New in Theaters: ‘I Origins’

Michael Pitt and Astrid Berges-Frisbey in 'I Origins' (Fox Searchlight)

Michael Pitt and Astrid Berges-Frisbey in ‘I Origins’ (Fox Searchlight)

I Origins-posterA few years back, Mike Cahill made one of the more ghostly sci-fi movies of recent years with Another Earth. Now he’s back with that film’s enigmatic Brit Marling and Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Pitt for a globe-spanning story about, well, eyes.

I Origins opens this Friday in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

A haunted-looking Michael Pitt is the main attraction in Mike Cahill’s curious fandango of a science-fantasy story about fate, destiny, genetics and love, and that’s unfortunate. Pitt can usually excel when playing dreamers or tortured types befitting his sensuously languorous mien. But for I Origins, Pitt has to put on a sweater, adjust his glasses, and play a molecular biologist. For the many scenes that call for a sense of true obsession, he can’t quite summon the proper focus, deploying a Johnny Depp-like dourness. Without that, an already disjointed film drifts further apart…

You can see the trailer here:

Reader’s Corner: When Faulkner Reviewed Hemingway

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William Faulkner, 1954 (Library of Congress)

Ernest Hemingway had no problem with expounding on his talent, courage, or general manliness. To nobody’s surprise, this didn’t arise from a well of confidence but rather one of rabid insecurity. Just see his rivalry with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and all those petty little put-downs in A Moveable Feast.

Papa Hemingway also scrapped (albeit in a mildly literary way) with the other big prize-winning author of his time, William Faulkner. They respected each other, but found time to lob critiques back and forth.

oldmanandthesea1When the literary magazine Shenandoah prevailed upon Faulkner to review The Old Man and the Sea, he found room to list Hemingway’s faults but, interestingly, in the context of praising the novel. Here’s an excerpt of that review from Open Culture (emphasis added):

Time may show it to be the best single piece of any of us, I mean his and my contemporaries. This time, he discovered God, a Creator. Until now, his men and women had made themselves, shaped themselves out of their own clay; their victories and defeats were at the hands of each other, just to prove to themselves or one another how tough they could be. But this time, he wrote about pity: about something somewhere that made them all: the old man who had to catch the fish and then lose it, the fish that had to be caught and then lost, the sharks which had to rob the old man of his fish; made them all and loved them all and pitied them all. It’s all right. Praise God that whatever made and loves and pities Hemingway and me kept him from touching it any further.

Makes you want to go back and hunt down all the glories of the novel which too many English teachers have managed to hide.

New in Theaters: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Features Yet More Apes

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Caesar leads his primate army in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (Twentieth Century Fox)

dawnplanetapes-posterThe ever-expanding world of sci-fi reboots gets another entry with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which rejiggers themes and even a few climactic scenes from the raggedy 1970s series (Conquest of…Battle for…, etc.) only without much satirical intent. Like 2011′s admittedly lamer Rise of the Planet of the Apes, none of it manages to stand out except, again, for Andy Serkis’ regal, affecting, and soulful performance as the leader of the apes, Caesar.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is now playing pretty much everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

[The film is] expected to deliver summer action set-pieces, including the battle featuring a rifle-wielding ape cavalry that was promised in its saturation ad campaign. As misunderstandings accumulate and warmongers on both sides get their way, the battle is joined on the crumbled, vine-covered streets of San Francisco. Many, many apes are shot down but curiously, we see just about no humans killed. This may be a nod to a specist ratings board in order to keep a PG-13, but it also points to a general lack of interest in the human characters. Even the heroic humans are pallid and unmemorable, unlike the carefully delineated apes. By the time the apes do gear up for battle, the audience is ready to charge right along with them…

You can see the trailer here:

Department of Weekend Reading: July 11, 2014

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New in Theaters: ‘Boyhood’ is Magic

Ellar Coltrane in 'Boyhood' (IFC Films)

Ellar Coltrane in ‘Boyhood’ (IFC Films)

boyhood-poster1Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy) spent twelve years shooting a movie about a boy growing up in Texas with divorced parents, filming the actors as they naturally aged. It’s an experiment, yes, following this kid from age six to his first day at college, but one that pays off rich dividends more often than not.

Boyhood opens in limited release this week and should creep into more theaters around the country over the summer. My review is at Film Racket:

Wobbly at times but still magical in an everyday way, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood proves that intimate doesn’t have to equal melodrama and experimental can still be perfectly approachable. The film follows a quiet and daydream-prone boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane, likable if sometimes stiff), growing up in Texas with snarky older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and divorced parents (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke). There’s no story, per se, it’s just his life from about age 7 to 18. The look is straightforward and shorn of obvious directorial flair, the often affectless dialogue even more so. But that deceptively simple framework is rich with accrued detail and even some backhanded insight….

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: The Headless Woman and Other Femme Cover Cliches

belljarcover1For the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s iconic The Bell Jar, normally sane British publisher Faber & Faber decided to gussy up the thing with a cover that was thought to be more … ahem … marketable. The result was downright degrading, looking like some pandering chick-lit nonsense about shopping and getting the guy.

This isn’t a new thing, as any even casual peruser of bookstore stacks has come to know, and as Eugenia Williamson examines in a piece for the Boston Globe. Books with male authors are more likely to feature dark, moody illustrations (Cormac McCarthy) or fanciful type-heavy designs (Jonathan Safran Foer), and they don’t have to even include people (Jonathan Franzen). It all signals seriousness, even though a majority of those books are still being read by women.

Whereas, books by lady authors are either slathered with pinks and enough accessories to stock a Macy’s window or end up featuring one of two by-now cliched design motifs. Per Williamson:

In recent years, many of the people on book covers have been women without faces. So prevalent is this visual cliché that the publishing industry has cycled through at least two well-documented iterations. The first, the Headless Woman, features some poor thing cut off above the neck, like the swimsuit-clad beachgoer on Alice Munro’s story collection “The View from Castle Rock.” The website Goodreads’s Headless Women page has 416 entries. Last year, the Headless Woman was supplanted by the Sexy Back, in which a woman is shown from behind, often gazing out over a vista.

Why this is seen as being something female readers want on their covers, of course, is anybody’s guess.

Quote of the Day: FDR, American

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Being the fourth of July, it seems appropriate to celebrate not just the country itself but one of its greatest leaders. Consider this quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, apparently delivered during his 1932 presidential campaign:

Judge me by the enemies I have made.

A full accounting of FDR’s enemies would take an encyclopedia, but here’s a brief one:

  • Huey Long — corrupt Louisiana governor
  • Father Charles Coughlin — anti-Semitic demagogue
  • Charles Lindbergh — fascist stooge and Nazi sympathizer
  • Right-wing financiers (see The Plots Against the President)
  • War profiteers
  • All of Nazi Germany

If everybody on that list has a problem with what you’re doing — namely, as FDR did, trying to ensure economic stability, freedom, prosperity, and a fair chance to make it in America — there’s a good chance you’re on the side of the angels.