I saw (for the second time) Terence Malick’s The New World Friday night. It’s a strange and engrossing movie, what one critic calls a “tone poem” about the founding of the Jamestown settlement. Part history, part psychological analysis, part dream, it enraptures, engrosses, and enrages alternately. Partly through pacing (one of, I think, its best qualities – The New World doesn’t seek to show us the Jamestown experience at the speed of contemporary life but instead moves at the pace of life in 1607), partly through interweaving the stream-of-consciousness of its main characters (John Smith and Pocahontas), Malick captures the brutal reality of the historical events that they were part of. The dearth of dialogue that some might find unsettling works well at conveying the need of two cultures unable to communicate verbally trying to find ways to express meaning to each other. (As an aside, Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas steals the film; and for once, Colin Farrell’s thuggishly angsty intensity suits his role – adventurer and angst-ridden thug Captain John Smith.)
I begin with this micro-film review because it relates to my reading list post of a couple of weeks ago. The first book on that list was William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, which I finished early last week, a few days before stumbling upon The New World during one of those free movie channel promos from my satellite TV provider. (And yes, I’m taking pains not to give them free a product mention; when they’re ready to go quid pro quo and offer me free promo for my books I’ll do that – this is how the world we live in works, n’est-ce pas?) I realized (since my 20th/21st century mind raced along despite Malick’s admirable attempt to slow me down to 17th century experiential pace) that, while The New World offers a superb vision of the Jamestown experience, that I could not name a film that does an equally fine job of conveying the experience of that even more famous group of New World colonists, the Pilgrims. And that got me to wondering why.
Our oldest daughter went to Kenyon College in Ohio, and we’ve always loved the place. Its campus is one of the most beautiful spots on the face of the earth, especially early on a summer morning with the morning mist burning off, which is what it was like the first time we visited. We’ve always had warm feelings about the place, and about the importance of the kind of liberal arts education it offers. So, apparently, does Kenyon alum Josh Radnor, whose movie, “Liberal Arts,” is a love letter to Kenyon, to this education, and, more broadly, to the arts themselves. Especially books. This is a movie about books, of all things, about the transformative power of literature, a love letter to books. How on earth did this move even get made? Continue reading →
I’m currently reading Christopher Moore’s 2006 novel, A Dirty Job, and am nearing what I expect to be a slam-bang, fun-filled, rollicking climax. I picked it up because I thought Lamb, the story of Jesus Christ’s life as told by his best friend Levi, who is called Biff, was one of the funniest things I’d ever read. If you haven’t run across these books yet, consider them recommended.
Anyway, last night, as we got deeper into protagonist Charlie Asher’s investigation of the doings at the mysterious Buddhist center in San Francisco’s Mission district, my pique finally got the better of me. To wit, why the hell is this not yet a movie?! Seriously, A Dirty Job is box office magic waiting to happen. So I hit the Internets and discovered that the rights were indeed picked up, in 2006, by Chris Columbus and 1492 Productions. CC is the guy who brought us the first two films in the Harry Potter series and Home Alone, as well as Reckless, Gremlins, The Goonies, Mrs. Doubtfire and Night at the Museum. While he’s had some missteps along the way – who in Hollywood hasn’t? – he’s clearly a man who knows a thing or two about the aforementioned box office magic, right? Continue reading →
Our real photographer, the estimable Lisa Wright, is on vacation, so I ventured out last night, new camera in hand, to see if I could capture something vaguely interesting for our readers. As luck would have it, they were showing A Star is Born, the 1937 classic starring Janet Gaynor, on the lawn in front of the old Elitch Gardens Theater.
The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotic and 3D computer animation, which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s human likeness.
American propagandists and PR hacks have developed remarkably innovative ways of making words lie. Back in the ’80s we had “freedom fighters,” which was the way we described death squads who were friendly to America. “Pro-life” can be used to describe those who bomb clinics and murder physicians. “Enhanced interrogation,” of course, means “torture.” And so on. In some cases this Orwellian distortion of the language falls under the category of “euphemism,” but the more insidious innovations can be so subtle that we don’t recognize the way the language is being gamed unless we think about it very hard.
My colleague Michael Sheehan recent offered a tip of the cap to a local staging of Frost/Nixon, which starred our old friend Stuart O’Steen. If anything, Mike was understated in his praise of the show and O’Steen’s performance. Anytime the big-city Denver Post says nice things about a community theater production up in the hinterlands of Longmont you know something special is afoot.
After the show, as we waited for a chance to congratulate the cast, my companions and I found ourselves discussing a topic that has come to intrigue me a great deal: the curious rehabilitation of Richard Nixon. Continue reading →
A recent study conducted at University of California, San Diego revealed that people enjoyed short stories more when they had been given a spoiler about the ending. That’s nice, but as far as I’m concerned spoilers are still the revelation of the damned.
While some have taken this study to mean spoilers aren’t so bad after all, I have a different take. Uses and Gratifications theory tells us that people use media for whatever purpose suits them at the time. Enjoyment is far from the only use of media consumption. It’s worth noting that the participants in this study were just that – participants in a study. They were not at the local Barnes & Noble seeking the gratification of a good read after a hectic work week. Continue reading →
In the earliest moments of Sarah’s Key, lead actress Kristin Scott Thomas declares that “when a story is told, it is not forgotten.” This statement rings as a challenge both to the film’s viewers and the film itself, but it’s a challenge the film doesn’t quite overcome.
The widely unknown deportation of 13,000 French Jews to concentration camps in 1942 catalyzes the dual narrative film that spans 60 years. The young Sarah Starzynski and her parents are among the Jews forced from their homes and each other by their own government. In a desperate attempt to save her younger brother from a similar fate, Sarah locks him in a closet, taking the key with her and making him swear to stay hidden. Continue reading →
Within two months of arriving in Afghanistan in 2007, I was sitting in the back of one of the few Humvees on Kandahar Air Field that wasn’t up-armored. Seven of my comrades and I, all paratroopers from Task Force One Fury, had rehearsed this mission over and over. This was one of the most important assignments we would have the entire deployment. We trained with the stern faces and stiff jaws of men who made their living as professional Soldiers. But as we sat in the dark in that back of that humvee, our mission commencing within minutes, the stern faces broke. The jaws quivered. Tears ran down all eight of our faces.
This mission wasn’t taking us outside the wire. We weren’t going more than a couple hundred yards, but we had precious cargo. Continue reading →
The talks look excellent, and if this evening’s was any indication of how these will go, I expect to have a really good time attending some of them and providing updates. This evening’s session, with the same title as the exhibit but the subtitle “Why Science fiction speaks to us all,” had a stellar line-up: Erik Davis, China Miéville, Adam Roberts, and Tricia Sullivan, all moderated by Sam Leith, the former literary editor of The Telegraph. Continue reading →
Every movie has a soundtrack. And let’s be honest – most of them are as unmemorable as … well, as the movies themselves. At its best, though, the music captures the spiritual essence of the auteur‘s vision, interacting with the film in ways that are simply transcendent. One plus one equals infinity, and it’s impossible to ever conceive of song and scene independently again.
There are three such instances that stand out in my memory, and they run the gamut from ridiculous to sublime. Rather than picking one, let’s consider all three. Continue reading →
The great medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer created timeless characters in his Canterbury Tales; archetypal personalities such as the Wife of Bath and the Miller endure to this day. Through them Chaucer could readily celebrate, criticize and satirize different aspects of the society of his time. Additionally, Chaucer, as a public servant and man of the people, preserved a vernacular that may otherwise have been lost.
The late Richard Pryor, often hailed as the greatest comic to ever take the stage, is the American Chaucer. A master storyteller in the grand tradition of West African griots, fired by passion and pain, possessed of keen insight, he was also a brilliant impersonator with amazing range, an intuitive actor who never got his due, a social critic, a writer, a folklorist, a philosopher, and, most importantly, one funny motherfucker… Continue reading →
“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading →
Film and stage director Arthur Penn has died, age 88. Penn was one of the most important, if least prolific, film directors of the past half century, and if his only movie had been Bonnie and Clyde, his place in film and cultural history would be assured. That wasn’t all–his other film credits included gems such as Alice’s Restaurant, Penn and Teller Get Killed, and Night Moves, and some interesting messes like Little Big Man (which still contained an astonishing performance from Dustin Hoffman) and The Missouri Breaks (one of Marlon Brando’s most entertaining performances). But it was as a television and stage director that Penn initially made his mark, with The Miracle Worker, followed by a raft of others. Penn himself was responsible for all three versions of The Miracle Worker–television, Broadway, and the film version, which won Oscars for both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Continue reading →