Ranting in Pictures

Ranting in Pictures (photo)

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“‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ was the most disappointing thing since my son.”

That’s the daffy opening line of filmmaker Mike Stoklasa’s “‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ Review,” an insightful, rudely funny takedown of George Lucas’ prequel. And it’s as good a place as any to start an appreciation of a hybrid of the video essay and the mash-up — an emerging format that’s often more entertaining than the work it cannibalizes.

Let’s start by distinguishing straightforward mash-ups and video essays from works created by Stoklasa and his siblings-in-spirit. The term “mash-up” was first applied to musical works that combined existing pieces of recording music in order to create something new. The YouTube equivalent is defined by Wikipedia as a work that “combines “multiple sources of video — which often have no relation to each other — into a derivative work, often lampooning its component sources or another text.” (Examples include those now-ubiquitous clips in which somebody puts, say, Joe Pesci’s “Funny how?” monologue from “Goodfellas” into the mouth of Elmo, or turns Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” into a heartwarming family comedy with music cues by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman.)

Video essays, on the other hand, tend to be more straightforwardly analytical: criticism in pictures. Their theatrical forerunner is the “essay film,” a ruminative, often first person nonfiction format practiced by Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Werner Herzog, Ross McElwee, Chantal Akerman and Agnès Varda, among other notable directors. Some of the more striking examples concentrate on film history and theory: Mark Rappaport’s documentary-drama hybrids, for instance, and Thom Andersen’s film and architecture meditation “Los Angeles Plays Itself.”

In the YouTube age, the video essay evolved into film criticism written with pictures. The format’s digital-era pioneer is my colleague and occasional collaborator Kevin B. Lee, whose analytical/historical pieces inspired me to do my own video essays for The L Magazine and Moving Image Source. Other committed practitioners include Eric Faden, Jim Emerson, Christian Keathley; Ben Sampson, who’s done superb breakdowns of “A.I.” and “F for Fake”, and Sophie Fiennes, who put Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek at the center of “A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.”

But while the terms “mash-up” and “video essay” cover a fair bit of ground, they don’t capture the peculiar intensity of the hybrid filmmakers I’m spotlighting here.

01202010_thx.jpgThe best work by my colleague Steven Boone, for instance, evades such labels the way The Flash ducks bullets. His pieces always have a critical purpose, and sometimes Boone foregrounds it — as in the plainly titled “Low-Budget Eye Candy #1”, which annotates a chase scene from George Lucas’ 1971 debut “THX 1138” to show how a clever director can make a cheap film look pricey.

But other Boone essays are more confounding and poetic. They combine movie scenes, news clips, pop music cues, on-screen text and voiceover narration to create stylish shorts that can be enjoyed as both digital-era criticism and freestanding art. Boone’s “Wolf City High and Low” for example, doesn’t just quote “Woodstock” director Michael Wadleigh’s 1981 horror flick “Wolfen,” about Native American werewolf spirits stalking 20th century New Yorkers; it stirs Ennio Morricone’s score for “Violent City” (1970) and audio from local TV news reports into the mix, sketching 21st century New York as a hellhole in which the rich treat the poor like animals.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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