Show and Tell

Yesterday, I saw “Crimson Peak” and “The Last Witch Hunter” back to back. I enjoyed them both very much – for completely separate reasons. I wouldn’t dare compare or rank them, but seeing them so close together, I noticed that one of them did a particular thing a lot better than the other.

Mia Wasikowska in Crimson Peak

A scene in “Crimson Peak,” which is set around the year 1900, shows a character opening a door to a pantry, where she discovers a box of wax cylinders. We know that they are wax cylinders not just because we get to see a close-up of the objects, but because upon seeing them the character says the words “Wax cylinders!” out loud. She is not speaking to another person in the scene, as she is completely by herself. The out-loud-description is solely for our benefit. And I can understand the motivation behind that. Wax cylinders are hardly household items these days, so not every viewer can be expected to immediately recognize them.

But there’s more. Later in the film, the same character makes another discovery: “A phonograph!,” she exclaims to no one, as she and we see just such a thing. I always cringe at moments like these. Not only do they undermine the character speaking the exposition, they pull me right out of the movie by blatantly reminding me that this is a movie, and I the audience, apparently presumed too dumb to figure out things for myself – or too fragile to be content with leaving some things unknown.

Even watching the movie in the theater, my immediate thought was, If they want to me know what these objects are, why don’t they just show me how they are used? Instead of “Wax cylinders!” and “Phonograph!” just give me a scene where she actually plays the cylinders on the phonograph!

And then exactly this happens. We do see her play the records. Which made the earlier exposition even more furious to me. Oh, so you couldn’t let the audience live with the excruciating angst of possibly not knowing what these things were for ten minutes?

Rose Leslie in The Last Witch Hunter

A different scene in a different movie: Early in “The Last Witch Hunter,” a character is introduced who we quickly learn to be magically inclined. A witch! Upon meeting her, another character notices a small vial of potion and recognizes it as (and I’m going off of memory here, I’m sure the actual words were slightly more elegant) “anti-fear serum.”

“What are you afraid of?” he quips. I can’t remember her exact response but it’s something quick-witted, like “Rent control” or “dying alone” or something. It’s a quick, funny back and forth. The film doesn’t dwell on it, but the attentive viewer gets some information out of it, without knowing (or needing to know) its context, yet.

In a later scene, we see the character asleep in her apartment. It’s night time, but it’s not dark inside. Some dim lamps are softly lighting the room. When she is woken up by a sudden noise, the first thing she does is turn on a large light fixture. Amazingly, she does so without stating out loud, “Oh, no, I better make sure it’s bright in here, as I am afraid of the dark, you know” while winking to the audience.

Lucky Number Slevin wallpaper


After watching one of my favorite films, Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin (2006), the other day, I was looking online for pictures of some of the many amazing wallpapers featured in it, but came up empty. So I made this:


(Click on the image for 1920×1080, or here for 720×1280.)

It’s not perfect but it’s supposed to be kinda faded and off anyway, so it’ll do. It has already replaced the Sleeping Beauty wallpapers on my desktop and phone.

MCU Rewatch, Part 1

Speaking of the Avengers, a few nights ago I started rewatching all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. I had seen all of them before, but it’s been a while for some, especially the early ones. Five movies in, I am having a blast revisiting these, and watching them close together definitely helps me appreciate the “connective tissues” between them. (I’ve been so bad at paying attention to the story of the Marvel films that I had forgotten all about the Hydra stuff from last year’s Captain America by the time they “resolved” it in Age of Ultron.)

Iron Man posterIron Man (2008)

First thing that struck me was how dated the film looked. Not in a bad way, but this is a movie that’s seven years older then Avengers: Age of Ultron, and so naturally it looks different. It’s a weird thing to say because it’s in no way specific to this movie, but the last time I saw it (around the time it came out) it looked… new. And now it doesn’t. Just another reminder that time isn’t gonna stop or slow down any time soon and death is inevitable. Thanks, Iron Man!

The film-making between this and the last couple of MCU entries has changed a lot, too. It was kinda refreshing to see how much of Iron Man is scenes of actual, real people having long, uninterrupted conversations in real, physical locations. These days any given frame in one of these movies could be a composite of a dozen different elements: one actor’s head put on some computer-generated body talking to another actor who filmed his part months earlier in a different country, all inserted into some virtual rendering of Middle Earth or what have you. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, necessarily. It kinda is, though.

It’s nice to see Jeff Bridges play something else than the various versions of Jeff Bridges they have him play in most of his recent stuff. Ebediah (is that his name?) makes a good villain because you can see where he’s coming from. His motivations make sense, to a point, even if you don’t agree with them. Some of my favorite scenes are when he’s talking to Tony, before he goes all Iron Monger. He’s genuinely concerned, more about the business than Tony, but still.

Gwyneth Paltrow is great, too. There are probably a million ways a character like Pepper Potts could fall flat on screen, but she gives her just the right attitude.

I had forgotten how much they play up Tony Stark’s more, shall we say, asshole-y tendencies. And even after he denounces the weapons trade because he’s seen the harm his business is doing in the world it’s not like he’s a nice guy all of a sudden. He’s doing good as Iron Man but Stark is just as arrogant and irritating as ever.

The final, big action scene didn’t work for me, which is a trend that will continue through most of these movies. I like the characters and the actors that play them so much that I always lose interest once they’re basically replaced by cartoon versions flying around, flipping cars and blowing each other up. Unfortunately it’s those scenes that have gotten bigger, louder, and longer as the series went on.

mcu02_hulkThe Incredible Hulk (2008)

Love how the opening titles get the origin story out of the way. Let’s hope Marvel remembers that approach when they’re doing the new Spiderman in a few years. God knows we’ve had his backstory spelled out to us more than enough.

For the first 30 or 40 minutes this Hulk movie is pretty awesome. It all goes somewhat downhill once Bruce gets back to the States, but it’s still a decent film. Better than I remembered, anyway. Edward Norton’s Banner is more interesting than Mark Ruffalo’s, but maybe that’s just because we get to spend so much more time with this version. They don’t really feel like the same character at all, and the Hulks even less so. The one in this movie seems to be much more aware and in control of his rage, especially by the end. Guess he kinda forgot all about that when he changed into Ruffalo, just like he forgot about Betty, apparently.

Tim Roth joins the league of fine actors getting to ham it up as Marvel villains. I had just watched Reservoir Dogs the other day and thought Roth’s performance was the best part of that, so it was fun seeing him fully commit to the Cockney/Russian mercenary type. William Hurt could have played General Ross a tad louder, I thought, but maybe he’ll have to do that amid all the noise in the third Captain America next year, anyway.

Iron Man 2 posterIron Man 2 (2010)

Watching Iron Man 2, and these early MCU films in general, I was reminded, and bear with me on this one, of getting the first seasons of The Simpsons on DVD, back in the early aughts. By that time the “new” episodes (seasons 13 and 14 – they’re up to 26 now!) were already pretty awful so I was thrilled to go back to the show’s better days. My main complaint about the more recent episodes was that they were full of graphic violence and crude jokes and I just didn’t care for those because apparently I was an old man even by the time I was 20. Sure, the early episodes had edgy jokes, as well, but they were just that: on the edges. Not spread out flat over everything. But then I started listening to the writers and producers talk on the DVD audio commentaries and (I’m slightly exaggerating but you’ll get my point) they were all, “Here we wanted Homer to slip on a pile of horseshit and crack his head open on the pavement and slowly bleed to death while getting raped by a panda, but back then the network didn’t let us do that kind of thing.”

So what I’m saying is that sometimes, when creating content, restrictions can be a good thing. And the reason I thought of this was that when you’re looking at the first two Iron Mans, especially in contrast with the more recent films in the series, it’s clear that they (they as in the studio, not the individual directors, necessarily) wanted to do a lot more “cool stuff,” with the flying around and the CGI monsters and the punchplosions, but they were limited by the technology of their time so they had to settle for only a handful of big action scenes and stretch out the rest with boring conversations and character development and, you know, plot.

Anyway. I like Iron Man 2. Last time I saw it I wasn’t as high on it, but watching it within the context of this series I enjoyed it a lot. Don Cheadle’s Rhodey is a huge improvement over Terrence Howard’s. The whole cast’s great, really. The movie does a nice job of expanding the universe and introducing new characters without ever feeling too crowded. Well, I guess the final battle is. A dozen cartoon robots flying around blowing shit up made me miss the first movie when there were just two of ’em. Oh, well.

To be continued…

Avengers: Voice of Whedon


Chances are by now a few (million) of you have seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel’s latest episode in their ever more complex and expanding cinematic universe.

And perhaps some of you, like me, have been fans of Avengers-director and pop-culture-super-force Joss Whedon for a long time, too. Maybe you have watched a couple of interviews with him, or listened to one or two (or all… repeatedly) of his audio commentaries for the numerous TV series or prior movies under his belt.

All of which leads me to this question that has been burning in my mind from the second I first heard James Spader speak as Ultron:

That’s totally Joss Whedon’s voice, right?

Not literally, of course. It’s clearly Spader doing the performance – and quite well, I might add. But the way he is talking, not only what he is saying but how he says it, his intonations, all these small little nuances…

In the film it is said that Ultron’s personality is based on his maker, Tony Stark. But am I alone in feeling that he (through James Spader) is actually channeling his other creator, writer/director Joss Whedon?


From Darryl Cunningham's Psychiatric Tales

From Darryl Cunningham’s Psychiatric Tales

I hate coffee.

I didn’t use to to drink coffee. I’ve always been a tea drinker.

But then four years ago I worked in an office for a while. So I started drinking coffee. Not right away, though. For weeks I’d make tea. Even bring my own from home. But then after a while I guess I got lazy and switched to coffee. Which was always right there. Always ready, always hot. Tea makes you wait for it, coffee jumps right at you. Tea is like a cat, coffee is like a dog.

And then once I didn’t work at that office anymore but went back to sitting in front of my computer all day and watching movies all night the one thing I took with me was the habit of drinking coffee. That instant stuff at first and then I even got a coffee maker. And now I drink at least three cups a day, and I hate it.

I hate coffee and I hate myself for drinking it. It’s an addiction alright. Every night when I’m lying there and can’t fall asleep I’m vowing to stop with the coffee already and when I wake up the next morning I’m, like, who needs this shit, I know that I’ll be so much better off without coffee, I won’t have those damn headaches and I won’t be so overstimulated all the time and everything will be better and I’ll take a shower and make breakfast and oh, well, I guess I can drink a cup of coffee in the morning, I mean, that certainly won’t kill me and then I’m sitting here in my room drinking the fucking coffee and I hate it.

I drank half a cup writing these words and I’m not gonna drink the rest of it. I’ve tried to quit coffee many times over the last few years, even making announcements about it on Twitter, but it never worked. So I wrote this, to make it clear (to myself) that I am not happy about this situation, and I truly want it to change.

Egads I know that coffee isn’t the biggest problem in the world and it certainly isn’t the biggest problem in my life. Which makes it all the more frustrating to know that I can’t get it under control.

I’m gonna make some tea. Sorry about all this.

My Weeks on Letterboxd (14-17/2015)

Not going to list everything I saw the last couple of weeks (here’s the list), just the two movies I wrote about:

On Wednesday, April 8, 2015, I watched Clouds of Sils Maria (2014). 3½ stars.

Kristen Stewart is, of course, amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of Olivier Assayas’ “Let’s make the world’s best actors read the world’s clumsiest exposition“-style of film-making, though.

On Saturday, April 25, I saw Jacques Tati’s PlayTime (1967). 4½ stars.

I’m amazed by the way Tati choreographed movement in this film, and especially how he utilized space. Reminded me of Wim Wenders’ recent use of 3D, actually.

This essay on the way Akira Kurosawa stages scenes came to mind, too. Only where Kurosawa draws triangles, Jacques Tati builds pyramids.


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