DID YOU READ

Are modern action movies suffering from a “Dark Knight?”

Are modern action movies suffering from a “Dark Knight?”  (photo)

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We seem to be moving past the craze of people reveling in their newfound ability to reedit movies on their home computers by making entertaining but superficial ten minute compilations into an exciting new world of video-based film criticism. indieWIRE’s Press Play blog is clearly the early vanguard. We previously shared their piece by Matthias Stork examining the use of “chaos cinema” techniques in modern action movies; this afternoon I’m sitting here absolutely enthralled by the first two installments of a three part series by Jim Emerson that delves even deeper into the state of Hollywood action cinema.

Part one is a twenty minute critique of a single chase scene from 2008’s “The Dark Knight” by Christopher Nolan. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Emerson’s piece is a flat-out evisceration. It starts with a quote from “Dark Knight” editor Lee Smith saying that “action…has to be very carefully planned and conceived” and then proceeds to show, shot by shot, the ways in which this particular sequence reflects a lack of planning and conception. Because the scene is cut so frenetically, most of these details are difficult to spot at 24 frames per second. But slowed down, some of the mistakes become glaringly clear; cars appear and disappear from one shot to the next, and one of the most important images in the entire sequence, that of a SWAT van careening off a bridge and into the river, makes absolutely no sense in context. It’s pretty devastating; and I say this as someone who was and is a big fan of “The Dark Knight.” So here’s part one:

In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

Emerson identifies a lot of problems in this sequence. But there’s always the argument to be made that some of the spatial confusion and visual incoherence was intentional. “The Dark Knight” proceeds at a breathless pace, not just during this scene but throughout the entire movie. A lot of the film’s power comes from the fact that we in the audience are at the mercy of The Joker, whose anarchic desires have infected all of Gotham City, and seemingly the film itself. In other words, The Joker’s disorienting, unsettling presence on the people of Gotham has the same impact on “The Dark Knight”‘s action scenes.

That’s also a valid reason for one of the other Nolan techniques that Emerson rejects: the way he briefly introduces seemingly ordinary Gotham citizens like cops or truck drivers only to immediately serve them up as lambs to the super-villain slaughter. The effect of these shocking, brutal murders is, similarly, to keep us constantly on edge, wondering when and where The Joker will strike next.

Taken one shot at a time, I wholeheartedly agree: many elements of the sequence violate all sorts of rules about visual continuity in cinema, and some of the mistakes and gaffes look shockingly inept. But watched as one continuous whole, the sequence holds together (at least for me) as a gripping, suspenseful chase. It may not be logical, but it is emotional. It is one of the positive examples of Stork’s “chaos cinema.” If The Joker is portrayed as an agent of chaos, why shouldn’t his chase scenes be chaotic?

Emerson’s next piece provides the counter-example to “The Dark Knight”‘s spatial missteps. It’s from Phillip Noyce‘s 2010 spy thriller “Salt.” That’s a movie I — and a lot of people — enjoy a lot less than “The Dark Knight,” but this is a compelling argument why its action scenes are superior on a technical level.

In the Cut, Part II: A Dash of Salt from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

Again, Emerson’s argument is very well-reasoned and superbly cut. But I’ll flip what I said about “The Dark Knight;” the scenes in “Salt” are logical but they are, at least for me, not emotional. Noyce may be a more classically skilled action director than Nolan, but there’s no question which film I’d watch if you offered my the choice between “The Dark Knight” and “Salt.” I guess action movies can sometimes be more than the sum of their action. Regardless, I’m still really looking forward to part three of Emerson’s series. More video film criticism please!

What do you think of the action scenes in “The Dark Knight?” Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.