Sunday, October 26, 2014

Interview with Damien Chazelle, Director of "Whiplash"

From my recent interview:

GITS: Now before you wrote the first draft, when and how did you first start prepping the story?

DC: I remember I got the initial idea, and then a few weeks later I was sitting in a movie theater. A movie was playing that—I won’t name which one—but I was utterly bored out of my mind. I decided I didn’t want to pay attention about fifteen minutes in, but I didn’t walk out because I was with somebody. Also I hate walking out of movies, I tend not to do it.

So I just decided to use it as thinking time. I started thinking through the structure and the story, and I beat out the basic plot beats during the hour and a half of that movie. Then I started writing. So the whole thing was pretty organic, compared to other scripts I’ve written that required a Herculean effort. This was from the gut.

GITS: Ten days is pretty incredible.

DC: Well, don’t get me wrong. If you could have seen that first draft—it read like a ten day draft.

Read the rest at Go Into The Story, a great blog hosted by the incredible Scott Myers. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

SPLAT

The Breaking Bad pilot script is worth coming back to again and again. That teaser, with Walt in his underwear? How well it evokes suburban sprawl? Beautiful. This time, though, I was struck by the way Vince Gilligan uses sound effects. It's a great tool to keep in the bag, so here are a few examples:

1. ". . .ZOOOM! WHEELS plow right through the shit with a SPLAT."

2.  "...Walt's finger stick to the surface. They pull loose with a slow, gluey SLURP."

3. "...a blood pressure cuff gets pumped with a WHOOSH-WHOOSH-WHOOSH;"

3. "SQUEAK-SQUEAK, SQUEAK-SQUEAK. Walt thumps up and down on his cheapie stair-stepper."

That's just from the first two acts. It's written with glee. It's not self-serious. It sounds like a guy describing something to a buddy at a bar--not dressed up for the written word. I guess what I'm taking away from this is: don't be afraid to throw down a good old fashioned SPLAT. It's suburban calligraphy.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'm alive

I'm alive, I'm coming back from the NYFF soon, with a complete update to follow.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Move over, Buzzfeed

The personality "quiz" has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. When I was around ten or twelve, I bought a book of them from Barnes and Noble. Shortly after testing positive for absent-mindedness, I misplaced the book.

Luckily the internet is crawling with quizzes. Buzzfeed is the most voluminous dealer, but the majority of their (mostly user-submitted) quizzes are rubbish. They fail to fill that quiz-shaped void that exists in every human heart.

Which is why it gives me great pleasure to introduce the Uquiz portfolio of one "Hauptwerk" (named for an old style of pipe organ). I first saw "Which Early Christian Heresy Are You?" shared on social media. Enjoying the obvious wit of the writer, I looked for more. But since Uquiz does not have public user profile pages, this took some googling.

Please enjoy all the quizzes I could find, and let me know if you learn anything more about the user. 










Monday, September 1, 2014

Update from the President

Dearest Donors and Patrons,

Work here at The Eric Heisserer Institute for Rants gears back up as the summer months dwindle to an end! You'll find that Tim, our archivist, has been hard at work adding two new sections to the library. This time, the topics are "Subtext" and "5 things we need to see in characters". Enjoy!

Dr. Faust Miltonbosch
The Heisserer Institute
Zurich

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Death and the Maiden




"Ms. Nelson's overview of the origins of the Gothic genre and its later ramification into sub-genres such as the ghost story, vampire tale, esoteric thriller and post-apocalyptic survival narrative is lively and sharp. She is equally at home discussing high and low art, and is at her most persuasive when tracing the literary evolution of specific motifs. She notes that the medieval preoccupation with the image of Death and the Maiden, ubiquitous in the art of the period and in manuscripts such as the late 15th-century "Danse Macabre des Femmes," persists in pulp romance in the figure of the homme fatale, or darkly attractive and sexually dangerous male lover."

--Elizabeth Lowry reviewing Victoria Nelson's Gothicka

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy

My review of The Purge: Anarchy is up over at CollegeMovieReview. In short: the partisan politics spoil a promising premise.

Now that I've had some time to read the other reviews, I recommend Sonny Bunch .

Reviews of LUCY, which was a mashup of a new age space documentary and a low budget gangster movie, and HERCULES coming soon.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Machiavelli




"Machiavelli's cardinal achievement is his uncovering of an insoluble dilemma, the planting of a permanent question mark in the path of posterity. It stems from his de facto recognition that ends equally ultimate, equally sacred, may contradict each other, that entire systems of value may come into collision without possibility of rational arbitration...

...For those who look on such collisions as rare, exceptional, and disastrous, the choice to be made is necessarily an agonizing experience for which, as a rational being, one cannot prepare (since no rules apply). But for Machiavelli, at least in The Prince, The Discourses, Mandragola, there is no agony. One chooses as one chooses because one knows what one wants, and is ready to pay the price. One chooses classical civilization, rather than the Theban desert, Rome and not Jerusalem, whatever the priests may say, because such is one's nature, and--he is no existentialist or romantic individualist avant la parole--because it is that of men in general, at all times, everywhere. If others prefer solitude or martyrdom, he shrugs his shoulders. Such men are not for him. He has nothing to say to them, nothing to argue with them about." 

--Isaiah Berlin, The Question of Machiavelli

"A number of formulas have been invoked to account for the declining influence of Machiavellism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The simplest and most capacious is simply that the world has been Machiavellianized. When moral principles ceased to be independent, unchanging public rules controlling the behavior of those who professed them--when principles were replaced by ideas of interest, progress, or class solidarity--then Machiavellism lost most of its point. The modern political liar isn't Machiavellian; he doesn't even want to deceive; he's simply telling his constituency what it wants to hear: that's his business. Machiavellism is possible only in an age of public morality, or at least of moral expectations--and that's not our own."

--Robert M. Adams, The Rise, Proliferation, and Degradation of Machiavellism: An Outline

Isaiah Berlin was a diplomat, writer, and one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century. Robert M. Adams was a celebrated academic. He translated The Prince for the Norton Critical Edition, which also contains both the essays quoted above. 

Their essays read well together. One is gleeful. One is bitter. But both seem to suggest that it's Machiavelli's world, and we're just livin' in it. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Leftovers 1.1

Here are some thoughts on the premiere of The Leftovers. 

1. The music was good. The recurring piano theme promises a peace that events don't deliver. 

2. There are several tropes stretched to cliche. For example, the angry cop with a fraught relationship with his teenage daughter is the trope. Him sitting at the dinner table asking her grumpily how her day went and her grunting back is the cliche. 

The sarcastic congressional hearing played for exposition and the high school party with the debauchery of a late Roman orgy are two more examples. 

3. There is an air of forboding here that I like. The jarring, jump-inducing flashbacks and the dire warnings from the suave English cult leader hint that things could get crazy. 

Whether the coming apocalypse is of divine or human make, we'll have to see. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Brace Yourselves: Hobby Lobby Edition

Social media, that constant fount of every blessed nugget of wisdom, is exploding with chatter about today's 5-4 SCOTUS ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby.

Inevitably, among the flotsam and jetsam of uninformed rantings, there's some decent trash talk and snark from both sides. Here are a few good ones from my feed so far today.









From a parody account, which a lot of people didn't catch on to:




Another brilliantly misunderstood tweet:




And perhaps the best...



Friday, June 27, 2014

The Great Game

The Queen was presented with a miniature replica of the Iron Throne of Westeros - the real seat is said to be coveted by only the most machiavellian of kings
The latest virus to hit the internet: pictures from the Queen's visit to the set of Game of Thrones. Many outlets are sad Her Majesty refused to sit on the thing.

"And still, as she refused it, the rabblement hooted and clapped their keyboard-smoothed hands and threw up their sweaty beanies..." -W. Shakespeare

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Local politics and the importance of story

"The reason local politics are so bad is that so few people have enough interest to participate—save the wolfishly self-interested and the crazies." --Bruce Frohnen

From my former school district: "Baldwin-Whitehall residents search for answers in Schmotzer controversy"

Alisdair Macintyre wrote After Virtue, a book that landed like a heap of bricks in the world of academic ethics and philosophy. He diagnosed cultural ills with precision. His subscribed treatment, now famous, is the cry for a "new St. Benedict"--in other words, that people of sanity must build local fortresses in which to preserve their way of life. They are to get less involved with Congress and more involved with the local council.

But lesser known is his view on the importance of storytelling to cultural flourishing:
 
“It is through hearing stories about wicked stepmothers, lost children, good but misguided kings, wolves that suckle twin boys, youngest sons who receive no inheritance but must make their own way in the world, and eldest sons who waste their inheritance on riotous living and go into exile to live with the swine, that children learn or mislearn both what a child and what a parent is, what the cast of characters may be in the drama into which they have been born and what the ways of the world are.”

Good tales form people who will risk seeming crazies to confront the wolves. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Foreign Policy Reading: America in Decline?

Two great reads on foreign policy here.

Angelo Codevilla is a professor of international relations at Boston University (possibly emeritus by now). He has published numerous books and written op-eds for the Times and WSJ. In 2011, ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, his essay "The Lost Decade" took the conservative world by storm (and pissed off some powerful people).

It's a blistering indictment of American policy of the past ten years. It's sweeping enough that there's bound to be much room for argument. For example, I'm not sure how to reconcile the concept of a sweeping bipartisan political establishment with the current polarization of the parties. Even so, Codevilla asks all the right questions:

Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
"Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as 'the world's only superpower,' ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the 'new normal.' How did this happen?"

Fastforward three years and Robert Kagan writes another lengthy appreciation of American FP--continuing his assertion that America is in fact not in decline at all. The pieces read well together. Kagan provides an excellent historical background to the debate, and is defensive of American assertiveness where Codevilla is wary of it.

Called "Superpowers Don't Get to Retire", it is said to have influenced the President's recent speech at West Point.

Further reading here, here, and here.
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s
Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.U5Ri6oUvn3s

Monday, May 19, 2014

Update

Well, things have been busy recently.

The Criticwire survey debate begat an Atlantic pitch which begat an article which begat a...response from Derek Thompson and a Huffington Post Live debate with Matt Zoller Seitz?!

This is madness.

I also got to review Godzilla for CT, which was fun. I didn't quite have all the words for it, but critic David Ehrlich adds some good ones here.

In a season of firsts, the Godzilla review stands out for its comments section, in which I have been denounced as a liberal for the first time in my life. The comment was sadly deleted, but someone captured it first:

"'...less malicious than a birther'? Really, Timothy Wainwright? Why does Christianity Today allow liberals like Timothy Wainwright to be writers for what should be a conservative Christian magazine. I can get liberalism from any worldly news publication. I don't need it here."

Amazing!

I'm working on a longer addendum to the superhero movies debate which I'll post here soon. I also plan to follow through on the Carroll notes.

But for now, I'll just share the spirit I'm trying to stick to for the moment, from Mike D'Angelo in a comment on Seitz's "Advice to Young Critics"

"I second Craig's #12. A couple of the sites for which I regularly write have a strict ban on use of the first person in reviews, and while I understand why they prefer that, never saying "I" makes it difficult if not impossible to confess ignorance about certain things, and that makes me feel dishonest. (And no, I don't always have time to correct that ignorance, if for example it means reading a dozen lengthy novels and the piece is due tomorrow.) Likewise uncertainty. I tend not to trust critics who never question themselves."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Carroll's "The Philosophy of Horror" Pt. 1: The Introduction



Currently reading through Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror, or: Paradoxes of the Heart. Interesting approach. There have been a ton of great treatments of the horror genre, the most famous probably being C. Clover's Freudian tour-de-force Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Carroll stands out for trying to understand horror through the lens of "analytic aesthetics", which is now not quite in vogue, to say the least.

Here are some standout moments from the Introduction.

1. Carroll's inspiration is Aristotle's Poetics

"Taking Aristotle to propose a paradigm of what the philosophy of an artistic genre might be, I will offer an account of horror in virtue of emotional effects it is designed to cause in audiences." ... "That is, in the spirit of Aristotle, I will presume that the genre is designed to produce an emotional effect; I will attempt to isolate that effect; and I will attempt to show how the characteristic structures, imagery, and figures in the genre are arranged to cause the emotion that I will call art-horror. "

2. The two paradoxes of the heart

"With respect to horror, these paradoxes can be summed up in the following two questions: 1) how can anyone be frightened by what they know does not exist, and 2) why would anyone ever be interested in horror, since being horrified is so unpleasant?"

On number two: "most of us don't play in traffic to entertain ourselves, nor do we attend autopsies to while away the hours."

3. On the suspicion of popular art

"Philosophical aesthetics...is either oblivious to or suspicious of mass or popular art. One reason for this is that mass and popular art gravitate toward the formulaic, and aestheticians often presume a Kantian-inspired bias that art, properly so called, is not susceptible to formula."

Next up is chapter one, "The Nature of Horror". Subheading "Fantastic Biologies and the Structures of Horrific Imagery" sounds fascinating. I look forward to reading about a fantastic biology, whatever that is.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Amazing Superhero Movie Debate 3: Into Darkness

 

Another good CriticWire survey about a hot topic, another couple of posts in response, a bunch of tweets, and another mopping up by yours truly.

This week, in the wake of Amazing Spidey 2, Sam Adams asked the survey question, "Are there too many superhero movies?"

I was surprised by the response. I expected a good amount of poo-pooing the plebs, but instead 54% of the 26 critics surveyed said No!



 To be sure, there were loud voices on the Yes side who argued a point of view we're all familiar with: "big business" in the form of the studios is spraying cinematic diarrhea all over the walls of good taste. For example, Neil Young wrote that "so long as short-term-fixated corporate cinema targets male under-25s at the expense of all other sections of the population, their bombastic preponderance is assured and guaranteed. Excelsior!"

 While the Yes side had the clear numerical victory, there were zero respondents who wanted to defend Marvel and Co. as strongly as Young denounces them above. The closest was perhaps Richard Brody of the New Yorker, who wrote that "much of the complaining about the number of superhero movies involves critics donning their own superhero mantle and presuming to defend the supine masses (while praising those mediocre naturalistic and political dramas)."

Most Yeses shared two qualifiers. The first: while there aren't too many superhero movies, there is far too much superhero press. Because of the ravenous comic fanbase, every casting announcement and still photo release is reposted by a zillion outlets. Douglas, Rocchi, Snider, and others all made this point to different degrees.

The second is pretty intuitive: quantity is more important than quality. The Wrap's Alonso Duralde cautioned against snarking at the super, but admitted that "Directors of these movies should consider spending five fewer minutes on destroying Manhattan yet again and use that time to provide some character insight and/or intelligent dialogue." 

And Michael Pattison gets the dubious distinction of being probably the first person ever to use the word "smegma" in a CriticWire survey.



Fresh from the last survey-inspired critical dust-up, Matt Zoller Seitz took to his blog to give his perspective in the fairly-titled "Things crashing into other things"

It's a witty and forceful piece whose arguments waver between energetic (spot on criticism of where CGI isn't yet) and exhausted (the "ad-hamburger fallacy").

I'll share his central argument here: 

As long as viewers ask little of superhero films, there's no impetus for studios to encourage an auteurist vision. That's how they like it. Real artistry terrifies them. It's too volatile and uncertain. They'd rather have a mediocre sure thing than encourage filmmakers to try something truly new. Personal expression on this scale is high-stakes gambling with someone else's fortune. That's why, thirty-six years after "Superman, the Movie," we still haven't seen a range of big budget superhero films as tonally different as post-"Night of the Living Dead" zombie pictures, or Hollywood westerns released after Vietnam, when the genre was allegedly dead. What do George Romero's ghoul films, "Dead/Alive," the "Rec" series, "Shaun of the Dead," "Zombieland" and the "Days" movies have in common besides a basic situation? Almost nothing. What do "Little Big Man," "The Wild Bunch," "Blazing Saddles," "Silverado," "Unforgiven" and "Open Range" have in common besides horses and ten-gallon hats? Almost nothing. What do modern superhero movies have in common? Entirely too much. Once in a great while you get an outlier like "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass." There's a reason why anybody seeking to counter gripes of superhero film sameness brings up "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" and "Kick-Ass": because most superhero movies are not "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass." They're "Thing Crashing Into Other Thing 3."

In short? "This genre is where imagination goes to drown itself."



Devin Faraci, writer at Badassdigest and author of a great piece parodying sentiments like Seitz's, chirped in on social media.


Responses:




Seitz was also tweeting during this window.





The links are there for anyone who wants to catch up on the conversation but can't sift through volumes of tweets to get there. This will be helpful the more time goes by, as it's not easy to search past Twitter.

I gotta say I lean towards Team Faraci here. My reasoning is best expressed by survey respondent Ali Arikan, who wrote: "When you skew the sample size, everything starts to look like a trend."

More thoughts on this soon.