Boardwalk Empire, season 1 (2010)

If Atlantic City is an allegory of America after WWI, and Chicago, New York and Philadelphia represent European nations, America emerges a victor in that war - which it did not instigate but was called in to finish.  Nucky Thompson, boss of AC, is a Republican at the cusp of the 1920s, when political parties begin to shift.  He is a boss in the tradition of city Democrats, but rejects the New Jersey political machine.  Nucky settles his scores with New York and Chicago when they suddenly need Jersey's help. Philadelphia is sacrificed.

A Consignment recently received from Phila., Pa. 749 cases of beer (18,000) bottles were today destroyed in the District of Columbia (Library of Congress)

America roiled internally after the war, with anarchist bombings, immigrant crackdowns, lynchings of blacks, and the creation of Federal crimefighters like Agent Van Alden.  Nucky runs a city in which many plots are hatched against him.  J. Edgar Hoover was appointed Director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, and like Arnold Rothstein, knew the prime power of information.

Nucky's success makes for good drama, as Agent Van Alden's failure makes good drama.  Each character follows a schizoid American way.  If Nucky is the black market capitalist, a spats-and-suspenders Republican gladhander and murderer, Agent Van Alden is the crew-cut crusader of moral authority, in grinless judgment of good and evil, and is out to save others but unable to save himself.  He hates the fleshly pleasures of Atlantic City because they tempt him.  Agent Van Alden is resentful of his humanity and demonized by self-consciousness, which turns him into a religious maniac.  As American as a mob hit.  The revenue agent ends up knocking down whiskey with a seasoned swagger, and drowns Agent Sepso in baptismal waters.  With rancor and self-disgust he rails his seed into Paz, and she gets off on it.  Agent Van Alden is not a minister of justice or savior of souls.  He is a beast of God.  He first decides to flee the boardwalk empire, but asks God for a sign that might keep him in Atlantic City.  In the final episode, he receives that sign.

The show documents the panorama of large social gatherings.  The Ancient Order of Celts holds an opulent banquet on the eve of St. Patrick's Day.  Irishmen in good standing wear sashes and white on white tuxedos.  Midget wrestlers dressed as leprechauns dance a jig.  Throughout the season, there is a Chicago bar mitzvah; stump speech meetings of the Women's Temperance League; vaudeville acts on midnight stages; and a backwoods river ceremony of black Baptists.  These sequences depict visual patterns of the period which communicate the ideas and habits of Irish and Jewish clans; female anti-saloon activists; showgirls and comedians and theatergoers; and oppressed minorities.

Atlantic City itself has a rich pedigree as a venue for mass group conferences in the 20th century.  In 1929, at the President Hotel, a meeting was held of “probably the greatest collection of powerful mobsters ever assembled in one spot,” headed by New York mob lord Frank Costello. (ed. Watter, P. & Gillers, S. Investigating the FBI. A Book of the Committee for Public Justice. NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc. 1973) Numbered among the delegates was Lucky Luciano. As a result of the Atlantic City conference, where “new ideas” challenged “the old order” of mob rule, Luciano instigated a wave of assassinations “in New York and other key cities.” Up to forty murders were carried out on a single day in 1931, “Purge Day of the Greasers.” In 1935, J. Edgar Hoover - who as FBI Director was often criticized for neglecting the existence of the mafia - addressed over 600 members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the Hotel Ambassador. Veteran New York Times crime beat reporter Meyer Berger called it "probably the bluntest talk on crime ever uttered by a public official."  Despite the major number of law school graduates working as FBI agents, Hoover cited "shyster lawyers and other legal vermin" and "sob-sister judges" as culprits in the lack of law enforcement.  Echoing the link between American power and violent crime portrayed in Boardwalk Empire, Hoover contends that "the bullets of the underworld are today poisoned by verdigris of politics."  In 1964, AC hosted the Democratic National Convention, where the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party fought for state delegates to represent the disenfranchised political voice of Southern blacks making grave sacrifices for the movement.  Atlantic City, as a convention city, shows a history of wiseguys, G-men, and radicals.

 Sixteenth Convention, Anti-Saloon League of America at Atlantic City, N.J., July 6-9, 1915 (Library of Congress)

The Treasure of the Sierra Pravda

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) John Huston. DVR.
Kino-Pravda (1924-25) Dziga Vertov.  MOMA.

The writer Fran Lebowitz, in Public Speaking (2010, Martin Scorsese), explains the crux of American consciousness as respectful of money and distrusting of brains.  Smart people are ogled with suspicion as the rich are gawked at with envy. A bio-bibliographer might want to know if Fran Lebowitz was a fan of the writer B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of Sierra Madre, which novel portrays the harrowing American drama of mind versus gold in lawless post-revolutionary Mexico. John Huston adapts the ideas with Humphrey Bogart as the main character, Fred C. Dobbs, a tramp in the Roaring Twenties when the rest of America is flush.

Dobbs lives on the bum in Mexico but still runs across rich Yankees, whom he begs for change. When he comes across an old man, Howard, talking about gold in the mountains, Dobbs is hooked by the prospect, but is paranoid and threatened by the challenge required to find it, which experience Howard is long a veteran.  The search and the dig take brains, and Howard knows how to own the gold without the gold owning him.
Dobbs fits the archetype of the all-American creep.  He is a beggar, a paranoiac, a simp, a reject, and knows no self-reliance.  Dobbs mistakes luck as if it is something he earned.  He funds the golddigging expedition with money won from a lottery ticket he was violently opposed to purchasing, but a young Robert Blake finally convinces him otherwise.  Curtin is reluctant to accept Dobbs' staking him for the dig, and Dobbs indulges a feeling of palsy-walsy generosity.  But soon Dobbs is whining and shouting about the other guys trying to screw him out of his own fair shake.  

The kid bugs Dobbs with a lottery ticket.
The old man, Howard, is practical, seasoned, shrewd, humorous and tough. Howard wants gold but can laugh when the plan amounts to naught and nine months worth of hard work is blown away with the desert wind. Otherwise, gold wins, and you destroy yourself from the inside out. Curtin stands between Bogey and Old Man Huston.  He is smart but not without greed.  When the group votes on killing Cody, Curtin votes to kill, and it is a classic American vote.  But Curtin suffers guilt and is given a second chance. 

The events in Sierra Madre take place at the time Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov was crafting his Kino-Pravda nos. 18-22 (1924-25).  These avant-collage shorts screened as propaganda for Leninist Russia, where the Worker is sublimated as the backbone of the revolution and the Peasant will soon learn to operate machines of the future.

Dziga Vertov's workers and peasants are depicted as if Fred C. Dobbs could number among them.

Yet Dobbs is an unskilled laborer, and when he gets hired to man the derrick to "rig a camp" in the jungle, he is too fazed by the illusion of quick money to realize that he is getting conned by the gringo work-boss, who absconds with the workers' pay.  Like Russia, Mexico is also in the throes of post-revolution, but the people are not lining up at the Palace to view the body of Emiliano Zapata.

Like the Cahulawassee River in Deliverance (1972, John Boorman), the Sierra Madre doesn't let you take from it without taking something from you.  The mountain conspires to pull Howard away from the gold's curse, saving him, as it likewise sends Curtin to his reckoning, survived, scarred, but hopeful.  Dobbs has little use for his brains, which only sabotage him, so the mountain takes Dobbs' mind from him, and the Mexican bandits make off with his head.

Rebellion of the Hanged, by B. Traven.
The mountain takes note of Howard's respect of It, and saves Howard from suffering as Dobbs is not saved.  Howard is consecrated a god by the people of the mountain, after saving a sick child using frontier first-aid.  It is a miracle for the Indians.  Howard is smart enough to know that when he is ultimately tricked by Nature - a sick deranged paterfamilias - and the exhibition of the absolute folly of human action is brash and ineluctable, all you can do is sanely cackle like a drunk ranch-hand.

Howard does a jig and reminds the boys how dumb they are.

True Believer

(1989) Joseph Ruben. Roku.

A movie with James Woods as an ex-hippie NYC lawyer who wears a purple scrunchy, and Robert Downey, Jr. as a preppie Ivy League grad straight from a Whit Stillman movie, and directed by the man who made The Stepfather, should have been a classic 80s flick.  Still worth a watch tho.

Woods plays West Village lawyer Eddie Dodd, who repurposes the Civil Rights Movement which made him a counterculture star in the 1960s against the War on Drugs in 1980s gangland New York.  Dodd's clients pay with big wads of dirty cash.  Robert Downey, Jr., as Roger Baron, wears the tortoise-shell glasses and parted hair of the 1980s yuppie, but Roger is somehow invested in the leftist activism of the 1960s which Baby Boomers long traded in for Wall Street.  And these same Boomers can still buy good coke because Eddie Dodd is getting their dealers off and back on the street, in the name of constitutional rights.

Roger's naive idealism re-conjures Dodd's bewizened idealism, and the two agitate the Justice System to ultimately reveal the corrupt tactics of the Manhattan D.A., Robert Reynard.  Reynard exploits the image of a crackdown on crime by manipulating the solving of crimes, and an innocent Korean kid gets a life sentence for a Chinatown hit orchestrated by Reynard to cook the stats and jack his profile.

True Believer pre-dates the use of Comstat by the NYPD, when Rudolph Giuliani was mayor, and portrays law enforcement as an abuser of the law, as many criticized Giuliani.   Eddie Dodd and Roger Baron are an inspired pair of crusaders, and their nemesis, the D.A. Reynard, played by Kurtwood Smith with the smug villain's smirk of Clarence Boddicker in Robocop, is the right dialectical bad guy for this ugly but roistering moment in New York history.

The Movie Life of Historical Figures

Have you been reading about the controversial new TV miniseries The Kennedys (2011, Stephen Kronish), and are you a fan of the Greek movie Dogtooth (2010, Giorgos Lanthimos)?

If the eldest daughter in Dogtooth had been given a contraband video of The Kennedys, instead of Jaws or Rocky, then the eldest daughter might have acted out a scene from The Kennedys more accurately than depicted in the movie itself, based on real life, of which the eldest daughter in Dogtooth has no knowledge of, but is painfully desperate for.

Father discovers the movie.

The family plays a game.

JFK collage, Presidential Portraits, by The Shine Box.

Tom Wilkinson as Joe Kennedy.

Tom Wilkinson as Ben Franklin.

The creators of Dogtooth made it past the hedges, all the way to the grand factory of real-life, the Academy Awards:

Rocky wins the Oscar.
In Black Swan, Natalie Portman merely trained to imitate a dancer.  In Dogtooth, Aggeliki Papoulia bares herself open to the possession of sick hysteric forces:

When it comes to the life of historical figures, British witticist Alan Bennett captured it right in his approach to T.E. Lawrence:

"T.E. Lawrence,
The man and the myth.
Which is man and which is myth?
Is this fact or is it lies?
What is truth and what is fable?
Where is Ruth, and where is Mabel?"

T.E. Lawrence.

Movie Poster (1962).

Ralph Fiennes as T.E. Lawrence (1992)

The Men's Action Bailout Movie

The Mechanic (2011) Simon West. Kip's Bay multiplex, 2nd Ave & 31st (free passes).
Unknown (2011) Jaume Collet-Serra. Loew's 68th Street (free passes).

The Mechanic requires the viewer to conjure a theory out of left field in order to justify having spent 2 hours watching it. See The Mechanic as the average weekend moviegoer's metaphor for the circumstances which plunged America into the mortgage crisis.

As an object lesson in how America failed up to the Bailout, The Mechanic succeeds. "The Mechanic" (Jason Statham) is a hit-man who lives in the Louisiana bayou, a setting that evokes government failure, exploitation of the poor, and capitalist scheming.

He is paid to kill people, hired out by a mysterious organization of hedge-fundy yuppies, as if Timothy Geithner secretly headed Xe Services LLC, formerly Blackwater.

The Mechanic is good at his job, and his liaison in the organization is McKenna, played by Donald Suthlerland.  McKenna is a mentor, and pretty much The Mechanic's only friend.  But soon the lad-mag boss of the organization advises The Mechanic that McKenna has betrayed them, killed his own men, and made off with a bunch of money. The Mechanic  is given the contract to kill McKenna, and he takes it, murdering his father-figure at the behest of prep school rejects.

In this instance, the behavior of The Mechanic mimics the minions of the banking industry, which was quick to sell out all good faith in low and middle income home-owners who suffered by subprime mortgages.  The Mechanic prides himself on his stoic work ethic, but his quasi-patricide of Donald Sutherland reveals that he is just a blind and greedy cog in a larger, ugly wheel.  AIG portrayed a similar immature vacuum of principles.

Turns out that McKenna has a wayward son, Steve (Ben Foster), who fancies himself a badass and wants The Mechanic to teach him the tricks of the hit-man trade.  The kid doesn't know The Mechanic killed his dad, believing it was a random carjacker.  The Mechanic takes Steve under his dank wing out of guilt, and though the kid is out to avenge his father's murder, The Mechanic persistently instructs his protege that revenge is wrong.

The most vicious and coldblooded of the new pair's assignments is the execution of an obese New Age evangelist, whose crimes against humanity add up to an intravenous drug addiction and sexual interest in young women of legal age.  Not a hint that he stoops to the odious demagoguery of a Glenn Beck, or even Dr. Phil.  He is just a valueless wastoid, and is dispatched by The Mechanic and the kid in a brutal, near-botched asphyxiation.

In this episode, The Mechanic carries out a Tea-Baggy vigilante moralism, by slaying the lazy preacher who posed no mortal threat to society as would have a Balkan coke lord or psycho pimp, or such character gladly executed in good stock action movies.  Jason Statham is criminally mis-engineered as The Mechanic, given no opportunity for the sort of set-piece fight scenes in which the Englishman excels with charm and ass-kicking.  Instead, he is a jaded identity who prevails in sadism, and the audience must be that, too, if they like him.

Minorities and alternative lifestyles are victimized in The Mechanic's scheme.  The innocent black boatkeeper is offed, and young Steve's inaugural hit is a rival assassin, a gargantuan gay who the kid incredulously murders with his bare hands.   

Soon it is revealed that The Mechanic was set up by the yupsters. They concocted the story about Donald Sutherland's doublecross in order to cover up their own transgressions (naturally The Shine Box saw this twist coming light years beforehand ahem).  Only when The Mechanic is the last to notice he has been screwed over by his employers does he begin to heed his conscience, and do what he taught the kid not to.  He seeks revenge.

The world of The Mechanic is a world of varying degrees of evil. It was normal for The Mechanic to be a contract killer, as it was for a time to profit off toxic loans - but when The Mechanic finds himself a victim too, then it is suddenly not OK.  His avenging  is akin to the finance industry turning to Uncle Sam for rescue, when all along the government was the very agent the industry most revoked while they sent the economy down the crapper. Ultimately, the kid discovers that The Mechanic whacked his dad, and the audience is given no reason not to take sides with the kid's vengeance against The Mechanic's vengeance.  But The Mechanic is shown to slyly evade assassination while the kid gets blown up.

It must be, that studio executives believe they are creating a new paradigm of protagonist - an anti-hero with whom the audience is not asked to empathize and side with, but is coerced to, as if waterboarded. The new Liam Neeson actioner, Unknown, depicts a likewise scenario.  Neeson plays a man who forgets his identity, and who must gain it back while dodging assassins.  Turns out his old identity was of the icy type exhibited by those very assassins, and he is a better man to have forgotten it.  The denouement of recognition, remorse, atonement or exoneration is skipped.  You know how it is, when you wake up and you are actually a secret assassin and January Jones is not really your wife but out to sabotage the genetically modified corn industry?  At the movie's end, it remains unknown why the audience still sits there, besides the thankful presence of the veteran actor Bruno Ganz as a washed-up former East German spymaster.  

The Mechanic and Unknown present characters who mercilessly follow a higher order (like religious people or real estate agents), and who then suddenly "see" through it, awakened to its deception, and are then motivated to do battle against it as if some kind of crusader, when really they are throwing adolescent tantrums against what they have already chosen as if they had not.  The moment of illumination is one of neoconservative braggadocio, and has no room for the sticky dramatics of supplication or humility.  The same might be said when they adapt George W. Bush's memoir to the silver screen for an early February release date. 

The Mechanic is a narratological figure of the selfishness, greed and ignorance which caused the country to  economically collapse.  Joe-Duke Godard himself could not have produced a more self-aware and veritable exemplum.

It's Been Real - Movies in 2010


Movies today are the novels of the 1920s.  Like books after World War I, people now turn to movies for a sign of the times.  Music has been flattened by a rabid imitation of the past; the publishing world operates no differently than the TV industry; and the Art world has been made undead by the zombies of Fashion. Movies, combining the virtues and vices of all these arts, are high-profile, moneymaking, and yield the greatest opportunity for the consciousness of artists and viewers, like mirror neurons, to commune.  Our central nervous system is sublimated by the new experience of a portrayed moving world.

One takes for granted that Hollywood makes a profit by investing in the work of some figures whom it is not an abuse of meaning to call "artists."  The publishing industry did the same with writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Theodore Dreiser, and in 1921, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence was the #4 best-seller in America (and though this year North America's 4th highest grossing movie was Twilight: Eclipse, it did not win a Pulitzer).

We want our peers to recognize in us what they first might have recognized at the movies.  Songs we haven't heard in so long become much cooler in the theater set to some cool scene.  And our own social setting may even excel by setting forth the yea or nay of a movie as the means to articulate something about ourselves which we otherwise do not know how to.

No year of movies is without a resplendence of those "based on a true story," where events alleged to have happened are given the fictional treatment.  The audience wants what once occurred in the real world told in the language of moviemaking.  As the credits roll and the people leave the theater, one often hears enlightened viewers telling each other while brushing popcorn from their collar, "Hey Eddie, that really happened you know!"

But if the movie is "inspired by true events," like The Social Network (nominated for Best Adapted Script) or The Fighter (for Best Original) the movie may not have to reproduce those events with fanatic literal exactitude to effect what is true.  The faith in drama lies otherwise. Social Network takes Facebook as its premise, and Facebook is a technological device which lets people make their own reality of themselves.  The Fighter, as director David O. Russell has explained in interviews, is a "movie-within-a-movie."  As a critic quipped about I Love You Phillip Morris (2010, Glenn Ficarra & John Requa) "... a tale too bizarre to qualify as believable fiction. No problem: It's a true story — a freak opportunity."

The subject of what is a true story became headline news in the hubbub over the secret cyber-dump site WikiLeaks. Julian Assange, looking like he just walked out of Inception, postures himself a purveyor of “scientific journalism," which "allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true?”  Filmmakers do not have to be the extractors of classified government documents to get a true story, but only blurb that their movie is based on one.

We crave the bias of how we see things, which is why we can’t wait for Oscar time.  The Oscars like best impersonations. Jerry O'Connell's character, in Piranha 3-D (2010, Alexandre Aja) clearly imitates real-life creep Joe Francis, and the pleasure one gains by watching fanged fish chow his prick and balls off is based on what would be a real event.  A movie made in 3-D promotes its intention of recreating the real experience of space, but most 3-D movies are sci-fi fantasies that, as transom-jockey Michael Musto notes, offer "mind-blowing altered states for arrested children of all ages." In Pirana 3-D, the moral times are gauged like a Late Medieval tapestry where Nature has lured all the douchebags to one place, and then eats them. Then the good people start getting chowed too.  New meaning is given to the idea of being one of the The Expendables (2010, Sylvester Stallone).

Most theater-goers, like the characters in Soc Network, are "wired-in."  The psychic derangement of popular memory is where the comparison between The Social Network and Hot Tub Time Machine makes sense.

In Hot Tub Time Machine (2010, Steve Pink) the character Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry) undergoes the harrows of time travel and revisits his dejected teenage years, when Lou still had the prospect of the future to assure him – as in the present, Lou has no future. 1986! K-Vall!  Lou relives the same humiliations at the hands of Chaz, a Commie-hating ski lodge prepster who one day will no doubt craft policy for Paul Wolfowitz, and is subjected again to the betrayal by his best friends, who are still deadbeats.

Lou breaks it down for the guys in a grand whiskey-swigging tirade, that one supports a bud no matter how much of a loser, even if it brings everybody else down.  Friends are not beholden to save each other by good sense, but sheer dude companionship.  Lou opts to stay in '86, and not go back to his depressing 40s.  He defies physics and embarks on the journey out of his mind, while his buddies head back in the Hot Tub to a new future.  In some concurrent fourth dimension Lou invents Lougle, the smash Internet search engine, and becomes a happy zillionaire.

In The Social Network, the Hot Tub is "the Facebook," a new technology of global communal consciousness that comes about by way of a similar betrayal of friendship.  Director David Fincher goes back in time to the early 21st century, so early that Autocorrect does not recognize the word "FaceBook" when Zuckerberg keypecks it on his blog.  But in the final scene, Zuck refreshes his Facebook page as if he would gladly jump into the Hot Tub Time Machine to make things different with his girlfriend in the first scene.  Sean Parker abuses the claim to friendship so important to Lou – Parker screws Eduardo the same way Lou feels his pals screwed him - and Napster Boy ends up in jail as a sex criminal.  Lou’s future son, fat nerd Jacob, believes he is witnessing a sex crime when he barges in on Lou boning snow bunny Kelly, Jacob's mom, at the moment of conception....

"I made it a point to try to visualize the things I was saying as though they had really happened....  and for me they were happening as I talked; it was hard to realize that they had not taken place in the actual world... they became part of a world, the believed world, the world of recorded events, of history."   - Deliverance, James Dickey (1970).

If a movie is based on real events, better opportunity to justify taking interpretive liberties with the material. Film is the pingback of reality, and one brings one experience to it, as both judge and spectator. In Fellini's Casanova (1977, Federico Fellini), screened this year at Anthology Film Archives' Anti-Biopic series, Casanova's infamous Memoirs are used as a source text, but Fellini does not base his movie on a true story - it is a true story, made with trashbag sea-storms and starring a louche Donald Sutherland. 

"Philosophy must not forget that it has always spoken its part in the most burlesque and melodramatic settings."
-"Gangland & Philosophy,"Attila Kotanyi (1960).

2010 marked the 20th anniversary of the greatest mob movie ever made, Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese), which is the definitive, orgiastic "book-on-film," and follows the pattern of time, date, place, costume, music, while never failing to exploit all of it.  Truth and art merge like the garlic sliced so thin it liquifies in the pan.  The mob is the ideal subject for movies "based on a true story," because wiseguys love to exaggerate fucked-up stories about themselves.
Marty Scorsese had a productive year, commencing 2010 with Shutter Island, where he depicts the harrows of imagination cured only by a doctor's lance through the brain.  Marty helmed the series opener of Boardwalk Empire, based on the 1920s Atlantic City boss Nucky Thompson, after the "real-life" Nucky Johnson - as if Mark Zuckerberg were called Mark Eisenberg to deflect the criticism of historical inaccuracy.  Marty also directed Public Speaking, an HBO doc about Fran Lebowitz, and about the style of New York personality that is going the way of smoking in bars, Howard Johnson's, and rent control. Fran is a fast and vast talker, and the stories of her life in the city, a New York that is bygone, are augmented by Scorsese with inter-cut footage of James Baldwin debating William F. Buckley and clips from Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese.  Like in Goodfellas, Fran blows alot of peoples' heads off.

Scorsese enters 2010 again as the "montage supervisor" for Elvis on Tour (1972, R. Abel, P. Adidge), remastered for DVD.  Elvis is shown premiering "Burning Love," so new that he apologizes to the crowd for having to read the lyrics off a sheet of paper.  Elvis on Tour is a tour of Elvis, and Scorsese's touch is felt in the seamless collage of the Elvis imprint on the shutterfly dreams of the pop world.  Three hours before a show, Elvis hangs out backstage in his messianic costume and breaks down gospel tunes with the Jordanaires, baring the gonzo moral South in him.

The same brotherly lighting strikes Timothy Carey in The World's Greatest Sinner (1962, Timothy Carey), which screened at Anthology Film Archives last fall.  Carey plays a Southern California inland suburb insurance salesman who decides to quit the business and become a God.  He performs mondo Christian stage shows in the middle-class suburbs of Hollywood.  Timothy Carey is a whipcrack ham-sandwich of an actor, and Anthology's 2010 retrospective also featured Cinema Justice (1972), a ten-minute scenario repurposed in between takes from some other movie (Tarzana by Steve Da Jarnatt), where Timothy Carey plays Timothy Carey, ranting in a crappy office, bantering and banging around like Zeus, an articulate hurl of the loud and strange human way, being himself. Cinema Justice must be off the factbook - IMDB has even missed its archival existence.

Movie audiences don't seem to miss the archival existence of actor Joaquin Phoenix, who appeared as a joshing version of Joaquin Phoenix in I'm Still Here (2010, Casey Affleck), which bombed.  If an appearance on David Letterman becomes your epochal geisty plot point, then you are still there, and not here. There is no shortage of true stories to inspire the hermeneutics of fame and personality in America, and I'm Still Here has its vernacular right, the app of the "As If."  And sometimes it is even that to have no point is the point - true nihilism is often entertaining (hence the Crank movies).  But Joaq's roleplaying alienates the character, the actor, and the moviewatcher, who might still be here and not turned the movie off yet because of a couple of hilarious rapping scenes in the first twenty minutes.  Joaq consults Ejo (Edward James Olmos), who intones Lt.   Castillo, advising that "life's a journey that goes round and round and the end is closest to the beginning."  Ejo's fauxhemian windbaggery might be what post-humanist Douglas Rushkoff calls a "spontaneous, emergent reality."  Rushkoff describes "the multiple dimensions" with which humans "can contend with having more than one perspective at a time."  The title of the movie nods off to Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, a similar syzygy of one character's consciousness, but though Joaq toured prisons playing music with Skeeter Jennings, he was never in The Traveling Wilburys.  Like Henry James says in his short story "The Great Good Place" (1900), "Every one was a little some one else."

Perhaps the most mindbending of films based on real events in 2010 was a TV commercial, Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010, Rupert Sanders).  In November, Activision released ads for its new One-Man Army video game.  Anyone who has turned on a TV since Thanksgiving has seen this commercial. Celebrities and no-name office workers are shown in civilian wear engaged in combat on a Third-World battlefield, blowing away terrorists and making bad-ass faces. Sports hot shot Kobe Bryant and slack-jawed late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel make no secret of the tasteless puppetry which Technopolis has made of them.  Why make war movies when you can hire Hollywood screenwriters to craft scenarios for hyperdimensional video games, free of real guns or real shattered spines? Cued by the Rolling Stones soundtrack, it must be mad sick to do battle like this. And if there is a soldier in all of us, there is also a comfort zone junky.

As part of the New York Film Festival's "Views From the Avant-Garde" at Walter Reade, screened Future So Bright (2010, Matt McCormick, Center For Land Use Interpretation), a short film which, as it evolves, becomes increasingly likely to have been tagged "based on a true story."  Told in three parts, the movie presents vivid tableaux of petrified American frontier settlements that give way to the numinous hulking shells of industrial expansion which in turn make way for the candycolored 1950s middle-class businesses of leisure.  An object history of the West that trails the barns of immigrant pioneers, factories of the War Boom work force, and roadside family resort-o-ramas that cropped up on new Federal highways, silent and panascopic.

Over the summer, Film Forum devoted a series to the avatar of interactive moviegoing, William Castle.  Castle’s original theater gimmicks, like "Emergo" and "psychedelorama," were reproduced under the direction of repertory film programmer Bert Goldman.  Before the opening credits of The Tingler, starring Vincent Price, Castle appears in an introductory preamble to warn the audience about Fear.  Castle is worried that, for some moviegoers, it might get too real.  "The Tingler is in the theater!”

.... Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky) gave the Twilight fandom a quaint correlative of teenagey psychosis, where Mila Kunis goes down on Ms. Portman as Brad Pitt never did Ed Norton in Fight Club (1999, David Fincher) ....  and Cyrus (2010, The Duplass Brothers) had his own version of his own true story... The Runaways put Dakota Fanning on stage at the high school talent show as Cherie Currie, making transcendent reality to Bowie's "Lady Grinning Soul".... The Ghost Writer (2010, Roman Polanski) depicted a CIA conspiracy borne of reading books... There was no good things about All Good Things (2010, Andrew Jarecki), which turned ripe New York history into rancid soap opera... and The Other Guys (2010, Adam McKay) made pretty good comedy of the signs and signifiers of the Big Apple....

A Friv List: 
The Fighter
The Social Network
Cyrus 3-D
Hot Tub Time Machine
True Grit
Public Speaking
The Ghost Writer
Winter's Bone

Greenberg Zone
Future So Bright

The Fighter

(2010) David O. Russell. BAM.

Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) is followed around by a documentary camera crew which Dicky believes is out to capture his pending comeback as a pro welterweight boxer.  It has been fifteen some-odd years since Dicky's big spotlight moment knocking out Sugar Ray Leonard in 1977.  Dicky hits the crack pipe and schpiels for the camera about the past big times, but gets distracted, “Yeah what was I saying?” and while Dicky figures it out, the doc filmmaker reminds the people in the room that this movie is about the effects of drug addiction, not a comeback story.

Viewership is continuously indulged by showing one thing as another.  As The Fighter opens, Mickey Ward is raking the pavement of downtown Lowell, Massachusetts.  Dicky’s jabs enter the frame like piston works, huffing and quick.  The movie camera then turns to the documentary camera - the brothers are being filmed being filmed.  "How You Like Me Now?" by The Heavy kicks in (which, like The Fighter, samples the past), and from the opening bell David O. Russell has the audience up against the ropes.

 On Charlie Rose, O. Russell drew attention to the “movie-within-a-movie” aspect of the story, as a play on both the audience and the characters.  O. Russell likes to throw his cast into the maelstrom, as when the sisters follow Ma Ward (Melissa Leo) in a mad predatoress frenzy to the house of their arch enemy, Mickey’s wife, Charlene (Amy Adams), who is foxy but no MTV girl.  Charlene's salty spitfire draws deep from the bruised brawn of Lowell, Mass, the "birthplace of the Industrial Revolution."  This history of the city - a booming 19th century textile superpower now neglected and afflicted - is summarized in the introduction to the movie-within-a-movie, which screens at the prison, and a gloating Dicky sits next to a stocky granite-browed psycho who looks like he used to hang out at Tool's Tattoos in The Expendables.

The crux of the movie is the Sanchez v. Ward fight, a sequence told by a series of removed perceptions.  Dicky is on the prison pay-phone and relayed the action from Ma Alice Ward back in Lowell, who watches the fight broadcast from Las Vegason on TV.  Dicky updates the fellow prisoners who crowd in clusters behind the jail bars, eager for any hint of entertainment.  These inmates are the movie audience, getting off on the degrees of reality filtered through a chain of voices, at a distance locked in time and space from the actual events, but raucously intimate.  Film quill-cruncher J. Hoberman indicates that, "Dicky may have been the subject of an HBO America Undercover doc (High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell), but... the whole family is living a reality show—their domestic drama played out in full view of friends and neighbors.”

The family has a habit of singing pop songs to each other when words would seem to degrade the bout of issues at hand.  Ma Alice Ward finds Dicky ashamedly jumping out the 2nd floor window, and as she ushers him into the car, the pariah calms her with a faulty acapella version of The Bee Gees "I Started A Joke," and after Ma joins in the chorus no more dialogue is needed.  As Dicky and Mickey emerge from the locker room into the arena for the climactic Neary v. Ward fight, they mumble the words to "Here I Go Again," the 80s classic by Whitesnake. The pugnacious soundtrack jumps between decades the same way the movie veers between between truth and fiction, from The Breeders to Traffic.