Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017 – ★★★★½

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017 – ★★★★½

Martin McDonagh should definitely get a Oscar nod at least for this script, which out of the three features he’s directed so far, is by far his most mature and emotionally resonant, similar to the best of his plays. Scenes that can turn from hilarious to poignant and wrenching are bloody hard to do, but Three Billboards has many of them. Frances McDormand is a treasure (this and Olive Kitteridge are some of her best work) and her angry and distraught mother goes through all levels of rage and grief, yet with a prickly humor that saves the film. In fact all the characters surprise along the way, from Woody Harrelson’s chief to Peter Dinklage’s minor supporting character, but the biggest surprise is Sam Rockwell who literally comes out of a crucible a different man. It took an Irishman to deliver a diagnosis of a changing America, and I’m glad it’s McDonagh. The ending is perfect, a question to all of us.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Get Your Hot Fresh Links Here, Saturday Edition

Get your hot fresh links here, Saturday edition

Some longform articles I read this week.

I love this story of the guy who fooled TripAdvisor into thinking his garden shed was a super-exclusive London restaurant. When it becomes #1 and he is found out, he has only one option: embrace the false reality.

But how? I’ve never even had more than three people round at once, let alone provided dinner and drinks for 20. There’s only one way to do it: recreating the exact location people have been describing in reviews for the past six months.

My social media/news diet has reduced anxiety somewhat. So essays like this from Clive Thompson help encapsulate why this is a good thing. It introduced me to media theorist (and Canadian cultural nationalist) Harold Innis as well. He’s long gone, but what he saw in newspapers have become hypermetabolized in the info-stream of Twitter, which keeps us always refreshing the feed, afraid to miss something new. Says Thompson:

A culture that is stuck in the present is one that can’t solve big problems. If you want to plan for the future, if you want to handle big social and political challenges, you have to decouple yourself from day-to-day crises, to look back at history, to learn from it, to see trendlines. You have to be usefully detached from the moment.

This was a useful and in-depth video essay from Vox on the history of Technicolor:

This promo for Tim O’Reilly’s book WTF? looks at separating what is actually useful about social media and/or an app from any evil that its company does. Could we separate what Uber does for us (helpful improvement on catching a cab) from Uber itself (shitty, anti-worker techbro asshats)? I’ve been thinking about that recently.

The progressive insistence that the baby is inseparable from the bathwater works to the favor of big business and big tech. If technology’s critics insist that you have to choose between Facebook and surveillance and manipulation, they affirm Facebook’s own position. But if critics insist that Facebook has deliberately, cynically married something wonderful with something terrible, they invite people to join their case and fight for a good Facebook, rather than demanding a kind of antitech hairshirt that insists that you have to give up, not demand better.

Furthermore, does being a pro-environment progressive necessarily mean trying to live in some magical pre-industrial age? Or should we seize the means of production (technology-wise) and actually make the world a better place? This promo for Leigh Phillips’s Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry And Stuff is all in on the latter and is a straight-up Marxist to boot.

The socialist says: Through rational, democratic planning, let’s make sure that the innovation arrives so that we can move forward without inadvertently overproducing. And move forward we must, in order to continue to expand human flourishing. So long as we do that, there are in principle no limits. Let’s take over the machine, not turn it off!

The two minds behind “Every Frame a Painting”–one of the pioneering film studies video essayists, and who videos on Edgar Wright and Jackie Chan get shown in my film classes every semester–have called it quits. Instead of just saying goodbye, they reveal their working methods and show exactly how much work goes into one of their five minute gems.

Take aways: On YouTube style is more important that substance, but in a good way

Making it a channel meant creating a uniform tone and style, something that Tony initially resisted. But I argued that a person who watched one video would be more likely to come back and watch another if there was a uniform style — even if they weren’t interested in that specific topic.
This meant we could get away with talking about less-known subjects and plenty of people would still watch because the format was the same. To his credit, Tony now admits I was right. (Tony’s note: “I refuse to admit this”).

YouTube has so many algorithms to stop copyright material from being uploaded that they style developed from fooling the algorithm:

Nearly every stylistic decision you see about the channel — the length of the clips, the number of examples, which studios’ films we chose, the way narration and clip audio weave together, the reordering and flipping of shots, the remixing of 5.1 audio, the rhythm and pacing of the overall video — all of that was reverse-engineered from YouTube’s Copyright ID.

The whole essay is full of goodies, so check it.

Laurie Penny has a freakin’ gangbusters essay over at LongReads.com which puts the #metoo movement in context with the increasingly awfulness of neoliberalism. Just like women are harrassed and worse without consent, so are we all exploited without consent. I’ve been thinking about this essay all week.

But that’s a hard truth to hang on to. Most people don’t want to know how much freer they might be if they had the energy and audacity to want it. And so we lie to ourselves and allow ourselves to be lied to. We watch the despots warming their tiny grasping hands around the trash fire of civil society, we look at the real extent of rape and abuse being revealed all around us and some of us still try to believe that we somehow choose this. Because the alternative is even worse. The alternative, awful truth is that it doesn’t matter what the vast majority of us choose. That none of the choices on offer are enough to protect us, or our families, or our communities from violence, that the important choices were never ours to begin with, that we are not living in an age of consent.

Kottke.org reported on Google’s AI machine not only learning chess in four hours but also beating the world’s top chess engine right afterwards. Fascinating read, but here’s my favorite takeaway quote:

I’ve long said that Google’s final fate will be to evolve into a hedge fund.

Indeed, what would happen if all these AI machines looked at the global market? Would it see inequality or equality as the best state?

Atomic Blonde, 2017 – ★★½

Atomic Blonde, 2017 – ★★½

Charlize Theron does the Bond/Bourne secret agent in a completely incomprehensible plot of double/triple/quadruple crosses/agents in ’89 right-here, right-now wall-fallin’ Berlin. Lovely photography that apes Larry Smith’s work for Nicolas Refn, the soundtrack is all B-level-familiarity ’80s pop hits, and then there are the action sequences, which are okay and sometimes tedious. Yes, it’s good to see them choreographed instead of created thru editing, but they still don’t land with me. Laud the nine-minute single shot fight all you want, but it didn’t feel like the culmination of anything. I kept waiting to laugh or have some sort of reaction, but I just kept watching it and then it was over. (Miss Theron sure is purty, tho’).

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

2017 Summed Up

2017 Summed Up

Our friends have a Christmas party tradition: a themed ornament party. This year it was “Gold” and the above ornament is one of two I made that I feel sums up 2017: a big golden pile of poo, as (probably) emoji-tweeted by the #president.

Forgive the rudimentary nature of the piece, I only get to play with Sculpey clay on days like these. I should have another go soon, anyway. It’s good to create art in three-dimensions if you’re mostly used to two.

You Already Have That Book

You Already Have That Book

A former student of mine takes to Facebook often and posts these incredible little vignettes of life from the rough part of the city where he currently works and I assume lives. Through some sort of Lynchian magnetism, he seems to attract some of the most off-kilter characters who interact with him in all sorts of odd ways. Some stories are shaggy dogs, full of little humorous details. Others are transcribed dialogues. All burst off the page with crazed life.

So after reading a recent one I reached out.

To proselytize a little bit, I said, stop giving your art to Facebook and put it on your own (future) site. Your stories are hilarious and droll and need to be your own. Seriously consider owning your art. Soon enough at the end of a year or so, you will have a great book of some kind. And it’s the same amount of effort you put into taking your art and throwing it into the raging stream that is social media. (Which, as I saw, was not a lot of effort. Precisely because he wasn’t thinking what he was doing was “important.”)

Maybe he will turn this into a book. (I hope so!) Indeed, he admitted that he’s wanted to put out a book for some time. It was a dream project, he said.

I think, I replied, you already have that book.

(image: Foggy Night, San Francisco (1946) by Fred Lyon)

Moby Dick Ain’t About No Whale

Moby Dick ain’t about no Whale

What is the experience of reading an author?
This is a difficult, completely subjective question, but one that is missing from reviews of books. However, I think it is both an untapped subject and a very difficult one.
I don’t have answers to this question. But to use Melville’s Moby Dick as an example, the experience of reading that fantastic tome is completely different, even opposite, to that of reading a summary, a critique, or watching a film, comic book, or operatic adaptation.
What happens when we actually *read* Moby Dick? What happens to us? What does it feel like?
What does it feel like to discover the main characters and then lose them, sometimes whole chapters at a time, as Melville digresses into arcane subjects? Or to zone out during several passages and snap back into focus? Is that part of the experience?
This is why most reviews of books talk plot and nothing else, but as another writer put it, nobody goes to movies for the plot.
I started thinking about this, actually, while I was reading Chuck Klosterman’s recent collection of essays X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century. For one thing, reading Klosterman write about writing puts you at both a distance to what you’re reading and more involved in what he’s writing. And his interviews are just as much about what it is to interview somebody–how questions bubble up through the subconscious; how what is planned measures up to what happens–as they are about their subject.
Anyway, this is just a note about something that I might write more about later.
^^^That is a terrible sentence^^^

Does It Matter If I Read The News? (in The Age Of Drumpf)

Does it matter if I read the news? (in the age of Drumpf)

By October I’d had enough. I wasn’t sleeping. Or if I was, it was fitful. This narcissist, this black hole of empathy and decency, this drivel-spewing idiot had taken over way too much real estate in my head. I’m talking about the *president, of course, and his blundering towards that which must not be named, the big one, the NW, the Final Countdown.

Now, we may not be safe from any of that yet, but around October, I started to see that nobody else was freaking out like I was inside. Seriously, I could be tootling along merrily during the day and then at the end the night see the headlines and then spend pulse-pounding hours lying in bed thinking the unthinkable. This was ridiculous. Not only that, but I hated hated hated this person for making me feel this way.

So I made a decision. I woke up the next morning and decided to erase the news.

Yes, this is the height of solipsism, but it was the remedy I needed. I went to my RSS feed (I used Feedbin, if you care) and unsubscribed to every single political blog I was on. I abandoned Twitter (if you see me on there, it’s through a IFTTT routine). Any email list I was on detailing the latest outrage–I hit the unsubscribe button. (Most of these emails use outrage and scare tactics to gather funds, of course.) And I look askance when I bop onto Facebook, heading straight to my page in order to avoid its “Trending” column.

I used to think it was important to be plugged into the now, to the current, to the debate. But now in the CheetoFascist Era, this is not the case. This foul man had made me rethink my entire ideology of engagement.
Does it matter if I read the news?

I liked to think I was politically engaged. But apart from the occasional march (like in January, which was fun), I don’t engage. I don’t take part. I don’t write letters to my representatives. I do what the majority of people do, which is slacktivism–signing online petitions. I vote, when we get to do so. And I get angry. A lot.

But I’m not a political writer. I’m not an advisor. I’m not a speaker or an agitator.
I’m *supposed* to be an artist, a filmmaker, a teacher, and, yes, a writer, but not of politics.
For my sanity, I pressed the eject button.

A day after I felt ten times better. I slept better. I was relaxed. The anxiety left.
Should you do this? To quote the web: Your Mileage May Vary.

Caveats
I still check in on YouTube, where I can see the late night hosts dissect the latest idiocy from a safe time distance. (I still try to keep myself away from gazing on his hideous visage). I still listen to Chapo Trap House, because they seem to keep away from the daily-outrage-stream and dig in to the historical mulch below.

But also
Look, I spent way too much of the Bush and Obama years reading blogs, articles, essays, sometimes even whole books (usually Chomsky) about our current state. My own impact on events? A perfectly round zero. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

And please mention
That my situation is also the result of white male privilege. Others are living thru this much more intensely. The events of this time are written on their skin and psyche. I can pretend to “opt out” for a while, others can’t.

In (temporary) conclusion
I’m telling friends “I’m on a news diet.” I’m happier…and one of the reasons you’re reading this now!
The new mantra, when I call a particular friend to check in on the world: “Is he in jail? Has he resigned? Is he dead?”
Just asking.

Oki’s Movie, 2010 – ★★★★

More enjoyable fractured realism from Hong. Despite being called “Oki’s Movie,” the film is made up of four “films” or chapters, the last of which bears the above title. Right there things get complicated. Are we watching the final thesis film of student Oki based on the films we saw before, or a film made by another student in the program (her lover Jingu). And that’s not even considering the opening film that seems to take place after the following three.
While sorting all this out we have a love triangle between Jingu, Oki, and their professor Hong, plenty of smoking and drinking, furtive lovemaking, arguing, weirdly antagonistic relationships, and hilariously ironic usage of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance over shots of garbage piles, broken planters, and rundown apartment hallways.
Hong Sangsoo supports the argument that artists should keep mining the same obsessions over and over again, because repetition is a form of change. However, he might be the exception to the rule.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Much better writing on Oki’s Film at Cinema-scope and The End of Film

The Confidence Game

The Confidence Game

I was in the Funk Zone this afternoon for the soft opening of the LaPlace Wine Bar & Shop (man, they went all out with the hors d’oeuvres…I should’ve snuck home a full filet of lox for the morning), but on leaving I decided to stop by the Arts Fund and make chit chat and check out the current exhibit.
While I was about to leave a family rolled up, peeked in, and a boy about six stepped in to ask if this was a gallery.
Why yes it is, the gallery sitter replied. Do you like art?
I *am* an artist, the kid said.
Oh really? she said.
Yes, he said. Did you just open?
The sitter was torn between saying, no, we’ve been here for many decades, but instead said, the show just opened this month. Do you like it?
Yes! He continued. Was this your grand opening?
By this time I’m thinking this kid is wondrously precocious.
As I left, the kid did too–I think the parents were dragging him along to the wine bar opening–but then he doubled back.
I have some of my art in the car, do you want to see some?

Way to hustle, kid. Way to hustle.

This six year old spoke with more confidence about being an artist than the artists I hang out with, some who shuffle their feet in the dirt while admitting their profession.

Takeaway: Be more like this kid and less like the people who are gonna make him embarrassed later in life.
 Having said that, I certainly didn’t have that confidence when I was six, I was very shy. Is it just genetic luck?

(And no, I didn’t stay around to see his art. I’m sure it was fabulous.)

(Above painting: Portrait of Shorty by Jamie Wyeth when he was a wee lad of 17)