the rule of law is essential in the fight against terror, and to that end, promised to be transparent about his actions `so that [the people] can make informed judgments and hold us accountable.'"

---making the Silent Hill 2 end title sequence

---"I’m optimistic and delighted every time I open up Twitter on my browser, while Facebook is something I only click on once or twice a day and always with a small sense of dread."

---the advantages of permadeath

Thursday, November 29, 2012

10 questions about Ang Lee's Life of Pi

1) With all of its emphasis on Richard Parker, the highly photogenic computer-generated 450 lb Bengal tiger, is Life of Pi Ang Lee's 3D version of a viral cat video?

2) Given the increasing acidification of the oceans and the endangerment of tigers, should we celebrate such beautiful fantasies as Life of Pi?

3) Should a viewer trust any story described within Life of Pi as certain "to make you believe in God"?

4) What does God have to do with Life of Pi?  Is it a computer-generated God?  When Pi yells at the sky "I lost everything!  What more do you want?", are we supposed to think of Job's complaints?

5) When Pi suggests an alternative storyline late in the movie, are we supposed to accept the expedient lie over the truth?  Is the movie suggesting that we can only know lies?

6) Early in Pi's adventure, he finds himself on a lifeboat with a tiger, a zebra, a hyena, and orangutan. Later, meerkats get involved.  Is Life of Pi a version of The Lion King for adults?

7) In Yann Martel's 2001 novel, Pi's father believed the "most dangerous animal" is "the animal as seen through human eyes, . . . an animal that is 'cute,' 'friendly,' 'loving,' 'devoted,' 'merry,' 'understanding,'" basically a "mirror" of humans looking for a reflection.  Even though the novel resists this type of animal typecasting, doesn't the movie constantly risk just that kind of interpretation, especially when Pi laments the fact that Richard Parker walks into the jungle without acknowledging their relationship?

8) Isn't Life of Pi constantly looking for a relationship between Richard Parker and Pi (such as when Richard rests his head on Pi's lap)?

9) Is there really all that much difference between a computer-generated Richard Parker and a stuffed tiger?

10) What does all of critical appreciation of the beautiful fabrications of Life of Pi suggest about our relationship with what's left of the wilderness?  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

fractal links

---The Hollywood Reporter Actress Roundtable

---"They're not going to just fix your boring rabbit."

---Science Fiction: A Supercut

---climate change in Doonesbury

---the 10 best iPhone filmmaking apps

---"11. Personal correspondence grows less interesting as the speed of its delivery quickens.

12. Programmers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

13. The album cover turned out to be indispensable to popular music.

14. The pursuit of followers on Twitter is an occupation of the bourgeoisie.

15. Abundance of information breeds delusions of knowledge among the unwary.

16. No great work of literature could have been written in hypertext.

17. The philistine appears ideally suited to the role of cultural impresario online.

18. Television became more interesting when people started paying for it.

19. Instagram shows us what a world without art looks like.

20. Online conversation is to oral conversation as a mask is to a face."  --Nicholas Carr

---trailers for Chasing Ice, She's Beautiful When She's Angry, Jack the Giant Slayer, Zero Dark Thirty, and Doc of the Dead  

---"The contents of Unapologetic are effectively trolling the public. The incident between Rihanna and Brown, and the wider issue it represents, is being reduced to a series of shock-tactic soundbites (with a few lines neatly sampled from Michael Jackson's 'The Way You Make Me Feel'). It's nobody's business, they sing, but we'll tell you all about it anyway, wind you up in the process, and get good publicity material from an issue as trifling as – oh – physical violence against a woman.

This also reveals how the internet often works in the most terrible way. In terms of online popularity, page hits are king. As a result, provocative subjects and statements that prompt instant reactions – and finger-clicks – take precedence. They form the bedrock of comment-board-driven editorial planning, in a world where comments themselves barely get moderated. Debates on weighty subjects on TV and radio are also now all about polarised positions. . . . This twisted, provocative logic, where extreme positions and statements are everything, is festering within our culture, and infecting it, too."  --Jude Rogers

---"Documentary is the only art, where every esthetical element almost always has ethical aspects and every ethical aspect can be used esthetically. Try to remain human, especially whilst editing your films. Maybe, nice people should not make documentaries."  --Victor Kassakovsky

---Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate (via @LaFamiliaFilm)

---Keaton's The General and "The General's Legacy"

---"after Yellow Submarine, it was a wholly different world. It wasn't just for kids. It was satire and art and, most of all, subversion"

---anthems for buying nothing

---"Ultimately, we can be seen as living in a fractal age where things proliferate endlessly and expand like a virus or a cancer. There is no goal other than endless proliferation. The Internet is legendarily viral with all sorts of texts and images, as well as viruses and spam, proliferating endlessly." -- from George Ritzer's "The Internet Through a Postmodern Lens"

---Spike Lee's Bad 25

---Ripper: ...It looks like we're in a shooting war.
Mandrake: (politely irritated) Oh hell. Are the Russians involved, sir?

---the sounds of Killing Them Softly

---"And just as we run down our irreplaceable metals, so we have mined our soils, polluted our waters, and started to warm the atmosphere and the ocean. But the GDP reflects none of this."

---"Zapruder’s film is still the canonical ur text of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the most complete and most chilling visual record. In many ways, it prefigured all sorts of American pastimes, from widespread paranoia about government to a loss of faith in photographic truth and the news media, from the acceptance of graphic violence to newer concerns about copyright. Don Delillo once said that the little film “could probably fuel college courses in a dozen subjects from history to physics.” Without the 486 frames of Kodachrome II 8mm safety film, our understanding of JFK’s assassination would likely be an even greater carnival of conspiracy theories than it already is. Well, maybe."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"I finally found that I could shine": A pictorial primer on The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

This is Edward Cullen.
He tends to grin sheepishly,
grin, grin, grin,
and act polite as a dreamboat vampire should.
When asked what it was like to play Edward,
Robert Pattinson replied:
"It's like a mixture of looking slightly
constipated and stoned."
Behind Edward, see the Volvo S60 T6
that figures prominently in
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2,
because, as it says in the ad,
It's the "best choice for one sexy vampire."

This is Bella Swan.
She has more to do in this fifth Twilight movie
because Edward turned her into a vampire,
so she hunts in the woods for deer or bobcat,
just slightly ripping her blue dress.

Edward and Bella have a new computer-generated
baby named Renesmee
who will later cause a big battle between the Cullen coven
and the black-robed Volturi on a snowy plain
near Forks, Washington
because the Twilight series needs a big climax.

See Jacob Black hanging out with Bella and Renesmee.
He really doesn't have much to do now
since Bella married and reproduced.
She engages in epic tireless PG-13 vampire lovemaking
with Edward (with mope rock accompaniment)
in a bed they don't need for anything else
(since vampires don't sleep). They make out
for hours, days, weeks, months on end.
One would think that Jacob would find that annoying
and go somewhere else,
but the Twilight author Stephenie Meyer
keeps him involved somehow
for the Team Jacob fans. Jacob hangs around
hangs around, hangs around, hangs around,
trying to think of a reason to take off his shirt.

This is Bella's dad, Charlie.
He's the sole recognizable human left in the Twilight series.
As the Chief of Police of Forks, Washington,
Charlie is curiously unaware
of all the vampire/werewolf activity going on
around him for five movies' worth of plot lines,
but it doesn't matter, because
Bella is a vampire with a special "shield" power.
Alice Cullen can see the future.
Another relative can shoot
electric bolts out of her hands.
Even Renesmee has a special power!
Humans are so passe nowadays.

See the Cullen coven with some Amazonian vampires,
who show up to fight the Volturi.
The Cullens assemble a multi-ethnic bunch
of "witnesses," vampires who stand around,
stand around, stand around, stand around,
waiting for the Volturi to show up.

See the Volturi with Aro (Michael Sheen)
who acts like a deranged Napoleon.

See Jane (Dakota Fanning)
who tags along for the tween market.
The Volturi are Italian vampires
who pattern themselves on the Spanish Inquisition
which makes one wonder if Stephenie Meyer
has some Mormon anti-Catholic ax to grind.

See Edward, Bella, and Jacob run,
run, run, run
across the snowy plain
to protect little Renesmee
from those evil Volturi.
Watch them PG-13 fight ,
fight, fight, fight
by flying around with their special powers
bloodlessly pulling off each other's heads.

Regardless of what happens
during the climactic fight scene
on the snowy field near Forks, Washington,
what matters is the enduring pastoral love
between Edward and Bella as they snuggle,
snuggle, snuggle, snuggle
in the flowery sunlit field,
with Bella saying "Nobody's ever loved anyone
as much as I've loved you."
Bella and Edward remain
united in their tireless vampiric PG-13 canoodling
for hours, days, weeks, months, and years
(with mope rock accompaniment).    

Saturday, November 17, 2012

extra-judicial links

---anorexic Disney

---'Tis the Season to Get Trampled

---how to get a Hollywood greenlight

---“I don’t want to read fiction, I don’t want to write it, and I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I dedicated my life to the novel. At the exclusion of nearly everything else. It’s enough!”  --Philip Roth

---The Bad and the Beautiful


---"As the world’s population begins to swell amazingly, it is a chance to make us all feel that we are in the same world and going through the same thing, what has been called `the global village.' Whereas I feel that what the screen does is say to you, `This is reality if you want to believe it, but it’s a trick.' And in fact what it’s doing, in so profound a way that nobody needs to understand this, is giving you a screen on which you can tell yourself that you are dealing with and seeing reality whereas in fact what it teaches you is that you don’t have to bother. That the old connections of sympathy, anger, questioning, doubt, political involvement and action that through the nineteenth-century and the early twentieth-century we more or less believed in — it’s a myth. You actually now live in a world where most intelligent young people are confident that it’s going to end, and are assured of the futility of any of the kinds of action or response that would have come from sympathy and anger and protest. So that if you look at, say, Fukushima on the screen, the essential reaction is, 'Oh, that’s extraordinary, it’s not me this time, but it will be.' We have issues and we have problems of enormous scale. We know that we’re dancing on the brink and we have the most useless, futile political system we have ever had. I’m talking about this country [the U.S.] but there are many other countries too where everyone actually says, `Well, yes, I’m the president, I’ve got the job, but we can’t do anything about it, we know that.' And it’s just a question of time, just a question of waiting for it. So in many respects, what has come from this immersion in images, is to teach us that we need have nothing to do with reality; it’s pointless."  --David Thomson

--a Jean Seberg interview

---"It’s a great job — the best I can think of, actually. You walk into a room and say, ‘I’m imagining this,’ and they give you millions of dollars to go out and make it real. That’s a pretty good gig."  --Steven Soderbergh

---Night of the Living Dead


---The Cabin in the Woods' title sequence

---"The whole set-up of life doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m going to live for a while, and I’ll look good for a while, then I’ll really look good, and then it’s going to slowly fall apart. Year by year, I’m just going to cave in, then all my friends are just going to start dropping like flies, and hopefully I’m not one of them that drops first, and I’ll last as long as I can last and hopefully I won’t lose my mind and my memory while my kids have to take care of me."  --Judd Apatow

---“Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.”  --David Foster Wallace quoting Lewis Hyde

---the shots of Paul Thomas Anderson

---"In essence, what we find, yet again, is that the governments of the United States and Israel arrogate unto themselves the right to execute anyone they want, anywhere in the world, without any limitations, regardless of how many innocent civilians they kill in the process." 

---"Peter Chernin’s announcement shows us the future of Twitter: a media company writing software that is optimized for mostly passive users interested in a media and entertainment filter."

---"This price surge is a response to global population growth and the explosion of capital spending in China. Especially dangerous to social stability and human well-being are food prices and food costs. Growth in the productivity of grains has fallen to 1.2% a year, which is exactly equal to the global population growth rate. There is now no safety margin.

Then there is the impending shortage of two fertilizers: phosphorus (phosphate) and potassium (potash). These two elements cannot be made, cannot be substituted, are necessary to grow all life forms, and are mined and depleted. It’s a scary set of statements. Former Soviet states and Canada have more than 70% of the potash. Morocco has 85% of all high-grade phosphates. It is the most important quasi-monopoly in economic history. `It is crucial that scientists sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on global warming.'

 What happens when these fertilizers run out is a question I can’t get satisfactorily answered and, believe me, I have tried. There seems to be only one conclusion: their use must be drastically reduced in the next 20–40 years or we will begin to starve."

---trailers for Floating Weeds, Grand Theft Auto V, Now You See Me, House of Cards, Admissionand Europa Report

---"Weekend is structured like a problem in logic or a mathematical theorem. Virtually every scene reflects the unraveling of Rousseau’s social contract and points to an inevitable disintegration into tribal atavism. Godard, who trained as an ethnologist, adapted the film’s structure from Friedrich Engels’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884). Engels developed his ideas from the anthropologist Lewis Morgan’s study of the Iroquois and Seneca tribes, which posits that, `according to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is . . . the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life.' Engels describes the emergence of civilization from barbarism, and barbarism from savagery, as marked by stages in the development of articulate speech, the invention of weaponry, and the transition from migratory hunting and gathering to fixed communities based on agriculture.

In Weekend, these stages are set in reverse: a dominant class, alienated from `the production . . . of the immediate essentials of life' and devoted to mindless consumerism, is shown regressing to a state of savagery. Even Morgan’s Indians, alluded to at the outset by a little brat in a headdress, turn up in the form of revolutionary cannibals, declaiming the poetry of Lautréamont while frying up English tourists."  --Gary Indiana

Sunday, November 11, 2012

established reality links

---"In the future, everybody is going to be a director." --Cameron Crowe

---"Denzel's anti-image is increasingly refreshing." --Anne Helen Petersen

---"Watching a news show transparently at war with itself made for extraordinary live television."

---The Cabin in the Woods' title sequence

---"The brown people and the black people and the women handed the white men’s asses to them as unsentimentally as white men have bought and sold and manipulated America for centuries now. Welcome to the future."   --Cord Jefferson

---The First 36 Hours

---"The truth of art lies in its power to break the monopoly of established reality to define what is real." —Herbert Marcuse

---"We will have four more years of a Democratic president presiding over military detention without trial, military commission trials (at least for the 9/11 conspirators, if not for more), broad warrantless surveillance, drone strikes around the globe, and covert war more generally."  --Jack Goldsmith


---Free Cinema

---"Almost lost in the multitude of post-election analyses is the most significant point of all: despite the long held truism that a Democrat can win a second term only if he is from the South—an extrapolation from one post-FDR example—the nation’s first black president was elected to a second term. The implications of this are enormous. Consider the difference in the mood of more than half the country as well as the “lessons” that would have been drawn had he been defeated after a single term.  He escaped the fate of joining Jimmy Carter on the list of well-meaning but failed one-term presidents. One of the reasons this didn’t occur is that so many people rose up against the maneuvering of Obama’s political opponents to bend, distort, deny the essence of our democratic system that otherwise could result in his election. Which, to a significant extent because they overplayed their hand, it did."  --Elizabeth Drew

---"if the . . . conservative media is stuck in a vacuum sealed, door locked, spin cycle of telling each other what makes them feel good, and denying the factual, lived truth of the world, then we are all deprived, as a nation, of the constructive debate between competing, feasible ideas about real problems."  --Rachel Maddow

---Data Visualization, Reinterpreted

---David Foster Wallace on why writers write

---YouTube intelligence

---"The larger narrative is a nation becoming gradually acclimated to female power. We are starting to see women in command as less of a novelty, less of a curious phenomenon to be dissected in all of its fascinating manifestations—Will she cry? Can she wage wars? Can she bake cookies and wage wars at the same time?—and more as a normal part of our political landscape.

Most of these newly elected women will vote Democratic, but plenty won’t. Many of them will protect women’s reproductive rights but by no means all of them. (Akin and McCaskill split the white women’s vote.Michele Bachmann just won re-election in Minnesota.) But they will seem less like newcomers to the process, which is exactly what we want."  --Hanna Rosin

---"Black frock, golden epaulettes
Parishioners crawl bowing [toward the priest, during the Eucharist]
Freedom's ghost [has gone to] heaven
A gay-pride parade [has been] sent to Siberia in shackles
Their chief saint is the head of the KGB
He leads a convoy of protestors to jail
So as not to insult the Holiest One
Woman should bear children and love"  --Pussy Riot

---Stanley Kubrick: The Works

---"he would turn himself into a `human tape recorder.' Capote claimed to have the auditory version of a photographic memory that, with practice, he was able to hone to a high degree of accuracy. `This is of the greatest importance in the kind of reportage I do, because it is absolutely fatal to ever take a note or use a tape recorder when you interview somebody.' This technique, in Capote’s estimation, allowed him to `live inside the situation, to become part of the scene I was recording and not cut myself off from them in any way.'”

---Dreaming of Jeanie

---"the larger ideas in the film [They Live] — media manipulation, the displacement of the lower socioeconomic classes, rampant consumerism — remain wildly relevant"

---"Fassbinder: An Essay in Thirteen Scenes" --Charlie Fox

---police brutality in Vietnam

---the Wachowskis' and Steven Soderbergh's filmmaking tips

---the origins of Rosemary's Baby

---trailers for World War Z, Ginger and Rosaand Hitchcock