Photo by William Gedney
24 November 2010
23 November 2010
20 November 2010
Pretty good, but not great noir. Which makes it worthwhile. A guy gets set up and, yep, railroaded. His sister does whatever she can to prove his innocence. It's complicated, because she's in love with the cop who nailed him. Not to mention that she's attracted to the sociopath who committed the murder and framed her brother. This allows for many juicy situations involving shadows, fedoras, and cocktails. Written by a woman, it has some proto-feminist touches. The evil Mr. Big, for instance, likes to quote misogynist lines from Oscar Wilde to his moll. The sister beats up the bitch who's lying about her brother's role. The sister, is in fact, the active principle in the story, brave, strong, and true.
One nice touch: the lead thug perfumes his bullets.
Fun all around.
17 November 2010
15 November 2010
Filmmaker: At the start of Cargo 200, it says the movie is based on real events. How did you find out about these events, and how closely do you stick to the truth?
Balabanov: In 1983 I served in the army in transport aviation and we were attached to the landing force division who went to Afghanistan and came from there. I flew to Afghanistan myself. We took soldiers there and also brought dead bodies back. I lived in the barracks with a man who had a lot of war experience and he told me a lot of stories. For example that dead bodies very often disappeared and there was no real control about their transportation back home. That is how the image of the stolen dead soldier's body came to my mind.
In 1984 when I came back from the army I started working at Sverdlovsk Film Studios as a
director's assistant and I was assigned to the film crew of the film The Way to the Sunrise about Russia conquering Alaska. I traveled through a big part of Russia looking for locations. I met a lot of Yakut people. Germans. I lived with them, listened to their stories. There is a lot of my imagination in the film but real stories are the base of the film.
Filmmaker: How personal is this film to you? What are your recollections of that period of the 1980s influenced the film? How much did they creep into the film?
Balabanov: In 1984 it was the end of Soviet Union: Chernenko, the old sick leader died, Gorbachev came to power, new era started. The film is very personal. I wanted to tell the story which I was the witness of.
“I am bringing back the action Western. The cowboy picture has got lost in psychology. There have been too many attempts to explain the motives of both the heroes and the bad men and to make them understandable and acceptable in modern terms. The West was made by violent, uncomplicated men and it is this strength and simplicity that I try to recapture in my pictures.”
- Sergio Leone
13 November 2010
If writing and story and even directing aren’t Edwards’s strongest suits, his intuition and audacity as a producer is. Of the plethora of despicable filmmakers peddling their despicable $15,000 films (which, until seeing “Monsters” I had written off as either practically implausible or ethically irresponsible), Gareth Edwards stands head and shoulders above. “Monsters” takes the extreme micro-budget film out of the province of gimmick. For a film of such production value, it sports only two starring actors, supported by local Latino non-actors and amateurs. Edwards and his sound recordist were the only on-location crew. The four of them shot more or less alone for three weeks at real locations—in jungles, in villages, atop Mesoamerican pyramids. And unlike many of the other micro-budget charlatans, “Monsters” is a true independent film produced on a small advance from a small but dedicated studio and sold by specialty distributors. The circumstances of its production harken back to the New York Independent mode of the early nineties—without the support of the stock market boom. In this way, “Monsters” is anything but Hollywood fodder, like “Paranormal Activity” (2009), or amateur hour, like “Breaking Upwards” (2009). Unlike both these films, and the others they typify, Edwards made the film he knew he could make well, without compromise, and with integrity. That in itself should earn the respect of any post-millennial filmmaker. “Monsters” is a success in spite of itself because Edwards made a few crucially important production decisions and stuck to them: to write a film he knew he could produce properly, to trust the drama to his actors and cast actors he could trust, to shoot on location and pull the most value from each location, to shoot with the edit in mind and adapt the mode of production according to the aesthetic of the film. On the other hand, hiring an editor probably saved the movie and might easily have been the most expensive addition to the original $15,000 budget.
12 November 2010
11 November 2010
Last September, I visited the US World War I museum in Kansas City. It's a fine museum, state-of-the-art with clever wall displays, interactive sections, large, graphically sophisticated posters. A full-scale trench wraps around half of the museum space. In some sections, when you poke your head in to get a better look at an overturned cart or whatever, you'll hear a voice reading a text from a soldier's diary, describing life in the trenches. It's brilliant, even if the ultimate emotional effect is one of dread, depression, and sorrow.
|Kaiser Willhem II|
For all their artfulness and with all their considerable skills, the museum creators were stumped by one, very important issue: how to present the cause of the war. They couldn't. They, no more than any other historian I've read, could not point out a single moment when the dogs of war had to be let loose. They, like the other historians, cite a list of conditions. Social unrest. Colonial empires brushing up against each other, and setting off sparks. German nationalism. British suspicion. French resentment of the 1870 defeat.
This is nothing new. I recently finished Livy's histories of the Second Punic War. He couldn't really point to a good cause for the start of that one, either. Some dispute over a town in Spain nearly wiped out Roman control of Italy and Rome itself. Later, it essentially destroyed Carthage.
I admire bravery and courage. Courage, in particular, is the virtue that makes all other virtues possible. (If you're well behaved because you're afraid, that doesn't matter -- you're not being good at all.) If a horde were to crest the hill overlooking my town, I would fight them with whatever I had -- gun, knife, tooth, fingernail. I am as certain of this as I am of anything in my life. I would gladly die to protect my wife, my children and my home.
But being in a modern army? Who was braver that the Polish cavalry in 1939? Who is braver that a Pashtun horseman, the descendant of generations of warriors that defeated Alexander the Great, the British, and the Soviets? And yet, for all his courage, all a guy sitting at a computer monitor in Arizona has to do is target a drone and shoot a missile up the ass of that Pashtun's noble steed and it's all . . . vapor.
Soldiers, and I hate to say this, you're tools. Even with your training, your bravery, your brotherhood and your cruelty you're pieces of a machine. Why you'd take that decision to risk your life for a strategic theory put out by some neocon wonk is beyond me. You're not helping anyone at home. Maybe you're working out your shitty life or getting away from the assholes at home or proving something to someone. Maybe you're an idealist who really thinks that something called a country cares about you.
Well, it doesn't. We've been at war for nearly 10 years now, and the deaths of your comrades are relegated to small type. Journalists and politicians exploit you when they think it will do their careers any good. That's not very often, by the way. Out here, most people are more worried about their bank accounts than some blood soaked alley in Kunduz. Few people are even taking the time to check out the movies or the documentaries or the books being written about you.
I don't know much directly. I haven't been in a battle. I myself thought about joining up, once. I went as far as to chat with a recruiter. He was so plainly stupid that I suddenly remembered that yes, that's what the army is. Taking orders from idiots. You have to take orders from brilliant people, too. I know there are men much smarter and much braver than I am in the service. Back then, though, I decided that I'd like to choose which orders I obey.
But I read history. I admire the exploits of Fabius Maximus and Robert E. Lee. But you need to wake up. To paraphrase, you're not warriors. You're not soldiers. You're errand boys sent by clerks to collect a bill.
09 November 2010
(c) Photo Kyle Cassidy
If you're unfamiliar with harvester ants, you'll be interested to know that they don't eat these leaves. They mulch them, and use the mulch to grow fungus which they do eat. They're farmers. Complex farmers. Fascinating beautiful complex farmers that enslave other ants and make them work in the fungus pits by secreting a chemical which the captive ants find irresistible. They dope them up and send them to the mines.
Kyle Cassidy, via
08 November 2010
(Tony Scott's pretty far away from being a favorite director of mine, but this prototype idea and his commitment to research are worth remembering).
Q. So there’s a script you both like. What’s next?via
SCOTT I went to Pennsylvania and interviewed different guys. I made a mini-movie using old movies like “Runaway Train,” television footage from the actual event and the interviews. Then I showed it to D and said, “This is the tone of the movie.” For me, that’s part of how I find my vision. I do a tremendous amount of research. Then I come to the studio with this little movie. No matter how much you talk about it, they still don’t get it. But you show them a four-minute movie?
Q. Denzel, how does Tony’s research affect you?
WASHINGTON It’s a treat to get a glimpse into the man’s head. Sometimes it’s like, “If you don’t want to do the movie, don’t go to that office.” Because you know he’s going to have all this stuff. One of the key things for “Man on Fire” [about a former assassin out to avenge the girl he was hired to protect] was that he gave me “The Iceman,” a tape about a guy who killed about 200 people. What helped me was how he talked about killing. He was so matter of fact.
The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.
C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.
04 November 2010
Do not pursue what is illusory–property, position, all that is gained at the expense of your nerves, decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life–don't be afraid of misfortune and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same–the bitter doesn't last forever and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing.
It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold, if thirst and hunger don't claw at your insides. If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if your arms bend, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all.
Rub your eyes and purify your heart–and prize above all else in the world those who love you and wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part with them in anger; after all, you simply do not know, it may be your last actvia
From The Gulag Archipelago
02 November 2010
01 November 2010
"It all goes by so fast," is one of the those clichés you hear throughout your life, but now, when another parent says it as we discuss the joys and sorrows of child rearing, it sounds like the most poignant thing I've ever heard. The question I've been wrestling with lately is whether it's all going by so fast because that's just the reality of middle age or because of the way I've been living my life. Specifically, I've started to wonder whether that feeling might be connected to all the time I spend online. Too often I sit down to dash off a quick e-mail and before I know it an hour or more has gone by.
Over the last several years, the Internet has evolved from being a distraction to something that feels more sinister. Even when I am away from the computer I am aware that I AM AWAY FROM MY COMPUTER and am scheming about how to GET BACK ON THE COMPUTER. I've tried various strategies to limit my time online: leaving my laptop at my studio when I go home, leaving it at home when I go to my studio, a Saturday moratorium on usage. But nothing has worked for long. More and more hours of my life evaporate in front of YouTube. Supposedly addiction isn't a moral failing, but it feels as if it is.
James Sturm on Slate