Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Art of Oneself — Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction

In many ways, the Transformers movies have always been somewhat plagued by a weird quasi-meshing of Spileberg's penchant boy-growing-up-among-the-awe narratives with Michael Bay's own crass maximalism (a meaningless word, but how else to describe what's on screen). Age of Extinction eliminates the main component of the former director's hand - Shia Labeouf's alienating and always too smug every-boy - in favor of Marky Mark Wahlberg, who mutates into whatever he needs to be from scene to scene (techie, overly concerned parent, football star, machine gun expert). It's a good metaphor for the film itself, which struck me as a work completely outside of its own interest as a film made by a studio for entertainment. Instead, it morphs into a parade of advertisement for each of its backers — Hasboro, Victoria's Secret, Chevrolet, and Budweiser (not to mention numerous Chinese sponsors I didn't recognize). The last of those companies comes up in a scene so crassly made that you could snip that 30 seconds from the film and it could have easily been a spot during the Super Bowl. A colleague of mine once posited that movie theaters are slowly morphing into the mall—a space for people to hang out more than experience film, and this film certainly made that experience seem like less a warning of doom than a proposition of truth. Goodbye Cinema, Hello Capitalism 2.0.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Link Round-Up: Summer Blues

If you look to the left, you can see the cover of my book. And soon enough, you can buy it! Neato!

My friend Kevin B. Lee, who came on the podcast in January of last year, has released his most ambitious video essay yet, entitled Transformers: The Premake. I discussed this work at The Film Stage

I also reviewed two more Blu-Rays for The Film Stage and tried to put them in conversation with each other: Antonioni's L'Eclisse and Kiarostami's Like Someone In Love. Both are wonderful and the transfers look fantastic.

A surprisingly decent transfer would also be the new DCP of Eric Rohmer's A Summer's Tale, which is finally receiving a theatrical release in the United States. It's my favorite movie of the year, and I explain why over here. I also review a so-called "new release" movie, Clint Eastwood's beguiling and somewhat wondrous Jersey Boys.

On The Cinephiliacs, Adam Nayman joins the show to talk about his book about Showgirls entitled It Doesn't Suck, and we also discuss Mia Hansen-Love's debut feature, All Is Forgiven. He also tears Jason Reitman to shreds. 

Over on Letterboxd...
New films! Nadiv Lapid's Policeman and Lord and Miller's 22 Jump Street
War documentaries! William Wyler's Memphis Belle and John Huston's San Pietro
From Asia! King Hu's A Touch of Zen and Kenji Mizoguchi's Women of the Night
Big Auteurs! Alain Resnais's Melo and James Cameron's The Abyss

Monday, June 16, 2014

Link Round-Up: Post Cannes, Pre-Apocalypse

I gotta get a better system of making sure I update this...

My first book, Approaching the End: Imagining Apocalypse in American Film, is still due out in October. Here is the list of films I'll be tackling in it: Kiss Me Deadly, The Lady from Shanghai, The Big Heat, The Rapture, God Told Me To, Days of Heaven, Strange Days, The Terminator, They Live, and Southland Tales. There is also extended talk of Out of the Past, In A Lonely Place, In The Mouth of Madness, and The World's End.

I went to the Cannes Film Festival for the first time, and it was a truly spectacular experience. You can see my Top films of the festival here (and a complete ranking on Letterboxd), and a special Cinephiliacs episode recorded at the Palais. There were a few films I never got around to writing about (Techine, Lapid, and Ostlund in particular), but I did manage to write about the following films...
-Winter Sleep (Ceylan, Turkey) - Competition, Palm D'Or Winner
-Foxcatcher (Miller, USA) - Competition, Best Director
-Mr. Turner (Leigh, UK) - Competition, Best Actor Award (Timothy Spall)
-Maps To The Stars (Cronenberg, USA/Canada) - Competition, Best Actress Award (Julianne Moore)
-Goodbye To Language (Godard, Switzerland) - Competition, Jury Prize
-Mommy (Dolan, Canada) - Competition, Jury Prize
-Leviathan (Zvyagintsev, Russia) - Competition, Screenwriting Award
-Grace of Monaco (Dahan, France/USA) - Opening Night
-Timbuktu (Sissako, Mali) - Competition
-The Captive (Egoyan, Canada) - Competition
-The Homesman (Jones, USA) - Competition
-Welcome To New York (Ferrara, USA/France) - Marketplace
-National Gallery (Wiseman, UK) - Director's Fortnight
-Saint Laurent (Bonello, France) - Competition
-Amour Fou (Hausner, Austria) - Un Certain Regard
-Jauja (Alonso, Argentina) - Un Certain Regard
-Two Days, One Night (Dardennes, Belgium/France) - Competition
-Lost River (Gosling, USA) - Un Certain Regard
-The Search (Hazanavicius, USA/France) - Competition
-Hard To Be A God (German, Russia) - Marketplace
-The Tale of Princess Kayuga (Takahata, Japan) - Director's Fortnight
-Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas, France) - Competition

Catching up with Cinephiliacs episodes, I've got two episodes from Philadelphia with Carrie Rickey on Clueless and Sam Adams on The Long Goodbye, and then Philip Loppate talking Charulata and Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky on The Seventh Victim.

And then there's my Criterion reviews! I've got looks at Riot In Cell Block 11, an investigation into the two different cuts of Red River, and a look at an essential bonus feature on the Blu of All That Heaven Allows - Mark Rappaport's Rock Hudson's Home Movies.

Two more Masters of Cinema Blus are on the way with booklets edited and compiled by yours truly: Elia Kazan's Boomerang! and John Cassavetes's Too Late Blues. More information on those at a later date.

Some stuff on Letterboxd: 
-New Stuff: Godzilla, The Amazing Spider-Man, Riddick
-Old Stuff: White Threads of the Waterfall, Utamaro and His Five Women, The Little Foxes, Melo, In Harm's Way

Friday, June 13, 2014

Frame of Reference: Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves

Night Moves, a decidedly didactic feature from Kelly Reichardt, is a film that is set deliberately within the closed-off minds of its protagonists, a set of eco-terrorists set on blowing up a dam in Oregon. Because of this lack of an outside, Reichardt does not offer an easy set of morality and politics to offer up to create a point of comparison. The closest the film ever comes to creating an antagonist is a local fertilizer seller who simply wants to follow the government’s rules about needing to send in a social security number in order to purchase the substance. Instead, Reichardt’s critique is crafted through her trademark minimalism, a film that examines the ripples of a pure ideology. The film’s protagonist Josh, played by a phenomenally minimal Jesse Eisenberg, is brimming with paranoia at every second. But he’s also rarely looking past the frame.

Using a genre for something more crafty and subdued was also buried deep within Riechardt’s last feature, Meek’s Cutoff, a Western with a shift of power so subtle it was lost on many audience members. Night Moves seems to be having somewhat of a similar reaction, with the recognizable genre elements overpowering her real motivations (there is also an issue that the director has decided to attack a liberal cause, a facet many critics have labored on). The totality of the director’s intentions are present throughout, especially during an early sequence when Josh and Dena (Dakota Fanning) meet up with their fellow conspirator Harlon (Peter Saarsgard) at a local diner. Each can’t trust the other, raising issues to each other about the loyalty of the other to the mission. These people are looking inward, not outward, and Riechardt always positions one against two within the frame. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Link Round-Up: Va-Va-Boom!

Many, many updates follow. I promise to be better at doing this more than once a month.

My Masters Thesis for Columbia University is being updated, revised, and expanded for a book! Coming in October from The Critical Press, you'll be able to purchase Approaching the End: Imagining Apocalypse in American Film. The book will cover my theories on film noir and its connection to American melodrama and various atomic, religious, and technological apocalyptic narratives. You can read an expanded note on what will be covered here.

Another thing worth picking up: Little White Lies's May issue, which is dedicated to Richard Linklater. There are fantastic pieces by Jordan Cronk, Gabe Klinger, Vadim Rizov, and editor David Jenkins. My own piece covers Linklater's films set outside of his homeland of Austin, Texas, which covers the Before films, School of Rock, and Me And Orson Welles, you can pre-order the issue here.

The Criterion Collection continues to be busy. I reviewed a number of new discs for The Film Stage, including Dreyer's 1925 silent curiosity, Master of the House, Akira Kurosawa's "this is so much more than Star Wars" epic The Hidden Fortress, and three newly restored shorts by Harold Lloyd, which can be found on the new Blu-Ray for The Freshman

My conversation on "dated films" with Abbey Bender wrapped up on To Be (Cont'd). You can read the first, second, third, and fourth posts here respectively. Then check out the April conversation between Glenn Heath Jr. and Tim Grierson on the work of Jonathan Glazer. I gave my own brief on his new film, Under the Skin, over here.

If you aren't following The Cinephiliacs, you've missed conversations with Dana Stevens talking about Portuguese poetry and Max Ophuls, Mark Harris on his fantastic new book Five Came Back and the Hollywood directors who went to war, and Matt Lynch on America's largest independent video store and the morality of John Woo.

Over at Letterboxd, I've written some posts on
New Films! Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, Juame-Collet Serra's Non-Stop, Albert Serra's Story of My Death, Hong Sang-Soo's Our Sunhi, and The LEGO Movie.
Canonical Works! Stranger Than Paradise, An American In Paris.
Really good things off the radar! Powell and Pressburger's Oh...Rosalinda!, Richard Fliecher's Violent Saturday and Barabbas, Claire Denis's No Fear, No Die, Jacques Rivette's Secret Defense, Robert Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight, and Sweetgrass from Harvard SEL.

Finally, I'm proud to announce that in the fall, I'll be switching coasts and beginning my PhD in Critical Studies at the University of Southern California. The move is somewhat terrifying, but I hope to continue to keep trying to provide fantastic writing on film and more.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kings and Pawns: Internet 3.0 and Bujalski's Computer Chess

For those outside the academic world of cinema studies, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies is the super big sprawling academic conference for film studies in the world, featuring dozens of panels and hundreds of papers, and a good deal of drinking. This year's conference in Seattle was my first year attending, and I enjoyed many of the papers I heard, including one examining the special effects of Bringing Up Baby, the relationship between slow cinema and gallery spaces, and how data mining of scripts and trades can be used to improve narrative analysis and industry research.

I also got to present a paper, which was on a panel looking at how new media products were changing social and aesthetic precedents. My paper was somewhat of an outlier - focusing on Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess - so I changed it to look at how the film can be seen as a response to Internet 3.0. You can listen to the paper below.