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Thumbnails 8/4/14

A supporting actress smackdown; 25 essential short films; Scorsese on story vs. plot; "Guardians" needs more faith in itself; Warren, Jerry & Carlos Danger.


Thumbnails 3/31/14

Understanding consciousness; Inside Llewyn Davis and Mad Men; Canceling the Colbert Show; John Wayne biography; Amtrak's shoddy writer's program.


Thumbnails 3/10/14

"True Detective" finale; coverage of the True/False film festival; the case against Wes Anderson; a case for Wes Anderson; inside the mind of a psychopath


Richard Garriott, Space Cowboy

"Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott's Road to the Stars" (83 minutes) will be available On Demand on Cox from Jan. 13-March 12, 2012 and on VUDU, Shaw Video on Demand and others starting Jan. 13. It opens the same day at Facets Cinematheque in Chicago and other theatrical venues.

"Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott's Road to the Stars" begins by asking the question: "Why explore space?" By the end of this somewhat indulgent documentary you may ask, particularly considering these tough economic times, "Why spend $30 million to be the sixth private citizen to orbit the earth?" Is this the story of a quest begun in childhood or part of a publicity ploy?


Bill Maher: Dumb jokes for the TV talk show set

"Remember during the campaign when John McCain attacked Obama for acting like a celebrity and we all laughed at the grumpy old shellshocked fool? Well, it turns out he was right. [...] It's getting to where you can't turn on your TV without seeing Obama."

What grumpy old shellshocked fool said that? It was comedian Bill Maher, whose approach to political satire is to talk about televised presidential photo ops as if they were interfering with, or substituting for, policy-making. I mean, the guy admits he thinks what he sees on TV is "news," and then he watches PR puff pieces about presidential puppies and romantic nights out on Broadway and thinks it's Obama who lacks substance? Turn off the boob tube, Bill, and read a newspaper or a web site -- or a blog. If you wanted to learn something about politics (and "topical humor") from TV, you should be watching Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, not Leno. But I warn you, it's going to make you feel as tired and ancient as your schtick. You may as well be telling jokes about airline food and Geritol. (Anybody remember Geritol? That's my point.)


Supply, demand, English food, movies and Paul Krugman

Before I get to the movie part of this post, I want to toast Paul Krugman. He is one of the few public figures I've ever considered a personal hero. (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are, too, and I'm not joking.)

In the bleakest hours of the new millennium -- through 9/11, Iraq, soul-shattering scandals, national elections, and impending financial disasters -- Krugman stood as a beacon of hope and, if you'll pardon the expression, moral clarity in what Nick Lowe (and Elvis Costello) memorably called "the darkness of insanity."

Hired in 1999 as the New York Times economic columnist, Krugman wound up doing what so many journalists, even at his own paper, were failing to do. He reported. Not just what people said, but how what they said compared to independently verifiable reality. Week after week, column after column, Krugman was virtually alone (alongside Knight-Ridder, NPR and "The Daily Show") in pointing out, and explaining the significance of, relevant facts that so many didn't care to notice, even when they were right there in plain sight -- and in the public record, if anyone bothered to pay attention.

He wasn't just a good reporter but a fine critic.


Why movie critics make such darn good political pundits

One of the things film critics do for a living is to pay close attention to how people behave, and how that behavior is presented through visual media. This applies not only to actors playing characters, but to people who play themselves, in fictional or nonfictional settings, on and off the screen. It should come as no surprise to learn that some of our best movie critics have backgrounds in psychology.

When Bill Clinton said, "I did not have sex with that woman," it now seems impossible to believe that he fooled anyone at that particular moment. But if any movie critic misread Clinton's voice and body language, that critic should have been impeached. As opaque as the clumsy verbal gymnastics of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin may often be, behind the contortions it's hard to avoid seeing the painful truth, which is simply that they don't know what their own words mean, and even when they know what they've been told to say they don't know how to communicate it. As actors, they're thoroughly unconvincing: You can see the wheels turning inside their heads -- only the gears aren't even engaged. There's a lot of whirring and spinning, but nothing happens. That can be excruciating to watch, but it's also the stuff of modern comedy. Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert and the whole Judd Apatow crew come to mind.

Patrick Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, argues that film critics like Roger Ebert, sophisticated in their knowledge of media presentation and human behavior, make more insightful political pundits than the usual beltway-bubble spin-docs employed by television, radio, print and online outlets. In a piece called "From film critic to political pundit," Goldstein writes:

To me, film critics, like TV and theater critics, are especially well equipped to analyze today's politics, which is why Frank Rich made such a seamless transition from theater to media and political commentator. In fact, in some ways film critics are probably better equipped to assess the political theater of today's presidential campaigns, since our campaigns are -- as has surely been obvious for some time -- far more about theater and image creation than politics.


Joe Lieberman on a Plane: Another dumb story about blogs

Oh, just pretend there's a Joe Lieberman head Photoshopped onto the snake or something. Or let the MSM do it for you...

When the conversation turns, as it so often does these days, to blogs (or "the Internets" as Stephen Colbert is fond of calling the online realm), you'll find an astonishing number of people who, even in 2006, have absolutely no idea of what they're talking about. Like Bruce Kluger in USA Today, who writes: "If ever America needed a wake-up call about the mythology of blogging, we got it this month.... "

Kluger, who also contributes to Parenting magazine and Huffington Post (god help 'em), proceeds to destroy the "mythology" that, well, didn't exist until it was created by the mainstream media (like USA Today)... because they don't know what they're talking about. Kluger cites the defeat of Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary (then increasing Joementum in recent polls) and the disappointing box office receipts for "Snakes on a Plane" as evidence of "the capriciousness of the blog culture": Lieberman's boomerang reminds us that voters represent a meager percentage of the total populace — and that bloggers are an even tinier subset of that group. Consequently, what appears to be a coast-to-coast juggernaut on a 17-inch monitor is, in the real world, simply an elaborate PC-to-PC chain letter — enthusiastic, but not necessarily the national mindset.O, capricious bloggers! How dare you fool the MSM into thinking you were all-knowing and all-powerful! Shame upon thee! This is a great example of what I was writing about the other day -- another Straw Man piece that sets out to strike down its own assumptions, none of which apply to the exterior universe. It's the JonBenet Ramsay "murder suspect" hysteria/drivel all over again.


Me & Mr. Colbert

Mr. C & me.

Hooray, for America! On Monday's "The Colbert Report," M. Night Shyamalan made #2 on the "ThreatDown," thanks to my diligent review of "Lady in the Water." I wrote: The key to deciphering M. Night Shyamalan's fractured fairy tale, "Lady in the Water," is to remember that it is rooted in the mythology of Stephen Colbert and "The Colbert Report." It is a warning to Mankind about the dire threat posed by ferocious topiary bears in America today, and a salute to the gigantic, soaring eagle who swoops in to rescue Wet Ladies from pitiless ursine jaws and claws. Colbert oughtta sue.Colbert had the perfect topper: "Well, I am suing... Spoiler alert: I was fatally shot in 1995 and I'm a ghost." Thank you, Mr. Colbert -- you will never be Dead to Me. As a proud citizen of Colbert Nation for years (going back to "The Daily Show"), I could not be more honored if I'd received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Wait a minute, let me think: George Tenet, Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks... To get that medal these days you have to commit fraud, perjury and/or war crimes. No, I'm more honored to be cited by Stephen Colbert!

VIDEO CLIP: Go to the official site for "The Colbert Report." Open the Comedy Central media player and click on the video link for "ThreatDown: Kix Cereal."


Stephen Colbert on the role of artists in popular culture

After Bruce Springsteen referred to "present company included, the idiots rambling on on cable television any given night of the week" in an interview with something called Soledad O'Brien (what is a Soledad O'Brien, and why was Springsteen having an interview with it?), Stephen Colbert was outraged. He offered these Words of Wisdom -- something to keep in mind during the summer movie season, as well:

"All Soledad did was ask a perfectly legitimate valid question about whether artists should do anything other than entertain us! I've said it before: Popular music should be a series of meaningless cliches strung together by a pleasing melody to help pass the time during long commutes or loveless marriages."

C'mon, people: Isn't willful vacuity, and the lack of any ambition other than the monetary, the very recipe for what makes life so worth living?


Who Killed the Electric Car?

Where did these cars go?

"To preserve our children's future, we have to waste every resource we've got."

No, that was not Dick Cheney. That was Stephen Colbert, endorsing General Motors' $1.99 gasoline promotion: Buy one of their guzzlers and they'll reimburse you for fuel costs at the end of one year so that you wind up paying no more than a buck ninety-nine a gallon. (If you remember to send in your receipts with that mail-in rebate form, that is!) Colbert heartily endorses the deal, using flawless logic: The only way we're going to get more efficient fuel technology is to use up all the oil we can, as fast as we can.

Oddly, this is much the same logic behind the death of GM's electric car, the EV1, in the mid-1990s. According to the new documentary (and technological murder-mystery) "Who Killed the Electric Car?," there was simply too much easy money remaining to be made from old technology and the remaining trillion gallons of crude oil beneath the Earth's crust. So, anti-free-market forces (oil companies, petro-politicians, automakers) killed off an existing, and quite successful, fuel cell vehicle that was already available in California and Arizona. Emissions: None. Speed: Up to 184 mph. Operating cost: The equivalent of buying gasoline at 60 cents a gallon.