Wednesday, August 29, 2012

cinephile links


---"Instead of amassing the soul-crushing mountain of student loan debt that you will incur over four years spent learning film theory and practice, why not just take one-half of a semester's tuition and buy a prosumer camera, Final Cut Pro, and – this last bit is key – every single Robert Rodriguez DVD/Blu-ray you can? Study them. Listen to his director's commentaries. Absorb at a molecular level the lessons and advice he offers in his `Ten Minute Film School' videos. Note his remarkable progression as a filmmaker: from 1992's now-iconic El Mariachi to the forthcoming Machete Kills, and from his recent creation of the Quickdraw production and animation facilities to the planned 2014 launch of his Latino-oriented Comcast network El Rey. Watch everything he has done, study everything he has crafted, then do it again. And then go do it yourself."

---Stop Making Sense

---The Avengers blooper reel and a deleted scene

---David Bordwell considers Christopher Nolan's formal innovations

---prohibition-era style

---Errol Morris' Team Spirit

---"The sensualists are bored with dramatic housekeeping. They’re interested in sensations and emotions, occurrences and memories of occurrences. If their films could be said to have a literary voice, it would fall somewhere between third person and first — perhaps as close to first person as the film can get without having the camera directly represent what a character sees.

Yet at the same time sensualist directors have a respect for privacy and mystery. They are attuned to tiny fluctuations in mood (the character’s and the scene’s). But they’d rather drink lye than tell you what a character is thinking or feeling – or, God forbid, have a character tell you what he’s thinking or feeling. The point is to inspire associations, realizations, epiphanies — not in the character, although that sometimes happens, but in the moviegoer.

You can tell by watching the sensualists’ films, with their startling cuts, lyrical transitions, off-kilter compositions and judicious use of slow motion as emotional italics, that they believe we experience life not as dramatic arcs or plot points or in-the-moment revelations, but as moments that cohere and define themselves in hindsight — as markers that don’t seem like markers when they happen."  --Matt Zoller Seitz

---"I don't know how much movies should entertain.  I'm interested in movies that scar." --David Fincher

---Kubrick // One-Point Perspective

---Here I Come, a supercut

---Andrew Haigh's top Criterion faves

---"Along with many of his contemporaries, Bangs concluded that if `authority' was not to be trusted—and clearly, it wasn’t—then whatever `authority' detested must be O.K., or probably great."

---Glenn Kenny speculates about The Seven Year Itch

---footage from the set of The Exorcist

---The problem is us. Cinephiles. All it takes to correct the poll, to correct cinephelia as a whole, is a willingness to operate from a place of absolute personal honesty. We need to open ourselves up to the possibility that what other cinephiles deemed great in 1952 doesn't look so great to us 60 years later, or as great as what has come after it (and the reverse, too, of course). We need to ditch this notion of over-praising movies we `respect,' which is almost always code for `I didn't like it as much as I think I'm supposed to, but I'm not about to look like an idiot by saying so,' and let our heart and our gut guide us. Too many cinephiles that I know feel passionately about too many recent movies, funny movies and completely accessible movies to make me think that the Sight & Sound list is the best reflection of which movies cause even the nerdiest of film nerds to exclaim, `This is . . . great!' And if I'm wrong about that, we cinephiles have only ourselves to blame, because then it's clear we're spending far too much time talking about all the wrong movies."  --Jason Bellamy

---Three Reasons: Quadrophenia and Umberto D.

---Tony Scott's short films

---trailers for Passion, The Girl, Sightseers, The Hole, Lawlessand The Master

---"As Zobel, the writer and director of Compliance, notes, most people are too busy with their lives to find the time or energy to scrutinize prevailing orthodoxies and the authorities propagating them. When the institutions that are in a position to provide those checks fail to do that, those orthodoxies and authorities thrive without opposition or challenge, no matter how false and corrupted they may be.

As much as anything else, this is the institutional failure that explains the debacles of the last decade. There is virtually no counter-weight to the human desire to follow and obey authority because the institutions designed to provide that counter-weight – media outlets, academia, courts – do the opposite: they are the most faithful servants of those centers of authority." --Glenn Greenwald

---lastly, "I still don't have a theory about the monkey that whispers `Judy.' We're not going to talk about Judy at all. We're going to leave her out of this."

Friday, August 17, 2012

cinematic links

---Heart of Coppola 

---"I have been an actress since I was 3 years old, 46 years to date. I have no memories of a childhood outside the public eye. I am told people look to me as a success story. Often complete strangers approach me and ask, How have you stayed so normal, so well-adjusted, so private? I usually lie and say, “Just boring I guess.” The truth is, like some curious radioactive mutant, I have invented my own gothic survival tools. I have fashioned rules to control the glaring eyes. Maybe I’ve organized my career choices to allow myself (and the ones I truly love) maximum personal dignity. And, yes, I have neurotically adapted to the gladiator sport of celebrity culture, the cruelty of a life lived as a moving target. In my era, through discipline and force of will, you could still manage to reach for a star-powered career and have the authenticity of a private life. Sure, you’d have to lose your spontaneity in the elaborate architecture. You’d have to learn to submerge beneath the foul air and breathe through a straw. But at least you could stand up and say, I will not willfully participate in my own exploitation. Not anymore. If I were a young actor or actress starting my career today in the new era of social media and its sanctioned hunting season, would I survive? Would I drown myself in drugs, sex, and parties? Would I be lost?"  --Jodie Foster

---introducing the Tenenbaums

---Embrace the Remix

---NONSTOP: Need Your Heart

---"[New French Extremity] directors whose movies I have discussed above represent a new path towards the exploration of reality in the contemporary world. The general movement behind these movies is the creation of new layers within conventional reality, layers on which the confusion of conditions and operation can be staged. There is a constant experimentation with ideas such as loss of memory, permanence, abstraction (both as absence and essence), inventory and archive, and a general tone of violence, of symbolic transgression from the solid to the fluid. Cinema as a medium is reworked to show not chronology but painful permanence, not setting but losing oneself, not careful and rational categorization but fluid alteration. There is matter here for a reworking of the modernist – and for that matter, postmodernist – notion of the model, that rational structure according to which the world could be classified and understood, and which cinema has not ceased to exhibit with the help of montage. A leading (post)modern notion and its privileged medium confronted with the contemporary condition can only lead to revolutionary experiments; and there is surely more to come from all those directors cited above."  --Cristina Bogdan

---the story of Lego

---the cinematic chase

---a film of a plane crash

---"It’s hard to think of a real precedent for this. A certain tension emerges when the products of a massive cultural apparatus like Hollywood offer implicit critiques of their own operation. Think of the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer: a $120 million studio-financed movie advocating for mom-and-pop values. Or Fight Club: a film built around a domestic terrorist attack against credit-card companies that peddled a new form of hyperactive adolescent machismo. Vladimir Lenin famously wrote an opinion on capitalism that’s been popularly rendered as, `The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.' That pared-down version of his statement is an apt observation about the sheer voraciousness of the profit motive. Films like these, which disseminate ideas and attitudes that seem to contradict the bottom-line-driven systems that create them, speak to what Lenin was talking about. It’s like a commercial for a restaurant that tells you not to eat there."  --John Semley

---"the end of the world as theory" --Daniel Kasman

---fashionable and unfashionable films

---Tom Waits' "Hell Broke Luce"

---Ava DuVernay: "I think for female filmmakers a big issue is making their second and third films. You see the statistics, and the dropoff on the second and third [films] are dire. I think women are finding a way to kind of circumvent a lot of what you're talking about and get that first film made but the big question for me is, where do you go after the first and second? You know, who has the longevity? Woody Allen had the opening-night film at L.A. Film Festival, and I was really just struck that this is a 70-something-year-old man. Where's his American woman equivalent?"

---scenes from Charlotte Rampling: The Look

---“You see, no one, but no one, is remotely interested in your generation, August.”

---"We didn't rehearse.  I don't like rehearsals.  I used to rehearse.  I rehearsed The Exorcist for five weeks in a little room above a restaurant in New York City.  I could have put it on the stage.  By the time we started to film it, it was dead.  It just laid there.  I had rehearsed the life out of it.  When we started the film, I remember saying to the cast, `Forget everything we've done.  Forget every movement and everything I told you and let's just start fresh. You guys know the lines. Do them as close in proximity as you can but don't just come out here with memorized lines.' Ever since then, I have not rehearsed. What's important for me is that—when you look at a scene on the screen—you believe it." --William Friedkin

---Robert Hughes' The Shock of the New

---"The era is long past when a star like Tom Cruise could launch a career with Risky Business and Top Gun, then stay in the stratosphere for decades. None of the new stars gets the once-standard "20-against-20" deal -- that is, $20 million upfront and 20 percent of the studio's take from exhibitors, after they make that $20 million back. Today, stars are seen as disposable, or at least interchangeable. As one top studio executive ruminates, "What major star has emerged in the past five years?"

Aside from Channing Tatum--who weathered a bunch of flops before scoring with The Vow, 21 Jump Street, and Magic Mike--the answer just might be none. Rather than an A-list, it might be better to think of a "hot list," in the words of one mega-agent: "That's what it is -- the guys you hope will last because nobody's shown they can do that just yet."

---Down by Law and Side by Side outtakes

---Hitchcock's genius and trippy movies

---8 movie montages

---criminalizing photography

---Kelli Marshall admires a shot from Singin' in the Rain

---"When a Long Island fisherman caught a 4,500-pound great white in 1964, author Peter Benchley took notice. `What would happen if one of those things came around and wouldn’t go away?' he asked. Ten years later he turned the idea into the bestselling novel Jaws."

---trailers for Deadfall, 10 YearsAntiviral, Seven Psychopaths, and Great Expectations

---lastly, Slavoj Zizek's analysis of The Dark Knight Rises

Sunday, August 12, 2012

When your marriage sucks in Nebraska: a discussion about Hope Springs

Not knowing how to review Hope Springs, I asked B if she would mind being interviewed about this movie which concerns an older couple seeking marital counseling from Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) during a week long visit to a beachside resort area in Maine. We discussed the film at a crowded, noisy International House of Pancakes. B had some Fit and Healthy nut and blueberry pancakes with egg substitute while I picked at some French toast. The coffee was mediocre.

FD: What did you think of the movie?

B: I thought it was surprisingly good and risky in all sorts of ways.  In a culture that privileges youth, this movie demanded that Kay and Arnold look and act their ages. There's nobody in this film pretending to be young.

FD: I was appalled by the trailer because I couldn't believe that the entire movie would concern itself with an older couple restoring intimacy in their marriage. With its feel-good title of uplift, Hope Springs struck me initially as aesthetically repugnant.  

B: It's an issue that men are not comfortable with. Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) does not want to talk about it.

FD: Isn't there something deeply grotesque about couples therapy?  Isn't the movie voyeuristic and potentially cruel, with the audience laughing at the awkward exposure of this couple's problems?

B: I think of the therapy as a trope.  The movie obliges the audience to share in the therapist's kindness, and that softens the tendency towards ridicule.  Also, without the therapist, the couple won't talk. They need that context to expose themselves.

FD: Still, it bugs me.

B: You don't like therapy.

FD: Or tacky therapeutic films that function like a Dr. Phil show. Even the movie admits that there could be a charlatan side to Dr. Feld's methods. Sometimes Arnold's mockery of the doctor proves the most humorous, such as when he imagines the doctor saying to his wife: "Mildred, I find it very interesting that you are naked."

B: (laughs)  It's the psychobabble you don't like.

FD: It just doesn't seem dignified. What did you think of Streep's portrayal of Kay?

B: I thought that she was acting her head off, since the character doesn't have much personality. Kay says things like "I don't have any fantasies."  She doesn't have a career.  Her whole world has been her children and her husband.

FD: Yes, I found her character striking in its dowdiness, the way she appears to have few dimensions beyond her unhappiness with her marriage. Other women would have many other things going on, such as Miranda Priestly [my favorite Meryl Streep role in The Devil Wears Prada directed by David Frankel, who also directed Hope Springs].

B: Miranda Priestly doesn't have a homelife, so she doesn't make a good counterexample. Julia Child would work better.  Kay reminds me more of Joanna in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), another understated role.  It's not that Kay doesn't have a career, it's that she's inarticulate.

A baby starts crying. Annoyed, I look around for the source of the disruption.

B: They have a brand new infant.

FD: It seemed weird to me to see Streep play someone who doesn't seem all that bright.

B: She's inarticulate.  She initiates the therapy passive-aggressively. Dr. Feld has to tell Arnold that she's thinking about leaving him.

FD: You said earlier that the film is ultimately about aging.

B: Hope Springs explores the way intimacy changes as you age. It goes back to our youth culture. Our culture is driven by so many people intent upon not getting older. If you don't ever talk about the emotional and physical changes of aging, then you can't accept those changes very well.  People try to cover them up instead. If you deny that intimacy changes, then you risk losing it.

FD: Can you think of specific examples?

B: I am really impressed that Tommy Lee Jones would allow himself to be photographed from below [from Kay's point of view] where he looks startlingly his age.  They don't put her in a position like that as much. Her character is very discreet, and it makes the movie less laughable, since she tends to dress age appropriately. Her job at Coldwater Creek emphasizes that point as well.

FD: How?

B: They have elastic-waisted skirts, middle class clothing designed for women who are thick in the middle, women who are not going to change their bodies in a radical way by going to the gym, i.e. not Madonna.

FD: What did you think of the Designing Women actress Jean Smart (who plays Kay's friend Eileen) saying "You risk everything to shake things up."

B: Smart's a great comedienne, and I think her advice has some truth. Sometimes you have to take the risk, make yourself supremely vulnerable. That's where Kay decides that she would rather have nothing than to have what she has. They have to, in Dr. Feld's terms, "break the nose" so that the patient can breathe.

FD: I liked Kay's point about how she would feel less alone separate from her husband than she does with him without intimacy.

B: Right.

FD: What did you think of Tommy Lee Jones' performance?

B: I loved him.

FD: You loved him?

B: I know a lot of men like Arnold.  He's completely shut down in who he is, locked in everydayness. He compartmentalizes like hell.  He doesn't have anybody to talk to.

FD: He has his buddy at the accountancy firm, Vince (Brett Rice).

B: But they don't talk about anything of importance.  Arnold goes through life anesthetized. When you feel something, you have something to lose. I have a friend who became so deeply attached to a cat who died when she was young that she lost that ability to emotionally connect with animals. You worry so much about what will happen, you shut down your emotions, refuse to risk it. Arnold doesn't want to talk about it because he's afraid of what he might lose.  It's better for him, he thinks, to just ignore it and plod on.

FD: Yes, but doesn't Arnold make a valid assertion when he says that there are some things that you don't say to your wife for a reason?

At this point, a large dark cloud looms outside. We both pause to look out of the window.  

B: I hope that it's not a tornado. (returning to the topic) If it's something really important to the relationship, you've got to say it.

FD: How much is everydayness part of the problem with their marriage?

B: It keeps them from ever having conversations. Every morning, Kay fixes Arnold a piece of bacon and one fried egg. They have a routine where they are insulated from each other and therefore never really talk.

FD: I was struck by how often Arnold's watching TV.

B: Or asleep.  He's often not even watching it.

FD: How much do you suppose their problem is their inability to be erotic once they are in their 60s?

B: I don't think it has anything to do with eroticism.

FD: What? What of their attempts to cater to each other's erotic fantasies? Isn't all that important?

B: When you lose your intimacy, you can't be erotic with anybody. If you can show vulnerability, then the erotic emerges from that. What's missing is their ability to be intimate with each other. Lightning strikes. That struck in the woods behind Sears! Again, we pause to look outside.  It's raining heavily.

Kay and Arnold have the failure at the hotel because they believe that all they need to do is have sex, but that doesn't work.  The eroticism has to emerge romantically.  It can't be tacked on. That's one of the issues with aging--eroticism has to change, maybe even take a backseat to intimacy.

FD: Why did you like Tommy Lee Jones' performance so much?

B: He just seems so realistic to me. Reminiscing, Arnold says to Kay "You were so pretty, you could've had your pick. I couldn't understand why you'd ever choose somebody like me."  He may not have ever told her something like that before. Once, an old boyfriend of mine drove 3 hours to my dorm in the middle of the night and told me "I will never stop loving you." He never told me again.  He was somehow moved to say that. When Jones said something like that, it felt so genuine to me, like that old boyfriend's declaration. It wasn't something that he ever thought he would say; thus, when he said it, it meant all the more.

FD: What about their (spoiler alert) renewal of vows on the beach?

B: It only worked because it was in the credits.

FD: But, romantic comedies tend to indulge in sickeningly exhibitionistic scenes where people proclaim their love in front of an audience.

B: Yes, you're right.  It was watered down, however, since it was in the credits.

FD: In the climactic scene, Arnold becomes proactive (just as Benjamin does in The Graduate), and he does so by walking out of his bedroom into hers.

B: That's what he had to do to restore their marriage. They had physically and emotionally closed the doors on each other. He had to leave the boy's room he slept in and reunite with her. When she tried to go into his bedroom, it didn't work. He had to go to her bedroom. Downstairs there's an open floor plan. Upstairs there was all of those divisions.

FD: So, the movie succeeds in part due to David Frankel's restrained direction, the two leads taking on such unassuming, unflattering roles that fully acknowledge their age, and its convincing depiction of Kay's isolation and despair in spite of the domestic comforts of their household.  Written by Vanessa Taylor, the film mostly avoids the kitschy traps that lay all around its cheesy, Lifetime channel premise (even though I wonder if having their marriage kind of fixed may plunge them into an even greater despair). Even the tender, concerned, ever-therapeutic presence of Steve Carell doesn't ruin things.

B: Right. It almost didn't matter that Steve Carell was involved.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"The Fall enslaves us all": the Film Doctor's one-sentence review of Total Recall

There comes a point when you're sitting through a recent science fiction movie such as Total Recall (but also Lockout and the frighteningly painful In Time come to mind) when the handsome young couple evade the most recent round of machine gun fire through the horizontal and vertical elevator complex as they jump off of buildings, cower under tables, and face massive stand-offs with numerous SWAT teams pointing machine guns at them from outside in the hover-car parking lot, and all you can think of is the eventual inevitable heat death of the universe, intergalactic burned out entropic debris (rocks, ash, the occasional bolt) floating apart into the infinite reaches of cold silent space, whereas in 2012, on the burnt-out drought-ridden post-Dark Knight blockbuster-wannabe tail-end of the summer, one gets one's afternoon of one's short short life uselessly distracted by only partially explained movement on a screen with Colin Farrell's character Douglas Quaid not knowing 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 (she gets lots of screentime since she's married to the director Len Wiseman, and, really, who can blame him?)), but Douglas doesn't remember his earlier savior-of-the-dystopia self, which makes the whole movie rudderless and confused even as it provides another example of unearned heroism for 16 year old guys in the audience to emulate, so I brood upon the implausibility of the planetary subway (known as the Fall, with the OWS-esque Resistance chanting "The Fall enslaves us all") as it drops through the earth's molten core for a Chunnel-esque commute between the only two living spaces on earth, the Colony (slum Australia) and the United Federation of Britain (the rest made uninhabitable by global chemical warfare (or at least you have to wear a gas mask)), as the screenwriter Kurt Wimmer makes half-hearted jabs at the fascist tendencies of the Bush administration for using color codes to ratchet up the populace's fears of "terrorists" as the corrupt pseudo-Republican politician Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) pulls out a knife (?!) for some late-inning mano-a-mano hand-to-hand combat backlit by explosions, rain, burning, crackling, CGI machinery, and phalanxes of I, Robot-esque policebots looking on since no one can seem to find a killcode to turn them off (with Melina (a confused Jessica Biel) firing indiscriminately at most everyone from her hovering policeship) in this remake of a 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle that at least had the anti-commercial daring to suggest that the entire movie was an illusion brought on by a clinic that sold artificial memories--no, no such luck now 22 unenlightened years later since the craven suits at Sony Pictures determined that we're clearly incapable of taking in such ambiguity; no, wait, Douglas has passed out again and we can see a Rekall advertisement on a building in the distance, and perhaps it's all a paranoid dissociative psychotic break--something we movie viewers badly need, bored by so many futuristically derivative instigations of excitement.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

planetized entertainment links


---the beginning of Down by Law ("Jockey Full of Bourbon")

---Avengers assembled

---"Multistrand movies have proliferated in the two decades since Mystery Train, and it’s almost shocking to see how little Jarmusch’s wise, unassuming film ultimately has in common with the sleight-of-hand flamboyance of Pulp Fiction or the reductive fraudulence of Babel and Crash,which yank their narrative threads together in the hope of producing grand, unified theories of the human condition. Jarmusch isn’t remotely interested in convergence. Quite the opposite, in fact. When strangers become aware of one another in Mystery Train, the connections are all the more melancholy for being transient, partial, matter-of-fact. As the train pulls out of Memphis, some but not all of the characters on board, the film leaves the lovely impression that what we’ve seen is special for its ordinariness: three stories among many."  --Dennis Lim

---greatest films directed by women

---considering The Royal Tenenbaums

---The Professionals

---Minnesota Nice

---"My filmmaking education consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films. I learned the technical stuff from books and magazines, and with the new technology you can watch entire movies accompanied by audio commentary from the director. You can learn more from John Sturges’ audio track on the Bad Day at Black Rock laserdisc than you can in 20 years of film school. Film school is a complete con, because the information is there if you want it." --Paul Thomas Anderson

---How to Create Cartoons

---zoom shots of The Shining

---105 close-ups

---25 stylish films

---ALEC Rock

---"the moral in the lesson of the Anthropocene is that, through the processes of modernization and globalization, the entire human species is finally reaching, indeed may already be surpassing, the outer limits of sustainability, and that this time, there is no new way of life or place to escape to. This time, we will have to live with the consequences, even as we do what we can to mitigate them by reestablishing our way of life within planetary limits."

---Dark Side of the Rainbow

---"Buñuel lamented he had not pushed the savagery of the guests all the way to cannibalism" in The Exterminating Angel

---the beginning of Soylent Green

---the evolution of the viral video

---No longer the indigenous film industry of North America, Hollywood is now the world’s jukebox, pumping out what Michael Eisner once called “planetized entertainment.” --Tom Shone

---the problem with hamburgers

---Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (the basis for Total Recall)

---trailers for Detropia, The Paperboy, Nobody Walks, The Oranges, Middle of Nowhere, Cloud Atlas, Side by Side, Anna Karenina, The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Big Wedding, and Killing Them Softly

---lastly, the problem with being hacked