Monday, December 13, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
|Yep, it's more FIGHT CLUB wackiness!|
*I love how when Sean begs for Mark’s help over the police station phone (after he’s busted at the climactic frat party) he has to use his inhaler, that stereotypical nerd accessory. For all of his pomp and bombast, Sean is still a computer geek at heart, and just as Mark figuratively assimilates and destroys Sean, so too does the film knock him off his godly perch.
A better example of a film that has captured the national conversation is Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Part of that film’s command probably lies in its less than illustrious company; after all, in a summer of increasingly banal fare, its attempt at challenging the audience even a bit made it look like a Russian novel by comparison. But part of that film’s successful infiltration of the collective cultural consciousness can also be chalked up to the fantastical, abstract nature of its subject. Mark Zuckerberg dreams of reinventing himself and striking back at his perceived enemies, but all the audience sees are the literal actions that he undertakes to do so. Even though much of Inception’s action is based in action film parlance, its crew of dream pirates exist in an ever-changing world where reality is literally unstable. Zuckerberg is haunted by Erica Albright, but Dom Cobb can’t escape the phantasmagoric image of his dead wife as he plunges again and again into her Inferno-like lair (and as she continually cameos in his dream missions). In a modern society where mystery is stuck in its prolonged death throes, where Google and Facebook make answers that once required pondering available at the click of a mouse, our subconscious is still the Wild West, a seemingly infinite space and subject for discussion.
Saturday, October 02, 2010
The first scene of David Fincher’s The Social Network features future Facebook kingpin Mark Zuckerberg and his soon to be ex-girlfriend in a bar, arguing about their relationship…or, rather, features Zuckerberg waxing rhapsodic about how his potential entry into one of Harvard’s elite Final Clubs will allow him to introduce his soon to be ex-girlfriend to social levels far beyond her lowly Boston University background…or, rather, features Zuckerberg raining down abuse on his soon to be ex-girlfriend for digging vapid crew rowers and for supposedly sleeping with the schlubby doorman…or, rather, features Zuckerberg’s girlfriend trying to have a normal conversation while he brags about his 1600 SAT scores….or, rather, features all of the above, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, part screwball comedy, part fencing match. It’s a bold opening salvo, one that automatically throws the audience off kilter and forces us to recalibrate our expectations for “that Facebook movie”.
Justin Timberlake is nearly the devil incarnate as the slick talking and amoral Sean Parker, but you could just cut to the chase and call him Tyler Durden. Parker is everything that Zuckerberg wants to be, or as Durden so memorably puts it “I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” Sure, Parker is a real person, but it’s surely no coincidence that his first appearance in the film occurs shortly after Zuckerberg first creates Facebook…and it’s surely no coincidence that he appears post-coitus, halfway across the country with a Stanford co-ed, about to check his e-mail. Social Network adds one intriguing twist in that the Winklevoss twins almost fill Tyler’s alpha male role better than Parker. But if this film deals with the revenge of the repressed, it would make sense that Zuckerberg, frustrated with the knowledge that will never be “6’’ 5’ and 220 pounds” or as socially accepted as the twins, would create his own version of them…at least, metaphorically.
Saturday, September 04, 2010
If this was true,
After that appearance,
Which leads me to ask: could Andy Kaufman have survived in the modern world? And is Joaquin Phoenix actually the long lost son of Tony Clifton?
During his all too brief stay in this friendly, friendly world, Kaufman’s trompe le monde attitude turned failure and self-destruction into high art. Bored with the success of his Foreign Man character (which he later modified for his Taxi's iconic Latka Gravas), Kaufman slowly began to amp up the antagonistic parts of his stand-up act. During college tours, he would stick it to rowdy audiences in search of his easily marketable impressions by reading long sections of The Great Gatsby to them. For an extended period , he indulged his love for the dialectic moral aspects of pro wrestling (and his lust for rubbing up against women) by declaring himself the Intergender Wrestling Champion, grappling with willing female antagonists during his act and on talk shows and culminating in his infamous feud with Memphis's King of Wrestling, Jerry Lawler. (For more on this period, check out this excellent compilation of real applications from women who sought to wrestle Andy: http://www.amazon.com/Dear-Andy-Kaufman-Hate-Your/dp/1934170089/ref=pd_sim_b_8.
But Tony Clifton was his crowning creation, an opportunity for Kaufman's id to run wild. While Andy's benign moon face and childlike glee tempered many of his more confrontational bits, Tony Clifton's massive boiler, roadkill hairpiece, sagging jowls and nasal twang worked just as well to alienate audiences. Kaufman would often have
The apex of the
So look at the stories of Andy Kaufman and Joaquin Phoenix. Could Kaufman have pulled off Tony Clifton for any amount of time in today’s mystery-deprived world? Would he have been dismissed as a sham within a day or so of
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
"That's right, Jack. The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad. Oh, yeah. He's dying, I think. He hates all this. He hates it! But the man's a...He reads poetry out loud, all right. And a voice...he likes you because you're still alive." -The late, great Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.
It's intriguing to look back at George Clooney's career and think that much of his original appeal (and a sizable portion of his continuing appeal) was based on his Cary Grant-esque killer looks, his old school romantic panache and his steely leading man demeanor. Sure, his humanitarian work has come to define a large part of his public persona, but there’s a reason why the Ocean’s 11 films (even the unloved middle child that is Ocean’s 12) are some of the most profitable films on his resume. If you’re in that particular groove, there’s an undeniable vicarious pleasure in seeing Clooney as the coolest player in the game, deftly leading his rogues gallery through labrynthine twists and turns. Always winning, always coming out on top.
What makes this aspect of his persona so fascinating is how it bumps up against what he has seemingly always done well, if not to greater acclaim. Over the course of the last fifteen years, Clooney has become a master of cinematic regret. Those same steely good looks and insouciant charm have come to double as effective pieces of a mask that many of his characters wear, one which hides seeming oceans of suffering and existential angst. The world weary protagonists of Michael Clayton and Up in the Air are perhaps his most heralded recent turns in this vein, but he also mined similar territory in the 2005 double whammy of Good Night and Good Luck (his Fred Friendly a downtrodden idealist in the CBS corporate machine) and Syriana (as the Clayton precursor and black ops specialist Bob Barnes). He pines after a dead wife in Soderbergh’s Solaris reboot and punctures his own gold lusting bravado in Three Kings. Hell, even From Dusk ‘Til Dawn’s Seth Gecko is stabbed with regret at that film’s conclusion as he sends Juliette Lewis on her way to freedom, the realization of his true fate in El Rey (Tarantino’s callback to the grisly, and unfilmed, conclusion to Jim Thompson’s The Getaway) slowly, horrifically dawning on him. And the driving force behind
Clooney’s mastery of the art of regret is on full display in Anton Corbijn’s outstanding The American. His veteran hitman/weaponsmith has made a career of keeping the world at a distance with an icy veneer, although as the film’s opening scene intimates, said veneer is beginning to crack (and I don’t just say that because the action opens in snowy
For the most part, the formula is nothing new, especially in the hitman genre. But Corbijn knows this; he’s more concerned with how the tale is told, and this is where The American really shines. Last week, on the heels of seeing the aggressively stupid Piranha remake, I decided to cleanse my palate by finally watching Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express, which I’ve had on DVD for years. It was such a pleasure to see Vilmos Zsigmond’s expertly composed cinematography, to see shots that told a coherent, yet still bold, daring and interesting visual story. In the same manner, Martin Ruhe (who also lensed Corbijn’s Ian Curtis biopic Control) uses the full extent of The American’s scope frame to let the visuals do most of the storytelling. Beginning with the opening credits, words, objects and people are often deliberately filmed off center, almost pushed aside by the inky darkness of the credit roll, the lush Italian mountains and the desolate, eerie interior of a village café. Much as Carlo Di Palma turned the back of Monica Vitti’s head into a sensuous and erotic tumble of amber waves in
So what of the Dennis Hopper quote from the opening of this essay? Upon some reflection, I was struck by the (probably unintended) parallels between Clooney’s Jack/Edward and Hopper’s famous Apocalypse Now cameo. Both men pose as American photojournalists; although Coppola later claimed that the Photojournalist was based on the real life journalist Sean Flynn, there have also been anecdotes about early plans to have Hopper’s camera be empty, his true profession and motivation left in doubt. Both Jack/Edward and the Photojournalist are reaching the end of their tenures, both burnt out by the insanity of their respective businesses. Although the aforementioned quote is Hopper describing Brando’s decaying Kurtz, it could also be an accurate read of Jack/Edward: a romantic, poetic soul falling apart from the madness of a lifetime of killing, a man constructing the means of his own destruction. Hollow men, indeed.
But even if that comparison falls somewhat short, it doesn’t take away from the power and excellence of The American, surely one of the finest…um, American films of the year.