Forty earth years have passed since the Star Child first floated into view at the mind blowing climax of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and to celebrate the anniversary of a movie full of birthdays, birth metaphors, and planet-sized foetuses, the Tribeca Film Festival put on a special screening followed by an extraordinary panel consisting of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, screenwriter Ann Druyan, artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky, and actor Matthew Modine. Continue reading on About.com….
I managed to film the first 20 minutes of the panel:
One afternoon last week, I found myself explaining the benefits of transcendental meditation — and its much cheaper, guru-free alternative Natural Stress Relief — to a junkie at an East Village pizza joint. (He asked.) You see, I was predisposed to love The Dhamma Brothers, a documentary about inmates of an Alabama high security prison who take up Vipassana meditation. Despite its fascinating subject, the film turned out to be a disappointment. Read my review on About.com to find out why.
I also saw Redbelt, David Mamet’s latest. It’s an entirely enjoyable fight movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as noble jiu-jitsu teacher that’s perched somewhat uncomfortably between Mamet’s usual snappiness and a few very tired genre conventions. In typical Mamet style, Redbelt is thick with cons, counter-cons, and strange coincidences, but this time, it’s nearly impossible to tell which is which. Opens on May 9.
Tonight, I’m excited to see Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely, and on TV, we’re enjoying the continuing adventures of Liz Lemon and Kara Thrace. In the mobile department, Peeping Tom and Paths of Glory have proven themselves eminently watchable on a packed subway — just don’t tell Messrs. Powell and Kubrick.
“You’ve got a serious artist crush,” Marcy remarked — a statement, not a question — when I sent her a link to a gallery of adorably geeky photographs of Paul Thomas Anderson during the Hard Eight period. Guilty as charged: I’ve been rewatching and reassessing and obsessing over all five of PTA’s films, reevaluating Punch-Drunk Love (which I originally hated), rediscovering the ending of Boogie Nights (much different from what I remembered), and unable to resist the pull of Magnolia even on a matchbox-sized iPod screen.
If the Altman comparisons seem grossly reductive, it’s because Anderson is liberal when it comes to borrowing from the greats. Why not combine Altman’s panoramic outlook with Stanley Kubrick’s formal bravura with John Cassavetes’ messy candor? While Anderson fits the profile of a “hysterical realist,” to evoke the pejorative literary buzz-phrase of a few years ago, his films never indulge in excess for the sake of excess. He’s a born showman—his first three films bore the Barnumesque credit “A P.T. Anderson picture”—but his go-for-broke tendencies are tied to an expansive, humanist impulse.
Lim’s entire appreciation of Anderson is spot-on, and before I swipe his video clips, I’d just like to expand on his last point: seems to me, the unifying theme underlying all of Anderson’s films is the desperate need for human connection. Yes, that’s a cloying phrase, and perhaps that’s why it’s dressed up in such unlikely garb: the incendiary monologues, the sweeping steadycams, the assaultive music, the undulating colors. What all of Anderson’s characters really need is a family, but their real families rarely work: in Hard Eight, Jack’s father is dead, Dirk Diggler’s mom throws him out, everybody in Magnolia is messed up six different ways, Barry Egan’s seven sisters are worse than the furies, and we all know that Daniel Plainview’s an oilman, not a family man.
Instead, Anderson’s heroes create impromptu families. Jack finds a father figure in his father’s killer, porn gives Diggler not just a dad (Burt Reynolds) but a sister (Heather Graham) and a mother (Julianne Moore), too. In Punch-Drunk Love, Adam Sandler and Emily Watson start their own family, and Magnolia ends in an orgy of characters coming home to each other. And Plainview? His salvation would have been an impromptu family with a bastard from a basket for a son and a brother who wasn’t his brother-from-another-mother. That he refused them is the tragedy of There Will Be Blood.
Can’t leave you without another word about Anderson’s breathtaking audacity, and you better believe I’m lazy enough to quote Lim again:
The prominent bursts of music—and the way the narratives rely on musical principles like rhythm, tone, and phrasing—result in a kind of delirious synesthesia. His movies set off a crazy multitude of sensory triggers, leaving the impression that Anderson is working from a larger palette than most filmmakers.
Danny Boyle sends a group of astronauts–Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, and Rose Byrne among them–on a mission to deliver a giant nuke in order to restart our dying star and save mankind. Confined to a ship that instantly brings to mind 2001‘s Discovery, they send video greetings to their families and tend to Silent Running oxygen gardens. But no matter how many millions of miles from home, when a distress signal arrives, it’s clear that we’re in some very familiar territory: lethal space walks, ticking countdowns, mysterious ghost ships, malfunctioning life support systems, a computer with a melodious voice denying urgent requests, tripped-out deep-space epiphanies. Nothing new under the sun.
At a post-screening Q&A at Tribeca Cinemas this week, Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) made it clear that he is very much hip to the sci-fi classics. Like the crew of the Ikarus II hiding out behind their giant space umbrella, Sunshine labors in the shadow of Kubrick’s 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris — and the books by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanislaw Lem they were based on — with some additional nods to Ridley Scott’s Alien. Perhaps it’s not even possible to send people into space without referring to these touchstone films, and yet, the question remains: why has it been decades since anybody managed to put a brand-new spin on the genre? Fox Searchlight respectfully asks critics to keep mum about the third-act revelations and reversals that work hard to keep Sunshine surprising, but really, there’s no need: if you’ve watched any sci-fi at all, you have seen it before.
Which is not to say Sunshine isn’t a handsomely crafted, engaging, even nerve-wrecking space adventure. The CGI sun, seen through the filtered glass of the ship’s observation deck or shooting over the edge of the heat shield, is a blast of glorious, almost supernatural light. Boyle also does an outstanding job at vividly rendering the astronauts’ extreme vulnerability to the elements. The burning heat of the stars, the razor cold of space, everything is orders of magnitude more threatening than on Earth. The plant life on board the ship in particular becomes more precious than ever. Surely, this heightened state of perception is one of the reasons we go to the movies in the first place. So what if Kubrick already said it all? Set the controls for the heart of the sun anyway. Sunshine will open in the US on July 20.
Some movie premises sound like they were drawn out of a hat, so nobody should be surprised when the random results don’t work. “Let’s see here… we’ll get… John Malkovich! to play… a homosexual! who… impersonates… Stanley Kubrick!” I couldn’t stand more than twenty minutes of Color Me Kubrick because I found the whole mess incredibly painful and unfunny, especially poor Malkovich. Nothing, absolutely nothing about him says “Stanley Kubrick” — except the Blue Danube on the soundtrack. Is that supposed to be the joke? How would anybody fall for this scam? How could anybody stand to watch this movie? Opens March 23.