WEIRDLAND: October 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Oliver Stone's "Snowden" - Civil Disobedience

"The Masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim." —Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind 

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Snowden (2016)—based on The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man (2014) by Luke Harding—marks Oliver Stone's return to his politically oriented films as Born on the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995). Although not reaching his previous artistic heights, Stone's latest effort still compounds a very intriguing portrayal of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.


Mimicking the serious tone of Laura Poitras's groundbreaking documentary Citizenfour (2014), Stone gives us an uneasy ride through a vertiginous landscape of the Orwellian US Intelligence Community and the deep state bent on massive global surveillance. “In one month, NSA collected 3.1 billion calls and emails from inside the United States… and that’s a partial count, it doesn’t include any Telecom company data,“ confides Snowden at one point.

Snowden’s fictionalized NSA boss is named Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans), after the antagonist in Orwell’s “1984,” a clear wink to the oppresive atmosphere permeating the sinister government facilities. “Most Americans don’t want freedom,” O’Brian assures Snowden: “They want security. People already catalog their lives for public consumption. Secrecy is security. And security is victory.”

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt impersonates the elusive Snowden in a tour-de-force performance, including his almost robotic speech pattern and mannerisms without ever betraying the humanity of his controversial subject. Stone found Gordon-­Levitt’s approach too “documentary-ish” at times and encouraged him to try “for the dramatic side as much as possible.” The charismatic actor (and creator of the interactive HitRecord community) renders an impressive psychological compositionavoiding blending in the shadow of Emmanuel Goldsteinprojecting an earnest personality that echoes Snowden's heroic temperament.


Snowden cites Henry David Thoreau as one of his influences. For Thoreau, as reflected in his essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), the government is primarily an agent of corruption. “There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power,” argues Thoreau. So it's "not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize."

Snowden contacted The Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald with the intention of granting him exclusive access to thousands of leaked classified documents that would prove an indiscriminate use of the surveillance tools with obscure interests, contradicting Intelligence Director James Clapper's testimony before the Senate in 2013.

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Another important asset is Shailene Woodley playing Snowden's longtime girlfriend Lindsay Mills, lending emotional weight to their tumultuous relationship. Their playful banter and thorny arguments feel natural, forcing us to witness the devastating effects of Snowden's stressful schedule over their personal and sexual dynamics.

One of the most interesting segments is Snowden deceiving the security personnel after making a copy of extensive classified information of the NSA, abandoning Hawaii, and escaping as a fugitive accepting temporary asylum in Russia. The real Snowden briefly appears in the film, courtesy of his clandestine collaboration with Stone, warning us of the necessity of rebelling against “a turnkey tyranny.”

Although the film's pace is uneven, Stone manages to break the surreal 'time stands still' mood of the Mira Hotel sequences in Hong Kong, contrasting it with disparate scenarios, where Snowden not only fights his epileptic attacks, he also must pit his principles against his demons, his professional wows against his feelings. In a visual collage scene that suggests the patriotic sparks of Stone's brilliant JFK, Snowden admits to the audience and himself: “the truth sinks in no matter what justifications you’re selling yourself: this isn’t about terrorism, terrorism is the excuse, and the only thing you’re protecting is the supremacy of your government.”

Edward Snowden didn’t want to overthrow the system. “What I wanted to do was give society the information it needed to decide if it wanted to change the system,” he informed to The Nation: “I have a somewhat sneaky way of effecting political change. I don’t want to directly confront great powers, which we cannot defeat on their terms. We cannot be effective without a mass movement, and the American people today are too comfortable to adapt to a mass movement.”

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” ―George Orwell, 1984

Article published previously as Movie Review: Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ on Blogcritics.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Nocturnal Animals (Amy Adams & Jake Gyllenhaal) Trailer, Modification of Memories

It’s quite the time to be alive for Amy Adams fans. On the heels of the final trailer for Denise Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” which has thrown Adams into the thick of the Best Actress Oscar race, a new trailer has debuted for “Nocturnal Animals.”


“Nocturnal Animals” is based on the 1993 Austin Wright novel “Tony and Susan.” The crime drama/melodrama hybrid divided critics at Venice and TIFF, though most agree the performances are stellar. 

Amy Adams plays a Los Angeles artist who’s unhappy with her job and marriage. She receives a manuscript from her ex-husband (Gyllenhaal), who she hasn’t seen in nearly 19 years, and begins devouring the text, which Ford brings to life in a duel storyline. The script details a shocking crime that happened to a family of three after they encountered a group of criminals while driving through the desert. Adams’ character takes the story as her ex-husband exacting revenge, but Ford has something much more dangerous up his sleeve.

The film also stars Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, and Jena Malone. Focus Features will release “Nocturnal Animals” in select theaters November 18. Source: www.indiewire.com

By framing a crime story within a domestic novel, Wright, an English professor and author of three previous novels, dissolves the fragile civility that often conceals violence. He also scrutinizes the institution of marriage, considers the nature of memory, and documents the potential impact of one's choices. At Edward Sheffield's request, Susan Morrow reads his first novel, Nocturnal Animals, in which an impulsive change of plan delivers Tony Hastings and his family into the hands of strangers who terrorize them. Passages from Sheffield's novel alternate between Susan's memories of Sheffield (her ex-husband), to details of her current marriage, to her speculations about the writer's and the reader's obligations. By counterpoising the eroding compromises of Susan's daily life with the sufferings of the Hastings family, Wright demonstrates that the refusal of individual responsibility infect both sexes and all classes. Highly recommended. -Library Journal, Jane S. Bakerman, Indiana State University.

Both true and false memories are associated with activity in the left posterior parahippocampal, bilateral retrosplenial, and bilateral posterior inferior parietal cortices, areas of the brain linked with memory retrieval. However, false memories were associated with equal amounts of activity in these brain regions when people looked at both the wrong and right photos; in contrast, true memories were associated with more activity in these brain regions. Moreover, compared with true memories, false memories involved greater activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Those brain regions are linked with flexible memory processes that allow for updating of existing memories with novel information, which unfortunately might involve false details.

“Our study provides evidence consistent with the general idea that some kinds of memory errors — in this case, falsely remembering that a ‘lure photo’ was encountered during the museum tour — can result from the operation of functional or adaptive memory processes that are otherwise beneficial,” St. Jacques says. “For example, if you couldn’t update your memory with new information you may have difficulty remembering where you parked your car today versus yesterday.” Future research can investigate what situations might support modification of memories. Source: blog.pnas.org

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

His Girl Friday Blu-Ray: Rosalind Russell & Cary Grant, Screwball Gender Conflicts

"The so-called "digital" is not a mere technical medium, but a medium of thought. And when modern democracies turn technical thought into a separate domain, those modern democracies incline towards totalitarianism". Jean-Luc Godard

When adapting Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s smash hit play The Front Page, director Howard Hawks had the inspired idea of turning star reporter Hildy Johnson into a woman, and the result is an immortal mix of hard-boiled newsroom setting with remarriage comedy in His Girl Friday (1940). Also presented here is a brand-new restoration of the 1931 The Front Page, the famous pre-Code adaptation of the same material, directed by Lewis Milestone.

His Girl Friday Blu-Ray New Features:

-New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
-New 2K restoration of Lewis Milestone’s The Front Page (1931), made from a recently discovered  print of the director’s preferred version
-New interview with film scholar David Bordwell about His Girl Friday
-Archival interviews with director Howard Hawks
-Featurettes from 1999 about Hawks, actor Rosalind Russell, and the making of His Girl Friday
-Radio adaptation of His Girl Friday from 1940
-New piece about the restoration of The Front Page
-New piece about playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht
-Radio adaptations of the play The Front Page from 1937 and 1946
-PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on His Girl Friday and The Front Page by film critics Farran Smith Nehme and Michael Sragow. 
Source: www.criterion.com

The two opening episodes of His Girl Friday are an addition to the play and develop the romance. Six years after the beginning of the screwball cycle, Hawks brings the gender conflicts central to the movement to their most striking expression. Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) returns to The Morning Post to tell her editor and former husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) that she is getting married. She even brings her fiance Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) along with her (as if Walter will suspect a ruse unless he sees the hard evidence). The plot portrays the shifting gender roles that transformed the experience of women in the decades following World War I. In this romantic comedy, love and work are united rather than in conflict. Walter knows that if he can get Hildy to reexperience her passion as a reporter, she will revive her love for him in their common endeavor. On the other hand, Bruce Baldwin represents Walter’s opposite. Bruce is the traditional choice. As Hildy explains, “He treats me like a woman.” 

Hawks took his idea for turning The Front Page into a romantic comedy to Columbia Pictures, where Harry Cohn, the studio chief, gave the project a green light. When Ben Hecht was unavailable to write the revision, Hawks hired Charles Lederer, a member of Hecht’s circle who had worked on the film adaptation of The Front Page (1931), to do the screenplay. Many have noted the speed of His Girl Friday (Bordwell and Thompson 2001: 352). Hawks was proud of his snappy direction of dialogue, the interruptions, the overlapping exchanges, and rapid-fire speech (McBride 1982: 80–1). Todd McCarthy has noted that the film clocks in at 240 words per minute, about 100–50 words faster than normal American speech (1997: 283). Lea Jacobs times nine scenes with a delivery at or above four words per second, and two of those above five words per second (1998: 406). 

Others have explained that the use of gesture, movement by character, and camera and editing also propel the pace forward, complementing the rapid-fire talk (Mast 1982; Sarris 1968; Wood 1968). The contrast between the deliberate speech of Bruce and Earl and the fast-talking Walter and Hildy also intensifies the conflict between the slow rube and the quick-thinking sophisticate. It assures us that this couple are meant for each other. Hawks forgoes a musical score until the very end, allowing these other elements to determine the rhythm of his picture. 

His Girl Friday maintains a remarkable pace in a film made up exclusively of interior sets, whose final scene unfolds in thirty-three minutes without leaving one room. As a result, the audience senses the compression of time. What is the meaning of this stylistic device? The deadline approaches. There is little opportunity to think, and less time to feel. Only those with a quick mind, ready words, and fast reflexes prosper. The others have to take out insurance and hope that their cards are lucky. “You can’t trust anybody in this crazy world,” says Earl Williams. The poseurs, like Dr. Engelhofer, risk getting shot “in the classified ads.” A hanging, a jailbreak, a suicide, can suddenly shift the tide of fortune, and power changes hands. And so in affairs of the heart how can one listen to one’s own emotions, let alone sense the beloved? It’s best to act; to exercise one’s skill, and to work in tandem with those who share your talent, sense your direction, and feel your pulse. 

Speed and toughness give His Girl Friday a distinctive American character; clever and harsh, its intelligence glides beneath the surface, and its passion and concern are disguised by its cynicism. The film hides its feelings in the humor of a hostile world almost spinning out of control. The earnest ones who propose marriage and declare their love, like Bruce and Earl, are vulnerable and stupid. The emotion they express amounts to dime-store cliches whose reliability may fade with their confidence. Walter shuns expressions of affection and romantic gestures. He tells Hildy what she can do, what they can do together, who they are fighting against and campaigning alongside. 

His Girl Friday cuts fast and clean. The screwball couple work together and discover their love in action, their fun in words, their union through a tough-minded turn from sentiment in a world run by scoundrels at the expense of fools. Does Hildy’s education suppress a woman’s sensibility for a masculine exercise of power? Yes, Hildy does choose power over feeling, pragmatism over poses, but, as Walter says, she can write with a woman’s touch, she can hear Earl’s pathos rise from his confusion. But she fears the fate of Molly, the beleaguered woman whose caring was used against her. Hildy finds her power in words, her patron in Walter, and she chooses to break free and run with the scoundrels. 

Finally Hildy fully experiences her rebirth of feeling. Walter dispatched Hildy to stop the execution of Earl Williams, but also to cover a jailbreak. “I know you,” Walter claimed at the beginning, “I know what quitting would mean to you.” He had to imprison Bruce Baldwin three times and secure a reprieve for Earl Williams before Hildy finally discovered that she was the one who had to break free from the expectations of “being treated like a woman” and find her true self. "The Hollywood Romantic Comedy: Conventions, History, Controversies" (2011) by Leger Grindon

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on TV, The Beach Boys' Lost Concert, Sarah Everett's novel

Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s wickedly creative and widely beloved modern classic ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ is being developed for the small screen — neither of them will be involved in this new take on their high-concept romantic drama. Some episodes could end with the ex-partners deciding to give it another shot, others could end with them never crossing paths again. In the season finale, an entire country could ask to have their memories wiped of an election cycle, for example. In short, the series ought to emphasize Lacuna and what they offer rather than any particular characters. —David Ehrlich

An “Eternal Sunshine” series will work best if it eschews that sort of cutesy notion, instead opting to build on (and out of) the original film’s exceedingly brilliant premise. Winks and nods and tips of the hat seem to come part and parcel with this sort of project, and they shouldn’t, as they mostly distract and detract from the very possibility that a remake could be its own thing. Give us the show. But if Kirsten Dunst, who has already proven her ability to make a film-turned-TV-series into must-see viewing wanted to swing by, even I couldn’t be opposed to that. —Kate Erbland Source: www.indiewire.com

Woodshock (2017) is an upcoming American drama film written and directed by Rodarte label founders, Kate and Laura Mulleavy. The film stars Kirsten Dunst as Theresa. The film follows a woman who falls deeper into paranoia after taking a deadly drug. 

-Rolling Stone: What did you want people to learn from your life story, what are your regrets with drugs?

-Brian Wilson: I want people to realize that drugs can be very detrimental and dangerous. I've told a lot of people don't take psychedelic drugs. I regret having taken LSD. It's a bad drug.


-Rolling Stone: You also talked about mental illness. What do you want people to know about your mental-health struggles?

-Brian Wilson: Well, just that the struggle for mental health is the result of bad drugs.


-Rolling Stone: When you were going thinking back on your life, what made you the happiest?

-Brian Wilson: When I met my wife, Melinda. The night we recorded "Good Vibrations" at CBS Studio in Los Angeles was the biggest moment of my life. Recording "California Girls." When I first saw the ocean. I've had a few high points in my life. I listen to Sixties and Seventies music. Those two generations: the Sixties revolution and the Seventies revolution: The Beatles, "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes... Source: www.rollingstone.com

Addie’s investigation into the source of her hallucinations of a teenage boy is interspersed with flashbacks of her first romance. Addie also realizes she’s delusional, but she believes that her hallucination has an identity in the real world. She begins researching, convinced that discovering his identity will stop the delusions. However, the investigation’s dramatic tension is somewhat diminished since the interwoven flashbacks have already revealed that the hallucination and Addie’s first boyfriend, Zach, share many physical traits. Readers spend much of the novel waiting for Addie to catch up, though the science-fiction brain surgery that explains both the hallucinations and a secondary plot involving Addie’s emotionally distant family dynamic will be surprising. The realistic message about the human heart’s resiliency doesn’t always fully merge with the science-fiction elements. Source: www.kirkusreviews.com

"It was more than three decades neurobiologists formerly employed by the University of Maine conceived of a cure for military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They researched, experimented, and conducted longitudinal studies. By the time the Gulf War ended in the early 1990s, it was more than an idea. The theory: that the soldiers were held captive not by PTSD itself, but by memory. The cure: memory splicing, a technique that could wipe clean the worst of their memories, while preserving the best. After years of thorough trials, the Overton technique, as miraculous as it was exact, was made available to the general public. A number of refinements to the Overton technique have since been implemented, including limbic shaving —a tweaking of the emotional components of memories, the feeling and connotations of certain memories. A chill runs down my spine. They can change the way your memories feel? While we were inside the store, someone stuck a yellow flyer under the wiper: OVERTON INC.—CUTTING-EDGE NEUROSCIENTIFIC PROCEDURES THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE." -"Everyone We've Been" (2016) by Sarah Everett

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Moonrise Kingdom and Whiplash Video Essays


Whether by naiveté, folly of youth or wisdom beyond (or within) their years, Sam and Suzy's unshakable devotion and determination is the stuff of care-free, cinematic dreams. Their love isn't born out of fickle teen attraction or hormone-starved passion nor does it burn out or fade at the first sign of trouble. There's such an innocence to their impulsiveness, however reckless, and such a sweet sincerity to their flight and affections, however mismanaged, that it's difficult not to root for the runaways, even when their liberation causes grief and panic among their caretakers. Alone in the wilderness, away from those who either refuse to understand or are ill-equipped to do so, they find exactly what they're looking for; exactly what they've been longing for since they began exchanging letters a year before. 

It's a pure and powerful desire; romance at its most distilled, safety as only a child robbed of security from an early age can see it. Sam and Suzy are Romeo and Juliet, Bonnie and Clyde, Annie and Alvy, Jack and Rose. Or all of them, for that matter, save a crucial difference: Sam and Suzy's fate is in the hands of Wes Anderson, which all but assures us that their relationship isn't doomed to tragic end. Source: www.blu-ray.com


Infused with a deep sense of film and literary history—from Salinger’s Holden Caulfield to Charlie Brown cartoons, Harold and Maude, Pierrot le Fou, and Summer of ’42—the world Anderson creates remains deeply his own. The video goes on to address how the dialogue both breaks from traditional filmmaking and supports the film’s overall style. The direct, affectless nature of the dialogue forces viewers to make their own decisions about the characters’ emotional states. This kind of frankness “mimics the earnestness of childhood,” while at the same time imitating “the emotional barriers we construct in adulthood,” leaving the protagonists to navigate between both extremes. Source: www.indiewire.com


This is a brief look into how writer/director Damien Chazelle shifts the viewers expectations in "Whiplash" starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, etc.

Miles Teller has signed on to voice the titular creature in John Stevenson’s The Ark and the Aardvark. The film is an animated riff on the Noah’s Ark tale, focusing on the aardvark’s perspective of what it’s like to survive a giant flood packed in a ship two-by-two. The Hollywood Reporter calls Teller’s character Gilbert a kind, funny soul who “leads a group of misfit animals though natural disasters and personal anxieties.” According to Stevenson, “Gilbert is young, spirited, sarcastic, and we couldn’t have found a more perfect artist to bring Gilbert to life in Miles.”

Teller is a huge talent who was entertaining as Peter in the Divergent movies and had his big dramatic break with 2014’s fantastic Whiplash, so maybe it’s time for him to flex his voice acting muscles. The Ark and the Aardvark doesn’t currently have a release date. You can see Teller back in the multiplex soon when his boxing drama Bleed for This opens November 23. Source: screencrush.com