Monday, January 30, 2012

I mean, a top hat would just be bizarre

From last Wednesday's New York Times, here's a piece on the new documentary Room 237, which just premiered at Sundance. The film is about the supposed plethora of "symbols and connections" visible within Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, the coded clues auguring secret meanings decipherable to the "subculture of Kubrick fans ... many of whom have posted their theories online accompanied by maps, videos, and pages-long explications pleading their cases."
“Room 237,” the first full-length documentary by the director Rodney Ascher, examines several of the most intriguing of these theories. It’s really about the Holocaust, one interviewee says, and Mr. Kubrick’s inability to address the horrors of the Final Solution on film. No, it’s about a different genocide, that of American Indians, another says, pointing to all the tribal-theme items adorning the Overlook Hotel’s walls. A third claims it’s really Kubrick’s veiled confession that he helped NASA fake the Apollo Moon landings
Uh huh. And yet I confess to being intrigued.

And I got my biggest chuckle of the day by a line at the bottom of the article, an editorial correction that sets the record straight:
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described imagery from "The Shining." The gentleman seen with the weird guy in the bear suit is wearing a tuxedo, but not a top hat.
 Glad that's cleared up.

Andrew Sullivan posts some further reader corrections and follow-ups.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

"Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor."

That Buster Keaton influence sure is clear, from the look and disposition of the central character to the windstorm that combines Steamboat Bill, Jr. with L. Frank Baum.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is utterly charming, and also one of the five animated short films now up for an Oscar.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Pic pick: Filmmaking flowchart

I got this from a director and film school instructor. Click to zoomify.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Like that last one? Here's another by the same maker. Just thinking about poring through the clips to put this together exhausts me:

Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

Lights! Camera! Ooh aah!

ooh aah from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just ring a doorbell and say "Pizza" — Newsweek magazine's 2012 Oscar roundtable

I love listening to professional actors talk about their working experiences, the training and processes they develop to do their job, the work and structure behind their performances. 

Newsweek magazine's 2012 Oscar roundtable delivers a gathering of actors whose heads I want to crawl inside of.

Via The Daily Beast:
Newsweek's annual Oscar roundtable always feels like a cozy A-list dinner party. Since 1998, we've hosted the actors who gave some of the best performances of the year for a raw discussion about their craft. And this year, the conversation was at its best: fast, funny—and sexually charged. We should have known that it would be, given our lineup of George Clooney (The Descendants), Viola Davis (The Help), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Michael Fassbender (Shame), Charlize Theron (Young Adult) and Christopher Plummer (Beginners). (See our essay about the day in this week’s Newsweek).
David Ansen's feature write-up on the roundtable is here.
I should have known that the talk would quickly turn to sex. Although my fellow moderator, Ramin Setoodeh, and I had decided we’d open the discussion with a generic question—“Was there a movie or performance you’d seen as a child that inspired you to be an actor?”—Swinton is quick to remind me that she and I had just been discussing our first erotic memories in the cinema. She’d recently shown her 14-year-old twins Vertigo, the most sexually obsessive of Hitchcock movies. So our opening question is revised, by popular demand, to everyone’s first cinematic sexual revelation.

Ten clips from the roundtable are here. Points of interest include: 
  • George Clooney recalling his "worst job," which involved rubbing powder on the corns of women's feet (some of which had a toe removed).
  • Tilda Swinton on why she gave away her 2008 Oscar.
  • Viola Davis on Hollywood's condescension regarding race. Allison Samuels has some words on Theron's well-intentioned but "thoroughly misguided" contribution to that discussion. Andrew Sullivan provides some reader pushback toward Viola Davis, and then some pushback against the pushback.
  • Michael Fassbender on onscreen pissing.
  • Clooney: "I was in Batman 4." Theron: “What up, Nipples!" 
  • the whole bunch on What Actors' Production Trailers Mean to Me.
  • Charlize Theron on wanting to be Kristen Wiig.
  • Christopher Plummer on his exasperation with Terence Malick.
  • Clooney on "selling out" — "You know what, fuck you."
  • Davis and Fassbender on their process as actors to find their characters, even a character such as Magneto in X-Men.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Midnight in the Tree of Life with Hugo the Artist and His Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Descendants. Get the Help, We're Being Moneyballed!

And the Academy Award nominations are now out.

Not a lot of refined commentary from me about them as my opinions regarding the influences behind, and thus the merits of, the Oscars have declined sharply over the past decade or so. (The year Crash took "Best Picture" I didn't just throw in the towel, I set it afire and salted the ashes with uranium isotopes.)

However, albeit unasked for and risking my Good Guy rep by joining the movie-centric blogosphere's pathological drive toward attitudinal carping, here are some random thoughts as I look at that page.

Overall, what a tepid bunch of Best Picture choices. With the exception of The Tree of Life — the obligatory film tossed for public "it's art!" cred — there's not a truly interesting pick there. Some good movies, yes, even a very good movie or three. But not much that makes you sit up and go, "Oh, that's a choice that inspires confidence in the process!" Not a surprise, really, although I'm ever hopeful for more actual surprises to poke the inevitable obviousness, to zazz up the annual lassitude, to bring some disruptive interestingness to the repetitive parade. Instead, here's the final confirmation that 2011 won't be a year that looms large in my movie memory.

PREDICTION #1: The most entertaining thing about Oscar night will be Patton Oswalt's Twitter feed.

Speaking of interesting: Melancholia ... ?... Paging Melancholia ... I'm not certain that it's a "great" film, or even a good one in some godlike objective sense, but I am certain that it was one of the few films in 2011 that left me with some lasting impressions. It's not in any category at all and yet Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close made it to the Big 10? What the? Kirsten Dunst? Lars Von Trier? Not even just to class up the joint a bit more? To see if Von Trier will joke about Nazis again? No? Harrumph.

Probably just as well. Nooses would have to drop from the Kodak Theatre's chandeliers after Melancholia's interpretive dance number.

And Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close squeaked onto the expanded "Best" 10 list but Drive could not? Yes, I know: a "heartwarming" "issue" movie vs. a summer genre action entry. But as summer genre action numbers go, Drive rose above old stale formulas while Extremely Loud used them like Velveeta on mac & cheese.

No Tilda Swinton? Michael Fassbender? Shailene Woodley? Ryan Gosling? Albert Brooks? Vera Farmiga (for as either director or actor in Higher Ground)? Charlize Theron and/or Patton Oswalt for Young Adult? When was the last time an Oscar ceremony was better defined by who and what didn't get nominated? (Okay, easy answer: most of them for the past 20 years.)

Oh, I'd love to witness Albert Brooks' acceptance speech that magically manages to say "Thank you" and "Fuck you" without using any of those words.

Of course The Artist is there, given the confetti-cannon reception it has received and especially given Hollywood's penchant for both nostalgia-fantasy and licking its own nipples. I'm still lukewarm on it despite my sincere desire to be otherwise.

Likewise Midnight in Paris. I found both films enjoyable and charming in the moment, but neither is a movie that we'll be talking much about in ten years. Or five. Two? (That said, I'm such a lifelong fan of Good Woody that I have Midnight in Paris on Blu-ray. So, yes, I will be watching it again when the mood strikes as I know it will. Just call me full of wacky contradictions.)

And really, The Artist is also up for "Music (Original Score)"? Shame.

PREDICTION #2: The entire ceremony will be scored to Bernard Herrmann's "Scene D'Amour" from Vertigo. Kim Novak will strangle Billy Crystal with a rape whistle.

Speaking of Shame, I'm not upset that that movie is nowhere in sight, although one of my drinking game cues will be whenever a camera zooms in on Carey Mulligan.

I assumed Midnight in Paris would get a nom for Cinematography. Wait — it did for Art Direction. Okay, that's what I meant.

The Tree of Life gave me the most surprising and sincere positive emotional moments I experienced in a theater this last year. I think it's a remarkable piece of work, one that demonstrates film's equivalent of abstract expressionism, and the closest I'll ever get to being in an audience in 1968 that's alternately enthralled and perplexed by 2001: A Space Odyssey. It moved me in some subliminal ways that left me quietly observing, "Whoa. Where did that feeling come from?" And I love when a movie does that to me. 

But I'm still not settled on what I think of it as a whole, especially Sean Penn's part of it. I will see it again, and I'm just pleased that we had a film that bears rewatching through different lenses. Right now I agree with Christopher Plummer, who worked with Terence Malick on The New World — Malick could use the hands-on objective wisdom of a first-rate collaborator, a fully tuned-in screenwriter other than just himself. Someone whispering into his ear now and then. That opinion might change after subsequent viewings.

The Tree of Life is also there for Cinematography and Directing. I'd like to see it take at least one of those, followed by studios banking more on Malick so he makes more movies more often. But it's not up for Editing? Huh.

I wish mightily that Jessica Chastain had been nominated for that one rather than The Help. Pleased that she had such a good year, though.

You already know my love for Hugo. Whether it's "the best" or not is beside the point, as it should be.

Elizabeth and I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Gary Oldman in attendance. He gave a warm Q&A afterward. I remember more about the Q&A than I do about his performance. That pretty much means he nailed George Smiley, doesn't it?

I smile and nod to see both Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo there for The Artist, though it was Bejo who made the bigger impression on me. Whether or not either wins, this probably means we'll see a lot more of both of them in the future and that's okay by me. I still think they (with Uggie the Dog) should take over the leads in the talked-out remake of The Thin Man.

Christopher Plummer vs. Max von Sydow: Glad to see the 20th century representin'. I love that it's 2012 and we have Rudyard Kipling from The Man Who Would be King up against the chess-playing medieval knight from The Seventh Seal. And neither has won Old Goldie before. It's Plummer's in a walk and hooray for that.

And yet, if that statue goes the other way, would the great von Sydow really want to cap his long, august career by finally winning an Oscar for a movie as aggressively ordinary as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and as hackneyed as his role in it? It would be like finally giving one to Peter O'Toole for Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage.

At the risk of being seen as a humorless contrarian shit (I'm only one of those three things), I'm relieved that Bridesmaids didn't make it to the final list. I am, though, tickled indeed that Melissa McCarthy did for Best Supporting Actress. My fondness for funny women is an eternal life-giving flame within me, so I enjoyed Bridesmaids. I LOL'ed, mainly because I loved Bridesmaids' cast — as I do in their individual work elsewhere too — particularly McCarthy and the supremely likable Kristen Wiig. (Oh, if only Kristen Schaal were there with them!)

But that screenplay really put me off with its achingly trite romance-paperback throughline between Wiig's character and Chris O'Dowd's banal stock love interest. It felt so false, so jackhammered in by some studio committee barely visible behind their tired old assumptions. It tainted the better stuff around it like a thin layer of old anchovies baked into the center of a fine spice cake. As far as I'm concerned, if O'Dowd's character and the romance subplot had been removed after the first draft — or, more realistically: if the rom-com angle had been approached from a fresher vector — the whole final movie would have been (for me) stronger, more memorable, and more in keeping with the "see, women can be raunch-funny too!" plaudits Bridemaids has received. But as it is, that part wrecks the "Girl Power!" vibe Bridesmaids' PR seeks to generate.

Wiig has said in interviews that she worked on the script for four and a half years. Billy Mernit, story analyst at Universal and convivial blogger, has said that he spent over three years giving notes on some eleven drafts of the project. Although some of the gags onscreen developed through improvs from the talented cast, and Apatow is known for his avoidance of studio notes, Bridesmaids felt like a product run through the Quisinart too many times by too many cooks.

It's likely that I'll feel better about it when I watch it a second time, which I surely will because I do like Wiig and her castmates so much. (Actually, that touches on why I'm not a "movie critic" and didn't wholesale enjoy it back when I occasionally was. With every passing year I'm more distrustful of absolutism, even my own.)

Oh, look. Bridesmaids is also up for Writing (Original Screenplay). Well, it is nonetheless heartening to see first-timers Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig on the list. I'm pleased that they're now on bigger radars as I'm looking forward to seeing more from them.

You don't have to see War Horse (I haven't) to know that it's the sort of emotive contrivance precision engineered like the President of Switzerland's watch to appear on this list. It'll be forgotten within 24 hours of the ceremony.

Ditto The Help, this year's The Blind Side.

I was dead certain that Contagion would place a contender in the Best Performance by a Virulent Mutant Bat-Pig Pathogen category. And the guy who said that single line after sticking his fingers in Gwyneth Paltrow's brain, where is he?

But seriously, folks — I was pleasantly surprised by the way Contagion's screenplay subverted its audience's long-conditioned expectations and found a narrative structure other than the over-familiar three- or five-act formula. Really, I think about things like that.

Iran's A Separation made it to the Foreign Language Film category. That may be my favorite inclusion of the whole bunch. Israel is in the same category for Footnote. I'm just naively romantic enough to fantasize about neocon wetdreams being dashed by the directors' handshake backstage.

Loved Rango both times I saw it. Need to see A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita ASAP.

Puss in Boots? Only if strapped to a chair like Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

After what I've read about it, I'm unexpectedly interested in seeing Pina.

And all those shorts. Thank you, Scarecrow Video and all the new streaming movie sources that I added to my big-screen TV in 2011.

PREDICTION #3: Throughout the ceremony, for the third straight year the sexiest couple will be George Clooney and his tuxedo. Although Kristen Wiig with Melissa McCarthy after a few drinks at the after-party might just take the glory.

Monday, January 23, 2012

For your consideration — "So much for that 'Intermission' " edition

Addenda to my December 21 collection of "the Year's Best Movies" lists:

Also not surprisingly, you'll find some titles shared across both of those lists.

Meanwhile, Julie at Misfortune Cookie offers the Best overlooked and underappreciated performances of 2011 and Roger Ebert declares They wuz robbed.

IndieWire/Press Play: The winners of the Vertigoed contest — In response to the foofaraw (given a wobbly rocket boost by Kim Novak) over that pivotal scene in The Artist scored to a distinctive Bernard Herrmann cue from Hitchock's Vertigo, the Press Play staff launched a contest among their readers. Rule #1:

Take the same Herrmann cue -- "Scene D'Amour," used in this memorable moment from Vertigo -- and match it with a clip from any film.... Is there any clip, no matter how silly, nonsensical, goofy or foul, that the score to Vertigo can't ennoble? Let's find out!

And so they did. The results are in. Click here for the full scoop on the contest, its criteria, and the judges, followed by the Grand Prizewinner — STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, by Jake Isgar — the four finalists, and some special awards (e.g., Citation for Homoerotic Grandeur: TOP GUN by De Maltese Valk).

My glowering assessment of that Vertigo cue in The Artist is here.

NPR: Movie Titles That Might Have Been — From Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made for Under 10 Million Dollars, That Your Reader Will Love But the Executive Will Hate to (wait for it) American Pie.

How many movies will we watch over a lifetime? AD Jameson is keeping track of his own number — 1,925 so far:
That doesn’t sound like too many, not after fifteen years of avid cinephilia. But to put it in some perspective, that’s roughly 128 feature films/year, or about one every three days. ... We found last week that there have been at least 268,246 features made. (Since then, the IMDb’s count has grown to 268,601.) So I’ve seen little more than .7% of them—and remember, I think that IMDb count far too low.
Why he has given so many poor ratings to contemporary movies:
The more you watch from the present day, the more garbage you’re bound to see—but your conclusions will be your own. Conversely, the further back you go, the more you’ll be guided by the opinions of others. (If nothing else, what’s available will be largely determined by what’s remained popular.)

"What if..." Movies reimagined for another time & place — Artist Peter Stults asks "...what if movies we were all familiar with were made in a different slice of time? Who would be in it? Who would direct it?"

Star Wars Uncut: The Director's Cut — May the video editing software suite be with you

Star Wars Uncut: Director's Cut from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.

In 2009, Casey Pugh asked thousands of internet users to remake Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope into a fan film, 15 seconds at a time. Contributors were allowed to recreate scenes from that film however they wanted. Within just a few months, Star Wars Uncut grew into a wild success. In 2010 its creators won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media.

This crowd-sourced project is finally online for your streaming pleasure (or kneejerk disgruntlement). The "Director's Cut" is a feature-length film that contains hand-picked scenes from the entire collection.

This cut is over two hours long, far more than I'm able to stick with it in one go. However, take 15 minutes to jump-click through various scenes. Star Wars itself of course needs no introduction or synopsis, though this time we get it performed by an amateur cast of hundreds, stitched together with Gorilla Glue and paper clips, shot in environments real and animated, presented and reconceived with a low-tech, zero-budget aesthetic. Many of the sequences are filmed in crudely comical fashion, daisy-chaining, for instance, live action college pals wearing paper hats, stop-motion animation using colored paper or Lego Star Wars figurines, Toy Story action figures, kitchen items, cartoon work recalling various nostalgia touchstones, parodies of pop culture subgenres such as anime and grindhouse, the family dog, and so on.

Love it or hate it (or some of both at various points), it's possibly the funniest, most charmingly obsessive-compulsive tribute vid ever slapped online.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Two by two

The big snow didn't last long. Right now, as I look out the living room window from this big comfy sofa, I can see that the ice is pretty much gone, the snow now just random patches. Elizabeth and I took Kai for a bayside walk and I swear he pined for the cold around his paws and the vistas that spoke straight to his Alaskan blood.

But it's nice to have it all back to Seattle Normal.

Still, I felt bad for the pair of yeti who rang our doorbell and asked if I’d be interested in their “literature.” They were so well mannered. I said no thank you, but sent them on their way with a shank of raw yak meat.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Credit: Aaron Brackney
Obviously, just because I'm still officially on "Intermission" that doesn't mean I won't pop in here now and then to stoke the fire a bit. Still TBD is whether this portends an expansion of this blog from "mostly movies" to "more or less movies mostly, yeah, but also more of the other stuff too depending on my own caprice and whims."

If you've kept up with the U.S. news this week, you know two things: (1) Newt Gingrich is still to "values" what a ten-gallon sack of live tapeworms is to a recipe for Lobster Thermidor, and (2) Seattle got socked with more snow in two days than we usually get in a year.

Although Elizabeth and I were effectively immobilized here atop the crest of our West Seattle ridge surrounded by hills worthy of a Jamaican bobsled team, we were well provisioned and experienced no significant difficulties.

Well, there was that one thing:

Wednesday's fine blanketing of new-fallen snow has by now become, after hours of light freezing rain, that afternoon's solid encasement in ice. So today I spent some quality muscle-time chipping and shoveling a mountain of ice off our front steps.

Just as I was wearily leaning the shovel near the front door, an enormous passenger liner hove into view, moving at top speed. It struck my mountain of shoveled ice, capsized, and broke in two. The scream of wrenched metal! The shrieks and lamentations of tumbling bodies! Down, down it slid with eerie grace into the snow near where Kai peed on a bush just a few hours earlier. And yet the band played on. A pitiful few lifeboats, some only half full of wailing women and children, managed to break away and row down 41st Ave. toward the more traveled depths of Andover Street and possible rescue. The last thing I saw was Leonardo DiCaprio sinking into the lawn. I would have offered him a rope or the shovel handle or something, but just then, from the kitchen, I heard the kettle for the hot chocolate. I feel kind of bad about that, but, after all, needs must.

Now, although I didn't have the expected difficulty of getting my car started, I still gotta hire somebody to clean up the lawn by hauling away all those deck chairs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Alaskan Malamute in Seattle (part 2)

Soon after his atavistic explorations of the Iditarod-worthy front yard, Kai checked out the back to see how it compared.

Yep. About the same.

And yet, there's always a downside:
Definitely not ham.

"Wimpy furless primates. You want to go back indoors already?"

Oh, one last thing: When dog-walking out in this kind of cold, DO NOT accept a "double-dog dare" to put your tongue on your pooch's nose. Trust me on this one.

An Alaskan Malamute in Seattle (part 1)

Of course there are inconveniences that arrive with any massive dump of snow so large that the nearby Starbucks corporate HQ officially approves two new seasonal coffee beverages: the Shackleton (a low-low-fat white mocha that never makes it back to your home) and the Donner Party Half-Calf (tastes like chicken). But there was one member of our household who loved the whole experience down to his DNA: our dog Kai.

In his cool equanimity, he proved that this was no "Snowpocalypse," no "Snowmaggedon." In fact, I hope that both examples of lingua hysterica will now be banished from the Tiresome Media Freakout lexicon.

After all...
... it's just snow.

Still pretty damn cold, though.

On the other hand...
... the neighborhood kids are out playing.
And that short beefy child looks a lot like Jack London.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


I'm putting Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL into an intermission for a while. I'm pounding on some other, bigger writing projects, which makes trimming back assorted peripheral distractions ("Squirrel!") a necessity. I still respond to activity notifications, so feel welcome to browse and comment or contact me via my main site. And those blog rolls on the right are still my main avenues to bloggish favorites. So don't think of me as lost through the Stargate so much as just hiding on the other side of the monolith for a while. Thanks.