WEIRDLAND: October 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Matt Damon, Identities & Noirish Subjectivity

"Rounders" (1998): Matt Damon's first lead following the success of "Good Will Hunting," "Rounders" was mostly ignored on its debut, but has evolved into something of a cult hit over the years. The actor plays Mike, a poker whiz who's promised his girlfriend (Gretchen Mol) that he'll give the game up and focus on his law school studies. But when his no-good best pal Worm (Edward Norton) is released from prison, he's dragged back into gambling to save his pal from the sinister Russian mobster Teddy KGB (a ludicrously enjoyably over-the-top John Malkovich), the same man who ended Mike's career years earlier.

While it's beloved most by poker fans (it's probably the best depiction of the game to date), the film in general is firmly entertaining -- director John Dahl gives a terrific noirish tinge to the film, the script is zingy, and most of the performances -- Norton and John Turturro in particular -- are excellent.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999): It would have been just too easy for Matt Damon to trade in on his matinee idol good looks and collect paychecks for action movies and rom-coms. Instead, he pushes himself to physically disappear into his psychologically complex roles, using physical characteristics -- a paunch, a crew cut or a pair of horn-rimmed glasses -- as his entry into such enigmatic characters. His glasses are the totem of Tom the imposter in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the transformative role as the insidious grifter that announced Damon as a serious thesp, no vain pretty boy. He’s made a practice of playing characters in identity crisis (“Good Will Hunting,” ‘Bourne,’ “The Informant!”) and ‘Ripley,’ was one of the first times he displayed his true virtuosity in embodying this conundrum.

Damon’s most indelible characters are always striving to achieve some station in life that is almost impossible for them to gain, and Tom Ripley is the ultimate showcase for his ability to display the many emotional states of such nuanced, complicated people. He is simultaneously dorky, naive, seductive, hopeless, creepy and terrifying in Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel; the different emotions effortlessly cascading across his face.

“The Departed" (2006): While far from Scorsese's best work, "The Departed" remains a well-crafted, hugely enjoyable pulp crime flick, that certainly improves on its subject matter, the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs." The film's chock-full of pleasures and Damon's performance, while not the most immediate, is the one that lingers long afterwards. Simply put, he's astounding, the best he's ever been, and looking back now, it's astonishing that he was overlooked in awards season in favor of co-star Mark Wahlberg.

Damon effortlessly portrays the self-loathing and turmoil that comes from living a false life without any of the histrionics of his co-lead, Leonardo DiCaprio. The elevator scene at the end, in which Damon switches on a dime from self-righteous bravado to pathetically pleading to be put out of his misery by his captor, is a masterclass in screen acting.

“The Good Shepherd” (2006): Told through the prism of the founding of the CIA, Damon plays Edward Wilson, an agent of the newly founded organization whose work takes him around the world and has him bear witness to operations most Americans could and would never know about.

But the film is as much about the machinations of the wheelings and dealings of the spy agency as the personal sacrifice Damon must make as a person and in his relationships (particularly to his wife played by Angelina Jolie). As William Hurt’s character points out, the agents spend their lives looking over their shoulders for "pennies" in compensation. Wilson is forced to choose between his country and his family and the cold realization is that such a choice can’t be made because selecting one means losing the other. Damon here is a revelation, coldly embodying a spy who at work and at home can’t give away the roiling emotion beneath his poker-faced facade. It’s a stirring turn in a film that that was largely misunderstood.

Matt Damon and Mark Whitacre attend "The Informant!" New York premiere on September 15, 2009 in New York City.

“The Informant!” (2009): Damon has never been funnier than as Mark Whitacre, the delusional whistleblower who broke open a price-fixing scheme at his lysine-producing company, under the illusion that he was a top secret spy. “The Informant!” establishes Whitacre as someone who thinks there are prizes for “being the good guy,” oblivious to the reality around him. Steven Soderbergh’s tone is mostly amused farce, as if the delicate balance of real-world big business and the cartoonish sight of overweight Midwestern rube Whitacre is always threatening to topple.

Credit to Damon’s overlooked performance, a wonder of tics and mannerisms of surprising depth, capturing a damaged psyche while keeping him in the realm of believable folksiness.

“True Grit” (2010): It's not the showiest or even the most nuanced character in the Coen Brothers' rapturous "True Grit" remake, but Damon's dickish Texas Ranger LeBoeuf still manages to be an indelible oddball. Between his typically Texan self-aggrandizing (this writer was born and raised in the state, so this especially rung true), the marble-mouthed cadence that he adopts after he's partially bitten off his tongue, and his combination of heroic tendencies and borderline cowardice, Damon makes the role totally unforgettable. Source: blogs.indiewire.com

"Basically, everyone is a victim of corporate crime before they finish breakfast," Whitacre tells an FBI agent (Scott Bakula), who says, "That's not a business meeting, that's a crime scene." Soderbergh wanted The Informant! to go down the rabbit hole of Whitacre's mystifying mind. As Damon embodies him, he seems the sunniest symbol of corporate America and middle America: smart, pleasant, undemonstrative, with a supportive wife (Melanie Lynskey) and two kids. But we get the earliest glimpses of Mark's gift for fooling people, and perhaps himself, in the movie's voiceover, in which Mark wanders blithely into logical cul-de-sacs and exotic trivia: The whole movie is Mark's brainscan. It's shot and acted in a bland style that, you only eventually realize, is deeply askew, and darkly, corrosively satirical. What game, exactly, is Whitacre playing? Whose side is he on? How much of what he, or the film, says is true? Source: www.time.com

Part V - Identities in Film Noir (Film Noir and Subjectivity by Christophe Gelly): Sarah Kozloff insists on the predominance of the narrators’ voice-over comment as an authority to which the film narration must be referred. However, it is also possible to interpret these character discourses as narrations competing with the framing narrative voice. These multiple voices demonstrate the instability of the narrative pattern. In demanding that viewers ascribe voice-over narration to several separate narrative agencies, the variability of the “subject” to which the voice-over attaches is foregrounded. As well as these multiple voices, Kozloff identifies a “most unusual rhetoric strategy” in the “narrator’s habit of addressing comments to the characters, as if he were off to the side, watching every move they make and reacting with teasing questions, or advice to which they are oblivious.”

This technique further blurs the voice-over status as within and/or without the story, and it points to the film’s reflexivity, and – as Kozloff notes – shows the narration to be conscious of its own artificial, unrealistic nature. She argues that the identification between voice-over and the viewer through various “humanizing” devices (narrator’s voice-over comments, addresses to the characters on screen) may mimic what viewers themselves may very well feel towards the story. Yet the transgressively unstable status of this voice-over, both homodiegetic and heterodiegetic, further enhances the subjective riddle it represents for the reader. The concept of subjectivity as individual is problematized in film noir aesthetics as it cannot help integrating other elements within this identity.

Film noir is always constituted of heterogeneous elements: the subjective expression of a character’s feelings or confession along, however, with a doubt as to the source of these feelings in the enunciation; its aesthetic features present in their original identity but integrated within a commercial frame. Similarly, the modernist literary movement occupies a position that is in-between aesthetic elitism and popular culture. As J.P. Telotte argues, “Neo-noir seem[s] less about a character than about the very mechanisms of character in which we invest so much.” -"A Companion to Film Noir" (2013) by Andrew Spicer & Helen Hanson

Matt Damon: Spooky fun on The Colbert Report with Tom Hanks, Africa film project with Affleck

Video: What Is Matt Damon's Latest Halloween Costume?  
Tom Hanks and Matt Damon in "Saving Private Ryan" (1998)
"Matt Damon and Tom Hanks showed up on The Colbert Report to have some "spooky-time" fun with the audience. Matt was dressed in his trench best as Private Ryan since the "planned" segment about inexpensive Halloween costumes for kids was really a promotional parody for Tom's extensive filmography. Matt relished his cameo in the skit, and even took some time to rib his best friend and new neighbor, Ben Affleck. Get in on the joke with today's PopSugar Rush." Source: www.popsugar.com
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon attending the 28th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, on 25th January 2013
"Warner Bros and Pearl Street Films has set Will Staples to script an untitled big-scale project that will be developed as a directing and starring vehicle for Ben Affleck. The film is set in Africa, where a bunch of mercenaries are hired to kill a warlord who has been victimizing his own people. The film is both an action movie and an examination of the moral ambiguities of how philanthropy and foreign assistance veers into modern-day neocolonialism. It also tracks how involvement in the affairs of foreign countries is always a good deal more complicated than anticipated in the planning stages. These were themes that informed Affleck’s previous film Argo, which won Best Picture for Warner Bros. Affleck, who hatched the idea for the film and pitched it to Staples, will produce with Matt Damon and Jennifer Todd through their Warner Bros-based Pearl Street banner." Source: www.deadline.com

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jake Gyllenhaal: one of the Most Valuable Stars

#1 - ROBERT DOWNEY JR. - THE KING

Can there be any doubt that Robert Downey Jr. should be sitting pretty at the top of this list for two years in a row? He’s the star of two of the top five highest-grossing movies of all time — The Avengers, which brought in $1.5 billion worldwide, and Iron Man 3, which took in $1.2 billion — and unlike other comic-book heroes who could be recast at the drop of a hat (and often are), Downey Jr. is so synonymous with Tony Stark that when he decided not to make any more Iron Man movies for the time being, Marvel basically put the megafranchise on pause in the hopes that he’ll change his mind.

(Whereas Warner Bros. promptly installed Ben Affleck as Batman just as soon as Christian Bale hung up his cowl.) Don’t worry, though: Downey Jr. did decide to sign on for two more Avengers sequels, so he’s hardly done with his most iconic character.

#2 - LEONARDO DICAPRIO - THE STAR WHO STARTED SMILING AGAIN

The fun he had in Django Unchained and Great Gatsby was contagious. For years, Leonardo DiCaprio was out to prove himself as more than just a teen heartthrob. He was a serious man. An actor. The plan worked, as DiCaprio became a favorite of A-list auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, and Steven Spielberg, and their collaborations scored dozens of Oscar nominations (and a Best Picture win for The Departed) and a lot of money (Inception earned $825.5 million total worldwide, while The Great Gatsby pulled in $348.8 million around the globe). There was just one thing missing: a smile.

The formerly impish star hit a brick wall with the dour, roundly ignored J. Edgar, and it seemed to spur him to once again show off his more lighthearted side. As Django Unchained’s Calvin Candie, he was both giddily wicked and brutally cruel, and he mounted a full-on, I’m-a-movie-star-dammit charm offensive in Gatsby.

Both films scored at the box office, and early glimpses of his next movie, Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, were highly GIF-able, suggesting DiCaprio at his most hedonistic and appealing. His studio value is second only to Brad Pitt’s, because while DiCaprio is still popcorn-blockbuster-averse, he’s the best way to get audiences into Hollywood’s most expensive adult fare. That’s why in our rankings he lands in second place: He doesn’t have anything lined up past Wall Street, but can do whatever he wants next.

#19 - MATT DAMON - THE STAR WHO SLIPPED

Studios still love him, but Damon struggled at the box office last year. Last year, Matt Damon was ranked sixth on our list, but this year, he tumbled to nineteen. What happened? Some of it simply couldn’t have been helped — in part, he was supplanted by stars in the prime of their franchises, like Jennifer Lawrence — but Damon also hit a rough patch last winter with his fracking movie Promised Land, the lowest-grossing wide-release movie of his career. At an anemic $7 million, this reteam with his Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant, which Damon co-scripted, went nowhere at the box office.

Sadly, Damon’s hoped-for summer smash Elysium didn’t quite restore him: The expensive sci-fi vehicle was unable to crack $100 million at the box office and opened to a lower number than director Neill Blomkamp’s last movie, District 9... despite the fact that District 9 had no stars and Elysium had Damon.

It’s no wonder that rumors recently flew that Damon might be willing to come back to the Bourne franchise; he could use a pick-me-up. Still, Damon is a solid, hard-working star with a high studio rating, and he also has a high likability score, made all the more impressive owing to his potentially polarizing activist work for liberal causes. (Just compare him to Sean Penn, who’s got one of the lowest likability ratings on this list.) As a celebrity, Damon is an unshowy presence who’s hardly blowing up Twitter, but that’s part of what people appreciate about him: Unlike his occasionally polarizing cohort Ben Affleck, Damon really does seem unconcerned with his celebrity status. Let’s just hope that when it comes to the box office, he can right his ship and move up a few places.

#55 - JAKE GYLLENHAAL - THE MODEST MOVIE STAR

Jake Gyllenhaal at the Hollywood Film Awards, on 21st October 2013

Over the short decade-plus that he’s been a recognizable name, Jake Gyllenhaal’s career has gone through several incarnations: from the young star of coming-of-agers like October Sky and Donnie Darko, to the critics’ darling of The Good Girl and Brokeback Mountain, to the would-be action hero of Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time.

But it’s really only in the last few years that Gyllenhaal really seems to have found his place as the lead of modestly budgeted, well-reviewed films like Source Code, End Of Watch and Prisoners. None blew up the box office, but the films were all made at a price and likely turned healthy profits, and it seems that Gyllenhaal can still draw enough of an audience, especially abroad: End Of Watch aside, his films generally perform better internationally, with Prince Of Persia quietly making a quarter of a billion dollars away from American jeering. Gossip editors are more interested in him than studios seem to be (thank you, Taylor Swift!), but within his lower-budget wheelhouse, he has significant value.

His mind-bending doppelganger film Enemy (directed by Prisoners’ Denis Villeneuve) recently had a mixed reception at Toronto, but he also has Nightcrawler coming (a crime thriller that he’s producing and which forced him to bow out of Into the Woods) and Everest, with Josh Brolin. Source: www.vulture.com

Jake Gyllenhaal looks emaciated on the set of "Nightcrawler" (dramatic weight loss)

Jake Gyllenhaal appears visibly emaciated on the set of "Nightcrawler" in Los Angeles, October 21, 2013

"I think [I've lost] probably a little over 20 pounds, something like that," the actor, 32, told PEOPLE Monday on the red carpet at the Hollywood Film Awards, where he looked noticeably thinner as he was honored for his role in Prisoners. While he may look different, his approach hasn't changed as he prepares for Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal said. "It's not different than getting into character for anything. It's more about believing where you are and being present where you are," he said. "Who's to say what the process is? I have a strange one … but I love what I do." Source: www.people.com

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Matt Damon: Environmental Media Awards, Eco-SciFi & Ultimate Glamour Guy

Frances McDormand and Matt Damon in "Promised Land" (2012) directed by Gus Van Sant

Matt Damon and Luciana Damon attend the Environmental Media Awards, on October 19th, 2013

Matt Damon, Hayden Panettiere, Bill McKibben and Anna Getty may have been honored at last night’s Environmental Media Awards, but fracking was the real winner. Several anti-fracking films and TV shows, including Damon’s “Promised Land” and “Last Man Standing,” took home prizes at the 23rd annual ceremony held outdoors at Burbank’s Warner Bros. Studios lot.

“Insufferable do-gooder” Damon — as he was described by frenemy Jimmy Kimmel in an opening video — received the Ongoing Commitment Award for his efforts to provide underdeveloped countries access to clean water and sanitation. Source: variety.com

Some critics more recently remain convinced of the utopian possibilities of cyberspace and have gone so far as to dismiss an over-preoccupation with ‘real’ space as eco-fundamentalism. I continually demonstrate in my reading of various Hollywood closures that there is evidence of a renewed sublime mode which affirms and produces a ‘positive’ form of ecological expression. Both modernist and postmodernist expressions of the sublime, including Bertens’s analysis of Lyotard’s use of the term, evoke contradictory feelings which are potentially transgressive.

Haraway prophetically suggests, ‘we are all chimeras, theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism - we are all cyborgs’ (Haraway, 1991). 'Blade Runner' attempts most specifically to work through such chimeras, to (re) construct a populist utopian narrative closure which has significant ecological implications.

LA epitomises subterranean, even terminal ecological difficulties. Possibly the most mediated city in the world, LA simultaneously has become the most ecologically precarious. Consequently, its continual, often noirish representation tends to effectively foreground, if not embody, many contemporary global ecological issues. The LA of AD 2019 in 'Blade Runner' remains perhaps the most dazzling recent cinematic vision of the result of exploitation of the environment for technological progress. ‘The city rots with the waste products of its over-technologist, over commercialised culture . . . The only thing that is recycled is waste, which forms the raw material for architecture, fashion, even transportation . . . the city projects no sense of community’ (Rushing et al, 1995).

Unlike most of the non-individualised masses who scurry around hiding their bodies under big coats and uniform umbrellas, Deckard has nothing to protect himself from these unnatural elements (acid rain) yet somehow appears impervious to their polluting effects. Like the classic private detective, he has also developed a form of extrasensory perception and consequently can articulate upon the dysfunctionality of this ecocidal environment.

Eco-Closure: David Lyon argues that omitting the ‘return to nature’ denouement in the director’s cut version of "Blade Runner" ‘simply leaves one with increased apocalyptic unease’ and pessimistically wonders ‘are decay and death the terminal postmodern condition?’ (Lyon, 1994). -"Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema" (2012) by Pat Brereton

The basic premise in "Elysium" (2013): the year is 2154, the population of Earth is ravaged by economic and ecological catastrophes. The wealthiest have taken refuge on a giant space station orbiting Earth run by robot butlers and guards, offering them clean air and almost magical healthcare technology.

The casting of Matt Damon in the lead role implies two strategies by Neil Blomkamp. It is immediately obvious that on one level the casting of Damon was a marketing strategy: in a time in which only sequels or established story lines are green-lit by big studios, attaching a big name actor to a new story is a sure-fire way for studios to ensure that they recoup their profits.

On the other hand, the choice of Matt Damon represented a clear attempt to solidify the film’s political credentials. Damon has starred in several political roles, including his roles in Good Will Hunting (with a screenplay by Damon, and in which he infamously describes why he would never work for the imperialist U.S. government), the anti-War on Terror film 'Syriana,' and recently the anti-apartheid 'Invictus.'

The Hollywood actor has distinguished himself from his peers by openly criticizing President Obama: “I’ve talked to a lot of people who worked for Obama at the grassroots level. One of them said to me, ‘Never again. I will never be fooled again by a politician.’ You know, a one-term president with some balls who actually got stuff done would have been, in the long run of the country, much better.” Damon is also famous for his speech in 2011 defending teachers against Democrat-sponsored education “reform” at a Save Our Schools rally in Washington D.C. That speech is particularly memorable due to the viral video in which he angrily mocks the libertarian Reason.tv for their coverage of the teachers’ struggle. Source: www.solidarity-us.org

7 Reasons Matt Damon Is the Ultimate Glamour Guy:

1) Respect for the media: It's very rare these days for celebs who show up at events to stop and talk to all the media. Most do maybe a couple of outlets and then duck inside. Damon —one of the biggest celebrities in the world— stopped to talk to EVERY SINGLE OUTLET on the press line and was charming and gracious. The last person I saw do that was Harrison Ford, which brings me to this lesson of the day: Up-and-coming actresses and actors, take a note from the real power players in Hollywood.

2) Never forgetting where he came from: Matt was not about to miss Saturday night for anything, even if his Red Sox were playing in game six of the ALCS ("I have my phone though; it's in my pocket!," he told me). I was equally invested in the game because Max Scherzer was pitching for the Detroit Tigers, and we grew up together in St. Louis. When Matt heard that story—"No way! That's pretty awesome," he exclaimed—we checked the score (Damon's Red Sox eventually won).

3) Speaking from the heart: When Matt went up to the podium to accept his EMA Ongoing Commitment Award for his work with Water.org, he was the only celeb who didn't rely on note cards or a teleprompter. It made his speech that much more powerful.

4) Eight years of marriage and still so in love: He's so enamored with his wife, Luciana. Just look at the way Matt smiles at her. There's truly nothing more romantic.

5) He's hilarious: With a house full of girls, Damon recognizes the importance of a man cave. "I do have a little man area that I can go to that they don't know about," he told a People reporter. "It's basically a closet that I can go to if the estrogen gets too crazy!"

6) A passion cause: As passionate as Matt is about making great films, he's more so about bringing clean water to those in third-world countries who have no access to a basic human necessity. "We had our board meeting yesterday," he told me, "and we have officially reached 1.6 million people with clean water now. That's really awesome." So awesome in fact that you need to watch this video to see the exceptional work Matt is doing. Plus, he dances.

7) He's a good sport: Just ask Jimmy Kimmel, who roasted Matt in a pretaped video introduction at the start of Saturday's awards. Matt, Jimmy, and Ben Affleck should be the poster children for adult friendships. Source: www.glamour.com