What My Knees Knew: Cinematic Action, or Milla Jovovich in the Flesh

In a recent email correspondence, Professor Chon Noriega and Matthias Stork discussed the merits of Resident Evil: Retribution (RE5), The Expendables 2 (E2), and other films.

Matthias Stork
I am sorry that you did not enjoy RE5 but I am truly elated that you seem to be familiar with the entire series. I still hold that the newest entry in the franchise is interesting and thought-provoking (even though I might be channeling my 14-year-old self). And it is even better than Dredd, which was extraordinary.

Chon Noriega
Dredd? Any better than the original, which today looks more like an ’80s film than actual ’80s films…? The Total Recall reboot was a real bomb. Like RE5, it suffered from an inability to imagine or represent a diegetic space that made any sense (let alone resonate with Verhoeven’s critique of the elite-media-industrial-state complex). RE5 seemed to borrow more from Cube than game narratives per se, but even that seemed like little more than a slight pretense for set pieces featuring Milla Jovovich with leather and guns. Alas, that franchise has become more about a family pension plan than nudging 14-year-old boys into the imponderables of life through sci-fi–action narratives. 🙁 Continue reading “What My Knees Knew: Cinematic Action, or Milla Jovovich in the Flesh” »

The Top 10 Movies of 2012: Four Opinions

To mark this year’s Academy Awards, four UCLA graduate students offer up their Top 10 lists for 2012.

James Gilmore

10. Rust and Bone
Marion Cotillard gives what could justifiably be called the best female performance of the year in Jacques Audiard’s sad and tender story of two damaged souls trying to rebuild their lives. Paired with Matthias Schoenaerts, Cotillard fits seamlessly into Audiard’s deterministic universe. The film really stuns on an emotional level: there’s pain here, but also something transcendental that only a mannered filmmaker like Audiard could capture.

9. Argo
The beauty of Argo is how it meets its dangerous blend of espionage history and Hollywood formula head-on. A chase thriller and a spy movie as much as a political commentary, Ben Affleck’s third directorial effect has plenty to say about geopolitical relations with Iran. More impressively though, it is keenly aware of how and why Hollywood has a vested interest in transforming history. That, and it’s damn entertaining and tight as a drum. Continue reading “The Top 10 Movies of 2012: Four Opinions” »

Historical Representations Weigh Heavily on Best Picture Nominees

Every year, it seems we try to ascribe some great meaning to the Academy Awards. Beyond superficial debates about what is the best (or how we might even go about defining “best,” a task that feels reductive to the nature of personal reaction and opinion), I appreciate more the arguments about how the Awards stand as a “cultural touchstone,” a reflexive means for the industry to communicate how they want to be perceived. The Oscars may themselves be an industry, replete with full-page Variety ad after full-page Variety pushing a studio’s most touted project. Regardless of whether you still consider them culturally relevant or rich people aimlessly rewarding each other, the Oscars can help us inscribe meaning on a year. The films they group together tell us the kinds of characters and screenplays and the styles of directing that a very large voting body coalesced around. While there are plenty of 2012 releases that didn’t get a single Oscar nomination—The Dark Knight Rises, anyone?—focusing on the ones that did can perhaps tell us something important about the cultural moment of 2012. Continue reading “Historical Representations Weigh Heavily on Best Picture Nominees” »

The Crank: ‘An Evening of Celebrity-Centered Television, 1960s–1980s’ Program Notes (1/24/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.

30 Years of Celebrity Television

From its early marketing as a domestic appliance, television has been a medium and device used to bring the outside world into the home. A unique medium combining aspects of radio, theater, and film, television brought live images and performance within the private confines of the home. One of the ways in which television solidified its presence and importance within the American cultural landscape was through its use of established stars in its programming. However, as historian Christine Becker writes, rather than replicating theatrical filmmaking, stars were used in order to “serve the new medium’s unique industrial and cultural needs.”1 As the medium has evolved and expanded, so too have production values and programming trends. One theme that has remained consistent over time is a cultural interest in stardom and celebrity. Although there are numerous examples of radio and film stars working on television, tonight’s program highlights examples of non-fiction celebrity-centered programming from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Through these, we can see how formats for talking to and about celebrities have changed (or not). Ultimately, none of these programs were ever broadcast. However, all three of these pieces articulate the (d)evolution of celebrity culture as well as how celebrity was constructed for in-home consumption. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘An Evening of Celebrity-Centered Television, 1960s–1980s’ Program Notes (1/24/13 Screening)” »

Gotta Serve Somebody: Finding Purpose in ‘The Master’

Image 1: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

The sky in much of P.T. Anderson’s The Master hovers at a shade of wiped gray-white, the blue appearing in the form of snips of a heaving riptide and dimly lit interior spaces. It relays a confusion as to what is up and what is down, inside and out, truth or fiction, good or bad. That gives us some insight into the relationship between the film’s dictating figure, the Master himself, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, perhaps taking a page out of Orson Welles’s Charles Foster Kane here), and its troubled disciple, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, truly, and frighteningly, brilliant). It also offers a lens into unpacking writer/director Anderson’s complex portrayal of the seductions of blind, misled faith in exchange for devoted companionship. Continue reading “Gotta Serve Somebody: Finding Purpose in ‘The Master’” »

The Mediascape Q&A: Stephen Mamber, Professor, Cinema and Media Studies

The Mediascape Q&A is a series of interviews designed to explore the work of UCLA faculty and graduate students beyond the classroom.

Dr. Stephen Mamber

Matthias Stork: Could you tell us about your academic background? Where did you go to school and what first drew you to studying media, specifically film?

Stephen Mamber: I was an undergraduate at Berkley, where I had a double major in Math and Drama because there wasn’t a film program there yet, but I took a class from Ernest Callenbach, who was the editor of Film Quarterly at the time, and that really affected me greatly. And it occurred to me somewhere in my junior year that film might be something to actually be able to study. I came down here to Los Angeles that summer and took a couple of classes from Howard Suber, and that really struck a chord with me. And from then on I knew I wanted to study film. My timing was good, I guess. This was the late ’60s, early ’70s, and I came down here for my master’s degree and fell in with some interesting people. One of my best friends while I was a graduate student was Paul Schrader, who was a year ahead of me. We went to the American Film Institute Center for Advanced Film Studies. He was in the first-year group of fellows. It was a different kind of place back then. It was at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills and they took 10 people every year. In the second year, partly through his encouragement, I applied and got in. So I was in the group that included Terry Malick and David Lynch and various other people who turned out to be very talented filmmakers. It was an amazing experience then too because they were bringing in every great filmmaker you could imagine. One week it would be Rossellini and the next week it would be Jack Benny, the week after it’d be Alfred Hitchcock, it was like every major name. So I just thought this was heaven and this was what I wanted to do. Continue reading “The Mediascape Q&A: Stephen Mamber, Professor, Cinema and Media Studies” »