Facebook Links #4

I’ve selected eight of the most interesting online articles I shared to Facebook in June and July of this year. Cited below are excerpts that give a little more information about each article than the title alone. Full articles can be accessed by clicking on the titles.

Marilyn Monroe“The Hypnotist Collector: Marilyn Monroe” by Kim Morgan — Sunset Gun, June 1, 2013

“Marilyn wasn’t a candle in the wind. The well-meaning Sir Elton didn’t write her swan song. Her poetic soulmate, that troubadour of Americana Bob Dylan, granted her that honor. As Marilyn said herself, ‘I knew where she belonged,’ and so did Dylan, the other famous Bobby one wishes she’d made love to or had lived long enough to meet. (Oh, what a couple Bobby Zimmerman and Norma Jeane would have made!) Without intending it for M.M., Dylan placed her in the ‘ocean and the sky and the whole wide world,’ making ‘She Belongs to Me’ belong to Bobby and herself and to all of us. Marilyn, from the moment she stepped in front of a camera, was an artist and she didn’t look back. ‘She can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black.’ Yes. The complexity of a woman. The lyrical duality of a poet. And she, deep down, must have known this, even if she didn’t believe she had everything she needed. And she remains ever present, ever modern, ever the hypnotist collector. ‘You are a walking antique.'”

“The Church of Paul Thomas Anderson” by Jack Welch — The Moving Arts Film Journal, June 11, 2013

“Plainview’s primitivity, Anderson’s shots of the empty landscape, the eerily discordant score by Jonny Greenwood, and the extended silence of this first scene and the ones which follow — in which Plainview founds a small drilling company and adopts the baby son of one of his workers — all evoke the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence which opens Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The United States of America is nearly a century and a quarter old at the film’s beginning, but Anderson’s prologue could be called the Dawn of the American Man, or the Dawn of American Industry. Plainview plummets into the mine shaft and breaks his leg, hauling himself from its depths and back to civilization by sheer force of will. The signification is double here: Plainview emerges from darkness, crawling across the landscape like an early life form. But his literal fall also has Biblical parallels: both the moment of original sin and the plunge of Satan from heaven. We never know what Plainview was like before this fall, but he emerges with the seeds of all-consuming sin in his heart. Secular and Christian representations of life’s origins are hence folded into a single image, along with the archetype of the fortune-seeking prospector in the American West. Anderson is imagining, in this scene and this film, nothing less than a creation myth for America as we know it, with Daniel Plainview as a secular Satan. And indeed if Plainview manifests a religiophobia which is not merely atheism, but an instinctive loathing, an almost psychotic revulsion toward the thought of God and His followers, it may be because his megalomania, like Satan’s, rebels against a cosmos outside his own — the uniquely, darkly American cosmos that he carves out for himself.”

“Bonnie & Clark: How a gory gangster picture led to Hollywood’s first superhero blockbuster” by Brian Doan — RogerEbert.com Balder & Dash, June 13, 2013

Bonnie and Clyde was a deconstruction of gangster films that heralded a more critical cinema, using fresh techniques to transform real people into symbols of movie history; Superman is that movement’s reversal, tweaking genre rather than dissecting it, in an attempt to humanize a literally flat character. One ends in a ballet of bullets, while the other turns back the earth to guarantee a happy ending… Superman is born in the era of Clyde Barrow, and is a similar outlaw hero in his initial iteration. But his gift — the reason he’s both survived for 75 years and been harder to conceptualize than Batman or Spider-Man — is how broadly he can be defined, how different generations can use him as a canvas on which to map various creative or cultural concerns. As Man of Steel offers a ‘grittier’ hero, it’s worth looking back to the first Superman, whose blend of New and Old Sentimentalities offered a balance between seriousness and sophisticated humor, deconstruction and lyrical flight. It reminds us that it’s not so much whether we’ll ‘believe a man can fly,’ but that we should want to believe in the first place.”

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” by Roderick Heath — Ferdy on Films, July 4, 2012

“Meyer invests the film with an outsized quality that seems distinctly operatic: indeed, Kirk’s scream comes at the conclusion of a sequence that builds like an aria, as the two bull males gibe and wound each other with a spiritual ferocity that befits the talents of Shatner and Montalban, each capable of being both very good actors and colossal show-offs. Montalban, at the time a prime-time staple in Fantasy Island and still showing off his marvellous physique at 62, latched onto the role with gleefully outsized zest and finally gave Shatner a run for his money as the franchise’s biggest pork roast. That said, ‘Khaaaaaaaaan!’ notwithstanding, Shatner’s at his best in the film, swinging from flip, sardonic good humour to introspection to larger-than-life heroism with a few well-judged bats of his eyelids and shifts of the inimitable Shatner voice. If Spock is the film’s tragic hero, Kirk here finally ascends to something like warrior-poet status, conjuring grace notes of wisdom hard-won from tragedy and gazing at the Genesis Planet with a truly affecting sense of wonder and rejuvenated spirit.”

“Can Johnny Depp’s Career Be Saved?” by Mark Harris — Grantland, July 9, 2013

“It’s easy to forget now how subversive his fey, slurry, weird, self-amused, femme-y, altogether huge performance as Jack Sparrow was in the first Pirates installment; this was, after all, a Disney family movie based on a freaking amusement-park ride, a gig that practically invited an actor to hit his marks as generically as possible. Instead, Depp brought energy and imagination to the table; he was something it’s almost impossible to be when you’re at the center of a summer blockbuster: unexpected. One year later, he starred as J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland, a lovely movie whose Anglophilic Miramax laminate makes it easy to dismiss, but if you doubt that Depp earned his second Oscar nomination, go back and watch his understated, emotionally precise, delicate, and human performance. The two films seemed to suggest that Depp was on the verge of broadening the definition of a Hollywood leading man: He could go big or small, but he would never be bland and always find a sweet spot that was just off-center. He could wink when winking was useful, he would never let gesture or mannerism get in the way of honesty, even when, as with Sparrow, he was playing a doodle rather than a human being. All that from a guy who had started at the unpromising intersection of Jump and Elm streets. No wonder we loved him.”

“National Review: Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing as an American Epic” by Ashley Clark — Moving Image Source, July 12, 2013

“Within the strict temporal and location confines of Do the Right Thing lies a work concerned with tackling the biggest of American themes — race relations, ambition, urban survival, economics, violence, and liberty — on a microcosmic scale. With its thrillingly unorthodox blend of Aristotelian unity and Brechtian artificiality, it locates the big in the small, and the national in the local. Over 120 swift minutes, it assails the viewer with a mixture of character drama, comedy, poetry, music, and then, in its riot finale precipitated by the cops’ murder of young Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), dares to echo SNCC member H. Rap Brown’s darkly diagnostic pronouncement in the 1960s that ‘violence is as American as cherry pie.’ (He meant ‘apple,’ but he made his point.) Intended by Lee as an artistic response to the racial tensions in a New York City then under the Mayorship of Ed Koch, the film sparked huge controversy, prompting a host of misguided cultural critics to speculate that it would cause riots. It didn’t, of course, but it struck a nerve because it said more about the state of contemporary race relations, and with more complexity and brazen confidence, than any other film in the American cinema to date.”

Audience in a movie theater, boy watching TV.“Stop Saying That TV Is Better Than Movies These Days” by David Haglund — Slate, July 18, 2013

“[W]hen we talk about television, we are almost always only talking about American television. Maybe we’ll include a few British shows, but rarely do we grapple with foreign-language efforts, the way serious moviegoers have been doing for decades. And while the source of most cinematic creativity in the United States has for the last few decades probably come from independent filmmakers, there is not really any such thing as independent television. (The medium, for the most part, just doesn’t work that way.) So while the best movies come from an intimidating diversity of sources, and present a similarly wide range of aesthetic approaches and aims, the best TV shows tend to come from three or four American cable networks and frequently follow a familiar model. (It’s like The Godfather, only in modern-day New Jersey — or in the advertising world, or the New Mexico meth market, or in Hollywood …) Take today’s Emmy nominations, which, though there were, as always, a few surprises and snubs, generally rewarded the prestige dramas — House of Cards, American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland — that most people regard as the best stuff on TV. Compare that to any year’s Oscar nominations, which encompass multiple filmmaking styles and span the studio and indie world and still rarely scratch the surface of what critics and serious moviegoers consider the best of the year. Or just consider the wild range of movies on view in a critics’ poll of the best 2013 movies so far, from Before Midnight to Upstream Color to Spring Breakers (and that’s just the top three — and we’re still months away from Oscar season). It may be true that, for much of the year, you can’t find good movies just by driving to the multiplex, while there’s often something good waiting on your DVR. And that people aren’t talking enough about the really good films that get released — sometimes on only a handful of screens — throughout the calendar year. But the proper solution to this problem, if you’re a critic, is not to tell people to just watch TV instead. It’s to tell us which new movies are worth our attention, and where they can be found. It’s to make the conversation about the art that matters the most.”

“The Most Romantic Story Ever Told” by Aimee Bender — Los Angeles Review of Books, October 11, 2012

“One of the mainstays of the [fairy tale] form is that the outside of a character usually matches the inside… This is a useful device, as fairy tales are brief and action-packed, and there’s little time for nuance or character development. Children respond well to a clear and demarcated fantasy world. But Beauty and the Beast is a rare exception; the beast is good, wants to be good, strives to show his goodness, but he is marred and hidden by his beastly appearance, and people run from the sight of him. Of course, in film, audiences tend to grow attached to this exact beastliness. During the first screening of Jean Cocteau’s gorgeous classic, La Belle et La Bête, Marlene Dietrich famously clutched the director’s hand when actor Jean Marais, in a pair of balloony pants, materialized as the newly transformed handsome prince. ‘Where is my beautiful beast?’ she called out. We grow attached to the beast because we love who he is. We love that he is a beast, that he is rough-edged, moody, troubled; kind, connected, and real. That Beauty sees him for who he is, and is rewarded for that, makes this tale a classic that allows the internal to take time to reveal itself, a truth we surely recognize from our regular lives and loves.”

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