August 6, 2009
John Hughes, For Grownups
Filmmaker John Hughes passed away today, too young at 58. In the 1980s, Hughes had an astonishing run of iconic teen comedies that, almost a quarter century later, hold up as honest-to-goodness movies: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
My generation (I was born in 1979) was too young to see these movies in the theater, and too old for the kiddie comedies Hughes wrote (but didn't direct) in the 1990s. We ate these movies up on VHS and basic cable, badly cut (to protect US) for broadcast TV, but seeing in them our older brothers, sisters, and cousins, and later, ourselves.
However, since everyone's talking about these four movies, I want to single out the one great comedy Hughes made for and featuring grownups - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I saw this movie just last week - and it's terrific. What's more, it shows that the world Hughes created in his films, of humiliation and catastrophes offset by unlikely friendships, isn't just a sympathetic take on kids in fictional midwestern high schools, but a distinct comic take on the world itself. And every buddy comedy from the 1990s just follows this movie's playbook, with half the brains, a third of the timing, and a quarter of the heart.
August 5, 2009
The Aliens Within
I hadn't really been following much news behind the Peter Jackson/Neill Blomkamp project District 9, but this is intriguing:
When its extraterrestrial passengers emerge, they are sequestered to a sprawling shantytown and shunned by even the lowest strata of human society. Amid an effort to relocate the creatures to a new camp, a corporate bureaucrat (played by Sharlto Copley) is infected with a virus that begins turning him into an alien, forcing him to confront his prejudices and his loyalties while he runs for his life.
If it all sounds like a science-fiction parable for South Africa’s segregationist history, Mr. Blomkamp, 29, says that is no accident. “The whole film exists because of that,” he said.
High time that alien invasion movies quit the trope where the global nature of the invasion boils down to B-reel of the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, etc. When our visitors come, assuming they're interested in people at all, they're hitting Mexico City and Tokyo and Mumbai -- the Lincoln Memorial will be low, low, low on the list.
In other Peter-Jackson-related news, I also really liked Henry Jenkins's observation that among nerdly filmmakers, James Cameron is the ultimate geek (making movies because he loves creating and playing with the latest technologies) and Peter Jackson the ultimate fanboy (making movies because he loves all the movies and books he saw and read as a kid).
August 4, 2009
Drifting Away, Like Doctor Manhattan
I've been spending a lot of time reading about autism lately, so this NYT piece on a slate of forthcoming movies featuring characters with autism or Asperger's syndrome caught my attention.
But isn't the great book/movie about autism really Watchmen? One character after another -- savants, to be sure -- driven by their obsessions, unable to make lasting emotional connections with other people, despite their best efforts to connect and identify with humanity?
From the NYT:
“The more I learned about Asperger’s,” said Max Mayer, the writer and director of the romance, “Adam,” which opened last week, “the better metaphor it felt like for the condition of all of us in terms of a desire for connection to other people.”
People with Asperger’s may have superior intelligence and verbal skills, and they often have an obsessive interest in a particular topic (astronomy, in the case of the title character in “Adam,” played by Hugh Dancy). But they tend to be self-defeatingly awkward in social situations, and romantic relationships can leave them at sea.
August 3, 2009
It Really Is Snark Week
... but that doesn't mean Christopher Shea isn't right:
I'm as big a Julia Child fan as the next person... But how many pieces about Child's cultural significance can media outlets run before it starts to look as though reporters and editors have a financial stake in the forthcoming Nora Ephron movie about her?
All this gabbin' 'bout Shakespeare makes me wonder - what are the sacred, that is, foundational, texts for us? (Feel free to variously define "us.")
I mean Shakespeare's plays are one; I think the Bible is or ought to be another; The Simpsons, seasons 2-8; the original Star Wars trilogy; Sophocles; The Great Gatsby; Goodfellas...
I'm half kidding, one quarter reaching, and one quarter deadly serious; what cultural references are now, for you, and in your interactions with others, just assumed, like the way Moby Dick assumes King Lear, Paradise Lost, and the King James Bible?
July 14, 2009
Boy, If Life Were Only Like This
Ezra Klein writes that "I imagine that when Sonia Sotomayor is putting together her scrapbook of memories from the time she was nominated for the United States Supreme Court, this will be a page she'll particularly treasure":
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), seeking to discredit Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, cited her 2001 “wise Latina” speech, and contrasted the view that ethnicity and sex influence judging with that of Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, who “believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices.”
“So I would just say to you, I believe in Judge Cedarbaum’s formulation,” Sessions told Sotomayor.
“My friend Judge Cedarbaum is here,” Sotomayor riposted, to Sessions’s apparent surprise. “We are good friends, and I believe that we both approach judging in the same way, which is looking at the facts of each individual case and applying the law to those facts.”
“I don’t believe for a minute that there are any differences in our approach to judging, and her personal predilections have no affect on her approach to judging,” she told Washington Wire. “We’d both like to see more women on the courts,” she added.
Oh yeah? Well that's funny, because I happen to have Mr McLuhan right here:
June 21, 2009
Paris, Texas (For Fathers' Day)
For my money, the best movie about fatherhood is Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard's Paris, Texas:
Travis (played by Harry Dean Stanton) emerges in the deserts of West Texas without any memory or speech. A doctor contacts his brother Walt, and driving back to California, Travis slowly begins to open up. Walt likewise reveals that he and his wife Anne have been raising Travis's young son Hunter since shortly after Travis originally disappeared. Travis and Hunter then go to find Hunter's mother, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), who's likewise vanished.
Here's a favorite exchange, taken from the screenplay [lightly formatted by me]:
Walt: Trav, I need to talk to you a little bit about Hunter.
Travis: How old is he now?
W: He's eight in January.
T: He's seven, then.
W: Yeah. [Pause] But see what I want to talk about is uh ... Well, he's-he's like part of the family now. Anne and me are like his parents now.
T: Anne's your wife?
W: Yeah. You remember her, don't you?
T: No. [Pause.] Does he think that you are his father?
W: Well ... Anne told him you were coming.
T:Well who does he think I am?
W: I-I told him you are his father. But see ... Well, you've been gone a long time, Trav.
T: How long have I been gone, do you know?
W: Four years.
T: Is four years a long time?
W: Well, it is for a little boy. It's half his life.
T: Half a boy's life. [Pause.] I remember now!
T: Why I bought that land.
W: Oh, Why?
T: Well ... Mama once told me that uh ... that's where she and Daddy ... first ... made love.
W: Oh, in Paris, Texas?
W: She told you that?
T: Yeah. [Pause.] So ... I figured that that's where I-I have began. [Pause] I mean me, Travis Clay Henderson. They named me that. [Pause.] I started out there.
W: Paris, Texas, huh?
W: So you think maybe you were conceived there?
W: You could be right, Travis.
T: Daddy always had a joke about it.
W: What was the joke?
T: He's uh ... he would introduce Mama... as the girl he met in Paris. Then he'd waited uh ... before he said "Texas" till everybody thought that ... he meant ... he would wait before he said "Texas" till everybody thought ... after everyone thought he was talking about Paris, France. He always laughed real hard about it.
This movie can (and should) wreck you, it's that good.
May 20, 2009
It Was Citizen Kane
This Kids in the Hall sketch has come up twice in conversation this week. I consider it, like the film that gives it its name, essential viewing. Enjoy.
File under: Gleeful Miscellany, Movies, Television
May 13, 2009
It Is Not Logical
Andrew Hungerford -- aka the smartest, funniest dramatist * astrophysicist = lighting director you should know -- has written the best post on the physical holes in the new Star Trek movie that I think can be written.
Basically, almost nothing in the movie makes sense, either according to the laws established in our physical universe or the facts established in the earlier TV shows and movies.
Wherever possible, Andy provides a valiant and charitable interpretation of what he sees, based (I think) on the theory that "what actually happened" is consistent with the laws of physics, but that these events are poorly explained, characters misspeak, or the editing of the film is misleading. (I love that we sometimes treat Star Trek, Star Wars, etc., like the "historical documents" in Galaxy Quest -- accounts of things that REALLY happened, but that are redramatized or recorded and edited for our benefit, as opposed to existing ONLY within a thinly fictional frame.)
If you haven't seen the movie yet, you probably shouldn't read the post. It will just bother you when you're watching it, like Andy was bothered. If you have, and you feel like being justifiably bothered (but at the same time profoundly enlightened), check it out right now. I mean, now.
May 12, 2009
The Future Is Bright Indeed
Saw Star Trek. Yes, it's great fun. But I want to take a moment to celebrate a contributor not noted on the IMDb page. Really, it ought to read: "Star Trek (2009), starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and... SOOO MANY LENS FLARES."
Lens flares are all over Star Trek, even -- especially -- when there's no bright light on screen. They're different shapes, different colors, but they're omnipresent. They streak across the frame, across characters' faces:
They're most evident on the bridge of the Enterprise, but even in dark and dingy scenes, there's the suggestion of something luminous just off-camera:
Maybe it was my imagination, but it even felt like the flares had a certain character-specific quality, like the recurring melodies in Peter and the Wolf. Spock's flare was long and linear, straight across the eyes:
Kirk's flare was a spark of pink light circling his face. It's hard to see here -- look for the three bars hovering over the scratch on his cheek:
Anyway. Some people thought the near-constant flaring was overdone. I found it totally enchanting. Here's a bit of the behind-the-scenes story.
The Enterprise As A Start-Up
This is a post about the new Star Trek movie that contains no spoilers.
Here's my rule about movie and television spoilers. If you're giving information that's already given in a preview, then you're spoiling nothing that hasn't been spoiled already. Likewise, if you're giving information that can be reasonably inferred, no spoiling has occurred.
If you're not willing to entertain either of these possibilities, if you scrupulously avoid movie trailers or cast lists, and you still haven't seen this movie, then not only are you a weirdo, you also stopped reading this post long ago.
So, you will be shocked, shocked to learn that at one point in the new Star Trek movie, just as you've seen in the trailer, James T. Kirk sits in the captain's chair, and that by the end of the movie, most of the characters that we associate with the Enterprise's crew are working together on the Enterprise.
So here's Henry Jenkins's thoughtful post, "Five Ways to Start a Conversation About the New Star Trek Film," which DOES contain more detailed spoilers. My excerpt, however, does not:
In the past, we were allowed to admire Kirk for being the youngest Star Fleet captain in Federation history because there was some belief that he had managed to actually earn that rank... It's hard to imagine any military system on our planet which would promote someone to a command rank in the way depicted in the film. In doing so, it detracts from Kirk's accomplishments rather than making him seem more heroic. This is further compromised by the fact that we are also promoting all of his friends and letting them go around the universe on a ship together.
We could have imagined a series of several films which showed Kirk and his classmates moving up through the ranks, much as the story might be told by Patrick O'Brien or in the Hornblower series. We could see him learn through mentors, we could seem the partnerships form over time, we could watch the characters grow into themselves, make rookie mistakes, learn how to do the things we see in the older series, and so forth. In comics, we'd call this a Year One story and it's well trod space in the superhero genre at this point.
But there's an impatience here to give these characters everything we want for them without delays, without having to work for it. It's this sense of entitlement which makes this new Kirk as obnoxious as the William Shatner version. What it does do, however, is create a much flatter model for the command of the ship. If there is no age and experience difference between the various crew members, if Kirk is captain because Spock had a really bad day, then the characters are much closer to being equals than on the old version of the series.
This may be closer to our contemporary understanding of how good organizations work -- let's think of it as the Enterprise as a start-up company where a bunch of old college buddies decide they can pool their skills and work together to achieve their mutual dreams. This is not the model of how command worked in other Star Trek series, of course, and it certainly isn't the way military organizations work, but it is very much what I see as some of my students graduate and start to figure out their point of entry into the creative industries.
The Enterprise as a start-up! It reminds me of that story about the guys who started Silicon Valley's Fairchild Semiconductor.
Let me add that I think Jenkins is wrong about the way promotion is presented in the film -- Star Fleet actually appears to be remarkably meritocratic, much more deferential to performance and aptitude tests than years served. Captain Pike tells Kirk that he could command his own starship (the second highest rank) in four years after leaving the academy. Chekhov is a starship navigator (and not, like Kirk or Uhura, a cadet) at only seventeen years old; Spock is a commander and academy instructor without there being a sense of a considerable age/experience gap between he and Kirk or Uhura. (He's introduced as "one of our most distinguished graduates," like he's a really good TA.)
But it's not academia; it's the NBA. You give these kids the ball.
The important point is that within this highly meritocratic structure, the crew members of the Enterprise are PARTICULARLY and precociously talented. Kirk is the fastest to rise to captain where fast rises are not uncommon. As I said to my friends after seeing the movie, it gets bonus points for emphasizing just how SMART these people are; Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekhov (among others) are explicitly presented as geniuses.
Okay, now I've probably actually included spoilers in this thing. So. What. Go see the movie already. Then read the rest of Jenkins's post. You'll enjoy them both.
(H/t: the awesome Amanda Phillips.)
April 23, 2009
Marcel Duchamp, 1926:
I even like the John Fahey-esque score, added by whomever.
File under: Beauty, Books, Writing & Such, Movies
April 17, 2009
Where's My All-You-Can-Eat Movies?
Farhad Manjoo tries to figure out why nobody's solved the riddle of streaming movies on the internet:
When I called people in the industry this week, I found that many in the movie business understand that online distribution is the future of media. But everything in Hollywood is governed by a byzantine set of contractual relationships between many different kinds of companies—studios, distributors, cable channels, telecom companies, and others. The best way to understand it is to trace what you might call the life cycle of a Hollywood movie, as Starz network spokesman Eric Becker put it to me. We all understand the first couple of steps in this life cycle—first a movie hits theaters and then, a few months later, it comes out on DVD. Around the same time, it also comes out on pay-per-view, available on demand on cable systems, hotel rooms, airplanes, and other devices. Apple's rental store operates under these pay-per-view rules, most of which put a 24-hour limit on movies. The restriction might have made sense back in the days when most people were getting on-demand movies in hotel rooms and the studios didn't want the next night's guest piggybacking on rentals. It doesn't make much sense when you're getting the movie on your MacBook. But many of the contracts were written years ago, and they don't reflect the current technology.
A movie will stay in the pay-per-view market for just a few months; after that, it goes to the premium channels, which get a 15- to 18-month exclusive window in which to show the film. That's why you can't get older titles through Apple's rental plan—once a movie goes to HBO, Apple loses the right to rent it. (Apple has a much wider range of titles available for sale at $15 each; for-sale movies fall under completely different contracts with studios.) Between them, Starz and HBO have contracts to broadcast about 80 percent of major-studio movies made in America today. Their rights extend for seven years or more. After a movie is broadcast on Starz, it makes a tour of ad-supported networks (like USA, TNT, or one of the big-three broadcast networks) and then goes back to Starz for a second run. Only after that—about a decade after the movie came out in theaters—does it enter its "library" phase, the period when companies like Netflix are allowed to license it for streaming. For most Hollywood releases, then, Netflix essentially gets last dibs on a movie, which explains why many of its films are so stale.
I actually think Netflix Watch Instantly is pretty good. It's got the first two seasons of 30 Rock, the complete Monty Python's Flying Circus, some old Woody Allen and Pasolini movies, The Big Sleep, and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. It's not perfect, but neither is Showtime.
April 13, 2009
An Archaeologist of Morning
From Polis Is This, a documentary about the great poet, critic, and Black Mountain college rector Charles Olson:
I've said before and I will say again, I feel a spontaneous affinity for Olson like for no other American historical figure I've ever seen, heard, met, or read about.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Movies, New Liberal Arts
April 11, 2009
Dream of My Dissertation Defense
I had a dream a few nights ago where I was defending my dissertation. Actually, it wasn't clear if it was my dissertation defense or another job interview. Anyways, this is what I said. (Replace the word "Rehabilitated" with "Educated.")
That night, I slept peacefully, content to finally have revealed the truth.
April 5, 2009
In Praise of Phlegmatic Burghers
More good stuff on the journalism beat. Nicolas Lemann's "Paper Tigers" reviews new biographies of media moguls past and present, including a marvelous pivot between the flashy Hearst and Pulitzer to the double-breasted world of The Wall Street Journal's Barney Kilgore:
Kilgore and his colleagues did figure out how to publish a home-and office-delivered daily newspaper nationally, something that was far more difficult to accomplish in the nineteen-forties and fifties than people who have grown up with the Internet can imagine. The Journal's circulation, which was thirty-two thousand when Kilgore became its managing editor, in 1941, rose to just above a hundred and fifty thousand in 1950, eight hundred and twenty-five thousand in 1962, and almost a million when Kilgore died, of cancer, at the age of fifty-nine, in 1967.
When Kilgore started out at the Journal, reporters sometimes sold advertising, and Kilgore's own early work as a reporter entailed experimentation with forms carried over from the nineteenth century, such as articles written as letters to an imaginary friend. By the time the Journal had come to full maturity, it had helped establish the journalistic norms of reportorial nonpartisanship and of independence from advertiser pressure. As Tofel observes, it was less a standard newspaper than a news-and-business magazine published daily on newsprint, closer to Fortune and Business Week than to either Hearst's New York Journal or the Times, both of which were edited on the assumption that they would be their readers' sole source of news.
Still, Kilgore did much more than develop the manners and mores of modern élite journalism. The newspaper he built was full of idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, like the use of line drawings on the front page instead of photographs, the heavy use of peppy news briefs in lieu of stories, the not very funny daily cartoon cornily titled 'Pepper . . . and Salt,' the right-wing editorial page, and the goofy human-interest story in the middle of every day's front page. No less than Hearst's Journal and Pulitzer's World, the Wall Street Journal bore the stamp of Kilgore's personality, which turned out to be one that appealed to a large audience of phlegmatic businessmen like him.
I think Lemann actually goes too far in emphasizing the WSJ's blandness next to the rough-and-tumble world of the full yellows -- in the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, the ecology of financial news and the stock exchanges -- "a late-nineteenth-century version of a Bloomberg terminal -- a high-priced, custom-produced collection of timely data on the financial markets which was distributed to people who planned to trade on the information" -- was every bit as crazy, with people fighting each other over information (and misinformation) -- less Bloomberg than CNBC.
(I'm including this clip of Dr Mabuse, Der Spieler slightly because it begins with a crazy scene where Mabuse has used the newspapers to manipulate the stock market into a mighty short-sell, but mostly because I just love this movie.)
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Journalism, Movies
Making Reality Operational
Friend of Snarkmarket Nav at Scrawled In Wax has a thoughtful meditation on the relationship of video games to other art forms (and to reality), spurred on by playing LittleBigPlanet:
Video games can also tell stories, but many people argue that narrative -- particularly telling stories, or "diegesis" - isn't their primary function. Instead of relying on the representation of a world to tell tales, video games rely on simulation, not to recreate the world but in order to create a world as an arena for simulated action. And by collapsing both play and creation into one experience, blurring the distinction between the two, LittleBigPlanet becomes a metaphor for gaming itself in which the uniqueness of games as a cultural form becomes clear.
If literary texts work primarily through representation, and secondly by reader interaction, the inverse is true of video games: even in the most "realistic" games, it is the creative, interactive element that is paramount, and it is through this that players produce their own narratives as they move through a world that references "life" but is neither constrained by it nor bound to its rules...
And while I myself will always be partial to the intensely interior nature of literature, LittleBigPlanet suggests that, as gaming develops, its potential and power will be found in its capacity to empower players to create worlds never before imagined - and then, as was never possible before, step into them.
Let me tweak Nav's terms a little, because I think actually that "diegesis" DOESN'T just mean narrative, and is flexible enough to cover the "reader interaction" that he's talking about. Broadly speaking, diegesis is the interaction, rather than the story -- we associate it with narrative because it's a way to describe all the tools a narrator uses to tell a story rather than simply recount what happened. When a good storyteller hooks you in, THAT's diegesis. (Narrative in this sense would be one kind of diegesis.)
I particularly like the idea that video games and literature/film are at opposite ends of the teeter-totter that is mimesis/representation and diegesis/reader interaction -- they're important aspects both, but actually diegesis (I guess we'd call this "gameplay") is way more privileged in video games, precisely because of the high emphasis on interactivity.
I'll add another wrinkle. In fancy-pants film theory we often talk about the way that a viewer is "sutured" or stitched into the mind-space of the film. Basically, when you're watching a movie, you've got to take some kind of subject position -- usually it's that of the third-person who watches, taking turns identifying with one or another of the characters' point-of-view. And traditional movie techniques are all about making that subject-position super comfortable. You're sitting back, watching Bogart and Bergman and Dooley Wilson talk in Casablanca, one of them kind of at the center-left of the screen and one kind of at center-right, cutting back and forth, and you never stop to think, "hey! what's going on! where the hell am I?" The movie's doing its job, making all of this stuff transparent. While crazy art movies, like Pier Paolo Pasolini's, flip the axis and do disjunctive montages, so you can't get comfortable or find an easy space to identify with. And that's the point.
Scott McCloud talks about something similar in comic books -- we can identify with a character as an avatar if there's just enough detail that he/she seems real-ish, but not so much that he/she seems like somebody else, which is weirdly uncanny. So the more precisely iconic a character is -- whether Homer Simpson or Batman -- the easier it is for us to say, "that could be me."
Video games definitely work on both levels. The characters themselves have to be iconic - enough detail to distinguish them from being merely generic, not so much that we reject the ID altogether. But what really hooks us in is the gameplay, and in order for the gameplay to feel right, it, too, has to feel iconic -- simple enough in its execution to be manipulable and masterable, complex enough in its representation to "feel" real. This is the difference between trying to make the character on the screen -- what my mom would call "the guy" -- do different things, and feeling as if you yourself were doing them. Where you can call the character "I," or intermediately, "my guy."
I feel like I'm venturing too far afield. Suffice it to say, this reality/representation/narrative/interaction stuff is surprisingly profound once you start to get into it. And the fact that most of it is, for us, unconscious, helps to show both how good games tap into our brain's capacity for this kind of agent-mediated thinking and how thoroughly acculturated most of us are to the representational/interactive grammar of video games. Just like with films, when it's working really well, we don't even notice it any more.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Braiiins, Movies, Video Games
April 4, 2009
Something about the Tokyo! trailer seemed pretty Robin-esque to me:
So, Sloan, how's my Ro-dar? Planning to see this? Seen it already?
March 28, 2009
Paging Nate Silver
Paul Krugman on "the magazine cover effect":
[W]hen you see a corporate chieftain on the cover of a glossy magazine, short the stock. Or as I once put it (I’d actually forgotten I’d said that), “Whom the Gods would destroy, they first put on the cover of Business Week.”
Apparently the numbers back it up when it comes to CEOs. Krugman wryly states, "[p]resumably the same effect applies to, say, economists. You have been warned."
But Dr Krugman, you presume too much! We need data, not just for CEOs, but academics, journalists, athletes, actors... Maybe being on the cover of Sports Illustrated is good index of future success (IFS) for pitchers, but a negative one for boxers. (This in fact seems likely.) Maybe it's better for athletes than managers. It might be great for actors -- given that increased visibility generally leads to better pay, more awareness, more awards... or else the whole celebrity publicity industry is just terribly misguided.
We need serious, highly-differentiated regressions on this one. Otherwise, this might just be some full-moon positive confirmation thing for everything BUT CEOs.
File under: Marketing, Movies, Snarkonomics, Sports, Television
March 27, 2009
Guest of Cindy Sherman
I love Cindy Sherman, so I'm fascinated by this film; my wife thinks the whole thing is creepy. What do you think?
March 26, 2009
Paul Krugman Channels Woody Allen
Blogging for the NYT is a little like writing/directing your own movie:
Via Mark Thoma, Anatole Kaletsky writes:
Smith, Ricardo and Keynes produced no mathematical models.
Now, I have
Marshall McLuhanJohn Maynard Keynes right here. Let’s ask him:
Let Z be the aggregate supply price of the output from employing N men, the relationship between Z and N being written Z = φ(N), which can be called the aggregate supply function. Similarly, let D be the proceeds which entrepreneurs expect to receive from the employment of N men, the relationship between D and N being written D = f(N), which can be called the aggregate demand function...
March 24, 2009
Wounded, They Plan To Prevail
Souleymane Sy Savané [Solo] is from the Ivory Coast. Red West [William] is from Memphis. We believe it. They fit into their roles like hands into gloves. You look at Red West and think, this man has been waiting all his life to play this role. He is 72, stands 6'2." You may have heard the name. He was a member of Elvis Presley's Memphis Mafia, a friend, driver and bodyguard starting in 1955, who appeared in bit parts in 16 Elvis movies. Since then he has worked for such directors as Robert Altman and Oliver Stone.
"I wanted a real Southerner," Bahrani told me after the film's premiere at Toronto 2008. "I wanted the accent, I wanted the mentality of the South. Red sent a video of himself doing a reading of the first scene. I think I watched it for three seconds; I hit pause and said, this is the guy that I wrote about. This is the guy. I called him; I said, 'Red, can you not point when you do the reading?' And I gave him one other direction, just to see, would he hear what I said and would he do it? He did it, he taped it, he sent it back; he had listened to everything I said. I brought the guy in and, I mean, there was just no doubt about it. He was the man."
Bahrani only asked him once about Elvis. "He told a great story. I think it was Elvis' cousin that was bringing drugs to him in the end, and Red didn't like it, which was one of the big conflicts of their falling-out. He said, the guy brought drugs, and he broke his foot and said, 'I'll work my way from your foot up to your face.'
The other thing you should know about Red West is that he was in Road House, playing a character named Red Webster. That is so bad ass.
March 20, 2009
Nuovi Ladri di Bicyclette
A.O. Scott on the new Neorealism in American cinema:
WHAT KIND OF MOVIES do we need now? It’s a question that seems to arise almost automatically in times of crisis. It was repeatedly posed in the swirl of post-9/11 anxiety and confusion, and the consensus answer, at least among studio executives and the entertainment journalists who transcribe their insights, was that, in the wake of such unimaginable horror, we needed fantasy, comedy, heroism. In practice, the response turned out to be a little more complicated — some angry political documentaries and earnest wartime melodramas made it into movie theaters during the Bush years, and a lot of commercial spectacles arrived somber in mood and heavy with subtext— but such exceptions did little to dent the conventional wisdom.
And as a new set of worries and fears has crystallized in recent months — lost jobs and homes, corroded values and vanished credit — the dominant cultural oracles have come to pretty much the same conclusions... But what if, at least some of the time, we feel an urge to escape from escapism? For most of the past decade, magical thinking has been elevated from a diversion to an ideological principle. The benign faith that dreams will come true can be hard to distinguish from the more sinister seduction of believing in lies. To counter the tyranny of fantasy entrenched on Wall Street and in Washington as well as in Hollywood, it seems possible that engagement with the world as it is might reassert itself as an aesthetic strategy. Perhaps it would be worth considering that what we need from movies, in the face of a dismaying and confusing real world, is realism.
Postwar Italy turned inward after fascism, wartime defeat, and economic collapse to create some of the greatest films in history, by Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, the young Federico Fellini, and possibly my favorite postwar filmmaker, Vittorio De Sica. These films, usually using amateur actors (with glorious exceptions like the great Anna Magnani), location settings, and astonishingly free yet lucid cinematography and editing, portrayed hidden corners of the world from the networks of the Italian resistance to the pawnshops of the impoverished Italian (non)working classes.
The best heir to De Sica's throne is doubtlessly Ramin Bahrani, whose debut Chop Shop has been the best new independent movie I've seen in years. He's got a new one, Goodbye Solo, that also looks great. If Chop Shop was Bahrani's Bicycle Thief, then Goodbye Solo looks like his Umberto D.
... Read more ....
March 19, 2009
When I first heard that Sopranos creator David Chase was making an HBO miniseries about the movie business, I thought it would be a roman a clef or something entertaining but insidery like The Player or "Entourage." But this actually sounds pretty cool:
The series, "Ribbon of Dreams," will begin with the behind-the-scenes roles played by two fictional characters -- one a cowboy with some violence in his past, the other a mechanical engineer -- who work for the famous early film director D. W. Griffith. It will follow them and their professional heirs through the development of the movie business..
The project is expected to cover each period of Hollywood movies, beginning with silent westerns and comedies, through the golden era of the studio system, to the emergence of auteur film directors in the 1970s, and up to the current mix of studio blockbusters and independent films. The cast of characters will also include many of the biggest names of Hollywood's past, including John Wayne and Bette Davis
I love this stuff, and I bet I will be very into this.
March 11, 2009
Secrets and Easter Eggs in the Watchmen Titles
One reason why Alan Moore (like lots of other people) may have thought that Watchmen was unfilmable was the use of subtle associations and tiny messages that could only be revealed by long scrutiny of the individual pages and panels. According to Moore, in Watchmen we see:
sort of "under-language" at work ... that is neither the "visuals" nor the "verbals" but a unique effect caused by a combination of the two. A picture can be set against text ironically, or it can be used to support the text, or it can be completely disjointed from the text -- which forces the reader into looking at the scene in a new way... the reader has the ability to stop and linger over one particular "frame" and work out all of the meaning in that frame or panel. (Quoted in "Reading Space in Watchmen.")
Well, movies don't allow that same kind of attention at full speed in the theater. They DO allow it in the freeze-frame -- and Zack Snyder's Watchmen title sequence actually slows down and freezes the frame for you. Now Meredith Woerner's got the goods on the easter eggs in the title sequence for Watchmen, and at least one is a doozy:
The opening shot, with Nite Owl giving a fist full of justice has a big Batman reference. First, check out the posters to the right. Look familiar? And isn't that Mr. and Mrs. Wayne at the back entrance of the opera, being saved from a bloody death? And according to commenter Rainbucket, the opera bills say: "Die Fledermaus" (The Bat). So can we safely come to the conclusion that the original Nite Owl stopped Batman from popping up in their universe?
P.S.: I haven't listened to these yet, but apparently there are some Watchmen podcasts that go through the book panel-by-panel the same way Woerner goes through the title sequence. These via Mystery Man on Film.
March 8, 2009
Kinetic typography refers to the art and technique of expression with animated text. Similar to the study of traditional typography of designing static typographic forms, kinetic typography focuses on understanding the effect time has on the expression of text. Kinetic typography has demonstrated the ability to add significant emotive content and appeal to expressive text, allowing some of the qualities normally found in film and the spoken word to be added to static text.
A classic example of kinetic typography is the Saul Bass-designed title sequence for North By Northwest:
This concept reminds me of Walther Ruttmann's great documentary film Berlin, which did kinetic typography the old-fashioned way: take a big, horking street sign and zip past it on a train:
But kinetic typography in these senses are in some sense old hat -- how are we taking kinetic type and making it new?
Here is a YouTube playlist of new, digitally produced exemplars of kinetic typography, assembled by João Bordalo:
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Design, Movies
March 5, 2009
The Joy of Paper Tape
There are so many reasons to enjoy Maximum PC's"Computer Data Storage Through the Ages -- From Punch Cards to Blu-Ray," but I like the way it relates the technologies to the broader culture. For instance:
Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and magnetic tape all rose to prominence in the 1950s, and it was the latter that helped shape the recording industry. Magnetic tape also changed the computing landscape by making long-term storage of vasts amount of data possible. A single reel of the oxide coated half-inch tape could store as much information as 10,000 punch cards, and most commonly came in lengths measuring anywhere from 2400 to 4800 feet. The long length presented plenty of opportunities for tears and breaks, so in 1952, IBM devised bulky floor standing drives that made use of vacuum columns to buffer the nickel-plated bronze tape. This helped prevent the media from ripping as it sped and up and slowed down.
Likewise, audio quality of cassette tapes improved, "ushering in the era of boom boxes and parachute pants (thanks M.C. Hammer." And "the floppy disk might one day go down as the only creature as resistant to extinction as the cockroach."
But my favorite digital storage media, hands-down, is paper tape:
Similar to punch cards, paper tape contained patterns of holes to represent recorded data. But unlike its rigid counterpart, rolls of paper tape could feed much more data in one continuous stream, and it was incredibly cheap to boot. The same couldn't be said for the hardware involved. In 1966, HP introduced the 2753A Tape Punch, which boasted a blistering fast tape pinch speed of 120 characters per second and sold for $4,150. Yikes!
One thing I've always wondered about these early paper-based computer programs is whether they were copyrighted -- and whether that, in part, led to the adoption of paper. One of Thomas Edison's clever exploitations of copyright loopholes was to take celluloid moving pictures (which weren't initially eligible for copyright) and copy them onto a long, continuous paper print -- this meant that an entire feature film could be copyrighted as a single "photograph."
I also wonder if/why early computer programmers didn't use celluloid instead of paper. You can move it a lot faster than paper tape, and it's generally stronger -- except, perhaps, if you punch it with lots of little holes.
File under: Movies, Music, Object Culture, Technosnark
February 26, 2009
Michel Gondry + Flight of the Conchords + Ex-Girlfriends = Love
A little late, but I just saw this little delightful slice of pop:
February 23, 2009
The Logic of Oscar Predictions
Nate Silver, the web's Statistician Laureate*, created a statistical model to predict the winners of the six major Oscar categories. He got four out of six right, missing Penélope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress and Sean Penn for Best Actor. In his postmortem, Silver notes that Kate Winslet's flitting in and out of the category threw off his model, but also offers a broader defense of his approach:
Ultimately, this is not about humans versus computers. The computer I used to forecast the Oscars didn't think for itself -- it merely followed a set of instructions that I provided to it. Rather, it is a question of heuristics: when and whether subjective (but flexible) judgments, such as those a film critic might make, are better than objective (but inflexible) rulesets.... Read more ....
The advantage in making a subjective judgment is that you may be able to account for information that is hard to quantify -- for example, Rourke's behavioral problems or the politics of Sean Penn playing a gay icon in a year where Hollywood felt very guilty about the passage of Proposition 8. The disadvantage is that human beings have all sorts of cognitive biases, and it's easy to allow these biases to color one's thinking. I would guess, for instance, that most critics would have trouble decoupling the question of who they thought should win the Oscars -- those performances they liked the best personally -- from who they thought actually would win them.
February 19, 2009
We're Those Two Guys
So many gems in Roger Ebert's remembrance of his relationship with Gene Siskel. Here's one:
He got his second job, as the movie critic of the CBS Chicago news, because the newscast was bring reformatted to resemble a newspaper city room. Van Gordon Sauter, the executive producer, recruited Gene on the theory, "Don't hire someone because they look good on TV; hire them because they cover a beat and are the masters of it." Gene speculated that was the reason for the success of our show: We didn't look great on TV, but we sounded as if we might know what we were talking about.
The rest you should find for yourself.
February 17, 2009
The Book Is Better
Willing Davidson, "Great Book, Bad Movie: How Hollywood Ruins Novels":
This isn't an original complaint: Liking the book better than the movie is a middlebrow rite of passage. And novels are a constant, renewable source of stories for Hollywood, with ready-built brand appeal—from the kiddie franchises (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia) to the airport bangers (Da Vinci Code, the Bourne etceteras). Nor are these always bad movies. It turns out that good plots and an epic dimension translate well from page to screen. But the attempt to scale this model by making midsize movies from literary novels has been an ugly disaster. In our post-The Reader world, I can safely say that I'd rather personally digitize back issues of Talk magazine than see another movie based on Harvey Weinstein's favorite book. Scott Rudin can fuck off, too.
I once interviewed to be a literary scout for a respected producer. The job, as described, was this: find the best novels before anyone else does so they can be bought and made into great movies. This sounds admirable. But it rests on the idea that what makes a literary novel good can be translated with any reliability into what makes a movie good. Three of the films that will be feted come Oscar night are based on recognizable literature. And while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader are definitely terrible movies, Revolutionary Road is both the worst movie I saw this year and one of the best novels I've read.
Davidson has an intriguing theory: the movie industry is both too deferential to novels and clueless about how they work. "There's so much plot to get in that there's no time to tell the story."
Some movies that are better than the books they're based on: The Godfather, The Birth Of A Nation/The Klansman, The Shawshank Redemption, The Magnificent Ambersons, Goodfellas, The Bridge on the River Kwai, many of Stanley Kubrick's movies. Others equal to the task: Malcolm X, Blade Runner, Fight Club, Kurosawa's adaptations of Shakespeare.
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Movies
February 16, 2009
Medicine For Melancholy
January 8, 2009
Waltz With Bashir
Lebanon -- the subject of Waltz With Bashir -- isn't Gaza, and of course all war in the Middle East isn't the same, but even so, this movie has a lot to offer, especially right now.
(Um. Take a minute before you read the next post or your brain will explode from the sudden shift in gravity.)
December 25, 2008
Watching The Big Sleep in a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, and it is glorious. Lauren Bacall is as cool as blue flame, but it's hard to beat watching Bogart with Dorothy Malone. Even bookstore clerks are wise! In a way this is a key to film noir -- what passes as toughness is really a monumentous and universally held contempt for the slightest stupidity.
"I've got a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest, and I'd better take her home." It's enough to make you want to write pastiches of pastiche, like the Coen Brothers squared.
December 21, 2008
The Film Version Of Your Life
In mine, I would be played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. There's a fair-to-middling physical resemblance, to be sure, but mostly, I just feel like he would do a really, really great job.
I'd also like it if he would say this about me:
The world is hard, and ... being a human on this earth is a complicated, messy thing.” Hoffman paused again. “And I, personally, am uncomfortable with that messiness, just as I acknowledge its absolute necessity. I find the need to play a part like [Tim Carmody] inescapable, and I only want to do things I’m that passionate about. I know there are actors out there that present themselves as cool cats, but you better take your cool-cat suit off if you want to act. You can’t otherwise.
December 15, 2008
Filial Affection In An Entropic World
Stylistically, “Bottle Rocket” swings between poles of tension and release, order and chaos. In purely visual terms the film is tightly structured, with a systematic use of color (white for Dignan, bright red for Anthony), frontal compositions anchored by the horizon line, and a self-consciously theatrical sense of space: an open foreground for the action, played against a flat, immobile background (just as the motel rises from the flatlands around it). And there is no more linear plot structure than that of the heist film, in which pleasure lies in the orderly fulfillment of a precise program.
Of course, nothing like that happens, and the boys’ assault on a cold-storage warehouse, complete with brightly colored jumpsuits and malfunctioning walkie-talkies, is a disaster sprung from Dignan’s self-delusion. But Mr. Anderson, in this early film, does something he can’t bring himself to do later: he shows us the realization, in Dignan’s eyes, that he has been living in a dream world, and reality has belatedly arrived to claim its price (with interest). The moment comes when Dignan, being led to his cell, casts a single furtive glimpse back at Anthony, and it remains without parallel in Mr. Anderson’s work.
My favorite Wes Anderson movie is far and away The Royal Tenenbaums, but dang it, Bottle Rocket is so charming. It's like Owen Wilson -- sure, it's an immature mess, but you love it anyways.
November 29, 2008
I think you should go see Slumdog Millionaire this weekend. Seriously.
That might seem off-kilter, because this is a movie about Mumbai that is fundamentally optimistic -- a comedy, in the classic sense -- and the real tale of Mumbai these past few days has been anything but.
But Slumdog Millionaire also has it share of darkness; it doesn't stint on the grim, weird things that are a part of this city's life.
More importantly, it is, all together, the most interesting, accessible, and revelatory portrait of modern India I've ever seen. And if you find yourself a bit at odds, feeling like you ought to do something -- ought to attend to these events mentally or morally in some way -- I think learning isn't a bad place to start.
November 26, 2008
The Two-Disc Special Edition and Blu-Ray Edition of The Dark Knight ships with a digital AVI copy of the movie; if you buy it on Amazon, you can stream it right away as an Unbox video-on-demand.
Explain to me again why Amazon couldn't make the same model work for books?
November 17, 2008
Running Off, Barking At Cats
Roger Ebert -- yes, that Roger Ebert -- is writing one of the best blogs around. Not just about movies either. I think blog-writing has made Ebert's movie reviews better -- more fun, more adventurous. His review of Charlie Kaufmann's Synecdoche, NY is a delight, and his own summary is the best: "Fair warning: I begin with a parable, continue with vast generalizations, finally get around to an argument with Entertainment Weekly, and move on to Greek gods, 'I Love Lucy' and a house on fire."
August 15, 2008
The Dark Knight, Age Nine
Meta-media is the new media! This swede of the Dark Knight trailer acted out by kids is both a funny, charming homage and some sort of biting commentary. (Or maybe I just want it to be biting commentary?)
July 15, 2008
Wordwright with the five things that make Batman Batman. His list does not describe all past Batmans: just the good ones.
P.S. In Minneapolis, we saw The Dark Knight being advertised on the side of a Landmark theater. That's right: This movie is simultaneously a summer IMAX blockbuster and an art-house flick. Awesome.
February 19, 2008
Sita Sings the Blues
Nina Paley made an entire animated movie herself -- and it looks amazing. The blurb:
Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the Indian epic Ramayana.
Nina Paley's been documenting the process all along, apparently, on her blog. Too cool.
February 14, 2008
Indiana Jones and the Whatever Whatever
Maybe it's just the nostalgic preamble that roped me in, but, okay, the new Indiana Jones movie looks great.
November 6, 2007
If I was Wes Anderson, instead of devoting my next two-year creative cycle to another big monolithic movie like The Darjeeling Limited, I would instead spend it making a series of 15-minute shorts like The Hotel Chevalier: one every three months, eight or so total. People would subscribe to them, on DVD or digital-whatever. It'd be great!
August 5, 2007
Woody Allen on Ingmar Bergman in TIME -- a nice interview, and a reminder to explore each of their films in more depth. (I've actually never seen any Bergman! And of Allen's movies I've only seen a handful.)
July 24, 2007
Via Fimoc: trailer for Wes Anderon's new movie, The Darjeeling Limited. If this follows the pattern established by previous Wes Anderson movies (Bottle Rocket: hated it; Rushmore: loved it; Royal Tenenbaums: hated it; Life Aquatic: loved it)... I will hate it.
July 11, 2007
Zombies in Space! Just Kidding
As William Gibson is to prose, so Danny Boyle is to images.
Check out the new trailer for Sunshine.
June 27, 2007
My Favorite Muppet
Snarkmarket pal Chris Fong saw Gonzo (and, okay, his puppeteer Dave Goelz) speak at the Yerba Buena Center here in SF. He edited together a little video and it is pretty cool.
AND -- crucial Muppet-viewing advice -- it's more fun it you drag a window over Goelz (sorry, Dave) so you just see Gonzo sitting there by himself.
May 23, 2007
Joining the Parade
Paprika, a new movie from Japanese director Satoshi Kon, comes out in artsy U.S. theaters this week. I saw it at the San Francisco International Film Festival and it blew my mind. No hyperbole; I was slack-jawed. Am definitely going to go see it again.
May 18, 2007
He's Michael Bay
Against my better judgment, I am really looking forward to the Transformers movie this summer. My colleague Joe is trying to set expectations at the right level, though.
May 7, 2007
I've got a huge backlog of film-blogging to do, as I have seen some unspeakably cool stuff at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. Here's a stop-gap -- a short from last night's "Frame by Frame" animation shorts collection:
Higher quality versions here. And of course, as you can probably imagine, seeing it in the theater was CRAZYNUTS.
April 24, 2007
I think Eagle vs. Shark deserves to be the next cult classic. Please patronize it when it comes to a theater near you.
(PS: you don't actually have to wait for the movie to buy the wonderful music of the band that composed its soundtrack, The Phoenix Foundation.)
March 18, 2007
A Rare Rant
Did anybody else see "300"?
I thought it was basically war porn.
The less politicized majority, who perhaps would like to draw inspiration from this story without glossing over the crazy and defective aspects of Spartan society, have turned, in droves, to a film from the alternative cultural universe of fantasy and science fiction. Styled and informed by pulp novels, comic books, video games and Asian martial arts flicks, science fiction eats this kind of material up, and expresses it in ways that look impossibly weird to people who aren’t used to it.
That sounds weird to me. As I said over in the Fimoculous comments, I'm not sure I buy the conflation of geek culture with... er... whatever "300" is. Just 'cause it's from a comic book, it counts more as an avatar of nerd-dom than as, say, a hyperviolent fantasia of nationalism?
And I don't buy the "what, you don't want to celebrate the Battle of Thermopylae and the salvation of the west??" argument at all because "300" is pretty clearly not intended to be a historical document. Stephenson can't claim it as both a sci-fi hyperreal anime kung-fu nerd-fest and as a documentary.
But really, I think I'm just a little bummed because Neal Stephenson wrote something and it didn't make any sense. First the climate crisis, now this...
February 1, 2007
Danny Boyle's New Flick
(Man, I am loving the sudden resurgence of post- or near-apocalyptic cinema!)
January 26, 2007
Help Me Decide Which Movie to See
So there is this film noir festival going on this weekend in San Francisco, which seems like a totally awesome thing to check out, except that I have never heard of any of the movies.
So... help me out here. Take a look at the program and let me know if anything rings a bell -- or just looks interesting. I can't see any of the Friday movies, but Saturday and Sunday are both fair game.
January 22, 2007
I'm Pretty Sure This is a Tiny Glimpse of 2017
Check out the trailer for We Are The Strange: "Monsters Inc meets The Nightmare before Christmas inside of a retro Japanese videogame." I am pretty sure this is the first movie accepted into Sundance that was scored entirely with a Gameboy. (Roundabout via Rex.)
January 5, 2007
Children of Men
Also, the camera work is unbelievable.
December 21, 2006
...and the Deathly Hallows
October 14, 2006
October 3, 2006
The Return of Optimus Prime
Michael Bay is bringing Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime in the Transformers cartoon series, back for the live-action version. Cullen talks about it here. Revelation: Until recently, he did not really understand how popular Prime was!
And what about the reaction from fans?
I don't remember any overwhelming reaction from anybody. But then I wasn't really in any way aware of what the kids were thinking. I didn't have any thermometer to tell me how popular the show was. I do remember that the movie was not a very big financial success.
Though you must've gotten fan letters ...
No, that's one thing about that series. I never saw a fan letter. I don't know who got them. That's why I was so surprised so many years later to find out that he was so popular. I didn't know.
Related: You can submit a line to be spoken by Cullen (!) in a contest over at the Transformers website. I am such a shill but I don't care. If you had cried in the movie theater watching an animated Optimus Prime die like ten minutes into the first Transformers movie you would totally, totally understand.
September 25, 2006
You Gotta Hear This One Song, It'll Change Your Life I Swear
In modern movies, especially modern movies by Zach Braff, pop songs are extraordinarily "load-bearing." Music, not action or dialogue, generates all of the emotion.
I don't know whether this Garden State remix really proves that point or not, but either way, it just made me laugh out loud. Awwwesome.
August 10, 2006
Alive in New Mombasa
You've probably seen that awesome short film "Alive in Joburg" (here it is on Google Video) -- verite-style with computer graphics, dusty depressing future, aliens, etc.
Well, the guy who directed it just got tapped to direct the Halo movie! Awesome.
July 14, 2006
Christopher Nolan's next movie looks totally great.
June 27, 2006
Indie digital cinema story of the moment. Pretty cool.
P.S. I can't help it: Every time I see Adam Penenberg's byline all I can do is think of Steve Zahn in Shattered Glass.
June 20, 2006
Come On, Make Me Work
Encouraged by Matt's post, I saw Brick on Saturday night. Man oh man. What a perfect movie. Everything about it is great: the acting, the look, the mood, the style... even the shocking post-theater reminder that it was all done on a shoestring. The movie has a gravity and wholeness that suggests it will still be totally watchable in five years, or fifty.
But my favorite thing about Brick is the fact that it makes you work. Not work in a kind of loopy art-school way, but rather, you've simply got to keep your brain spinning as you watch it. No cinema-induced coma here. You've got to constantly process what's going on -- from the super-fast, super-stylized patter to the byzantine plotting -- to keep in step with the movie. Revelations don't thud into your lap; they sneak in the back door.
And the laughs are all so well-constructed and well-earned: There is not a single cheap one in this entire movie.
I think so many critics read it as a film-geek stunt (e.g.) because, well, they're film geeks. My non-film-geek verdict is A++ would watch again. In five years or fifty.... Read more ....
May 24, 2006
An Inconvenient Truth
File under Dept. of Effusive Praise: Larry Lessig calls Davis Guggenheim's doc on global warming and Al Gore "the most extraordinary lecture I have ever seen anyone give about anything."
Added bonus: There's actually some rise of the image fall of the word mojo happening with this movie; both it and the slide show it's based on use images, moving and still, to communicate complicated ideas in an extraordinarily efficient way.
May 22, 2006
Finally Saw Water
... highly recommended. Brought a single tear to this jaded cheek. Go see it, and try not to be all culturally imperialistic about it.
And then come back and listen to "Aayo Re Saki," a ridiculously good song that shows up midway through the movie and has its way with you for a few moments.
April 8, 2006
High School Noir
Brick was a blast. It definitely deserves to inherit the college-boy quote-fountain crown from Fight Club, The Big Lebowski, and The Usual Suspects. According to David Denby, it was shot in 20 days and edited on a home computer. (A Mac, says an interview on the official site.) Go trailerize, then go see it.
April 4, 2006
Movies, Your Way
Today, Garrick Van Buren introduced me to Cin-o-matic, which is a) my new favorite thing, and b) apparently made by a local. Sorta like MetaCritic, only you can choose from a list of critics whose movie scores you'd like to aggregate, and it's mashed up with information about what's playing at your local theaters.
April 3, 2006
Film Industry Enters Late 20th Century
Starting this week, we'll finally be able to purchase and immediately download (some) movies. The fact that we have not been able to do this until now is the best demonstration of the film industry's idiocy. We've long been able to easily acquire these movies online for free, but because Hollywood is a giant, dull-witted beast, we couldn't pay to do this legally even if we wanted to.
Before iTunes launched, I would have said selling music online was a lost cause. It was too easy to get songs for free. But the introduction of a good, comprehensive, well-organized music service which gave me fair-to-middling rights over what I purchased ended up completely winning me over. In 2005, by my count, I bought 465 songs through iTunes.
- The sites will have to stop redirecting me from the home page to an error message because I'm using Firefox.
- They're going to have to get a much, much better selection. No, I don't want to see Transporter 2 or National Lampoon Presents Barely Legal, but thanks.
- They're going to have to get rid of the ultralame DRM that won't let me burn my files to DVD.
- They'll have to be acquired by NetFlix, to which my heart and movie tastes already belong.
March 23, 2006
The Fast and the Curious
Clearly you, too, are wondering when the movie trailer mashup meme is going to die. But I still have to link to this one. Partly because it's well-done, but mostly because there's a shout-out to my favorite critic, "Chester Munro."
March 14, 2006
The Dorkiest (And Most Awesome) Thing I Have Ever Seen
March 8, 2006
Somehow, the Assimilated Negro has come up with a worthy follow-up to the Blink Don't Wink™ campaign: the Netflix Neighborhood Challenge. His theory is that different neighborhoods get completely different tiers of Netflix service. If you've had Netflix delivered from different addresses, you've experienced the disparity in service; some places it's lightning-quick, others it's just speedy. Quoth the Negro:
So now I'm thinking there's probably some "neighborhood priority system" going on behind the scenes at the 'flix. And I'm planning to break the case. I'm going to be bringing my netflix returns around with me to the various neighborhoods I visit in Manhattan and Brooklyn. And we'll see who gets the shaft, and who gets [insert smart funny line that plays off the 'who gets the shaft' setup here].
Do we have any other case studies on this matter? Have you noticed any difference in Netflix return speed based on your neighborhood, or um, level of education/body odor?
I think we should blow this up nationwide, and give it a Google Maps mashup.
March 7, 2006
Best Movie Critics
From Ask MeFi, which movie critics do you trust?
My answer: I use the incomparable MetaCritic to figure out which films to see. Aggregated critical opinion really is a wondrous thing. (And MetaCritic, as one astute AMeFi commenter puts it, "is what Rotten Tomatoes wants to be when it grows up.")
So critics have a different function for me. My favorite critics give me smart, unexpected analyses that make the moviegoing experience richer. Often I read their reviews only after I've seen a film, to see what they saw in it that I didn't. For this purpose, my favorites are the NYT's Manohla Dargis, Salon's Stephanie Zacharek (especially for commercial movies), and James Berardinelli. And my second-tier critics are The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, Slate's David Edelstein, and Ebert.
February 15, 2006
A Fine Entertainment
February 13, 2006
Starring: The Sum of a Society's Dreams and Nightmares (Plus Some Puppets)
Man, I just saw the weirdest movie tonight. Luckily, I can describe it to you perfectly using Movie Math™:
The Neverending Story + Dark Crystal + Spirited Away The Great Yokai War
From the SF Indie Fest description:
Only Tadashi the Kirin Rider and his sword can save the world from this menace, with some help from his Yokai friends!
What it doesn't quite tell you is that this movie is like a super-concentrated dose of pure Japanese-ness. Seriously, if this were, say, a British movie, it would be about King Arthur and Robin Hood on a quest to save Queen Elizabeth from fairies. And Oliver Cromwell. And America.
Unfortunately, the plot and characters of The Great Yokai War are a little below the standard set by its classic DNA. But even so, it's worth seeing if it comes to your neck of woods, or to DVD -- if only to appreciate the way the director (apparently all his other movies are total gross-out horror flicks!) combines actors, puppets, and computer graphics in a way that is, if not seamless, then at least shameless. It's a gung-ho effort.
And seriously: SO JAPANESE.
February 1, 2006
Five Movie Directors Walk Into a Bar
Newsweek hosted a free-flowing conversation between all of this year's Best Director nominees... and it's really interesting!
The transcript format is really underused, especially on the web, where length is no issue. When smart people are involved, it's such a good way to consume information and ideas.
(Via Pop Candy.)
January 13, 2006
The trailer for "Idlewild," the OutKast movie, is finally available for viewing.
As Matt will tell you, this is of course just the warmup for their inevitable "Chity Chitty Bang Bang" remake.
But in the meantime... looks pretty sweet.
December 14, 2005
Miyazaki Does Earthsea
Oh wow. Two favorites collide: Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli will do an adaptation of the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin.
(The Sci-Fi Channel did one, too, but it was bad.)
December 11, 2005
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe... But Especially the Witch
I saw the new Narnia movie this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Of course this is no "Lord of the Rings." But big deal. The Chronicles of Narnia have always been a different sort of thing entirely. Tolkien is high fantasy; Lewis is fairy tale. Tolkien weaves a mock history; Lewis tells a bedtime story.
And there's something appealing about that. In contrast to Tolkien's fastidiously-kept Middle Earth, there is a large-hearted looseness to Narnia. It's got centaurs, phoenixes, wolves, talking beavers, knights, witch-queens... you know, whatever. And the entire place seems to be about the size of San Francisco -- a perfectly fine size for an adventure.
The best part of the movie is Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch. Her performance in the big battle scene -- from her fell arrival in a war-chariot drawn by polar bears (!) to her icy duel with young Peter -- is raw martial cool. Also, toned arms are the new hotness.
Anthony Lane actually gets it right (but wrong) in his dismissive New Yorker review:
If the movie has to forgo Lewis's narrative tone, with its grimly Oxonian blend of the bluff and the twee ("And now we come to one of the nastiest things in this story"), that is fine by me.
I don't know that the movie does forgo it. Overall, it is a weird -- enjoyably weird -- mix of the big and the small, the high prophecy and the comic aside. The battle scene is thrilling, and the White Witch truly threatening -- but at the same time it does look a lot like a bunch of creatures playing war in the park. I didn't mind.
(Oh yes, and sorry, but the magical Turkish delight in this movie still manages to look gross.)
December 8, 2005
3 > 2 > 1?
Re: the X-Men movies, Clive Thompson nails it:
And sure enough, it looks like a mutantastic film; in a violation of all known laws of sequel physics, the second X-Men movie actually demonstrated less creative entropy than the first, so I have high hopes for the third.
Agreed, it looks good.
November 1, 2005
Speaking Out of School
Although Bill Cosby delivered his notorious remarks about black society in front of a largely black crowd, the ruling complaint was that he'd aired our culture's dirty laundry in public. But could his speech have been effective in any other place? If he'd been speaking at a mid-sized black church with no reporters present, was there any chance his comments would have carried outside the room?
The charge of airing dirty laundry has been levelled many times at director Deepa Mehta, although not often as violently as with her latest film, Water. The film concerns the plight of Hindu widows in parts of India, who to this day are sometimes relegated to poverty after the deaths of their husbands, unable to work or remarry. When Mehta first tried to film Water, a group of Hindu fundamentalists trashed the set, destroying all prints. The director spent years raising the money to shoot the film again under heavy secrecy in Sri Lanka.
Now, Water is complete (trailer), and the charges of cultural treachery are circling, even among those who might agree with the moral particulars of Mehta's message. Read the comments on this Sepia Mutiny thread, and you will find some very valid criticisms of Mehta's message and the way she delivers it. "Mehta thus does not engage with feminist concerns around dominant conventions of beauty, colour and feminine roles; rather, she reinforces them," one commenter quotes from a review. "The shiny patina of exotica is what saves Mehta from being recognized as the mediocrity that she is," another commenter writes.
The root charge strongly resembles that levelled against Cosby -- Mehta's playing up the culture's dysfunction to curry favor with an audience outside of it. But put in this light, the charges have a potency the anti-Cosby remarks didn't to me. Suddenly I can sympathize with all those white journalists who scratched their heads at that story and wondered, "What do I do with this?"
Given that Mehta's Fire is one of my favorite pieces of LGBT cinema, I feel like I can defend that film from within my own cultural framework. But does any part of Water belong to me?
The film describes legitimate problems in India that demonstrably persist. The film is peddling the same tired, negative images of India that foreign reporters find when they drop in sniffing for a good story. Outside the cultural framework the film represents, do we have the right to cast judgment? And on whom do we cast it?
October 28, 2005
Love in the Age of Chemoglobin
Alan Ball's next HBO project sounds like my new favorite thing:
Project is set in a world where vampires and humans co-exist after the development of synthetic blood. First book, "Dead Until Dark," revolves around a waitress in rural Louisiana who meets the man of her dreams only to find out he's a vampire with a bad reputation.
After seeing the brilliant heights Joss Whedon reached with these tropes in Buffy, I'm thrilled to see Alan Ball take it on. Via Towleroad.
October 5, 2005
Joss Is My Co-Pilot
Odd taste thing with me: I love Gothic literature, but am mostly ambivalent about sci-fi*. The Handmaid's Tale drove me nuts (in a bad way). I'm the kid who had to start "Harrison Bergeron" about five times before I made it through all five pages. I enjoyed Blade Runner and Akira and The Matrix, but none of them added any shattering revelation to my life. Dune = yawn. I know this is painful for many of my friends to hear, but for the most part, I parted ways with science fiction when Lovecraft left us.
The only reason I can offer for this is pretty crude -- sci-fi often feels just too crowded with ideas for the story to work any magic on me. I find myself distractedly theorizing about the statement the fiction is making about our world, which tends to ruin my immersion in the world the fiction depicts. The stories work for me as essays, but not often as literature.
But of course, given that Joss Whedon's my hero, I had to give Firefly a try. The show's big sell for many fans was the way it played with the conventions of sci-fi, but of course, that didn't work on me. What interested me was how the show played with the conventions of Whedon, treating religion, to take one example, with a completely different approach than Buffy or Angel did. Unlike his earlier shows, Firefly dealt less with allegory and much more with pure story, plot and character. It imparted the sense that Joss wasn't driving towards one uber-climactic crowning moment, but had simply released these beloved figures into this space, as fascinated as we were with the narrative fractals their fictive lives produced.
I was sad to see it come to an end. But I was thrilled to hear Joss would be able to sink an enormous (compared to TV) amount of time and money into a two-hour masterwork.
Serenity didn't add any shattering revelation to my life either. I didn't expect it to; too many of its references went over my sci-fi-impoverished head. But I haven't felt as happy to slip into the world of a film since the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended. The movie feels otherworldly in an organic way much of science fiction doesn't. Aside from some pretty rudimentary politics, Joss seems not to be making much of a statement about our world, as much as he's just letting this wacky new one exist on its own terms.
And at the same time, he rarely ever falls into the sci-fi trap of gleefully pointing out all the wicked-looking little gizmos and organisms he's thought up (with the exception of the dialogue, which is beyond awesome for most of the film, but sometimes overdone). The best part about the world of Firefly is that although it feels so much like its own creation, it feels incredibly ordinary at the same time.
So that's my plug for Serenity. I'd love to revisit this world yet again. Go buy a ticket.
*Note: I understand I'm painting a big-ass genre with a very broad brush here. There are works of inarguable science fiction to which most of this post doesn't apply, like 2046. And folks could levy most of the same criticisms at the Gothic that I heap upon sci-fi in this post. A lot of Gothic works are pretty heavy-handed with their ideas as well. The difference for me is that the constant essay-like sense of precision that seems to characterize sci-fi just doesn't work in the Gothic. Gothic stories are almost always way too unruly to be constrained by any high-falutin' ideas their authors might have started out with (see, for example, Dracula). They get very, very out-of-hand in a way sci-fi stories never do, and I love that.
But of course, I live to be proven wrong. Give me some awesome, unruly sci-fi stories, and we'll revisit all this.
September 29, 2005
Best Movie Trailer in the World
September 22, 2005
Blessing the Child
Good LORD. This interview with Hayao Miyazaki in the Guardian is one the best things I've read in a long, long time. Make sure you read the last few paragraphs, because they are killer.
August 18, 2005
He's Both a Freak and a Geek
Steve Carrell's new flick The 40-Year-Old Virgin had not particularly caught my eye -- until, that is, I saw gorilla vs. bear's post about it, which revealed that the movie's writer and director is Judd Apatow, one of the guys behind the excellent, excellent TV show "Freaks and Geeks."
Also, it's at 85% on the Tomato-meter.
August 12, 2005
The Bard Would Love It (You Know He Would)
August 5, 2005
A team of astronauts set out on a mission to re-ignite a part of the dying sun. Another team was sent out before them, but was never heard from again.
As Michael Bay movie? Terrible. As Danny Boyle movie? I can't wait!
July 26, 2005
Oh yes: There will be a Voltron movie. Even (especially?) if it's bad, it will be good.
Noted: Pharrell Williams is doing the score!
Also noted: God I love that robot.
July 23, 2005
A New Kind of Movie
Also: The V for Vendetta trailer.
July 1, 2005
This is kind of awesome. The website for Wedding Crashers (the upcoming movie with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn) is allowing anyone to digitally insert herself into the movie trailer. Thus ensuring that new pseudo-movie-stars like my friend Ryan McGee become the viral marketing brigade for the film.
June 29, 2005
June 18, 2005
Batman Begins is super, super good. It is both a good Batman movie (which would be enough to satisfy a comic book nerd) and a good movie (which should be enough to satisfy anybody).
It's not perfect. But the cast, from Christian Bale to Liam Neeson to Morgan Freeman to, of course, Michael Caine (who I think might be my favorite actor ever) is charismatic and convincing all around.
Worth noting: One thing that's been missing from previous movies, and even a lot of previous comics, is the sense that Batman is scary. That is ostensibly the whole point of his outfit, but it never quite gets realized: He's always more grim techno-ninja than terrible monster of the night.
There's plenty of techno-ninjitsu in this version, too. But thanks to the setup -- the Scarecrow, a classic Batman foe, plays a big role, along with his hallucinogenic fear gas -- we get the opportunity to see what Batman looks like when you're running scared in the streets of Gotham. And I -- a hard-core Batman fan -- actually felt like I "got it" for the first time.
Nerd extra: This movie's story draws from the plot of the first Batman comic I ever got, a thick Batman annual that had Ras Al Ghul poisoning Gotham's water supply. The key difference: In the comic, Ras was going to use a giant lens orbiting in space to filter the sun's rays and activate the poison. So Batman took a shuttle up to his space station to stop him. Um.
June 7, 2005
The Best Episode III Review in the Universe
The Best Page in the Universe weighs in on Revenge of the Sith. Warning: Profane. Also: Hilarious.
May 21, 2005
Long in the Tooth
For the moment, The New York Times has put up an archive of coverage of the Star Wars films, from the first Vincent Canby review of A New Hope (May 26, 1977) to now. My favorite moment comes in Janet Maslin's review of The Empire Strikes Back (written 25 years ago today!):
If George Lucas makes good on his promise to turn Star Wars into a parade of nine films and spend several years on the making of each of them, we may all be pretty long in the tooth before this story gets told.
Good Lord. Nine?! Sith was fun, but really ... we're quite sure Lucas is done with this now, right?
UPDATE: I clearly was not paying enough attention. The Washington Post has a much nicer archive. (Although they do need to do a better job of copy-editing the old articles.)
CAPSULE REVIEW: Everyone's pretty much agreed that it's a very fun film with awful dialogue, and I'm no different. Some would call it the apotheosis of epic; I'm going to stick with fun film. While I'm impressed by the scope of Lucas' story and how well it tied together, the writing and acting pretty much disqualifies this from the category of great cinema. It's a wonderful spectacle, though.
April 29, 2005
Open-Source Star Wars
February 23, 2005
Silly Google. Some day a hobbit will find your evil ring and destroy it.
February 22, 2005
This Is What They Call a 'Spoiler,' I Think
Why go see Star Wars Episode 3 in May when you can just see it all laid out online today?
P.S. What great info-gathering! This is, like, class-A reporting! Except it just happens to be about, um, Jedi knights.
September 22, 2004
Two for Three Ain't Bad
It is the cruel luxury of unemployment that there is plenty of time to consume media.
So, I've already told you about this month's Foreign Policy mag.
Also notable are the three movies I've seen in the last two weeks, each very much the product of a single visionary. First up:
The Stylist. Napoleon Dynamite reminded me of Wes Anderson's movies: Meticulous production design; socially inept characters; thick retro vibe. Okay, it's more than a vibe: This movie is set in a kind of distilled hyper-80s. (Or maybe Aaron is right and that's just what small-town America looks like?)
It's a trip to watch, and it hits some cultural touchstones -- adolescent preoccupations with ninja skills, crude drawings on lined notebook paper, early Internet chat rooms -- that I haven't seen anywhere else. In those moments, Napoleon Dynamite feels fresh and fun and new.
In others, it feels too engineered -- the title character, Napoleon himself, is funny, but kinda empty, you know? Watching the movie, you can never figure out what's up with him. The climax is hilarious -- hilaaarious -- but not that triumphant, because you're not sure if you're on Napoleon's side or not.
For a real human connection, we need:
The Voice of a Generation. Garden State also articulates some ideas that are very real, very familiar, and very current. This movie felt modern to me, and I appreciate that a lot.
It's rougher around the edges than Napoleon Dynamite: Zach Braff's vision doesn't seem as meticulous as Jared Hess's. But that's fine. In fact, it's great. Garden State doesn't feel like the immaculate work of a genius auteur. Instead, it feels like the really cool movie your friend made.
If your friend was a dude with 1,000 Power Macs in his basement, then maybe he'd be:
The Technologist. I wanted Sky Captain to be good. I so wanted it to be good. It's remarkable, after all: The first non-Lucasian instance of a Garage Kubrick making an entirely synthetic feature film. (We discussed it before on Snarkmarket.)
But it's terrible.
This movie generates zero suspense and shockingly little wonder. Most special-effects movies succeed when you forget the computers and get into the story; Sky Captain, on the other hand, was only interesting when I stepped back to note its technical prowess. And man, the last thing you want to be thinking in a movie theater is: "Well, that mutant dinosaur certainly is a fine achievement."
The movie's director, Kerry Conran, nurtured his vision for years, and finally -- remarkably -- marshalled the resources to bring it to the big screen. But -- for what? So we could see old-fashioned robots through a gauzy haze?
If you want retro-chic adventure, go rent Iron Giant, an underrated movie with a more original vision and a more exciting story by far.
July 30, 2004
Spiraling into Mediocrity
How does one fall from the dizzying heights of the almost universally beloved Sixth Sense to make a film that scores a 39 on MetaCritic. M. Night, what happened to you?
A sampling of the criticism:
- A sense of humor might have helped "The Village." It couldn't have hurt. The truth is, nothing could have hurt. -- SFGate
- To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore. -- Roger Ebert
- If you long to hear dialogue like "You needn't be scared. We have the magic rocks. They will keep us safe," then M. Night Shyamalan's nubby woolen sock of a thriller "The Village" is the movie for you. -- Stephanie Zacharek
- The ubiquitous advertisements for "The Village," which opens today nationwide, promise that "nothing can prepare you." Nothing, that is, except M. Night Shyamalan's last three movies and a passing acquaintance with "The Twilight Zone." -- A.O. Scott
Nubby woolen sock, y'all.
July 25, 2004
When I was seven, I saw "Transformers: The Movie" on the big screen and, it's true, I cried a little when Optimus Prime, brave leader of the Autobots, died.
And look at this--also posted on hollywoodreporter.com the same day, news of a movie version of "Watchmen," the greatest graphic novel ever published.
And! "All the King's Men"! My god!
These are three of the seminal literary experiences of my life, Snarketeers: tales of a valiant robot, a fallible superhero, and a wayward journalist. I can't wait.
(Thanks to Kevin for the Transformers link.)
June 7, 2004
[Clinton] said his editor, Bob Gottlieb, had left his Yeats references but cut his movie odes: "I wanted to write a whole page about 'High Noon,' my favorite movie, and why it's an important movie."
Many leaders see themselves reflected in the plight of Gary Cooper's Will Kane, the lonely, romantic Western hero, the retiring marshal who stays and fights the murderous Miller gang even though his Quaker bride (Grace Kelly) and all the townsfolk desert him. [...]
Let me tell you about "High Noon." It is one of two essential Westerns: Movies that embody the genre and, as an added bonus, articulate very specific, and very different, theories of life and the world.
"High Noon" says: You can't count on anyone. In the end, you face your destiny alone. Be resolute.
This philosophy is, of course, not unfamiliar. Dowd:
And the analogy has often been used by people writing and talking about the Bushes' facing down Saddam. Just as the movie was seen as a classic allegory for the cold war, when the virtuous American sheriff tried to police a paranoid world with enemies lurking everywhere, so it has been cited by some conservatives who like to see it as an allegory of Bush II's "heroic" unilateralism. In an alienated world, a friendless W. had to do the dirty work to get rid of Saddam all by himself, a lawman who refused to be shoved, ready to die all alone on some dusty street for a tin star. [...]
But she ends with this:
There was one powerful man who thought the film was the most un-American he'd ever seen: John Wayne. The Duke couldn't bear to see a hero begging for help.
I wonder if that's really the reason John Wayne didn't like "High Noon."
You see, John Wayne starred in the other essential Western -- a movie that articulates a very different theory of the universe.
That movie is "Rio Bravo."
In "Rio Bravo," John Wayne plays Sheriff John Chance. It's another tick-tock plot: This time, a gang of thugs is coming to break a murderer out of jail.
But in "Rio Bravo," John Wayne doesn't want any help; he shoos everybody away -- even though they all want to stay -- because he thinks they'll just get in the way. Because he thinks they're too weak.
But in the end, even John Chance can't beat the bad guys alone. Luckily, his rag-tag friends -- the aging deputy, the drunk, the dancer, the trail boss -- are with him whether he likes it or not, and they all have a role to play.
"Rio Bravo" says: No man is an island. You're never really alone. Help is on its way.
So which is more your speed -- the fatalism (or is it just realism?) of "High Noon" or the multilateralism (or is it just faith?) of "Rio Bravo"?
April 20, 2004
The Man in Black
Sometimes dorkdom conquers reason.
If I were a rational movie-goer, I wouldn't waste eight bucks on "Star Wars: Episode III" in May 2005, because Episodes I and II were boring and lame.
(Well, actually, if I were a rational movie-goer, I wouldn't be talking about movies that aren't coming out until 2005 at all. But, yeah.)
Clearly, some sort of Lucasian culture module was implanted in my brain early in life, because when I see a story about the first glimpses of Darth Vader, the disappointment of the first two movies evaporates and I am filled only with geeky anticipation.
Darth Vader. Of all the mythology-lite characters in Star Wars, he is the most archetypal. He's our Cronus, the deposer and the deposed. And, come on! "Darth Vader"! Dark Father! He might as well be named Primordial Ancestor of Power. Jeez.
(Thanks to Julie for the tip!)
April 8, 2004
Eternal Sunshine of Omar Sharif
Matt liked "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and so did I, but I must note: Like one of the main character's memories, the movie has completely evaporated from my mind. No lingering ideas, no haunting images. Even the day after seeing it, I had only a faint impression of the flick -- which is what I expect from, you know, "Hellboy," but not from a movie that scored 92% on the Tomatometer!
Not so with "Monsieur Ibrahim" (clearly a dud at a mere 89%) which I just saw at the glittering Tampa Theatre. (You know it's high-class when they spell it 'theatre.') A day later, impressions abound: The back alleys of Paris... the whirling dervishes, Sufis that "spin around their hearts"... the whacked-out 60's rock 'n' roll in French... Ibrahim's kindness... and Omar Sharif's grizzled, gap-toothed grin.
March 27, 2004
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Or, Love in the Age of Alzheimers
Here's a superlative for you: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was the cleverest movie I've seen that didn't sacrifice any of its beauty or truth to be so. The movie just clicks together, equally satisfying as an intellectual exercise and an emotional trip. I will not mess with Charlie Kaufman, for he is clearly my master.
Michel Gondry does an excellent job with the material -- and what else would you expect? The man's brilliant! -- but there are a few things I'll fault him for. The headline of my critique reads "Gondry Shows Too Much Restraint." It's subtitled, "Jim Carrey Is Perfectly Serviceable, But Why Not Get An Actor?" Oh, and handheld camerawork needs to be seriously fined by the FCC, 'cause if I leave another frickin' movie with a dull headache, there will be problems.
Most of the restraint works exceptionally well. Where the movie could be flashy, it never is. The gimmicks of the script and camera never feel like gimmicks, or at least you never resent them for being gimmicks, because they serve real emotional purposes. And yet, those purposes are never explicit. Gondry never really pushes to make you laugh or cry or grit your teeth or whatever, and that seems rare. He just paints a picture, and lets Kaufman's story take you where it will. But that approach brings one drawback -- there's no catharsis. When I was finally ready to let go and really approach the movie's core in one big, perfect, emotional moment, Gondry let me down. Maybe this is a personal quibble, and it's pretty minor, but Gondry has the opportunity for one perfect searing moment that would have been so satisfying and affecting, but he doesn't take it. Instead, before the scene reaches any real pitch, Jim Carrey starts doing his "I-am-not-Jim-Carrey" bit, and says, "It's OK," and the scene kind of dribbles away lamely.
Really, though. Carrey did a fine job of not being Jim Carrey. Unfortunately, he clearly expended all his efforts on not being Jim Carrey, leaving very little energy left to act, or inhabit an actual recognizable or empathetic character, or any of that stuff that actual actors have to do. I submit, and Robin will quibble, but I submit that really any genuine dramatic talent could have done a better job in Carrey's role than Carrey, because he would have done something more with it than pretend he wasn't a manic comedian trying desperately to play against type.
OK, except Tobey Maguire, who I believe has genuine dramatic talent, which unfortunately is only good for playing one role. Which unfortunately people keep hiring him to play. And no, I didn't see Seabiscuit. Yes, I'm sure it was a good movie. But so was Wonder Boys and so was Cider House Rules and so was October Sky, and the fact remains that Tobey Maguire has played exactly one role in his overearnest and unassuming career.
Last point: DO NOT READ ANY OTHER REVIEWS OF THIS MOVIE. Seriously. I thought the film critics were revealing minor plot elements, but they were casually dropping endings and major plot twists. I would have enjoyed the movie even more without that foreknowledge.
March 22, 2004
Here's what's good about "Dawn of the Dead," George Romero's remake of his own 1978 movie:
- The instantly-familiar suburban mall setting
- The movie's first and only rule of zombie engagement: Shoot 'em in the head
- The stylish "media covers the end of the world" sequence, with requisite super-grainy video (apparently only Playskool My First Cameras function during the Apocalypse)
- The satisfying A-Team-style "let's build an armored truck using snow shovels and chicken wire" sequence
- The fact that Ty Burrell looks way too much like Bruce Campbell (classic low-budget horror actor), which led me to believe it was Bruce Campbell, but no, it's this other dude, and somehow the entire situation seems zombie-riffic
- Fast zombies = scariest ever
And I could come up with some things that are bad, too, but come on. This movie is about undead hordes, not character development.... Read more ....
March 13, 2004
Amorphous Blob of Nothing Makes Good
If you'd written off the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow after seeing the trailer, dust off your interest and read this preview, from the NYT Magazine. Not only does the movie sound excellent, the article's a blast, too:
For [Kerry Conran, creator of Sky Captain], the question, as he put it, was ''Could you be ambitious and make a film of some scope without ever leaving your room?'' And so 10 years ago, Kerry Conran went into a room in his apartment to make a movie. In some ways, he is just now beginning to come out of it.
At first, he was a mystery. Word of ''Sky Captain'' began to spread around the Internet only after Conran finished primary shooting in London last spring -- extraordinarily late for the Internet, which often seems invented specifically to track movies with giant robots in them. Even then, no one knew who Kerry Conran was. Google couldn't touch him. He was so undocumented in the world of Hollywood that I briefly wondered, when I began pursuing him, if perhaps he was just a front for his producer and partner and mentor Jon Avnet, who is well known for producing ''Risky Business'' and directing ''Fried Green Tomatoes'' but who is not so well known for retro-science-fiction summertime blockbusters, and who unlike Conran seems to have been photographed at least once in his life. I don't think Conran would mind that I doubted his existence. In fact, for a long time, that was the plan.
Conran created the entire universe of the movie using computers. I mean, I guess it's not that rare in the age of Pixar, but the live actors involved (including Gwyneth, Jude, and Angelina) worked in front of blue screens the entire time. That seems big, somehow.
They can do anything here. When one of Paltrow's arms was cut out from a shot, they copied the other one, flipped it and pasted it back in. Since all the lighting was being done on the computer, they could paint the frame with light and noirish shadows, erase it all and then start again.
March 7, 2004
Wow. Johnny Depp as Jesus. That's brilliant!! I already feel ministered to.
Who else would make a good Jesus?
- Viggo Mortensen ... I mean, he basically just played Jesus three times already, right?
- Sean Penn ... This would be interesting. Crazy psycho supermasculine Jesus with an astonishing soft side.
- Julianne Moore ... She can play anything.
February 28, 2004
Story -- who needs it?
I submit: The trailer for this Japanese movie "Casshern" (pictured above). Here's the site. Do I have any idea what this movie is about? No. Does it matter? Nooo!
Then there's this Boing Boing entry linking to a series of Flash animations built with old 8-bit Mario graphics. The whole thing is pretty funny, but check out part two in particular -- the way it uses music, motion, and cinematic tricks is astounding. It doesn't matter at all than the actual images are blocky NES icons and the plot is even lower-rez. There is some serious movie magic in effect.
I want an Oscar awarded for "Best Use of the Medium" or something like that. This year, I think "Big Fish" would have fared well in that category.
February 23, 2004
My Review of "The Passion"
I will not see "The Passion." Sounds like a pretty awful time. But, to complete my trifecta of utterly trivial posts, I just wanted to say that if Mel Gibson truly wanted to immerse Christians in an understanding of what Jesus suffered through before death, he wouldn't have made a movie, he'd have made a video game.
February 22, 2004
Girl With a Bad Script
Forget the hype. The movie is just annoying.
It's one of those movies that makes you resent art-house cinema. It should have had a honking red "For Your Consideration" subtitle superimposed onto every other frame in loopy script. It had a predictable yet nonexistent plot. It featured a cast of 1-ply characters, played by actors who masterfully conveyed suggestions of intense inner lives that unfortunately did not exist. It was pretty. It was empty. It was boring. It was an art appreciation lesson thinly disguised as a film.
There were some great ideas in it. I believe Peter Webber, the director, really was fascinated by the painting, the period, Vermeer's technique, etc. And if you're going to steal from anyone, why not rip off Ingmar Bergman, as Webber does -- a lot?
Still. Want my money back.
January 13, 2004
Who's the Actor?
Really interesting MetaFilter thread on how the Oscars should handle the potential nomination of Gollum. If they wanted to give out a Best Supporting Actor nod, who gets it -- Serkis or the animators?
Obligatory link to Gollum's MTV Movie Award appearance (Quicktime, 8 megs).
December 21, 2003
The Lion, the Witch, and New Zealand
Nzoom.com, the homepage for New Zealanders, reports:
Hard on the heels of the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it has been confirmed that another epic fantasy will be filmed in New Zealand.
New Zealand director Andrew Adamson, the man behind Shrek, will bring to life the C.S Lewis classic The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe with a budget of more than $150 million.
- Huzzah! The Chronicles of Narnia on the big screen! (Yes, I know there have been movies, and yes, they delighted me in my youth, but please. They were made for television.)
- The man behind... "Shrek"? Well, we'll see.
- Funny how New Zealand is basically the Shared Vision of Our Heroic Past now. From "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" to "The Return of the King," if it's not New Zealand, it must not be epic!
- A mountaineer friend remarked, after seeing the stunning mountain vistas in ROTK: "I don't know... some of them looked awfully Himalayan."
- I take it back. There's nothing inherently heroic about New Zealand. It's just the landscape that's easiest to digitally augment with mountains, towers, samurai, talking lions, etc.
- Actually, no. I was right the first time. There is something inherently heroic about New Zealand.
- And it's not just the mountains. New Zealand subsidizes film like crazy.
December 16, 2003
Elves have their sexual needs, like all of us, apparently (completely safe for work). Only Tolkien suggests they were much more chaste than us humans. Unfortunately...
To disappoint slash writers everywhere, there were no clear statements of elf homosexuality. There weren’t even any unclear ones. The most suggestive elf/elf pair are Fingon* and Maedhros, rescuing each other and sending each other presents just because. (Narn i Hîn Húrin, UF) But even they have less eyebrow-raising stuff going on in 500 years than Sam and Frodo managed to pack into one day.
Gah! The Newark Star-Ledger's movie critic gave Return of the King its first rotten tomato.
Clearly, an agent of Mordor.
Lord of the Haiku
The Seattle Times is running a Lord of the Rings haiku contest. Example:
Frodo, hear my cry
My heart lies in Middle-earth
Don't call me a dork
-- Kathryn Spillman, Palm Desert, CA
'You shall not pass!'
As a colleague pointed out, these pictures of Saddam's medical examination make Iraq's former dictator look like, well, the Balrog.
Which raises the question: Why have we not sent Gandalf to Iraq???
The only reason I can think of is that a pair of hobbits are slowly making their way towards Baghdad, and we wish to keep the Enemy's great fiery gaze turned elsewhere...
Um, yes, so December 17 is one day away.
December 15, 2003
The Fellowship of the Oscar
The score will drop as more reviews come in, I'm sure. But will 11 reviews so far, that's still pretty damn impressive.
Robin and I already have our tickets. How about you?
November 23, 2003
Is it possible to make a movie out of someone like Stephen Glass and not glorify him?
My strongest reaction to seeing "Shattered Glass" yesterday is the desire to read all of his fabricated stories from The New Republic. Seeing as how the magazine has removed those articles from its web archives, and my curiosity isn't strong enough to fuel a visit to an actual library to read the articles, I have to satisfy myself with reading the transcript of his 60 Minutes interview, a few of his former associates' takes on his new novel and movie, and his [partially? completely?] fabricated work for Harper's.
"Shattered Glass" anticipates these impulses, and spends its second half punishing me for having them. For thinking that Peter Sarsgaard's two-dimensional Chuck Lane really is humorless and self-righteous. And that even if Hayden Christensen's Stephen Glass is a conniving psychopath, he's also a clever, self-deprecating wunderkind whose imagination only outstripped his conscience. (And besides, the chap had the decency to provide us with a name divinely outfitted for plays-on-words — "Through a Glass Darkly," "Glass Houses," "Stained Glass," etc.)... Read more ....
Like a Bright Light
It's hard not to look away.
At talent shows and open mic nights, when the performer isn't very good, I always look away. I used to do the same thing in college when a classmate was getting grilled by a prof. Or when a guest is floundering on a late-night talk show -- I do it then, too.
Tell me if this is familiar:
You turn your head to the side, maybe squint a little. The response is mostly involuntary, and it's probably rooted in vicarious shame. Somehow another person's embarrassment hurts to look at, like a bright light, whether it's in person, on TV, or in a movie.
I saw "Shattered Glass" (IMDB listing, Rotten Tomatoes page) tonight, and I spent most of the second half of the movie looking away. Whenever Hayden Christensen squirmed across the screen as Stephen Glass, I'd pull my baseball cap down over my eyes in the darkness.
But then I'd think, Wait, I paid six bucks for this. I ought to actually watch it.... Read more ....