Archive for the 'Movies' Category

The Coen brothers on making movies

From an interview they gave last December at BAFTA.

I Hired a Contract Killer (1990)


Aki Kaurismäki, like all true film auteurs, creates worlds. Not in the sci-fi fantasy sense — though, I am not excluding sci-fi, merely broadening the concept — but in the subjective sense. Like Jarmusch, Fassbinder and Lynch, you get a feeling while watching a Kaurismäki movie that you are watching something highly personal. And so it goes with his odd and amusing love story, I Hired a Contract Killer, about a man who wants to kill himself but reconsiders after falling in love.

Roll your eyes and say you’ve seen that kind of movie before, but with Kaurismäki at the helm you get something genuinely touching, without forced pathos, incidental-music, or faux-inspirational endings. Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, the French nouvelle vague star of such movies as American Night and 400 blows, IHCK moves us from Kaurismäki’s usual film location in Helsinki to London. Like the down-and-out squalor of Kaurismäki’s working class neighborhoods in Helsinki, the London depicted here isn’t the refined upper-class cosmopolis depicted in Woody Allen’s latest movies, rather it’s a drab, trash-strewn working class London full of thugs and hard-drinking wage slaves.

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Nietzsche and Idiocracy

Idiocracy is now

Idiocracy — about a dystopia 500 years in the future where braindead fools populate the planet and everything is run by corporations — was actually presaged by Friedrich Nietzsche in his philosophical masterpiece, Thus Spake Zarathustra. In it he heralds the dawn of a new philosophical era, the threat of nihilism, and the übermensch. The übermensch — or the man who seeks to surpass himself, to reach his potential — stands diametrically opposite to what Nietzsche calls The Last Man, who is perfectly content with stagnation, whose “herd mentality” makes him most comfortable among equally unambitious people, who is unable to criticize himself, and who therefore cannot grow.

The earth hath then become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man liveth longest.

“We have discovered happiness”–say the last men, and blink thereby.

Thus Spake Zarathustra

Idiocracy is not a great movie, but it is a trenchant critique of our society (though about as subtle as using a sledgehammer to drive in a pin).The movie obviously is directed at the United States, where underrated director Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butthead and cult movie Office Space, hails from. But anyone traveling abroad, or surfing the internet, can easily surmise the same thing: that we are already living in a budding idiocracy everywhere on the planet.

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Friday Night Feature – Lopez

I’m probably setting myself up for some heavy criticism after my harsh review of the Long Good Friday, but here goes anyway.

Lopez is a short movie I made with my friend Gabriel Guzman back in 2000. At the time, I had been working as a video editor for a low-end production house in San Francisco. We mostly did corporate videos and infomercials, and somehow I ended up doing a bunch of low budget gangsta rap music videos. The cool thing about the production house was that I had the master keys to it, and I could work late into the night on whatever I wanted. Because I was leaving for Europe, I wanted to take advantage of the expensive Avid and Softimage editing suites before I left, and that’s how I came up with the idea of shooting Lopez.

I had another job besides editing, and that was valet parking. I was making a ridiculous amount of money through a parking scam I was running with my Colombian friend Gabriel, who was also a valet parker. Even though the cash was great, we were always pretty depressed about being valet parkers. Keep in mind, this was in the middle of the dot com bubble, and we were parking luxury vehicles left and right, and we valet parkers were probably one of the lowliest social castes in late-nineties San Francisco. So we made up a character to give voice to our grievances, and this was the lowly Lopez, a valet parker with delusions of grandeur.

So much for the plot — Lopez is more about atmosphere. We shot it in the Tenderloin, easily the sketchiest neighborhood of San Francisco, on a mini-DV camera which I “bought” from a department store (and returned a week after we shot the movie). Gabriel, who plays Lopez, really was drunk and high when we shot this, and his delirious speech to the masses is actually inspired by the schizos I saw everyday in the Tenderloin doing the same thing. Many of my friends made cameos, but unfortunately not all could make the final cut. After two days of shooting — and buckets of whiskey — I brought the footage back to the studio and edited it in two nights. Lopez was born.

The Long Good Friday (1979)

The Long Good Friday, considered one of the best British gangster flicks, takes the classic story of hubristic downfall and sets it in late-seventies London. Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a gangland kingpin trying to “go legit” by investing in some shorefront property which will one day host the Olympics. After a trip across the Atlantic to meet with his American gangster counterparts, he brings them back to East London where he hopes to convince them to invest with him in the shorefront property.

That’s when things go wrong: his henchmen start dying and his local haunts get blown up, raising doubt in the Americans about the security of their potential investment. Harold Shand, in an interesting twist, turns from gangster to detective, and ruthlessly investigates all his known associates. Some unforgettable ultra-violence ensues, as he hangs his suspects on meat hooks, stabs his right-hand man in the throat with a broken Scotch bottle, and eventually discovers that it’s all been a misunderstanding. But it’s too late, and he’s in over his head, against the law and against none other than the IRA. Drunk on power and a thirst for revenge, Harold Shand’s arrogance finally proves to be his Achilles heel.

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Benjamin on Cinema

The ill-fated German cultural critic and brilliant writer Walter Benjamin, on cinema:

By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action. Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. So, too, slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones “which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions.” Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride. The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, it extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses

From his 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Friday Night Feature – Colombian Devil’s Breath

Imagine a drug that turns people under its influence into zombies that will follow any order given to them, that leaves its victims with absolutely no memory of what they have done after its effects wear off. Devil’s Breath, extracted from the Colombian Borrachera tree, is also known as Scopolamine in its refined pharmaceutical form. In very low doses it is used as an anti-motion sickness drug in transdermal patches, but in higher doses it has unbelievable effects: victims have been known to extract their entire life savings, to give away all the possessions in their apartment, and, worst of all, kill – just because they were asked. This is the ultimate Evil Mastermind drug, allegedly once used in interrogation experiments by Joseph Mengele and the CIA.

This 9 part “drugumentary” by VBS.TV examines the different ways it is used by the criminal underworld in Bogota, Colombia, “Kidnapping Capital of the World”. You can watch all the parts together, without commercials, on the Larry Kovaks Street Scam Forum, or separately on VBS.TV.