Saturday, April 5, 2014

Noah Counting for Taste

The new epic film Noah starring Russell Crowe has been drawing fire from some religious quarters.

Noah has been the subject of controversy with some religious groups claiming the story has been inaccurately portrayed. That has prompted Paramount Pictures to add a disclaimer to its marketing material saying “artistic license has been taken” in telling the story.

Well, that’s what happens when you turn a work of fiction into a movie.  A lot of people — myself included — had some issues with the way Peter Jackson depicted The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit on film.  But a movie isn’t a book; they are two different ways of telling a tale, and if the source material is good enough, it will survive pretty much intact.

As it is, the biblical story of the flood has blockbuster movie written all over it, and it’s been the subject of movies since the silent era.  The only surprise here is that it wasn’t directed by James Cameron with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead.

But no one tells it better than Bill Cosby.  Maybe they should have filmed his version.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday, August 12, 2013

On The Road

We’re out of here today, heading for the border and the True North.  I’ll drop you a note once I’m settled in.

By the way, we watched The Grapes of Wrath last night on TCM.  I’ve never seen the whole film before.  Still very relevant after all these years.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Battle of the Stars

Galactic entertainment news for nerds:

Star Trek director J.J. Abrams will be helming the next Star Wars movie. “It’s done deal with J.J.,” a source with knowledge of the situation told Deadline today. Argo director Ben Affleck was also up for the gig, the source says. Despite saying publicly that he didn’t want to direct a new Star Wars, Abrams was courted heavily by producer Kathleen Kennedy to take the job. Expected in 2015, Episode VII will be the first new Star Wars movie since 2005′s Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith.

The last Star Wars movies — the “prequels” — sucked out loud, and the reboot of Star Trek by J.J. Abrams in 2009 was actually pretty good, so this match-up should be an improvement.

And speaking of match-ups, here’s a sneak peek at what would happen when worlds collide.

HT to Melissa and Blue Gal.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

As Snowball noted in Friday Catblogging this morning, was there really a need to turn a 317-page book into three full films, the first one running almost three hours?

I’m going to reserve judgment on that until I see the last two installations of the telling of the tale of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, but if the first episode foretells the future, I’d say it will probably work.

I did not see the 3-D version because I don’t have 3-D vision in real life.  I’ll never know if it makes the experience any better, but I doubt it can improve the storytelling.  Fortunately, director Peter Jackson has a good story to work with, and thanks to his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he has a great deal of respect for Tolkien’s work.  The difference is that in the case of the first series, he had to make some cuts to the original material, leaving out characters such as Tom Bombadil and shortening the end of the story that left out an important denouement.  In the case of The Hobbit, he felt the need to expand, including bringing in characters from the first series to provide background for the beginning of the tale and extending some episodes that on screen lasted a lot longer than it took Tolkien to tell them on paper.  (In fact, I’ll bet you can read the whole book in the the running time of the first installment.)  And the inclusion of some non-textual events such as the tale of the wizard Radagast the Brown, who spends far too much time communing with nature (and mushrooms), was an episode that could have easily been left out.

Mr. Jackson was fortunate that he had good talent to work with in the cast.  He was able to bring back Ian McKellen as Gandalf as well as Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Christopher Lee in their roles from LOTR, providing foreshadowing of events that will occur later on in Middle-earth (that viewers who have seen LOTR will know about, which means he was foreshadowing events that, in real time, have already happened.)  He also found in Martin Freeman an actor who could play Bilbo Baggins, the country squire hobbit turned burglar and adventurer, with the right balance of courage and trepidation.

The only unfortunate casting was the company of the dwarves, whom Mr. Jackson chose to portray as comical gypsies and bumblers rather than the refugees of a noble kingdom cast out of their land by the dragon Smaug.  Some of them seem to have been made up as if they wandered in from Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz.  It makes you wonder if Thorin, the leader of the band (played with smoldering dwarvish sex appeal by Richard Armitage), could have chosen a more serious band of compatriots.  (Although given the situation of the dwarf diaspora, it’s understandable.)

Because the film has been done in 3-D (along with IMAX and high-speed film versions), there are a lot of action scenes with lots of loud (and I mean LOUD) music and sound effects.  At one point I thought that a chase scene was more a pitch for a ride at a theme park than an actual advancement of the story, but then, that’s going to keep the franchise alive, I suppose.  And while I understand the need by filmmakers to go to the complete sensory absorption that 3-D and IMAX provide in order to sell tickets (and add the premium for the required viewing glasses), you had better have a good story to tell no matter whether it is in 3-D or not.  In the case of The Hobbit, the original story was written long before 3-D film was invented; in fact, talking movies were a novelty at the time of the book’s publication.  So the tale that Professor Tolkien began when he jotted down the sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” on the margin of an examination paper he was grading survives in the telling, even if the embellishment turns that first line into a bit of narration a full ten minutes into the film.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Reading

The election is two days away, and I thought we could all use a little respite from the immersion.  So today’s Sunday Reading is politics-free.

I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This — Tom Carson at The American Prospect does not like the idea of Disney taking over the Star Wars franchise.

Temporarily turning even Sandy’s aftermath into an also-ran all over the Twitterverse, the news earlier this week that Disney had acquired George Lucas’s entertainment empire for some $4 billion—including the right to make more Star Wars movies, with the first post-Lucas installment set to roll out in 2015—seems to have left fans about evenly divided between feeling stoked at the prospect (how can more Star Wars be bad?) and dismayed at Papa George’s sellout to the Dark Side. “Get your childhoods ready,” one negativist tweeted. “They’re about to get pissed on again.”

Since I don’t have a dog in this fight—not my childhood, kiddo, and we all know Disney will eat everything one day—it surprised me to notice I wasn’t totally indifferent. An as yet not-quite-formulated regret was creeping in, despite my basic allergy to Lucas and the Millenium Falcon he rode in on. While I’ve never bought into the “Star Wars killed the movies” rap that some of my crustier colleagues like to peddle, the whole franchise’s appeal has never exactly caught me up in its fever.

I didn’t even see the original until months after it had conquered the world, when it showed up paired with Roger Vadim’s Barbarella at a second-run movie palace in New York’s East Village. Already a convert to the Force, the high-school pal who dragged me there insisted that we had to sit through Star Wars first, knowing that otherwise I’d bail on him as soon as Barbarella (which I did want to see) was over. Since then, he’s raised two kids to adulthood on a steady diet of Star Wars mania—the movies, the tchochkes, the works—and no doubt they’ll pass the enthusiasm on to the next generation when their turn comes. Luckily, as a non-parent, I don’t have a dog in that fight, either.

Needless to say, given how I pay the mortgage, being allergic to Lucas doesn’t mean I haven’t had to think and write plenty about Star Wars-the-phenomenon over the decades. Anything that meaningful to so many people is worth analyzing, after all, especially the stuff fans themselves don’t spend much time spelunking around in and angrily reject as irrelevant to the series’s pleasures when some naysayer brings it up. Around ten years ago, when my friend Glenn Kenny asked me to contribute to his anthology A Galaxy Not So Far Away: Writers and Artists on 25 Years of Star Wars, I decided to make myself popular by crapping all over the series’s pretty damned undemocratic ideological underpinnings—something the second trilogy only accentuated by revealing that the Force depended on bloodlines, not merit or true-heartedness. The title Glenn chose for my essay, “Jedi Über Alles,” should give you an idea of how I exult in making friends and influencing people.

Aesthetically, like most of my peers, I prefer the initial trilogy’s clunky pop ingenuousness to the second one’s CGI overkill, bloated storytelling, and ever murkier mythologizing. All in all, though, it wouldn’t matter to me if all six Star Wars movies got wiped off the face of the earth tomorrow. Which means that, logically speaking, it shouldn’t matter to me what Disney does with the franchise either, right?

Um, yes and no. I think one reason for the deep bond fans feel with Star Wars is the awareness that the whole stupid, nutty legend all came out of one man’s head. Those tin-eared character names, goofball non-human sidekicks—Jar Jar Binks (boo) no less than Chewbacca (yay)—and inane narrative compulsions are all homely testimonials to an authorship that stayed idiosyncratic and personal even when Lucas hired other hands to direct four out of the six installments. Unless James Fenimore Cooper counts, the only real comparison may be to L. Frank Baum, another clod whose private crotchets hit mysterious paydirt.

Table for One — Traveling by yourself can be fun.

Ah, the holidays. The perfect time of year to be with the one you love the most: yourself.

If you are unmarried, divorced, widowed or simply apart from friends and family this holiday season, no need to wallow. Because while others are stuck in traffic on the way to Grandma’s house, you, dear reader, have the opportunity to be cosseted in a Venice cafe. Or learning Spanish on a Costa Rican beach.And chances are, you won’t be the only one. While there is no data showing precisely how many people travel alone during the holidays, solo travel overall is a growing trend, say travel professionals. Internet searches for “solo travel ideas” are up by more than 50 percent and searches for “solo travel destinations” are up by more than 60 percent year over year, according to Google.

Tour operators, like Abercrombie & Kent, are seeing more interest from solo travelers. The company, whose group luxury tours have traditionally attracted couples and families, has had a 29 percent increase in the number of solo travelers this year compared with last year.

Some of these travelers are striking out on their own; others are meeting up with friends. Those looking for romance are joining singles tours or — for company minus the come-ons — group tours open to all. Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, said that the number of unmarried travelers seeking general group tours (as opposed to strictly singles tours) is on the rise, especially around the holidays. “It gives them camaraderie and companionship when they want it,” she said, “and the ability to be by themselves when they want to be by themselves.”

A Minimal Truck — An artist’s truck is no more than it needs to be.

PUTNAM VALLEY, N.Y.  Should you ever find yourself in this town, about an hour and a half north of Manhattan, and come across an old white pickup with its hood and tailgate painted black, you might chalk up the two-tone paint job to a D.I.Y. project gone awry.

But you’d be wrong. In fact, the handiwork was performed decades ago by one of the pillars of the Minimalist art movement, Donald Judd.

Judd, who stopped making paintings in the 1960s and died in 1994, was known for his geometrically precise sculptures and installations. In 1971, he moved from New York City to Marfa, then a dying town in the high desert of West Texas, less than 100 miles from Mexico.

“Because of the glare, he painted the hood black to kill the reflection,” said Evan Hughes, who bought the 1972 Dodge Power Wagon 200 from Judd’s son, Flavin, in 2000.

Judd didn’t stop there. He painted the tailgate and the bumpers black, which gave the truck its distinctive look.

The doors of the truck bear the symbol of one of Judd’s ranches in Marfa, which is known for its treeless — and flat — landscape.

“I don’t think it ever went up a hill before it got here,” said Mr. Hughes, referring to the very different terrain in the upstate area where he lives.

One brisk Sunday afternoon this fall, the old Dodge was parked in Mr. Hughes’s driveway under a tall canopy of elm, maple and oak, all a week or so away from peak color. Mr. Hughes, a furniture maker, wore a black shirt, bluejeans and black shoes.

When he spoke of the truck, he sounded like a docent leading a museum tour. In many ways, the truck is an artifact.

“It’s pretty much as it was,” he said.

Calvin and Hobbes — An artist’s life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Short Takes

The death toll from Sandy stands at 50; the cost is at least $50 billion.

The Israeli defense minister says Iran is backing away from its goal of a nuclear weapon.

The head of Chrysler calls out Mitt Romney for his false claim about Jeep moving jobs to China.

Sandy brings down gas prices.

Another good economic sign: August home prices were up.

Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion; threatens to make more Star Wars movies.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Leadership

A little reminder from Aaron Sorkin, four years before Martin Sheen got promoted from Chief of Staff to President.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Reading

Is It Possible? — Michael Tomasky on the numbers that point to an Obama win.

There’s a secret lurking behind everything you’re reading about the upcoming election, a secret that all political insiders know—or should—but few are talking about, most likely because it takes the drama out of the whole business. The secret is the electoral college, and the fact is that the more you look at it, the more you come to conclude that Mitt Romney has to draw an inside straight like you’ve never ever seen in a movie to win this thing. This is especially true now that it seems as if Pennsylvania isn’t really up for grabs. Romney’s paths to 270 are few.

First, let’s discuss Pennsylvania. There has been good reason for Democrats to sweat this state. True, Obama won it handily in 2008, by 10 points. But it’s a state that is older and whiter and more working-class than most of America. Obama benefited from all the unique circumstances of 2008 that helped him across the country, but if ever there were a state where the “well, we gave the black guy a chance and he blew it” meme might catch on, it’s the Keystone State.

But the jobless rate there is 7.5 percent, well below the national average. Democratic voter registration has held its own. The Philly suburbs have grown. And this odious voter ID law is facing meaningful challenges. A hearing on the law’s validity has just been concluded. A state judge says he’ll rule on the law’s constitutionality the week of Aug. 13. It sounds as if the law’s opponents made a stronger case at the hearing than its supporters. In any case, the losing side will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

But whatever happens with that law, Pennsylvania has been trending back toward Obama lately. He now holds a lead there of nearly seven points, and he’s close to 50. And as I wrote the other day, Nate Silver now gives Barack Obama a slightly better chance of winning Montana than he does Romney of winning Pennsylvania. That tells you something.

Just remember though: In 1936 the Literary Digest, a reputable magazine of the time, predicted an Alf Landon landslide against FDR, and in 1948 everyone thought Dewey would beat Truman. This is August. We have a long, long way to go.

Carl Hiaasen — Rick, You’ve Got Mail.

An absolutely true news item: To erase the perception that it was censoring public records, the office of Gov. Rick Scott has announced it will no longer delete unflattering correspondence from the governor’s official email account.

Dear Rick,

We received your inquiry about a possible stage appearance with Gov. Romney during his upcoming campaign swing through Florida. Unfortunately, Mitt has a very tight schedule and it’s unlikely he’ll have time to be seen with you.

Perhaps after the election you can come visit him at the White House, or at least take the tour. Meanwhile, keep up your good work in the Sunshine State, and try not to get discouraged by those scary low poll numbers!

Warmest regards,

r.hogshaw@mittforprez.net

Dear Gov. Scott,

I’m a huge supporter of your plan to drug-test state workers and welfare recipients. Wouldn’t it be a neat idea to do the same thing to all the delegates at the Republican National convention this month in Tampa?

What a golden opportunity for the GOP to set a moral example for the whole country, while also showcasing your own unique priorities as governor.

I just happen to own a company that sells urine-sampling kits online for $24.95, but for you we’ll make it an even 20 bucks apiece. What do you say?

j.hosebright@peeforamerica.com

Dear Governor,

I was really upset to read that elections officials in Florida aren’t finding as many illegal voters as everybody expected, and by everybody I mean all red-blooded American patriots such as myself.

What kind of a lame purge are you running, anyway?

The fact that Obama won Florida in 2008 means there must be hundreds of thousands of illegals registered, maybe even some white ones. Just start with a list of whoever voted for that Muslim-loving, basketball-playing socialist, and work your way down.

Get on the stick, man! Time’s running out.

h.dipthong@paranoidsfordemocracy.org

Dear Rick,

I received your latest note asking about Gov. Romney’s appearance schedule while he’s in Florida. It’s very kind of you to offer to fly wherever he is, anytime, and it’s also helpful to know that your private jet needs only 3,200 feet of runway.

However, Gov. Romney’s itinerary remains undecided, and we won’t know anything definite until, oh, four minutes or so before he actually arrives.

It might be Bradenton, might be Sarasota, maybe even St. Pete. That’s our Mitt!

In any case I’m sure your paths will cross some day. Thanks again for not mentioning him in your recent media interviews.

Sincerely,

r.hogshaw@mittforprez.net

The Top Fifty — Richard Brody on why “Vertigo” is the top film on the BFI list.

If Howard Hawks mistakenly opened a door and found a youngish actress there, freshly showered and in a state of unkempt undress, he’d go in and close the door behind him with his hopes high. If Alfred Hitchcock entered the same room with the same occupant in the same state, he’d want to see her coiffed and dressed and made up before knowing what he wanted. That’s why no Hawks movie is to be found on the Sight & Sound top-fifty list, and why “Vertigo” came in at number one. It dramatizes the process by which Hollywood transforms a charismatic person into a beauty: the cosmetic arts, which Hitchcock saw as central to the art of the cinema. For Hitchcock, undress signifies an unhealthy preoccupation with sexual gratification rather than with the object of desire—and desire begins with perfection. He has a sufficient loathing of the human condition to yearn for its drastic improvement before he finds it appealing, and—as singularly expressive and psychologically resonant as his images are—he is perhaps the poster director for cinematic elaboration, for the virtue and power of artifice. (The relevant quote, which I’ve seen in a variety of phrasings, is his assertion that his films aren’t “slices of life” but “slices of cake.”)

With apologies to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the movies on the top fifty are, for the most part, cooked, not raw. Even the top documentary on the list—Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera,” at number nine—is highly inflected and cinematographically elaborate; there’s nothing by Frederick Wiseman or the Maysles brothers or Robert Flaherty. The prominence of films by of Stanley Kubrick (“2001” at number six), Francis Ford Coppola and Andrei Tarkovsky (three each), and Akira Kurosawa (two); the relative absence of Italian neo-realism (“Bicycle Thieves” at thirty-three, “Voyage to Italy”—if that counts—at forty-one); and, in general, the lack of movies where the strings seem looser (e.g. John Cassavetes, Elaine May) indicates that directorial control freaks have a higher standing among the voters than those whose movies reflect heads-up curiosity, spontaneity, and responsiveness to unexpected discovery.

Doonesbury — Nightmare scenario.

Sunday Reading

Is It Possible? — Michael Tomasky on the numbers that point to an Obama win.

There’s a secret lurking behind everything you’re reading about the upcoming election, a secret that all political insiders know—or should—but few are talking about, most likely because it takes the drama out of the whole business. The secret is the electoral college, and the fact is that the more you look at it, the more you come to conclude that Mitt Romney has to draw an inside straight like you’ve never ever seen in a movie to win this thing. This is especially true now that it seems as if Pennsylvania isn’t really up for grabs. Romney’s paths to 270 are few.

First, let’s discuss Pennsylvania. There has been good reason for Democrats to sweat this state. True, Obama won it handily in 2008, by 10 points. But it’s a state that is older and whiter and more working-class than most of America. Obama benefited from all the unique circumstances of 2008 that helped him across the country, but if ever there were a state where the “well, we gave the black guy a chance and he blew it” meme might catch on, it’s the Keystone State.

But the jobless rate there is 7.5 percent, well below the national average. Democratic voter registration has held its own. The Philly suburbs have grown. And this odious voter ID law is facing meaningful challenges. A hearing on the law’s validity has just been concluded. A state judge says he’ll rule on the law’s constitutionality the week of Aug. 13. It sounds as if the law’s opponents made a stronger case at the hearing than its supporters. In any case, the losing side will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

But whatever happens with that law, Pennsylvania has been trending back toward Obama lately. He now holds a lead there of nearly seven points, and he’s close to 50. And as I wrote the other day, Nate Silver now gives Barack Obama a slightly better chance of winning Montana than he does Romney of winning Pennsylvania. That tells you something.

Just remember though: In 1936 the Literary Digest, a reputable magazine of the time, predicted an Alf Landon landslide against FDR, and in 1948 everyone thought Dewey would beat Truman. This is August. We have a long, long way to go.

Carl Hiaasen — Rick, You’ve Got Mail.

An absolutely true news item: To erase the perception that it was censoring public records, the office of Gov. Rick Scott has announced it will no longer delete unflattering correspondence from the governor’s official email account.

Dear Rick,

We received your inquiry about a possible stage appearance with Gov. Romney during his upcoming campaign swing through Florida. Unfortunately, Mitt has a very tight schedule and it’s unlikely he’ll have time to be seen with you.

Perhaps after the election you can come visit him at the White House, or at least take the tour. Meanwhile, keep up your good work in the Sunshine State, and try not to get discouraged by those scary low poll numbers!

Warmest regards,

r.hogshaw@mittforprez.net

Dear Gov. Scott,

I’m a huge supporter of your plan to drug-test state workers and welfare recipients. Wouldn’t it be a neat idea to do the same thing to all the delegates at the Republican National convention this month in Tampa?

What a golden opportunity for the GOP to set a moral example for the whole country, while also showcasing your own unique priorities as governor.

I just happen to own a company that sells urine-sampling kits online for $24.95, but for you we’ll make it an even 20 bucks apiece. What do you say?

j.hosebright@peeforamerica.com

Dear Governor,

I was really upset to read that elections officials in Florida aren’t finding as many illegal voters as everybody expected, and by everybody I mean all red-blooded American patriots such as myself.

What kind of a lame purge are you running, anyway?

The fact that Obama won Florida in 2008 means there must be hundreds of thousands of illegals registered, maybe even some white ones. Just start with a list of whoever voted for that Muslim-loving, basketball-playing socialist, and work your way down.

Get on the stick, man! Time’s running out.

h.dipthong@paranoidsfordemocracy.org

Dear Rick,

I received your latest note asking about Gov. Romney’s appearance schedule while he’s in Florida. It’s very kind of you to offer to fly wherever he is, anytime, and it’s also helpful to know that your private jet needs only 3,200 feet of runway.

However, Gov. Romney’s itinerary remains undecided, and we won’t know anything definite until, oh, four minutes or so before he actually arrives.

It might be Bradenton, might be Sarasota, maybe even St. Pete. That’s our Mitt!

In any case I’m sure your paths will cross some day. Thanks again for not mentioning him in your recent media interviews.

Sincerely,

r.hogshaw@mittforprez.net

The Top Fifty — Richard Brody on why “Vertigo” is the top film on the BFI list.

If Howard Hawks mistakenly opened a door and found a youngish actress there, freshly showered and in a state of unkempt undress, he’d go in and close the door behind him with his hopes high. If Alfred Hitchcock entered the same room with the same occupant in the same state, he’d want to see her coiffed and dressed and made up before knowing what he wanted. That’s why no Hawks movie is to be found on the Sight & Sound top-fifty list, and why “Vertigo” came in at number one. It dramatizes the process by which Hollywood transforms a charismatic person into a beauty: the cosmetic arts, which Hitchcock saw as central to the art of the cinema. For Hitchcock, undress signifies an unhealthy preoccupation with sexual gratification rather than with the object of desire—and desire begins with perfection. He has a sufficient loathing of the human condition to yearn for its drastic improvement before he finds it appealing, and—as singularly expressive and psychologically resonant as his images are—he is perhaps the poster director for cinematic elaboration, for the virtue and power of artifice. (The relevant quote, which I’ve seen in a variety of phrasings, is his assertion that his films aren’t “slices of life” but “slices of cake.”)

With apologies to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the movies on the top fifty are, for the most part, cooked, not raw. Even the top documentary on the list—Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Movie Camera,” at number nine—is highly inflected and cinematographically elaborate; there’s nothing by Frederick Wiseman or the Maysles brothers or Robert Flaherty. The prominence of films by of Stanley Kubrick (“2001” at number six), Francis Ford Coppola and Andrei Tarkovsky (three each), and Akira Kurosawa (two); the relative absence of Italian neo-realism (“Bicycle Thieves” at thirty-three, “Voyage to Italy”—if that counts—at forty-one); and, in general, the lack of movies where the strings seem looser (e.g. John Cassavetes, Elaine May) indicates that directorial control freaks have a higher standing among the voters than those whose movies reflect heads-up curiosity, spontaneity, and responsiveness to unexpected discovery.

Doonesbury — Nightmare scenario.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012