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Robert Rodriguez (#110 of 10)

Box Office Rap Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball

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Box Office Rap: Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball
Box Office Rap: Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball

In January of 1993, Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi screened at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and was picked up by Columbia Pictures. A month later, it was released in theaters, grossing over $2 million at the domestic box office, an anomaly for a film made for a mere $7,000. At the time a director with no formal training, Rodriguez served as a beacon for the independent spirit, even writing Rebel Without a Crew in 1996, a book recounting his initial success and subsequent collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. This week, Rodriguez’s Machete Kills opens in theaters, but the film reveals the filmmaker to be far removed from his independent and creative origins.

Rodriguez appears content to make sequels of his own hits: Machete Kills marks his sixth, and next year will bring a second installment in the Sin City franchise. Such practices are certainly not uncommon in Hollywood, nor were they uncommon to the exploitation cinema of the 1970s, which Rodriguez has clearly modeled so much of his work after. As Ian Olney explains in his recent book Euro Horror: Classic European Horror Cinema in Contemporary American Culture, Hollywood stole distribution tactics from B-film production studios, such as saturated openings, while also recognizing the viability of cheap sequels to accompany these methods, where films could make so much money in one weekend, as to become profitable, that whether or not audiences actually liked the film ended up being an afterthought.

Fantastic Fest 2013: Coherence, Patrick, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, & The Congress

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Fantastic Fest 2013: <em>Coherence</em>, <em>Patrick</em>, <em>Why Don’t You Play in Hell?</em>, & <em>The Congress</em>
Fantastic Fest 2013: <em>Coherence</em>, <em>Patrick</em>, <em>Why Don’t You Play in Hell?</em>, & <em>The Congress</em>

This year, the ever-anarchic and genre-heavy nerd Valhalla known as Fantastic Fest delivered more blood-soaked, supernaturally tinged cinematic offerings from around the globe and advocated a distinct devil-may-care endorsement of debauchery. As the saying goes, “chaos reigns.” This cheeky slogan was eagerly adopted by the film festival’s organizers as an unofficial motto, derived of course from Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, which screened at the festival in 2009. From opening-night premieres of loud, big-budget, guns-a’-blazin fare like Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills to non-cinematic, Texas-style, off-site savagery such as outings to hunt wild hogs from helicopters (seriously!), it’s in many ways difficult to believe that this year’s Fantastic Fest was both real and somehow completely legal.

Auteur! Auteur! Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood

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Auteur! Auteur!: Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood
Auteur! Auteur!: Mark Gallagher’s Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood

Though Mark Gallagher has indeed set his sights on Steven Soderbergh for his second, solo-authored film studies monograph (the first being 2006’s excellent Action Figures: Men, Action Films, and Contemporary Action Narratives), it’s the book’s subtitle that reveals his true, and more compelling, interests: authorship and contemporary hollywood. In fact, a work like Another Steven Soderbergh Experience could arguably not have been written even just a decade ago (or would have been received with maximal skepticism), given that cinephilia still existed in a pre-Hulu state, not yet having seen the fruits of the Criterion Collection’s labor, where the complete oeuvre of Keisuke Kinoshita can now be seen in essentially the same place as Kristen Wiig’s return to Saturday Night Live. What’s at stake, it seems, is exactly how one discusses cinema (not movies, to use Soderbergh’s recent distinction) in a complex, thoughtful manner that would necessarily take into account both the modes of production and viewership prevalent in the 21st century, and not simply under the banner of a director’s intent or other films.

Skeptics may refuse to alter their methodological means—that being a purely auteurist line of critical inquiry. However, Paul Schrader has recently stated that even he, at 66 years old, has had his brain rewired by digital technology, to the extent that he finds it “harder and harder to sit for two hours straight. Even in a theater,” and goes on to claim that “the concept of movies itself is pretty much becoming a 20th-century concept.” Schrader’s words offer a nice segue into Gallagher’s, who states near the beginning of his book: “Soderbergh’s work illuminates many trends in industry practice, media authorship, technologies of film and television production and distribution, and motion-picture aesthetics.” Soderbergh’s intermediary status here affirms the very struggle of defining how to place a filmmaker-as-author now, especially one as prolific, in both output and medium vacillation. Gallagher’s intent is less to embark upon another attempt at auteur baiting (as the title ironically suggests), than casting Soderbergh as his fishing lure to demonstrate how he “complicates our recognition of authoring figures’ positions within global circulation networks.” Although Gallagher engages textual analysis in brief (more as evidentiary support than an end), the bulk of the book’s focus is in exploring alternative methods for understanding precisely what a screen author does in contemporary Hollywood.

Femme Modernes Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up

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Femme Modernes: Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up
Femme Modernes: Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up

Has there been a film genre/style more fervently written about, debated, and theorized than film noir? Not just a staple of cinephilic lexicon (choosing between 1948’s They Live By Night and 1949’s Thieves’ Highway will define who you really are), but an ongoing source of inspiration for New Hollywood to present-day filmmakers (see Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad for the latest, and questionable, iteration), film noir has been and remains the quintessential cinematic forum to synthesize form and content, either in theory or practice. Thus, when a revisionist film or academic text attempts to realign the axis from which one comprehends these films, it should necessarily raise eyebrows. When that film or text succeeds, however, it’s cause for immediate attention and debate. Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale attempts to be such a redefining work.

Seeking to dislodge more narrow-minded understandings of film noir as yielding readily identifiable archetypes, Grossman devotes a book-length analysis to accurately defining women’s roles in classical film noir while convincingly revealing the fallacy behind a long-standing myth of the genre: that its women are deceitful, malevolent, and hell-bent on male destruction. Rather, Grossman claims, careful examination and close readings reveal a dearth of femme fatales in most films noir; instead of simply attempting to rotely psychologize the women in these films as “fatal,” which “abstracts gender representation from the social world,” more attention to narrative detail and setting demonstrate the underlying factors that have led to this misrepresentation.

Images of NYC and the Inscription of Louis C.K.

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Images of NYC and the Inscription of Louis C.K.
Images of NYC and the Inscription of Louis C.K.

It can be tricky to describe what distinguishes Louis C.K. from other stand-ups, even from those who specialize in observational, storytelling, confessional comedy. I first heard about him from a friend in the mid-2000s, who related to me the “suck a bag of dicks” routine, where C.K. relates his forensic analysis of a drive-by shouting. The way C.K. spins the recollection (I caught up with the routine on YouTube) into a close reading, drawing concentric circles around the moment of shock in order to reframe it and give it perspective, is a trademark for his work as a comic, and an indication of the way he thinks and dialogues with others. This practice—reframing, always examining, interrogating—occurs again and again both in his routines and on his TV show for FX, Louie. A close relative of the “suck a bag of dicks” bit is a conversation in the “Poker/Divorce” episode when he explains to a poker buddy just what another player meant when he made a crack about the first player’s mother. The crack is dissected and given context, like a Wikipedia article, and the genius of it is, he enhances, rather than mitigates, the absurdity of the original remark.

An Interview with Jay and Mark Duplass

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An Interview with Jay and Mark Duplass
An Interview with Jay and Mark Duplass

So, last night while watching Cyrus, the word I repeatedly jotted down was “honest.”

Jay Duplass: Oh God, we’re gonna start crying now.

I’m wondering how you were able to keep and develop that honesty while working within a studio environment for the first time?

Mark Duplass: Well, we did work with a studio, but it’s Fox Searchlight, so you know, this is what they want to be doing. That being said, it was a production with an 80- or 100-person crew, so we did have to take some extra steps to create an intimate set that can give you the honesty you’re talking about. So the key for us was making sure that every set was a closed set. Jay on the camera, another cameraman, boom op, tops. And I would watch from a monitor and Jay and I would make sure to continue what we’ve always done, which is spend as much time as possible on the acting and with the actors. And keep everything technical that is happening out of the way of the actors. When you establish that set, it’s almost like theater. It’s just here, with the directors and the actors.

GTA, B.C.: Zack Snyder’s 300

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GTA, B.C.: Zack Snyder’s 300
GTA, B.C.: Zack Snyder’s 300

Zack Snyder’s 300, which depicts the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. between a small company of Spartan soldiers and a couple hundred thousand invading Persians, is a twin fount of humorlessness and turgidity (the logical amalgam of these being humidity; wholly appropriate given the number of sweat-drenched soliders on display).

Like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (2004), the film is an adaptation of a graphic novel by industry titan Frank Miller, and as in Sin City, the celluloid canvas proves unsuited to conveying the artist’s vision. On the page, Miller’s hyper-real compositions—all jagged landscapes and hard, stately silhouettes—can seem exhilaratingly cinematic, but with the exception of Tim Burton, whose two Batman pictures unofficially and successfully subsumed the dark tone and punchy visual language of the author’s vaunted Dark Knight series, no filmmaker has yet found a satisfactory way to bring Miller’s still-lifes to movie life.