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Miami Vice (#110 of 14)

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: Spring Breakers

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Spring Breakers</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>Spring Breakers</em>

Here is a film, to borrow a phrase from Don Delillo, about “the neon epic of Saturday night,” a DayGlo beach-borne fantasy of bright lights smeared and shining; it exists in this strange and beautiful place upon which Malick, Mann, and MTV incongruously converge. This is art-house maximalism with a tenor like poetry, an incisive and critical drama unafraid to relish and indulge in the subject it intends to deconstruct. You could call it “high-trash” cinema; it collects the cast-aside bric-a-brac of an ostensibly bankrupt culture—Harmony Korine operates here like some rigorously anthropological Katamari, rolling up anything and everything in his path—and transforms it into something earnestly, maybe even transcendently, gorgeous.

Spring Breakers manages in one beer-steeped swoop to both criticize and ultimately redeem the most vacuous detritus it can find: dubstep, coke, video games, beer bongs, keg stands, dreadlocks, cheap 40s, Gucci Mane’s face tattoo, the state of Florida, and the titular spring break as not only a vacation but as a very real-seeming state of being. I don’t want to oversell its intellectual or aesthetic aspirations, but in many ways the film is like Weekend reimagined as a daring iteration of Girls Gone Wild. Or, hell, maybe Jean-Luc Godard’s Step Up Revolution: It’s a radical take on a sexy summer drama by a man with serious artistic ambitions. It’s also quite obviously the best film currently touring the festival circuit.

The Conversations: Michael Mann

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The Conversations: Michael Mann
The Conversations: Michael Mann

Ed Howard: During the course of our conversation about David Fincher earlier this year, I posited Fincher as one of the few modern American directors who fit the classical model for the Hollywood auteur: someone who makes intensely personal and idiosyncratic films, in a variety of styles and forms, within the Hollywood studio system. I’d suggest that Michael Mann is another of these rare directors, bringing personal style to the Hollywood film at a time when American directors are increasingly either independent auteurs or blockbuster craftsmen for the big studios (or, in the case of fence-sitters like Gus Van Sant and Steven Soderbergh, shuffling back and forth between the two extremes). Mann’s body of work exists entirely within recognizable generic forms: the crime film (Thief, Heat, Public Enemies), the thriller (Manhunter, Collateral, Miami Vice), the horror film (The Keep), the epic Western (The Last of the Mohicans), the biopic (Ali), the “based on a true story” social drama (The Insider).

His films, almost without exception, tell straightforward, direct stories, the kinds of stories that writing gurus love because they can be summed up in a single sentence. And yet these stories are seldom the main point with Mann. He can be a conventional storyteller if he needs to be, but his default mode—and, I think, his preferred mode—is to place the emphasis on mood, on atmosphere, rather than on narrative. He’s more interested in the accumulation of small details than he is in how they fit together into the big picture. He’s more interested in archetypes and how they feed into his signature themes than he is in crafting fully realized characters in their own right.

He also loves playing with light, color, focus, composition, with the elements of form. He’s a stylist working in a context where style is generally a secondary concern. How many big-budget action/crime films spend as much time on setting mood as Heat? How many heist pictures would rhapsodize over the spray of sparks from a welding torch, as Mann does in Thief? If most modern genre films consider style second (if at all), for Mann, in contrast, there are times when style seems to be his only concern.

Zen Pulp: The World of Michael Mann, Pt. 4: reflections, doubles, and doppelgangers

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This is the fourth in a five-part series of Moving Image Source video essays on Michael Mann, whose new film, Public Enemies, opened July 1. To read a transcript of the video’s narration, click here. For links to more episodes, click here. To read MZS’s review of Public Enemies at IFC.com, click here.

Zen Pulp: The World of Michael Mann, Pt. 2—Lifetime Subscriptions: Mann’s Honor-Bound Individualists

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This is the second in a five-part series of Moving Image Source video essays on Michael Mann, whose new film, Public Enemies, opened July 1. To read a transcript of the video’s narration, click here. To read the author’s review of Public Enemies at IFC.com, click here.

Zen Pulp: The World of Michael Mann, Pt. 1: Vice Precedent

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This is the first in a five-part series of Moving Image Source video essays on Michael Mann, whose new film, Public Enemies, opens July 1. Part 2 will be posted on Friday, with parts 3, 4, and 5 to follow next week. To read a transcript of the video’s narration, click here. To read the author’s review of Public Enemies at IFC.com, click here.

5 for the Day: Cinema of the Personal Daydream

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5 for the Day: Cinema of the Personal Daydream
5 for the Day: Cinema of the Personal Daydream

“The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires.” —credited to André Bazin in Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt

Bazin may or may not have actually said or written those words, but the above quote certainly explains a great deal about the universal appeal of the movies. Most of us would probably agree that, at its best, cinema can function not just as mere escapism, but also as a way of satisfying a desire to see characters or an entire world depicted on a big screen that reflects one’s own yearnings. (Why, for instance, do some moviegoers sometimes find themselves half-admiring movie killers like Jef Costello, the lonely contract killer with the sharply honed senses in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967); or Jules and Vincent, the two talkative hit men in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994)? Often there’s just something damn cool about them that makes you want to be like them.)

Even within that particular definition of cinema at its height, however, there is a certain category of cinema that I would like to propose—what I would call (somewhat reductively) the “cinema of the personal daydream.”

What makes up a “personal daydream movie,” you might ask? It is the type of movie that inspires—whether during the movie, days afterward, or both—a mood in the viewer of wanting to linger in the film’s particular world for hours on end, in the same way one might desire to linger in a dream at night before having to wake up to eye-crust-ridden early-morning reality. It’s the kind of movie whose mood might suddenly materialize in your mind as you sit during your lunch break at work (or, in my case, in a college classroom waiting for a lecture to start). One filmmaker’s daydream, in other words, becomes your daydream. And perhaps your reaction to a filmmaker’s vision reflects deep pools of yearning that the movie touches upon, whether consciously or subconsciously.

The Grainy Haze of Dreams: Movie Year 2006, and the Death and Rebirth of Cinema

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The Grainy Haze of Dreams: Movie Year 2006, and the Death and Rebirth of Cinema
The Grainy Haze of Dreams: Movie Year 2006, and the Death and Rebirth of Cinema

1. CINEMA: DEAD AGAIN

MZS: We just came through a pretty tumultuous year for movies, and for the media and the entertainment industry in general. Although it’s not possible to cover everything, I’d like for us to at least touch on some of what I think were evolutionary highlights—moments, movements, trends or developments that altered movies, or how we perceive movies.

Right after the first of the year, David Denby tried to to get at a big part of this—specifically the effect of technological change—in his New Yorker piece “Big Pictures.” But it didn’t satisfy me. In fact, parts of it were so out-of-it that they reminded me of an old episode of Gilligan’s Island where the castaways run into a Japanese soldier who wanders out of the bushes where he’s been for 20 years not knowing that the war is over.