Help me with Netflix, help yourself with GreenCine.

Only a couple of weeks after Agent Smithing my brother’s early adopter, $10/month-for-life Netflix account, I’ve run out of movies I want to rent. Or more precisely, movies I want to rent that Netflix actually has. (Note: if you’re reading this from Netflix, my brother lives with us now. As do his wife and their two lovely children. Coincidentally, after tiring of Pooh’s various adventures, my four-year-old niece suddenly developed an interest in Ozu and Tarkovsky.)
So, please help me fill my Netflix queue with films I haven’t thought to rent.
And in the mean time, sign yourself up at GreenCine, the San Francisco Pink Dot to Netflix’s Kozmo. They have everything and a great film weblog. While you’re at it, read this fascinating analysis of Netflix’s DVD allocation system to see just how unprofitable my brother is for them.
[Update: thanks, Sacrifice is actually already in the mail, and Bottle Rocket‘s on the list. Paul Krugman recommends Wag the Dog. Here’s my rental queue: Koyaanisqatsi, Dancer in the Dark (finally. I walked out of the theater after 10 min.), The Manchurian Candidate, Rashomon, Sokurov’s Mother and Son. Watched and mailed back: Badlands (again), Hedwig & the Angry Inch, In the Bedroom. ]
[Unrelated: can anyone explain why I have the song, “Come on, be my baby tonight,” from idiot David on The Real World: New Orleans stuck in my head? Whitney, where are you when I need you?]

Have you heard of this movie, Matrix Reloaded?

You know how Justin invented Shoutcast so he could listen to Loveline in Arizona? Well, if weblogs never existed, I’m sure they would’ve been invented yesterday as a way for everyone in the world to review Matrix Reloaded. [Warning: major spoilers and countless review links in Jason’s comments thread]. Until Nick and Meg figure out how to find me the good ones, though, I’m sticking with the pros. Like that Agent Smith of MR reviewers, David Edelstein, who first loves, then hates, the movie in Slate, The NY Times, and Fresh Air.
Matrix Reloaded, I swear I had this idea before seeing the movie.  Anyway, mine is completely different.  image:slate.comSure, I could write how the rave reminds me of that annoying “let’s target the ‘urban’ demographic” Kahlua commercial a few years ago, or how I actually apologized to the people sitting next to me for laughing so hard at the Merovingian (who hangs around the corner at Bilboquet like all the time) how the unexpectedly Chicago-esque editing destroyed the lyricism of some of the fight scenes, or how righteous Trinity’s hack turns out to be.
But forget the movie; what interests me, is, well, me. What does the Matrix mean for my Animated Musical, my Terminator-meets-West Side Story? There were a couple of “great minds think alike” points that made me cringe at first, until a bit of satisfaction kicked in, at my occasional avant la lettre similarity to the Wachowskis’ script. On others, I got what they missed. Eat my dust, Wachowskis. I mean– I mean, let’s have breakfast.
Basically, then, I was fine about it, at least until I came home and read Joyce Wadler’s opening party pitch to Joel Silver for Matrix: The Musical. I’m typing this in the fetal position, btw.

On X2, briefly

Good movie. Nice bones tossed to the comic book readers. Just a suggestion: maybe if their hair wasn’t so uniformly weird, people wouldn’t hate the mutants as much.

On Panic Room‘s Opening Credits

DVD Talk‘s Gil Jawetz takes a great, informative look at the development of the opening credits for Panic Room. David Fincher‘s credits are almost always events in themselves, and apparently Panic Room is no different. Jawetz makes the connection to Saul Bass’s North by Northwest credits, to which I’d add Bass’s opening for West Side Story, another tour de force montage of NYC skylines.
You can buy Panic Room on DVD, but only if you’ve already bought Fight Club. It’s one of the first mega-DVD’s, stuffed with real, not astroturfy extra content. Of course, there’s also the single-disc edition. Also, Fincher fans should already be flocking to screenwriter/director Roger Avary’s weblog. Avary gives near-daily reports from the lunchtable as he works on the script for Lords of Dogtown. [thanks, hella amusing Gothamist]

On Matrix Reloaded, aka The Burly Man

Matrix Reloaded, image: warnerbros, wired.com

Insanely great article by Steve Silberman in Wired on John Gaeta and the CG–no, virtual cinematography–they developed for the Wachowskis’ Matrix sequels.
They created ESC, a “CG skunkworks company” for (at least) one fight scene, where Neo kung fu wire-dance fights with 100+ Agent Smiths. To shoot it, they created the world’s largest motion capture studio, ran the flying wire fighters through “hundreds of takes” per day, scanned Keanu and Hugo‘s heads with 5 HD cameras capturing 1Gb/sec of raw image data (400k/frame? Sounds reasonable, come to think of it…), and mapped the real world onto laser-measured wireframes. Short explanation: they created the Matrix. Oh, and they did it all in secret, using The Burly Man (taken from Barton Fink‘s doomed wrestling picture script)as their working title.

What this means for moviemaking is that once a scene is captured, filmmakers can fly the virtual camera through thousands of “takes” of the original performance – and from any angle they want, zooming in for a close-up, dollying back for the wide shot, or launching into the sky. Virtual cinematography.

I want one. I want one for my Animated Musical, where an intricately choreographed dance number could be viewed in one continuous, Fred Astaire-style take, and/or edited, with views from multiple animation-world “cameras.” It’d be great for editing, and you could make your own versions with the DVD.
Some related postings:
Matrix, The, video game/film convergence and
CDDb: Carson Daly Database
Gerry, the video game-like movie
Chicago sucked, and Moulin Rouge-y editing can’t help
Machinima and the (d)evolution of dazzling Steadicam
my tech/low-tech dilemma and an inadvertent slam on Gaeta, via his What Dreams May Come
[Thanks, Boingboing. Image: Warner bros, via wired.com ]

On Sokurov On His Film On Art


Russian Ark, dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, image:guardian.co.uk

In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones talks with Aleksandr Sokurov about his latest film, Russian Ark, and he retraces the path of the single 96-minute Steadicam shot through the Hermitage with the museum’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky. I’ve written about this before, but what comes through here is a double view of serious passion for art.
The Hermitage dominates the lives of those who work there: It “has its own school where children can learn archaeology and art history from the age of five, preselected for curatorial lives like gymnasts or violinists.” Piotrovsky appears as himself in the film, talking with his deceased father, who was also director.
And for Sokurov, encountering art, not just seeing or presenting it, was a central goal of the film. “Sokurov films paintings from the side, in normal lighting, so that reflections – as they do – obscure one part of the picture and make the texture of its surface visible.” One encounter Sokurov provides is Rembrandt: “When you meet the real painting, you meet a real creature. Rembrandt left part of his physical being in his painting – every time you come up to a painting, you feel part of this energy, this sense of something being alive.”
Sokurov dismisses modern works—the museum’s famous Matisses don’t make the film’s, um, final cut–saying “the main criterion in art is time. It seems to me that those artists who are considered modern classics are to be tested by time yet.” And the director chides film for utterly lacking historical awareness (“due to the lack of cinema museums,” he claims) even as Jones points out the contrast of the unedited Russian Ark and its Russian Avant Garde antecedents–like Eisenstein, who also filmed in the Hermitage–whose “great modernist aesthetic” of editing became the foundation of our entire visual language.
So, Sokurov, what’s a better way to spend four hours today, watching my Criterion Collection Andrei Rublev DVD (aka, the cinema museum?) or standing in line at the Met for the last day of daVinci? “Museums make culture stable,” Sokurov notes, and they perform an invaluable conservative function, that is, conserving the “real creatures” of our collective past. As Sokurov would no doubt agree, in contemporary art, the artist leaves no part of his physical being in his work: he leaves his thoughts, his mind, his idea. And when I encounter a Felix Gonzalez-Torres light string, fabricated with parts off the hardware store shelf, I still have a sense of something being alive.

On TV: IFP Independent Spirit Awards

Eh. Who needs to watch the Oscars, with their self-serious, press conference-addicted producer, Gil Cates, and their Chicago faits accomplis. The IFP Spirit Awards are like a hundred times better. It’s on Bravo right now (and it repeats, uncensored, on IFC, again and again). Some highlights:
Derek Luke, image:toronto.com

  • Host John Waters quote: “Technique is nothing more than failed style.”
  • The presenter of Best Debut Performance nearly had a meltdown three, four times, as she tried to read, over shouts of protests from the all-potential-presenter crowd, the winner without reading the nominees.
  • While the Oscars are making a blacklist, the IFP Board made a moving statement about Independence. Of thought, of opinion, of expression. And they encouraged, even demanded, that artists speak out and call attention to things that need to be changed in the world.
  • Mike White won Best Screenplay for The Good Girl, otherwise Todd Haynes and Far From Heaven cleaned up.
  • Killer Films is a Miramax, but with Google’s “don’t be evil” soul.
  • Derek Luke, who won best male lead for Antwone Fisher, pulled his wife along with him, and suddenly gave her his statuette. Cue widespread emotion. On his way off the stage, he shouted out, “Four years ago, I was a waiter. Here, at the Spirit Awards.” Cue wild cheers.
  • Hit Decasia At Anthology, Miss Oscar-Nominated Shorts At Pioneer

    Decasia is Bill Morrison’s fascinating, expressive film composed of beautifully deteriorated nitrate film stock. Last December, Laurence Wechsler wrote about showing it to Errol Morris: “I popped the video into his VCR and proceeded to observe as Morrison’s film once again began casting its spell. Errol sat drop-jawed: at one point, about halfway through, he stammered, ‘This may be the greatest movie ever made.”’
    Morrison will be at some Anthology Film Archive screenings. The film’s website has a growing schedule of other screenings, including 26 March at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum. Read J. Hoberman’s Voice review. Also, buy Decasia on VHS.
    Meanwhile, in his short review, the Voice‘s Dennis Lim guts the Oscar-nominated short films like a Hebrew-speaking carp. Lim’s joyless Oscar prediction: “Inja, a pat anti-apartheid parable manipulative enough to enlist a dog and a child.” Yikes. What’s the endgame for making shorts again??

    More On Punch-Drunk Love and Jeremy Blake


    blake-pdlove.jpg

    Been making arrangements for a private preview of a new work by Jeremy Blake, who I’ve been friendly with for many years, since his first NY show. While putting together an email of links and background for people, I went back to the official site for Paul Anderson’s film, Punch-Drunk Love [DVD, someday]. Under “movies”, there is a collection of 14 haiku-like clips, which use liberal doses of Jeremy’s abstracted work and Jon Brion’s film music, often without any dialogue, or even ambient sound. They’re really great, like a bowl of film candy.
    A search of the web for any discussion of them turned up nothing, but ptanderson.com, the blow-away best “unofficial” filmmaker fansite around, comes to the rescue, sort of. In addition to a section on Jeremy and his work (including a what/where inventory of his work in PDL), there’s a list of deleted scenes which maps pretty closely onto the website movies. PDL is the most overlooked movie of the award season. And not just acting/directing/writing, but the whole gamut of editing, production design, sound, lighting, music, I mean, come on.

    About being right about About Schmidt

    director Alexander Payne. image: wnyc.org, photo: Claudette Barius/New Line ProductionsA couple of weeks ago, I called About Schmidt the Thinking Person’s My Fat, Greek Wedding and linked both back to the 1955 Academy Award sweeper Marty. Now, after giving it some thought, Vogue‘s Sarah Kerr notes an “odd coincidence” in a Slate discussion of the films of 2002: “Did you know that Payne is of Greek extraction and that in his boyhood his father owned a Greek restaurant in Omaha? Ring a bell with another movie this year?”
    [Listen to Payne talking about Omaha on Studio 360.]
    [MoMA‘s Film Department will honor Payne with its 2nd Work In Progress Award in February.]

    About Schmidt: The Thinking Person’s “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding”

    Nobody’s Perfect, indeed. If Anthony Lane can’t get beyond Jack’s celebrity, fine. He saw the movie at the NY Film Fest opening. His unabashed pinky-extended criticism almost always gives an enjoyable read. (Need some holiday cheer? Get his collected reviews, Nobody’s Perfect, today Don’t even think you can stuff a stocking with it or take it on a plane, though.)
    But Salon’s review by Charles Taylor seems to be such a bitter, willful misread of the film, it defies explanation. So let me explain: Taylor actually misunderstands the audience, or more precisely, large swaths of the population of the US, including the hundreds of millions of excruciatingly normal people who fail to “delight (movie directors as) eccentrics and kooks and small-town oddballs” and who would never consider themselves “vulgar and naive and tacky,” just the opposite.
    In About Schmidt as well as his previous films, Alexander Payne proves that excruciatingly normal doesn’t automatically mean boring. Just the opposite. In a long Times article, A. O. Scott tries to place Payne’s (and Nicholson’s) Schmidt in a grand tradition of the “mythic cinema hero, The Regular Guy.” This tradition extends from the creations of Clifford Odets, Sinclair Lewis, Arthur Miller, and John Updike to “just about every movie cop and sitcom dad.” (Sitcom. Remember sitcom.) Although Scott cites Jimmy Stewart and Fred “My Three Sons” MacMurray, the only actual movie he cites is Marty, which Delbert Mann had originally directed on television. Mythic, indeed.
    Marty is the classic immigrant affirmation story, which won Oscars in 1955, for its star (Ernest Borgnine, nee Borgnino, an Italian), writer Paddy Chayefsky, a Jew from the Bronx) producer (Harold Hecht, a Jew from Poland), and director (Mann, from…Lawrenceville, Kansas). Beset by his loud Italian mother and family and feeling fat an unattractive, Marty falls for a teacher; the mismatched couple overcomes the family’s objections and their own insecurity on their way to their fairytale marriage. Sound familiar? It should, since it’s the same damn plot as My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.
    David Denby rightly called Greek Wedding on its big, fat sitcom roots, and the story of how its unexpected success among The Ignored caught Hollywood and the culture capitalists off guard is now accepted wisdom; Denby’s own New Yorker review didn’t even appear until September, six months after the film’s debut, and presumably, after Denby’s aunts and mother wouldn’t let him off the hook for ignoring it any longer. For The Ignored, it’s their own story, told in the style they were trained by television to expect. About Schmidt is a remarkable film about The Ignored that tells their own story in a powerful, serious way. It may never achieve the box office success of Greek Wedding, which is too bad. For the first time in fifty years, there’s actually a good film about a Mythic Cinema Hero.

    P&A: Print & Advertising, Pot & Auctions

    Print
    Talked to MoMA today to finalize the exhibition format for Souvenir November 2001. A film transfer would be really lush and sexy. Yesterday, I saw a video projected version of a short I’d seen at the New Directors/New Films series last spring. The difference in the image, particularly in the color intensity, was marked. A film transfer would also be a couple grand, and given that I still feel a slight itch to finetune the sound (and/or music) a bit, it’s money I’d rather save for when the movie is triple-locked and padlocked locked.
    Advertising
    Been working on advance press, doing selective flogging, and talking to a couple of publicists. We’re preparing a mailing to go out to the collective lists of the crew, which includes most NY media, all the art media (Jonah, the DP has been getting a lot of attention lately for his own fine art photography and video work), and a bunch of dawgs, to use the vernacular.
    Something’s working. I was introduced to someone (with a much higher Q-rating than mine) who promptly asked, “You have a website? about a movie? Is that you?” First time that‘s happened.
    Pot
    Walking through midtown today, I was surprised to come across three people firing up old school (ie., on the street)r than tobacco among the traditional smoker exiles. Was it a coincidence that they were each in front of a company whose chief product is idea generation?
    Auction
    Went to the contemporary art auctions Wed./Thurs. at Christie’s. If there’s a pop coming to that bubble, it wasn’t yet. Crowds were, well, crowded, and bidding was consistently active.
    I definitely don’t collect to make money. Making money’d entail selling, and the idea of parting with a work just confounds me. Still, watching an auction can be like repeatedly clicking Reload on your E*Trade account; in your head, you mark your own taste to market. When a Flavin and some Donald Judd sculptures did very well, for example, the Italian woman next to me whipped out her mobile phone and rattled off the results. << Si, como nostro. como nostro >>, she repeated excitedly. Molto buono, indeed.

    my favorite: an amazing, early Judd desk and chairs, in Mahogany.  $300,000
    Desk & Chairs, 1988, Donald Judd, sold at Christie’s Nov. 14, 2002 (image: Christie’s)

    So how’d my taste do? Pretty good, I have to say. Strong, smart pieces by artists whose work I really enjoy–Donald Judd, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Olafur Eliasson, Hiroshi Sugimoto–did well; the prices seemed right, not overheated, like some others (Gursky, Demand, Murakami). One downside: it hurts to see work rise beyond your reach (note to self: close that the five-picture deal…) It’s almost enough to make you wish the bubble’d pop.

    Directorspotting and Fansite Trends

    Ewan McGregor in a car, from fansite eccentricity-online.com
    Ewan, up close. Image: Eccentricity-online.com

    The Guardian has an interesting interview with Ewan McGregor who talks about singing, about directing his first short, and about working with directors. There’s audio as well, in case you’re into the accent.
    Ewanspotting, an awe-inducing McGregor fansite confirms a trend: names derived from the first/big movie. Ex. Being Charlie Kaufman and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Cigarettes & Coffee (named after his first short).

    More on the influence of art on film, and Contact as Dante’s Paradiso. Seriously.


    Last night, I talked about the
    artists and filmmakers post with an artist friend who passed through town. He pointed out Lars von Trier’s collaboration with the Danish romantic painter Per Kirkeby on Breaking The Waves. Kirkeby created deeply romantic landscapes to introduce each chapter of the film. Von Trier points out that the movie’s setting, the Isle of Skye, was a favorite destination of many 19th century English Romantic artists and writers.
    Interesting because it dovetails so nicely with my other current fixation, is how von Trier envisioned these painterly interludes to Kirkeby: “God’s-eye-view of the landscape in which this story is unfolding, as if he were watching over the characters.” (from the Journal of Religion and Film)
    Moving from interesting to unsettling, this JR&F paper discusses the parallels of Contact and Dante’s Paradiso.
    Nevertheless, so much of the holy kingdom
    as I could treasure up in my mind
    shall now be the matter of my song.
    -Dante
    They should have sent a poet.
    -Ellie Arroway