(2010) Christoper Nolan. Kip's Bay, 2nd Avenue.

Inception Poster in Times SquareWhen the mind of the unsuspecting sleeper is invaded by the Extractor whose intention is to steal information from the sleeper's memory, the subconscious of the sleeper assumes the humanoid form of a mass mindless population ultra-sensitized to the threat of unknown interlopers, and who mimics the lack of individuation which characterizes any group dynamic, true, huge and dumb.

In the opening scene of Inception, which unravels as a dream within a dream, it first appears that the "real" events occur at the ramshackle flat in a city aflame with insurrection. A mob of street thugs and vigilante citizens, vaguely Third-World, riot in the streets and draw near the location of Cobb and Arthur as if to storm the mad General's palace. The city and the mob make the patterns by which Inception presents the way dreams sabotage the way of dreams. Personology is made the enemy.

Fight scenes take place in zero nerve-gravity, and time is known to expand in relative degree to the steepings of the brain. Arthur masters the stairwell of Paradox, in his slim waistcoat and slicked hair like a London toff in the 1890s. Cobb warns that an idea is a virus, a nefarious, belligerent and furtive being. The biologics of the new serums used to induce the inception are thankfully left unexplicated, and where the story is thin on technology it is thick on the trenchworks of the mind.

The dream world of Cobb and his wife Mal is a sober and shallow vista, as if to suggest they were inUnidade de Habitação, Marselha, França fact shallow people, who lacked the imagination to construct together an otherworldly sleepscape other than Le Corbusier modular luxury project housing. Their metropolis is the kind that destroys its history to replace it with big bright boxes. This is the architecture of the anti-hero.

In Arthur, Joseph Gordon-Levitt Inceptionthe same way, Cobb thinks he is saving his mind by infiltrating it, incepting himself. Is Cobb a master intellectual con man, as Michael Caine hallows him? Or a corporate lackey misfit? He is a humorless man and so his situation suffers by it, causing a stunted, resistable personality. A character with no faith in his own imagination, and who steals life for it, demonstrates the disturbed, penultimate comfort zone Americans love so much. Paris, France folds up like an Escher poster on the wall of a Communications major's dorm room.
Modulor Man, Chandigarh, India, Le Corbusier
The Inceptors, like director Christopher Nolan, hinge the heist upon a histrionic convention. The mega-rich heir Robert Fisher has a daddy complex that ends up forsaking the supreme talents of the actor Pete Postlethwaite, and though it forms the crux of the whole founding concept, it is as dramatically weightless as the van taking forty-five minutes to hit the river. But Cobb is not an artist. He is a thief.

Inception depicts the nightmarish breakdown of a 21st century GQ mag nihilist who claims he just wants to see his kids again. But the family values culminate as a macabre morality. What kind of demented father will he be, even if the spinning top spins ad infinitum? Cobb believes in the vulnerability of the life of the mind, and he tricks the dreamer from their own surreal life by marking phenomena as hack familiarities: elevators, cocktail lounges, a locked safe, a snowy mountain, a train. These are the visual rhymes of movies as played out in the work ethic of a shady securities trader. Cobb is the Joker without the legerdemain, or the honest sticktoitiveness of anarchy.

The Expendables

(2010) Sylvester Stallone. Regal Union Square Stadium.

As "The Expendables" are reminiscent signifiers of aging 1980s action-movie actors, so too the dude audience recognizes itself as having aged and that it too is expendable. There is the nostalgia of Stallone in his 60s for the Stallone of Rambo, and the dude audience, now adults, is nostalgic for the adventuresome, gore-bucked fantasy life of boyhood. These sorts of action movies, exemplified by Cannon Films, prepared a kid for a world of drug-induced 1980s nihilism, bizarre characters, disturbed uses of the fuck word, and the moral code of killing bad guys.

The Expendables hang out at Tool's Tattooes, run by Tool (Mickey Rourke), where they park their motorcycles and talk about the old days, sometimes spouting limericks and having knife-throwing contests. As men of violence, The Expendables are a ragtag dragoon of ex-soldiers hired for dirty missions, and except for getting older, they are much more expendable as men of emotion.  Barney Ross (Stallone) can still fly a plane with brute grace while Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) mans the machine gun outside the nose.

But Toll Road (Randy Couture) is having issues at his shrink. Lee Christmas returns from a Somalian pirate mission to an unfaithful girlfriend. Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) wields a cannon he nicknames "girlfriend." Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) has gone killcrazy and turned against the Expendables, a victim of the post-traumatic stress of a 20th century mercenary in the 21st.

The Expendables are offered a mission leftover from the Reagan-era involving CIA-financed South American juntas. Arnold Schwarzeneggar crosses the fourth-wall of Hollywood action star self-consciousness by simply playing himself, The Governator, who, besides running the state of California, happens to also secretly lead a crackerjack militia on global suicide adventures. Arnold's gang is the Gary's Bar to The Expendables' Cheers. But, as Barney mocks, Arnie "wants to be President," so Schwarzeneggar passes up the mission, and The Expendables are stuck with the job. Bruce Willis gets to ask Stallone and Schwarzeneggar, "You guys gonna start sucking each other's dicks?"

The centerpiece of the movie is not an action scene, but a monologue by Tool, the camera close-up his jacksawed face, telling a Bosnia war story about his failure to save what was left of his soul.

One can easily forget, that along with Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles (and sure Billy Bob Thorton) Stallone is the only Best Actor nominee (1976) to also be nominated for Best Screenplay.  He's a writer's guy.

The Scarlet Empress

(1934) Josef von Sternberg. DVD.

The scarlet is both of bloodshed and the dishabille of depraved royalty.... As young Catherine swings playfully in the family garden, the peasants of Mother Russia swing too, as the enslaved human clappers of gigantic brass bells.

An orgiastic pageant of exotic torture sets the premise of Catherine's turbulent, sex-jolted reign. Mother Russia, the old cantankerous Empress, captures Catherine and mates the girl with Russia's only heir, an "imbecilic" son who closely resembles Harpo Marx, except this imbecile is artless. Catherine is to produce a male offspring who will vindicate Russia - something Mother's womb was never able to do.  Disgusted by the imbecile, Catherine calls forth buck soldiers to take the secret back-end passageway to her bedchambers.

Catherine motivates her power and sexuality in defiance of history’s contrived grotesque of procreation.  The movie's environs, like the portals of a Gothic cathedral, are crammed with mutant gargoyles and jaw-gaped, vortex-pained ikons.  Viral infectors of the dreamscape Mother Russia has birthed, a nation gone psychotic, the enforcer of mindbending atrocities against the peasant masses.  When Catherine leads the revolt and lays siege to the royal fortress, she wears an Art Deco pantsuit and helmet, and rides a white horse.


(1947) Anthony Mann. Film Forum series.
T-Men Anthony Mann
A palimpsest of a movie - docudrama upon educational government film upon Hollywood noir thriller. A semantic contrast from explicative political administrators and postcard shots of Washington, D.C. (whose design and architecture is ripe for the way Mann makes signature of black & white) to seamy L.A. alleys and paranoiac expressionistic backrooms. The high melodrama contrasted with the aseptic bureaucracy is a timely depiction of the official and conspiratorial environment created by F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover.  Hoover employed a vast publicity machine for his burgeoning F.B.I, enlisting tabloid writers like Walter Winchell, the squib man of Old Broadway, and disseminated a dense culture of comic strips, dime novels, and instructional films revealing the Bureau's cutting edge investigative techniques based on forensic science. Hoover made a name for the F.B.I going after thieves of money like Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger, but also targeted fakers of money like the subversive network of enemies in T-Men. Counterfeiters are direct threats to the capitalist way of life. The investigation leads the T-Men into miasmic Turkish steam baths, and motel rooms become torture chambers at a turn of angle and light.


(2010) Noah Baumbach. BAM.

As Florence drives along Sunset, either listening to Steve Miller Band or not (either way Steve Miller is applied to the soundtrack) she acts as if she is being watched, with a sort of fake nonchalance in the everyday, the whatevs glancing and driving.  Her eyes consistently get caught moving up to the billboards passing along, very L.A., to self-conscious of being "random," which is often painfully mistaken for "natural," as if people are staring at you, and you pretend you don't care.

Florence is spacey but sincere, whether giving gifts of stick-hand puppets or forcing herself to let loose and dance to "Uncle Albert."  Just because Florence doesn't know Karen Dalton or Albert Hammond, that doesn't mean she might not know Paul McCartney or Steve Miller. At one point, Greenberg finds a John Mayer CD in her car.  Greenberg was in a band, and rejected a big record deal rather than "sell out" - yet throughout most of the movie he is seen to wear a Steve Winwood t-shirt, from Winwood's cheesiest period, the mid-80s. If it is not an ironic gesture, by either the director Noah Baumbach, or the character Greenberg himself, in reference to the era of his coming of age, it at least might demonstrate that Greenberg doesn't care about the way he dresses anymore.

Florence believes she is being all open and experimental in her engagement of Greenberg's cranks, until it causes him to acerbically call her out, in a broken jumble of psychobabble. Still, she handles it without breaking down, as might a woman with masochistic fantasies.  And so Greenberg is drawn to her, wonders how she is not a type outside his ken. She is a big girl, "not fat" notes Greenberg, in dickhead mode, and he finds her sexy, the earth girl.

At a threshold of a fangling, new awareness, Greenberg invokes the scene in Wall Street, when Charlie Sheen as Bud Fox broods over the skyline of 1980s Manhattan from the deck of his East Side penthouse, and asks "Who am I?" Back then, impressionable but know-it-all Greenberg thought that was dorky. Now he gets it.

Mad Men - Season 4

(2010) Matthew Weiner.

"I can no longer add up the fragments or interpret them. I must be content now to sit and wait until this part of me - my relation to myself - splinters into fragments and I become a dice box shaking with mysterious and invisible combinations."
- Ben Hecht,
Fantazius Mallare (1922)

In his interview with Ad Age, a trade journal, Don Draper is mumbly and standoffish, and like Roger Sterling says, "sounds like a prick." No more is there a seamy glamor or dramatic intrigue about Dick Whitman. The deception has resulted in both the suicide of Don's brother, a janitor at the Empire State Building, and the re-marriage of Betty to an Upstate WASP Republican whose big mother sagely disapproves of the elopement. Don is now left with a vague and vacant self-loathing that begins to manifest itself when he demands his escort to sock him like a man-bitch. But Draper's star is waxing, and as his name is bandied about in the industry like a Zen buzzword, Don pays to have his memory slapped out of him during sex.

Don offers the Ad Age interviewer some insight into his ideas, that for 30 seconds you get a movie just before you get the product. Don's highly-acclaimed Glo-Coat floor cleaner ad is like a scene from John Huston's Freud, with a small child locked behind bars, crying out. By bluntly dramatizing this image, Don might have healthily liberated a chunk of his identity for good.

"Public Relations" (a profession as odious to the subjective truth of things as is advertising) is bookended by a second interview, this time with the high-profile and widely-read Wall Street Journal. Don's eyes and cig light up, and one remembers that Draper is a great storyteller. There is a fine line between Don's modesty, and his thievery of honesty. The first interview is as open and meek as Draper's foray with S&M.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is located in the newly-added International Style buildings of Rockefeller Center - no longer on Madison Avenue, and closer to Times Square, which is plastered with the King-Kong sized fruits of SCDP's output.

Peggy turns out to be as old-fashioned as Freddy Rumsen and Mark Kerney, her "fiancee," take her to be. Mark uses exploitative factoids gleaned from a "Swedish magazine," the type sold in Bob's Bargain Books on Forty Deuce, which had the reputation of being the "most depraved porn stores in Times Square," to quote Tales of Times Square, by Josh Alan Friedman (1986). He coerces Peggy into bed, and she eventually acquiesces. Mark's naivete is further revealed by his belief in her virginity - presumably nothing in his Swedish magazine explained the maidenhead. Peggy doesn't necessarily want to be taken as virginal and pure, but is old-fashioned enough to succumb to the boyfriend's urges, and obfuscate her sexual past.

Freddy Rumsen might be somewhat doltish, charmingly, even as he smokes and eats a ham sandwich at once (behavioral replacements for a lunchtime cocktail), but he is not old-fashioned, neither by wanting to make older women feel more attractive, in a pre-cougar geist, or in joining Alcoholics Anonymous.

Lane Pryce claims he is the "incorruptible exception" to Joan's hold over men, but in fact she incites his latent frustration over his repressive marriage and estrangement from female warmth. In future episodes he will be shagging a bunny at the Playboy Club who is black. Don offers him an escort, who Lane gives the meat and two veg (earlier at the restaurant he briefly wore his beef as a Texan codpiece), and Lane insists on paying the $25 rather than letting Don foot the hooker bill.

Don is chain-smoking. He is futzy when dealing with Allison's emotional trauma, and loses his cool when he chases her into the hallway. Looking like Philip Marlowe over his typewriter coming home late to his Village apartment, Don can't express himself. Across the hallway are an old couple that had probably lived in the building as contemporaries of e.e. cummings and John Reed.

Harry Crane must be feeling the heat of the Civil Rights movement. He makes a tasteless and tactless and altogether asshole remark about a Puerto Rican girl on the subway, and the week previous a snide and snobby bigoted remark about blacks creating traffic on the Triborough Bridge. This is the same squeamish half-man who referred to the gay Swedish graphic designer as a "pervert."

In any other circumstance, Don's fling with Allison, the secretary, would not have addled him. But he is now a divorced man and the stakes of his sexual intentions seem ratcheted up in consequence. He has made many advances to women, and has continually struck out, and the secretary is incensed emotionally by the symbolism by which she invests their post-hookup interaction at work: Don's cash bonus, her letter of recommendation, over which she breaks down when Don won't be her writer. Don lets morals seep into his withdrawn actionability. Joan solves any problem Don might have in screwing his secretary by hiring the char-broiled voiced, coffeepot waitress, Ms. Blankenship.
Matthew Weiner is adept at the underpinnings of the psychology profession, having written some of the best Tony and Dr. Melfi episodes in The Sopranos, where sessions with the analyst become the only mode of communication between people. In Mad Men, psychoanalysis is dramatized as an alternative to direct communication. "Call me Dr. Edna," says Sally's shrink to Betty. "All the children do." And Don, feeling lambasted by the supercollider of human contact, barks, "Why does everyone have to talk so much?" Roger Sterling has no problem talking as he dictates his memoirs, though he talks too much about Cooper's gelding surgery, and Don finds the tape and has a good laugh over the revelation of another's secret.

There is something disarming about seeing Don so smiley and eager, in deference to an authority that is not his own. That authority is the Clio Awards, which Don wins, making it his own, and then goes on a three-day downtown jag. The flashbacks in this episode were not flashbacks, but natural interstices which propelled the story. They were not gimmicks to contrive emotional reaction. Sterling is shown in a beneficent light, for the last time this season.

For Matthew Weiner, Samsonite luggage and a man's abuse of alcohol are relatable things. When Freddy Rumsen, in a previous season, took a woozer in his pants, he was in the middle of a Samsonite pitch. Now Peggy and Don stay after hours to hammer out a new campaign for the luggage company. Don is hitting the scotch hard. Peggy starts brainstorming, Samsonite is made of a special substance... Don wants to know, “Does that substance resemble anything like bullshit?” The night ends with Don and Duck, both blotto, fighting over Peggy's honor. Luggage is tough on the outside, but conceals things. Its purpose is travel. It protects the things you take with you to new places. This season Don may be going through the process of expunging Draper, becoming Whitman, and he is drinking from morning til past midnight. Sterling gets stuck watching the closed caption Sonny Liston/Cassius Clay fight with Freddy Rumsen and other nondrinkers, and despairs and crabs about it, touting the absolute savage need of booze to deal with the world. Don barely makes it up the Time-Life elevator, which “shoots up like a rocket,” and has an epic barf, as Peggy listens. Peggy abandoned her surprise birthday party for this evening after hours at work. Mark should think of himself as lucky to have been so vaingloriously dumped by Peggy, who with command and beauty can ride a Honda motorcycle in circles.

"The Suitcase" is littered with white, repressed, dorky, out of touch, chauvinistic male characters, like the office and copy guys, Sterling, Duck. The two toughest characters in the episode are Peggy and Muhammed Ali, a woman and a black man. 1965 will be John Lindsay's first year as Mayor, a new era for New York regarding liberal schisms, civil rights, counterculture, labor upheaval, as well as the establishment of the MAyor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting. Ms. Blankenship, with her nasty middle-class suburban outer-borough quip about boxing, is an extreme type who will vote against Lindsay, to no avail.

Don is not accustomed to either articulating his personal thoughts in writing, nor exercising, but in order to turn a new leaf - sort of - he tries both. He makes silent intimations to curb his drinking, and while sitting at his typewriter nurses a Bud can rather than a stiff one. Soon, after the Department of Defense begins investigating his identity, and Don Draper enters the void, he tells Faye about Dick Whitman.

Faye Miller and Peggy Olson are similar women. Peggy asserts that females are in a minority struggle akin to the Civil Rights Movement. Women aren't being hanged and killed by the KKK, but are oppressed politically and socially. On Peggy’s date at PJ Clarke's with the poet Abe, orchestrated by David Mamet’s daughter, Zozia, Abe and Peggy find mutual ground in Brooklyn roots, their age, and social grievances. But the poet boy is not ready to accept a civil rights march for women. Peggy asserts that with hard work and determination, blacks can indeed find jobs in corporate white America. Regardless of economic realities, Peggy and Abe have a hot day at the beach together. When Peggy returns to the office, she stills smells like saltwater.

Faye Miller is a single, professional woman who wears a wedding ring to detract the pursuit of men. She is childless by her own choosing. She runs focus groups for clients of SCDP, gathering young women in a small boardroom, and provoking them with the idea of beauty products as if trigger personal psychic issues. Freddy Rumsen is convinced he was right along as a result of the dynamic Faye induces in the secretaries of the office, who weep over self-worth and self-image. "I told ya - they just want to get married." They're old fashioned girls in a new ecosystem of sexual and emotional commitment. Faye knows how to manipulate these girls. She executes a deeper subversion of the male-dominant corporate system, as Peggy does by rising through the ranks. When Faye play-acts with the focus group, she talks down, as if their equal, and in Faye's giddy nonchalance is a level of contempt she has for these shallow standards, expected of females, shoved onto them, or into which women are supposed to shove themselves. The scenario becomes like the gamesmanship of CIA interrogation. Faye is educated and self-employed, unlike Peggy who is promoted from secretary to copywriter upon a good idea at the right time. Both women are from similar working class backgrounds. With Faye it is small-time mob, and Peggy it is Irish Catholics.

The Chinese Wall is up. Cigarettes were the sustenance of the company but when American Tobacco flees the air is toxic. The future in tobacco advertising is not as promising as it would be for North American Aviation. It is the age of Cold War aerodynamics. But Draper conspires with Pete to nix the NAA account as a result of Don' false self. Don is not paranoid about the company failing, but the punishment for deserting the army. It is the psychic bomb like the one he barely survived in Korea.

Betty wants to meet only with Dr. Edna Keener, who believes progress has been made with Sally. “I’m a child psychologist,” Dr. Edna reminds Betty, with whom she does not play Go Fish. Betty’s move to Rye, NY, is what Freddy Rumsen in the program would call a "geographic." Moving somewhere in order to not move. Don is making faulty and chaotic but productive moves to pull of the mask. With the face of Dick, he must relearn the same mistakes. His impulsive proposal to Megan Calvet is the action of a man of traditional paradigms. Faye is an advanced mind, but was not good with Don’s kids. Don is not good with Don’s kids. But he sees that Megan is, and his matrimonial pitch is a thinly poetic wonderment over the random events which caused them to get together. However the event was not random. If Betty had not, in coldest blood, fired Carla, Megan would not have been called upon to model her French-Canadian knack with youngsters. Don should have had Carla look after the kids in L.A. and damn Betty's bratty stab at an independent thought. Will we never see Carla or Sal again, but must endure the revisit of Duck Phillips and Midge?

Don admits only to Sally that "Dick" was a nickname. Sally had run away from home to get closer to her dad, and he ends up taking her to The Beatles concert at Shea Stadium. Don cops out emotionally by comparing Megan Calvet to Peggy, as an indirect sign of his own feelings about Peggy. As an ad man, he can only communicate truth by way of the plasm of an other thing. That he does this with his own selfhood, he is of the mad men.

Mad Men links:
New York Review of Books
Jim Cofer's Mad Men fact-check
Paste Magazine
Mad Men Unbuttoned

When Strangers Marry

(1944) William Castle. Film Forum.

Might have had another murder or two, but Commissioner Gordon does make a thematic point about preventing the next murder, as a result of his own failure to prevent future murders in past unresolved cases, which all involved everyday looking guys in shabby suits and a goofy edge in their eye - a description inapplicable to Robert Mitchum, who has the build and eyelids of neither a schlub nor strangler, but acts as both. William Castle uses Mitchum as a grand gimmick for which the actor's richly mesmerizing persona is so fit, in the Castle tradition of Emergo in House on Haunted Hill or Illusion-O in 13 Ghosts. When Strangers Marry Castle is sharp and sly about his gimmicks, and likewise faithful to the topographical gridmap of Manhattan. The wife abets her husband's escape from the city, in a cab to Louisville with a mute bug-eyed old lady, a young mom and her shrieking baby, and the shrieks should have been reproduced in the theater a la Castle’s sound-o-rama tricks in the 1950s. The baby sounds break the man, as the CIA once proved in its Cold War MK-Ultra tortures. When the couple flees the cab, they are where they should be, in Harlem, and they journey south down Lenox Avenue and enter a basement club, where they are the only whites, and a young couple dances majestically, and for a moment, because of the sirens and ruckus at the door, they think they’ve been caught. But the hubbub is caused by the ingress of the Champ, Joe Louis, who just showed up. The Harlem Club is naturalistic in a way not scene much in black&white movies. The smoke and pulp nature of it is Castle’s way of giving the sequence a true, juicy meaning.

Robert Mitchum is cool cool right up until the last mail drop, when he goes wacky in proto-Crispin Glover style. From the Gorilla mask, to the male Regress-O. The silk stockings, originally intended as a gift, become the murder weapon, a salesman killing for cash.

Fiction & Family Footage

Bright Leaves (2003) Ross McElwee.
The Godfather (1972) Francis Ford Coppola.

The other night on DVD, The Shine Box watched Bright Leaves (2003, Ross McElwee). In this documentary, the director employs the techniques and ideas of cinema to provocate meaning about family, history, local color and mortality. Using narration and a panoply of footage, Ross McElwee traces his ancestry's forgotten and maligned role in the American tobacco industry.

When the movie ended, The Shine Box flicked through the basic cable channels, and found the last hour of The Godfather on the ingratiatingly cut-rate WLNY Channel 10/55. The movie was severely edited for television: no blood spewed from Moe Green's eyeglasses; Sonny's death scene on the causeway curtailed; Apollonia's bella calzones not shown, etc. No matter the clumsy abridgments, The Godfather is a difficult movie, once on, to turn off. Like in Bright Leaves, Francis Ford Coppola employs the techniques and ideas of cinema to meditate upon family, history, local color and mortality.
Durham Bull ad
Both movies involve fallen patriarchs. In Bright Leaves, John Harvey McElwee - the director's ancestor - "made a fortune in tobacco, but then somehow lost it all to his rival, James B. Duke." Ross McElwee's great-grandfather is described as "the originator of the Durham Bull brand of smoking tobacco," but "his trusted foreman for many years confessed on his deathbed that he had stolen the McElwee formula and sold it to the Dukes." John Harvey died bankrupt after years of failed litigation, while the Duke family became "sort of the Southern Rockefellers." Ross McElwee makes his movie as a vindication of his great-grandfather's legacy, as a flawed, cheated and beloved progenitor.

In the lore of The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone was the most powerful boss of the five families. Says Don Barzini, "He had all the judges and politicians in his pocket." But Don Vito is shot by rivals; his youngest son is driven into exile, the oldest is slayed, and the Families are out to destroy the Corleones, both from within (the mole Tessio like McElwee's "trusted foreman" who sold the family tobacco formula) and without (the hit on Sonny and car-bomb in Sicily not unlike the sabotage and vandalism by the Duke family depicted against John Harvey McElwee's business). Son Michael Corleone takes over for Don Vito, murders all the family's enemies, and becomes Godfather, to initiate another generation of power and influence.
Sonny CorleoneAs mobsters, the Corleones make their fortune in gambling, prostitution, theft and murder. The McElwee's former fortune was built on tobacco. McElwee narrates that "neither Duke nor McElwee could know, of course that Bright Leaf tobacco would soon kill many times more people than did all the battles of the civil war that they had just survived."

Bright Leaves takes place in the small towns of North Carolina, a certain region of the southern, rural United States. The Corleones trace their roots to Sicily, regions which are southern, pastoral, peasant, pre-modern and traditional. Before Micheal can move the family into the future, he must spend time experiencing the region from where he descended. Ross McElwee, at the beginning of his movie, tells of a recurring dream, standing in a field surrounded by heat-emanating, prehistoric-sized plants, and feeling:

"strangely comforted by these leaves... My wife then said she thought my dream might be about missing the South... that no matter how long I lived in the cold crowded North, I would always be a Southerner, that the South was in my blood, and in fact that lately, I'd been looking a little anemic - maybe in need of a transfusion - my periodic transfusion of Southerness. So I decided to head home for a while, back down South."

Besides the parallels in subject matter, each filmmaker attempts to memorialize both themselves and their subject by using their own family as participants in the melodrama. This device, whether directly or indirectly, is a personological intimation of history and art. The audience is not deliberately made aware that Coppola uses his own daughter, Sofia, as the grandchild of Don Vito. Sofia, a baby, is baptized in the final assassination montage, as two christenings of "godfather" are bestowed Michael Corleone.Francis & Sofia Coppola

Coppola was hired to adapt a popular novel about a novel American subject. Coppola turns The Godfather tale into his own. Carmine Coppola, his father, conducted and arranged the score. Moviegoers are like Pavlov's dogs when The Godfather theme plays, whether on a TV commercial or by a Polish subway accordionist.

McElwee intersperses his movie with home movie clips of his son, as a tot and a teen, correlating the boy with the complex, founding genealogy of the McElwee family:

"When I am on the road, shooting, I sometimes imagine my son, years from now, when I'm no longer around, looking at what I've filmed. I can almost feel him looking back at me from some distant point in the future... through these
images and reflections, through the film I'll leave behind..."

Bright Leaves opens with McElwee discovering a 1950 Hollywood movie called Bright Leaf, where Gary Cooper plays Brant Royle, a Reconstruction-era tobacco farmer who returns to North Carolina to avenge the family business. McElwee finds an uncanny likeness between Brant Royle's struggle against arch-nemesis Major Singleton for claim to the tobacco fortune and the rivalry of his own ancestor and the Dukes. As Ross tells Vlada Petric, a maniacal Eastern European film theorist, Bright Leaf has "become a kind of an example of a fiction film becoming a documentary, a kind of home movie for me." The movie serves as the eponym, typology and parallel fiction of Ross McElwee's movie.
Don Corleone & grandson
The assemblage of footage - archived, staged or impromptu - is combined to manifest new vision. Depicting archival images of his father, McElwee is elegaic: "As time goes by, my father is beginning to seem less and less real to me in these images. Almost a fictional character. I want so much to reverse this shift, the way in which the reality of him is slipping away. Having this footage doesn't help very much - or, at least, not as much as I thought it would."

The Godfather movies are operatic interpretations of the history of immigrants to America in the early twentieth century, and the brute and delicate opportunity and prejudice encountered by these families. Brant Royal, in Bright Leaf, is likewise an unreal amalgamation of an American archetype, refigurized in Bright Leaves by Ross McElwee. The movies are fictions unwoven by film and history into an archival reality.

Broadcast Yourself - Movies in 2009

"Making movies and preserving them are the same thing."
Martin Scorsese, 2009 Golden Globes, Cecil B. DeMille award speech.

The Shine Box's favorite movies released in 2008 told stories about alienation. The characters were lone, misunderstood, one-man armies like The Dark Knight and Redbelt; or former superstars banished to the margins of life, like Randy "The Ram" in The Wrestler; or postmodern activists like Che and Milk whose audacity propels them as epic leaders as it equally prompts their murder; or social outcasts and misfits like the celebrity impersonators in Mister Lonely, the picaresque gobot WALL-E, and the country simpleton in Jerzy Skolimowski's undistributed Four Nights With Anna. These movies portray the perverse, sinuous, sometimes sublime, and often violent predicament of alientated individuals.

Gomorra, Matteo GarroneThe Shine Box's favorite movies of 2009 tell stories about identity. Perhaps personality refabricates into others of one's own self? The 21st century has allowed, for the individual, a sublimation of guises, technological or psychological, whether believed to be real or fake. It is popular for people to walk around as if a camera follows them at all times, catching the idealized angle and posture in the world of the head as seen on TV and magazines - like the motto of YouTube: "Broadcast Yourself." 2009 has been a year for the drama of the behavior of identity. America elected a leader who has made mountainous progress for the image, sensibility and emotions of the country, yet has not proven variegated in the policy of economics and war.

Observe & Report (Jody Hill).
The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh).
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog).
Matt Damon, The Informant! (2009)The characters of these three goodest movies of the year are first motivated by the effects of a particular contemporary malaise: in Bad Lieutenant, it is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as in Observe & Report it is 9/11, and in The Informant!, it is the impalpable red tape of corporate conspiracy. These events bear seeds that compel the characters to do violence and abuse their particular roles of power. The male megalomaniacs of each movie do not question their actions, but impetuously justify them, and the viewer watches as new layers peel off the psychic selves of these men, who use the fanfare of injustice as a platform for their unruly, manipulative, vigilante actions.

Terry McDonagh is the Bad Lieutenant, "port of call: New Orleans," and the city, as both setting and signifier, is like the old gothic plantation house where McDonagh's ex-cop father and the old man's girlfriend still dwell, deeply spaced and rife with the ghosts of sin-eaters. McDonagh's use of painkillers for his back (injured saving a jailbird during the Katrina aftermath) turns into a merciless drug habit. This affects his policing only in intensity, and it is to his ecstatic credit that he finds a way of solving his own decadent problems by intertwining them with his cop work.
Nicholas Cage, Bad Lieutenant (2009)
Still, when things at the end seem at an upswing, the Bad Lieutenant sits alone in a hotel room, glowering sadly over his coke, and he is off to repeat his old late-night clubkid shakedown, for a bite of the kibble. Who he is still slips from his fingers – he clings to a lucky crack pipe, actually sees near-dead souls breakdancing, and ingeniously indicts an old society matron as “You’re what’s wrong with this fucking country!” The Bad Lieutenant is not a bad cop. He acts flagrantly in his own aggrieved, chaotic interest, but also orchestrates a successful murder investigation.

In Observe & Report, Ronnie Barnhardt is obsessed with guns, and obsessed with his own idea of himself using them in combat as an adjudicator of wrong things. He is a parking lot patriot and fat-ass fascist, and his superhero-ego splits. Ronnie turns himself into exurbanite spy Gil Jacobsen, a secret savior of the American way of life, and Gil ends up getting gang-stomped by cops to the Flash Gordon soundtrack. Part of Ronnie's classic American syndrome is his total helplessness - he desperately wants to be part of the war effort, and so at the movie's climax Ronnie's soul achieves supreme composure after he gunblasts the mall-flasher.

Marc Whitacre, in The Informant! is a man who projects a strange ingratiating honesty, but that honesty is rooted in a psychological dark matter of fibs. Like the Bad Lt. and Ronnie Barnhardt, Whitacre perceives his transgressions as acts of ultimate good, and is thrilled to see the stipple portrait of himself in the Wall Street Journal. He fools the FBI and smiles for the surveillance camera. He conducts a Nigerian advance-fee scam and incites his bosses at the corporate corn company to the certainty of microbial Japanese subterfuge. After all of Whitacre’s intricate mendacities, the greatest surprise is the discovery he wears a hairpiece.

Observe & Report (2009)
Soderbergh uses a peanut gallery of familiar comedic actors from TV and stand-up who pattern the movie with a brisk bathos, along with the jouncy Marvin Hamlisch score, and Whitacre's absurdist, factoidal voiceovers, which are seeming non sequitors that turn the all-too-familiar V.O. device on its tail. Likewise Soderbergh satirizes the "based on a true story" conceit, which Hollywood so underhandedly believes endows its crappiest output a moral veracity - "So there."

Movies should be trusted to create, for the audience, the most dire fantasy, where and when the audience might experience and apply their own human predicaments: a possessed cop, a wily corporateer, and a tormented security guard at the mall. These movies are giddy, portentous, and naked.

Paul Rudd - Actor of the Year.
Paul RuddMr. Paul Rudd is a grave and hilarious leading man. In Role Models (David Wain) - released Nov. 2008 but watched by your author in 2009 - Rudd plays a guy whose first reaction to the world is negative, summating a mid-30s male hotheadedness born from the hatred of his own life, and taking it out on everyone else. To Danny Donahue, the world is a betrayer and insulter of his vague ideals. Danny has a million pet-peeves, like coffee-sizes in Italian and when people say "ASAP." Every instance becomes a justification for Danny to vent his own aggravation with himself. He ends up losing his girlfriend and in jail.

In I Love You Man (John Hamburg), Rudd plays a guy who is happy. He is a supportive and caring fiancee and a moderately successful real estate agent. But his happiness is revealed to be a certain contentment, a finickiness about order that instigates an abhorrence to spontaneity, or self-reflection. Rudd’s wide-ranging effects as an actor and comedian come delicately together. He is handsome enough to be charming (like the intellectual slacker in Clueless and macho cocksman in Anchorman) but just shrimpy enough to be a believable social geek (first glimpsed by Rudd's Paris in Romeo & Juliet and then Knocked Up).

Mr. Paul Rudd is also the co-creator of your author's TV show of the year, Party Down, as if Clifford Odets met with John Hughes to make a sitcom. Let’s get Rudd in the next 2009 Golden Globes Cecil B. DeMille award winner Martin Scorsese's next picture!


Bruno (Larry Charles).
BrunoBruno parodies with mondo-movie derring-do what people will do to get famous, narrated as a continuum of degradation on the part of both ishmein Bruno and the ambitiously prejudiced victims of his shenanigans. Bruno and his team are certain perverse moralists playing the cultural pinball machine for the end of a decade, exploiting the quest for fameness with dildo-machines and sushi served upon wetbacks. Bruno will hold you to your word and will use it to his end, not exactly unadulterated but not out of context either - like the Supreme Court hearings.

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino).
The director uses his vainglorious stature as an indie/hollywood avatar of creative freedom to indict the indie/hollywood historical epic. He has fun employing the topic of history so favored by both the industry and the art film - WWII and the Nazis. But Basterds is not a holocaust movie, and instead the Jews get to brutalize the Nazis. Goebbels is an SS movie mogul, his blockbuster a violent sniper film based on events that had happened only a few years before but easily embellished to support the cause.

Ingl Bast 1 

Pop WWII movies are indulged: the dumb grunt “Lt. Aldo Raine,” femme fatale spies, charmed Nazi psychos. But this is not just revisionist history, which for all its innovation still seeks a naturalistic truth, but a history that is personological. The intellectual past is seized by a substantial, goofy strategy (could it be said that cable TV newsvangelist Glenn Beck did the same this year by titling his book with the name of freethinker Thomas Paine?). Shoshanna plans out the ultimate indie film, in revenge against the Nazi Party moviemaking industry, whose leisure-classed patrons, in a French arthouse set demonically ablaze, are mowed down by two Jews disguised as Italianos.

Star Trek (J.J. Abrams)
Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie)
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Stephen Sommers).

Sherlock Holmes The Sign of the FourDiehard fans of the Star Trek TV show, the Sherlock Holmes books, and G.I. Joe action figures were either appalled or elated by the new beginnings of each these pop brands. J.J. Abrams is a kinda smarter director than Guy Ritchie, and while no-name actors are assembled and put into action with a ripsnorting, mindbending finesse by J.J. in Star Trek, great Hollywood actors Downey Jr. & Jude whisk through Sherlock, beating an egg that resists to be smoothed, always a few steps better than their surroundings, which constitute Rachel McAdams, the overdone setpieces, and the underdone gags. Sherlock hints at cheekiness in its plot materials (wireless networking, chemical warfare, Holmes' idea of a gun-silencing mechanism), but never lets them breathe. Star Trek endears even non-fans to the memory of the show by a graceful insinuation of the poppy catchphrases, the iconic score and Vulcan idiosyncratics. It is a fine metaphor of re-triggered franchises, the viewer of the old and the viewer of the new – like Commander Spock, both here right now in space but stuck back in time.

G.I. Joe, unlike Trek and Sherlock, is a first stab at making a live-action movie of the product, and it esteemably succeeds. It is patient with the audience’s expectations for insightful, fucked-up action. The Joes are indeed like a rambling team out of Howard Hawks, and it seems natural that Paris, France should end up so fantastically sacrificed. Your author and co-viewer Q.R. Markham were half-inspired to dig out from the basement their action figures to re-enact Storm Shadow fighting Snake-Eyes.

The ending of each of these flicks anticipates that the real villain is yet to come, for a sequel pending box office returns (like Batman Begins) - Klingons, Prof. Moriarty, and Cobra Commander. Obama is positioned similarly against his given enemies.

Antichrist (Lars von Trier)
Couples Retreat (Peter Billingsley, the kid from A Christmas Carol).

Anti-Couples (2009)So much of each movie mimics the other. Modern married couples retreat to "Eden" to work on their marital issues. Eden is mysterious, not what it seems, a dreadful remote area in nature puppeteered by an occult force (whether the subconscious or the French). The couples confront one another in the bare nude, a certain occluded horniness makes friction. But the viewer feels like Willem Dafoe, the character “He,” with a concrete wheel nailed into his leg and dragging himself into a tree-hole, as Vince Vaughn waxes again and again like an animatronic wolf on the dumbest assumptions of love and happiness. Retreat from the Anti-Couples!

Avatar (James Cam)
District 9 (Neil Blomkamp)
amer (Neveldine/Taylor)
The transport of human consciousness is treated by these three movies. As the decade ends they provide the working boilerplate for movies to come in the next. The idea of "the new human" is not new, and has been informing sci-fi literature for a good part of the 20th century. But this theme might not have been accessible to the popcorn & pretzel-bites date-night multiplex crowd until they themselves had been soft-wired and pod-plugged to the squibby neurolexoid. And the movies lay on heavy the Commando gearhead gunnery - no matter the supertechnic advancements in information science upon which the flicks are premised, the army is suberbly raunched out for blood-and-guts combat. The mix of multi-dimensional camera technology, soldier-of-fortune hardware, and bowlderized social messages is what moviegoers should expect to be shoved into theaters as if unprecedented in the following ten years, as the technical takes the prestige awards. Observe & Report could somehow too be a presage...
Yes Live In Philadelphia 1979
In Gamer, one “games” via humanoid marionette: entering the mental and motor skills of another individual, in video game format, and sending that individual, if male, into the virtual killzone, and if female, the fuckzone. But the locales are dark and confusingly placed, and though the filmmakers seem to want to embed the viewer right up the crazy shit, the hyper-reality is so generically vague that the melodrama fizzes. Any surreal saving grace is effected when Dexter inexplicably does a dance number to "Puttin On The Ritz."

Avatar and District 9 both end with the protagonist accepting full transformation into an alien species, and the viewer is led to believe that the character is better for it. The aliens in both movies are symbols of third-world refugees, indigenous peoples, noble savages. In District 9, the aliens are immigrants; in Avatar, they are the occupied aborigines. In both, the bad army guys are inglorious bastards hellbent to oppress, enslave, plunder and kill. James Cameron has the U.S. marines blown away as seemlessly as Los Angeles cops in The Terminator.

Avatar gives up on humanity in a way that WALL-E did not. District 9 plays with audience empathy by making the protag both a victim and a racist, but the movie soon drops its Ideas in favor of a pile of hinge-less, febrile action scenes. In Avatar, the hero begins as a spy for the "Jarhead Clan" but ends up siding with the tree-huggers after he is forged into the cosmic consciousness. As the furtively applicable scrivener Q.R. Markham remarks, the scenes on Pandora look like the 1970s psychedelic album covers of Yes, "mountains come out of the sky." Let's hope, that if James Cameron wins an Oscar, he gives thanks in Na'vi language, so that it would be known no one really understands what Hollywood is trying to say.


The Box (Richard Kelly).

Like Antichrist, a couple undergoes a supernatural harrows to test the truths of their marriage. Not without sacrifice in both the here and hereafter, the lovers pass the test. But humanity, at large, fails the test. Frank Langella, with a 1920s bowler and jowl gnashed by a freak accident at NASA, is the proctor of moral disarmament, the messenger of an unknown, alien agency that is embodied by what happens if the couple pushes the button on the box. Richard Kelly's twilight-zoned mythology draws from Arthur C. Clarke and Jean-Paul Sartre, with a provocative period soundtrack involving the Grateful Dead and Scott Walker. The husband is chased through the old Library by a phalanx of menacing citizens (looking like the type of people who typically, often creepily, lurk the stacks and reading rooms), and is given a choice of three mystically aqueous portals, one of which will save, the others will damn. Luckily, the husband has been provided with hints by the zombie-eyed busboys at his father-in-law's country club, who hold up two fingers like a Nixonian Christ Pantocrator - he picks the second door. All the while, Cameron Diaz lugs around a club foot.