Friday, September 29, 2006

Glamour 2006

Virginia Postrel says in the Atlantic that superheroes in today's movies provide the glamour we used to get from Fred Astaire and Greta Garbo.

Glamour isn’t beauty or luxury; those are only specific manifestations for specific audiences. Glamour is an imaginative process that creates a specific, emotional response: a sharp mixture of projection, longing, admiration, and aspiration. It evokes an audience’s hopes and dreams and makes them seem attainable, all the while maintaining enough distance to sustain the fantasy. The elements that create glamour are not specific styles—bias-cut gowns or lacquered furniture—but more general qualities: grace, mystery, transcendence. To the right audience, Halle Berry is more glamorous commanding the elements as Storm in the X-Men movies than she is walking the red carpet in a designer gown....

Superheroes are masters of their bodies and their physical environment. They often work in teams, providing an ideal of friendship based on competence, shared goals, and complementary talents. They’re special, and they know it. “Their true identities, the men in colorful tights, were so elemental, so universal, so transcendent of the worlds that made them wear masks that they carried with them an unprecedented optimism about the value of one’s inner reality,” writes Gerard Jones in Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book. “We all knew that Clark Kent was just a game played by Superman and that the only guy who mattered was that alien who showed up in Metropolis with no history and no parents.”

Comic-book heroes, like all glamorous icons, cater to “dreams of flight and transformation and escape.”

I am a big fan of superheroes and comics, and I agree with all of the above as an explanation for their appeal, but I am not sure I agree that Storm is the new Garbo. Other-ness evokes glamour, and the strange costumes may do for the Frantastic Four what white tie and peau de soie negligees did for Rita Hayworth and Jean Harlow. But I think that the definition of a movie star is the ability to project glamour in blue jeans, something of a super-power in itself.

For an interesting intellectual property aside about the publication of the article, see the author's blog.

Quote of the Week -- Stephen Hunter

Stephen Hunter reviews "The Guardian:"

The movie begins to overload its frail reed of a structure with giant sloppages of cliches from other movies, some so bad it's almost comical. Costner's wife (Sela Ward) has left him and he misses her, so we get a few scenes of the drunken, embittered guy on the phone, begging her to pick up over voice mail. Then Kutcher picks up a gal at a bar (Washingtonian Melissa Sagemiller) and begins one of those aren't-we-quiptastic flirtations that seem to happen only in movies.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Monster in the Living Room (well, a vast wasteland anyway)

Craig Harris wrote a great column quoting my dad's vast wasteland speech. I like this part very much:

What bothers me most about the television is that it is always on. We get up in the morning, turn it one and watch it until we go to sleep at night, taking breaks only for work or school. We plan our activities around it, using its schedule as our guide. Yes, families may be sitting in the same room, but we can’t talk to each other and the kids better not stand in front of the TV. We only speak during commercials and have to yell over them...

Yes, there are plenty of good things to watch and information can be helpful, but I fear the TV has taken over the family and is calling all of the shots. It is filling our heads with garbage and making us fat and lazy. My solution? Turn it off some. Go outside and enjoy the fall. Talk to each other. Read a book. Choose wisely what to watch and then turn it off. It may just surprise you – you may find you have your own life to live.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Simon Callow's top movie biographies

Amazon has a fascinating list of lists, including Marisha Pessl on Debut Novels (her debut novel Specialty Topics in Calamity Physics is stunningly ambitious and accomplished) and Orson Welles biographer Simon Callow on the best Hollywood biographies.

Jet Li interview

Jet Li talks about his new movie, Fearless.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

OK Go competition results

Here is a fabulous compilation taken from the videos submitted for the OK Go competition. Some imitated the original's costumes and one went so far as to replicate the bass player's bald head, but others went their own way -- shirtless! In friar's robes! Bermuda shorts! In the water!

Monday, September 25, 2006

It's the script, stupid

It isn't just that this Cinematical article by Kim Voynar about what makes a movie great is indisputably right; it's that in a nice example of form equalling content it also exemplifies what makes an essay great -- the writing.

I could have written a one-sentence review of "Flyboys" -- "$80 million on the budget and they couldn't spare any of it for the screenplay." How many hundreds of films have I seen in the past 10 years that were puffed-up pitches, filler between clips for the trailer. The problem is that as movies make more of their revenues outside the US than they do at home, the script becomes less important than the stuff that doesn't have to be translated, like explosions, car chases, shoot-outs, and rocket ships. Of course performances matter -- Jamie Foxx elevated "Ray's" by-the-numbers script. But, as Voynar points out, a great script attracts top talent, as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind demonstrates. That was a script that not only attracted a powerhouse cast -- it could not be outshone by them. That's great writing.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Animation Avalanche

In the last 10 minutes I've just seen commercials for Flushed Away (which doesn't look too good) and Happy Feet (which looks positively adorable) and it occurs to me that this year has been a positive cornucopia of animated (well CGI-animated) movies. The technology is so astonishing and accessible -- and the profits from the "Shrek" films and the Pixar movies so compelling -- that everyone wants to get into the act. I think that's a good thing. I love animation. I hope the studios remember that software can do wonderful things with fur, water, feathers, and clouds, but there are no jazzy programs to give texture to stories and characters.

National Talk Like a Pirate Day -- Google

The National Talk Like a Pirate Day folks wanted Google to design one of their holiday-themed logos for NTLAPD, and received this piratical reply:

Subject: Re: [#73859603]
Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2006 10:44:27 -0700
Ahoy mate,

Thank'ee fer th' logo ye be suggestin'. We enjoy celebratin' horlidays at Google.

As ye may imagine, it be terrible difficult fer us t' choose which events t' be celebratin' on our site. We be hav'in a long list o' horlidays that we'd be liken' ter celebrate in th' future. We be hav'in ter balance this rotatin' calendar with th' need te be maintainin' the likeness o' the Google homepage.

Some horlidays that we no' been celebratin' in the past will be rotatin' into our horliday doodles fer future years.

Please remember ye can be visitin' any o' our doodles at

The Google Team

For the definitive word on NTLAPD, see the classic
Dave Berry column.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Just Duckie (the politics of John Hughes)

Slate has a great
article by Michael Weiss about the political views of writer/director John Hughes, the man behind the definitive portrayals of 1980's teenagers, from Ferris Bueller's Day Off to Pretty in Pink to The Breakfast Club.

Hughes, though, was never quite the antagonist of the status quo he made himself out to be. He was actually a political conservative, and his portrayals of down-and-out youth rebellion had more to do with celebrating the moral victory of the underdog than with championing the underprivileged.

The only thing that's surprising about this is that Weiss is surprised. Those movies were teenage fairy tales. And in fairy tales, Cinderella doesn't marry the guy who drives the pumpkin coach. I'm a Ferris Bueller fan, myself, but I've always found it chilling when Sloane and Cameron are talking, as Ferris is entertaining everyone by performing in the parade:

Sloane: What are you interested in?
Cameron: Nothing.
Sloane: Me neither!

Subversive? Sure. On an individual basis. But the values of the movies are always rock-solid suburban. Oh, and is there anyone over the age of 14 who doesn't think that Andie would have been much better off with Duckie? (Duckie would have, too. Cryer deserves a lot better than being the Felix for Charlie Sheen's louche Oscar.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Gondry shorts

Writer/director Michel Gondry has an irresistibly effervescent sensibility. Salon's Video Dog has fetched a dazzling collection of his short films.

Quote of the week

Matt Pais of Metromix on "All the King's Men:"

Jude Law must be tired: His accent logs thousands of frequent flier miles going back and forth between Law's native Britain and his character's native South.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Would you share your Netflix queue?

Sam Anderson's article in Slate about the way that being invited to view his friends' Netflix queues -- and their ratings -- made him feel

like an information-age window peeper, like I had dipped my toe into the shallow end of a pool whose deep end was Watergate. This feeling only intensified when many of my real-life friends refused to accept me as their Netflix friend. Though they'd talk to me all day about their DVD-watching habits—their three-month Buffy binges and methodical screenings of the entire Owen Wilson catalog—for some reason they wouldn't let me see an actual list of the actual films they were actually renting. They seemed to fear some kind of Netfloixtation.

Netflix lists and preferences may just be the most personal and revealing information you can share. To mix a metaphor, it's like the DNA of your soul. This is not who you say you are; it's who you are. The always-thoughtful ezine Flow has a worthwhile article in the current issue about "anti-fans," about how define ourselves by what we don't like. My son likes the scene in High Fidelity when Barry (Jack Black) refuses to sell a record he doesn't like to a man who wants it for his daughter's birthday. "Do you even know your daughter? There's no way she likes that song! Oh oh oh wait! Is she in a coma?"

Unlike the fantasy worlds of MySpace and the blogs, it's less a social platform than a practical tool, so the data is exceptionally pure.

Anderson's piece is reminiscient of the classic My TiVo Thinks I'm Gay, about a man who was so rattled when his TiVo kept suggesting programs with gay themes, based on what he had previously recorded that he ended up setting it for macho programs he had no intention of watching, just to reassure it (or himself) that he was, as he insisted, "the straightest guy on earth."
[H]e tried to tame TiVo's gay fixation by recording war movies and other "guy stuff." "The problem was, I overcompensated," he says. "It started giving me documentaries on Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Eichmann. It stopped thinking I was gay and decided I was a crazy guy reminiscing about the Third Reich."

It's one thing to let TiVo or Amazon form some ideas about who you are by reviewing your past selections. But inviting your friends to take a peek at your Netflix queue and the ratings of the movies you've seen is more personal than having Amazon suggest that because you bought The Da Vinci Code you might like Harry Potter. It's even more intimate than giving your friends "family" status so they can see the pictures of your last trip on Flickr. It's deeper than letting the world see your eHarmony questionnaire. Everyone checks "yes" to liking walks on the beach. But how many people are willing to admit that they gave four stars to a Pauly Shore movie? Anderson says that

Some of my friends' queues were like formal French gardens: vast spectacular landscapes organized down to the smallest detail, with different genres and moods so delicately interwoven that the discs arrived at home in perfect complementary patterns. Other lists were pure wilderness: big shaggy patches of documentaries interrupted by massive blocks of anime, with scattered thrillers blooming in the middle of bright wide fields of sappy comedies. One friend seemed to be systematically testing the limits of how many Ken Burns documentaries a human being can withstand. My in-the-moment friends, I discovered—the ones who eat canned sardines for dinner and tend to let leases expire without finding new places to live—were also living hand-to-mouth on their Netflix lists (one had only three titles in her queue), while my more practical friends had lists long enough to keep them entertained for years, and—in the event of untimely deaths—to bestow upon their families generations of orderly, effort-free renting. Some lists were tortured records of cultural duty: Dense classics would march solemnly towards the top, only to be demoted (as soon as watching them became a real possibility) and replaced by season three of Felicity, until finally all the most challenging films of the 20th century were pooled at the bottom of the list like dark sediment beneath a froth of romantic comedies. It's the Netflix version of the divided soul: The end of your list is the person you want to be—Eraserhead, the eight-hour BBC Bleak House, the complete Werner Herzog—while the top is the person you actually are: Wedding Crashers, Scary Movie 4, The Bridges of Madison County.

There's a High Fidelity-style "I am what I like" element to all of this. In my case, I publish reviews that make it pretty clear what I think about the movies I see. But okay, I'll admit it. At the top of my Netflix list at the moment: Disc 2 of "Monterey Pop" (we have Disc 1 here right now). Come to think of it, though, that was my husband's suggestion. There are some other items added by my daughter ("Donnie Darko," "Clerks," "Bottle Rocket"), too. So I suppose what you can tell from my Netflix queue is that I see a lot of movies in my day job and often leave the little red envelopes to the other members of the family.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Time lapse

In these ineffably sad and moving films, Noah photographs himself every day for six years. Noah explains more about his (ongoing) project -- including why he does not smile -- here.

In a similar film, a girl known just as me films herself every day for three years.

Quote of the week

From Desson Thomson's hilarious review of "The Covenant:"

Director Renny Harlin, whose colon-studded credits include "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" and "Exorcist: The Beginning," knows the deal here: Pay homoerotic homage to youth and beauty, crank up the heavy metal on the soundtrack, and spare no effort to backlight the omnipresent rain.

Heavy Pockets

Haevy Pockets is an exquisite mix of animation and live action is about growing up, feeling different, loyal friends, and floating up into the sky.

Friday, September 08, 2006

How it Should Have Ended

The hard part in writing a screenplay isn't coming up with a concept or characters or dialogue -- it's the ending. Too many movies run out of steam sometime in the second act. The wonderful website How it Should Have Ended has hilarious and highly satisfying endings for "The Matrix," "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "Superman," and more. If you have trouble getting them to play, try viewing them here.

Cruise/Redstone takedown, part 2

Slate says that

Redstone, who recently married a woman half his age, puts great stock in his virility. And in recent years, he has periodically released his excess testosterone by firing good-looking, middle-aged bucks who have gotten too big for their britches. Last month, it was megastar Tom Cruise. Earlier this week, he cashiered Tom Freston, the CEO of Viacom and one of the founders of MTV.

Is Redstone's need to fire younger guys merely rational decision-making by a canny CEO? Or does it reflect some bizarre reverse-Oedipal envy?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My dad on NPR

My dad's wonderful interview on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" covers everything from the conversation with Bobby Kennedy 50 years ago this month that changed his life to what he told President Kennedy about the communications satellite launch to how he feels about having television's most famous sinking ship named after him.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Star Wars Geek Heaven

This website has meticulously researched and documented shot by shot comparisons of the original 1980 and 2004 versions of "The Empire Strikes Back." Some people have way too much time on their hands. And they use it to create something as wonderful as this and share it with everyone just for the pleasure of it. I love the internet.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Hunter doesn't like "Wicker Man"

One challenge for the movie critic is finding yet another way to say something is awful, even when -- especially when -- we're complaining about the same things that were wrong in last week's exhausted genre flick -- un-funny buddy cop adventure/un-cute romantic comedy/gross-out teen comedy/gross-out teen thriller/dumb remake of some long-gone TV show. So I get a big kick out of critics who are entertaining on the subject of how not-entertained they were by the movie. As they say, when movies are good, the best critics are very very good, but when they are bad, they're better. This week, I liked what the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter had to say about The Wicker Man:

[I]t was long rumored (an urban myth, never proved or disproved) that [Rod] Stewart, the rock millionaire, immediately bought up all the prints [of the original version] and had them destroyed and that was why, for so long, "The Wicker Man" was rarely seen....Only Stewart can say whether this is true, and he's not talking. I do believe that in a few years, Nicolas Cage will buy up all the prints to this "Wicker Man" and burn them. I'll be happy to help him.

Movie Mom on NPR's "Morning Edition"

I was interviewed for NPR's story about the failures of MPAA's rating system.

OK GOes to the VMAs

I was very happy to see OK Go performing live at MTV's VMA awards. It just, um, goes to show, however, not just how much better the original video is, but how much more "live" it seems, too. The live broadcast kept switching to different cameras. Oh, boy! An overhead shot, so we can see that "OK GO" is written on the treadmill mats. Oh, boy! A view over the shoulders and around the heads of the audience! I know it's MTV, but choreography is an art of movement and space. And I know it was live, really happening as we watched, but the mosaic quality of all of the different cuts makes us feel as though it was compiled. If you use the camera to break up the dance into fragments and glimpses, it becomes about the camera, not the dance. The original video was filmed like a Fred Astaire dance number -- in one take, the camera standing still at the proscenium level, giving the audience the best seat in the house. Ironically, it feels more "live" than the live broadcast because it is so indisputably done in one take. The video includes a mistake that the live performance did not, and that, too, gives it more of a real-time, flying-without-a-net quality.

The same applies to sports. The tricked-up basketball scenes in this week's release, "Crossover." The flurry of quick cuts, with some shots sped up and others slowed down, obliterates any interest value in the ability of the players to pass and score. It might as well be done in CGI. When we watch basketball, we want the camera to give us the best seat in the house so we can see the player shoot and score. We don't want a kaleidoscope of fractured images. Of course, when we watch a movie, we also want good dialogue, fresh storylines, and interesting characters, none of which appear in "Crossover," but that's another story.