31 Oct 2010 @ 2:54 PM 

Roger Ebert vs. Roger Ebert.

Roger Ebert is a man who does not makes movie lists:  “No, I won’t be making out my list of the 10 Best Films for Halloween this year.”  (Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.)

Roger Ebert is a man who does make movie lists:  “Ten great films about horror.”  (Rogert Ebert’s Journal, a few days earlier.)

Granted, the list at his Journal has some films that are traditional Halloween fare (Frankenstein, Nosferatu) and some that are not (The Third Man, Detour).  (Check out his site not just for the list but for each movie in its entirety along with links to Ebert’s reviews.)  But it seems that Ebert is of two minds when it comes to lists.

I don’t blame him.  He’s been doing it longer than just about anybody, and I imagine every critic doesn’t at some point gets sick of making lists.  Lists at best are a snapshot in time, subject to change, and from another angle are reflections as much about the people making the lists as the films themselves.  The usefulness of movie lists is inversely proportionate to their number, and that’s part of the problem today.  Movies lists are out of control.  Their count has metastasized beyond what anyone would consider a healthy number useful for intelligent discourse about movies.  In fact, I’d say they’ve contributed to a lot of lazy thinking about film. 

I had done a post on movie lists a few months ago, contrasting the lists at two popular sites.  It’s mind-boggling.  I am a fan of They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? (and their approach with the TSPDT list of 1,000 Greatest Films).  On the other hand, the IMDb 250 list is pretty silly.  (IMDb pretends to be democratic but the cross-section of voters must not be like any cross-section of moviegoers that I know, and the results are highly skewed.  The same could be said for our so-called political democracy.)

Here’s Ebert on the IMDb list:

“Citizen Kane” is only No. 37, and some critics suspect that’s because some online fanboys won’t watch black-and-white movies. (Anyone who will not watch black and white should be locked in a closet with mice, but that’s another subject.)

(Ebert also gets in a much-deserved dig at websites that require ten clicks to view their lists of ten movies.  I thought the idea of the web was to make it easier for people to get information.  Some sites must have missed the memo.)

One old item about movie lists  that I had intended to write some time ago:  the big one.  As movie lists have proliferated, the lists have grown longer and longer.  Top Ten lists don’t seem adequate, even for end-of-year recaps (again, see Ebert).  Lists of a hundred or a thousand movies are not uncommon.  How about a list of 10,000 movies?

That’s been the quest of a modern-day Quixote named Brad Bourland.  This June the indefatigable Mr. Bourland topped the 10,000 mark on his ultimate ranking of films.  He calls it “THE MOVIE LIST—THE FINAL CUT:  The 10,000 Best, Most Beloved and the Most Important English Language Films of the 20th Century, In Order.”  You can get all 219 pages of it at his site, themovielistonline.com.  (A New York Times profile of Bourland is here.)

I wouldn’t normally quibble with a monumental effort like that, but he’s got Patch Adams (1998) at #5681, several spots ahead of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), at #5695.  What the hell was Bourland thinking?

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 31 Oct 2010 @ 03:20 PM

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 31 Oct 2010 @ 12:00 PM 

Stirling Newberry writes about the new, “final” chapter to the Saw franchise and finds parallels between the torture porn genre of horror films and the torture porn politics of the right.  (The MAD front-page feature this week was on horror franchises, and on Thursday, the Saw films in particular.)

The cresting of the torture porn wave in popular culture is underlined by the rise of torture porn politics, exemplified by the tea party, but echoing across the political spectrum. The viciousness of cuts in social programs in the United Kingdom, and across Europe, compounded with a Franco-German backed initiative to clamp down on social spending even more, are torture porn economics. The reason for demanding repayment now, is not because that repayment is economically productive, but because those demanding repayment now hope that bankruptcy or insolvency is the result, which give’s them the lector’s license to slowly pull the intestines out of the victim. Say Ireland, Iceland, or Greece.

The last act of the movie saga of the Jigsaw cult, signals, clearly, to those who are listening, that both the patience of the ordinary population is exhausted, and the energy of the torturing class is also exhausted.

Not sure if I agree with all the points Newberry goes on to make, but I would say that horror films can’t be understood without understanding the culture and politics of the times.  The torture porn films of recent years wouldn’t have been made—or caught on, at least—if not for the dangerous rightward shift in our politics.

Will things get better now?  Not so fast.

However, that is precisely why the danger is growing, because a movement that knows it is not actually entitled to power on support, is far more likely to push through laws quickly, in the limited time it has.

If predictions of a Republican resurgence in Tuesday’s elections are right, I don’t expect much in the way of new laws from either side anytime soon.  But we may be headed for an especially ugly period in our politics.  As Paul Krugman says:  “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”

What can you do?  For one thing, vote.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 31 Oct 2010 @ 12:00 PM

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Categories: Movies, Politics
 17 Oct 2010 @ 9:49 AM 

The past couple of weeks on the front page, I’ve been featuring actors and actresses who are 90 and over.  The idea was to take a moment to remember some of the stars from yesterday before they are gone.  As I had mentioned in Friday’s post, one of those stars was Barbara Billingsley.

In the news this morning I read that Barbara Billingsley died on Saturday.  For many, she will be remembered as June Cleaver, the archetype of the 1950s mom, on the family comedy Leave It to Beaver.  Before that, Billingsley had appeared in movies, in many small roles, and a few other TV shows.  After Beaver, she’s best known for her cameo as the “jive”-talking passenger in Airplane! (1980).

R.I.P., Barbara Billingsley.  She was 94.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 17 Oct 2010 @ 09:49 AM

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 08 Oct 2010 @ 9:34 PM 

I guess we’re getting old.  It’s better to grow old than not to have the opportunity, yet lives aren’t measured in how many years we have, but in what we do in the years we are given.  By any measure, John Lennon had one helluva life.

Saturday would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday.  You may have heard. 

Here’s a message from Yoko.

More than a few memories in this promo.

Here’s a song I love.  It’s a message we need as much today as we needed then.

We miss you, John.  Happy Birthday!

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 08 Oct 2010 @ 09:50 PM

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Categories: Music
 04 Oct 2010 @ 1:04 AM 

     MAD-GC-2A_grid     MAD-GC-2B_grid

Hey, it’s the first Monday of the month, meaning:  another set of Gram Crackers is here!  Find the “cracker pack” on the MAD Puzzles page.  Enjoy!

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 04 Oct 2010 @ 01:05 AM

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Categories: Crosswords
 02 Oct 2010 @ 11:35 AM 

It’s the first weekend of October, and with The Social Network opening in theaters, I’d say the fall is here.  Before we head into the new season, let’s take a look at the year so far.

You can’t judge a year by the first nine months, and for 2010, that’s probably a good thing.  From what I’ve seen, there’s been nothing great.  But there have been some good films and good performances, making for some enjoyable trips to the theater.  Here are a few worth noting (films that opened this year, in order of release, in L.A.).

The Ghost Writer — Set in the U.S., filmed mostly in Germany, Roman Polanski’s political thriller starring a very good Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang, a Tony Blair-like former British p.m./possible war criminal, with Ewan McGregor as the hired hand who writes Lang’s memoirs and uncovers dark secrets from the past.  Plenty of intrigue, very effective, with more of a European sensibility than American, and good performances.  (Available on DVD & Blu-ray.)

A Prophet — The French crime film from director Jacques Audiard, set mostly in prison, where the inmates run the show.  An Oscar nominee for last year’s best foreign-language film, which it probably should have won.   (Available on DVD & Blu-ray.)

The Secret in Their Eyes — The Argentine film that did win the Oscar for last year.  A retired criminal investigator haunted by a brutal rape and murder from years ago writes a book about the case.  A very well-constructed tale, with an effective and memorable ending.  For film buffs:  one great long take (actually eight shots, as I recall, seamlessly edited together) starting with an aerial view above a football field leading to a chase within the bowels of the stadium.  (Available on DVD & Blu-ray.)

Solitary Man — Michael Douglas in a fine performance (warming up for his reprise of the Gordon Gekko role, perhaps) as a crooked car dealer just out of prison and looking for a new start.  He a charmer and a cheat, and he just can’t help himself.

Toy Story 3 — A solid addition to the Pixar oeuvre, with Woody, Buzz, and friends one last time (this feels like a good end, so let’s hope there is not a “4” in their future).  This one, like last year’s Up, pulls on the heartstrings.  If you want evidence for the case against 3-D, though, this is it.  Just not necessary.

The Kids Are All Right — Perhaps the highlight of the year to date, a new twist on the family unit, with drama and comedy to spare.  As the title implies, the kids are all right, the parents are not.  Smartly written, with a terrific cast, including Annette Bening as the breadwinner doc, Julianne Moore as her not-quite-equal partner, and Mark Ruffalo as the interloping commitment-phobe who has second thoughts about his life choices.

Inception — Christopher Nolan is a dazzling filmmaker, if not the cinematic genius many claim (for that you need more than skill, you need soul, which is not to be found here).  The film has a clever conceit, but as a puzzle within a puzzle within a puzzle (puzzles all the way down), it’s more frustrating than fun.  Yet, put aside the pretensions, and it’s a film worth a look.

Mesrine — A two-parter.  I enjoyed the first segment, Killer Instinct, but the second, Public Enemy #1, skipped town before I had a chance to catch up with it.  I look forward to the DVD.  A fast-moving and entertaining film based on the true story of French criminal Jacques Mesrine, who I must admit, I had little knowledge of going in.  If half of what we see is true, I can understand why he become a legend.  A very alive look at the life of crime, the glamor and the brutality, with a fine starring performance from Vincent Cassell.

The American — George Clooney in the kind of movie we’re more likely to see with subtitles, a European thriller with more suspense than action, and perhaps more meditation than either.  Like the lead character, director Anton Corbijn is fond of his craft and he does it well.

Machete — Audacious, violent, hilarious.  What did you expect from Robert Rodriguez?  A heat-seeking missile aimed at the political debate over immigration, with Danny Trejo as a Latino action hero like none before.

The Town — Ben Affleck may have a great film in him.  This is not it, but it’s got many wonderful moments, and it’s done with enough craft that its shortcomings almost slide by without detection.  The film takes the road of genre conventionality rather than originality, and at the end the tone feels not entirely earned.  But the movie is a cut above the average bank heist thriller, and some of the performances—particularly Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively—are terrific.

Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps — The sequel, a couple of decades later, with a new look at one of the great villains of the ’80s, Gordon Gekko, older and grayer, if not entirely wiser.  Many reviewers have taken Oliver Stone to task for not making the movie they wish he’d made, but that angry, scathing takedown that Wall Street deserves will need to be made by somebody else.  Stone’s film, meanwhile, is looser, mellower, more wistful, and yet for what it is, not bad.

The trouble with making movie lists is knowing where to draw the line.  On another day, you’d get a different list, but for now those twelve films seem to be the most memorable and worthwhile.  I should add, the time when I’d see more than a hundred films a year at the theater is somewhere in the past, and several noted films of 2010 I have not yet seen (e.g., Winter’s Bone, Restrepo, The Tillman Story, Never Let Me Go).  Still time to catch those (and plenty of others) before the end of the year.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 02 Oct 2010 @ 11:49 AM

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Categories: Movies
 01 Oct 2010 @ 5:36 PM 

Verb 1. deliquesce — melt away in the process of decay

“The police enter and examine a corpse (Madonna’s)—a visual motif that he returned to in the grisly ‘Se7en’ (1995), in which cops repeatedly walk in on deliquescing or bloody corpses.”

—David Denby, review of The Social Network, in The New Yorker, October 4, 2010

“No one who followed the deliquescence of the markets in 2008 will learn a jot from this film, even though it covers the dire days of early October.”

—Anthony Lane, review of Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps, in The New Yorker, October 4, 2010

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 01 Oct 2010 @ 09:04 PM

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Categories: Words
 01 Oct 2010 @ 12:02 AM 

I suppose there are two possibilities.  One, we are alone.  The other, we are not.  Not to be naïve about it, but I find the second scenario especially hopeful.

Thursday’s news was fascinating, if you’re at all interested in the universe around us (and why wouldn’t you be?).  We now know of almost 500 extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, all detected since 1992.  We live in exciting times.

Is this the new Earth?  Astronomers discover planet just 20 light years away with similar atmosphere and gravity which has ‘100% chance of life’ – and may contain water

This artist's conception shows the inner four planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star, a red dwarf star only 20 light years away from Earth

This artist’s conception shows the inner four planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star, a red dwarf star only 20 light years away from Earth. The four tiny planets in the background are the planets that have already been discovered. The closer, blue and green planet is 581G, the most Earth-like planet ever discovered

The chances that future generations will one day colonise the stars have just got higher.

Astronomers tonight announced the discovery of the most Earth-like planet ever found – a rocky world three times the size of our own world, orbiting a star 20 light years away. 

The planet lies in the star’s ‘Goldilocks zone’ – the region in space where conditions are neither too hot or too cold for liquid water to form oceans, lakes and rivers. 

The planet also appears to have an atmosphere, a gravity like our own and could well be capable of life. 

The discovery comes three years after astronomers found a similar, slightly less habitable planet around the same star – described by astronomers as being ‘in our backyard’ in the Milky Way. 

Researchers say the findings suggest the universe is teeming with world like our own.

‘If these are rare, we shouldn’t have found one so quickly and so nearby,’ Dr Steven Vogt who led the study at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

‘The number of systems with potentially habitable planets is probably on the order of 10 or 20 per cent, and when you multiply that by the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, that’s a large number. There could be tens of billions of these systems in our galaxy.’

He told Discovery News: ‘Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say that the chances for life on this planet are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it’.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 01 Oct 2010 @ 12:04 AM

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Categories: Space

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