With occasional reflection on the perpetual absurdity/intrigue of life and society in general.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another Walk on the Ironic Side: RNC Sex-Club Flap..., NPR News

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ricky Gervais and Heaven: Heaven offers a "happy" answer to life's questions

By Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson

What is Heaven? The band The Talking Heads tell us that "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens." That sounds all right. Sometimes "things" are "bad things", so a place with no "things" at all would be a calm and safe one. But sometimes things are "good things" and I'm not sure I could do without those. After all, they're "good".

Hmmm... a pickle, this one...

...Good or bad, true or false, who wouldn't invent heaven for their dying mother?

While admittedly a dumbed-down version, the scene of Mark inventing heaven for his mother is how we (the creators of The Invention of Lying) imagine most religions were started: with people searching for answers to scary, unanswerable questions. Almost every culture throughout that ages have had different answers to the big questions: what is that big moon in the sky? Where does the sun go at night? What is the point of all of this? Where do my loved ones go after they die?

Not having adequate answers to these questions can be very anxiety inducing for adults and children alike. On the other hand, having a wonderful, happy answer to these questions can make life feel meaningful and calm. When I die I will go to a wonderful place and I will get to see all the people I love who have died.

A belief such as this can make almost any sadness or pain palatable. Add a set of rules to this equation (if I do A, B and C I'm assured to go to this place, or conversely, if I do X,Y and Z I will go to a very, very bad place) and you've taken all the scary unknowns out of life and given nearly everything purpose and meaning. In many ways, you've abolished chaos. You've also taken care of that pesky, nagging existential voice in your head asking, "why are we here and what does it all mean?" That voice can make it very hard to get any farming done.

And while heaven might have made it possible to get some farming done over the ages, one has to wonder now what it might also be preventing us from accomplishing or learning about our existence? Luckily, along with our evolution-granted ability to tell a lie, came with it the ability to reason, to question, and to occasionally poke some fun.

Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson co-wrote and co-directed the movie "The Invention of Lying"

This is from the Washington Post. You can link through the post-title for the full text.

Ricky Gervais and His Oddly Brilliant Animated Podcast - Highly Recommended

The HBO series The Ricky Gervais Show is an adaptation of podcasts that first appeared on The Guardian's Web site — and features the animated versions of (from left) Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington.

Comedian Ricky Gervais was recognized byGuinness World Records in 2007 for having the world's most popular podcast. That podcast, called The Ricky Gervais Show, starred Gervais, along with his mates Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington, conversing about anything and everything that tickled their fancy for more than six years.
Gervais tells David Bianculli that Pilkington — described in The New York Times as "a cross between the deadpan comedian Steven Wright and Cliff Clavin of Cheers" — is the main reason for the podcast's success.
"I think that people know it's real. They're eavesdropping on a conversation between three mates," Gervais says. "But the real answer's Karl Pilkington. That's the secret. Karl Pilkington: This normal but extraordinary man. This missing link. This global village idiot. This friend that everyone's got that doesn't get airtime and recognition. And he's like crack. He's addictive on the first hit."
Recently, HBO decided to animate Gervais' self-proclaimed "pointless conversations" with Merchant and Pilkington, turning it into the new Friday night series The Ricky Gervais Show.

To read more of the NPR article, follow the link on the post-title - it includes video clips from the show. For more on the Ricky Gervais Show and podcast in genersl, check out the websites below:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fish Tank - Featured Film of Interest - Highly Recommended

This is a re-posting. I recently had the privilege of screening this film and made comments below.

Release date: In Cinemas Friday!
Certificate: 15
Running time: 124 mins
Official UK website: www.fishtankmovie.com

Premier PR online and Artificial Eye are pleased to make available the trailer, new one sheet poster, images, production notes, official UK website and social network links for FISH TANK, in UK cinemas Friday.

FISH TANK is Academy Award-winning writer and director Andrea Arnold's second feature following her 2006 Cannes Jury Prize winner, Red Road. The film was selected for the Official Competition at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Jury Prize.

FISH TANK, 15 year old Mia's life is turned on its head when her mum brings home a new boyfriend. Arnold casts the same unflinching, unprejudiced gaze and touches on the themes of her Oscar-winning short Wasp to create an original and unsettling tale for our age.

Following his acclaimed central performance in
Hunger, Michael Fassbender (300, Inglourious Basterds) stars opposite talented newcomer Katie Jarvis. Rounding out the principal cast are BAFTA-nominated Kierston Wareing(Ken Loach’s It's a Free World), Harry Treadaway (Control, Brothers of the Head) and 12 year old Rebecca Griffiths making her film debut.
Produced by
Kees Kasander (Prospero's Books, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover) and Nick Laws, and executive produced by Paul Trijbits (Ruby Films) and Christine Langan and David M Thompson for BBC Films, FISH TANK was shot entirely on location in the UK.

I screened this film recently (actually, relatively close to the UK release date - amazing for this town) and it is an exceptional piece of work, beautifully crafted, fulfilling its intent thoroughly, eerily Bressonian realism (a rare comparison for active filmmakers, other than the Dardenne Bros. or Bruno Dumont maybe), and most importantly - I cared so much by the end! - and was left with a slow burn of effectual contemplation. Admittedly, it starts a bit slow and borders on territories of repetitive meandering (as hard realism is often in threat of), but by the middle I was fully invested, and subtle stylistic touches began to create an intriguing social landscape. I presume that upon a second viewing the early narrative style and structure is justified, particularly for tonal purposes - and it never left me uninterested by any means. I have been quite slow to screen many of my intrigue films of 2009 (ref. Recent Films of Interest), particularly the foreign films for obvious reasons, but of the films that I've had the privilege or burden of viewing, this is in the upper bracket of my "best of"(forgive me) films for 2009.

SXSW 2009 World Premiered Film - Severe Clear - gets Theatrical Release

It could be that Severe Clear is yet the most valuable artistic document to arise through the dark clouds wafting over the history of this second Iraqi war.

Severe Clear had it's world premier at SXSW 2009 a year ago and recently was picked up for a limited theatrical release. Follow the link below for release dates in major US cities.

Severe Clear is based on the memoir by First Lieutenant Mike Scotti as well as video footage shot by him and other members of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines on the outset of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Directed by Kristian Fraga (“Anytown, USA”) and featuring a original score by Cliff Martinez (“Traffic”, “Narc”, “Solaris”) the film offers an unflinching look at the uncertainty, disorder and chaos of war from the remarkable perspective of one Marine.

Severe Clear was awarded Special Mention for Cinematic Excellence at the 2009 International Rome Film Festival, the Jury Prize at the Salem Film Fest and the 2009 Barrymore Award. Severe Clear was also featured as part of the 2009 International Documentary Association’s DocuWeeks Showcase and was an official selection at the SXSW, Big Sky, Lone Star, Palm Beach, San Diego and St. Louis Film Festivals.

The film has also been recently featured and reviewed in The New York Times, CNN, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Newsweek, Men’s Journal, Interview Magazine, Filmmaker Magazine, indieWIRE and more.


Follow the link for a thorough review, and click here to view the theatrical trailer on Hulu.

This film invites an interesting comparison-study between contemporary warfare/soldier-experience and that of WWII, documented in Staff Sgt. Norman Hatch's film, With the Marines on Tarawa (featured in an earlier post). A comparison in cinematic style, as it relates to documentary filmmaking and the ever-changing domain of media and film production (as accessibility and exhibition outlets increase), would be of interest as well.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bressonian Quote #5 - Notes from a Master Filmmaker

"Not have the soul of an executant (of my own projects). Find, for each shot, a new pungency over and above what I had imagined. Invention (re-invention) on the spot." - Robert Bresson

South Park Celebrates 14 Years Of Fart Jokes

The sitcom South Park debuted on Aug. 13, 1997. It is Comedy Central's highest- rated and longest-running show. South Park has received a Peabody Award as well as four Emmy Awards.
The bawdy, crudely animated sitcom South Park is about to celebrate its 200th episode. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone go behind the scenes of some of their favorite episodes — and explain how they come up with the weekly parodies.

If the English have taught us anything, it's this - When all else fails, everything is gloomy, and there seems no hope, resort to the fart joke. American comedy has run with this concept for decades. However, I don't think anyone is fooled anymore - there's something unusually smart behind these fowl mouthed kids and fart jokes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

David Cross vs Larry the cable guy

This broadly summarizes the fractional duality of american culture - ideologically, politically, etc. - and the impending conflict within. And, it's funny as hell - well... to half of us it is. Enjoy.

An open letter to Larry The Cable Guy:

Hello Larry,
It's me, David Cross. Recently I was shooting something for my friends at "Wonder Showzen" (the funniest, most subversive comedy on American T.V. at the moment) and when we were taking a break one of the guys on the show asked me if I had seen some article in something somewhere wherein you were interviewed to promote your new book "Please-Git-R-Done" (published by Crown Books $23.95 U.S.) and they asked about your devoting a chapter to slamming me and the "P.C. Left". Since I stopped following your career shortly after you stopped going on stage wearing a tool belt with cable wrapped around your neck (around your appearance at "Laffs 'n' Food" in Enid, Oklahoma Aug 23-26 1999?) I said I wasn't aware of the article. They went on to tell me that you said basically (and I am not quoting but paraphrasing their recall) that I could kiss your ass, that I've never been to one of your shows (true) and that I didn't know your audience (untrue).
SO, I went and got your book, "Gitting-R-Donned", and excitedly skimmed past the joke about that one time you farted and something farty happened, on past the thing about the fat girl who farted and finally found it, Chapter 5 - Media Madness. Well, needless to say I farted. I farted up a fartstorm right there in the Flyin' J Travel Center. I fartingly bought the book and took it home with an excitement I haven't experienced since I got Bertha Chudfarter's Grandma drunk and she took her teeth out and blew me as I was finger banging her while wearing a Jesus sock puppet in the back of the boiler room at The Church of the Redeemer off I-20 (I don't care who you are, that's funny.)
Anyhoo, I got home and read the good parts. It seems that you were pissed off at Rolling Stone magazine, and I can understand why...
But I want to address some of the things you write about me in "Git-to-Gittin'-r-Done"...

And this is when it really gets funny. Follow the link to The Bob and Davider to continue.

Monday, March 22, 2010

While My Guitar Gently Weeps -Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison, Prince, and more...

Not the way you've heard it before. Wow, what a collaboration. We won't see this everyday. Just wait for Prince's guitar solo - amazing.
Thanks to my brother for sharing this one.

Dogtooth - A More Thorough Review - Highly Recommended

...But what does all this strangeness mean? What points are the filmmakers trying to make? I extracted a few compelling ones, and I suspect that a different set of eyes would pull out of a few more. On one level, Dogtooth feels like a strange but pungent slap in the face to suburbia, to middle-class complacency, and to the often aggressive ways in which parents foist their own beliefs onto their children. Taken another way, the film feels like an inverted version of a typical Hollywood comedy: In most farces, we're offered a normal setting that is invaded by something strange or absurd, whereas Dogtooth goes the other way: Here we're introduced to a patently surreal situation, and it's darkly amusing to see what happens when flat normalcy infects outrageous absurdity.

By this point you've correctly surmised that
Dogtooth is not for all tastes, and I can confirm that suspicion by saying that the film is occasionally unpleasant, intermittently gory, and laden with sexual situations that are frank, odd, and uncomfortable. But it's this sort of unpredictable oddness that makes the film such a provocative experience. Suffice to say that we won't be seeing an American remake of this one any time soon.

WWII Combat Cameraman: 'The Public Had To Know'

Further affirmation of the social relevance and potency of film. He carried a camera instead of a gun. Below is an interview with Major Norman Hatch, USMC in his later years. To view the short documentary that he filmed as a soldier, click the post-title to link to NPR.

During Word War II, Staff Sgt. Norman Hatch was a cinematographer and combat photographer who witnessed — and filmed — some of the most bitter fighting in the Pacific theater. His efforts ended with, of all things, an Academy Award — for footage so brutal that it took special permission from President Franklin Roosevelt to allow his short documentary, With the Marines on Tarawa, to be shown as a newsreel.

Bressonian Quote #4 - Notes from a Master Filmmaker

"Master precision. Be a precision instrument myself." - Robert Bresson

Saturday, March 20, 2010

SXSW 2010 Music Showcase - NPR Full Coverage

pictured above: The Walkmen


Photos, videos, interviews, and previews of the week's music in Austin. NPR is sponsoring a showcase including indie gurus, Spoon and The Walkmen, and this is just the beginning of an endless list of acts showcased at SXSW. Rock on. Wish I was there.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tom Waits - Images of Cool

“If I exorcise my devils, well my angels may leave too.”

–Tom Waits

The Selvedge Yard - Interesting blog and excellent archive of images from 20th century American pop culture.

Tom Waits image archive - Just because he's Tom Waits. Need I say more?

The Limits of Control, by Jim Jarmusch - Reopen the dialogue?

The Limits of Control (2009), the newest film by Jim Jarmusch, opened last May (in US limited release, of course) to poor critical reviews and was subsequently swept under the rug - with very little legitimate discourse or critical contemplation. I will be screening the film soon, for the first time, and am still quite excited, regardless of the initial reception (as i am with each Jarmusch film). I cannot imagine that the collaboration of Jarmusch, one of the true active American auteurs, and cinematographer, Christopher Doyle (renowned for his masterful work with Wong Kar-Wai), did not produce some level of cinematic excellence or curiosity - we'll see. Considering the quick dismissal of the film, I cannot help but to reflect on the flat reception of last year's Synecdoche, NY, Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut - one of the truly brilliant films of the year that was simply too complex, conceptually and narratively, for critics or the general viewing audience to fully appreciate. I have read the reviews consistently citing the complete lack of narrative in Jarmusch's latest, though I'm quite certain it is an intentional deconstruction of narrative or exercise in minimalist observation. I'm anxious to find out, and will post a response. Perhaps, the dialogue should be reopened on The Limits of Control.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Onion - Marijuana Use Triples Among Gary

I am by no means posting this article with the intent of making any sort of socio/political statement or imposing argument, although i take no offense to the notion. I find the Onion to be engaging satire that never fails to amuse with a hybrid blend of high intellect, keen observation, and absolutely ridiculous slapstick. I have nothing but respect for what they do - thoroughly entertaining and insightful mock-journalism, particularly during political seasons. This is one of the more amusing Onion articles that i have read in a while. Actually, I laughed out loud quite a few times and you will too, especially if you know Gary.

Not to mention, I stumbled upon the realization that they are based out of Madison, Wisconsin on my last cross-country road trip. This simply adds to their independent aura, as Madison is one of the rare gems amongst midsize American towns - free-thinking, progressive, culturally aware, and naturally beautiful.

Bressonian Quote #3 - Notes from a Master Filmmaker

"Respect man's nature without wishing it more palpable than it is."
-Robert Bresson

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SXSW 2010 Review: Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

by Kate Erbland, March 16

Writers: Giorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou

Director: Giorgos Lanthimos

Cast: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis

Anyone who follows the film blogging world should be well-acquainted with a few names of online critics that could eloquently be referred to as “luminaries” and affectionately known as “big papas.” Two of these guiding daddies of our world played a big part in my viewing of Greece’s DOGTOOTH. James Rocchi recommended DOGTOOTH to Scott Weinberg. Rocchi recommended it to me. Both loved it. These are recommendations you cannot ignore. The film won the Un Certain Regard Award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival (which recognizes emerging and special talent at the festival). That’s another recommendation you can’t ignore. Which is all very appropriate – because DOGTOOTH is a film you cannot ignore.
(For the full review, click the post-title link)

This film screened at Cucalorus Film Festival 2009. I was at the festival but missed the screening due to schedule conflicts (you can never see as many as you would like). Everyone I spoke with, including trusted colleagues and friends, that attended the screening couldn't quite describe what they had experienced, but insisted that it was brilliant. It was the talk of the festival. This is a good sign.

Future Commentary to be Posted - A Critical Review of the Critics

How (and why) Roger Ebert and so many other "credible" film critics fell for the Avatar hype and offered up glowing reviews and PR fodder for the horned-god of commercialism, only to later regret their misstep. Was their vision blurred by the 3-D spectacle? Does Cameron really eat critics that dissent? Or, did they truly get swept away in the hype, marketing, and spectacle so much as to skew their professional insight?

SXSW Film Festival Update: Feature Documentary - American: The Bill Hicks Story

American: The Bill Hicks Story. directed by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas.
This is one of many intrigues among the accepted films for SXSW Film Festival 2010, which has been in action since March 12 and will wrap up in a few days. SXSW is one of the premier film festivals in the US, and perhaps my personal favorite in regard to independent integrity, though I have yet to attend. There is, of course, the accompanying independent music showcase which alone is well worth the trip to the republic of Texas. The reason that I have yet to comment on the festival, individual screenings, and premiers is based solely on personal bitterness - I had long planned on being in Austin for this years festival and, unfortunately, things did not work out. I have not quite recovered from the disappointment - nothing better than a week of independent film and music to inspire the mind and creative flow.

Check out the links within the text for more info on SXSW Film Festival and Music Showcase. The festival website is thorough and interesting, with full info., stills, and trailers for the films screening.
So many of the screenings, by write-up and trailer, look extraordinary, and in the purest spirit of independent film. Please, explore some of the films further. Festivals, particularly of this caliber, serve as the greatest means of exhibition and our window into the world's most interesting, innovative, and heartfelt cinema.

Note: Bill Hicks is a longtime hero of mine and one of the funniest, most insightful (and raging) social/political comedians of our time. He was a philosopher and a preacher, with comedy as his tool, all too often agitated by sharing wisdom with (what he perceived as) ingrates and simpletons. I will explore the madness and genius of Bill Hicks in future posts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

News from Cannes - Tim Burton, President of the Jury of the 63rd Festival de Cannes

American film director Tim Burton is to be Jury President for the 63rd Festival de Cannes, which takes place from May 12th to 23rd 2010. Upon accepting the invitation from Gilles Jacob and Thierry Frémaux, Tim Burton declared: "After spending my early life watching triple features and 48-hour horror movie marathons, I’m finally ready for this. It’s a great honour and I look forward, with my fellow jurors, to watching some great films from around the world. When you think of Cannes you think of world cinema. And as films have always been like dreams to me, this is a dream come true."

I'm a little late to the game, as the official press release was in late January. However, I found it to be an interesting selection, and it made me smile a bit.
I wonder if the Cannes selection committee had screened Alice in Wonderland yet? Yes, that was a cheap shot. No more comments on Alice beyond this - It made me quite sad due to overall disappointment (particularly, aspects of the storytelling were flat and underdeveloped), but the root of the sadness was the lost cinematic opportunity. Refer to Bressonian Quote #2. With that being said, the high level of disappointment would not have been possible without an endearing respect for Burton and his body of work. His filmography and the general honesty of his vision afford him quite a bit of forgiveness. There is a quality retrospective of his work on the Festival de Cannes home page.

An early Tim Burton film for your viewing pleasure.

Bressonian Quote #2 - Notes from a Master Filmmaker

"The faculty of using my resources well diminishes when their number grows." - Robert Bresson (Notes sur le Cinematographe)

I particularly like this not-so-little piece of wisdom and find it to hold absolute truth in the art of film production.

Stan Brakhage - Eye Myth (1972) and more...

"If Maya Deren invented the American avant-garde cinema, Stan Brakhage realized its potential... Brakhage single-handedly transformed the schism separating the avant-garde from classical filmmaking into a chasm. And the ultimate consequences have yet to be resolved; his films appear nearly as radical today as the day he made them."

At the end of the video, options to play more Brakhage films will reveal as thumbnails at the bottom of the screen. I recommend Black Ice (1994) as a more contemporary sample of his work.

To find out more about Stan Brakhage and his films, visit the link to the post title.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bressonian Quote #1 - Notes from a Master Filmmaker

above image from A Man Escaped (1956)

"Rid myself of the accumulated errors and un-truths. Get to know my resources, make sure of them." - Robert Bresson

From time to time, i will post quotes from Notes on the Cinematographer (Notes sur le Cinematographe), by Robert Bresson. This is a journal of Bresson's accumulated knowledge and contemplation on the art of cinema, written in short anecdotal form. It is the equivalent of Confucius' Analects (or the bible, if you will) for filmmaking - or, what he refers to as, "cinematographe." However, the wisdom transcends beyond his craft as he spent a lifetime seeking artistic clarity, spiritual awareness, and a higher understanding of humanity.

If you are a patron of cinema as a complex medium of art, a true lover of film, a cinephile of any sort, and are not familiar with Robert Bresson, please, cross that bridge quickly. Bresson, his body of work, and his theoretical approach define the purest intent of "auteur." He is one of the rare masters of film - a child, a tyrant, a philosopher king, and an artist. i recommend beginning with:

Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut (1956) (scenario and dialogue)
... aka A Man Escaped (International: English title)

Pickpocket (1959)
Procès de Jeanne d'Arc (1962)
... aka The Trial of Joan of Arc (USA)

Retro Recommendation - Fishing with John, Criterion collection (1992)

John Lurie knows absolutely nothing about fishing, but that doesn’t stop him from undertaking the adventure of a lifetime in Fishing with John. Traveling with his special guests to the most exotic and dangerous places on earth, John Lurie battles sharks with Jim Jarmusch off the tip of Long Island, goes ice fishing with Willem Dafoe at Maine’s northernmost point, braves the Costa Rican jungle with Matt Dillon, takes Tom Waits to Jamaica, and searches for the elusive giant squid with Dennis Hopper in Thailand.

CAST: John Lurie, Dennis Hopper, Willem Dafoe, Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Matt Dillon
Narrator: Robb Webb

DirectorJohn Lurie
ScreenplayJohn Lurie
CinematographyTom Krueger and Michael Spiller
EditingRobert Burden and Mike Weiss
Associate producerSara Rychtarik
Line producerColeen Fitzgibbon
Executive producersTelecom staff
MusicJohn Lurie
Hut by

Perhaps the most brilliant television ever put to film.
Stephen Torton