Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Cormac McCarthy Interview at the Wall Street Journal

cormac

Check it out here. John Hillcoat, the director of the film adaptation of The Road, is also in on the conversation. McCarthy doesn’t do many of these (this is maybe the third or fourth in, what, twenty-five years or something?), so fans slaver at the mouth for things like this, and this one doesn’t disappoint (though I hear the Oprah interview a few years ago was a bust). He’s terse, funny, dark, writerly, pessimistic, and generally very entertaining. They talk about the film adaptation of The Road (which comes out in two weeks) and McCarthy’s career in general. A few excerpts:

The Wall Street Journal: When you sell the rights to your books, do the contracts give you some oversight over the screenplay, or is it out of your hands?

Mr. McCarthy: No, you sell it and you go home and go to bed. You don’t embroil yourself in somebody else’s project.

WSJ: When you first went to the film set, how did it compare with how you saw “The Road” in your head?

CM: I guess my notion of what was going on in “The Road” did not include 60 to 80 people and a bunch of cameras. [Director] Dick Pearce and I made a film in North Carolina about 30 years ago and I thought, “This is just hell. Who would do this?” Instead, I get up and have a cup of coffee and wander around and read a little bit, sit down and type a few words and look out the window.

WSJ: But is there something compelling about the collaborative process compared to the solitary job of writing?

CM: Yes, it would compel you to avoid it at all costs.

***

WSJ: What kind of reactions have you gotten to “The Road” from fathers?

CM: I have the same letter from about six different people. One from Australia, one from Germany, one from England, but they all said the same thing. They said, “I started reading your book after dinner and I finished it 3:45 the next morning, and I got up and went upstairs and I got my kids up and I just sat there in the bed and held them.”

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Thinking About Where the Wild Things Are

Principle 1: There are so many ways this movie could have been done badly.

Principle 2: The movie was not at all what I expected, and if it had been, would have been some form of principle 1, primarily because I lack the requisite amount of creativity to imagine something that didn’t fall into one of the Full House–like scenarios I and many other people secretly hoped it would. Instead, it took some real thinking, at least to backtrack from my initial expectations and go where the filmmakers were taking me instead.

Principle 3: The criticisms of the movie I have come across are almost entirely to blame on unreflective responses to Principle 2; that is, they wanted the mediocre, sugary, sentimental pandering they have come to expect from much of Hollywood, and they got a work of subtlety and depth.

Principle 4: The trailers led everyone (including me) astray, implying tear-jerking poignancy when in fact the movie was completely unsentimental (and no less rich for that).

Principle 5: The movie stayed unwaveringly true to the themes of the book by Maurice Sendak, but even surpassed the book in metaphorical and psychological sophistication. (E.g.: [1] The Wild Things Max encounters, while still representative of his various emotions, are fully rounded characters rather than parabolic types and as such are capable of generating serious and moving conflicts and encounters with Max [rather than pat moral lessons], which I think reinforces the strong Freudian imagery of both the film and the book; in other words, the characters convey traits that, while still technically part of Max’s imagination or psyche, are completely unknown to and unexplored by him. [Incidentally, I found out recently that the psychoanalytic themes in the book are quite intentional—Sendak spent years in therapy—and the book has even been called a “psychoanalytic parable.”] [2] Max is only able to tame the Wild Things through deception and facade—eventually it becomes clear that he has only fooled them [himself] with his “kingship”—and he must deal with the consequences. [3] The dysfunction in Max’s life—and, by extension, in his imagination—is serious and real. It hovers at the corner of the movie, and when it breaks in, it is a little terrifying. While he is only a child, Max is “out of control” [a phrase that recurs at key moments in both the “real world” and in Max’s imagination], as are the giant carnivorous beasts he encounters in his imagination. Max, and the viewer, is genuinely afraid. There are both good and bad implications to the “heartwarming” line “I’ll eat you up I love you so.”)

Principle 6: Jacques Lacan sums it all up: “When we learn to make symbols, we also learn to separate from our ambient childhood world of objects and achieve an independent selfhood that is experienced as loss. That lack can never be filled, and all human desire circulates around it, yearning to hark back to the lost unity.” Though this could be taken pejoratively, I don’t think it needs to be.

What to Do if You Are Here Searching for Ben Gibbard

Probably you should just leave. Because you’re not going to find much of interest here.

On this blog, I regularly get hits in the teens, maybe fifty or sixty—maybe a hundred if I generate some current-events controversy in my small circle of friends, family, and acquaintances. But now I am officially part of the Blogosphere. Fame! Fortune! Gossip!

I have noticed in the last several months that the number of hits has regularly crept close to 100 per day, and then 150. Where was all this traffic coming from? Well, it seems that there are a lot of tweens out there searching for pictures of Ben Gibbard, and a while back I published a post called “Monday Morning Diversions,” which was not very exciting but happened to include a few pictures of Gibbard, and not even for reasons related to Death Cab for Cutie or even Ben Gibbard himself. Nevertheless, that post has generated, by far, the most traffic to my blog that I have ever had. Just tonight I was looking at my stats for the first time in a long time, and I noticed that on September 21, the number of hits to my blog spiked dramatically. 408 searches for Ben Gibbard! 499 total hits! A quick Google search tells me that Ben Gibbard was wedded to Zooey Deschanel on September 21. A match made in indie-band heaven.

So, tweens, sorry to disappoint. Off you go now.

The Road Trailer

The trailer for The Road is out. It looks like the film will be as difficult to watch as the book was to read. In a good, way of course, but my oh my, I am afraid. I am very afraid. I don’t mean that to sound trite, like in an exhilarated, adrenaline-rush type of fear, or the “fear” evoked by gratuitously violent or psychologically manipulative horror movies (though I do note that I am to a degree succumbing to the shameless emotional manipulation that is at the core of the genre of “movie trailer”), but rather I am afraid in a way that is vivified by a story of love and terror stripped almost to its essence.

Where the Wild Things Are

I recently came across the new trailer for Where the Wild Things Are. There’s a lot of buzz about this movie, and it has kind of reached a fever-pitch status with the twenty- and thirty-somethings who grew up with the book. The book is marvelous, and I grew up with it like everybody else, but I never had any particular fervor for it. So when I heard a year or two ago that there was a movie being made I took notice but did not commence full-fledged surveillance mode to keep track of the status of the film’s production (like I have with the film version of The Road, which stttttiiiiiillllll doesn’t have a release date). I did hear early on, however, that Dave Eggers was writing the script, which gave me hope and piqued my interest a little more. Nevertheless, all this is to say that when I clicked on the play button for the trailer it was not with a heightened sense of glee and anticipation.

However.

The movie looks spectacular. The cinematography and effects look incredible. I had chills throughout the entire preview, and I usually approach movie previews with a bit of cynicism and heightened sensitivity for emotional manipulation (much like when I watch Olympic broadcasts, where the emotional manipulation washes over you with all the subtlety of a tsunami). I think my new fervor has to do with a couple things. One, throughout the past year I have been reading the book to Charlie at night at least once a week, and he is at the point now where he has a strong grasp of the language and the images; he often even finishes the sentences for us. Although I think his strongest connection with the themes of the story are still far ahead of him, reading the story with him gives me a heady sense of the pathos of the story—the power of imagination, the true nature of familial love, the relationship between the two, and how imagination helps you cope with the harshness of reality and then to grow up and become an adult. The movie, at least from what I can tell of the trailer, picks up on these themes and develops them into a longer, fuller story. Consequently I get all weepy when I just watch the trailer. Yes. I have been manipulated. On top of this, the images of the trailer are overdubbed with the song “Wake Up” by the Arcade Fire, which perfectly and poignantly encapsulates these same themes.

Be Kind Rewind

I just stumbled across a new movie coming out this weekend called “Be Kind Rewind,” starring Jack Black and Mos Def. It’s a comedy about two guys who, after Jack Black’s character mistakenly erases every VHS tape in Mos Def’s character’s store, reshoot all of the films with their own equipment and (lack of) expertise. The film looks pretty clever, and I’m excited to see it. It’s directed by Michel Gondry, who also directed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – a film he cowrote with Charlie Kaufman, who also wrote “Being John Malkovich.” So, if you’re familiar with these movies, it’s a pretty safe assumption that “Be Kind Rewind” will playfully tinker around with the nature of storytelling and raise all sorts of fascinating questions. Probing the themes while at the same time destabilizing them. One could almost call it metacinema. And that’s exactly what Be Kind Rewind is. It’s a movie about making movies of movies. As with these other movies, it’s almost like looking down a hall of mirrors, like when John Malkovich goes into John Malkovich’s head, all the people are John Malkovich, and all they say is “Malkovich.”

But it gets better. When I first watched the trailer (which you can find here), I was, I think mistakenly but one can never be sure with these things, directed to this video on YouTube, which is – at first glance – a ramshackle, homemade-looking attempt at a movie trailer made by a some French guy. At first I thought the whole thing might just be a joke, then I found the movie’s official site and watched the real trailer. The first one I had watched was actually a crappy frame-by-frame remake of the official trailer (at which point I decided that the French guy who made it is very clever). The more I thought about it, though, the cleverer I thought it was to do a remake of the trailer in the style of the remakes in the movie. Then I realized that the French fellow in the trailer was in fact the film’s director, Michel Gondry, himself! I was falling even farther down his hall of mirrors without even realizing it.

Except the further down the hall of mirrors you go, the more bizarre the images become. In the remakes that Jack Black and Mos Def do in the movie, they substitute male actors in wigs for female actors and use sub-par special effects that imitate the movie effects. In the crappy trailer, however, the males-substituted-for-females are substituted with male mannequins in wigs, and the crappy cars that Jack Black and Mos Def substituted for the fancy ones in movies are little toy cars. It’s like making a copy of a copy of a copy. Where does the charade end? What are the boundaries between art and reality? How distorted is the image we have of ourselves?

I’m not expecting all these questions to be raised or explored in the movie (though some of them definitely will), and it’s kind of beside the point anyway, because it’s interesting food for thought. Incidentally, these are actually themes explored in two great novels: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike. This is definitely a movie I’ll be seeing sooner rather than later.

Golden Compass, Redux, Redux

I’ve made a few edits to my previous post. By far, it’s mostly the same, and I would usually let something stand that’s already been published, but I had hoped to communicate a slightly more conciliatory tone when I wrote it. I failed. Moreover, the changes, I think, communicate more of my original intentions. Most of its directness, contentwise, is still intact, and I still stand by it. But if I offended any fellow Christians – my brothers and sisters in Christ – with the words in either of the two previous posts, I apologize. Your intentions are good and sincere. I was rash and impetuous, and I hope you will forgive me.

The Golden Compass, Redux

I feel compelled to clarify a few things about my post lampooning some of the Christian responses to The Golden Compass and Philip Pullman. I feel this way firstly because I read this in the Chicago Tribune today:

[Pullman] has called [C. S.] Lewis’ fiction “morally loathsome” for its sexism and offhand killing of main characters, among other things.

By contrast, the morally complex “His Dark Materials” follows strong-willed orphan Lyra. . . .

Oh, give me a break. I’m willing to let Pullman insult Lewis as a legitimate way of distancing himself from him, but if the newspaper is, without explanation, going to jump on board and insinuate that Pullman contains “moral complexity” while Lewis does not, I must put all irony aside and firmly and unequivocally declare my loyalties. Which are with C. S. Lewis and all Christians. And ultimately, if it comes to drawing lines, I throw in my lot with fundamentalist Christians, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The second reason is due mostly to the, um . . . ahem, mode of expression I was employing in my diatribe. In other words, I did indeed demonstrate a complete lack of prudence and nuance, which I guess goes with the territory. So while perhaps I should have developed a substantiated argument, that would have compromised my intent. Moreover, an argument can only be extrapolated negatively from the content of my diatribe. For example, if the satire exhorts, “Do not think! Live in ignorance!” then the author must think that to avoid the books and to intentionally not read them is, ipso facto, not thinking. While it would be perfectly natural to infer that from my remarks, I would now like to argue not against the wholesale avoidance of the books or the movie but against the intentional provocation of political hysteria. When I wrote the post, I had heard one too many conspiracy theories about producers “tricking” us into buying the books, and I had come across one too many messages trying to get me to educate others by forwarding an email to all my friends and family. This, to me, is willful ignorance and sloppy thinking. Consider this excerpt from a boycott-plea email:

Promoters hope that unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the movie, that they will enjoy the movie, and that the children will want the books for Christmas. Please boycott the movie and the books. Also, pass this information along to everyone you know. This will help to educate parents, so that they will know the agenda of the movie. The Golden Compass–A movie to avoid. We need to get the word out about this movie–it is coming out in December–an atheist produced it. it is marketed for children and in the end they kill God. I checked this out at snopes.com; unfortunately, it’s true.

Almost every producer in Hollywood is, if not an atheist, completely ambivalent about Christianity. Promoters are not hoping that unsuspecting parents will be duped into buying the books, they are hoping to make as much money as possible. They could, literally, not give a damn about the message of the book. They have proven just that thing by dulling down Pullman’s anti-ecclesiastical propaganda (with which Pullman has expressed his dismay). We Christians have proven that we are capable of shelling out large amounts of dough for epic fantasy films about good and evil and are thus a prime market demographic – one in fact producers ignore at their peril. They figured that if they kept the notions of “good” and “evil” vague enough, they could keep from offending Christians who would otherwise not spend their money to see it.

So enough with conspiracy theories. Alarmist political maneuvering seems more like a way to preserve the cultural capital of Christian values rather than actually dealing with anti-Christian ideas. When Nietzsche invoked the death of God, he not only expressed a desire for a world in which God was dead (like Pullman), but he excitedly and tragically described an already extant trend in Western culture. Boycotting an anti-Christian novel/film implies we still have Christian cultural capital to work with instead of the sex-crazed, celebrity-fetishizing, warmongering country we still somehow manage to call Christian. We’re living in Nietzsche’s world whether we like it or not.

So should everybody read it and engage it? Would I let my eleven-year-old son read it? Let’s first be clear that what we’re reading not only contains potentially subversive ideas to Christian beliefs and narratives but is also a manifestation of present cultural realities. Let’s be clear that deciding to reject it wholesale does not mean going on a crusade to spread alarm and encourage knee-jerk reactions. Then we can calmly and prudently evaluate whether allowing our children to read it – or even reading it ourselves – would be a good idea. Christianity is not threatened by atheism; Jesus Christ, according to Paul, has already disarmed the principalities and powers of this world, unmasking them as so much empty nihilism. Rejecting it wholesale may be the best course of action on a given occasion, but this is no cause for alarm. Moreover, one may reject it because it is, well, not worth the time. When I wrote the first post, I didn’t foresee so many people whose opinions I value and trust just giving it a kind of yawn. If time determines that Pullman turns out to be nothing more than a blowhard who is a decent storyteller, then so be it. There are better things to do. Like read Dostoevsky, which I’m going to go do now.

While We’re At It…

While we’re on the subject of children’s fantasy novels being turned into movies, there is now a trailer for Prince Caspian here.