I watched Ride the Divide on Netflix tonight. It’s a really well put-together documentary about a mountain bike race from Banff, Canada, across the entire great divide, to the New Mexico-Mexico border. It features great photography and strong characters in these semi-nuts enthusiasts who take on the adventure, and turns out to be a pretty moving story.
It also has a bang-up cool race visualization:
Ride the Divide image
The image features the relative positions of all the racers along the route — leaders, followers, and distance between them — their current altitudes, the mileage and location of the current subject, day of the race, relative distances to travel through each state, elevation of the overall route, and total travel distance for the entire race (2711 miles!). In a single, dense image, you get a ton of data. Quite cool.
- This article is dated 2011-12-06 07:50 and is posted to movies, technology
, with tags data
Several years ago I stumbled over the Netflix “local favorites” list and had a good time exploring it. Well, the New York Times has gone and made a really cool presentation of that data, for 2009, for a dozen U.S. cities. Check it out. Good stuff.
- This article is dated 2010-01-09 10:58 and is posted to movies, with tags data
Overheard while browsing the stacks at Bookmans today:
Employee #1: So, I finally saw Clerks II last night.
Employee #2: Oh yeah?
E1: Yeah, and I have to say, it was the first time, that by the end of the movie, well…
E1: I found myself crying.
E2: Because you knew there wouldn’t be any more Clerks?
E1: Yeah, partly. And also, I guess, the friendship between them was just so … [trailing off]
E2: I know, man. I know.
- This article is dated 2006-12-07 15:16 and is posted to movies, with tags clerks
From A. O. Scott’s review of The Fountain
In â€œThe Fountain,â€ Darren Aronofskyâ€™s third feature (after â€œPiâ€ and â€œRequiem for a Dreamâ€), Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play star-crossed lovers in three different eras. Back in the 16th century, Ms. Weisz is Queen Isabel, a glowingly beautiful monarch menaced by the cruel intolerance of the Spanish Inquisition. (I know, I didnâ€™t suspect it either.)
The one beat it took me to get that was just long enough for me to swallow my mouthful of coffee, therefore preventing a spit-take.
- This article is dated 2006-11-23 18:47 and is posted to movies, with tags spanish inquisition
I saw Brokeback Mountain at the local theater a few weeks ago. It’s an affecting, gorgeous, and thought-provoking film. Today, via this post at Hullabaloo, I read Daniel Mendelsohn’s spoiler-filled meta-review of the movie; I say meta-review because Mendelsohn’s essay is as much a response to the marketing and various conversations about the film, as it is about the movie itself.
Mendelsohn argues convincingly that the presentation of the movie as a “universal” love story—despite that presentation being a well-intentioned way of keeping the movie from scaring away potential moviegoers—does an injustice to it. Stepping through some of the movie’s moments, Mendelsohn argues that Brokeback Mountain “is a tragedy about the specifically gay phenomenon of the ‘closet’—about the disastrous emotional and moral consequences of erotic self-repression and of the social intolerance that first causes and then exacerbates it.” He concludes his review:
The real achievement of Brokeback Mountain is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it. If you insist, as so many have, that the story of Jack and Ennis is OK to watch and sympathize with because they’re not really homosexualâ€”that they’re more like the heart of America than like “gay people”â€”you’re pushing them back into the closet whose narrow and suffocating confines Ang Lee and his collaborators have so beautifully and harrowingly exposed.
Entirely unrelated to Mendelsohn’s review, one of the things that struck me intellectually about the film was the juxtaposition of two very different lifestyles, both rooted in the mythology of the ranching west, the latter of which only apes the former. The whole film has a disorienting sort of ahistorical feel to it: though it spans the 60s, 70s, and 80s, there is only the briefest glimpse of the broader world that changed so dramatically and with so much tumult during that time. Ennis, in particular, stays in a world bounded by the conventions of his rural, ranching childhood, one that seems increasingly anachronistic—especially compared to the all hat, no cattle Texas in which Jack finds himself—but is, of course, no less definitive of the course of his life. Jack, meanwhile, ends up selling combines to wealthy Texas farmers, men who are far removed from the disappearing family cattle operations that they imagine themselves to still be a part of. He lives in a posturing West, populated by men described by Bernard DeVoto as patsies in the “system of absentee exploitation” that draws wealth away from the West, who, in their aspiration to be cosmopolitan cowboys, become simply buffoons in their embarrassingly florid cowboy getups.
These two Wests do share one thing. The faux-cosmopolitan ranchers and the dirt-poor cow-calf operators of Brokeback Mountain remain unified in their violent antipathy to homosexuality, always understood acutely by Ennis but not quite appreciated by Jack. The paradoxical tragedy of Jack’s life is that the community in which he lived had abandoned the lifestyle but clung fiercely only to the trappings, of the West, and among them a model of appropriate masculinity into which he could never fit. This of course isn’t truly surprising, either at the level of slowly-moving social change or cultural symbolism. But the vividness of the film’s depiction of these changes that are not-changes in the West was tremendously intriguing. At a time when clearing brush is depicted as synonymous with ranching, or more deceptively, with being a rancher, the trappings of culture rarely need to reflect reality. I think this kind of dissonance between symbols makes for an interesting way to think about the film, as well as contemporary image-making.
- This article is dated 2006-02-05 16:23 and is posted to movies, with tags brokeback+mountain
Pat Bagley’s editorial cartoon in today’s Salt Lake Tribune is pretty spot on, capturing the incoherence of protesting Brokeback Mountain in the name of family values while giving a pass to a film like Hostel.
(For out-of-towners, the rotund polo-shirted guy is Larry Miller, owner of the theater that cancelled the film, and also owner of the Utah Jazz and Salt Lake-area car dealerships.)
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- This article is dated 2006-01-10 09:59 and is posted to movies, politics
, with tags brokebackmountain
With the arrival yesterday of Riding Giants1, my once-extensive Netflix queue is whittled down to just one or two films. So it’s time to wander through my recommendations and fill up the list again. I took a list at the current queue for my parents and noticed a Netflix feature I hadn’t seen before: “Local Favorites.” Enter a city and Netflix shows the top 25 movies that people in that city are renting more than people elsewhere. This means that most new releases are excluded from the list, because everybody is renting those; instead, the list suggests how local rental habits are different from those in most other places. Neat!
So what’s more popular in Flagstaff than in most other locations? Here’s the top five: Adventure, crime, western, romance, and really crappy Will Ferrell flick.
- Touching the Void
- The Sopranos: Season 3 (4-Disc Series)
- Deadwood: Season 1 (6-Disc Series)
- Love Actually
- Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Compare to Tucson, which I would have hoped to be better than renting Ace Venture excessively. Is Dolores Claiborne a desperate cry for help, a pining for frosty New England?
- Monty Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different
- Twice in a Lifetime
- Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
- Dolores Claiborne
And see how cosmo Sundance home Park City (In Good Company, The Sea Inside, Million Dollar Baby, Collateral, De-Lovely) differs from my, well, less cosmo hometown of Ogden (The Work and the Glory, I Am Sam, Roman Holiday, In Good Company, I Am David).
Due to structural equivalence, I’ll promptly add the films I haven’t seen from the Flagstaff list to my own queue. Any other recommendations?
1 By the way, Riding Giants is really enjoyable. It’s from Stacey Peralta, who also made Downtown and Z-Boys, which tended to feel sort of smug, too skateboarder-triumphalist or something, but which had plenty of cool footage. Riding Giants is a few steps away from Peralta’s own legacy in skateboarding, so it feels like a more balanced documentary of big wave surfing. The vintage and contemporary footage is great (sometimes awesome), and the spliced-in interviews are good (much better than in Dogtown).
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- This article is dated 2005-07-28 10:44 and is posted to places, movies
, with tags netflix
Heather being in New Mexico all week means that I can rearrange our Netflix queue to deliver all the stuff that she doesn’t want to watch. To wit:
- The Office. I saw a couple of episodes of the American version, which I thought were pretty funny, actually. But upon comparison it’s clear that the original version is far superior. I’m not one of those weird Brit-pop anglophiles or anything, it’s just that they can get away with comedy that somehow is both more understated and more edgy at the same time.
- Donnie Darko, director’s cut. Hunh. That’s one freaky rabbit mask. But, still, hunh.
Stay tuned for Heather’s next trip out of town, when I’ll preview—seriously—Roman Holiday and Riding Giants.
- This article is dated 2005-06-15 23:18 and is posted to movies, with tags donnie+darko
Via funkaoshi, who has some kind of link groove on, I came across the abridged script to Revenge of the Sith. I would like to extract a few particularly clever bits, but in all honesty, the whole thing is pretty good (runs out of steam by the end?). I think that my favorite part is the constant reference to Mace Windu as SAMUEL L. MOTHERFUCKING JACKSON, but I also like this bit:
YODA leads an army of WOOKIEES to fight against DROIDS. The scene is utterly superfluous and present solely to have a scene containing WOOKIEES. It also serves to make the STAR WARS UNIVERSE seem even smaller with more cameos by characters from the original trilogy.
And later on:
IAN MCDIARMID appears in a HOLOGRAPH to one of the CLONE TROOPERS.
Execute order 66.
Kill all shrieking CGI creatures.
(to his troop) Alright men, shoot down the giant Iguana.
Oh, and order 67.
Jedi, too. Got it.
They shoot at EWAN, who falls into the water.
- This article is dated 2005-06-13 18:11 and is posted to movies, with tags star+wars
We managed to see Episode III a few days ago, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Although it had plenty of scenes that should have been exciting, many of them were, well, sort of boring. Not so bad as the video-game-preview action scenes of Episode II, but still, a little empty, especially in the beginning. Just how braindead can a robot army really be, anyway?
But aside from that, there were a few things I really liked. Well, perhaps “like” isn’t right; I appreciated a few things that I thought tied up the whole story: While Anakin’s conversion to Vader wasn’t all that convincing, it at least was dark enough to carry some emotional heft with it. The whole set of clone betrayal scenes likewise finally had some drama. I really liked how much Ewan McGregor seemed to be channeling a younger Alec Guinness, at least in appearance. In fact, one of the things they did well in the film was introduce the general aesthetic of Episode IV—this may be a good or bad thing, depending on what you think of bowl cuts and mini-skirts. Like it or hate it, the maternity-legging thing that makes its appearance in the final scenes would be right at home in Episode IVs 1970s sci-fi imagination.
There are a few bits that I can’t get over. First, we have all the dismemberings. Sure, there’s a gritty reality to the depiction of what a laser sword ought to do to one’s various parts, but man, did they ever show a lot of severed bones. “Oh, look, another forearm-bit.” Second is pacing: Was that not the fastest pregnancy ever depicted on film? Padme is nice and svelte at the movie’s opening, and with every scene she just gets bigger—but I never actually got a sense of time passing, a feeling that was strengthened by the apparent speed at which little spacecraft manage to travel unimaginable distances. Apparently the outer rim of the galaxy is about as far away as the Circle-K. It never becomes clear which of the several creative dissolves represent time passing. Was it the crosshatch one? Third, did nobody see the Emperor coming? Nobody said to themselves, “Hmm, this Sith guy looks a lot like the Senator?”
And of course, most importantly, and I won’t linger long on this because everybody else has something to say about it, but holy cow, the dialogue is miserable, and lines that should have been delivered with a little reflection just get spat out flatly.
So was it worth it? Sure, especially for those of us who needed some closure. Parts of it are lots of fun, other parts have some real drama to them, and every once in a while the film reflects the kind of epic myth that could have been. Worth a matinee, probably especially with a good crowd that will hoot and clap appropriately each time Yoda gets all kick-ass.
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- This article is dated 2005-05-25 20:44 and is posted to movies, with tags episode+iii
I’ll probably go and see Revenge of the Sith one of these days, just to honor the person I was in kindergarten (do they still make Underoos?). But I’m not exactly enthused by the reviews, most of which seem to suggest that the movie is worthwhile because it sucks less than The Phantom Menace and Whateverthehell Number Two Was Called. I’m also completely turned off by the latest round of cross-promo marketing (though I have to admit that I’m just a tiny bit fond of the ad with Yoda in the diner: “Want your sandwich you do not” sort of gets me.)
This morning’s Daily Sun has the midnight movie coverage. Note, primarily, the photo: The plastic lightsaber may have been cheap, but at what cost to your dignity? Look, if you’re going to hold up a big fake sword in a newspaper photo, at least go all the way; you can’t just wear a robe and look sort of lost. You have to own it.
Here’s my favorite bit of the article, with added boldface:
Jeremiah Whitmore, 17, of Flagstaff, had been at Harkins since 3 a.m. Wednesday.
“I was expecting there to be a lot more people. I was completely by myself for 3 1/2 hours,” Whitmore said.
Whitmore said he had high expectations for “Revenge of the Sith.”
“Story-wise I don’t think it can outdo ‘Return of the Jedi,’ but as far as special effects and battles it will be the best,” Whitmore said.
It’s quite rare to see Return of the Jedi held up as the benchmark for good storytelling.
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- This article is dated 2005-05-19 11:33 and is posted to movies
My parents have some friends back in Preston, Idaho, who report to them that the city has become a destination for Napoleon Dynamite fans. Visitors can tour various locations from the film and meet with Tina The Llama. Preston is enjoying something of a boom from all the attention, and I like to imagine the retro-80s-style indie kids on a tour bus with the blue-haired Idaho Falls grandmothers who came down, special, to see what all the fuss was about.
The state legislature is getting in on the action, with a resolution honoring the filmmakers’ depiction of various Idaho industries and qualities. The resolution starts off routinely enough, acknowledging the economic benefits that have come from the movie and the nice experience that everybody at the high school has had thanks to its popularity. But then it gets a little weird:
WHEREAS, tater tots figure prominently in this film thus promoting Idaho’s most famous export; and
WHEREAS, the friendship between Napoleon and Pedro has furthered multiethnic relationships; and
WHEREAS, Uncle Rico’s football skills are a testament to Idaho athletics; and
WHEREAS, Napoleon’s bicycle and Kip’s skateboard promote better air quality and carpooling as alternatives to fuel-dependent methods of transporta-tion;
... and so on. The rest of the resolution sums up pretty much the whole movie, commending its exemplification of Idaho’s entrepreneurial spirit, theater and visual arts, e-commerce, meat products, and tetherball. (No mention of how having Alphaville in the soundtrack expresses Idaho’s committment to 80s Euro-rock.) Now, I happen to like the movie, though I think you may need a certain degree of Idaho-Utah socialization to enjoy it, but I’m pretty sure that the film is mocking (or, more gently, affectionately making fun of) much of its subject matter. Its hero is a not-very-bright guy who has a bit of a mean streak, and who seems to have pretty limited prospects for the future; Uncle Rico is holding onto his football glory days with a death-grip, which would be fine if he owned a successful auto dealership—but he lives in his van and sells not-Tupperware; Grandma is pretty much a deadbeat parent; and everybody seems more than a little bit emotionally stunted, if not fully over-medicated. I think this all makes for pretty fine entertainment, but I’m not sure any of these people make good role models or show off the Gem State particularly well. (Though, if you’re into it, the filmmakers do have some nice tracking shots of the southeastern Idaho countryside.)
All that said, you sort of have to respect whoever wrote this into the resolution:
WHEREAS, any members of the House of Representatives or the Senate of the Legislature of the State of Idaho who choose to vote “Nay” on this concurrent resolution are “FREAKIN’ IDIOTS!” and run the risk of having the “Worst Day of Their Lives!”
It looks like they’re in on at least part of the joke.
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- This article is dated 2005-04-12 12:59 and is posted to movies, politics
, with tags idaho
In the tradition of films not made by Ken Burns comes The Old Negro Space Program: The Shocking-But-False Story of America’s Blackstronauts. The short film does a nice job of skewering the tone and style of real Ken Burns documentaries.
I would be remiss, in error, if you will, if I failed to mention that Brayden gave me this link. I waited the Six Apart-approved 48 hours before posting it myself.
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- This article is dated 2005-03-27 15:12 and is posted to misc, movies
, with tags film
Last summer we went and saw the film “Touching the Void,” and I had planned to write a few thoughts on it at the time, but the draft post never quite got finished. PBS broadcast the film last night, so I thought I would finally get caught up. Yep, that’s right, this is the very last thing I have to do before I am totally caught up, with everything on my to-do list. Nothing more important to be working on whatsoever.
Based on the nonfiction book by Joe Simpson, Touching the Void tells the story of an alpine-style climb gone horribly wrong: Lost on the way down from the first (and yet-unrepeated) ascent of 21,000-foot Siula Grande in Peru, Simpson and his partner Simon Yates find themselves out of fuel and surprised by the difficulty of the descent. Simpson falls and badly breaks a leg; at 20,000 feet this almost guarantees his death. Yates rigs a series of belays to lower Simpson off the mountain, but in the steep, deep powder snow his stance is precarious; further, being lowered is excruciating for Simpson, whose mangled leg is jarred with every movement. Later, after lowering Simpson past a ledge, Yates is left with the terrible choice of cutting the belay and leaving Simpson behind, or being pulled off the mountain by Simpson’s weight. He doesn’t know if Simpson is even alive; they can’t see or hear each other.
Yates cuts the rope, digs a snow cave, and stumbles off the mountain the next day, stunned and distraught but unable to imagine that Simpson could have lived. Simpson plummets into a crevass in a 150’ fall that should have killed him—but in an absurd combination of luck and will, he lives, and spends the next four days crawling off the mountain, first through the ice crevass, then down the snowfields, and finally over miles of boulders. The night before Yates and another travelling companion are to depart from their camp, they find Simpson, near-dead, not far from their tents. He had lost thirty percent of his body weight, was horribly dehydrated, and had sustained awful injuries. After a dozen surgeries over several years, Simpson, who was initially expected to never walk normally again, returned to climbing (He later was involved in yet another near-death epic), and always defended the decision by Yates to cut the rope.
Simpson and Yates narrate the film, so the viewer knows that both of them eventually make it off the mountain. Many people, in fact, are familiar with the story and know this fact heading into the film. At least in climbing circles, the story is famous as a vivid illustration of the trust that climbers must put in their partners and their own skills, but also of the line between self-preservation and loyalty—a line that climbers hope never to encounter.
So, given all that, is the film any good? The climbing footage, a re-enactment of the Siula Grande climb, is great, and it’s about time. The thing about real climbing, of course, is that when good climbers are well-photographed doing something difficult, it’s not only authentic, but far more dramatic than gussied up Hollywood climbing (see, for example, Cliffhanger). Later in the film, It’s almost physically hard to watch Simpson fall, and then laboriously crawl first through the claustrophobic crevass and later across endless fields of ice and snow. The narration by Simpson and Yates adds emotional heft to the story at key moments, like Simpson’s attempts to re-climb the rope and Yates’ decision to cut the rope and eventually abandon his search. At times I thought the film had too much Simpson—which I suppose is understandable; it’s his book, after all. But maybe a little too much of the psychadelic film tricks in the last fifth, as he pulls himself through the scree. Minor quibbles aside, it’s a dramatic story that is well-told.
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- This article is dated 2004-11-22 14:53 and is posted to outside, movies
Some men seek out zombies, and other men have zombies thrust upon them. For the latter, check out Shaun of the Dead, which features a legion of zombies, a well-hefted cricket bat, and a duo so wrapped up in beer and video games that they only just barely figure out how to use the bat on the zombies. By the time they do, however, it’s already a fun movie, with plenty of comedy (especially early on, when the city’s slackers, drunks, and corporate workers already seem like zombies; it’s funny, but as the day goes on Shaun’s encounters with them get progressively creepier, because you know that the full-on zombiefication is coming.)
The film pulls off more than it deserves to: It’s got buddy comedy, romance, excessive drinking, and a critical mass of shambling zombies. Finally, it takes itself just seriously enough to be more than a smart parody.
- This article is dated 2004-10-03 16:44 and is posted to movies
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