Movies

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Observations about Idiocracy

First, it is the best piece of speculative fiction that has ever been written, if we take best to mean the most accurate predictor of current-future events. But lots of people have said that.

Also, have you been to a Smoothie King lately? Their menu looks exactly like the Idiocracy TV interface.

By the way, this was another too-long-to-Tweet post. Enjoy!

Two observations about nerdy things I watched on TV last night

1. There's been a lot of speculation about the identity of the final Cylon. Ron Moore has said it isn't one of the principal characters (Roslin, Lee Adama, Bill Adama, Baltar, Starbuck). Lots of internet nerds think it could still be one of those people anyway. I think Jonathan has said before that he'll stop watching it if it's one of those characters, as it would be too easy and, I imagine, soap-operatic to make one of those characters a cylon.

Here's what I'm hoping: that the payoff of the "who's the final cylon?" plotline will come from the circumstances in which the final cylon finds himself/herself when s/he is activated. I'm picturing some big battle, and then at some crucial moment, the cylon is activated. The most likely characters to end up being cylons in this scenario are Dualla or Gaeta. If it's Dualla, there would be some symmetry in the Starbuck/Anders and Lee/Dualla couplings, as Starbuck and Lee would find out that they'd each married cylons. The fallout from that, and the possibility that this revelation could bring them back together for good, could be somewhat interesting.

2. Spike TV is showing episodes IV, V, and VI of the Star Wars trilogy. Last night was A New Hope, and I watched the first couple of hours before having to switch to BSG. I'm sure this observation has been made by millions of people, literally, but it's striking how much better the performances are in the original films. The actors -- especially Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, but even Mark Hamill and the actors who played his aunt and uncle -- had so much more presence, charisma, and ownership of the dialogue than the actors in the later movies. Even the good actors in the later movies -- Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, and to a lesser extent Jimmy Smits -- delivered performances that weren't really representative of what they can do.

Grace Zabriskie: Quite Possibly the Most Underrated Actress Ever

Having seen Grace Zabriskie in at least three phenomenal performances -- Twin Peaks, Big Love, and Inland Empire -- I suspected she was probably underrated. Then I looked her up on IMDB and found under awards only this: one nomination for a Chlotrudis Award for Best Supporting Actress in Inland Empire. What?! She deserves at least an Emmy for Big Love, an Academy Award for Inland Empire (she's that good), and consideration for some kind of retroactive Emmy for Twin Peaks. That is all.

Review: Documentary about Judith Butler

The great folks at First Run Icarus Films sent me a DVD of the excellent Judith Butler: Philosophical Encounters of the Third Kind several months ago. I watched the film recently, and I'm finally getting around to writing a brief review of it.

High points: Butler walks through an art gallery discussing photographs by Cindy Sherman, who is one of my favorite photographers. She points out how Sherman's images critique gender categories and norms, and her comments are illuminative.

Butler also talks about violence and hate crimes, and while I was always convinced that the whole "Judith Butler doesn't pay enough attention to what's happening on the ground" argument was misguided and inaccurate, I think anyone who sees this film would recognize that Butler cares very much about real, material bodies and what happens to them.

One point of criticism, though. This has nothing to do with the content of the film, but rather the copyright policy (my emphasis):

We send review copies of First Run/Icarus Films releases with the understanding that if a review is published or posted (on-line), the reviewer may then retain the review copy sent for his or her own personal (but not classroom) use.

It's too bad that classroom use -- even, it seems, just showing a clip of it in class -- is prohibited. I had considered ripping a short clip as a sample so as to help sell the film, but I don't want to get a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney.

Bottom line, I would recommend that research libraries purchase the documentary. At $390 for the DVD, it might be a tad expensive for individuals, but if you're doing work on Butler, it might be worth it, especially if you have some grant funding.

What I watched instead of the Super Bowl

Last night I watched Mad Hot Ballroom, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's a great movie to watch if you're depressed, especially. I had a big grin on my face the whole time (trailer here). The premise is that several classes of fifth graders in New York City public schools take ballroom dancing lessons and compete for a top prize. The children are in that awkward stage, but they are all so adorable. The documentary doesn't explore the class implications of ballroom dancing except to mention briefly that ballroom dancing isn't just about dancing, but also about etiquette and learning about other cultures, and the camera doesn't follow the kids very closely into their home lives, though they are interviewed about how they feel about dancing and a few other innocuous topics. The teachers seem to be lovely people; they clearly care a lot about the children, and they even choke up when talking about them and the effect dancing has had on them. If you're like me and love dance movies, this movie will make you feel all squeeful and joyous. This is why I love Netflix.

Long Day's Journey into Night: Performances

A couple of nights ago, I watched Long Day's Journey into Night.

I've written about how great art produces in me a sensation of erasure (the mental Etch-a-Sketch). This play/film certainly did. I had shied away from watching it in the past, mostly because I was worried that I'd be sucked into all the emotional labor. I was, but I was able to aestheticize it, I guess, due to the performances.

I was always able to perceive that performance layer of it -- in other words, the actors didn't manage to slip underneath the characters -- especially in the case of Katharine Hepburn. This is due to the fact that she's a star, not anything about her performance, which was stunning. Her face, for example, would instantly go from a placid, faraway look as she remembered the past to a scrunched-up, tortured look as she snapped back into the present. Ralph Richardson's performance was distracting in that he was overacting, but I understand that that's part of the character, a would-have-been Shakespearean actor.

Jason Robards' performance was, apparently, the one that made him famous, and it was definitely great, but I liked Dean Stockwell's performance even more, particularly the scene in which he recites Baudelaire to his father. Also, who knew Stockwell was so hot back then?

Ultimately, I guess it turns out I don't have all that much to say about the film, only some brief observations:

1. The decision to zoom the camera way out, then back in, then way out again was an unusual one, but understandable given the withdrawal of Mary Tyrone during her monologue at the end.

2. I found myself wondering if that play could even be written or imagined now. Do families ever engage that deeply with each other anymore? (Or did they then, for that matter?) I'm thinking particularly of the card game scene between Edmund and James near the end. Wouldn't the 23-year-old son, upon arriving home, just creep upstairs to his room and listen to some music on headphones, or get on the internet, or watch some TV?

3. Mary Tyrone says at least twice during the film that she is "getting fat," has to have the seams of all her dresses let out, and that it's good for her not to eat. Hepburn didn't do a Zellweger and gain any weight for this role; she's as slender as ever. It made me wonder about "beauty standards" back then, which I have heard were different in the 1930s and 1940s, but which I've long suspected weren't really all that different (feminist revisionist history, being nostalgic for a past that never was, etc.). Or, on the other hand, was Mary Tyrone meant to be played by a woman who was actually overweight? (Yes, I understand that her lack of appetite in the dining scenes was likely due to her addiction, but that she was able to cite "getting fat" as a plausible excuse for not eating must be indicative of something.)

For All You Post-MLA'ers

An analogue, superfluous though it may be:

Stage Door is an excellent film, by the way; I highly recommend it.

I Can't Wait

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