Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Profiting from the Revolution in 2013

This post contains spoilers for The East, Closed Circuit, and The Fifth Estate. Of the three, only one is actually worth the time, so if you have any intention of watching The East then read at your own risk!

When Occupy Wall Street burst into life on September 17th, 2011, there was a collective hesitation amongst mainstream media outlets to substantially cover the movement. Plenty of coverage on the lack of coverage, sure, but nothing that demanded any investigative clout. Nate Silver estimates that, between approximately four thousand American news outlets, an average of sixteen stories per day were produced about the movement. It wasn't until a certain act of police brutality that major television and print news networks were spurred into action, at least temporarily - viewers may not always show up for stories of protest, but they sure love their institutional violence. Comparatively, social media mentions of Occupy Wall Street totaled at around fifty thousand as quickly as the first day of the movement, a figure that multiplied five-fold after the pepper spray incident and only increased in the following days.

These figures have been echoed by a persistent sentiment in the political discourse of the last two years: there can be no dependence on the systems of old to enact social change, whether those of the government or the media, and the burden of revolution must fall on the common man. The film industry, finger ever on the pulse of popular opinion, has hardly ignored this. Asking audiences to willingly involve themselves in a movie that demands serious systemic introspection, however, is growing increasingly more difficult. Consider the glut of War on Terror films that came out in the mid- to late-2000s, every one of them not named The Hurt Locker failing to make its budget back in America. Domestic film production companies have since been reticent to finance movies about hot issues, perhaps for good reason: The East, Closed Circuit, and The Fifth Estate were all box-office disasters in this vein, "thrillers" cleaving to contemporary questions that simply didn't sell tickets. Conversely, The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2012 spouting almost the exact opposite message, that an impoverished and angry proletariat should wait around for the billionaire heroes of old to bail them out of trouble, and it made 450 million dollars on our shores. Are these the failings of a populace increasingly tethered to escapist entertainment? Can you sneak pro-corporate imperialism into a movie as long as you put a mask or cape on it?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Disappointments of 2013

10) The Canyons 

Blech. This movie is gross and dumb and not fun at all. Paul Schrader owes Stephen Rodrick a fruit basket for that piece in the New York Times. Lindsay Lohan is one of entertainment's most tragic figures, painted in front of hundreds of millions of faces as a child star too weakened by her own vices to function, and Rodrick was wise enough to pour that narrative into a greater piece about failure in the film industry. Schrader, who once wrote with Scorsese, unable to get funding and forced to make micro-budget smut with Lohan and James Deen! It would be easier to feel sympathy for him if he hadn't chosen to film a Bret Easton Ellis script, or if the movie itself wasn't lit like a dive bar and completely lacking in even a single distinctive image. Ellis' script is overwrought hokum, as always, his gallery of drug-addled amoral nudes doing and saying nothing of interest. As for La Lohan herself, it's a bad performance, its marginal trainwreck appeal mostly drowned in mawkish amateurism, but it's fairly low on the list of things wrong with The Canyons. It would probably be easiest to list what's not wrong with it: it has boobs, and Deen's dead sociopath eyes are just right to play his menacing Hollywood wannabe role. And that's it. Any other compliments might cause you to actually watch the film, because admittedly it's quite a curiosity. I would recommend reading Rodrick's article, far more generous to the movie than it deserves, and then never thinking about this sorry black mark on the name of independent cinema again.