Sunday, August 27, 2017

a note on Steven Soderbergh's creative method

“You go through three phases trying to express yourself in any art form” explains Soderbergh. “First, you imitate. Next, you begin to document what you’re thinking and feeling and use the crafts you’ve learned through imitation. Then there’s the third phase: taking the emotions and feelings you’ve experienced—which are autobiographical—and creating a fictional story with which to express them. That was the big leap for me, because emotionally, sex, lies, and videotape is very autobiographical, and yet nothing in the film actually occurred. And by being fictional I was able to be clearer in what I was trying to get across.” --from Michael Dare's sex, lies, and videotape essay on Criterion

Turning the Screw by Johannes Binotto

Turning the Screw from Johannes Binotto on Vimeo.

A study of the mise-en-scene of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur. As Jeff, Robert Mitchum remains supremely sleepy throughout.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Internet addiction and Adam Alter's Irresistible

"The environment and circumstance of the digital age are far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in our history. In the 1960s, we swam through waters with only a few hooks: cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs that were expensive and generally inaccessible. In the 2010s, those same waters are littered with hooks. There’s the Facebook hook. The Instagram hook. The email hook. The online shopping hook. And so on. The list is long—far longer than it’s ever been in human history, and we’re only just learning the power of these hooks.

Compared to the clunky tech of the 1990s and early 2000s, modern tech is efficient and addictive. Hundreds of millions of people share their lives in real time through Instagram posts, and just as quickly those lives are evaluated in the form of comments and likes. Songs that once took an hour to download now arrive in seconds, and the lag that dissuaded people from downloading in the first place has evaporated. Tech offers convenience, speed, and automation, but it also brings large costs. Human behavior is driven in part by a succession of reflexive cost-benefit calculations that determine whether an act will be performed once, twice, a hundred times, or not at all. When the benefits overwhelm the costs, it’s hard not to perform the act over and over again, particularly when it strikes just the right neurological notes.

A like on Facebook and Instagram strikes one of those notes, as does the reward of completing a World of Warcraft mission, or seeing one of your tweets shared by hundreds of Twitter users. The people who create and refine tech, games, and interactive experiences are very good at what they do. They run thousands of tests with millions of users to learn which tweaks work and which ones don’t—which background colors, fonts, and audio tones maximize engagement and minimize frustration. As an experience evolves, it becomes an irresistible, weaponized version of the experience it once was. In 2004, Facebook was fun; in 2016, it’s addictive."  --from Adam Alter's Irresistible (a book that has been preoccupying me recently)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A respectful reaction to Richard Brody's paragraph about Atomic Blonde

I've been lazy and shiftless this summer, disappointed in Baby Driver, respectfully confused by Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and quick to loathe Ghost in the Shell with its numb robotic rigidity, but I was very impressed with Atomic Blonde, so I thought I'd supply some respectful annotations to Richard Brody's paragraph [in italics below] about the movie in The New Yorker:

"This standard-issue spy-by-the-pound yarn [Ha!]--set during the last days of the Berlin Wall [I happened to propose to my wife when the Berlin Wall fell, which struck me as good symbolism at the time. We're still married, and Atomic Blonde cleverly mines the historical moment for good mob scenes and dramatic juxtapositions of espionage skullduggery with joyful city-wide celebrations]--is both enlivened and deadened by its unusually realistic and numbingly plentiful violence. [I was concerned about that possibility too, but it struck me that there's all the difference in the world between Keanu Reeves realistically (?) fighting many men in John Wick (2014) and Charlize Theron doing the same in Atomic Blonde (David Leitch directed some of the former and all of the latter). The action scenes of the latter left me thrilled even to the point of wondering, when one considers Wonder Woman as well, why anyone should even watch male action heroes anymore? Haven't we pretty much seen all that they can do? But Charlize Theron's delightfully ice-cold Lorraine Broughton doesn't bother to explain herself. There's no back story for her (as some critics have complained). She just pulls off a stiletto heel and uses it to take down several guys in a speeding car. With so much post-Imperator Furiosa-infused killer attitude, she doesn't need any back story. And Brody says nothing about Broughton's fashion choices, again one of the movie's most important aspects.] Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, an M.I.6 agent sent to the still divided to locate--with the help of British colleague (James McAvoy) [who proves impressive in part because he somehow manages to hold his own next to Theron. McAvoy's performance as David Percival is pleasantly deranged and corrupt.]--a wristwatch containing a list of Western spies [I liked the use of the fancy wristwatch as a McGuffin, having received a used black and silver Tiger Tudor watch for Christmas last year. I enjoy how such watches implicitly rebuke the moronic Apple Watch Series 2 with its emphasis on nudging people to flail around all day], and to rescue a Stasi turncoat (Eddie Marsan), who has the list memorized. This action is seen in flashbacks, intercut with scenes of the bloodied, bruised, and embittered Lorraine's chilly debriefing by her handlers (Toby James [who reminds one pleasantly of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)] and John Goodman [who has been in every movie, it seems, that I've seen in the last three years]. The deceptive twists and cynical moods of espionage [What's wrong with that? Brody writes as it that's a bad thing.] take place in nostalgically bleak Cold War cityscapes [just in Berlin--and Berlin comes off looking cool, reminding me of the Sex Pistols' song "Holidays in the Sun"--

"The Berlin wall

I got to go over the wall
I don't understand this thing at all"

I mean, really, is there a better emblem of the terminal stupidity of the cold war?], but the fine points of spycraft are either reduced to mere winks or amplified to bone-thwacking and gore-spraying martial artistry [Brody does not acknowledge that what makes this movie compelling is that Charlize Theron goes beyond any kind of usual kick-ass ability to something almost impersonally and rudely sublime. In real life, her teeth were injured! By doing her own stunts, she suffered much for her edgy contempt for ordinary women's star vehicles, but no, Brody cares about the "fine points of spycraft."] Theron keeps her cool throughout the pummeling gyrations [said begrudgingly], but the film strains to achieve a breathless panache and lurid swagger for which David Leitch's direction is too heavy-footed and literal [I thought the direction was playful and creative, the cinematography full of bruised, lurid, decadent colors.]; a deft, metal-bashing automotive ballet comes too late to help. [I don't remember exactly what he's talking about here. Brody doesn't mention a clever Hitchcock-esque moment when Broughton arranges for an entire city street full of protesters to raise their umbrellas to block a hitman's bullet.] With Sofia Boutella, as a French agent with an artistic streak." [Brody doesn't mention the movie's clever '80s soundtrack, the way Broughton's on-going discussion with the intelligence officers back in London balances the action with sharp dialogue, or, for that matter, how the movie generally has a surprisingly smart screenplay by Kurt Johnstad and Antony Johnston, in a world of lesser-written contemporary releases. I have great respect for Richard Brody often and The New Yorker always, but in this case, I beg to differ.        

Thursday, August 3, 2017

captive attention links

---Not a Grande Dame by Catherine Grant

---Incident by a Bank

---trailers for Thor: Ragnarok, Proud Mary, Call Me By Your Name, UnaReady Player OneJustice League9 DoigtsMother!, and Suburbicon

---"What is the defining characteristic of the femme fatale, that film noir archetype of the scheming woman who preys on men? Even more than greed or coldheartedness, it might be deceit: a virtuosic ability to manipulate men with lies and playacting. The femme fatale is spawned by male anxiety—not prompted by women’s wartime emancipation, as many have argued, but arising from the age-old fear of being fooled by women, and the misogynistic belief that they are inherently duplicitous and inscrutable. This shapes the way actresses play femme fatales: they are often giving a performance of a performance, enacting a charade of feminine sweetness and frailty that satisfies the expectations and desires of their marks. In Eddie Muller’s Dark City Dames, Jane Greer recalls that when she played the enchanting thief, liar, and killer Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past (1947), director Jacques Tourneur wasted no time on the character’s psychology, simply instructing her: 'First half—good girl. Second half—bad.' He told her to play it 'impassive,' conveying the depths of her evil through a shocking depthlessness. A woman like Kathie or Kitty almost doesn’t seem to have a real self beneath the layers of lies: she is, as a disgusted Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) tells Kathie, 'like a leaf the wind blows from one gutter to another.'" --Imogen Sara Smith

---Anatomy of a scene: Valerian 

---five action sequences from Atomic Blonde

---"I still feel that we’re still in the early years of what digital will ultimately become." --Henry Blodget

---Aldous Huxley on Technodictators

---"If there’s a defining mood to Brooks’s work as writer/director/star, it’s one of profound restlessness and dissatisfaction, often followed closely by the shame of leading a life of privilege and comfort and its never being enough. As David, Brooks wants for nothing but perspective, and the price for that perspective is the liquidated value of his material possessions and a sizable share of his dignity and self-worth. In the film’s moral reckoning, it’s a fair sum." --Scott Tobias

---"'Cool' was our mantra on this film, and it became very empowering" --Cindy Evans

---The Legacy of Paranoid Thrillers

---"The premise of hijacking is that it undermines your control. This system is better at hijacking your instincts than you are at controlling them. You’d have to exert an enormous amount of energy to control whether these things are manipulating you all the time. And so we have to ask: How do we reform this attention economy and the mass hijacking of our mind?" --Tristan Harris

---"Charlize Theron Is Not Here to Make Friends" by Anne Helen Petersen

---Romero's filmmaking tips


---"They are all attempting to capture your most scarce resource — your attention — and take it hostage for money. Your captive attention is worth billions to them in advertising and subscription revenue." --Tobias Rose-Stockwell