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Office Christmas Party

Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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1.

"The rise of American authoritarianism": A frightening report from Vox's Amanda Taub.

“For years now, before anyone thought a person like Donald Trump could possibly lead a presidential primary, a small but respected niche of academic research has been laboring over a question, part political science and part psychology, that had captivated political scientists since the rise of the Nazis. How do people come to adopt, in such large numbers and so rapidly, extreme political views that seem to coincide with fear of minorities and with the desire for a strongman leader? To answer that question, these theorists study what they call authoritarianism: not the dictators themselves, but rather the psychological profile of people who, under the right conditions, will desire certain kinds of extreme policies and will seek strongman leaders to implement them. After an early period of junk science in the mid-20th century, a more serious group of scholars has addressed this question, specifically studying how it plays out in American politics: researchers like Hetherington and Weiler, Stanley Feldman, Karen Stenner, and Elizabeth Suhay, to name just a few. The field, after a breakthrough in the early 1990s, has come to develop the contours of a grand theory of authoritarianism, culminating quite recently, in 2005, with Stenner's seminal The Authoritarian Dynamic — just in time for that theory to seemingly come true, more rapidly and in greater force than any of them had imagined, in the personage of one Donald Trump and his norm-shattering rise. According to Stenner's theory, there is a certain subset of people who hold latent authoritarian tendencies. These tendencies can be triggered or ‘activated’ by the perception of physical threats or by destabilizing social change, leading those individuals to desire policies and leaders that we might more colloquially call authoritarian.”

2.

"'Bulworth,' Beatty, Trump and the Dream of the Political Truth-Teller": An excellent piece written by Jim Hemphill for The Talkhouse

“Beatty’s political film of the ’90s, ‘Bulworth,’ was positively psychic, foreseeing everything from the second invasion of Iraq to Ferguson to the rise of Bernie Sanders. (Bulworth utters the dirty word “socialism” in a positive light nearly 20 years before it became acceptable in American politics.) Released in 1998, it follows ‘Shampoo’’s formula of looking back to the very recent past; an opening title card informs us that it is set in the primary season of 1996, when Bill Clinton and Bob Dole are competing for the presidency before an uninspired populace. The first thing we see after that title card is a series of commercials featuring Jay Billington Bulworth (Beatty), a Democratic senator running for reelection on clichés that were prevalent in the 1990s, and that remain so now; the second thing we see is that same senator in his office, broken down in tears as he listens to himself spout slogans like ‘I’m for a hand up, not a hand out.’ In a plot borrowed from Jules Verne’s Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, Bulworth takes out a huge life insurance policy and then orders his own assassination – an act that liberates him to start telling the truth as a candidate. As his dismayed aides hustle him from one campaign stop to another, he gives speeches in which he admits the Democratic party doesn’t care about black people, doesn’t care about the poor – doesn’t care about anyone, in fact, except for the millionaires and billionaires contributing to its candidates. This truth-telling, combined with an outrageous delivery in which the painfully white Bulworth conveys his message via hilarious and profane raps, turns him into a sort of folk hero. The only problem for Bulworth himself is that now that he has rediscovered his ideals, he has no idea how to call off his own assassination.”

3.

"Jerry Lewis and Martin Scorsese": A conversation between the two filmmaking icons at Film Comment.

“[Scorsese:] ‘The first film you directed, ‘The Bellboy’ [60], is a film that is very intense in terms of the framing. You directed, produced, wrote it, and starred in it. In a way, it’s like a virtual dictionary of visual thought and visual thinking. And to this day, there’s a constant battle between the literature in film, in the dialogue and in the story, and the visual. You went all the way visually with ‘The Bellboy’—you even used pantomime in that! Can we talk a little about that approach, or the purity of that approach?’ [Lewis:] ‘Mime was very important to me because you didn’t have to remember the words. It was important to me because mime was always at the bottom of all comedy. And when you’re doing it, you have to keep your mind clear. You can’t get in the way of the scene or become part of that. You’re supposed to be here as an individual and as a single person doing what you’re doing. Now you bring the ensemble in, and you dress it, and you work it, and he has to be funny. Sometime he [‘Jerry’] gave me problems. When he got overly anxious, he would screw me up and I would yell to the crew, tea time! Get coffee or do something, cause I’ve got to have a talk with the star of the movie! I looked at the mirror and said, do you want to make this, or what’s your plan? And I would talk back to myself.’”

4.

"Roaring with Laughter: 'The Lion in Winter'": At Indie Outlook, I revisit Anthony Harvey's 1968 Oscar-winning classic starring Katharine Hepburn and lensed by Douglas Slocombe, who passed away last month at age 103.

“In many ways, ‘The Lion in Winter’ is the ultimate dysfunctional family comedy, setting the bar for a slew of yuletide perennials, as well as ensemble-driven serials like FOX’s “Empire.” Henry’s brood is comprised entirely of backstabbing schemers, each vying to fill their father’s shoes in a deadly game of thrones. ‘I have a confession,’ Eleanor witheringly observes. ‘I don’t much like our children.’ And who could blame her? Their three sons are John (Nigel Terry), a pouty cretin with the mouth of the Angry Video Game Nerd; Geoffrey (John Castle), a natural born sociopath; and Richard (Anthony Hopkins), whose closeted status renders him an outcast. Also circling the kingdom like a vulture is King Phillip II (Timothy Dalton), a former lover of Richard’s. And let’s not forget Alais (Jane Merrow), Philip’s half-sister and Henry’s current lover. In an early scene, she explains to Henry that she can’t be his mistress if she’s betrothed to marry his son—Richard, of course. The more these tangled familial relations grow askew, the more unsettling and amusing the film becomes. Absurdity is all the funnier when served with a straight face, and that very principle appears to have governed Goldman’s Oscar-winning screenplay, which is chockfull of uproarious lines that are delivered by the cast with deadpan relish. Consider how Henry and Eleanor smile at their adoring public, while launching ultimatums at one another through clenched teeth. ‘Henry, did you ever love me?’ Eleanor asks. ‘No,’ Henry curtly answers, to which she replies, ‘Good. That will make this pleasanter.’”

5.

"Hollywood's Lack of Diversity Is Costing It Millions. Here's Why.": According to Brandon Ellington Patterson and Edwin Rios at Mother Jones.

“The talent agencies (the ‘gatekeepers,’ [Darnell] Hunt calls them) pitch most of the projects to the networks and film studios—complete with writers, directors, and leads. The top three—Creative Artists Agency, William Morris Endeavor, and United Talent Agency—represented a majority of the credited writers, directors, and actors on 2014 film projects. They also repped the majority of broadcast TV show creators and lead actors for the 2013-2014 season. But minorities make up only about 2 percent of the credited show creators on their rosters and 6 percent of the credited lead actors. Which means the deal makers have few minority clients to pitch. Why are the talent rosters so white? Maybe because the agents are. According to the Bunche Center, the agents of the Big Three were 90 percent Caucasian and 68 percent male—hello Ari Gold! The agency partners—who develop business strategy and share in the profits—are almost entirely white and 71 percent male. This lack of diversity, unwittingly or not, dictates the kinds of stories that end up in production, and who we see on the screen. ‘The question is, how many people of color are involved in the earliest stages?’ Hunt says. The makers of at least one would-be blockbuster hope to break the old mold. We recently talked with the scriptwriter of Marvel's ‘Black Panther,’ the forthcoming film about an African superhero, about that studio's efforts to get more diversity in the pipeline.”

Image of the Day

SFGate's Alyssa Pereira reports on the "official new signs" for the Robin Williams Tunnel connecting the Golden Gate bridge to Marin County.

Video of the Day

A stunning trailer for the upcoming film, "Loving Vincent," which is reportedly comprised of 12 oil paintings per second, all created by over 100 painters trained in the same style.

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