Saturday, May 25, 2013

The metaphysical angst of The Hangover Part III: 2 notes

1) Much like looking into the eyes of the Gorgon, thinking about The Hangover Part III actively causes pain. The mind would just as soon slide off to dwell on anything else, a kind of merciful defense mechanism. Instead of a review, imagine instead distant screams (late at night, and you can't tell in which direction), the dislocated and unnerving sensation of waking up with two missing kidneys. With its sole interest in money, its grimly inconsequential accumulation of unfunny scenes, its baldfaced advertising for Las Vegas (which does now have Hangover slot machines), its Asian stereotyping that makes Mr. Yunioshi of Breakfast at Tiffany's look enlightened, and for the stunning way it exemplifies today (and for all time) the word "inert," The Hangover Part III may have much to teach us by negative example of the long-overdue need to get beyond Adam Sandler-esque aggressive baby men and their self-deluded sense of entitlement. The movie argues for the sheer superfluity of anyone of the masculine gender, the logical cessation of the XY chromosome, the abolishment of studios who make profits on threequels, and the simple need to move on. Mercifully, only four people were in the large theater when I watched it last Thursday afternoon, which seemed fitting and just (even if still four too many).

2) In fairness, the first 40 minutes of the movie serve as an excellent sedative.

Some links:  

"'he killed a giraffe—who gives a . . . ?' says Bradley Cooper, in what amounts to a candid articulation of the trilogy's worldview." --Chris Packham

"Pajiba: Well, it’s hard to get people to read reviews these days unless there’s a gimmick, but what else can I say? It’s the same film as the other two, only with half the laughs of the second film, which only had two. You took a scene stealer from the first film (Ken Jeong) and you turned him into a major character. I mean, you went to Georgetown; how does an Asian caricature speaking in broken English for nearly two hours sit with you?

Cooper: Look, I didn’t write the film."

"Early tracking suggested Hangover would open to about $20 million, great for a low-budget comedy. When the movie grossed $45 million during its first weekend, the stars' lives changed instantly. Neither Phillips nor any of the actors was signed for a sequel. That gave CAA, which represented all four of them, enormous leverage. Sources say the stars got raises to about $10 million each to return, and Phillips received about $10 million against 10 percent of profits. The trio got bumps to about $15 million each for the third film."

Kermode Uncut's reaction to The Hangover Part III

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Film Doctor's fifth anniversary

Five years ago, the Film Doctor started posting reviews, including this one concerning Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

Some links:

---Masculin Feminin

---“The only great problem of cinema seems to be more and more, with each film, when and why to start a shot and when and why to end it.”  --Jean Luc Godard

---the right to observe and record

---Jonathan Rosenbaum considers Rushmore

---Cinephilia and Beyond's Taxi Driver files

---"This is how we live: greedily, enviously, superficially, in a state of endless, self-justifying desire. This is the pursuit of happiness, mirrored in the pleasure these movies provide."  --A. O. Scott

---Interiors on the spaces of Martha Marcy May Marlene

---"The reason to keep working is almost to build a certain mental tone, like people talk about body tone. You have to move quickly when the time comes, and the time might come very infrequently – once or twice a year, or even less."  --Brian Eno

---"The hardest thing in making a movie is to keep in the front of your consciousness your original response to the material. Because that's going to be the thing that will make the movie. And the loss of that will break the movie."  --Stanley Kubrick

---The Vertigo of Anagnorisis by Catherine Grant

---Origins of Film Noir

---the Hamlet supercut

---"Welcome to America's Thirty Years War."

---trailers for Don Jon, Blood Ties, The Purge, A Field in England, The Dance of Reality, Jimmy P., Europa Report, Patrick, Fruitvale Station, War on Whistleblowers, The CongressBerberian Sound Studio, and Rapture-Palooza

---anatomy of a scene: Frances Ha

---Campion's top 10 Criterion films and Mel Brooks' 11 favorite movie scenes

---the Oklahoma tornado

Monday, May 13, 2013

The great romantic and the flibbertigibbet blonde: 11 questions about The Great Gatsby

1) An entire movie about a handsome glorified romantic solely defined by his love for a flibbertigibbet blonde?

2) Really?

3) If we took away all of his trappings--the nice house, the associations with Romeo + Juliet and Titanic (note: DiCaprio inhabits the role extremely well), the parties, the car, and the fine clothes--wouldn't we consider Gatsby gullible and slightly silly?

4) While I admired the set designs, the costuming, the cars, and several scenes of the movie (especially the humorous super-awkward encounter between Gatsby and Daisy (with Nick Carroway (Tobey Maguire) making the slightly dubious arrangements for them to meet (sort of pimping out his married cousin)), and Nick's awkward drunken evening with Myrtle Wilson's (Isla Fisher) social circle), I kept wondering about Lurhmann's melodramatic technique as it began to wear me down. When in doubt, cut to the green light?

5) What is the significance of those spectacled eyes on the billboard again? My significant other (who teaches the novel) says it could indicate the absence of God. There's nothing to put your hopes in after the devastation of the first World War, so the divine power has been replaced with conspicuous consumption and advertising, the antithesis of religious hope. Ironically, the eyes look over the Waste Land-esque area of abject poverty, which just enhances the scene's air of futility. As Kathryn Schulz points out, the book is full of "low-hanging symbols."  

6) Was Lurhmann borrowing a narrative strategy from Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye when he included the Nick-stuck-in-a-sanatorium frame device?

7) What would F. Scott Fitzgerald have thought of the movie's elision of psychiatric curing techniques and writing? Doesn't that equation diminish his artistic achievement?

8) As Nick, Tobey Maguire observes, perceives, sees, and then witnesses some more. Maguire is good at doing that, but couldn't he take a break from all of that burdensome point-of-view work and swing through the skyscraper canyons of New York for old times' sake?

9) In this rough and tumble blogosphere world of endless film analyses, why do the critics who liked The Great Gatsby often sound apologetic? Does the Internet encourage us to be competitively vicious?

10) My significant other (who really liked the movie) insists that Gatsby is admirable for being, as Nick says, "the single-most hopeful person [he's] ever met," the one man "exempt from [his] disgust." At one point, Nick yells to Gatsby in the distance, "They're a rotten crowd. You're worth the whole damn bunch together." As we gradually learn, Jay Gatsby is an idealist who deserves credit for sticking to his endlessly renewable love, no matter how much his beloved may be unworthy of it (not to mention she's married and with a child). Yes, Gatsby embodies a fond glorious vision that serves as the foundation of a beautifully written novel, but isn't he also, at bottom, a dashing but still delusional goofball?

11) Is his unwillingness to abandon a dream ultimately what makes Gatsby great?

Some related links:

---comparisons between the book and the movie

---Baz Lurhmann's creative process

---remembering the Robert Redford version

Sunday, May 12, 2013

film vocabulary links

---Wes Anderson's 1994 short Bottle Rocket


---the 2013 summer movie preview

---an interview with Sofia Coppola

---David Foster Wallace's "This is water" speech visualized

---3 Reasons: Band of Outsiders

---“Asocial people will be able to find a way to do asocial things with this technology, but on average people like to maintain the social contract,” Mr. Starner said. He added that he and colleagues had experimented with Glass-type devices for years, “and I can’t think of a single instance where something bad has happened.”

An incident at a Silicon Valley event shows, however, the way the increasing ease in capturing a moment can lead to problems — even if unintentionally. Adria Richards, who worked for the Colorado e-mail company SendGrid, was offended by the jokes two men were cracking behind her at the PyCon developers conference. She posted a picture of them on Twitter with the mildly reproving comment, “Not cool.”

One of the men, who has not been identified, was immediately fired by his employer, PlayHaven. “There is another side to this story,” he wrote on a hacking site, saying it was barely one lame sexual joke. “She gave me no warning, she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate,” he complained.

Critics lashed out at Ms. Richards, using language much more offensive than the two men used. SendGrid was hacked. The company dismissed Ms. Richards, saying there was such an uproar over her conduct, it “put our business in danger.”

---Growing Up John Waters

---“I understand that writing is an art, and I deeply respect that,” he said. “But the earlier you get in with testing and research, the more successful movies you will make.”

---Philip French's favourite movies

---9 Film Frames

---"One scene early in the film that was objected to was a rooftop party in Islamabad where an officer, after drinking fires a celebratory burst of AK-47 gunfire into the air. We insisted mixing drinking and firearms is a major violation and actions like this do not happen in real life. We requested this be taken out of the film. Boal confirmed he took this out of the film."

---Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Mosquito"

---"12 Great Opening Shots" and "20 Shots to Be Retired Henceforth from Film Vocabulary"

---"Something has got to give at some point with all of that product in the market," said Vincent Bruzzese, chief executive of Worldwide Motion Picture Group, a research firm, speaking about the coming summer. "There has got to be some cannibalization."

---celebrating Saul Bass' title sequences

---“Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.”

---trailers for Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, The World's End, and The Butler

---Destroy boredom

---"Because the first take went fairly well, I immediately become cocky and start overplaying it. I’m acting drunk. It’s whiny and high-pitched, and for some reason I’m leaning over the sink in a way that makes me look like a hunchback."  --Greta Gerwig

---the Behind the Candelabra featurette

---“Our ancestors predicted all of this,” he said to no one in particular. “The weather changing in strange ways, the destruction of the land, the water, the fish, the animals. They said, ‘The white man will continue to come, and everything will die.’"

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3, terrorism, and the effectiveness of Robert Downey Jr.'s multimedia marketing

Iron Man 3 makes most sense if one thinks of it not as a movie, but as the skillful marketing of a brand. Robert Downey Jr. lends his expertise as an actor to provide a mildly subversive human face to this product line, and in many ways his performance in the movie (as well as his equally important Comic-Con appearances, worldwide promotional tours, etc.) resembles that of a politician satisfying the demands of his constituents, or a film executive making a presentation to his stockholders. I was struck by just how comfortable film executives at Marvel (Walt Disney Company) are with the entire Iron Man franchise. One can find them quoted in the May 10th Entertainment Weekly within the cover article subtly entitled "Stark Raving Awesome" (no editorial bias there): "I believe there will be a fourth Iron Man film and a fifth and a sixth and a 10th and a 20th," as if they have found the eternal profitable formula (superhero mechanic know-how, Avenger buddies, Downey's charming snark, robots, and Gwyneth Paltrow).

I learned of how important marketing is to Downey with the help of an article by Isaac Chotiner entitled "The Robert Downey Jr. Rehab Program."  As he writes:

"More than one person who knows him told me that Downey deliberately channels his manic intensity into the financial side of movie making. 'I made it my business to educate myself,' he explained to one interviewer. He is involved in every aspect of his films, from tinkering with screenplays to marketing strategy to developing new consumer bases for his franchises. A year ago, he gave an interview an obscure magazine called Success, apparently for no reason other than the sheer enjoyment he derives from discussing the intricacies of multi-platform initiatives. 'The thing is,' he observed, when explaining his acting choices, 'you’re either involved in a certain product design that’s a one-off, or you’re involved in a product line.'"

I didn't care much for the first two Iron Man films, but once I learned to look at the most recent manifestation of the franchise as a 2 hour and 15 minute advertisement for a second tier Marvel figure, then Iron Man 3 proved surprisingly pleasant to sit through. One need only view the movie as a visual code for self-promotion. How does it enhance the Tony Stark product line, with a generous amount of journalistic support?  I count 5 ways both within the movie and in its external marketing:

1) Journalists help by emphasizing Downey's problematic past with drug addiction, his many earlier movies that bombed, etc., and noting how he has turned it around. People are invited to feel good about how he has resurrected his career.

2) Within the movie, Tony Stark spends time with a rabid Tony Stark fan. At one point, Stark needs access to a local news van so that he can broadcast some information. The newsman turns out to be an out-of-control Stark enthusiast, even down to patterning his facial hair from his hero. Stark kindly gives the man his reluctant attention. Are scenes like this designed to serve as a kind of fan service for awestruck devotees in the audience?

3) Stark finds he need the help of a child named Harley (Ty Simpkins) as he researches a bombing in rural Tennessee, thereby taking providing kids in the audience with someone to identify with. One can find many blockbusters that similarly pander to the youth market, such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).

4) Iron Man 3 emphasizes how terrorists create propaganda to further their agendas. The bin Laden-esque Mandarin villain turns out to be a (mild spoiler alert) carefully constructed media platform, full of fundamentalist Muslim visual tropes on videos that illegally take over American television periodically, all designed to pander to American xenophobia. I am in the midst of reading Stephen Apkon's excellent The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens, and one passage seems relevant:

"Even the most radical organizations understand the power of visual media. In 2001, Al Qaeda reversed a decade-long Taliban prohibition on video as it created its own production company, As-Sahab, in order to spread its message and recruit new members. Headed up by the media-savvy disaffected American Adam Gadahn, the company once produced close to a hundred videos a year deep in the mountains bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its reach, though, is global.

Evan Kohlmann . . . had respect for the skill of the As-Sahab productions, even if he finds their content despicable. 'It's actually amazing,' he said. 'You're talking about very, very high-quality video subtitling. You're talking about English translations. Graphic sequences have been done showing rockets being fired into an American flag, and having the American flag exploding into pieces. And it, you know, these are very high-quality videos. They're very dramatic. They get passed around like baseball cards. . . . the video form of expression has become the preferred method for expressing a point of view to an international audience, where a spoken language is not always held in common by interested parties'" (26-7).

5) Lastly, Iron Man 3 affirms the value of multi-media presentations by including scenes that show off what they can do. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) makes a slick 3D presentation to Pepper Potts (Paltrow) of his own brain in a live feed. From the previous Iron Man movies and from The Avengers, we've already gotten used to Stark's research techniques that involve 3D displays of texts and images that evoke Minority Report (2002). In this film, Stark's research into a bombing just gets more elaborate, using his voice and hand gestures to move around a room full floating images (he even uses a 3D version of the crime site to locate some dog tags on the ground).

While still including the usual battle scenes, explosions, robot-battling action, and terrorist torture scenes, Iron Man 3 is also quite open about the rhetorical effectiveness of multimedia. In this light, it makes sense that Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) has trouble deciding between calling his exoskeleton/armor War Machine or Iron Patriot. Both terms have connotations that the movie takes pains to explore. It's refreshing to see a blockbuster that's somewhat willing to examine its own manipulations.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

punk couture links

---"I have to obey your orders?" --Reese Witherspoon

---Wes Anderson's Monsieur Hulot ad

---the opening scene of Children of Men

---"Things are boring! People are ugly! Go online and stay online!"

---"Postfeminism is forgoing freedoms or equal rights in the name of prettier dresses, more expensive make-up, and other sartorial 'freedoms' to consume."  --Anne Helen Petersen

---"Holy Motors Randomised" by Dan North

---"Schrader has mixed feelings about the process. 'The new technology allows people to make films very, very cheaply, but it also unhinges the vital connection that has existed for over 100 years between capitalism and motion pictures.' Filmmakers are now free, he explains, to 'make movies the same way you can make poetry, songs, paintings. You can make it for no money.' However, the disconnect between supply (audience) and demand (filmmaker) inherent in capitalism means that 'we are in an era when you can make a film for nobody.'

He soberly noted that of the thousands of films submitted to Sundance last year, only 100 or so were chosen and of those only a handful landed distribution deals. 'The entire dilemma of filmmaking has changed. It used to be how you get the money to make the film. Now it’s how do you get anybody to see it?'"

---a plane crash in Afghanistan

---"punk’s spirit of negation is a very seductive thing. It’s what makes Lydon’s voice on those Sex Pistols recordings so gripping. (His lifelong ability to ooze disdain is really nothing short of a superpower—I can’t even imagine him ordering a salad without making it a confrontation.) It’s corrosive, and the great value of corrosive energies has always been for cleaning things, scouring away the buildup of empty values."

---Young Frankenstein outtakes

---"In the Costume Institute’s compendious catalogue for the 'Punk' exhibition is an amazing photograph of Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell (who would go their separate ways) standing torn and frayed in a harsh glare of interrogative light that fuses German Expressionism, Depression-era vagabondage, and a crime-scene blast of Weegee’s flashbulb into a fashion anti-statement. In such early glimpses, punk looks indistinguishable from impoverishment, a barely-scraping-by that was echoed across the ocean by Johnny Rotten’s ode to safety pins, which held the rips of his jacket together like sutures—an aesthetic born of necessity. (The catalogue’s juxtaposition of 70s images of real punks in their slashed, shredded, zippered, parachutist, Baader-Meinhof-ish, mental-ward-straitjacketed, plastic-garbage-bag getups with the luxury-item homages and appropriations of high-fashion maestros is jarring, even dismaying—so much more originality in the originals!)"  --James Wolcott


---"Repo Man, released in early 1984, was the first feature film by a twenty- nine-year-old British UCLA film school graduate named Alex Cox. Even now, the film’s existence seems implausible. It is an apocalypse tale with no doomsday, a punk movie with no concert, a science fiction story with less than ten seconds of aliens."

---"Tell Renee she's not allowed to run faster than me." --Tom Cruise

---"How Quickly the US Got Fat"

---using Google Glass

---He says he doesn’t remember exactly why he and Lee decided to start burglarizing celebrities’ homes, except that 'these were women with, like, fashion sense. Rachel watched The Hills, Gossip Girl—all those shows. She loved their clothes.' They started 'checking up on celebrity Web sites. We’d be like a little research team.' They’d drive by celebrities’ homes to do surveillance, figuring out how to get in.

They picked Paris Hilton as their first victim, Prugo said, because they figured she was 'dumb.' 'Like, who would leave a door unlocked? Who would leave a lot of money lying around?'"

---My Recurring Dream

---trailers for The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, The East, Much Ado About Nothing, and Violet & Daisy

---"As in 2011, when he shot Frances Ha, Baumbach was working with a digital camera, in a low-key, almost covert way. There was nothing about the project in Variety or on IMDb. For the permit paperwork, Baumbach had chosen a misleading and dull working title: Untitled Public School Project. (Frances Ha was Untitled Digital Workshop.) New York pedestrians know that a film production involves, at the least, a basket of unripe fruit under a white tent, and a lot of cables. In the absence of that—a small huddle around a camera, in the dark, as Kirke hurried across the street toward Gerwig, at a flower stand—Baumbach’s operation was almost invisible. A passerby explained knowingly to his friends, 'This is N.Y.U.-land.'"

---Movies in color

---Oblivion's FX montage

---"The assistant laid down the box, opening it to unfurl folds of acid-free archival tissue. Gently, she lifted up a few sheets, revealing her treasure: a dingy, ripped 'Anarchy in the U.K.' Sex Pistols T-shirt, sized to fit a child or an extremely hard-living rock star. There also was T-shirt after well-worn T-shirt, with punchy slogans and graphic images — many faded, with pit stains and rings around the collars. The assistant held up a scribbled black one. 'We have to make sure we don’t remove that safety pin,' she said, reverentially.  --From "Haute Punk"