My Saturday was given over to recording Episode 8 of The Three-Way Moviegasm so today I’m planning on knocking off 2 or 3 movies at the multiplex. Unless I get pissed off and leave in the middle of Due Date, I probably won’t be back until later this evening so I’m posting The Watercooler in an early and abbreviated form. If anything is worth mentioning, I’ll drop it into the comments section.

Before I go, I wanted to pass along the sad news that Paul Clark’s guinea pig Muriel, who graciously lent her name to The Muriel Awards, passed away this weekend at the age of 4.

30 Responses to “The Watercooler: R.I.P. Muriel”

  1. R.I.P Muriel. I enjoyed reading Paul’s story about how Muriel came into and enriched his life. She additionally inspired a fun set of awards and associated promotions for the rest of us.

    Finally saw Winter’s Bone. Hard to find fault with it – the acting, directing, tone, script, art direction, and evocation of a community were all standouts. It didn’t ignite a sense of excitement in me or resonate the way films I want to revisit do but I certainly admired its quality and was glad to have seen it.

  2. We’ve lost an icon of cinema, who inspired a wealth of critical high points and joy on these interwebs these last few years. My heart goes out to you, Paul, but here’s to Muriel’s legacy living long and prosperously. RIP Muriel.

  3. :(

    RIP, Muriel.

  4. Very sad news indeed.

    RIP, Muriel.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. These recent events, upsetting as they’ve been, have only strengthened my resolve to help make this year’s Muriels the best yet. I think it’s only right to make them doubly great in her memory.

  6. I will forego my planned addition to this thread at present to focus on this very sad event. As a lifetime owner of pets I have mourned losses deeply. My heart goes out to you Paul, and to the memory of this very special animal.

    R.I.P.

  7. Muriel’s legendary status as a film icon will live forever.

  8. In memory of Muriel, here’s my Watercooler post for the weekend (because she’d want it that way).

    Monsters: Although the narrative is a bit weak on this incredibly low-budget alien invasion flick, I really enjoyed the ingenious style of storytelling employed and the acting from the two leads. Much of the dialogue is improvised and feels like it, but it works in an awkwardly real sort of way.

    Four Lions: This weird little indie Brit comedy turns Islamic terrorism and martyrdom into goofy humor and manages to get away with it. I’m not sure I completely buy the characterizations and the humor goes a bit too broad at times, but I liked it for what it was. Certainly the least expected and most off-beat movie I’ve seen this year.

    Fair Game: Well-acted and directed thriller on the Valerie Plame affair but I thought the script sort of ran away with itself in the third act. I followed this story fairly closely when it was unfolding, so there wasn’t much new for me to learn here (and I assume Plame’s CIA work is mostly fictional) but overall this is a decent thriller.

    I also caught Arthur Penn’s Night Moves on DVD, which I enjoyed. Penn’s direction is subtle and honest and he gets great performances from Hackman and Jennifer Warren.

  9. Awww, a sad goodbye to my favorite guinea pig ever. Muriel’s legacy will live on. So sorry for your loss, Paul.

    I film-edjukated myself this weekend with some classics. Watched the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, La Strada and Battleship Potemkin. All were excellent.

    Then I went to the theater and saw Unstoppable. Despite some irritating camerawork, it was solidly entertaining. It’s just hard not to like Denzel, you know? Rosario Dawson was well-used too.

    Other than that I watched some Breaking Bad on DVD and Boardwalk Empire, The Big C, and Walking Dead on TV. Actually, for The Walking Dead I just made it through the pilot. Good production values, but I fail to see the appeal. It didn’t seem to offer anything I haven’t seen before in terms of apocalypse or zombies. This summer I read The Passage, which–albeit about vampire-like creatures more than zombies–covers similar issues and themes with much more freshness, cleverness and layers of complexity than this seems to hold. Anyway, The Walking Dead pilot bored me and I don’t plan to watch any more unless it wins 40 Emmy noms or something.

  10. I drank a couple of Manhattans over post-movie dinner last night in honor of Muriel. And I agree that this next round of Muriels has to be the mostest awesomest ever.

    You may or may not have noticed that there was zero box office talk in this week’s Watercooler, something that had become a bit of a habit in recent weeks. I know some of you find that interesting and some could care less. Me, I think there are stories to be told in the weekend numbers, but they’re often ignored in favor of easy horse race headlines that ultimately don’t mean very much. This weekend there simply wasn’t much to say other than Dreamworks having another great 2nd weekend for another film that didn’t open to huge numbers.

    I think it’s worth noting that in the last couple of years, Dreamworks Animation has come out with four solid non-sequels that have all done pretty well. Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens, How to Train Your Dragon and now likely Megamind. Of course they’re already sequelizing at least two of those, but for now they’re running hot with original material while Pixar has already shit-canned one original property, is coming off a threquel and is next coming out with a follow-up to the worst movie they’ve made. Why Cars 2? Because Disney wants the toy money.

    Pound for pound and dollar for dollar I’ll take Pixar over Dreamworks any day, but I think Dreamworks should get a little credit for finally moving away from Shrek.

  11. Moviewise, it was mostly junkfood for me, but hell every diet can afford the occasional Twinkie. Right?

    I started with a train theme by rewatching Runaway Train and The Darjeeling Limited before catching up to Tony Scott’s Unstoppable.

    I’m sorry, but Runaway Train is just not that great. Jon Voight is terrific and probably deserved his Oscar nom (Is Runaway Train the only Golan Globus movie ever to receive Oscar love? It must be…) but Eric Roberts isn’t and didn’t. All the stuff before the train business kicks in is horseshit. Once it gets going it’s fine, but it’s mostly undeserving of its cult following.

    I know The Darjeeling Limited is not considered a Wes Anderson high point in many quarters, but the haters are just wrong. Combined with the short The Hotel Chevalier (the 2nd best thing Natalie Portman has done outside of Black Swan) It’s a fantastic culmination of everything Anderson has been noodling with since Bottle Rocket.

    All I’ll say about Unstoppable right now is what I’ve already tweeted which is that it’s the best thing Tony Scott has done since True Romance and the only good thing he’s done since Crimson Tide. If you don’t want to see a runaway train movie, you already know to stay away from this one, but if you do, you’ll get exactly what you want here with a minimum of the usual Tony Scott bullshit.

    In other junk food news: Morning Glory and Due Date.

    Due Date was better than The Hangover for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, the laugh quotient was higher. I had one huge laugh in Due Date and a couple of chuckles where The Hangover pretty much blew its wad in the trailers. Less importantly, Due Date was exactly the movie it sold itself as whereas The Hangover was a big fat lie. I know I’ve been harping on Hangover for more than a year and no one cares or agrees so I’ll just leave that alone for now. Suffice it to say that Robert Downey Jr. was terrific and Zach Galifiankis also had more to work with than he did in Hangover.

    Morning Glory actually made me laugh more. That says more about Due Date than Morning Glory (or maybe it says more about me than either one). If you think about it for an instant, it falls apart, but Rachel McAdams is a force of adorability to be reckoned with and she makes it work. If you’re a guy, you could see this with wife/girlfriend/mother and not want to cut your wrists. If you’re a girl, this is much better than the usual crap that is supposedly tailor made for you. It’s a load of crap, but a likable one.

  12. RIP, Muriel. :(

    I took an extra day off this past weekend, but didn’t get out to the theaters. I did have a couple of Netflixes at home, from completely different stratospheres of film: The Thin Red Line (on Blu-ray) and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I’d seen neither previously, and–big surprise!–one was a big pile of shit and the other was not.

    That said, while The Thin Red Line is beautiful to look at, I was not swayed in my opinion of Terence Malick: he is clearly a brilliant visual filmmaker, and his cast for the film is blameless, but what story there was fell flat to me. The best scenes in the film are those between Elias Koteas and Nick Nolte, partly because they have so much intensity and emotion that the rest of the film lacks. Beautiful to watch (especially on the Criterion Blu-ray), and I’m glad I saw it, but it was one of two World War II dramas I saw this weekend, and it was not as strong.

    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a great sleeping aid, but as boring an action movie as there is these days. If I remember correctly (and I may not), the review of this film at HitFix hit on the big problem: it’s just a movie about running around and getting an object, talking about the object, losing the object, getting it back, and on and on and on.

    Aside from that, I got my copy of Scott Pilgrim on Blu-ray and loved it once more; I’d also recently bought the Judd Apatow comedy Undeclared, and rewatched that for the first time since it aired in 2001, and found it good, but not as great as I’d hoped; and watched the first five parts of The Pacific, which manages to be as visually stunning as The Thin Red Line but more compelling as a story.

    I’ve not seen Megamind yet (probably will wait for Netflix), but as the designated Pixar cheerleader, I’ll just point out that DreamWorks’ upcoming slate includes a Puss in Boots movie and a third Madagascar movie (and the sequels to Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon, as you pointed out). Even as an apologist, I can’t defend Cars 2 and losing Newt is troubling, but while Pixar is just as interested in making money as DreamWorks, I feel like DreamWorks is more defined by typical studio practices, if only because they’ve released 4 films in 2010. Your points are valid, but I couldn’t help myself.

    UPDATE: And, hey, we can at least agree on something else: The Darjeeling Limited is underrated and worth a reevaluation.

  13. I was careful to point out that there are plenty of Dreamworks sequels coming (though I forgot Yawn in Boots), but this 2 year stretch has been pretty solid for a company everyone considers an also-ran to Pixar. I wasn’t so much trying to drag Pixar down as lift Dreamworks up and give credit where it’s due.

    All I can say about Malick is that he’s playing at games that aren’t that interesting to everyone. That’s fine. My personal favorite is The New World which just plain knocked me out when I saw it Christmas Eve.. what was it, 2005? I loved huge chunks of Thin Red Line, but it didn’t achieve the kind of transcendent moving experience that World did. Days of Heaven is beautiful to look at but I have to admit it’s probably my least favorite of the bunch. Badlands I like.

    It’s not surprising but it’s too bad that Prince of Persia bit the big one. I like the milieu and both Gyllenhaal and Arterton are appealing. Still, Bruckheimer’s track record for me is awful so I tend to stay away unless someone tells me otherwise.

  14. Oh, no question that DreamWorks has been improving (if a bit inconsistently still, as Dragon and Megamind were the bread in a Shrek 4 sandwich), but I always have to fight for Pixar–not that they need it.

    I’ve seen Days of Heaven and found it beautiful but equally lacking in story, which is more problematic than with Thin Red Line, as the story is pretty simple to begin with.

    I like Jake Gyllenhaal just fine, but he looked like a kid playing dress-up in Persia. And, of course, he was playing a Persian prince, but is American and had a crappy British accent. Sigh. Arterton is…very pretty. But I don’t find her acting to be noteworthy, not that she’s had much quality on her resume.

  15. On the movie front this weekend I revisited I Confess. Not Hitchcock’s best but Montgomery Clift makes it worthwhile.

  16. The Thin Red Line is one of my all time favorite films. I can understand, however, that if one doesn’t connect with the film emotionally and intellectually it will seem little more than earnestness and pretty cinematography. I find it very poetic and deeply humane. There is so much about it I admire on a pure cinema level and the ideas it evokes. I could happily write a dissertation on it. But speaking broadly, for me it illuminates: the variety of ways foot soldiers cope with the brutality of what they’re experiencing; how our past, present, and hopes for the future exist almost simultaneously within us/our experience of consciousness; how often our most noble and articulate voice is the inner one no one or perhaps one other ever hears uttered; how just as nature juxtaposes so much beauty and violence so does collective humanity (itself an expression of nature no matter how much we pretend or wish otherwise); how in situations where most everyone is hardened, cynical, withdrawn protectively within themselves they gain so much emotional nourishment from individuals like Private Witt who remind them of the possibility of regaining/recovering some piece of the best of themselves and seeing beyond the worst of their brutal existence.

  17. sartre, you make very eloquent points, and I agree with most of them (in that I saw that Malick was going for certain arguments or points of view), but the final one didn’t fly for me. Jim Caviezel is asked, fairly or not, to do a lot of acting with his eyes–his views are more visualized and helped along with voiceover narration, I thought–and he comes off as this close to just a plain dunce. I think the film is beautiful, but I felt no connection to the characters even as I saw what Malick was attempting.

  18. My mom was strongly Catholic Alison, plus I love Clift so I have a huge soft spot for I Confess. I think it’s one of Hitch’s most underrated.

    Don’t get me wrong Sartre, I dig Line, it just doesn’t pack the same punch for me as The New World. Having said that, watching a pristine, dye transfer technicolor print of The Thin Red Line at The Egyptian in Hollywood is one of my all time great movie adventures.

  19. sartre — many people who love a film have a hard time articulating why they love it. Your description is great. It makes me want to see the film, which I’ve not done after all these years.

    All I did was catch up with Easy A (an easy B) and watch a couple episodes of The Wire, which I finally discovered after the human race had already moved on.

  20. I have to jump in here on Thin Red Line, as it is one of my all-time favorite films yet I can completely understand how it falls flat for people (odd that I have that caveat for most of my favorite films).

    As sartre mentions, for me The Thin Red Line is more about the battle within than the battle the soldier is waging physically. From what I understand of the actual production (and there’s a lot of rumor surrounding it), Malick shot nearly five hours of footage and ended up removing entire characters from his original narrative or sidelining others to minor rolls in editing. I think Malick purposely makes the foot soldiers more enigmatic and less specific, their plight becomes more of a shared experience rather than individualistic.

    Now this doesn’t work for all viewers and I’ve heard lots of complaints and criticisms of Malick’s visual juxtaposition of the brutality and beauty of their natural surroundings and the brutality of their reality vs the comfort of their own memories and imaginations. But I think that is what resonates most clearly for me. In a situation of incomprehensible danger and fear, the mind can wander to odd tangents seeking serenity or escape. That is what Malick is trying to illustrate here, and for me it works wonderfully. For others, not so much.

    I guess I see Malick as being one of the only Western film makers working in mainstream film who is trying to use cinema as a form of narrative poetry. Prose and poetry won’t work for everyone and sometimes it simply speaks to you or it does not. I can’t really fault you if you’re not feeling it.

    @Josh: The Pacific was an excellent mini-series but I felt the individual episodes were a bit too disconnected from an overall narrative. I found it deeply compelling and informative overall, but jumping between the three characters caused some abrupt tonal shifts. I think I would have preferred if they’d stuck to one character or company. I do think overall The Pacific is probably better than Band of Brothers, and I’m a huge fan of BoB in spite of its massive sentimentality.

  21. @ Craig: For me Thin Red Line and New World are like two sides of a similar coin. I love them both for completely different reasons and while I certainly can see the similarities between the two, they function for me as completely different experiences. I have a difficult time comparing them.

    It’s curious that Malick has now released three cuts of New World, each one a moderately different emotional and narrative take on the same material, yet he’s never revisited The Thin Red Line. I’ve always wondered why, considering the wealth of (supposed) unused material for Line.

  22. Joel, I think I should revisit THIN RED LINE. It’s been a few years and perhaps not since I was blown away by THE NEW WORLD. I might look at it a little differently now.

    I would LOVE to see him tinker with THIN RED LINE. Then again, maybe he’s happy with it. Or maybe it was just easier and more economical with TNW since we were deep into the DVD era.

  23. Pierre, I’m glad to hear you’re catching up with The Wire, one of the best series to ever hit TV.

    When you’re done, I hope you make an effort to catch Breaking Bad. It’s my pick for the best TV show of the last 5 years. Maybe 10. (with the caveat that I haven’t watched a ton of TV in that time frame)

  24. The Wire is a brilliant television series, but its very dense and analytical in many respects. Breaking Bad is great television in the sense that it’s GREAT TV. It’s just pure drama, character, and narrative and honestly, more fun than The Wire (and I say this as a huge fan of The Wire).

  25. @Craig: I wonder if The Thin Red Line that Malick delivered is salvaged from something he intended that didn’t work out. The way its hacked together, with entire characters missing and others relegated to non-speaking roles and with so much unused footage shot, implies that maybe his original idea was lost in the process. I don’t know, but The New World certainly feels more consistent and focused than The Thin Red Line.

  26. I hope you make an effort to catch Breaking Bad.

    Oh, but I have, Craig. I’m a big fan (but havent seen any episodes of the most recent season). It’s art.

  27. Joel, I get the sense (unfounded) that Malick took sort of a sculpture approach to Thin Red Line. He started out with a big block of marble with lots of scenes of lots of different characters, and then chipped away at it until he had what he wanted. The stuff he got rid of is tantalizing, but maybe like you say it just didn’t work.

    I don’t remember reading a ton about the movie at the time or the process or why it got trimmed but I imagine that info is but a wiki-link away.

    Thanks to this little discussion, I’ve ordered the damn thing on Blu-ray

  28. I’m watching Breaking Bad season 2 now, thanks to some of y’all’s previous recommendations. It’s fantastic.

  29. Just talking about BB I’m getting excited about it and needing to revisit it. We have to wait like until next June or something crazy before new episodes.

    Cable jerk faces.

  30. Only just returned to the follow-up discussion on this thread. Great to read everyone’s thoughts. Thanks Pierre for your kind words. They perfectly reflect my admiration for what Joel subsequently wrote.

    “I guess I see Malick as being one of the only Western film makers working in mainstream film who is trying to use cinema as a form of narrative poetry.”

    Exactly. it also works for me as a form of narrative poetry. I too don’t begrudge this film not working as well for some people. It is a hugely ambitious approach to film-making and I’m not sure how he has so consistently captured lightning in the bottle. TTRL and NW leave me feeling a deep poignancy and a kind of transcendence. I’m a behavioral scientist and an atheist. But some qualities of complex emotion/experiences I have – through intimacy, nature, and art – are best referred to as ‘spiritual’. That’s how I experience Malick’s last two films and I’ll forever be thankful for the gift.

    Pierre, please make a point of letting us know what you think of TTRL after viewing it.

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