Sunday, November 13, 2016

new normal links

---"Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality." --Masha Gessen

---"All around were the unmistakable signs of normalization in progress. So many were falling into line without being pushed. It was happening at tremendous speed, like a contagion." --Teju Cole

---"Don’t normalize the dark spirits that have been unleashed. Don’t.

But this is what the mainstream media does." --Matt Zoller Seitz

---Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and election night

---"For many years, the U.S. — like the U.K. and other Western nations — has embarked on a course that virtually guaranteed a collapse of elite authority and internal implosion. From the invasion of Iraq to the 2008 financial crisis to the all-consuming framework of prisons and endless wars, societal benefits have been directed almost exclusively to the very elite institutions most responsible for failure at the expense of everyone else.

It was only a matter of time before instability, backlash, and disruption resulted." --Glenn Greenwald

---"Americanness is a sponge, not an ethnicity; normalization is a key part of how it works. It resides in the way that we speak, in the ideas that get refined and reworked and encoded in ordinary words until they seem harmless enough. It’s the ability to fit things into a narrative that flatters our ability to reason. Normalization is the process through which wisdom becomes conventional and utopian ideals slam against questions of feasibility." --Hua Hsu

---"Are You Lost in the World Like Me?"

---"Facebook has become a sewer of misinformation. Some of it is driven by ideology, but a lot is driven purely by the economic incentive structure Facebook has created: The fake stuff, when it connects with a Facebook user’s preconceived notions or sense of identity, spreads like wildfire. (And it’s a lot cheaper to make than real news.)" --Joshua Benton

---Children of Men: Comments by Slavoj Zizek Grym

---"Those of us whose ancestors were owned and bred like animals know that future all too well, because it is, in part, our past. And we know that by fighting, against all odds, we who had nothing, not even our real names, transformed the universe." --Junot Diaz

---"In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event." --David Remnick

---Our "political climate right now is conducive to this normalization of torture due to two facts: the current strength of our presidency and the current stance of U.S. public opinion on torture. One of the enabling factors for the abuses committed in the early years of the George W. Bush administration was the conviction among the administration’s lawyers that in a time of war, there were few—if any—constraints on the power of the executive." --Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault

---trailers for Do Not Resist and HyperNormalisation

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Sunday, October 30, 2016

"A Dream Is Just a Dream": the Elegiac Pleasures of Cafe Society

Woody Allen's Cafe Society has a wistful elegiac charm evoked by the golden sunset light of 1930s Hollywood, a fondness for glamorizing Kristen Stewart, a storyline that kept reminding me of Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960), and an LA/New York dynamic that one finds in Allen's Annie Hall (1977). I wasn't thrilled to see the over-exposed Jesse Eisenberg lead the movie as Bobby, the innocent and nervous New Yorker thrown into Los Angeles movie star society, but he has an easy rapport with Stewart given their work together in Adventureland (2009) and last year's American Ultra.

Whereas so many recent movies leave one feeling sorry for the actors, Cafe Society keeps displaying good taste in showcasing actresses like Parker Posey (who plays Rad, a helpful socialite who befriends Bobby) and Blake Lively (who looks gorgeous as Bobby's eventual WASP wife, Veronica). While another filmmaker might've made some point about the miseries of the depression era, Allen scarcely acknowledges it, instead focusing on the gangster-infused high life of upper class New York that sometimes reminded me of the oblique social observations in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. When Bobby runs into some romantic disappointment, Allen also scarcely dwells on that either, as if he doesn't have time for any moping about. We can hear Allen's voiceover as the movie builds to a romantic triangle between Bobby, Vonnie, and Bobby's uncle Phil Stern, the high-powered Hollywood agent again agreeably played by Steve Carell. After seeing Carell's work in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012), showcasing an ersatz blend of soft humor and sickly apocalyptic sentimentality, I didn't have much hope for him, but he's well-suited as a surprisingly sympathetic variation of the scumbag Sheldrake in The Apartment. Given Stern's many connections to everyone in the film industry, one can see why Vonnie could like him.

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro understands Allen's affection for the era and his characters by keeping them beautifully lit while clad in funky 1930s fashions, listening to lots of late-night New York jazz, and watching the occasional Barbara Stanwyck snippet while making a meta reference to Billy Wilder. One gets a sense of Allen already saying goodbye to filmmaking as his characters consider their mortality. Leonard, Bobby's brother-in-law points out: "Socrates said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living.' But the examined one is no bargain." Still, Vonnie and Bobby have wistful moments of reflection of a romance that long since disappeared or transformed into married compromise that still may resonate during a New Year's Eve celebration. When Cafe Society pauses to consider what might have been, one can sense Allen positing the value of his entire oeuvre as easily comparable to Bobby's youthful moment of bliss walking along the beach with Kristen Stewart's character. When speaking of his former love, Bobby says, "A dream is just a dream," but given Cafe Society's golden-embossed sense of loss, it may matter more than anything else.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

virtual links

---The Godfather Explained: Cinematography of Shadows

---"Here’s how it ought to go: critics should work in the service of art, and so should editors, while also working in their writers’ best interests. This chain of relationships was never, ever the norm, but today it’s regularly perverted. Editors assign (and hacks pitch) from a script written by quantifiable User Interest or studio marketing—take a look at the e-mails between CEO Michael Lynton and New York Times reporter Brooks Barnes revealed in the Sony hack if you want proof—and movies are either picked to the bone or, if they don’t render down into the right kind of copy, quickly forgotten. Try to envisage even the contemporary equivalent of, say, James Agee’s three-week stand for Monsieur Verdoux before the niche readership of The Nation. There is still good and great film art being made, but how can any of it register as epochal before the torrential onrush of content? Nobody can stop traffic, and the cultural landscape is a passing blur. There’s a sense—don’t you feel it?—that nothing is major, and that’s major."  --Nick Pinkerton

---filmmaking tips from Terrence Malick

---"By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact. We remove or drastically filter all the information we might get by being with another person. We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook 'friend,' an Instagram photo, a text message — in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of the sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction. We become each other’s 'contacts,' efficient shadows of ourselves." --Andrew Sullivan

---Moonrise Kingdom--Where Story Meets Style

---Every Commercial Ever

---"The office is as much a star of the film as Redford and Hoffman who are elbow to elbow with landslides of paper, stacks of well-thumbed reference books, clusters of coffee cups and overburdened ashtrays. Some of this can surely be chalked up to artistic license, but the newsroom was a careful recreation that included actual garbage transported from the Post offices.

Art director George Jenkins obsessively reproduced the Post office’s at Warner Bro’s Studio in Burbank. According to a 1975 Post story about the making of the film (and invasion of the office by Hollywood types) the newsroom was recreated for $200,000 and spread out over two sound stages. “Nearly 200 desks at $500 apiece were purchased from the same firm that sold desks to The Post four years ago,” the story continued. “And to color them just right, the same precise shades of paint—be they '6 ½ PA Blue' or '22 PE Green'—are being mixed on special order.” --Andy Wright

---trailers for Black Mirror Season Three, Jackie, Rats20th Century Women, Before the FloodDivines, Gimme DangerRules Don't Apply, The 13thPaterson, and Personal Shopper

---"And that’s the real problem with a culture that has an overreliance on franchises: the rulebooks and conventions of the franchise are often simply too strict to allow for innovation. When a movie is the latest within a well-known franchise or larger property, audiences and studio executives bring a laundry list of expectations to the table: they need specific story beats to be hit, certain tones to be met, iconic catchphrases to be repeated, the requisite awkward Dan Aykroyd cameo to be make everyone feel bad and sad." --Dan Schoenbrun

---the treatment for True Detective Season One 

---"The abundance of faked CGI images dilutes the meaning of the images we see to the extent that our world is becoming little more than a sequence of abstract pixel sheets. The meaning of what we see in theaters is fading constantly." --Riccardo Manzotti

---Reversal Revisited

---"When you purchase an ebook you must agree to the Terms of Service (TOS) that tell you what you can do with it. TOS are essentially very one-sided contracts written by the company selling the digital goods. Often they include provisions that shield the business from liability and even prevent the consumer from going to court if they feel ripped off. Typically a consumer’s only choice is to accept them as they are, or to decline to use the service entirely. An overwhelming majority of internet users agree to them without reading them. In one experiment 98% of users failed to notice a clause requiring them to give up their first-born as payment." --Christopher Groskopf

---The Rise of the Zombie Movie

---"The gangster film, a genre that often overlaps with noir, has an innately classical, even conservative bent. It belongs to a world of rules, of honor and betrayal. While the seminal American gangster films of the early thirties followed young men of raw ambition as they clawed their way to the top—and to the spectacular death that always met them at the pinnacle—the French cycle of the fifties and sixties has an elegiac tone, full of older men ruefully surveying a changing world or the waste and futility of their careers in crime. But many of these films also have a wry undertone of amusement; their heroes have reached an age where they can look on fate’s insults with some equanimity. In Touchez pas au grisbi, there is no more outcry against the universe, just shrugging acceptance that things don’t work out, and a sensible focus on simple pleasures: a drink, a snack, a jukebox tune." --Imogen Sara Smith

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Freon Gremlin: a one act play

Why are filmmakers so harsh on LA? Is the city as venal, predatory, soulless, and vicious as Mulholland Drive, Maps to the Stars, Sunset Boulevard, and The Neon Demon make it appear? As someone who lives in the sweet home-spun middle-of-nowhere rolling cotton fields and gentle hurricane and Cracker Barrel-ridden flatlands of provincial South Carolina, the film doctor often wonders about the cutthroat sunny land of movie stars and swimming pools:

The curtain opens to find Jena Malone getting a massage while lying supine by her pool. The famous Los Angeles sun illuminates the scene brilliantly. A helicopter flies by, stirring palm fronds overhead. Anyone can see the famous chin of Gretchen, Donnie Darko's immortal girlfriend, still prominent under Jena's Wayfarers. A strong smell of burned flesh lingers in the air along with that of Chanel No. 5. Suddenly, Jena's Samsung Galaxy in black onyx rings. With one lacquered hand, Jena waves her masseuse away and answers:

Jena: H'llo.

Her agent: Ms. Malone! Guess what! Refn wants you in The Neon Demon!

Jena: Really! (she pauses) Did you see what Mr. Nicolas Winding Refn did to Kristin Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives? What kind of role does he have in mind for me?

Agent: He wants you to play Ruby, a helpful make up artist who befriends Elle Fanning's character Jesse, a young beautiful waif freshly arrived in LA from the innocent and provincial American heartland.

Jena begins to pace back and forth, the LA skyline blinking magnificently behind her as she waves one hand in the air to dry her nails. Her sunglasses glitter in the reflected sunlight bouncing off the pool: Yes?

Agent: There's one other thing. (spoiler alert) Your character turns out to be a, uh, murderous lesbian necrophiliac cannibal.

Jena: Really? Will I have many scenes amidst lots of stuffed cougars, owls, and paintings of other wild predatory animals evoking Hitchcock's use of mise en scene in Psycho?

Agent: Yes!

Jena: I trust that Winding will include the requisite amount of dead bodies in this movie? He usually averages around 14-20. Will I get to decorate corpses in a morgue while wearing a stylish skirt?

Agent: Of course!

Jena: Will the movie involve a long scene in which Elle Fanning's character Jesse communes with a green neon triangle for no apparent reason?

Agent: That goes without saying.

Jena: Does Refn figure that today's viewer is jaded and bored enough for this highly unlikely Grand Guignol of vicious weirdness to seem plausible, and not, say, a bit silly?

Agent: You said it. I didn't. Cannes will go for it.

Abruptly, the searing sound of clashing metal and distant screams interrupts their conversation. Jena pauses to look down 10 floors below where a 17 lane highway abuts her apartment complex. Traffic has backed up for miles, leaving smog drifting over the sun-bleached horizon. To one side, Jena notices a semi crashed into a Maserati on an overpass. Several coyotes from central casting already approach the bloodied and contorted bodies lying in a very David Lynchian way across the asphalt. Jena sighs and wonders--can she really work with that unholy overbearing Elle Fanning with her coyingly sweet public persona? Just then, one of Jena's lackeys brings out a silver tray with some indeterminate baked meat skewered on Saltines next to some olives and cocktails. Jena considers the abysmal badness of Only God Forgives, but then again, Refn's Drive is a contemporary classic. Blow sinuous winding woolly wind . . . 

Jena: Ovitz, did you say Refn wants me to play a murderous cannibal?

Agent: (pause) Yes.

Jena: How did he know?


Thursday, September 15, 2016

post-fact links

---"Even those diehards are watching movies as part of a larger audio-visual diet that is in serious technological and cultural flux. I could easily say that Lemonade was the best movie I saw this spring and Stranger Things was the best movie I saw this summer, and if you reply that they’re not movies because they didn’t play in theaters or conform to a two-hour run time, I’d say you’re living in the past. The Hollywood studios still feel comfortable in that paradigm but they’re starting to look like the only ones. Maybe they’re the suicide squad." --Ty Burr

---“It’s just a clear indication of the marketplace where those high-end, niche art films just aren’t working globally,” said Marcus Hu, co-founder of independent distributor Strand Releasing. “Territories aren’t buying those kinds of movies anymore.”

---"Where are all our great romantic comedies?" by Liz Meriwether

---The Coen Brothers and Noah Baumbach discuss filmmaking

---"Wow" by Beck

---"the ultimate motivation of these performances is not to find communion or community, not with the other actors and not with the film audience, either. If there is a message to the audience in these performances, it’s best captured by one of Lawrence-as-Katniss’s final lines in the series as she describes her trauma nightmares: 'I’ll tell you how I survive it.'" --Shonni Enelow

---The Dark Knight: Creating the Ultimate Antagonist

---Roger Corman's filmmaking tips

---"Don't Wait. Write. Make a short film. Go to an open mike. Take an improv class. There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay." --Mike Birbiglia

---Kenzo World

---All the Slender Ladies: Body Diversity in Video Games

---"These movies didn’t just fail; they almost seemed to never exist in the first place, having been dismissed or disposed of almost immediately upon impact. And even if they did do OK for a weekend or two, they never reached beyond their predictable (and increasingly stratified) core audiences. Instead, they were dumbo-dropped into our ever-expanding cauldron of content, where they played to their bases, while everyone else turned to the newest videogame, or the latest Drake video, or some random 'Damn, Daniel' parody." --Brian Raftery

---On Set: Kristen Stewart

---Cinephilia and Beyond considers They Live

---trailers for Nocturnal Animals, Miss Sloane, Westworld, Too Late, and Guardians

---"How Snowden Escaped" by Teresa Tedesco

---"Instead of ushering a new era of truth-telling, the information age allows lies to spread in what techies call ‘digital wildfires’. By the time a fact-checker has caught a lie, thousands more have been created, and the sheer volume of ‘disinformation cascades’ make unreality unstoppable. All that matters is that the lie is clickable, and what determines that is how it feeds into people’s existing prejudices." --Peter Pomerantsev

---Richard Brody considers Hitchcock's Marnie and Marie Antoinette

---Dennis Cozzalio considers Elevator to the Gallows

---Dick Van Dyke sings "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" at a Denny's

---The References of Wes Anderson

---"Truffaut, in his interviewing, showed that a theory of composition could be lucently explained through process, that invention was not a happy accident but a habit of the mind. Hitchcock, in his replies, proved that the illusion of mainstream effortlessness rose from tiny choices made with intention and care. The legacy of their inquiry rests in today’s pop-cultural hermeneutics, self-reflexive television, probing podcast interviews. Hitchcock/Truffaut helped shape current creative life. But it reminds us, too, that art still holds mysteries beyond even the most vertiginous achievements of craft." --Nathan Heller

Saturday, September 10, 2016

4 notes on Ethan Hawkes' haircut in Maggie's Plan

1) After a dull start, Rebecca Miller's Maggie's Plan proved engaging enough with the combined talents of Greta Gerwig and Julianne Moore playing characters competing for the attention of a ficto-critical anthrolopologist named John Harding (Ethan Hawke). The movie develops wry momentum once Maggie (Gerwig) allows their combined interest in his drafting of a novel to become a romance. Once John suddenly kneels down before Maggie (dressed in a nightgown) to proclaim his love for her in a manner that reminded me of Gene Wilder doing something similar in The World's Greatest Lover (1977), I kept finding myself fixating on his deliberately ersatz haircut.

2) Perhaps, by this point, after so many Sunset movies, and the epic time expansion of Boyhood, Hawke could not just simply appear in a decent short haircut. Perhaps such conservatism didn't square with Rebecca Miller's vision of his slightly pretentious intellectual character, but did his hair have to be so misshapen and deliberately badly cut with its chicken comb top and its uneven strands going every which way? Is he supposed to look boyish? In Hamlet 2000 Hawke sported a respectable 90's pageboy cut that he would sometimes cover with a ski cap. In most of his movies, Hawke's do has looked fine, so why does he look like such a dork here?

3) Perhaps I'm just a guy with a guy's limitations watching a movie that patiently explores various ways in which women self-actualize as mothers or academics or lovers. I can see why Greta Gerwig picked the role. She gets to wear lots of prim outfits with knee-length socks as her character wrestles with her tendency to ignore men altogether as she prefers being a mother figure. Julianne Moore plays Georgette, a writer and a leading academic with an exotic Brazilian(?) accent who still harbors a weakness for John (Lord knows why). Maggie finds, after a certain point, that she rather likes Georgette, even though Maggie stole her husband away from her.

4) So, as Maggie's plan of getting John to reunite with his former wife reaches its many complications, I just kept staring at Hawkes' shag updo and feeling bad for him. At one point, John curses out Maggie for manipulating him, and I could understand. Anyone who has to spend so much time onscreen under that pile of postmodern pick-up sticks/going-every-which-way coiffure really should be annoyed.