March 21, 2007

The Originals

Filed under: art, movies, nerd — ted @ 3:47 pm

The title of the Backwards City post where I discovered these sites is called Nerd Crack — I think that’s about right.

What you see below are pieces of conceptual art designed by Ralph McQuarrie before and during the creation of the original trilogy. There are dozens of these!


March 20, 2007

Limited Information

Filed under: movies — ted @ 3:27 pm

An article originally written for India Today describes the filming of Wes Anderson’s current project, The Darjeeling Limited:

But there are not that many laughs in The Darjeeling Limited, which in Anderson’s usual quirky style, features talking animals, lost parents and slightly deranged siblings. The brothers believe their father, played by Bill Murray-who went remarkably undiscovered in the two weeks he was shooting in Jodhpur-has been reborn as an albino leopard, and trace their mother to a convent where she teaches poor children. Recreated in Nahar Magra, in a hunting lodge on the property of the former Maharana of Mewar-which was closed for 40 years and cleaned up in eight days for the crew to use-the convent’s chapel was painstakingly put together in an open courtyard, using tangail saris, wooden benches from an antique warehouse in Jodhpur, and parakeets and pigeons brought all the way from the US. The level of detailing, says Aradhana Seth, who is working with Mark Friedberg on production design, is extraordinary. Anderson wanted to paint the train bogeys (The Darjeeling Limited is the name of the train the boys take to travel through India) in the style of trucks he had seen on Indian highways. Seth auditioned several painters before selecting one-who ended up painting portraits of the stars as well.

[Via Phillyist]

February 24, 2007

Oscar Picks 2007

Filed under: movies, oscar — ted @ 1:53 pm

After last year’s catastrophe, I resolved not to follow the Oscar’s as closely as I did then, and I’ve kept my word: no Oscar blogs, no pouring over summaries to learn more about all the categories, no investing myself in the outcome. That being the case, I still did see enough of the nominated films to make some picks in the major categories — so here they are.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

After watching Iwo Jima last night, and having my fears about its quality confirmed, I’ve managed to see all five of candidates. Babel is by far my least favorite, and I’d be very upset if it wins. The Queen probably has the least chance.

Will Win:  Letters from Iwo Jima
Should Win: The Departed

Achievement in Directing

Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears for The Queen
Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel
Paul Greengrass for United 93
Martin Scorsese for The Departed

Please, please let this be the year that Scorsese gets his long-awaited and denied Best Director award. He should have won at least twice already. The Departed is not even close to his best work, but I think it’s finally time.

Will Win: Martin Scorsese
Should Win: Paul Greengrass

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson
Peter O’Toole for Venus
Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland

Somehow I managed not to see any of these films, despite wanting to see all five. Accordingly, my “Should Win” is meaningless — but that won’t stop me from picking DiCaprio, who I adore.

Will Win: Forest Whitaker
Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Penélope Cruz for Volver
Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren for The Queen
Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet for Little Children

This one’s in the bag, which is too bad for Kate Winslet. Judi Dench and Meryl Streep just keep racking up nominations.

Will Win:
Helen Mirren
Should Win: Helen Mirren

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children
Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls
Mark Wahlberg for The Departed

This race, as far as I can tell, is very close — neck and neck between Eddie Murphy and Alan Arkin. If only Mark Wahlberg had a slightly larger role; he was awesome.

Will Win:
Alan Arkin
Should Win: Mark Wahlberg

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Adriana Barraza for Babel
Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi for Babel

Also in the bag — but how did Babel get two? Yuck.

Will Win: Jennifer Hudson
Should Win: Jennifer Hudson

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Happy Feet
Monster House


Will Win: Cars
Should Win: Cars

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

After the Wedding – Denmark (Susanne Bier)
Days of Glory (Indigènes) – Algeria (Rachid Bouchareb)
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) – Germany (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
Pan’s Labyrinth – Mexico (Guillermo del Toro)
Water – Canada (Deepa Mehta)

I can’t wait to see The Lives of Others, which just opened here.

Will Win: The Lives of Others
Should Win: Pan’s Labyrinth

Adapted Screenplay

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Children of Men
The Departed
Little Children
Notes on a Scandal

Watch Infernal Affairs (which is also awesome) and then tell me The Departed shouldn’t win this.

Will Win: The Departed
Should Win: The Departed

Original Screenplay

Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
Pan’s Labyrinth
The Queen

If I were picking, Babel and Iwo Jima would be in the “worst original screenplay” category. Stop Haggis!

Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine
Should Win: Little Miss Sunshine

Achievement in Cinematography

The Black Dahlia
Children of Men
The Illusionist
Pan’s Labyrinth
The Prestige

Quickly becoming my favorite category. Give to Emmanuel Lubezki!

Will Win: Children of Men
Should Win: Children of Men

February 23, 2007

Brando, Bloody

Filed under: movies, oscar, photos — ted @ 4:32 pm

“Today’s Pictures” on Slate: “And the Oscar Goes To…”

My Top Ten Movies of the Year (2006)

Filed under: movies — ted @ 1:43 pm

As I was looking back at last year’s Top Ten Movies post, I realized that I’ve been blogging for over a year, and recently celebrated my one-year blogging anniversary on February 9th. How fun!

1. Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón

Show me technical virtuosity, imaginative direction, and heartrending intensity — show me a six-minute gun battle done in one take. Children of Men is my favorite movie of the year. Alfonso Cuaron owes much of this movie’s success to cinematographer extraordinaire Emmanuel Lubezki (who also shot The New World, my favorite film of last year), but the gripping speed and ruthlessness with which he directed Chidlren of Men is breathtaking. Times of respite and calm are brief but full of sweetness, and the moments of human connection amidst the chaos drove me to tears. I have never before felt like I needed to catch my breath as the credits rolled.

2. United 93, Paul Greengrass

Paul Greengrass successfully navigates the minefield of post-9/11 sentiment, bringing us a movie that astounds with its taut, bright consideration of the high-jacking of United flight 93. This film is nearly flawless: Greengrass’ tight, steady camerawork and minimal artifice suit the subject matter perfectly.

3. Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt

Old Joy is remarkable in that it not only depicts feelings of strain and sorrow, but embodies them. Every shot, scene, and note (the score was written by Yo La Tengo) is full of slow, precious tenderness. The tone is very fine, and lands the viewer somewhere in the uncharted territory between sadness, expectation, and frustration. Beauty lurks about the film, but in an everyday way we are not accustomed to seeing on screen. Because Old Joy feels so much like life, the feelings and responses it evokes are among the most specific I have ever experienced in a movie theater. (from what I wrote the day after seeing Old Joy).

4. El Laberinto del Fauno, Guillermo del Toro

It’s a fairy tale, except that it’s not. Guillermo del Toro’s film is wickedly smart, at turns cruel and tender — to both its characters and its audience. The special effects are seamless, and the sound design is magnificent. The film’s ending, which could have gone wrong in countless ways, is impeccable. Pan’s Labyrinth has the ability to lodge itself into the viewer’s mind, allowing us to fully inhabit the world it creates. Because it arrests the mind so completely, memories of scenes, images, and sounds linger long after the film is over.

5. The Departed, Martin Scorcese

There just so much to love in this film: Scorcese doing what he does best, Leonardo DiCaprio’s growing brilliance, and the spectacular supporting performances turned in by Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg. It’s violent, yes — but you know what you’re getting into. Jack Nicholson seems way too confident, but it fits his character, and gives DiCaprio a chance to out-act him without Jack even realizing what’s happening; considering their roles, it couldn’t have been cast better.

6. Marie Antoinette, Sophia Coppola

Disappointing, but still gorgeous. Sophia Coppola’s film is too indulgent — which is problematic from a historical and literary perspective, but the scenes, costumes, music, and tone are all spectacular. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in beauty, Marie Antoinette is the perfect film. I hope that in the future Coppola will stay small: her sweet tones and soft shots are perfectly suited to searching characters, for they reveal an inner life that dialog and explanation can never approach. There are glimpses of this in Marie Antoinette, but the queen is too royal, and her soul remains unapproachable.

7. The Queen, Stephen Frears

Unsurprisingly, British Royals — even contemporary ones — make great subject matter for films. The delightful thing about The Queen are the performances of Helen Mirren and the even-handedness of the film’s director, Stephen Frears. The Queen could easily have turned into a diatribe against the other-worldliness of the Queen, but instead it frequently stands on her side, against the frenzy of the media circus that surrounding Diana’s death and burial. As for Mirren, her acting is miraculous: Queen Elizabeth undergoes a radical transformation as the film rolls along, but Mirren does not over-indicate the Queen’s feelings, instead fully embodying the changes. Masterful.

8. La Science des rêves, Michel Gondry

The story is charming but underwhelming — and that hardly matters. The Science of Sleep is a surrealist dream of a film, full of great set pieces, sequences and fun camera tricks. Twisted, hilarious, delightful — just what we’ve come to expect from Michel Gondry. Expert more: I think Gondry is only beginning to reach the heights of which he’s capable. I can’t wait for the next film.

9. Little Children, Todd Field

In my original reaction, I was very critical of certain aspects of this film — but I still think it stands up as one of the year’s best. Little Children is deeply sad, full of a new but familiar sense of suburban alienation and distress. Kate Winslet deserves all the praise we can heap upon her.

10. A Prairie Home Companion, Robert Altman

A Prairie Home Companion will eternally bear witness to the fact that Robert Altman was a brilliant director to the very end of his brilliant career. From the gorgeous long takes that begin the film to its tender conclusion, this film is a delight. Only under Robert Altman could such a dynamic, brilliant cast flow so seamlessly together.

Close but no: An Inconvienent Truth, Miami Vice, Scoop, Shortbus

January 12, 2007

“Best” Scenes from The Wicker Man

Filed under: humor, movies — ted @ 2:19 pm

I was fortunate enough not to see The Wicker Man, but I’m glad something good came out of it:

If there were any lingering doubts about the overall scope of Nicholas Cage’s career, this should counterbalance his fairly-goodness in Rasing Arizona and Adaptation and tip the scale back to “poor.”

January 2, 2007

The Best One Yet

Filed under: movies — ted @ 5:10 pm

Previously on this blog, I scoffed at George Lucas and his attempts to make Indiana Jones 4. In November, I said: “I don’t think ‘Indiana Jones 4’ is going to be made, and it sounds like it’s George Lucas’s fault.”

Now IMDb is reporting that filming will begin this year, with a 2008 release in mind. I was wrong about its actuality, but I don’t think I’m wrong about George Lucas — he’s delusional:

He says “It’s going to be fantastic. It’s going to be the best one yet.”

George, if this film is better than The Last Crusade, I’ll forgive you for ruining Star Wars — even though you did it three times.

Read more at CNN:

Lucas kept mum about the plot, but said that the latest action flick will be a “character piece” that will include “very interesting mysteries.”

“I think it’s going to be really cool,” Lucas said.

November 20, 2006

The Future of Movies

Filed under: movies — ted @ 5:26 pm

According to Steven Boone, writing on The House Next Door, James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments is the future of movies. From what I can tell, I hope he’s right:

Shot in various regions of Iraq on a dvx-100, andlater a 100a (the second generation upgrade), transferred to 35mm and projected on the big screen, it is as beautiful to behold as Days of Heaven. As I ogled this beauty recently at New York’s Film Forum, I found my hands clasped in front of my chin as if in prayer. I could not believe that I was watching the product of a camera Uncle Lou might use to document his vacation sexploits. The film has every ounce the intimacy and majesty of Malick at his greatest. From its strobo-kaleidoscopic opening to the rhythmic, ruminative sequence that shows how the Iraq invasion transformed men of reason and faith into violent muhajadeen to the hushed third act, which juxtaposes the weather-beaten faces of a Kurdish farm family with billowing black smoke as suggestive as any natural phenomenon in a Werner Herzog opus, this film dares you to call it anything but pure cinema.

This is what cheap turntables and faders did for restless Bronx youth in the late 1970’s. With their shoe store paychecks the kids upgraded to samplers, drum machines and mixing boards. Longley’s triumph fills me with hope that a fresh generation of Kids from Nowhere will grasp the connection between those 24 coveted frames and a public imagination that still gets its most vigorous workout in the darkened theater; that they will use the charisma and authority of cinema to sing in as confident a voice as aristocrat-auteurs like Mann, Scott, Scorsese and Spielberg, without having to set foot in their clubhouse. As it is, the dv kids are working wonders on DVD and the festival circuit.

November 14, 2006

Oh, Marie

Filed under: movies — ted @ 9:35 pm

Writing for the New York Review, Daniel Mendelsohn explains the glories and the pitfalls of Marie Antoinette.

First, the glories:

… the point here, as with so much of this film, is the heady and unexpected beauty of certain images, which so eloquently evoke privileged youth and guileless hedonism—the “sweetness of life” that, we are told, those who did not live before the Revolution can never know. The teenaged Antoinette’s awed first exploration of her fabulous apartments at Versailles (her tentativeness nicely conveyed by the camera, which weaves and meanders as much as she does); a somehow poignant shot merely of ladies’ sat-intrains as they are dragged through the grass; a scene—at once giddy and strangely, ravishingly languid—in which the young royals, magnificently attired yet utterly youthful, race down a flight of steps in order to witness the sunrise: these linger in the mind long after the movie is over.

But alas, there is also a fatal flaw. Mendelsohn sums it up with a critique of the film’s final image:

The final silent image in this movie, so filled as it is with striking and suggestive images, tells you more about Coppola, and perhaps our own historical moment, than it could possibly tell you about Marie Antoinette. It’s a mournful shot of the Queen’s state bedchamber at Versailles, ransacked by the revolutionary mob the night before the Queen and her family were forced to leave, its glittering chandeliers askew, its exquisite boiseries cracked and mangled. You’d never guess from this that men’s lives—those of the Queen’s guards—were also destroyed in that violence; their severed heads, stuck on pikes, were gleefully paraded before the procession bearing the royal family to Paris. But Coppola forlornly catalogs only the ruined bric-a-brac. As with the teenaged girls for whom she has such sympathy, her worst imagination of disaster, it would seem, is a messy bedroom.

November 13, 2006

What’s left of Spiderman 3?

Filed under: movies, nerd — ted @ 3:59 pm

This weekend, a new Spiderman 3 trailer went live. It’s best to watch it on iFilm (even in HD!) but here’s a YouTube video that should work for a day or two:

A lot happens in the trailer, to the point where I’m beginning to wonder: either they’ve given the game away, or more is going to happen in this movie than in the other two combined.

Here’s a list of things we already know about Spiderman 3 from watching this trailer:

  • Spiderman is wildly popular with the people of New York
  • Peter is going to ask MJ to marry him
  • Kirsten Dunst still looks best as a redhead
  • Flint Marko killed Peter’s Uncle Ben
  • Flint Marko becomes Sandman after escaping from the police and finding himself in a “Particle Physics Test Facility”
  • Everybody needs help sometimes, even Spiderman
  • Revenge is like a poison that can take you over, and before you know it, it can turn you into something ugly
  • The symbiote “takes over” Peter, apparently while he is sleeping (he doesn’t know where the suit came from)
  • The power feels good
  • Tobey Maguire sounds even nerdier when talking about super-cool stuff like symbiote suits
  • Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) takes pictures of Spiderman, presumably for the Daily Mail, and he “loves the new outfit”
  • Sandman totally pwns the police after they feebly try to shoot him
  • Harry Osborn, as suspected, adapts and adopts his father’s Goblin suit (in black), and attempts to get even with Spiderman
  • Harry — out of his league, apparently — is then defeated, with one of his own bombs, by a black-clad Spiderman
  • We have to forgive each other, or everything we ever were will mean nothing
  • Peter, after asking MJ’s help, hoping to stop the symbiote, which is apparently turning him into someone MJ cannot recognize, tries to rip the suit off
  • Sandman appears to be in some serious trouble, seeing that he is trapped against a floodgate and is made of sand
  • This could be the end of Spider-Man

Quite a bit, yes? Many of the questions I would have had coming into the movie have already been answered by this trailer. All that’s left is what role Venom plays in all this.

Oh, but wait! Here’s this (rough) promo trailer [UPDATED link — it was removed from Google, as I feared] that premiered at this year’s Comic-Con. It’s similar, but the ending is crucial.

Here’s what else we’ve learned:

  • Peter is aware of the fact that he is only just a nerdy kid from Queens
  • From now on, Eddie Brock is going to be taking pictures of Spiderman for the Bugle
  • After pushing MJ onto the ground, Peter grabs his suit, blaming it for his violence
  • Eddie Brock, praying in church, asks God for one thing: to kill Peter Parker — after this, as a church bell rings and Brock looks up (seeing Peter?) the black symbiote drips from the roof down to Brock, overwhelming him. He turns into the Venom we know and love: teeth and everything

So there’s Venom.

My guess is that at this point in the film, Venom starts the wreckage, and Peter has to find a way to defeat him, etc.

I sound cynical, but really I’m as excited as can be…

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