Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Emily Browning: Sleeping Beauty

Australian novelist and first-time auteur Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty is a haunting portrait of Lucy, a young university student drawn into a mysterious hidden world of unspoken desires. The film's debut at the Cannes Film Festival left the critics divided  

Australian novelist-turned-filmmaker Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" -- which plays like a mixture of not-that-softcore porn, Lacanian psychoanalysis and feminist conceptual art -- stands out among the strangeness of this year's Cannes lineup for being really, really strange. Whether it's good-strange or bad-strange is a highly subjective question; I found it gorgeous, opaque and disturbing in roughly equal portions, but it was a riveting experience all the way through. [Andrew Oherir, Salon.com] [Full Review]

“You will go to sleep; you will wake up. It will be as if those hours never existed.” That quote from the Australian feature Sleeping Beauty is part of the job description of an emotionally detached young woman who drifts into high-end prostitution involving no actual sex. Regrettably, it could also describe the experience of watching the movie. 

There’s almost a somnambulistic quality to Browning’s performance that makes you curious to know how Lucy became so anesthetized. But Leigh’s cryptic clues are stubbornly and self-consciously elusive, leaving the character’s potential complexity untapped. Visually, too, the film remains uninvolving, its glacial pacing further slowed by exceedingly sparing camera movement, resulting in a look that's neither sensual nor unsettling.[David Rooney, Hollywood Repoter] [Full Review]

It is technically elegant, with vehemence and control, though often preposterous, with the imagined classiness of high-end prostitution and art-porn cliches of secret sexiness in grand chateaux: shades of Eyes Wide Shut. 

Author-turned-director Julia Leigh has certainly made an assured debut, which evidently owes nothing to Jane Campion who has "presented" this movie in some kind of Executive Mentor capacity. Instead, Leigh aims for the occult ritual of Buñuel and the formal exactitude of Haneke: rigorously framed and composed shots. [Peter Bradshaw, Guardian CO. U.K.] [Full Review]

More tiresome than anything, Australian novelist Julia Leigh's debut feature, "Sleeping Beauty," concerns a self-abasing college student who doesn't distinguish among her various dead-end jobs, one of which involves being drugged into a near-coma and manhandled by strangers. Leigh's arty (not to be confused with artistic) treatment of such provocative subject matter derives from her own 2008 Black List-blessed screenplay, though the film's frustratingly elliptical style and lack of character insight give it a distinctly first-draft feel. [Peter Debruge, Variety] [Full Review]

Richard Porton is one of the editors of Cineaste magazine in New York and has written on film for Cinema Scope, In These Times, and Moving Image Source. His anthology, On Film Festivals (Wallflower Press), was published in 2009.

Sucker Punch Retro

Sucker Punched or Not?

As usual I am way behind on my blogs.  The following is a re-blog from the Daily Beast.  I felt that it was still relevant for two reasons: 1.  Sucker Punch will be released on DVD, June 28; and 2. Emily Browning's role in Sleeping Beauty, which has been described as Sucker Punch without the FX. [New York Magazine] Sleeping Beauty is scheduled for released on July 29, 2011.

Critics, fanboys, and the moviegoing public rarely reach consensus, but on the action movie Sucker Punch, they all seem to agree that it's horrific. Chris Lee examines the vitriol.

In an increasingly fractured, 700-channel digi-verse, where attentions are divided between myriad media pursuits, strong opinions travel with lightning speed 140 characters at a time, and anything approaching critical consensus is nearly impossible to come by, a movie has arrived to provide a kind of cultural unity seldom seen outside of responses to natural disasters or terrorism.

The critical assessment nearly everyone with access to a computer keyboard seems to share? That director Zack Snyder's impressionistic action epic Sucker Punch is absolutely dreadful.

Article - Lee Sucker Punch
Clay Enos / Warner Bros. Pictures
"The film abdicates so many basic responsibilities of coherent storytelling, even coherent stupid-action-movie storytelling, director/co-writer/co-producer Zack Snyder must have known in preproduction that his greasy collection of near-rape fantasies and violent revenge scenarios disguised as a female-empowerment fairy tale wasn't going to satisfy anyone but himself," harrumphed Michael Phillips in his Chicago Tribune review.

Worse still, to judge by Sucker Punch's unspectacular box-office performance, opening to a soft $19 million and placing second to the much less-hyped Diary of a Wimpy Kid sequel ($24.4 million), Snyder's core constituency—the kind of guys who lust after Princess Leia and can recite swaths of dialogue from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan—seems to have forsaken him. It's an outcome that would have been just this side of impossible to imagine last July when the director unveiled footage from Sucker Punch to a veritable hero's welcome at that pantheon of geekdom, San Diego's Comic-Con. And as recently as a few months ago, buzz about the movie remained at fever pitch: "Behold the Fetishistic Awesomeness of Zack Snyder's SUCKER PUNCH!!" blared a typical headline on Ain't It Cool News.

Then Warner Bros. started screening the film, and next thing you know, the geeks are calling it the worst affront since Jar Jar Binks—with more than a few fanboy functionaries, including Ain't It Cool's Harry Knowles, admitting deeply conflicted feelings about not loving Snyder's latest.

"As someone who considered himself a Zack Snyder enthusiast (yes, even the owl movie) it gives me no pleasure to inform you that Sucker Punch, the first film based on an original concept of Snyder's, doesn't work," reads a review on ugo.com. "How could this happen? How could a movie with giant samurai, interplanetary robots, undead WWI soldiers, dragons, and five half-naked beauties all beating each other up be bad?

It gets worse. On a post unsubtly entitled "Sucker Punch goes beyond awful to become a commentary on the death of moviemaking," the sci-fi website io9.com even decried what many armchair critics view as the film's chief selling point: its five vixenish female protagonists as fodder for masturbatory fantasies. "Though this movie has women in tiny outfits, you're going to see less skin here than you would in an average episode of Baywatch," the io9 review asserts. "And unlike Baywatch, there's nothing fun to jack off to here, unless you're into the sounds of an offscreen rape."

So now the question: What in the world did Sucker Punch ever do to merit such withering scorn

To be sure, Snyder's geek bona fides are beyond reproach—and that may be a large part of the problem. The audacious auteur responsible for 2004's Dawn of the Dead reboot galvanized the fanboy film fan diaspora, heralding the arrival of a devastating new talent. But it was Snyder's swords-and-sandals smash 300 that made him patron moviemaking saint of a certain strata of society—namely grown men who collect action figures. And for some (although not all geeks), the director's divisive, pastiche-filled film adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen seemed to cement his reputation as a filmmaker with his finger firmly on the comic book nerd pulse. The New York Times Magazine recently anointed Snyder "the purest geek-auteur of the geek-film era."

Which all adds up to set the bar pretty high for Sucker Punch, his first go at directing original— i.e. not adapted or rebooted—material; Snyder co-wrote the script with Steve Shibuya. But as well, there were several other fundamental hurdles the film faced in connecting with its target demographic:

• Female protagonists: With the possible exceptions of Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, the fanboy world has been reluctant to embrace the wisdom that girls kick ass. Even with speechifying dialogue like "You already have all the weapons" and "Begin your journey, it will set you free" intended to inspire in every other scene, the geeks apparently opted not to project their hopes and aspirations onto machine gun-wielding, lingerie-clad Sailor Moon lookalikes.

• While Snyder has provided what amounts to a pu-pu platter of action imagery—steam punk Nazi zombies, fantastical serpents, giant ogre samurais, mech robots, etc—intended to light up the fanboy hippocampus like a Christmas tree, one of the main knocks against Sucker Punch is that it all doesn't quite add up. And as evidenced by the success of Christopher Nolan's reconfigured Batman, geeks are looking for substance in addition to style. And as sophisticated culture consumers (who just happen to disproportionately still live in their parents' basements), they don't appreciate any perception of being shamelessly pandered to.

• The mother of all confusing plots: Sent to a gulag-like Vermont mental institution after being framed for killing her sister (and in the wake of her own mother's untimely death), bottle-blond gamine Babydoll (Emily Browning) is scheduled to receive a lobotomy in five days time. In order to confront her impending loss of sentience, she somehow transfers her consciousness into another realm: a garish bordello where she and the other Girls Interrupted must dance for their survival. Every time Babydoll dances, though, she beams into still-deeper subconscious realms to battle the aforementioned Nazis, robots, serpents, et al. en route to collecting several totems—fire, a key, a knife, a map—that will set her (and her four insane asylum/bordello cohorts portrayed by Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, and Vanessa Hudgens) free. Got all that? No, Harry Knowles didn't either.

While hell apparently hath no fury like a fanboy wronged, Sucker Punch is, in fact, not awful and in certain ways pretty great, I thought. If you sit back and let it happen to you as an unwieldy visceral jumble rather than actively await an epic awesomeness—something that few cultural offerings can manage—the film unfolds with a kind of delicious delirium, as a visually sumptuous fever dream. Even though unmistakably imperfect, Sucker Punch is one of the more cutting-edge mainstream movies to reach the multiplex in a long time—an exercise in non-linear storytelling that exists decidedly outside the kind of predigested world that most films that thrill the geek heart.

So a message to all the fanboys who have been doing the hate stomp on Snyder lately: Stop using the metaphor about feeling "sucker punched" to describe your disappointment with the film and quit dissing your homeboy—you're going to give him performance anxiety about his follow-up directing gig. This is, after all, the guy who's going to reboot Superman next.

Chris Lee is a senior entertainment writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He previously worked as an entertainment and culture reporter for the Los Angeles Times. His work has also appeared in Vibe, Premiere and Details magazines and has been plagiarized in The Sunday Tribune of Ireland and The Trinidad Guardian. And now has been re-blogged here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Double Life of Megan Fox

Model: Actress Megan Fox
Photographed by Craig Mcdean
Magazine: Interview Magazine

Elizabeth and the Catapult

The Brooklyn group became an underground sensation back in 2006 after the release of its self-titled debut EP, becoming a popular staple in the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

Frontwoman Elizabeth Ziman is a trained classical pianist and vocalist who, while attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music, won the 2001 ASCAP Leiber and Stoller award for her song "Like Water is to Sand." After touring with Patti Austin, Ziman began incorporating jazz influences into her personal compositions, which began to materialize after a chance meeting with drummer Dan Molad. A third Berklee student, Pete Lalish, entered the mix and the three fully materialized upon their graduation by relocating to Brooklyn.

The band's debut, Taller Children, is full of whimsy and clever songwriting. From the playful energy of the inner child to the lyrical complexities that define adulthood, the trio struck upon a great blend of song, style and meaning.   

The Other Side of Zero, which came out Oct. 25, shifts towards a darker, sassier template. Playful songs like "You and Me" are paired with more introspective tracks like "Julian Darling" and "Worn Out Tune." [World Cafe Live]

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Last Poets

The Gil Scott-Heron post brought back memories of my youth as did the Dylan post. I was attending Art School at the University of Missouri and involved with several of the anti-war groups including a guerrilla theater troupe when the Last Poets released their first album.

The Last Poets is a group of poets and musicians who arose from the late 1960s African American civil rights movement’s black nationalist thread. Their name is taken from a poem by the South African revolutionary poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who believed he was in the last era of poetry before guns would take over.

The Last Poets have been cited as one of the earliest influences on what would become hip-hop music; critic Jason Ankeny wrote, “With their politically charged raps, taut rhythms, and dedication to raising African-American consciousness, the Last Poets almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the emergence of hip-hop.” The British music magazine NME stated, “Serious spokesmen like Gil Scott-Heron, Gary Byrd, and the Last Poets paved the way for the many socially committed Black [emcees] a decade later.” 

John Pietaro [The Cultural Worker] describes what was appealing to me about the Last Poets, John Sinclair and the MC5 as well as guerrilla theater:

No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the drumbeat of creativity, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the musicians, writers, painters, dancers, actors and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight... john pietaro

Gil Scott-Heron: Poet, Musician, Social Critic Dies at Age 62

Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s and an important early influence on hip-hop, died on Friday at a hospital in Manhattan. [Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, by Ben Sisario]  

Mr. Scott-Heron often bristled at the suggestion that his work had prefigured rap. “I don’t know if I can take the blame for it,” he said in an interview last year with the music Web site The Daily Swarm. He preferred to call himself a “bluesologist,” drawing on the traditions of blues, jazz and Harlem renaissance poetics. [Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, by Ben Sisario]  

Yet, along with the work of the Last Poets, a group of black nationalist performance poets who emerged alongside him in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Mr. Scott-Heron established much of the attitude and the stylistic vocabulary that would characterize the socially conscious work of early rap groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. And he has remained part of the DNA of hip-hop by being sampled by stars like Kanye West. [Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, by Ben Sisario]  

Beat poets Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg with Bob Dylan Photographer Dale Smith
“You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word,” Chuck D, the leader of Public Enemy, told The New Yorker in 2010. “He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else.” [Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, by Ben Sisario]  

His first album, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” was released in 1970 on Flying Dutchman, a small label, and included a live recitation of “Revolution” accompanied by conga and bongo drums. Another version of that piece, recorded with a full band including the jazz bassist Ron Carter, was released on Mr. Scott-Heron’s second album, “Pieces of a Man,” in 1971. [Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, by Ben Sisario]  

“Revolution” established Mr. Scott-Heron as a rising star of the black cultural left, and its cool, biting ridicule of a nation anesthetized by mass media has resonated with the socially disaffected of various stripes — campus activists, media theorists, coffeehouse poets — for four decades. With sharp, sardonic wit and a barrage of pop-culture references, he derided society’s dominating forces as well as the gullibly dominated [Gil Scott-Heron, Voice of Black Culture, by Ben Sisario]  

Friday, May 27, 2011

Zooey Deschanel: "Magie Noire"

Magie Noire by Ellen von Unwerth appeared in MIXTE

Z: The Unstoppable Charm of Zooey Deschanel

"Z:The Unstoppable Charm of Zooey Deschanel" by Ellen von Unwerth appeared in June/July, 2007 Jane. The photos are reminiscent of Max Sennet's Bathing Beauties and French Postcards of the 1920s. Ellen von Unwerth is an influential fashion photographer and director whose work offers a distinctly sexual and playful version of fashion and beauty photography. von Unwerth worked as a fashion model for ten years herself before moving behind the camera.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jesse J

Jessie J [Jessica Ellen Cornish] born 27 March 1988, an English singer and songwriter first saw fame when she began writing tracks for singers Chris Brown and Miley Cyrus. The most successful track she co-wrote is "Party in the U.S.A.", which gained Platinum certification in many countries. 

On 7 January 2011 Jessie J came top of the BBC's Sound of 2011 list. She followed this in February by receiving Critics' Choice at the 2011 BRIT Awards.

She released her first single, "Do It Like a Dude" which peaked at 2 in the UK. Jessie released her follow-up single, "Price Tag" which went straight to number-one in the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand and top ten in 19 other countries. 

It remained at number-one in the UK for two consecutive weeks. Her debut album was released on 25 February 2011 and charted at number-two on the UK Albums Chart.