First they bought Marvel Comics, then they bought Star Wars, and now Disney bought Indiana Jones, too. I'm betting they're going to recast Indy, James Bond-style, rather than try another Harrison Ford outing. I think every one of my childhood obsessions is now owned by Disney.
Fifty years ago, Frederick Wiseman was a Boston University law professor ready to try his hand at documentary filmmaking. His first feature in 1967 introduced the immersive style that's defined his work ever since. Free of guiding narration, Wiseman's films cast viewers into the inner workings of intricate social systems, leaving us to mingle among the humans that make such systems go. In 1967's Titicut Follies, this meant daily operations at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane in Massachusetts; the title is the name of the hospital talent show. Films that followed included Basic Training (1971), Juvenile Court (1973), Ballet (1995), Public Housing (1997), State Legislature (2007), and three dozen more, all of which add up to an oeuvre that has won Wiseman a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and singular esteem among filmmakers.
Now 83, Wiseman has released a huge new documentary, At Berkeley, a four-hour, cellular-level tour of the University of California at Berkeley. Reportedly given full access on campus, Wiseman and his camera take us into student-orientation meetings, teacher-training sessions, poetry lectures, faculty meetings, crisis-management discussions, laboratory research sessions, student-led consciousness-building conversations, and, yes, one extravagantly Berkeleyesque student protest. Scene after scene offer blasts of scholastic humanity in its natural habitat, up close and at length. (Along with narration, Wiseman rejects quick cuts. Even the most procedural scenes become somewhat hypnotic as they regularly cross the 10-minute mark.)
Look! It's a trailer for the sequel to the Spider-Man reboot series! I found the first one to be underwhelming and inept, but a lot of people seemed to like it—or at least it made a ton of money. So, quick! Back to the spider-trough!
One positive thing I do have to say about this trailer is that they finally got the costume exactly right. Spider-Man looks just like Spider-Man in the comics, which is great.
What Do You Think of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 Trailer?
Dylan Ryan is an LA-based drummer who plays in a million genre-spanning bands: from the electronic group Rainbow Arabia, to Saddle Creek mainstays Cursive, to singer/songwriter Tim Kasher, and then into jazzier stuff with Icy Demons and Herculaneum. Ryan's most recent endeavor is his project Sand, a psychedelic band that he wanted to contain elements of "Black Sabbath, the Cure, Jaco-era Joni Mitchell, and free jazz.” The result is songs with minimal surf/spaghetti western movements, somewhat folk-y influences, and a striking ability to evoke familiarity while remaining inherently unique and melodic. Sand plays at the Royal Room in Columbia City tonight to promote their new record Sky Bleached on Cuneiform Records.
Naturally, I decided to interview him with a few hard-hitting questions about TV and movie discoveries while on tour. Here’s what he had to tell me:
What are some memorable movies that you've ended up watching on tour? Which ones do you find yourself repeatedly re-watching? It changes from tour to tour. Sand, for example only watches No Retreat, No Surrender. With Cursive, there was a tour where Step Brothers was really resonating with the group of us young men. I think my favorite is on one Icy Demons tour, we got totally immersed in Some Kind of Monster, but not in a healthy way at all. Our tour manager started referring to us by the names of who he thought each of us was acting like, and guess who I got? The fucking producer! I thought I'd be an obvious choice for Kirk, in the role of master steedsman/shredder. Or at least the drummer.
Watch the trailer for Homefront, and you won't quite be able to tell if it's parody or not. You've got Jason Statham starring, of course, as a tough guy with a history; in this case, he's a cop who used to wear a really bad wig and go undercover with biker gangs. Statham is seen in several golden-framed scenes interacting with his precocious young daughter (Izabela Vidovic), where she says something about how much she misses her mommy, who died about a year ago. Statham misses her, too. Their decent new life in a small Louisiana town is endangered when they cross paths with a smarmy meth cook named Gator who's played by—here's where the parody part really kicks in—James Franco. Is this one of Franco's famous art-school projects, a shrugging pastiche made up of the most cliché plot elements imaginable? And what if I told you the screenplay was written by Sylvester Stallone? What would you say then?
After the jump, I'm going to be speaking freely about the new Hunger Games movie. If you want to read a spoiler-free review of Catching Fire, Anna Minard wrote one for you last week. Once you read below the trailer, you're going to be venturing into spoiler-filled territory.
Written by the poet Langston Hughes and first performed in 1961, Black Nativity is a retelling of the classic Christmas story featuring gospel music and an all-black cast. It's also a Seattle institution, with the talent-packed local production—directed by Jacqueline Moscou, choreographed by Donald Byrd, with musical direction by the Total Experience Gospel Choir's Pastor Patrinell Wright—playing to packed houses (first at the Intiman, then at the Moore) every year from 1998 to 2012.
At the center of Black Nativity is the simple and familiar story of a mother, a father, and their son. These characters aren't so much real-life humans as figures in a mythic play about parents and children, love and fear, judgment and forgiveness. In the Seattle stage production, the story was brought to life with serious theatrics, provided by a 30-member choir, nearly a dozen dancers, and a live band. In the Hollywood film adaptation, things are powered by original Raphael Saadiq compositions—performed in classic musical style, with characters bursting out in song during regular life—and interstitial rapping by Nas. But the primary draw of the film is its A-list talent (Saadiq and Nas included). Nothing can enliven a big, broad, familiar story like great actors, ones who see clichés as challenges, and who can fill the spindliest outline of a character with vibrant life....
Also opening today: the Stallone-scripted, Statham-starring Homefront, the Safdie brothers portrait of a would-be basketball star Lenny Cooke, and Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, which Charles Mudede calls "one delight after another."
This week’s short is “The End,” a film by Cameron McHarg, a Seattle native who currently lives and makes movies in LA. The subject of the “The End,” which has an impressive closing scene, is none other than the end of the world. Its insight is this: The death or extinction of an individual, from the perspective of the individual, is nothing but the end of the world. Everyone dies when you die. The whole world falls into darkness, when you fall into darkness. The world has ended billions of times before and will end billions of times more.
Philomena is the new film from Stephen Frears, the director who brought us the great Prick Up Your Ears and The Grifters, and many other beloved films. As Stranger reviewer Alison Hallett writes about Frears' latest work:
Philomenais a quirky movie about an adorable old Irish lady—played by none other than Dame Judi Dench—and its release is timed to coincide with prime holiday family-movie-viewing season. You're right to be skeptical. All signs point to schlock. But Philomena is excellent, thanks to the brilliant odd-couple pairing of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan—and to a script that balances heart, humor, and a fierce sense of moral outrage.
The sap-friendly trailer (featured below) nevertheless made me laugh out loud twice. Judi Dench is so good at her job.
Also opening today: The Armstrong Lie, Alex Gibney's rewardingly hair-splitting documentary about the fall of Lance Armstrong (trailer here), and Frozen, the new animated Disney musical described by reviewer Denis C. Theriault as "the first [Disney film] in a long time that I can remember making me grin, laugh, and tear up, all while stunning my eyes with some of the most magical computer animation I've ever seen." (Trailer here.)