Thursday, April 28, 2011

For your consideration — "Abandoned in the midst of infinite possibilities" edition

Glenn Erickson (a.k.a. DVD Savant and all-around ace fellow) is just one of the bloggers at the TCM Classic Film Fest, which starts today. Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and Movie Morlocks are there too. Live coverage is here.

Sex Ed, Cthulhu Style — Craig Macneill and Clay McLeod Chapman's 2005 Sundance-selected short film, "Late Bloomer."

Is Stephen Moffat Tearing Apart the Fabric of Fiction?Doctor Who meta neepery.

Overthinking It: The Economics of Death Star Planet Destruction — "What's the economic calculus behind the Empire's tactic of A) building a Death Star, B) intimidating planets into submission with the threat of destruction, and C) actually carrying through with said destruction if the planet doesn’t comply?"

Guerres des étoiles existentielles — a.k.a. Sartre Wars — What if Jean-Paul Sartre had written Star Wars? [via Dangerous Minds] —

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Movie ages

Click to embiggen:

Via XKCD, naturally.

"I have measured out my life with ticket stubs." T.S. Eliot (revised)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fifty films since age 50

Actor (and soon to be 39th AFI Life Achievement Award recipient) Morgan Freeman talks to students at the AFI Conservatory about his big career break and the importance of having patience.

Posted by AFI.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pic pick: Another fine mess (time traveling edition)

The Doctor makes a stop in 1939 long enough to appear alongside Laurel & Hardy in The Flying Deuces. Where else would he get his new fez?

From the first episode of Doctor Who's new season, "The Impossible Astronaut."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Junebug (2005) — Family happens

Amy Adams will be the next Lois Lane. I think that's just ... super. The upcoming Superman franchise reboot is a project I'm watching with long-standing interest as a fan of the the big blue Kryptonian in his various media incarnations. And while the notion of Zack Snyder directing it tends to scrunch my eyebrows together in a querulous frown, I'm willing to hold my tongue and see what he comes up with. Frankly, I'm more curious about what the screenplay does at this point. But the notion of Adams playing Lois — alongside Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, and the new Supes Henry Cavill — lifts my hopes mightily.

And yeah, I admit it: I have a big, dumb star-crush on Amy Adams. (After 20 years of Jodie Foster not returning my calls, it's time to move on.) One of the few pleasures of this past Academy Awards year was her nomination for her work in The Fighter. So now I'm giving in to the urge to revisit the movie that (1) introduced me to Adams, (2) still delights me with its blend of sharpness and restraint, and (3) leaves me saying, "I wish I'd made that."

In this favorite from 2005's indie circuit and Top 10ish lists, worldly and urbane newlywed Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) travels from her highbrow Chicago art gallery to meet her in-laws in North Carolina. Her primary objective is to secure an exclusive contract with an "outsider artist" (Frank Hoyt Taylor) producing hallucinogenic folk paintings near her husband George's boyhood home, not far from Winston-Salem, N.C. Like a backwoods William Blake, the dialect-heavy and mentally off-kilter artist exists not entirely on our plane. Admiring his vision of the Battle of Antietam, Madeleine says "I love all the dog heads and computers and scrotums." But she's convinced that he, as her "discovery," is destined to become an art-scene smash.

She married George (Alessandro Nivola) only one week after meeting him at a Chicago art auction, so their side trip to his family home forces the couple to see each other in terms not yet tested in their sexually passionate relationship.

Madeleine blithely cheek-kisses her way through George's rural kin, oblivious to the simple complexities of communication, engagement, and expectations that can make or doom all such encounters. (The film opens, seemingly inexplicably, with shots from a yodeling contest: communication in all its peculiar ambiguities, linguistic and otherwise, is key in Junebug.)

Junebug could have taken that setup and troweled on easy yuks from some Sweet Home Alabama Meets the Fockers bucket, with pickup trucks and guys named Beau or Skeeter. Fortunately, everyone involved here is more knowing, honest, and trusting than that. This is a measuredly comic American South not of Jeff Foxworthy or Larry the Cable Guy, but a suburban Lost in Translation by way of Flannery O'Connor, where folks eating spaghetti hot dish at a church social can more freely reveal themselves than those at a wine-and-cheese soiree in a cosmopolitan art gallery. The cultures don't clash, really, but they do scrape the chrome off each other's fenders.

Unhurried and subdued with a free-floating focus and tone, this is one of those spare, ruminative indies where plot isn't so much a straight line as a collection of small, soft dots. As an ensemble showcase for its acting talent, it's a master class in beautifully written and played understatement.

The family's center of gravity is matriarch Peg (Celia Weston), who regards Madeleine as if George had brought home a being from Alpha Centauri. As George's brother Johnny, Benjamin McKenzie ("The O.C.") bottles the pent up hostility of a high-school dropout bitter in George's shadow and trapped in a too-young marriage with a wife nine months pregnant.

That would be Ashley (Adams), a flighty chatterbox who idolizes sophisticated Madeleine with child-eyed ebullience. The disconnect between Madeleine and George's family (and Madeleine and George) reaches its harshest test when Madeleine must choose between a career-making opportunity and a family crisis involving Ashley.

"I want to know what makes you tick," Ashley says to Madeleine, speaking aloud what might be the film's theme. These are characters whose personal clockworks never will keep a common time, but through carefully paced, often muted moments of showing-not-telling, they do come to hear better how the others tick, even if they still can't quite tell the time by it.

Plenty of glasses have been raised to Adams' ambrosial charm in a funny and achingly tender performance. Sure enough, joy-touched Ashley makes Junebug worthwhile all by herself. Adams really is splendid, delivering one of the year's most enjoyable performances through surprising subtleties and layers, earning every inch of her Sundance special grand jury prize, Indie Spirit Award, and an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress.

That said, another actor also worth calling out from this all-over excellent ensemble is Scott Wilson, who plays George's acutely taciturn father Eugene. Wilson, who began his career as one of the killers in In Cold Blood, makes choices that are the polar opposite of Adams' giddy, uninhibited Ashley. Eugene's immobile, pinched-lipped, hands-in-pockets quietude gives us a stealth performance that's more impressive than any action hero. (On the DVD there's a lovely deleted scene between Peg and Eugene that, in my opinion, should have made the theatrical cut as it provides a surprising reveal of the emotional yolk Wilson's character hides within that private, taciturn shell.)

Director Phil Morrison's first feature returned him to Winston-Salem, where he was born. With Junebug he displays a confidence made sharper by his monkish restraint. He brings to the material an eye for resonant metaphors and ambiguities — lingering shots of empty rooms or birch woods at night come across as artful and expressive without overstaying their welcome to become merely "artsy" and "symbolic" — as well as, thank you, a knack for elaborating the idiosyncrasies of this fragile family and where they live without coming off classist or mocking. (Those of us raised in this flavor of the South likely recognize, and appreciate, the film's delicate authenticities more than viewers from elsewhere.)

Meanwhile, playwright-turned-screenwriter Angus MacLachlan, a graduate from the North Carolina School of the Arts drama program, displays a tuning-fork ear for the dialogue.

Together they sculpted these characters out of native clay, then with his actors Morrison pared them down, down, down to an atomized level of judiciously exposed revelations.

The result is a concatenation of scenes that place much of the telling in their ellipses. For some viewers, this less-is-more approach will leave too much information offscreen. George, for instance, is so far in the background that he abandons his wife, and the rest of the film, until his cue comes near the end. While George does strike me as an underwritten enigma, I can fill in the blanks quite well myself, and can understand the need to nudge him out of the way so that the film's strongest characters, the women — Madeleine, Peg, and Ashley — carry the film.

For me, Junebug's oblique, slantwise approach to its characters and story, when deftly executed and with an appreciation of me as not just a viewer but a co-participant, is one that reliably draws me in (and stays with me afterward) more satisfactorily than blunt on-the-nose storytelling and thudding thesis-statement screenwriting, the now over-familiar fruit of that Syd Field three-act-structure film-school catechism.

Junebug risks feeling like the common impression of a New Yorker-style novelette: a meticulously crafted, lovingly realized character study of someone doing the dishes. On the other hand, one of many reasons to love Junebug is how often it offers us spaces to fill in ourselves, the faith it shows in handing us small puzzles — Eugene's hand-carved bird, for instance — to chuckle over or think on afterward.

Music: Moby
Near at hand: Malamute Kai's pile of favorite plush toys

For your consideration — the "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'" edition

I've been traveling lately, while also tending to other writing, so for that and other excuses reasons I'm behind on the "mostly movies" blogging. But I have a (smallish) feature post nearly completed and I'll hit the Publish button on that before I head out the door here again soon. In the meantime, here are some "mostly movies" items that caught my attention lately.

Killing Orson Welles at Midnight — Christian Marclay's The Clock reviewed by Zadie Smith. This sounds fascinating. Can a movie that's 24 hours long make it to home video somehow? On Blu-ray maybe? I suspect the clip-rights issues alone would be a formidable hurdle, though I sure would love to have my own copy to watch in pieces at my own leisure.

10 Sci-Fi Films You Should See (But Probably Haven't) — One of those articles that accidentally finds its higher purpose in generating a more-interesting discussion in the comments section.

It's now a Jack in the Box drive-thru. But in 1914 Chaplin filmed the opening scene of his first movie there. This sort of thing could actually make me visit a Jack in the Box drive-thru.
"Your order, please?"
"Oh, nothing, I just wanted to imagine being on this spot with Charlie Chaplin in 1914."
"Would you like fries with that?"

Elisabeth SladenDoctor Who's "Sarah Jane Smith" since the 1970s — died this week. She looms large in my youthful memories, and apparently I'm far from the only one. I'm heartened that her passing has received such loving reactions as here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Roger Ebert at TEDTalk: Remaking my voice

When film critic Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw to cancer, he lost the ability to eat and speak. But he did not lose his voice. In a moving talk from TED2011, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, with friends Dean Ornish and John Hunter, come together to tell his story.

The video at

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For your consideration — "one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down" edition

Discover MagazinePhysicist Jim Kakalios on the Quantum Mechanics of Source Code

Kim Morgan reminds me that it's been too long since I reached for Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run

Speaking of Woody Allen:
Onion A.V. ClubAlec Baldwin continues to act, signs on to Woody Allen's next film. (An optimist by nature, I'm still hoping, albeit against evidence, that Woody still has one more really good movie in him before he confirms that death really is worse than the chicken at Tresky's Restaurant.)

Archaeology Magazine Interview: Werner Herzog on the Birth of Art. Filmmaker Werner Herzog was given unprecedented access to Chauvet Cave in southeastern France to film the site's Paleolithic art. The result is his latest film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which opens wide in the U.S. later this month. (It's the first 3-D film I've been actually excited about seeing.)

The Gunslinger Guide to Catherine Deneuve

Manohla Dargis at the NYT— Out There in the Dark, All Alone: "Digital technologies have sharpened the image and clouded the question of what is cinema." — In the 1987 issue of OMNI magazine, Roger Ebert predicted a revolution in the delivery and distribution of movies. (Pardon me while I click over to Netflix and iTunes.)

/FilmMichael Shannon Talks About Being Cast As General Zod in ‘Man of Steel’ (Now may it please get a different director? --ed.)

The GuardianDoctor Who: it's back – promising to be the scariest and darkest yet (Am I too dignified to say squee? Nah.)

Last night Elizabeth and I attended London's National Theatre production of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle with Benedict Cumberbatch (so splendid in "Sherlock") as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor. It was superb in every respect, although upon reflection I do have some quibbles with the script, especially its final third. It's still an impressive work all around. Despite some narrative elisions for timing and flow, the production finally does right by the novel. Fortunately we didn't have to leave Seattle to do it. The jet lag would be a killer right now.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pic pick: Cinema Paradiso

Yeah, I sometimes feel like that too.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When Harry Met Sally 2 — The Tweaking

With Billy Crystal and Helen Mirren. Oh, and Mike Tyson and Maya Rudolph.

Via Funny or Die!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bugs vs. Mickey — Of course you know this means war

Over at Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Dish — amid the expected discussions about Libya and Congressional budget politicking and who on the right is already stepping out of the clown car for the 2012 presidential primary — an unexpected topic thread has really taken off. It started here, with an observational question posed by Rob Long in Commentary:
For decades, comedy writers have puzzled over a mystery: Why is Mickey Mouse more famous than Bugs Bunny? Mickey isn’t funny or interesting. He cannot produce an anvil or a Carmen Miranda hat out of the air. All in all, his “good mouse” act is a toothless, nice-guy bore. ... And yet Mickey is the superstar, while Bugs is the comic character actor. Mickey is nice. Bugs is funny. You cannot, obviously, be both. ... A truly great parody — in the grand Bugs Bunny tradition — is an arrow aimed straight at the puffed-up and smug, gently but firmly mean-spirited.
Input and insight from readers on the issue continue the discussion here, here, here, and currently here. (The thread survived the Dish's migration from The Atlantic to the Daily Beast.)

My own position on this matter has already been stated for the record.