What Did Jung Say About Glow Sticks?

6 02 2012

Josh Trank and Max Landis Pen Gnarliest of Chronicles

Chronicle opened at number one this weekend, and domestic receipts have already surpassed production costs. There’s been a lot of talk about Chronicle being an Akira for the found-footage generation. And yeah, I guess they both feature a heavily-bandaged whipping boy who breaks out of a hospital facility and goes on an ESP rampage, if that’s what people are getting at. Personally, I see a greater resemblance to Clamp’s X/1999. But whatever. Regardless of its J-Pop antecedents, Chronicle is a concise science fiction tale that culminates in a bus-tossing battle to the death in a metropolitan area with a prominent landmark. So we’re already off on the right foot.

But Chronicle is also a study in fraternity. Three characters—Andrew, the put-upon;  Matt, the ex-chasing big brother figure; and Steve, the prototypical prom king—form an unlikely bond so strong that it makes their noses bleed. The conspiratorial intimacy that is a product of this bond is of such a caliber that it’s characterized by cruising-altitude group flight. It’s really touching to watch, which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see it all annihilated when Andrew, a truly broken person, fails to harness his all-consuming rage as expertly as he harnesses his new-found power.

Above (from left): the scion, the bitch, and the wardrobe.

Russ Fischer at /Film says some interesting things about the film’s approach to friendship here. I especially appreciated Fischer’s analysis of Steve as “the exact opposite of Andrew”.  Socially, emotionally, and behaviorally, they totally are mirror opposites who suddenly find themselves with one enormous thing in common, and this specularity is succinctly conveyed through camera work and dialogue. Their specularity also makes Andrew’s eventual sense of betrayal all the more eviscerating.

Fraternity. Belonging. Documentation. Chronicle is not nearly as “subtext-free” as The A.V. Club’s Scott Tobias seems to think it is. Here’s how I see it. One of the first (and only) things that the character of Andrew volunteers about himself is that he’s shy. He lives behind the lens; for the longest time, we hear his voice more than we see his face, and when we do see his face, it’s only in the mirror, or when things outside his control (always aspiring alpha males) forcibly separate him from his camera. After forming his accidental bond with Matt and Steve, he steps out from behind the camera—but only within the confines of his small and private fraternity.

The trio repeatedly defy the laws of nature without the slightest repercussion, but the very moment that they upset the social order, all hell breaks loose.  When Steve orchestrates a talent show triumph for Andrew, going so far as to play a very self-deprecating straight man to his introverted friend, Andrew finds himself in public view. And while there, a brief triumph is followed by immediate public humiliation that involves both sex and shame.

The soft sciences call this aversion therapy.

Albeit with the best of intentions, Steve has deliberately upset the viewer/viewed dynamic. The closeness that Andrew and Steve had enjoyed—at one point, Steve even calls Andrew his “best friend”—is spoiled, replaced in Andrew with distrust of Steve and his motives. And suddenly, CCTV footage starts getting woven into the fabric of a narrative that has so far been propelled only by handheld footage. For all of his ever-growing control over people and objects, Andrew has lost control of the camera. A convenience store camera views Andrew now. So does a hospital room camera, and a camera in the lobby of an office building. Surveillance footage starts to tell his story without his consent. And indeed, at one point during the final battle, Andrew is floating outside the observation deck of the Space Needle, surrounded by digital cameras, iPads, and camera phones, all sucked away from onlookers. It’s only a matter of time before you cross the Rubicon with this sort of instability, and then of course things can only end badly.

No good can come out of upsetting the viewer/viewed dynamic. Which is what this film is about.





No One’s Cutting Away

29 09 2011

If Awesomeness Were Bountiful Zinc Deposits, Community Would Be Zambia

Britta has a backpack now. For a hot minute she was even feeling her see-through yellow pen—until an errant, cause-related flyer sent her into one of those episode-long fits of unfocused rebellion. And this one was a doozy. At first it just seemed like “regular side of the bed” Britta, as Troy put it. Britta’s character got a rant which, while not nearly as hilarious as her “civil liberties” speech from the bottle episode, did involve a four-letter word (Ikea), and did  include the line “maybe my path is a warpath that leads to the Terrordome”. But it wasn’t the rant that blew my mind. It was the unprecedented degree of physical comedy assigned to Britta’s character. At one point she was in a dog crate pouring red paint on a globe, and right before getting tased by Chang she stormed into the caf wearing a black bodysuit covered with mutilated Barbie dolls. For real, Britta was straight-up feral in this one. So cherry.

Mind the can, student.

There were other highlights. In an interesting variation, Pierce appropriated Leonard’s raspberries. The Model UN Battle Royale showcased Garrett and utilized a deliberately-ridiculous disembodied head storytelling device (think “dental plan”/”Lisa needs braces”/”Flintstones chewable morphine”). Oh, and yeah! You know how I love doubles? Well, tonight Community added Annie Kim (a.k.a. “Asian Annie”, a.k.a. “Annie Lite”) to their already lengthy list of character doubles. I was totally psyched. Annie Kim gets her comeuppance by the end of the episode, but here’s hoping she gets Springfielded into a subsequent storyline. I mean, she’s a guest star, not an extra, but they got Anthony Michael Hall to come back for the paintball redux, right?


Clockwise, from top left: see-through yellow pens; “Hello”, by Lionel Richie; Hadron Collider; the arm.

My favorite bit, though, was when they were all squeezed into a cafeteria booth like they always are, and Annie is freaking out about her evil twin, and she’s in one of those Adderallesque states, all agitated, all nervous energy, and she’s squeaking her straw up and down in her cup’s plastic lid while delivering a long section of dialogue, and all of a sudden you see Troy’s hand slowly and purposefully enter the frame, and Troy’s hand takes the cup, and just as purposefully leaves the frame, and Annie’s still going on, and then Troy’s hand re-enters the frame, and returns the cup sans lid, and I thought to myself “well that was one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen”.

Because it was.

This wrinkled my brain. 





Goodness Spacious

22 09 2011

Season Premiere of Community Proves Enlightful

Glee mockery has been a running theme, but I was still disconcerted when the promos for Season Three of Community strongly suggested a Greendale musical number. Imagine my relief, then, when this number turned out to be little more than an intro daydream—thereby leaving the show’s fiercely-protected fourth wall largely unmolested. This, by the way, was the first of the episode’s many misleads (my favorite was Dean Pelton’s goatee), which provided extra tension as the table was set for the study group’s junior year.

After a hilarious set-up and pay-off involving the study group’s bias-driven misinterpretations of Troy and Abed’s homosociality, the collective, it’s-the-beginning-of-a-new-semester resolve suggested by the musical fake-out and early dialogue quickly degenerates into a delicious laugh pie of snark, sight gags, and  melancholic authenticity well before the end of the first act. Also, Britta bought the wrong textbook.

Britta’s doing it wrong.

And then the fanboys did saith, “Let there be continuity,” and so the best bits of throwaway dialogue and ad lib from Seasons 1 and 2 did get tweaked and whole notha leveled. Jeff got to plug a line into the “shut up, Leonard” formula. Troy got to follow up—but not top—his description of Britta as “the AT&T of people” (itself an offshoot of the shared “you’re the worst” construct). Pierce got to rezone his soul at the Laser Lotus Celebrity Center. There were no novel manifestations of the Springfield effect among the faculty, staff or student body, but this was unsurprising given the need to introduce the recurring characters of the show’s prominent new guest stars.

Evolution.

The saturnalian anchor of the episode’s plot was the role reversal of Jeff and Pierce. Jeff’s narcissism cellphone gets him kicked out of his biology class on the first day which, by his own decree, makes him ineligible for participation in the study group. Pierce, who was on the waiting list for the class, also gets Jeff’s spot in the group. This, of course, makes Jeff go mental, which culminates in a monkey gas-induced 2001 homage. By episode’s end, Pierce has told the study group a convincing lie to restore the natural order. Jeff sees through this lie, and confronts Pierce about it; the shared secret, coupled with what small semblance of gratitude Jeff can muster, affords the two men one of those those touchingly brief windows of intimacy in which Pierce gets to be a father. Wrap the episode up by having one character mess with another character’s name (“Starface”), and Dan Harmon can tie yet another Community episode with a big bow of that-was-awesome.

So yeah. Naysayers take note. This shit is still going strong like Donkey Kong, and the integrity of the Greendale universe was maintained despite a few isolated incidents of envelope-pushing. Rubicon uncrossed.





A Blog About Sacks As Well As Things That Are Not Sack-Related

14 09 2010

Just Another WordPress.com Site Indeed

My only possible tagging rival, the weird beard behind Hovermansion’s Blog,  has been doing some amazing things with crepe paper seriality lately. Whether it be confounded specularity, as is the case with a preening Dracula who two-fists hairstyling accoutrements in front of a reflectionless mirror, or confounded primogeniture, as evinced by the disappointed king who sees little of himself as he stands before his decidedly not shovel-ready son, doubling and reflection are recurrent Hovermansion themes.

The digital mixed media pieces on Hovermansion, which are usually sparse collages built up from original drawings, are characterized by a wanton incorporation of generic, Google-retrieved clip-art. Through the deliberate selection of mostly one-point perspective images, Hovermansion scenes achieve an impossible flatness that would make the Cubists proud. But it’s the blog’s subtle approach to content-through-technique that really twirls my props. I’ll start with the author’s most recent creation, since it’s the one that prompted me to finally post about his blog. Oh, and I don’t usually include image links in my posts, but this is a rare instance in which I will, because these Hovermansion pieces deserve to be seen in all of their over-sized glory. So, yeah. Do click through.

Picture-In-Picture

In “It’s Gonna Be A Rough Day At School”, the seriality of Eugene’s triple portrait is nothing short of comic genius. Not one but two instances of PIP (and the sloppy pasting of Eugene’s face onto the family photograph may actually score higher on the funny than the comic-font captioned inset over Bernard Shaw’s shoulder).

Broadcast and Projection

Another great post involving duplication and facsimile is “Conspiracy Theory 101”. Here ima hafta insist that you click through on the small version above to explore the original, as the strange hole in the wall (the post’s tags suggest that this is to be interpreted as a “wormhole”) contains aliens who observe the same scene as the viewer—duplicated via surveillance equipment that itself echoes the overhead projector in the main space.

Despite all of the repetitition, the “do not erase” bit is probably my favorite detail on this one.

Infinite Regress

The earliest instance of Hovermansion’s hallmark seriality is found in “House Rat”. And it’s an intricate example—perhaps even more intricate than the elaborate upside-down representation required for the overhead projector in “Conspiracy”. In “House Rat”, the blog’s ubiquitous gilded frame (it has since held Hulk Hogan, as well as an Ames employee working at a key-cutting machine) contains the entire image, which itself contains the entire image, and so on—without any indication whether the viewer is seeing a mirror or a static depiction. The presence of this gilded frame and its contents is awesome in its superfluity.

The inherent observational humor, wordplay and forced literalness of Hovermansion really make it unnecessary for me to tweak or draw parallels or identify source material. But that’s never stopped me before, so I’ll still end on one of my side-by-side comparisons:

L: PT Cruiser (artist’s rendering), via Hovermansion; R: Midlife Chrysler (in banana), via a douche bag near you





Begin Countdown to “Battle: Los Angeles”

18 02 2010

Next Alien Film By A South African Director Scheduled to Premiere in Exactly One Year

The alien invasion film Battle: Los Angeles (nice colon) is scheduled to hit theaters on 17 February 2011. Which doesn’t even sound like a real year. Regardless, ima be following this like a gay dude on Gαgα. Directed by Johnathan Liebesman, it’s being pitched alternately as “a West Coast Cloverfield“, “Black Hawk Down meets Alien”, or “Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day”. Your blogger meets anticipation.

Here’s something weird: a lot of it was shot in Shreveport, Louisiana, because it was cheaper. I mean, I get that a lot of films get shot in, like South Carolina, or whatnot, for that very reason. But I still think it’s weird when a film that takes place in the world capital of the film industry (well, technically Santa Monica) is filmed elsewhere. The NYT thought it was weird, too. So get bent.

It wasn’t just about the money, though. No, seriously. The script called for some significant action sequences on California’s I-405, and of course shooting practical effects on that major artery was never going to happen. Shutting down a section of Louisiana’s I-49 for three weeks, though, was doable. And so they did. Here are a couple of freeway interchange pics I lifted from movie-trailer.com:

Interstate 49 = Interstate 405

Palm trees means it’s LA. They’re idiobotanical cues.

These are the kind of pics that get me all hot-and-bothered. By the time I actually see this bitch I’ll have these images so burnt into my skull that, unless the entire scene’s been cut, I’ll be able to recognize bits and pieces of scenery from a single shot—even an insert shot—like some sort of fanboy idiot savant.  But as cool as these freeway shots are (and there are several more out there), I can trump them. Or, rather, some Shreveport townie on YouTube can:

How awesome is that dude with the camera. And how awesome is the fact that the movie crew members who are blithely enjoying another one of my dream careers were taking their sweet time removing all of the set dressing. I screen-capped a couple of the set pieces that I expect might be recognizable in the final product, even if shot at night, out-of-focus and a block away:

Make it easy with product placement.

Do you reckon this storefront was actually a parking lot?

If this kinda thing isn’t your kinda thing, then stay away from this blog for the next twelve months. You were warned.





In the Summer, In the Spring; In Public Places

23 09 2009

On An Island Far Away, Lemonade with My Co Co Co

Coco Before Chanel is Coco before Chanel. This movie is enjoyable. It was a little too long, even by biopic standards, but it’s nice to look at so I didn’t really mind. As a period piece, Coco Before Chanel called for some pretty odd set dressing (e.g., fin de siècle rural French orphanage). I guess my point in mentioning this is that somebody did a really nice job with the details, because I believed every frame. And here’s the skinny on the plot: Coco Chanel is depicted as extremely hardened, pragmatic and self-reliant—which is what the viewer expects, given the implied pattern of abandonment to which she is subjected. Of course, then, the introduction and inevitable removal of a tragic “one true love”  makes for great cinema. Millinery improvisation and melodramatic scissor-snipping are kept to a tolerable minimum.

Even though this film’s not about Chanel the brand, it does end with an amazing coda, or whatever, which involves a parade of models and which is probably flawless in composition. In fact, I hope this part ends up on YouTube, because I want to watch it, like, a hundred times in a row.

Okay, good enough. Now comes the fun part:

Fruits Basket-esque

Chanel overload (photograph by Sebastian Kim, Interview, 2009; obviously, this shitty scan detail doesn’t do it justice—click here for full image)

Eyeing C Chart

Iconic sans-serif C as “piercings”  in eye chart (Symbol Soup, 1999)

Untrust me.

Chanel logo as band logo (allows for endless official and fan-art variations).

I didn't need to change the font--it was eerily identical.

A little something I freaked last year.






D9

16 08 2009

No Subtitle Necessary

I was very interested to see whether District 9 would live up to all the hype. People have been saying that it was going to be good, but people say a lot of things. The ad campaign for this thing has been creative to the point of hot-as-all-hell, but too often that just means that somebody’s desperate to market a product that somebody else has already told them is shit. And I’d already heard some rumblings about a played documentary-style approach and a mysterious black fluid that was assigned so many mysterious properties that it was effectively Bond-O for plot holes.

Well, my fears were unfounded. This movie was awesome.

I’ve decided that I’m not even going to worry about spoilers. If you’re somebody I know, then you’ve either already seen it or have no intention of ever seeing it (I know you people), so it doesn’t matter. If I don’t know you, then you made it to, like, page 19 or so of the Google search results for something like “distritc 9 sublinimle mesenges” (I know my WordPress dashboard), and you’re a weirdo for making it that far down. Why would I care about ruining a movie for a weirdo.

Very International Pictograms Standard. Win!

Viral teaser campaign: billboard.

Okay, so the film presupposes the presence of a stalled-out alien mother ship hovering derelict over Johannesburg; the action of the film takes place two decades after its arrival. Despite being forced almost immediately into an enormous favela, the 1 million drone-class aliens who were found in sorry shape on the UFO have since bred in captivity, so that after twenty years they’re up to 1.8 million in number (if I recall correctly). So, it being Earth and all, this population crisis has tensions at a near-boiling point. Also please note that, although this recipe for disaster took twenty years, one imagines that it took all of twenty seconds for the smug, NIMBY-minded, pay-it-forward South Africans, our representatives of the human race and its nature in this film, to come up with a slur that would stick (“prawns”), and not much longer to ghettoize the disadvantaged aliens into dumpster-diving poverty.

Very fascist color scheme. Win!

Viral teaser campaign: bus stop.

At one point, a female voice-over reporter remarks, without a trace of irony, on the crowd of onlookers from “human rights organizations” which has amassed to monitor the forced eviction of the decidedly non-human aliens from District 9, and suddenly I got the movie. This movie isn’t about Wikus, its human and squirm-inducingly Kafkafied protagonist. It’s about the unrivaled, subtitled humanity of the alien Christopher (I love that all the aliens have been assigned Western names, but this beat-you-over-the-head-with-the-fact-that-this-is-a-morality-play name in particular is a bit much). Oh, yeah, and speaking of the Wikus mutations: that shit was gross. Between his shedding of body parts and the other characters’ apparent absence of any shred of human decency, this film is only for the strong-stomached. Seriously. Oh, and in terms of war-gore, let’s just say that more often than not the settings on the alien rifles are cranked to “microwave”. So convincing. Ergo, so nasty. Catsup packet comes to mind.

Generic in a dystopian, 1984 kind of way. Win!

Viral teaser campaign: print (L) and special (R).

I love the fact that there’s lots of humor and levity during the first half-hour, which is styled as a sort of documentary and serves to bring the viewer up-to-speed on the last 20 years, but that the humor straight-up evaporates when shit stops being polite and starts getting real. You know, like when you start committing mass infanticide with another species’ eggs. Or you find out that you’re “worth more dead than alive” to your father-in-law, who is also your DNA-harvesting boss at the menacing defense contract corporation where you work. You know, the one with a totalitarianesque name (Multi-National United) that gets truncated to an acronym (MNU). That one.

I know my posts’ve been more cheer than jeer lately, but this movie is really, really good. 2012 will be better disaster porn, but District 9 has substance. Also, two of the dudes from Tsotsi have minor roles here, and it was cool to see them play characters on the other side of the superstructure (and by that I mean a little bit farther up from the absolute bottom but still closer to the bottom than the middle).

The critics have been impressed, too, and the opening weekend receipts seem healthy, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more from this Blomkamp dude. I mean, for real. By taking the “human” out of “utterly depressing dehumanization”, he managed to leave me more cynical about how people treat each other than I was before I entered the theater. And I was already super-through with people when I went in, so…good job.