Friday, August 20, 2010

"We will never officially split up. We'll just die one by one."

Whitney Matheson interviews the Kids in the Hall about their new mini-series, their favorite young sketch comedy groups, and the age-old question about which of them makes the prettiest woman.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Movie List: 30-26

30. “I think we oughta get to the bottom of R. P. McMurphy.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

I haven’t read the Ken Kesey novel on which the movie was based, and I’m sure reading it would affect this ranking one way or another. But as it is, the movie is a classic for a reason (or several), even if it’s not perfect. To this point on my list, it might be the most lauded entry. (Well, no, I guess that would be The Godfather Part II.) Cuckoo’s Nest was the second movie (after It Happened One Night) to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay). The supporting cast around Nicholson and Louise Fletcher (including Danny DeVito in one of his first movies) is very good, and the visual approach is appealingly unscrubbed. A mainstream picture set in a psych ward today would have crippling amounts of Twee Quirk. (See this trailer, for instance, for a bellyful of it.)

29. “You taught me that people will do anything for a potato.”

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Since it’s already taken something like 42 years to get around to this installment of the list, I’ll lean on something I wrote previously about this one: I’ve always thought this was Spielberg’s best work. It’s certainly his most underrated. Just about every scene is flawlessly shot, and while the last 30 minutes come apart a bit as Spielberg breaks out his Book of Morals, that hardly makes it different from any of his other Serious Films. Amazingly, Empire “introduced” Christian Bale, and you could do worse than have your coming-out party directed by Spielberg from a script by Tom Stoppard. Bale is impressive as James Graham, a young Brit in Japan-occupied China during World War II who goes from aristocratic brat to orphaned in an internment camp, where he has to grow up, but quick. Here’s a clip, which is only an average scene for Bale, but the slow-motion shot as he watches his favorite fighter plane glide by is pure genius. There are things to dislike about Spielberg, but when you see a moment like this, it’s hard to deny that the guy is a master of his medium.

28. “It may be wrong of them, but they value their lives.”

The Rules of the Game (1939)

I saw this for the first time not very long ago. Renoir’s mix of farce and tragedy, set on a country estate, ruffled upper-class French feathers when it was first released. Renoir cut it to appease critics, and the film has been slowly restored to its original intentions over the course of many years. Very funny at times, and ultimately heartbreaking, Rules is equally rich for historicist film snobs and audiences just wanting entertainment. It features one of my all-time performances, turned in by Julien Carette, who plays Marceau, a rabbit poacher who is caught and offered a job on the estate. Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, with its similar setting and juxtaposition of aristocrats and servants, is in several ways a direct homage to Rules. I’m not a big Altman fan, but I’m tempted to revisit Gosford Park (which I remember enjoying) after watching Renoir’s masterpiece.

27. “What's a logical explanation for a woman taking a trip with no luggage?”

Rear Window (1954)

I went through a mildly feverish Hitchcock phase when I was younger. Nothing like what a Hitchcock phase could be, but I watched at least half a dozen movies in quick succession and fell for the overall style. I keep threatening (in my mind, which is where I do all of my threatening) to go on a full-blown kick soon. As for this pick: If you need much more than Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, let’s face it, there’s something wrong with you, but there’s also something timelessly fascinating about Rear Window's set of one apartment building looking out onto another. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock said:
It was a possibility of doing a purely cinematic film. You have an immobilized man looking out. That’s one part of the film. The second part shows what he sees and the third part shows how he reacts. This is actually the purest expression of a cinematic idea. Pudovkin dealt with this, as you know. In one of his books on the art of montage, he describes an experiment by his teacher, Kuleshov. You see a close-up of the Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. This is immediately followed by a shot of a dead baby. Back to Mosjoukine again and you read compassion on his face. Then you take away the dead baby and you show a plate of soup, and now, when you go back to Mosjoukine, he looks hungry. Yet, in both cases, they used the same shot of the actor; his face was exactly the same.
26. “No going to the dark side!”

Sideways (2004)

This is low, believe it or not, a (temporary?) concession to the wisdom of crowds. The backlash against this movie’s success was pretty severe, and people keep telling me that I overrate it (I saw it five times in the theater), and I’m cautious enough about the effects of time that I’m happy to temper my enthusiasm somewhat, pending a few more years of perspective. But when I left the theater after first seeing Sideways, I felt thrilled. I had laughed -- a lot, and not cheaply -- and I felt like Paul Giamatti’s performance as Miles, a schlubby, snobby, struggling writer, was almost perfect. But more than anything else, I thought the movie achieved a combined state that I think is enjoyable and rare -- the feeling of cinematic real life. Real life can be boring, or at least frustratingly un-narrative in two-hour chunks. Cinema can be too glossy and/or too contrived. But here, real life is approximated in several scenes: Miles and Jack (an ingeniously cast Thomas Haden Church) walk from their hotel to a local restaurant along a highway at dusk; the two friends and their girlfriends share an increasingly inebriated dinner, culminating in Miles’ famous drunk-dialing incident; the four of them retire to a hillside home and share moments both intimate and awkward. There’s something about the characters and the California light and the leisurely-but-still-compelling pace. . . . Oh, heck, it should have been higher. That said, it’s hard to say who it would have bumped -- the next 25 are heavyweights.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Comments Policy

Actual posts to resume soon. The next installment of the movie list -- remember that? -- will be up soon. So will some truly, astoundingly cheesy video clips that I think everyone will love. Et cetera. For now, though...

I've set it so that I have to moderate comments. I came home to a dozen spambot messages on recent posts, and they're a pain in the rump to delete one by one if they've already been posted. I've learned from working on The Second Pass that spambots are the worst thing in the world. Over there, I delete literally thousands of their comments for every one real one that gets posted. (I can delete in bulk, but only 20 at a time, so it's not that tough, but pretty tedious). And spambots are indefatigable. (That's the "bot" part. Robots don't get tired. It's their greatest strength. We were all taught that in grade-school social studies.)

So, if you leave a comment and it doesn't show up immediately, that's why. I'll get to them as quickly as I can, I'm sure within a few hours or so. And who knows, this might not even help; I've already had a word verification on, so perhaps the spambots have just evolved.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

“Sure enough, life is punishment...”

In October 2008, I posted about a series of animated shorts called Strindberg & Helium, in which "a talking bubble full of helium tries to cheer up the super-dour Swedish playwright August Strindberg." After a long wait, there's a new episode:

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Reeling One In

Celebrating in (goofy) style.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Northern Churches

At Design Bureau, some incredible photos of wooden churches in northern Russia by Richard Davies, who was inspired to follow up on a series of pictures taken in 1902:
During his travels, the story of the hardships of the last century has been unavoidably felt; a story of Revolution, War, Communism and severe Northern winters. Many churches have been lost: some have been left to rot; some have been destroyed by lightning; countless others by ignorance, spite and neglect. A few years ago, a reversing tractor hit one church—it tumbled like a house of cards. Fortunately, dedicated specialists and enthusiasts have managed to save many of the churches pictured.