Friday, July 25, 2008

What's Worth Your Time


Perhaps you'll recall the minor rumble in the blogosphere caused by Armond White's assertion that critics were ignoring Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories. It was an odd claim -- at the time, you couldn't look at any film review venue without seeing a positive notice for the film -- but all the back-and-forth about who liked it first shouldn't distract from the actual work. It's an excellent debut film, about the feud between half-brothers over their recently deceased father.

Three brothers -- named Son, Boy and Kid -- resent the indifference of the man who left them with an unfeeling mother, found Jesus, and raised four more boys with another woman. They crash his funeral, say some harsh words, and set off a chain of events that slowly escalates into violence. At the film's center is an expertly restrained performance by Michael Shannon as the eldest of the abandoned sons, whose stern face has an uncanny ability to express all the longings, regrets and anger of his character with barely any movement.

Then, for those cinematic adventurers who've been dying to take a crack at Bela Tarr's legendary 7-hour opus, here's your chance: Facets has just released a 4-disc package of Satantango! Read Michael Atkinson's write-up at IFC Films here. Through some bizarre mishap on my Netflix queue, disc 1 is already on its way to me. Maybe I'll pull my head out of my ass and write about it...

Also, I just watched Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together for the first time, and it's so friggin' good I feel the need to recommend it to everyone.


With the second season of Mad Men approaching, I decided to catch up on what I'd missed with my cable's OnDemand service. Yadda yadda yadda, it's as great as everyone says, but what I most look forward to in every episode is catching a glimpse of Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway:
It's impossible to take your eyes off her, what with her bright outfits, fiery red hair and wicked grin. Forgive me for being a drooling man here, but WOW!


After reading this interview with Teri Garr at the Onion AV Club, I felt the need to share it with any and everybody. Following decades in the business and recently surviving an aneurysm that, as Gawker put it, "severed her give-a-shit nerve", she's ready to let loose with a heaping spoonful of candor that you pretty much never see in celebrity interviews.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Forums R Us

Has anyone here heard of an internet forum called "Silver Screen Oasis"? I tried to wiki it, but no articles showed up for it. It might be fairly new, or just little known. I've found a great site for discussing jazz,, and one for soccer at, and had long wished to find a similarly-templated forum with moderators, etc. for art film discussions, but a lot of searching in the past turned up nothing. I thought, do all we want to do is blog?

But now, I may have found a suitable one at, that advertises itself as the place to discuss "classic" films--I don't know if that means "art films" or particularly B&W Hollywood "classics". But a keyword search on their site turned up names such as Bresson as topics for discussion. So this may be the place for me, if there are enough like-minded fans on there.

This blogspot here is a lot of fun too, and I'll continue to post here from time to time, but I've long wanted a place where a lot of feedback could be expected, and where registered users are on a more egalitarian plane, and if that's what you want also, then perhaps you should check this site out.

I don't know if discussion is allowed for modern would-be classics, though. I understand it probably doesn't want to descend into discussion about all the latest first-run features, which could make the website top-heavy in a way they wish it not be.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In Theaters: Wall-E

WALL-E is not only possibly the best picture of the year, it’s the best science fiction film in a year and a half at least. It’s getting kind of boring to talk about Pixar delivering yet another great animated epic, but even by their standards they may have created something special here. It’s a film that’s almost as dialogue-thin as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, that tugs on the heartstrings as much as E.T., and that manages the level of social commentary of just about every science fiction film of the early Seventies, but without the unbearable preachiness. Despite all these comparisons, it’s unique. It’s original, something we don’t see enough of from the major studios, and it even defies some of the conventions that Pixar itself is associated with. Above all, though- look at ‘im! He’s adorable! Aww!

Wall-E (voiced, in a sense, by veteran sound effects creator Ben Burtt) is the last of a group of clean-up robots tasked with squaring away the litter of a terminally polluted Earth. Mankind has long since abandoned the planet, and Wall-E is left alone to crush garbage into cubes and stack it in giant towers. In his isolation he has gone a little eccentric; he preserves objects he finds interesting, makes friends with a cockroach, and listens to showtunes as he works. One day, however, his routine is disrupted by the arrival of an Apple-sleek, vaguely feminine robot named EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight), whose mysterious directive involves zooming around scanning the landscape. A friendship of sorts is kindled, and Wall-E has often longed for someone to hold hands with, but when he shows her a plant he discovered, her directive kicks in. A probe ship takes her and the plant away, Wall-E in tow, heading towards the Axiom, a giant worldship carrying all of humanity. They’ve been waiting for Earth to become habitable again for 700 years- at least that’s the mission statement, but in the meantime the species has become entirely fat and sedentary, whizzing about on floating chairs and cared for by the ship’s computer and countless helper robots who really run the Axiom. Worse, when Eve is brought up to the computer to make her report, the plant has gone missing. Eve and Wall-E get carted off as malfunctioning robots, and an unintended prison break has them chased by robot security guards and still trying to find out the fate of the missing plant.

Critics so far have expressed a preference for the film’s first act, in its wordless simplicity and desolate beauty as Wall-E and EVE form a relationship. To be sure, it works brilliantly in and of itself. But the rest of the film shouldn’t be dismissed as lesser, not by a long shot. The shift of tone when we reach the Axiom is jarring, but we end up in the midst of a sparkly, shiny dystopia dominated by consumerism and inactivity, a surprisingly sharp bit of social criticism for a children’s film. But here’s where it gets interesting; the film is not callous towards humanity, even after it’s trashed its home and locked itself in stasis. During his visit Wall-E manages to knock a few people out of their slumber, and when they wake up and look around, they’re not scared by reality, they embrace it. The people in this film aren’t selfish, and as a matter of fact, I’m not sure any character in the film fits that description. What they are is locked in a pattern, and this holds for the robots as well. It takes a force like Wall-E, a new element, to shake them out of it.

The animation continues to extend Pixar’s high standards, with a number of shots that would work perfectly well for a live action feature. The level of detail is utterly amazing, whether we’re dealing with the junk-encrusted Earth or the sparkling Axiom. Weirdly enough, there’s even some live action in the picture, seen on electronic video screens and billboards.

The film mostly forgoes the familiar tradition of having well-known actors and actresses voice the major parts. Burtt “voices” the main character (and several other robots) through his use of sound effects and voice modulation, and the ship’s autopilot is voiced by Apple’s Macintalk text-to-speech system. Sigourney Weaver, Kathy Najimy, and Pixar vet John Ratzenberger all have parts, but they’re outshone by the nearly wordless protagonists. There’s also the immortal Fred Willard appearing in the live action pieces as the President of the world-dominating Buy-N-Large corporation.

Of course, much of what makes Wall-E work is in the simple appeal of the main character. He’s cute, he’s humble, he’s friendly and curious. He’s attracted to EVE first out of his loneliness, but soon sees the virtue of her “directive” and works to preserve the life of the little plant that holds the key to mankind’s future. I’m not sure he ever fully understands what this is all about, but he knows that it’s EVE’s mission and seems to have a respect for all living things.

WALL-E is an extremely intelligent picture that manages to be very simple and fun at the same time. It’s a film with many layers, but it can be engaged with on the most basic level as the story of a lonely robot in love. It has just the right combination of passion and elegance, sweetness and sophistication. Definitely the picture to beat for overall excellence this year.

Written and Directed by Andrew Stanton

Grade: A