Angry Robot

How the Story of “Moana” and Maui Holds Up Against Cultural Truths


Rogue One’s best visual effects happened while the camera was rolling

Some really interesting techniques here

Shudder

Streaming service for horror films, curated by Colin Geddes, who used to do Midnight Madness at TIFF. $5/mo; not sure how much of the archive is available outside of the US, but the collection looks really great. I mean, they have Manborg. Gonna give it a shot at some point.

Ridley Scott Is Planning 6 More Alien Movies

An Alien in New York, Chestburster: The Musical, Alien vs. My Little Pony, Gladialien… go ahead, run with those, Ridley

Strange and probably polarizing short film.

“There is an Incentivized Path to Mediocrity”

Re: problems with the Canadian film industry

These movies will help you through the Donald Trump years | Toronto Star

Definitely Children of Men. I would add Killing Them Softly and Hell or High Water

Logan review: not just the bloodiest X-Men movie, but also the saddest

The weight of graphic, grotesque violence hangs over the entire movie. But the daring emotional violence lingers longer, well after the lights go down on the final shot.

Sounds fun!

The future of Studio Ghibli in a post-Miyazaki world

Oscar nominations: La La Land leads with record-tying 14 nods

Sundance Film Review: Kuso

Aaaand here’s a review. “Nauseating” comes up a lot, but… in a good way?

FlyLo’s feature dropped at Sundance and it looks very Tim & Ericky. Tim is in it, as are George Clinton and Hannibal Buress.

Is Children of Men 2016’s Most Relevant Film?

“Look, I’m absolutely pessimistic about the present,” Cuarón says. “But I’m very optimistic about the future.”

The Dirties

The Dirties Poster

My post today is an endorsement of The Dirties, the first film by Matt Johnson, the dude from the interview I posted yesterday. I liked what I read, and I respect the opinion of Radheyan Simonpillai, so the missus and I checked it out last night. It’s the best Canadian film I’ve seen in a while (since Incendies maybe? Room and Brooklyn don’t count), one of the best found-footage movies I’ve seen, and the most refreshing directorial debut I’ve seen since Primer. It approaches a tough topic (school shootings) with a unique tone. It’s on iTunes and YouTube. Here’s the trailer.

Lynch Fest: Blue Velvet

If Elephant Man is about spectacle, Blue Velvet is about mystery. It’s essentially a film noir narrative, deviating from the norm by putting a young college student in the detective role, allowing a coming-of-age story to shine through now and then. Needless to say, as the opening foreshadows, the world our youth discovers beneath the surface is a dark one.

I’ve seen this film so many times already there’s very little for me to say about it, but what I noticed this time was how good the dialogue is. There’s a part where McLaughlan and Dern are having their first conversation, McLaughlan looks at a house they’re passing and says, “I used to know a kid who lived there, he had the biggest tongue in the world.”

The film is not without its spectacle, of course. The images in the opening alone would overpower a weaker film, to say nothing of the severed ear in a field, the frequent song breaks, using a lamp for a microphone. But it’s all hung over this mystery plot, which is eventually brought together in a somewhat conventional way. (Not that it makes a ton of sense; I can’t figure out why Frank is dressed as “The Well Dressed Man”.) If there is an epic battle throughout Lynch’s career between spectacle and narrative, narrative won this one – but will eventually lose the war.

Incidentally, Lynch says the ending came to him in a dream. “The dream gave me the police radio; the dream gave me Frank’s disguise; the dream gave me the gun in the yellow man’s jacket; the dream gave me the scene where Jeffrey was in the back of Dorothy’s apartment, sending the wrong message, knowing Frank would hear it. I don’t know how it happened, but I just had to plug and change a few things to bring it all together.” (pulled from here, originally from the interview book Lynch on Lynch)

Also from that page is the Pauline Kael quote: “This is American darkness – darkness in color, darkness with a happy ending. Lynch might turn out to be the first populist surrealist – a Frank Capra of dream logic.” But American darkness was going to get a whole lot darker.

Lynch Fest: Elephant Man

This was fascinating for various reasons. It’s a classical narrative, but it still features a few dream-logic sections. It was nominated for eight Oscars, rare for Lynch films, and you can see why, as it features an outsider hero who gains a place in society. At the same time, it is about spectacle. Lynch compares two modes of spectacular presentation, with Merrick put on display in both the freak show and scientific contexts. Later, he is put on display to society, and while he is given a voice in this context, the question of exploitation still lingers. Viewers of the film are, of course, implicated in this exploitation.

There are three major surrealist passages in the film, at the beginning, climax and end (excluding the Fellini-esque return to the freak show in the second act). The beginning expresses Merrick’s birth trauma through slow dissolves of slow motion elephants and closeups of his mother screaming, with expressive and disturbing sound design of course. The climax occurs when Merrick watches a play: his ultimate triumph in the film is to assume the position of spectator rather than spectacle. Rather than show the staging of the play in detail, Lynch again shifts to slow dissolves, semi-abstract closeups of stage action details, and slips in a shot of Merrick’s “owner” in a cage. It’s a beautiful idea; Merrick’s victory over the antagonist is purely imaginary, through the art of spectacle. The final passage is right at the end of the film and represents Merrick’s death, which visually mirrors his birth as it returns to the closeup image of his mother. Instead of elephants, we have the night sky and a long dissolve to white.

So in the most intense moments, Lynch turns to surrealism, but leaves the rest of the plot to a more conventional telling.

Personal Lynch Fest

Because it’s been a while for me, and because my lady still hadn’t seen some of my favourite living director’s films, I decided to curate a personal David Lynch film festival for us. We’re watching at least one film a week. Here’s what’s on the list so far:

A few of these are available on Netflix in Canada: Elephant Man, Dune, The Straight Story, and the entire run of Twin Peaks(!). There are Blu-Ray releases of some, but nowhere near enough: Dune, Blue Velvet, and a German box set that has Mulholland, Lost Highway and Inland Empire.

I will try and write up most of these films as we go. We’ve gotten through a few films already, and my writeups are lagging, so I wanted to post this part first.

The Social Network

The Social Network does what it does to perfection – it makes a thriller out of a heap of code. It pays attention to the details. It treats the characters even-handedly.

But it fails at one big thing. The big topic is of course Facebook, and the site is far from a main character in this story. We catch glimpses only; the odd screenful. The blue glow on Zuckerberg’s face as he writes code.

A few months back a few private IMs of Zuckerberg’s circulated. One contained the following:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks.

Another went as follows:

Zuck: So you know how I’m making that dating site
Zuck: I wonder how similar that is to the Facebook thing
Zuck: Because they’re probably going to be released around the same time
Zuck: Unless I fuck the dating site people over and quit on them right before I told them I’d have it done.

These show how restrained Sorkin and Fincher actually were in their depiction of the man. I mean, it’s just the kind of black humour all of us practise in private with our friends. But it’s the sort of thing that can become public all too easily nowadays, thanks to this brave new world we live in, thanks to services like Facebook.

Facebook and its ilk have changed how we communicate, what we mean by friendship, what we consider public and private, what we know about each other. They have changed our society fundamentally.

The film does not explore this at all. It does present the simple irony of a friendless man creating the world’s largest social networking site, but that’s it.

So it’s a real missed opportunity. The direction they did take this project – a docu-drama thriller, along the lines of All the President’s Men – also steers the ample public discussion of the film almost exclusively towards the issue of its veracity. Is that what the characters were like, is that the correct sequence of events, etc. There is some consideration of morals and ethics, but the techology’s impact on society gets next to no attention.

Does that make it a bad film? I’m not sure. On the one hand, I don’t believe you can criticize a film for not being something it didn’t try to be. On the other hand, if the significance of the subject matter is lost on the creators, how good a job did they do?

Avatar

I thought King Kong was amazing in the theatres. When I watched it at home on DVD, I lost interest halfway through. It felt sagging, bloated. Dark Knight blew my mind on Imax, but when I got it home the dialogue felt wooden and speechy, the structure confused.

You see where I’m going with this.

Avatar, in the theatre, in 3D, is an experience I’d recommend to anyone, even though it may well result in headaches and exhaustion. Your optic nerve gets a real workout. The visual richness of every frame is heightened by the 3D in a way that makes my other 3D experiences – Final Destination, Up, Ice Age 3, Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Slave Chicks) – seem like cheap parlour tricks. It wasn’t just action (although there was plenty of that), there was beauty, wonder. My Avatar-mates and I all admitted to tearing up at some point during the proceedings.

The sheer CGI-ness of the thing is also overwhelming. This film is essentially set in the Uncanny Valley, yet as a tale of exotic adventurism, of failed conquest of the irrational, of getting outside your body and putting on a new skin, it certainly works. By the end of it, the humans were the ones that looked weird. Avatar will be a legendary drug movie for some time to come. (And no, I’m not saying I was high seeing it, although I kind of felt like it after.)

But will it be celebrated as much as some of the more gushing reviews would have you believe?

In order to answer that, we’d have to answer my opening question: which is the true experience, the 3D Imax blowout or watching it at home on DVD or even Blu-Ray? The practical answer is the latter experience, as ever since VHS took root, home theatre revenues have dwarfed theatrical box office. If a movie is the sum of all its viewings, Avatar’s cracks will show up. Its stock, underdeveloped characters, its all-too-angelic indigenous peoples, its blunt allegory, its “Unobtanium”. I’d say it’s the worst Cameron script, which isn’t really much of an insult, but still.

But if we are allowed to be idealists, optimists, to judge a movie in the best possible light in which it can be seen – which for Avatar involves kooky glasses – we might well see it as a glowing blue planetful of awesomeness.