Monday, July 28, 2014

Lucy's last 10 thoughts at the end of Luc Besson's Lucy

1) "The Taiwanese gangsters have just used their massive submachine gun/bazooka firepower to blow open the door of this room. How quaint."

2) "Are humans more concerned with having than being? Also, what happened to Thora Birch after Ghost World?"

3) "If I am everywhere, then where is my Sandstone Shimmer Maybelline lip gloss?"

4) "Every cell knows and talks to every other cell. They exchange a thousand bits of information between themselves per second. Cells join together forming a joint web of communication, which in turn forms matter. Cells get together, take on one form, deform, reform — makes no difference, they’re all the same. Humans consider themselves unique, so they’ve rooted their whole theory of existence on their uniqueness. 'One' is their unit of 'measure' — but it's not. All social systems we’ve put into place are a mere sketch: 'one plus one equals two', that’s all we’ve learned, but one plus one has never equaled two — there are in fact no numbers and no letters. So much for Algebra II."

5) "We’ve codified our existence to bring it down to human size. To make it comprehensible, we’ve created a scale so we can forget its unfathomable scale, so don't even bother to try to understand. Time is the only true unit of measure. It gives proof to the existence of matter. Without time, we don’t exist, so always keep your watch on your wrist. I can wipe at the screen of reality(!), going back and forth in time. All of time is now. Stanley Kubrick, with your simplistic match-on-action cut from an animal bone to a space ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey: eat your heart out."

5) "I have become pure consciousness. Now I will go back in time to teach the primitive woman-ape also named Lucy the fine art of becoming an efficient hit-woman and driving against one-way traffic in Paris."

6) "Michelangelo, you thought that God created man by touching the hand of Adam? Ha! I wonder: does Leeloo have a Tumblr account?"

8) "I can feel pain, fear, and desire ebbing away as I become all-knowing. I can sense everything going on everywhere, both electrical and magnetic waves (not to mention cell phone conversations) forming tendrils of light. I have arrived at the vascular macro-experiential mainframe of time and space. Funny how it's still hard to locate Bill Murray."

9) "The brain cell only has two solutions, either to reproduce or be immortal. Time to vomit light and manufacture a cosmic flash drive. La di dah."

10) "What makes us us is primitive. It’s all obstacles. But, now that I've arrived beyond human identity, I could still use a hot stone massage and a microdermabrasion facial."

11) "We never really die, unless you are Hercules."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Future Color: Luc Besson's The Fifth Element (1997)

[As I brood upon the philosophical conumdrums of Lucy (Is time the only unit of measure?), it occurs to me that I did review Besson's The Fifth Element back in my very early years of writing for a local newspaper (my first was for The English Patient). Leeloo does share with Lucy a tendency to absorb insane amounts of information off of a computer without half trying.]

To review movies nowadays, one must become a connoisseur of explosions. Ninety-nine percent of the films have them, beautiful sets are built to be blown up, and one gets used to great flaring balls of light cascading across one's retina. The color scheme of The Fifth Element seems to have been worked out with explosions in mind--bright orange and blue.

I dreaded this film because a friend of mine, Rob, took gleeful pleasure in relating how some Washington DC critic ripped it to tiny shards. I had already been wowed by the preview and did not want this movie to fail. Well, it turns out that The Fifth Element isn't bad at all; it's just more interested in visual ideas than in story originality. In terms of plot construction, it resembles many other sci-fi storylines out of Heavy Metal magazine--a Blade Runneresque hero Korben Dallas (played by Bruce Willis) stumbles into a mammoth intergalactic convergence of evil forces that threatens to end all life in the universe about 300 years from now. Dallas must save the gorgeous Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) in her skimpy day-glow orange clothes, when she is wearing clothes, and her brightly dyed orange Raggedy Ann hair and piercing blue eyes, from these evil forces so she stop a large glowing reddish-black planet from creating yet another explosion when colliding with the earth.

Now this may sound silly, and to some extent the movie is silly, but it's also visually quite striking, since the director Luc Besson (of La Femme Nikita (1990) and Leon: The Professional (1994)) combines his talents with several major graphics artists and a top fashion designer (Jean-Paul Gaultier) to build quite an intriguing future world, much as the makers of Blade Runner did. In this vision of New York City, hovercraft vehicles fly around on multiple levels, Dallas' bedroom resembles a cockpit where the refrigerator lowers to expose a shower, and everyone had yellow spots on the wall to put their hands on in case the police show up.

Luc Besson has already established that he has a flamboyant punk sensibility when it comes to design; he builds great elaborate worlds to mock them and then blow them up, but he also brings a bizarre French side to his pyrotechnics that you won't see in other dumb American movies. For instance, Besson combines a beautiful opera aria song by a blue alien in what looks like the Philharmonic with an armed takeover of bulldog alien goons of a giant luxury cruise ship, and with Milla Jovovich displaying her Fifth Element calisthenic fighting power. After awhile, the aria segues into a rock and roll beat and pretty soon the entire ship explodes.

Also, Chris Tucker plays a wacked out blend of Dennis Rodman and Prince as a hyper-celebrity radio personality named Ruby Rhod who trails Dallas through his adventures. Tucker's role is high, high camp coming out of nowhere, the ultimate futuristic extension of the talk-show celebrity worship of today.

As we walked out of the theatre, my friend Jack said the film has no ideas, and in terms of original plot or characterization, he's right. Bruce Willis just walked over from Die Hard. Milla Jovovich borrows many character elements from the woman-alien in Species.  But I don't care. Visually, The Fifth Element is a knock-out.

Friday, July 25, 2014

viral links

---the trailer for Dear White People

---filmmaking tips from James Gray

---25 of independent film and twitter

---"The story is familiar: An unknown artist self-produces a video, only to see it go viral and reach millions, gaining herself an interview on the 'Today' show. O.K., so then what? It’s just back to serfdom (with exceptions, like E. L. James, author of 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' which began as 'Twilight' fan fiction). In any event, the odds of going viral are comparable to winning the lottery, but the lottery, to its credit, actually pays out in cash. You might say virality is the promise that keeps the proletariat toiling in the cultural factories, instead of revolting and asking for something better." --Tim Wu's review of Astra Taylor's The People's Platform

---Hitchcock gifs

---The Men Who Made Us Spend

---brand names in Sex and the City

---Rosenbaum considers The Young Girls of Rochefort

---[Linklater] had noticed that most good directors made their first feature around the age of thirty, so that became his goal. He was obsessed with Tolstoy, and read extensively in his diaries. He dreamed of making an enormous biographical film that addressed the crucial moments of Tolstoy’s life. In the meantime, he made shorts, each conceived as a technical study: this one was about lighting; that one, camerawork. It was like training for the big season. He filed his best ideas away. He sat on many of them for years." --Nathan Heller

---"Moonrise Kingdom: Wes in Wonderland" by David Bordwell

---the trailer for Ned Rifle

---"Primer: Alan Moore"

---"Eric Garner and the Plague of Police Brutality Against Black Men" by Wilbert L. Cooper

---"Years ago, when Joe [Swanberg] started describing ('Drinking Buddies') to me — we're going to improvise everything, and everyone will control their characters, and we're going to drink actual IPA all day long"

---Satoshi Kon: Editing Space and Time

---Minstrel Man

---"1973 Look Back: Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye" by Matthew Eng

---"I don’t talk things out so much when I’m working alone, but with Greta, the talking becomes the work," Baumbach explains. "That’s the nice thing about collaborating with someone: Your work becomes a conversation. Ideally, we would have been in the same room a lot, talking at the computer, like the thing that movies do when they try to make writing interesting"--by which he means you see a couple seated at desks that face each other and they high-five a lot. "No, it’s not like that. We were really not in the same place a lot unfortunately. We were emailing back and forth and then after a while we did divvy up scenes."

Because the movie is broken up in chapters, it was easy for them to divide the work: One would focus on the sequence set at Vassar while the other would work on the dinner party scene. "We would then go over them and make a bigger pass. It’s fun to do it that way. It’s like I’m getting new scenes to read and it’s for this movie," he says excitedly. "Sometimes things would conflict and we’d have to make a decision--'That can’t happen here because this is going to happen,' but that’s the fun of it, too."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

patriarchal lie links

---Random Stop

---The Coen Brothers--Men of Constant Sorrow

---making The Royal Tenenbaums

---Saute ma ville

---"The ‘70s really were a golden age. It is even more apparent now. Last year was a great year for movies. This year, so far, it’s the pits. It’s not as if good films aren’t being made. Brad Pitt ('12 Years a Slave,' the upcoming 'Selma') and George Clooney ('Argo,'  'August: Osage County'), for example, are trying to do quality work on a studio scale. The problem is the dominance of the overseas market." --Peter Biskind

---Interiors magazine considers Memento

---filmmaking tips from Terry Gilliam

---"This pretentiousness is the newest incarnation of Hollywood’s compensatory bigness, as movies are always said to be imperiled by new technology. Superman can no longer be a well-meaning alien boy scout who masquerades as a bumbling reporter. He must now be a Christ surrogate who trades portentous looks with Lois Lane in place of banter. The Transformers movies can’t be tidy little toy advertisements that deliver their set pieces in a reasonable ninety or a hundred minutes or so. They must be three-hour war films that are blessed with the production values that are pragmatically denied of filmmakers who might have an actual vision to impart. And so on. Jettisoned for this seriousness is everything else a pop movie can be reasonably expected to provide: characters, plot, dialogue, comedy, sex, or, in short, the expansive possibility of untethered imagination." --Chuck Bowen

---The New Pornographers' "War on the East Coast"

---"How to / Why Leave Facebook" by Nick Briz

---"The persistence of this decline reinforces the claim that audiences do not flex to the ‘strength’ (or number) of the films released in any given period. Instead, each film selected by a movie-goer comes at the expense of another.

Though population growth has partially offset this decline, at 0.9% per year it’s far from enough. North American audiences are rapidly substituting other forms of entertainment for the theatrical experience, a trend that’s likely driven by the strength of present-day television, the value of OTT video services, and the proliferation of console and mobile gaming. Moreover, these assailants are unlikely to leave any time soon." --Liam Boluck and Prashob Menon

---trailers for God Help the Girl, The One I Love, My Old Lady, I Origins, Gone Girl, Young Onesand Ida 

---Richard Linklater talks with Matthew McConaughey

---50 essential feminist films

---“When I shoot, I try to feel the body and the face and the weight of the actor, because the character until that moment is only in the pages of the script. And very often, I pull from the life of my actors. I’m always curious about what these characters and these actors are hiding about their lives.”  --Bernardo Bertolucci

---David Fincher's use of color

---"While 'Under the Skin' purports to ponder mankind as regarded by an objective, alien gaze, the movie is also a documentary portrait of its wildly objectified star. Ms. Johansson is a sacred monster. What makes the movie most uncanny is the knowledge that her sexy vampire is not a man-hungry femme fatale but an implacable, agendered It." --J. Hoberman

---discussing Don't Look Back

---"I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to pop culture: I’m sorry for creating this unstoppable monster. Seven years after I typed that fateful phrase, I’d like to join Kazan and Green in calling for the death of the 'Patriarchal Lie' of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. I would welcome its erasure from public discourse. I’d applaud an end to articles about its countless different permutations. Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness. But in the meantime, Manic Pixies, it’s time to put you to rest." --Nathan Rabin

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Monkeyshines: 4 notes on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

1) Perhaps I shouldn't have watched the visual effects featurette beforehand, because I couldn't help seeing the strain in Dawn of the Planet of the Apesmotion-capture acting, the convenient plotting that maintains conflict, and the self-congratulatory blockbuster-worthy earnestness of it all. In the featurette, the director Matt Reeves talks about his attempts to get to the emotions of his audience. Perhaps consequently, I was unfavorably struck by the movie's many manipulative tender scenes. We see the leader of the apes Caesar (Andy Serkis) gazing off into the rainy redwood forest outside of San Francisco, maudlin family scenes with Caesar's sickly wife and computer-generated baby chimpanzee cooing like a simian variation of the little CGI monster baby of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, sympathetic human Malcolm (Jason Clarke) touching foreheads with Caesar in a cross-species moment of trust, father-son bonding between Caesar and his sensitive older son Blue Eyes, and, lastly, Caesar's many gestures of leadership, such as when he stands up straight and says things like "Apes don't want war but will fight if we must" and "Ape home. Do not come back" and "Ape not kill ape" and "I will decide by morning" as he looks proudly to the left with the weight of the apes' fate on his noble shoulders.

2) I guess I just like my movies to be more subversive, with more trickster figures, but Matt Reeves keeps a tight focus on a small colony of earnest humans in San Francisco after "ten winters" and a Contagion-like flu has wiped out 99% of the humans from the earth. Naturally, the small colony have many guns on hand to enhance later scenes. In the nearby woods, the apes like to decorate with large logs scattered around in pick-up-sticks fashion. Naturally, they live practically on top of a hydroelectric dam that could bring power to the poor Franciscans who just want to use it to communicate with someone else by radio, if anyone else exists on earth. Of course, there are no other energy sources around. I did like the grunge look of post-apocalyptic humans, with many characters wearing jeans, construction boots, and long sleeve henley t-shirts. The city overtaken by wildlife looks cool, and the apes move well en masse, swarming over the Golden Gate bridge as if the movie's director was raised on Vertigo.

3) I kept looking for Gary Oldman (who plays colony leader Dreyfus) to apologize for his Playboy interview during his speeches to his fellow humans.

4) Caesar's Scar-like sidekick Koba (Toby Kebell) does have playful moments in the midst of spying on the humans' massive arsenal. To defuse tension with 2 armed men that he encounters, Koba romps around, rolls over, lounges back on a seat, steals their bottle of liquor, tries to drink, and then splatters them with alcohol. He fools them into complacency before taking a gun and spraying them with machine gun fire. Koba's monkeyshines bring the film to life, but the few lighter scenes emphasize the programmatic nature of everything else--every bomb, tower, climactic fight, and plot twist betraying the blockbuster conventions peeking through the scenic ruins. I could picture noble Caesar sitting on his horse, straightening his back, and saying "Caesar tired of all this posturing. Apes need to set up sequel. Humans eager to repeat mistakes of 'civilization' by seeing more movies of this ilk."

Friday, July 4, 2014

twee links

---Mick Jagger discusses Monty Python

---What's On Your Mind?

---What is Bayhem?

---Samuel Fuller: The Men Who Made the Movies

---"You’re Twee if you like artisanal hot sauce. You’re Twee if you hate bullies. Indeed, it’s Spitz’s contention that we’re all a bit Twee: the culture has turned. Twee’s core values include 'a healthy suspicion of adulthood'; 'a steadfast focus on our essential goodness'; 'the cultivation of a passion project' (T-shirt company, organic food truck); and 'the utter dispensing with of ‘cool’ as it’s conventionally known, often in favor of a kind of fetishization of the nerd, the geek, the dork, the virgin.'"

---"B-Movie Title Design of the 1960s"

---The Trumbull Effect

---Robots in Film

---Meryl Streep on Beauty

---"the rapid rise of the term normcore is an indication of how the cultural idea of disappearing has become cool at the very historical moment when it has become almost impossible because of big data and widespread surveillance. Blending in gives you a particular kind of power when standing out means being put on the no-fly list for 10 years or a predictive-policing heat list in Chicago, or earns you a chilling anonymous SMS for attending a street protest in Ukraine." --Kate Crawford

---cartoon suicides

---trailers for The Skeleton Twins, Love Is Strange, Fury, Listen Up Philip, All Is By My Side, St. Vincent, Life After Beth, Before I Go to Sleep, and Rich Hill

---"People are taking the piss out of you every day."

---Boyhood featurette

---"in Rabbit at Rest (1990), cultural tidbits start to take on the same indistinct shape as his own life’s events: 'Like everything else on the news, you get bored, disasters get to seem a gimmick, like all those TV timeouts in football.' As hard as Rabbit tries to beat back his dread with the 'win' signifiers of his era — wealth, an affair, a few chummy but superficial friendships, an uneven golf game — none of Rabbit’s fixes last. His . . . unrelenting nostalgia for his own lonely past are encapsulated and eventually superseded by a steady flow of trivial distractions. That moment in the novel when a leap of a man into the air on a Toyota commercial ('Oh, what a feeling!') yields to the cold air above Lockerbie demonstrates exactly how the enthusiasms of American life thinly mask the specter of death. When Rabbit unceremoniously falls dead of a heart attack, it’s clear that this is how most stories will end. Even as he lies dying, his son insists on Frosted Flakes over bran cereals, and the newspaper arrives, blaring 'Hugo Clobbers South Carolina.'" --Heather Havrilesky

---"A Handy Tip for the Easily Distracted" by Miranda July

---the earliest known Talking Heads recordings

---"Twees, as I saw them, were souls with an almost incapacitating awareness of darkness, death and cruelty, who made the personal choice to focus on essential goodness and sweetness. They kept a tether to childhood and innocence and a tether to adulthood as is required by the politically and socially active." --Marc Spitz

---Lost Kubrick

---the long shots of Paul Thomas Anderson

---"The lyric essay is all-telling, all the time. A snippet of image here, a stray bit of dialog there, nested in the telling: the logic of the traditional story reversed. It purposefully avoids a steady progression towards meaning, a predictable arc of exposition, climax, revelation, and denouement, preferring instead allusive, anecdotal, and abstract swipes at an opaque theme. In their introduction to the Fall 1997 issue of The Seneca Review, Deborah Tall and John D’Agata christened and defined the lyric essay. It 'forsake[s] narrative line, discursive logic, and the art of persuasion in favor of idiosyncratic meditation…It might move by association, leaping from one path of thought to another by way of imagery or connotation, advancing by juxtaposition or sidewinding poetic logic. Generally it is short, concise and punchy like a prose poem. But it may meander, making use of other genres when they serve its purpose: recombinant, it samples the techniques of fiction, drama, journalism, song, and film.' It is, in other words, a mash-up: borrowing from all, beholden to none. It likes to betray the genres from which it borrows, making wily little jabs at their most dearly held conventions. It mocks creative nonfiction in its manipulation of facts: sometimes reinventing them for the sake of 'art,' sometimes subverting their claim to objective truth by repeating or removing them from context. It mocks fiction in using these untruths, these distorted or altered facts, not as story but as dry, lyrically stylized information." --Sarah Menkedick

Monday, June 30, 2014

Refusing to be a shoe and other subversive pleasures of Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer

When I saw the trailer for Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer, I thought the premise of class warfare on a train was too schematic, obvious, and implausible, but after having enjoyed the movie twice, I found that the film's compressed treatment of the psychology of the oppressed and the oppressor rings true. Ideologically, and in terms of film technique, the movie is fascinating. Who is Bong Joon-ho? Why does he make so many allusions to films such as The Fifth Element, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Truman Show, and others? There is so much to cinematically savor--the parallels with Nazis transporting people in railway cars, the color juxtapositions in the set design, the dramatic contrast between the largely dead future world (which in other movies such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road tend to be drearily slow) and the speeding train, the dynamics of the racial diversity in the international cast, the use of space to show class divisions.  Underlying all of this is the main emphasis on power and leadership, how the rich enjoy their position in part by ignoring the sufferings of the poor, and how the poor resist becoming commodities to be devoured.

The film begins with the news that in an attempt to engineer a solution to global warming by releasing a chemical "CW-7" into the air, scientists have ironically ended up plunging the planet into a new ice age. The only human survivors ride a train that perpetually circles the globe. While the poor in the tail of the train suffer every kind of privation--layers of grime, hunger, the harvesting of their children, etc., the rich lead much more pleasant if surreal lives in ways that suggest an updating of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) or the more recent Titanic. As Curtis, Chris Evans depicts a man reluctant to lead, and he's surrounded by recognizable types--the fiery younger sidekick Edgar (Jamie Bell), the wise man (John Hurt) who evokes a similar role in Midnight Express (1978), and Tanya (Octavia Spencer) a mom militantly outraged by the loss of her young boy. Tilda Swinton plays a grotesque clownishly vicious functionary named Mason with fake teeth and gangly glasses. She gives speeches where she encourages the lower classes to "Know your place! Accept your place! Be a shoe!" as one of her minions, as an example to others, publicly tortures someone who openly revolted against the system. She also castigates the rebels for having the "misplaced optimism of the doomed."

After figuring out a way to get out of the first railway car, Curtis opens a morgue-like drawer to uncover a delightfully sulky and drug-addicted expert in unlocking train car doors (Kang-ho Song) and his 17 year old daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko) who turns out to be clairvoyant like the character River Tam in Serenity (2005) (with Snowpiercer, one can tease out the implications of these pop culture associations all day). As the rebel crew works its way forward in the train, each new door has surprises behind it. When the rebels find one train car filled with brutish enforcers with face masks and axes clearly placed there to kill them, Joon-ho leisurely lingers on the thugs as they ritualistically anoint their axes with the blood of a large fish. This scene becomes a discourse on extreme lighting changes, slow-motion action, and soft piano music highlighted with blood. Afterwards, the rebels incongruously find themselves in a brightly colored school for kids who are all well-indoctrinated by the dictatorship of the train to answer questions in unison. When the teacher asks what will happen if they leave the train, the kids gleefully cry out in unison "We all freeze and die!" Bong Joon-ho's pleasure in his craft keeps enhancing his dystopian vision with wit, insight, and visual flair.