Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Do yourself a favor and see ROMA.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

I watched Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA yesterday on a 70mm print at the Alamo Ritz in downtown Austin. Rather than tell you more about the movie, I’m going to recommend that you go into it with no more than what you’ll find out by watching the trailer above — or even less than that, as I did.

Suffice it to say: this mostly quiet, intense movie is intimate, at times heart-rending, and impossible to forget. I cried. At moments I had my heart in my throat. I connected with the characters. And later in the day my girlfriend and I discussed the movie for easily an hour.

Cuarón is one of the living masters of cinema, and ROMA is a very personal masterpiece from his hand. Not just worth seeing, but worth seeing on the big screen.

Thoughts on ARRIVAL

Monday, December 12th, 2016

[No spoilers here.]

Yesterday I went to see Arrival. I thought it was very good. In particular:

  • Really interesting script
  • Fine cinematography
  • Excellent cast (Renner, I like; Adams and Whitaker are longtime faves of mine, and they’re very good here.)
  • Truly outstanding sound design

But what I liked most about the movie is that it is unabashedly pro-intellectual. Without giving anything away, Adams and Renner play professors (a linguist and a physicist, respectively) whose job it is to understand the aliens who have come to visit Earth.

They’re not intellectualizing things for the sake of it, or theorizing to theorize. They’re faced with a huge, highly practical problem, and they lead teams of brainy people (supported by highly professional soldiers) trying to unravel that problem.

Why I think this is important

For a long time now — and especially recently — we’ve been subjected to a narrative that people who think (and who think for a living) somehow aren’t “real people.” That’s a false, divisive, and counterproductive notion.

Having worked with my hands, and coming from people who do, I have great respect for that work. It’s vital and honorable. Besides the need for physical toughness, there’s often a lot of creativity, resourcefulness, and mental toughness that goes into that work.

But brainwork is also vital and honorable. And, crucially, it’s real. Arrival underlines the importance of that.

We’re facing a lot of problems these days, from racism to climate change to terrorism. We need everybody’s talents to solve them. That doesn’t mean Ph.D.s should talk down to the rest of us, or that intellectuals should call all the shots. But we need creative brainpower and deep knowledge now more than ever.

All of this ought to be obvious. Arrival reminds us that it isn’t.

Crossover sci-fi/fantasy actors.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

As an extension of a dinner-table conversation with my kids, I asked friends on Twitter to name actors who have done work in more than one science-fiction or fantasy universe. This is what we came up with.


Commonplace: reading well.

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

“The problem of availability is something that seems increasingly to have been solved. To view or to read well is another kind of problem.”

–From “Slow Reading” at if:book.

(Image by rana ossama, used under a CC-Share Alike license.)

An insight from my son, age 9, on his first cinematic exposure to Middle Earth.

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

“I wish this was real, only without the wars and bloodshed and stuff.”

Well, yeah. Welcome to the club, kid.

Two views on Invictus — plus my own.

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

First, my own basic reaction when my wife and I stepped out of the theater: “Nice movie.”

I thought that the story of Invictus was worth telling to a wide audience. I thought that Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon did fine work in their roles, and that they had an excellent supporting cast.

But, as Bill Simmons points out in his insightful column on the movie, Invictus ultimately failed as a sports movie because it didn’t put enough meat on the bones to explain why the underdog South African team won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Along the way, he makes a few more excellent points:

  • Director Clint Eastwood made too many assumptions about Americans’ ability to intuit the rules and pacing of rugby — which is, after all, a complicated game.
  • Matt Damon is about my size, i.e. 5’10” and 175 – 185 pounds, and although he clearly bulked up for this role, he just didn’t have the physically imposing presence of Springboks captain Francois Pienaar. Check out this photo of Pienaar shaking hands with Mandela after winning the World Cup to see what I mean. According to his page on the South Africa Rugby site, Pienaar played at 6’3″ and 231 pounds. (My wife asks a relevant question here: is there any big-name actor who could have fit the bill physically?)
  • The movie got stuck trying to choose between being a great sports movie and being Significant, and ultimately fell short on both counts.

Simmons’ column — which I encourage you to read — took care of the sports side of Invictus. This item from Racism Review, which I found thanks to a friend from Twitter, addresses the Significant side, and particularly the approach of the movie to the subject of racial reconciliation:

“Invictus” : From a Different Perspective

. . . Mandela as represented here is a man who remains ever hopeful to appeal to the better side of whites. In the film, Mandela is a de-radicalized figure who personifies the notion that non-white activists and leaders should rely exclusively on forgiveness, understanding, and nonviolence for any hope of racial progress. There are moments in the film where you see blatant white racism. To Eastwood’s credit, racism in South African is portrayed as institutionalized and systemic; yet after two hours South Africa’s problems are a thing of the past after the national team wins the Rugby World Cup. . . .

As I said to my Twitter friend, while the movie addressed South African racism — and especially racial distrust — head-on, the view it ultimately presented was too hunky-dory, like a Dick-and-Jane story:

See Mandela preach reconciliation.

See Mandela embody forgiveness.

See Mandela bond with Pienaar.

See Pienaar lead the Springboks to victory.

See South Africa achieve reconciliation.

Now, that’s not quite fair to Eastwood, who’s a favorite of mine, and who had a picture to make for a certain budget and on a certain timetable. (As Simmons reminds us, Eastwood is famous for delivering the goods on time and under budget.) The fact that the movie was unsubtle — or, as Simmons puts it, lazy — doesn’t imply that Eastwood fails to appreciate the subtleties that underlay his story.

I just wish that he had unfolded some of those subtleties better or, maybe better, had let them simmer in the background while he made a great sports movie rather than the movie he made, which never became more than a nice way to pass a couple of hours in the theater.

Have you seen Invictus? What do you think about it?

The best books and movies.

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Gimmicky though they are, I’m a sucker for “all-time best” lists like these:

Of the novels — and they actually just mean novels written in English since 1923 — I’m sure I’ve read these 19 in their entirety:

American Pastoral, Animal Farm, Appointment in Samarra, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, The Heart of the Matter, Lord of the Flies, The Lord of the Rings, Mrs. Dalloway, Native Son, 1984, A Passage to India, Slaughterhouse-Five, Snow Crash, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, To Kill a Mockingbird, To the Lighthouse

Of the movies, I’m sure I’ve seen these 40:

The Awful Truth, Blade Runner, Bonnie and Clyde, Brazil, Bride of Frankenstein, Camille, Casablanca, Charade, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Double Indemnity, Dr. Strangelove, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Farewell My Concubine, Finding Nemo, The Fly [though it doesn’t belong this list], The Godfather, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Goodfellas, A Hard Day’s Night [??], His Girl Friday [one of my all-time faves], It’s A Wonderful Life, King Kong, The Lady Eve, Lawrence of Arabia, The Lord of the Rings, Meet Me in St. Louis, Notorious, On the Waterfront, Once Upon a Time in the West, Pinocchio, Psycho, Pulp Fiction, Schindler’s List, Singin’ in the Rain, Some Like It Hot, Star Wars, A Streetcar Named Desire, Taxi Driver, Unforgiven

How about you?

J. J. Abrams — great talk on creativity.

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Well, it’s also a talk about his grandfather and mystery boxes and explosions. Particularly appealing: his energy level and sense of humor. It’s clear that the act of creation inspires him.

Good stuff — getcha some.

On constraints and what we do with them.

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Marc Andreessen has a fabulous post about how A. C. Lyles got into the movie business.  Please do yourself a favor and read it.

Now that was extremely kind of him… when he said to keep in touch and finish high school, my main objective then was to finish high school. But the most important thing was writing him a letter every Sunday. He didn’t tell me to write him every Sunday, he just told me to keep in touch. So I wrote him every Sunday for four years.

Talk about dedication!

More Star Wars.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Because I know you can’t get enough: There is such a thing as Wookieepedia. It’s like Wikipedia, but for Star Wars.

Why I wasn’t informed of this earlier, I have no idea.