Amoeblog

The Gadget Laid Bare: Some Rambling Thoughts On Quantum of Solace (2008), Liberalism, Montage, Stalin's Aesthetics and A.I.

Posted by Charles Reece, December 6, 2008 07:26pm | Post a Comment
Sean Connery James Bond Ursula AndressDaniel Craig James Bond bathing suit beach

I'm not much of a James Bond fanatic; I can take him or leave him, and have tended towards the latter for the past 20 years of installments. I grew up on the Roger Moore version, but the problem with the Quantum of Solace upcoming posterfranchise started there, only getting worse with each new Bond film. Too many gadgets and too many one-liners were used to cover the fact that Sean Connery had been replaced with a bunch of pantywaists (except George Lazenby, but his reign ended after one film). Not that there's anything wrong with wit, it's just that in an action film it should be backed with the assurance of brawn. That's why Christian Bale makes for a better Batman than Michael Keaton or George Clooney. No matter how editing might be able to slice and dice the action sequences, there's always going to be an aesthetic flaw in any machismo-centered film where the physiognomy and somatotype of the lead don't meet the iconic demands of the hero. (Just consider two recent examples: fresh-faced fratboy Matt Damon playing a badass in the Bourne Trilogy and pipsqueak Freddy Rodriguez as a renegade secret ops soldier in Planet Terror.)

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Critical Darling: The Mythopoiesis of JCVD (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 22, 2008 07:18pm | Post a Comment
The white meat is on the run
and the dark meat is far too done
and the milkman left me a note yesterday
get out of this town by noon
you're coming on way too soon
and besides that we never liked you anyway.
-- "Sweet Revenge" by John Prine (with a nod to Hunter S. Thompson) 
 

Who'dathunk it, but the Muscles from Brussels has finally starred in a film that's been getting some good critical response. JCVD is an attempt to explore the heart and mind of Jean-Claude Varenberg, the man behind the dissipating Van Damme legend. Director and co-writer Mabrouk El Mechri might've called the film I'm Not There had the title not already been taken. It's a pomo-biopic trying for more versimiltude than Being John Malcovich, but any honesty in the film is more of an accidental byproduct of the essential cluelessness of its eponymous star than the result of actual introspection. 'Tis the the age of schadenfreude, and that's why I went to see this film. As Dostoevsky said, we love "the disgrace of the righteous man," only Van Damme ain't righteous, just famous. As he admits in the movie, he's just a commodity, who's benefited greatly from being so. The film asks us to care about the toy that starts feeling suffocated by its packaging. The resulting drama, however, comes closer to a VH1 special about a boy band member deciding he's a real artist. If you were crying along with Dave Mustaine in Some Kind of Monster or get choked up reguarly watching Oprah give shit away to bourgeois housewives, then JCVD might be something other than comedy relief. This is a date movie for WWE fans.

The TRON Aesthetic: The Atari Age of German Expressionism

Posted by Charles Reece, October 25, 2008 01:38pm | Post a Comment
The magnificent scenes of heroism, transcendence and man dominating his surroundings should please the most masculinist among us, including Ayn Rand and Leni Riefenstahl:

Jeff Bridges Flynn Tron
Bruce Boxleitner Tron
Jeff Bridges Flynn Clu Tron
Bruce Boxleitner Tron
Tron battle Jeff Bridges Clu

The close-ups all have that overly melodramatic silent-era quality to them. Note the way Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has Valentino eyes and Sark (David Warner) looks like a Conrad Veidt villain:

Continue reading...

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Taste No Evil: Religulous (2008), Blindness (2008) & Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 22, 2008 08:01pm | Post a Comment
Power can essentially do what it wants, and what it wants is completely arbitrary. -- Pier Paolo Pasolini in the documentary "Salò": Yesterday and Today

Apple supplies tool of your oppression iPodCatholic bureaucratic blindnesssinful chocolate delight

~ Hard of Hearing ~
 
The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods. -- Socrates in Plato's Euthyphro

In every internet debate I've ever had regarding religion (almost always with a Christian fundamentalist), I bring up the Euthyphro dilemma. Before Christianity even had its start, good ol' Plato cut it off at the knees with one sentential swipe. His reasoning goes something like this: if an action is moral only because a god says so, then morality is arbitrary; but if it's moral because it coincides with moral reality (what's objectively real), then morality is independent of a divine will (i.e., a god is good because it subscribes to the same reality that we mortals do). In either case, we don't need a god for morality. However, I've yet to meet a Christian who's convinced by this argument -- such is the function of faith -- but if he's intellectually inclined, he'll acknowledge that the argument is important enough to be dealt with. After all, what good is a religion that doesn't ground morality? Religions suck at doing science and are even worse at giving day-to-day practical advice. Thus, there has been a fine, honorable tradition of Christian rationalist attempts to explain away Plato's argument.

Home Movies: Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 12, 2008 09:25am | Post a Comment
            Life sucks, Brendon. That's your lesson. Go enjoy it. -- Coach McGuirk

So, I'll go ahead and use the fussy distinction of my esteemed colleague, Mr. Brightwell, and call Jonathan Demme's new film cinéma direct, rather than cinéma vérité. It's grueling enough to deserve the trachel getting marriedhree accent marks, however. Unlike the use of the shaky-cam in Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, Demme and his cinematographer, Declan Quinn, always keep the camera in the objective, 3rd-person tense. They also thankfully keep it more transparent than the nauseating narcissism of Paul Greengrass's camera work. While moving room to room, the audience floats along, but when the wedding party guests are talking, Demme and Quinn fix the shot, even remembering that modern cameras can re-focus on stuff in the background without having to move. Contrariwise, I remain skeptical of any definitive ability to distinguish between direct and vérité when it comes to fictional films. The direct documentary is akin to the transparency of classical Hollywood, I suppose, but expert editing, grainy textures, and perfect-looking people tend to call attention to the artifacts in a realist drama. Whatever you call it, Rachel Getting Married is realism at its squirm-inducing most direct.
 
Jenny Lumet's script rarely hits a wrong note in analyzing a particular bourgeois Connecticut family's power struggles that are inherent to most families. Whereas my family get-togethers center on frito-pie and football, Rachel's wedding involves Indian attire and cuisine with Robyn Hitchcock and Cyro Baptista supplying the entertainment. All attention is being paid to Rachel until her younger sister, Kym, shows up with a weekend pass from court-mandated rehab. What follows is the gentrified version of the Oedipal Complex. The sisters compete for dad's affection using what they have: Rachel is the perfect daughter with some undefined perfect job, perfect friends (successful musicians and writers) and a perfect fiancé, whereas Kym is the classic second-child fuckup, with drug addiction being her defining characteristic. As with the thespian drug addicts in Hollywood who regularly meet at a little café on Vine, just South of Sunset Blvd., Kym's addiction isn't so much a cry for help as an egotistic need to be noticed. Hers is the kind of bottoming out that leads to a memoir featured on Oprah or as a writer of forgettable sitcoms; i.e., dependency as a privilege of the leisure class. Her sister isn't any less egocentric or any more likable: just as Kym is trying to get the family to acknowledge the way they all play into her addiction, Rachel interrupts with the announcement that she's going to have a baby. Score one for sis, and the cycle repeats. Mom got sick of their shit some time ago and left to live her own life; every narcissistic flower has roots. Dad's so castrated that he's always on the verge of singing, "mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey."
 
Anne Hatheway Rosemarie DeWitt Rachel Getting MarriedBill Irwin Rachel Getting Marrieddebra winger rachel getting married
 
The squeamishness comes from the way the mise-en-scène makes you one of the guests, eavesdropping on conversations that you shouldn't be hearing. As with real weddings, you're sometimes placed at the center of attention only to recede into the background in another scene. Sitting through a friend's wedding is bad enough, but two hours at a stranger's is debilitating. And Demme's film is so formally precise that you really feel like you're there. After twenty minutes of family friends talking about the bride and groom at the rehearsal dinner, I felt like covering my eyes when Kym brings attention back to herself by bringing up her drugged exploits in a 5 minute toast to her sister. It's not as uncomfortable as Capturing the Friedmans, but I don't plan on ever sitting through either film again. In scene after scene, the family refuses to properly address a past tragedy that structures much of its current crises, but the familial dynamic is never simply reduced to the tragedy. Anyway, kudos to the filmmakers for creating pitch-perfect quotidian misery. This is a good character study, even if I don't see much of a point to realistic character studies. Life itself already has enough pointless empathy without aesthetic realism giving us more.
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