Media Room: Portland Ghost Basement

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One of the major hubs for fiber-optic cables carrying the Internet to most homes and businesses in the Pacific Northwest is located in the basement of a building in Portland, Oregon. Nothing terribly surprising there. Except that one Cabel Maxfield Sasser went down there and took some photographs of the walls:

The roar of the presses that ruled these rooms has been replaced, just as we all suspected, with the calculated silence of the conduit that carries our data. This data, in fact. These very photos.

basement2Sasser imagines that this room was once where the printing presses for The Oregonian were located, and that as pages came off press, the workers yanked the occasional one off and plastered them on the walls.

According to Poynter, this explanation is probably not very likely. Which leaves the question: who scribbled these notes on the wall and left these ghostly images of women staring out at us? And why does the silence of the Internet resonate so strongly with the (imagined) roar of those old ink-and-paper presses?

 

New in Theaters: ‘Promised Land’

promised-land-posterMatt Damon and John Krasinski’s film about natural gas salespeople and anti-frackers is getting a limited release just before the end of the year; it’s playing in a very few places now but is worth looking for when it expands wider in January:

“You’re the natural gas people.” That’s how folks identify Steve (Matt Damon) and Sue (Frances McDormand). There’s a lot to unpack in that assessment, and Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land is smart enough to take most of its running time to do so, spinning a clever moral comedy at the same time. In those few words are contained just about every element, from hope to greed to fear and anxiety, that makes up the emotive froth of American malaise, circa 2012…

My full review is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer here:

Department of Year-End Reading: December 28, 2012

  • rockwell-bookworm1Things we have learned: Armed civilians do not and cannot stop mass shootings.
  • The mixed-faith crowd of Egyptians who defended the local synagogue.
  • Some books to look forward to in 2013.
  • Reasons that shopping and fish don’t mix.
  • “The future is a work in progress” and other musings on apocalypti.
  • So why would anybody want to read your correspondence posthumously?
  • The year that was and the year that wasn’t.
  • Christmas Day in Newtown.

New in Theaters: ‘The Impossible’

theimpossible-posterIn the based-on-a-true-story melodrama The Impossible, Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play a married couple who must fight to survive the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami:

The film flits between the two knots of survivors, contrasting the parents’ heartsick dread of the unknown with their children’s more pragmatic reasoning and straightforward terror. Despite the script’s hacky tendencies the movie repeatedly comes up with devastatingly effective visuals. It underscores how awful it is not to know. At times, particularly in one nerve-rattling sequence where Maria is being flung this way and that by underwater currents, with shadowy objects stabbing out of the murk like vengeful ghosts, it becomes almost unbearable to watch…

The Impossible is playing now in semi-limited release. My full review is at PopMatters.

You can view the trailer here:

Department of Holiday Cheer

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How’s your 2012 been? Happy to have survived the Mayan apocalypse?

More importantly, did you finish your shopping? Either way, here’s a consideration from the New Yorker circa 1970, in which a certain “Christmas Consultant” ponders what a good gift for a guy could be:

My list would include useful gifts, like a matched, color-coördinated, full-fashioned set of pre-written thank-you letters. Such a pleasant gift, and so easy to use. Upon receiving a gift—let’s say a myna bird trained to say “You’re wonderful, Fred,” or “Joe,” or “Pierpont”—one would merely use the efficient index system provided and come up with a pre-written note that said something like “I can’t begin to describe to you the emotion which welled up inside of me when I first heard Precious Myna chirp out, ‘You’re wonderful, Fred,’ or ‘Joe,’ or ‘Pierpont.’” There is, you see, a crying need for a pre-written note in such circumstances, since no self-respecting fellow, however practiced in hypocrisy, could possibly bang one out for himself.

Whatever your gift-giving situation, or views on the Mayan apocalypse that wasn’t, you should take a snow day—we’ve all earned it:

New in Theaters: ‘West of Memphis’

westofmemphis-posterOn Christmas Day, amidst all the other award-hopeful films, one documentary that’s small in budget but massive in scope opens in limited release; it’s well worth seeking out:

Without Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s trilogy of Paradise Lost documentaries, most of the world would never have heard of the West Memphis Three. But when all is said and done, Amy Berg’s impactful film might ultimately stand the test of time as the true document of the case and its hair-raising implications for justice in America…

My full review is at Film Journal International.

The trailer is here:

New in Theaters: ‘Django Unchained’

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Opening Christmas Day (because, well, why not?) is the newest tongue-in-cheek Tarantino genre-stew:

With his bloodily entertaining but tonally sloppy Django Unchained, the always fastidious Quentin Tarantino may finally be loosening up. This development could help broaden his appeal in the short run, his newest film being the kind of straightforward blend of humor and self-aware ultra-violence that plays pretty well to many different audiences these days. (In other words, expect few of the tricky narrative gambits that have defined his work in the past; this one’s more about doing maximum damage with six-shooters.) Unfortunately, a less formally inhibited Tarantino may turn out to be a less entertaining filmmaker…

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can see the trailer here:

 

Bonus holiday fun—check out the trailer for the 1966 original Django, which Tarantino lifted the theme music from (but, sadly, not the Gatling gun in the coffin):

New in Theaters: ‘On the Road’

on-the-road-posterYears in the making, with seemingly every young actor and hot director having once been attached to its adaptation, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is now a film, and a damn good one at that:

Walter Salles has conjured a movie that’s raging and serene, always looking over the horizon while grooving on the beauty of the here and now. This is no small feat. Salles made The Motorcycle Diaries, the only other great road film of recent memory, but still, there are many ways for a Kerouac film to go bust (see The Subterraneans), and this one avoids nearly all of them. Maybe it leaves too much of the book’s kinetic language on the floor; this is a story about words almost as much as it is about movement, the road. But as these burning, dreaming, and frustrated wanderers blast back and forth across postwar America in search of what they don’t know, the smoky poetry of its wide vistas and clangorous urban buzz provide a kick, a true kick…

On the Road is playing now in very limited release, and should expand wider in January; look for it.

My full review is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer here:

 

Now Playing: ‘Rust and Bone’

rust-and-bone-posterAttracting strangely little attention from the best-of-year listmakers and odds-on awards types, the tough-souled French tearjerker Rust and Bone features a couple of the best performances you’ll see this year outside of The Master:

Marion Cotillard might seem the one to watch in Jacques Audiard’s melodrama, Rust and Bone. She is the movie star, after all, playing a character who suffers a shocking injury and an emotionally convoluted road to recovery. But as her cohort in pain, Matthias Schoenaerts makes the deeper impression. Together, they create a deeply etched study in punishments and limits, in what the body and the soul can endure…

My full review is at PopMatters.

You can see the full trailer here:

 

Reader’s Corner: Literary Death Match

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Ever thought the following, “Hmmm, books are awesome, but I just wish it could be a little bit more like The X-Factor“? Too bad, sucker: Simon Cowell doesn’t read!

That being said, there might be hope for your televisual/literary mashup dreams to come true soon. Adrian Todd Zuniga is the founder and host of an amazing-sounding series of events called Literary Death Match, where authors are pitted against each other in a highly snarky competition featuring judges like Moby, Susan Orlean, and Jonathan Lethem.

literary death match1Now The Daily Beast‘s Melissa Goldstein reports that Literary Death Match has filmed a couple of pilot episodes for a potential TV show:

…Lethem may have been the L.L. Bean sweater–wearing Adam Levine to Zuniga’s Carson Daly, and there may have been a boxing ring, but the script was a long way from The Voice. Following a recitation by the evening’s first challenger, Silverlake-based comedy writer and novelist DC Pierson read a piece titled “To All the Aliens Who Got Stranded on Earth But Never Found a Kid to Take Care of Them.” Lethem pronounced it to be “like Allen Ginsberg in its velocity,” and suggested that “if there was an intergalactic Ellis Island, you would be its Emma Lazarus.”

Coming (please, maybe?) to a Bravo-ish channel near you in the (never) future.

(hat-tip: The Roundup)

New on DVD: ‘Sleepwalk with Me’

sleepwalk-with-me-dvd-cover-98Mike Birbiglia’s funny, heart-tweaking film Sleepwalk with Me, one of the more refreshing comedies of the year, hits DVD and Blu-ray today. It’s an odd choice for Blu-ray (you could really see the crumbs when he was chowing on that pound cake…) but to each his own.

I reviewed the film when it came out in theaters earlier this year for PopMatters:

Based on his one-man show, Birbiglia’s film is a not-even-veiled account of his struggles as a standup comic who’s also battling fears of commitment and the possibly life-threatening sleepwalking that seems to get worse as his career gets better. Changing his character’s last name to Pandamiglio (a nod to the many mangled mispronunciations his real name receives from emcees) and little else, Birbiglia does a solid job of translating the downbeat, confessional humor of his show to the screen…

Here’s the trailer:

 

New in Theaters: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

zero-dark-thirty1Between the various Navy SEAL books and films flooding the market, Mark Bowden’s riveting The Finish, and the all the video games crafted around Special Ops strike teams, you’d think commando fatigue would be setting in. Hopefully that won’t be the case once Zero Dark Thirty hits theaters:

Zero Dark Thirty (military jargon for a half-hour after midnight) is an epic take on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hunt for the 9/11 mastermind. Working on a dusty Afghanistan forward operating base, Maya (Jessica Chastain) then shifts to analyzing the intelligence from the American embassy in Islamabad… As the casualties mount and the years tick by, the shell-shocked Maya’s worldview narrows down to a millimeter-wide slit that recognizes only her quarry. The film recounts the agonizingly particular step-by-step analysis of baffling and contradictory information. It just as convincingly relays the sickening sense of urgency in the hunt, a fear that after all the bombings and rhetoric and fear and war, their quarry may simply get away. “We are failing… Bring me people to kill,” seethes Maya’s CIA superior…

Zero Dark Thirty opens in limited release on Wednesday, expanding wider over the several weeks to follow. It’s already been racking up awards from critics’ groups and attracting controversy over its depiction of CIA torture of prisoners; watch for it when the Oscars are announced.

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

TheHobbit-posterJust in time for holiday gathering bickering over what movies to see, the first installment of the new Hobbit film trilogy opened everywhere late at night on Thursday, so strap on your Gandalf beard:

For Peter Jackson’s take on The Hobbit, his freedom to sprawl the narrative over three films also gives him the freedom to indulge in the same tricks and tics that gummed up the works so direly in Return of the King. Meaning: a whole server farm’s worth of animated orcs to keep goosing the action along whenever it threatens to flag, and a script too often shorn of the source material grandeur or playfulness. The unfortunate thing is that Tolkien’s book didn’t need any goosing along. He knocked out that brisk, rollicking read as a bedtime tale to read to his children; only later did it become the genesis of his entire Middle-earth mythos…

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is playing everywhere right now in a multitude of formats. It’s advisable to skip theaters showing it at the 48 fps (frames per second) speed, as it makes too much of the action look sped-up and cartoonish.

My full review is at Short Ends & Leader.

You can see the trailer here:

 

Department of Lexicography: Tolkien Edition

tolkien1Several years before hobbits were a gleam in J. R. R. Tolkien’s eye, he was deeply involved in another massive literary undertaking: The Oxford English Dictionary. Tolkien worked on the OED staff from 1919 to 1920, concentrating primarily on words in the “W” section. (The image of the tweedy young scholar beavering away at his obscure assignments at the dawn of the Jazz Age calls to mind an Oxbridge version of Ball of Fire; only sans Barbara Stanwyck.)

According to Peter Gilliver of the OED, Tolkien was put on to certain words — like walnutwalrus, and wampum — particularly because of their difficult etymologies:

Other words, such as waistcoatwake (noun), wan, and want, posed rather different challenges. Teasing out fine distinctions of meaning is a key part of a lexicographer’s job, as is the selection of words to convey precisely the connotations, as well as the simple meaning, of a word: Tolkien evidently took great pains over both. He relished the task of distinguishing the different garments denoted at different times by waistcoat (as he later grew to relish the garment itself) … His biggest challenge, however, must surely have been want, one of the commonest of all verbs, which eventually required nearly thirty separately defined senses and subsenses.

tolkien2Many years later, an editor at the OED who had been a student of Tolkien’s wrote asking for his opinion on the definition of a new word gaining popularity: hobbit. Tolkien happily obliged. Mithril and orc are now also ensconced in the dictionary as well.

Department of Cinematic Complaints: Perceived Biases Edition

dinesh1It was bad enough that the semi-scholar Dinesh D’Souza put his efforts behind a particularly seamy piece of Andrew Breitbart-ish video propaganda disguised as a documentary about Barack Obama. (This still from 2016: Obama’s America shows Dinesh intrepidly scouring the globe for clues to the president’s ignominy.)

Then came this:

…the makers of the documentary 2016: Obama’s America were peeved that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ shortlist of Oscar-contending documentaries didn’t include their film. The articles notes that 2016 was a surprise hit that pulled in over $33 million, a staggering amount for a nonfiction film and more than the 15 documentaries have made combined.

My post about this “controversy” is at Short Ends & Leader.