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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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