Tag Archives: China

The Awesome Power of Journalism — Chai Jing’s “Under the Dome”

Under the Dome Chai Jing 1

by Gabriel Valdez

I may have just watched the best film of 2015. It is certainly the best job of pure reporting I have ever seen. It is Chai Jing’s Under the Dome, a documentary on China’s air pollution disaster.

The easiest comparison would be An Inconvenient Truth, but while the presentation is similar, Under the Dome is a different animal. Despite being loaded with even more information, it’s less science lecture and more personal journey. Chai takes you along the path an investigative reporter takes when following a story. She translates the excitement of discovery to her audience. Even when what she – and you – discovers is horrifying, she ties two pieces of information together, two threads of plot suddenly becoming one, and in doing so often reveals new information about how China’s government cheats its own rules and regulations.

After the self-financed film exploded – hundreds of millions of views in China in just a few days – China’s government effectively banned it. The sheer extent of investigative journalism Chai has undertaken, essentially dismantling the hypocrisy of whole sections of China’s government, is both staggering and audacious. This is reporting, this is a documentary, yes, but it’s also the most exciting thing I’ve seen this year.

Chai is an expert at using research to trap and evoke emotional responses from her interview subjects. This isn’t the baffled, bloviating mutterings we’re used to getting from the likes of Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, and Sean Hannity here in the U.S. This is reporting boiled down to its essentials – it’s striking how exciting journalism can be when it’s based on factual research, and not just the product of talking heads shouting at each other.

Essentially, Chai constructs a film – as director, host, and investigative reporter – that is one of the most nerve wracking yet enthralling journeys that I’ve had watching a movie in some time. She hits on all fronts – emotional, narrative, factual – but always relies on information to do it. Watching the film takes on a “just one more minute” feel. I intended to break it into two chunks when I saw it, but I just kept watching. One more minute. One more minute. I couldn’t take my eyes off. I had to know where Chai went next, what she uncovered next, what quote would get an official into trouble next.

There are artistic moments – a cute superhero cartoon illustrating how carcinogens in the air fight off our body’s immune system, an overwhelming photo collage that combines dozens of photographers taking pictures of dozens of cities’ smoggy skies every day for a year.

There are brave investigative moments – going undercover to record the pollution at an illegal steel plant, or setting up a road block to test illegally made trucks.

There are pointed yet fairly handled interviews in which Chai deftly corners officials with the sheer amount of research she’s done. This is a tremendously informative, artful, and skillfully made movie.

Under the Dome is freely watchable on YouTube. It is a staggering documentary achievement. I know the sun’s out this week. Much of the U.S. is enjoying its first glimpse of Spring after a bitterly tough Winter. But watch this film. Find the time.  At once, in chunks, I don’t care. Find a way. It might be the best film you’ll see this year. The YouTube video posted in the middle of this article – that’s the whole film. It’s free, it’s needed, it’s important.

Some films are undeniable. Under the Dome is already having an impact, sending ripples throughout China. All because one woman decided to be a good reporter in a world where that’s undervalued.

Fight Scene Friday — “The Grandmaster”

by Gabriel Valdez

Ziyi Zhang. Much shade is thrown her way. “She’s a dancer by training,” goes one criticism, which conveniently ignores the by-now years of martial arts training she’s undergone with masters most of us could only dream of tutoring under.

Another criticism reminds us she’s no Michelle Yeoh, as if there can only be one female movie martial artist at a time. And, for that matter, if we’re talking purely practical martial arts skill, Jackie Chan’s no Michelle Yeoh either.

I often hear: she couldn’t actually win that fight. Well, this is probably true for half of movie martial artists. I’m not going to judge which ones could and which ones couldn’t, and that includes Zhang, but if that’s your schtick I’m pretty sure at least half the people who fly in kung fu movies can’t really do that either.

The simple reality is that Zhang is one of the best movie martial artists working today, and she fuses dance with martial arts to realize a balletic choreographic style that is relatively new in much the same way Jackie Chan’s fusion of stuntwork and martial arts once was. Being such a unique talent allows directors to frame their stories around her.

One such film was The Grandmaster, which I ranked as the second best film of 2013. The Grandmaster tells the tale of Ip Man, the Chines historical figure and cultural hero who would later go on to train martial arts cinema’s formative light: Bruce Lee.

Most recountings of Ip Man are mythologized to an egregious extent, but that’s what every culture (including ours) tends to do with historical figures. There are a few things that are intriguing about The Grandmaster‘s retelling, however:

First off, this is director Wong Kar-wai’s only real entry into martial arts cinema. He tends to make movies about love, alternating frame stories, and crime melodrama. His movies are utterly beautiful, almost like moving paintings, as you can see from the scene above.

Secondly, while The Grandmaster as a title seems to refer to Ip Man, the narrative leads you to believe that the grandmaster being spoken about is Ziyi Zhang’s character, Gong Er. She has even defeated Ip Man in a contest of kung fu. She is a woman, however, and so cannot inherit the traditions or certifications of a Chinese martial arts school. Because of China’s attitude toward women, the style her family practiced dies with her, while Ip Man’s style is free to live on through him. In this way, The Grandmaster is an absolutely searing refutation of gender politics in China, and a portrayal of all that’s been lost through China’s focus on patriarchy, privileging men while devaluing women, and focusing on the birth of sons over daughters.

In the scene above, midway through the film, Gong Er confronts Ma San, who has murdered her father and stolen the school’s certifications – and therefore the right to continue teaching the style – for himself.

What’s unique about the choreography is the use of slow motion to focus on the precision of hand movements. Most schools of kung fu focus on rhythm through a precision of hand movements, arm placements, and accompanying steps. The position of a hand can dictate the entire attitude of a movement. By slowing the choreography down, we’re able to see the intentions of key strikes, where they hit and miss. It translates the intention behind each move and how each character shifts attitude in order to counter the other’s. It’s derided by some American critics for being too focused on aesthetic, but the truth is the fight is communicated in terms of each character’s internal strategy better than most full-speed fights.

It stands not just on its scenery and art design, not just on the unique aspects Zhang brings to choreography, but as a fight that plainly communicates how moves are strung together according to this particular martial arts philosophy.

And it’s just one of several such scenes that make The Grandmaster one of the most unique and important martial arts movies ever made.

How to Assassinate a World Leader on Film or: Why North Korea and Sony Are Both Wrong

The Interview poster

by Gabriel Valdez

First thing’s first. I don’t like North Korea. They treat their citizens the only way a military dictatorship seems to know how. It’s a nation ruled by bullies and propped up so long only because China prefers a buffer between American land forces in South Korea and themselves.

What do I think about the complete cancellation of Sony’s new film about assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, The Interview? After hackers, reportedly employed by the North Korean government, revealed Sony studio chiefs’ private correspondence and pirated several of their upcoming films, the studio was still set to release The Interview in theaters this weekend. It wasn’t until the threat of physical violence that theater chains began pulling The Interview and, finally, Sony decided to simply shelve the film.

Let’s get some perspective. First off, the thought that North Korea has any capability to extend physical threats into the American public is laughable. Secondly, even if they did have any real covert extension, they wouldn’t waste exposing it just to stop a movie. Thirdly, China is too heavily invested in the United States to want to spark a war (even by proxy), and they don’t want to have to prop up North Korea’s infrastructure even more were we to respond to a terrorist attack on our soil by bombing them.

North Korean agents are not roaming our streets in droves – that’s ridiculous. China has better things to do than engage in brinksmanship over a Seth Rogen movie. While North Korea doesn’t always listen, the regime depends on China for survival and China will have made it known to North Korea what actions are tolerable and what actions will see consequences. Don’t get me wrong – China will be overjoyed to see the effect some well-funded, but pretty basic, hacking can have on U.S. businesses. They love having the ability to use North Korea in this way. If China did this (and they’ve pushed the boundaries), it would be an international incident. A fight between North Korea and Sony? That’s on the entertainment page.

Theater chains did not pull The Interview because of the threat of physical violence. They pulled it because they did not want to be hacked next. If Sony couldn’t withstand it, what chance does Regal Cinemas or Cinemark have, let alone the smaller and regional chains? It just sounds better to buy into the narrative and say, “We’re protecting our customers,” than it does to admit, “Yeah, we have some e-mails and finances we don’t want to see the light.”

Now, declaring this as a resounding defeat against terrorism is…stupid. I was looking for a more nuanced word, but “stupid” works just fine. Like I said, I don’t like or support North Korea, but Sony up and made a movie about killing another country’s leader. No matter how much I may dislike that leader and think he’s an evil mark upon this earth, that’s dangerous territory – ethically and otherwise. What are some other recent comedies that depict assassinations of real-world people who were alive at the time?

How about the famous South Park episode where Cartman kills Osama bin Laden? Well, that’s not a world leader, that’s a terrorist. Those definitions certainly bump into each other when talking about the leader of North Korea, so how about Team America: World Police going to war against Kim Jong-il (father of and predecessor to Kim Jong-un)?

These are fuzzy definitions we’re getting into, but I interpret those two examples as lampoons. Keep in mind that in Team America: World Police, our heroes have to fight their way through the likes of Sean Penn and Matt “Matt Damon” Damon. Team America wasn’t about assassinating another country’s leader, it was about an interpretation of Hollywood’s occasionally self-serving morals…and puppets. The fact that all the characters were marionettes definitely helped. Neither the movie nor its advertising campaign was: “Kill this guy.” They were each larger than that, communicating instead, “This is a movie about how ridiculous we can be and, oh yeah, Kim Jong-il’s in it singing about being lonely while he feeds U.N. inspectors to sharks.” (North Korea certainly didn’t like that movie, but they didn’t launch this large a campaign against it.)

The Interview seems to be about: “Kill this guy.” Its advertising campaign boils down to: “Kill this guy.” It involved neither animation nor marionettes, which have the capability to deflect criticism itself into the realm of the silly and not worthwhile. It starred James Franco and Seth Rogen, two very recognizable personalities.

Furthermore, that South Park episode, “Osama bin Laden has Farty Pants,” was made about a figure with whom we were already at war. The episode was itself a part of that war. Not only did U.S. troops reportedly love it, but that episode also sought to deconstruct the mythical power of bin Laden in our own minds. By lampooning him, we took him less seriously. The most powerful tool you can wield against a Bogeyman is to stop being scared of him. South Park made him into a punchline the same way pre-World War 2 comedies made Hitler into one. It made us confident we could beat him rather than be scared of him.

Team America: World Police isn’t that much more complicated. We were not at war with North Korea, although North Korea is still technically at war with us. Kim Jong-il was in it, but he wasn’t the purpose of the film. Team America recognized that he wasn’t a Bogeyman because we already didn’t take him or North Korea seriously. The Bogeymen in Team America were our own political extremes – conservative Imperialism, Hollywood-styled liberalism, and an ineffectual U.N.

Team America may be a silly movie about how ridiculous marionettes can be made to look, but it was also the most effective millennial artistic takedown of the U.N. until P.J. Harvey recorded “The Words That Maketh Murder.”

Having not seen it, no one can say for sure if The Interview had a deeper reason for being, but advertising made it seem empty. The joke communicated wasn’t “The Bogeyman is only in our heads,” and it wasn’t “let’s glue stuff on marionettes until they look like mutant caricatures.” The joke advertised was: “Kill this guy.”

That’s a fundamentally different and excessively remedial approach to making a film about a real-life figure. There’s a reason that even the most serious-minded films and TV shows about world politics use fictional figures (Syriana, Tyrant), fictional countries (from Duck Soup to West Wing), recount recent history (Zero Dark Thirty), or house their fictional narratives alongside fact-based chronologies (Green Zone). These films are careful and, while we view comedies as inherently irreverent, that irreverence means you need to be even more careful.

Irreverence is not an excuse. It does not mean you don’t do the work required to understand your situation. It means you work even harder to understand it that much better, so that you can most effectively undermine it. If you’re not willing to do that work, then make your movie about assassinating a fictional character in a fictional country that looks and feels a lot like North Korea. Maybe even stick a joke about how James Franco keeps calling it North Korea and Seth Rogen has to keep correcting him.

More than anything else, I look at The Interview and ask if it helped or harmed relations with North Korea. The Trey Parker and Matt Stone examples I bring up (South Park, Team America), for all their conscious viciousness and disrespect, did enough to mediate the potential damage they could have caused with other cultures. The Interview, so far, did not. That’s a film that could cost lives, maybe not American ones but possibly South Korean ones and almost assuredly North Korean ones. For all the bitching about releasing the Congressional report on torture this last week and how it might cost lives, those same voices are now arguing that The Interview scraping its release is a tragedy? If one costs lives, the other does, too.

I’m not saying Sony doesn’t have the right to make and release The Interview. I’ll defend to my dying breath that they absolutely do. What I am saying is that The Interview, at least as advertised, was deeply irresponsible.

The lines between what’s OK and what’s not when it comes to making art involving an existing dictator and his assassination are so fuzzy that I don’t think anyone can clearly demarcate what’s right and what’s wrong. But the fixes for The Interview would have been so remarkably easy, mediating the potential damage it could risk so inconsequential an act, that I don’t find myself feeling sorry for Sony at all. I feel sorry for Lizzy Caplan and Diana Bang and Timothy Simons and other actors who were probably excited to see the results of their last gig. I feel sorry for the other Sony films that were pirated and released online because of a production with which they had nothing to do. But just because North Korea’s a raging, megalomaniacal dictatorship doesn’t mean that Sony is the Angel of frickin’ Christmas. They can both be assholes in this situation.

If The Interview had been advertised as a film about James Franco and Seth Rogen acting silly and, oh yeah, Kim Jong-un’s in it, you would have seen a smoother lead-up to release. North Korea would have objected after the fact, but they wouldn’t have launched an entire campaign against it.

This brings up two questions:

1. What the hell did Sony expect?
2. Why the hell weren’t they prepared for it?

Many called this reaction from North Korea months ago. Anyone even halfway paying attention had to suspect North Korea – who have a history of hacking U.S. businesses far more sensitive in their nature than Sony – would retaliate. It’s not a country that bothers itself with anything better to do.

Why the hell wasn’t Sony in the least prepared for this reaction? Why hadn’t they prepped for it and coordinated with the U.S. government? Our government doesn’t miss a chance to go toe-to-toe with foreign hackers. It’s like war games for them because it is, essentially, live-fire practice for a key component of the next major war.

If I were Sony, I’d be firing some key people (Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin chief among them), not just because North Korea revealed e-mails where they were clearly being racist, and e-mails in which they were conspiring to pay female stars less than their male counterparts. It wouldn’t even be because The Interview is going to be at least an $80 million loss on their books (assuming half-and-half for budget and advertising, which is a very conservative estimate). It wouldn’t even be out of the embarrassment of all these things combined. I would be firing people because all of this was so very easily preventable.

And when something is this easily preventable, it’s only out of sheer laziness or ego that it happens anyway.

How to Fix and Break “Transformers” in 3 Hours

Transformers 4 high res coat zipper

What the Transformers franchise lacked before was real star power at its center. Former lead Shia LaBeouf could play a displaced rebel without a cause in his sleep, but that meant he became redundant once he found his cause, and he lacked the charisma to turn into something new. Megan Fox may have been that dynamic core, but she was never afforded the opportunity to do more than scream and run in slow-motion.

Fourth entry Transformers: Age of Extinction shakes off the baggage of previous casts that tended to be more dramatic off-screen than on. In LaBeouf’s place is Mark Wahlberg, one of the few actors you can watch having a sword fight with a robot alien bounty hunter 40 times his size and think, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

He plays failed inventor Cade Yeager, who’s converted his Texas barn into a robotics lab. The first half hour follows Wahlberg in full exasperated 12-year-old mode, a role he’s perfected over the years. He’s broke and he can’t pay for his daughter’s college, but all he really wants to do is build robots. He poses in front of sunsets and American flags while looking across his land as if marking off a country music video checklist, but you know what? Wahlberg pulls that off, too.

Transformers 4 the good part

One day, Cade tows a rusted big-rig in for salvage. Turns out the truck is really Optimus Prime, leader of the heroic Autobots, in disguise. The CIA is hunting him down. The reason why is pretty clever: defense contractor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) is reverse engineering Transformers to develop his own patented robots. Sure, it’s illegal, but he’s promised government insider Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) millions in stock to sign off on it anyway. If this sounds suspiciously similar to how Congress works, it’s because that’s exactly how Congress works.

It’s the last kind of wrinkle I ever expected in a Transformers movie, but with all the other summer blockbusters developing a social conscience, writer Ehren Kruger brings a little subtext. It’s not much, and the movie runs away from anything heavier as soon as things start blowing up, but I’ll give Age of Extinction credit for trying something a little deeper than its predecessors. It’s also refreshing to see director Michael Bay go back to basics, even if it doesn’t last – with Wahlberg front and center, there’s more focus on the humans in the chaos. This means more car and foot chases.

Things are complicated when transforming bounty hunter Lockdown shows up. He wants to capture the Transformers. Good or bad, he insists they’re a threat to humans. He’s supposed to be evil, but given that millions of civilians slaughtered in the first three movies would still be alive without the bunch of them, Lockdown has a point.

Transformers 4 whose extra limb is that

It’s disappointing when Bay’s worst tendencies inevitably take over at the end. If you thought the last movie’s two-sided conflict was filmed confusingly, get ready for Autobots vs. Decepticons vs. CIA vs. Wahlberg vs. China vs. Lockdown vs. Dinobots (don’t ask).

The franchise’s biggest draw and biggest problem remains its action. There are neat shots, but they all happen independently of each other. It’s like paying to see the game but all you’re given is the highlight reel. How many evil Decepticons are there? We’re told 50, but after 20 minutes of battle, are there 45 left or do only three remain? Your guess is as good as mine. Sure, the world’s at stake, but isn’t it always? The moments in between – the juxtaposition of heroic deeds against physical struggle and underlying fear – give action movies their weight. Age of Extinction forgets this halfway through, just about when the Transformers take over as the lead actors.

Go for Wahlberg, or the car chases, or to see Texas filmed beautifully in the first half hour. If you’re looking for an action movie, I’d recommend Edge of Tomorrow instead, especially as 3D goes. Bay’s camera is always moving quickly, backgrounds are usually bright, and the man is a lens glare addict, making the 3D in Transformers: Age of Extinction some of the most headache-inducing around.

It’s rated PG-13 for violence, language, and innuendo, but killing robots instead of people lets Bay get away with much more brutality than PG-13 would usually allow.

Wednesday Collective — Cyberpunk, Women Direct, Britain Whitewashes, and the Sharni Vinson Rule

There are so many articles for this week’s Wednesday Collective that we’re going to split it into two parts: today’s and tomorrow’s, which I’ll dub Thursday’s Child because it will be posted on Thursday and I’m a David Bowie fan.

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
Cyberpunk Gets Old, Files Reverse Mortgage
Molly Osberg

WedCol cyberpunk lead

Cyberpunk isn’t just a component of my generation’s artistic outlook, it’s half the foundation. The post-industrial, dystopian narrative movement whose bones were laid out in 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner finally muscled out in William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer. It’s re-formed the fashion and movie industries of Japan, changed Hollywood, and completely defined the video games industry, but – in recent years – technology has caught up to cyberpunk’s vision of a permanently jacked-in populace leading a real life and an online one. Perhaps more damningly, we’ve caught up to the future it once predicted, one characterized by lawless corporate feudalism and inanimate national goverments.

Molly Osberg writes at The Verge about how Cyberpunk’s evolved from social movement to aesthetic fascination, but also defines how its popular dissemination has clipped its social gravitas. What’s most interesting, and I’m projecting my own views onto this now, is how she touches on some of Gibson’s later obsessions, particularly in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country – a pursuit of iconography that borders on the religious, cultivated and refined by international groups of collectors into a borderless social Animism, forming unique languages of data and image to define views of the world that can only be completely understood by those who comprehend how the data connects.

After all, if the corporation-state is now borderless, and the nation-state has grown useless, it won’t be long before we’ll need a people-state. If Mitt Romney’s right that “Corporations are people, my friend,” then the correlation is that people are becoming less so. Maybe cyberpunk’s not quite done. Maybe we’re mistaking its teenage years, as it finds its footing in a changing world, for its retirement. Maybe its most powerful statements have yet to be made.

Female Filmmakers: Film’s Loss, Television’s Gain
Katie Walsh

Jill Soloway

Some directors have a harder time getting studios and indie investors to faithfully pony up the money for feature films. These directors are colloquially known as “women.” You see, women are considered more of a risk to helm a movie than men. Anyone who could give you a reason why could simultaneously give you a reason why he’s a fearful chauvinist living in a bygone era.

Katie Walsh at Indiewire describes the subsequent migration of women over to television directing. I can’t help but wonder whether limiting themselves to half the talent pool is why the range of viewpoints and styles in mainstream film tends toward repetition, while the range of popular TV narratives has grown braver, stranger, and more extensive. Actually, I can help but wonder, since we already know the answer.

Editing for Chinese Audiences
Shandongxifu

The Karate Kid training

While doing some research for “How China Keeps Bruce Willis Alive” last week, I came across a description by blogger Shandongxifu of how China edited the remake for The Karate Kid. It’s a window into the priorities of the Chinese censorship process, and how filmmakers worked around it to create a completely new narrative.

Britain’s Theatrical Whitewashing
Tony Howard

Adrian Lester in Merlin

Government censorship isn’t the only kind. Pictured above is Adrian Lester in Merlin. He’s an accomplished Shakespearian actor who struggles to land the jobs less accomplished white actors are given. Tony Howard at The New Statesmen pens a scathing article on Lester and other minority actors, who routinely have trouble getting roles on British stage, film, and TV. It reflects a problem that we here in the States still have, but explains how Britain’s centralization of arts funding, as well as their choice to focus on classical repertoire over newer plays, exacerbates the problem to a state of cultural emergency.

Of Charlton Heston & Antonio Banderas
A. E. Larsen

The War Lord

An Historian Goes to the Movies is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs, a go-to source for investigating the historical accuracy of films set in the past. This week, there’s an engrossing historical analysis on The War Lord, a little-known Medieval movie starring Charlton Heston, and a discussion on why intelligent costume designers consciously choose to include historically inaccurate armors in their historical films, using The 13th Warrior as a case study.

The Future of Chinese and Hong Kong Film
David Bordwell

The White Storm

David Bordwell gives a rundown of the annual Filmart festival in Hong Kong. It’s the single biggest film market in Asia. He sets the scene to make you feel like you’re there before discussing the new system of shared productions between Hong Kong and mainland China. He devotes the bulk of his article, however, to the most exciting new films from one of the most well-established yet fastest-growing film industries in the world.

The Sharni Vinson Rule
Jordan & Eddie

Shani Vinson in Patrick

This review of Australian suspense film Patrick isn’t about the industry or any specific technical craft, but it earns a place this week because it gives me a chance to champion two things:

Firstly, actress Sharni Vinson is something special and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to point people in her direction. She led last year’s You’re Next, which achieved the rare trifecta of being my favorite horror movie, comedy, and mumblecore film of the last several years. This gives rise to the Sharni Vinson Rule – One never needs an excuse to post about Sharni Vinson. In the interest of equality, let’s say it applies to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too.

Secondly, Jordan & Eddie (The Movie Guys) is my favorite site to learn about Australian filmmaking. Australia has a creative and vibrant filmmaking industry that is too often overlooked. These two tend to see Australian movies 6-12 months before we do here in the States, and they have a particular fondness for my kind of suspense and horror.

SUPER SECRET ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
“Post-Empire Strikes Back”
Lili Anolik

The Canyons

If you’ve made it this far, you’re in for a treat. This would be up near the top, but some of the subject matter is raunchy and I want to be respectful to all of my readership.

Believer Magazine features an excellent story by Lili Anolik on the wreck of a film that was last year’s The Canyons, a movie which accomplished the rare feat of being relentlessly interesting and boring as can be. Anolik interviews controversial novelist and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis (The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho) and director Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Adam Resurrected) about a movie that Lindsay Lohan single-handedly pulls from pure dreck to semi-watchable.

Anolik examines a true piece of performance art by Ellis, a post-theatrical movie in which the art on display isn’t the film itself but the cultural commentary housed within the tale of its production. The story of the real movie adaptation of a fictional novel that Ellis’s fictional alter-ego never got around to writing, starring Lindsay Lohan, a male porn star, and controversial director Gus Van Sant as his psychiatrist, is by turns fascinating, hilarious, and chilling. The Canyons may have been terrible, but the performance art of making it may be the best thing Ellis has done yet.