Watercooler photo of the week: Magnolia
(click to enlarge)

It occurred to me as I was putting together last Friday’s Weekend Forecast that I’d already seen the 4 most promising new releases in LA and that pretty much put the kibosh on my movie going plans. I was leaning toward Cowboys & Aliens because I wanted it to be good, but every indication led me to believe it wasn’t worth the time.

And there wasn’t a chance in hell I was even going to sneak in to The Smurfs.

All I really have to say about either movie is that it’s a little maddening to see the fuss being made in some quarters over The Smurfs “beating” Cowboys & Aliens at the box office. That really only means a couple of things. 1) The people who predict these things were wrong. Again. and 2) Paramount didn’t go a very good job of convincing opening weekend audiences C&A was something that needed to be seen right away. Really that’s what opening weekend means, isn’t it? It’s not a reflection of how good a movie is (The Smurfs was nearly universally reviled critically), it’s a measure of how well the sales job worked. After that, people rely on their friends and reviews and whatever else there might be to do etc. etc.

So I suppose now is as good a time as any to kick off the latest Watercooler feature: The Photo of the Week. Besides movies, one of my fledgling (off and on) hobbies is photography and I thought this might be a good venue to post photos I take in and around Los Angeles or Hollywood. Since the boulevard above is the very same that gave name to Paul Thomas Anderson’s ode to the San Fernando Valley, I thought Magnolia would be as good a way as any to kick this feature off. The frequency and longevity of it will depend entirely upon how often I get out and take pictures I’m not ashamed to share with the world and whether or not anyone actually likes them. I promise they will either be set in or around Los Angles, or will somehow have a movie related theme.

Anyway, that’s all from me this week. It’s your turn. See anything worth talking about lately?

18 Responses to “Smurfed!”

  1. Hey, I like this new photo feature. I’ve never been to LA, but I like the idea of you highlighting little patches of old Hollywood and that certain seedy style I see in some places in the movies.

    While in Little Rock this weekend I saw Buck, the documentary about the horse whisperer. It was good stuff. Lots of overlap in philosophy with the dog whisperer, but the guy’s story is is his own. I thought the story and subject matter were better than the filmmaking was. Can’t decide if I’d give it 3.5 or 4 stars, but somewhere in there. My mom would give it 5, but she’s a big softie for anything about horses or therapy, and this one has both.

  2. Finally saw “Tree of Life.” I’m still digesting it, so my thoughts are probably all over the place at this point (SPOILERS AHEAD). It is, quite simply, the most beautiful film I’ve seen in ages. Beautifully shot, beautifully told, beautifully evocative. Tons of things have been written about it already, and it is enlightening to read some of the better reviews (Craig’s included). The somewhat perplexing thing about ToL is that it tackled such gigantic existential questions with what I can only call humility. So much of it could have just flat out not worked, fallen through the cracks, frustrated even the most eager viewer (see some of those audience members at Cannes), but it doesn’t. It keeps soaring, until climaxing into an immensely powerful ending.

    The acting is superb. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are the anchors and give fantastic, layered performances. When given the right role, Pitt can be as great as some of the greatest, and Malick gave him just such an opportunity with ToL. I had never seen Chastain but was moved and impressed by her performances. Looking forward to more work from her. But the real stars are the kids, they are sublime in the way that Jean Pierre Leaud and Patrick Auffay were in “The 400 Blows.” Their lack of self-consciousness is rather astonishing.

    Sonically, the film is a treat. Unless I missed it, I don’t recall the last time a film set in the 1950s didn’t use some be-bop or early rock & roll hit to evoke a certain feeling of nostalgia. It goes without saying that the look and feel of the film itself is gorgeous. I particularly enjoyed the agility of the camera work. During certain moments, it felt like the camera was just floating on air.

    The family dynamic hit home; and my childhood home is far, far removed from the 1950s Waco, Texas we see in ToL (try 1980s, PR). But anyone who has grown up with a stern (borderline abusive) father and a gentle, nurturing mother may immediately recognize so many of the elements in the film: the “look” when you were in trouble; the endless laughter and freedom that comes with being young, the spirit of exploration, the uncomfortable fear as you begin leaving childhood behind, awkward, scarring moments at the kitchen table. And yes, those gestures of love, small as they may be, from your own nemesis. Malick not only captured the family dynamics beautifully (and painfully), but also the false sense of community: each family is its own microcosm, and everyone has to deal with their own tragedies and triumphs alone. We can only look through a neighbor’s window and wonder.

    “Unless you love, your life will flash by.” I let my guard down, and if there was ever any question (for me) that Malick is a poet, this film has forever answered it.

  3. Nice photo. I like the photo feature idea!

    I had to work this weekend so no movies for me. :(

    But to be honest a lot of the offerings, particularly the big, mainstream movies like The Smurfs, do seem truly dismal.

  4. @Dorothy: Really well said. I thought Tree of Life was an amazing film and the portrayal of the family dynamics in particular was stunning.

    Agreed about Pitt. This, along with Jesse James, is definitely one of his best roles. He’s really terrific in the movie.

  5. JB, I think I liked Buck a bit more than you, but mostly we’re on the same page. For me it was a lot more about people than about horses.

    Dorothy, I”m with you 100% on Tree. I like how you mention the humility of it which is something I hadn’t thought of in that way. On paper it sounds like a lot of pretentious horseshit (and lots of people took it that way), but it’s delivered so honestly and with so little fanfare and a genuine sense of curiosity that it’s impossible for me not to love it. He’s not preaching nor do I think he’s being willfully obtuse. In many ways the movie is very straightforward.

    As great as the kids were and as much as I liked Chastain, I’m really impressed with Pitt. He’s a guy who could coast on his good looks and his moviestardom, but he’s pushing himself. What’s even better is that (in this especially) you dont feel him straining to be taken seriously like you sometimes do with DiCaprio for example. He was fully believable and rounded as the character he played and he really disappeared into the man.

    My family life was also different than ’50s Texas, but my parents were of the same stock as the parents in Tree of Life. The stern, mysterious father and the nurturing omnipresent mother is probably not as typical in the last 20 or 25 years, but that’s my experience in a nutshell and more than anything else Tree captured that remarkably. Take away the dinosaurs and the supernovae and the movie still has that amazing core.

    Thinking about the movie now, I’m actually having a stronger emotional response than I did at the time of seeing it. When I saw it the first time there was just too much expectation and I was in a hurry to get my review up before the world was flooded with opinions from Cannes. I’m not sure I let it roll around in my mind long enough before committing to an opinion on it.

    Alison, you didn’t see The Smurfs!!?? I’m shocked… SHOCKED I TELL YOU! :)

    Glad a couple of you enjoy the photo idea. I’ve got several in the pipeline so it will continue for at least the near future.

  6. Dorothy — what lovely, evocative comments you’ve made about Tree of Life. I, too, found the film deeply moving, although it didn’t always work for me. Malick’s ambitiousness, however, is worthy of our admiration.

    Nice pic, Craig! You definitely have an eye — and also a fantastic playground to work in.

    My moviegoing included a midnight screening of The Big Lebowski, which I’d only seen once before. The repeat viewing has solidified my passion for this film.

    Also, I caught a screening of Page One: Inside the New York Times — which I enjoyed especially because of my training/experience as a journalist. What made the film work — the filmmakers’ access to the offices/staff of the Times, also held it back a bit because it seemed a little like an “inside job” that smelled just a tad of promotional material for the publication. That said, the film is worthy, and watching and listening to David Carr is always a treat, as he is most astute and his personal story is compelling in many ways.

  7. It’s so worth revisiting, Craig. I’m sure we’ll hear about it if you do.

    Pierre: thanks much! So glad that you enjoyed ToL as well. I need to go back and read your thoughts on it. I’m also curious as to whether Sam liked it or not, but so far it looks like a bunch of us regulars (including Alison) thoroughly enjoyed it.

  8. Dorothy: I didn’t “like” it, I LOVED LOVED LOVED it and wrote a long five-star review at my place when it first released. I will send you a link, rather than shamelessly post it here, especially that Craig wrote a terrific review of it here. It’s a strong contender for film of the year for me.

  9. Glad to hear you enjoyed ToL so much, Dorothy. That’s quite a treat, isn’t it?

  10. Dorothy’s reaction to ToL made my day. Lovely write up!

  11. I’m so envious of you all. I love Malick and can’t wait to experience the latest expression of his existential poetry. Tree of Life sure has been beautifully articulated by both Craig’s and Sam’s reviews, and the comments of Dorothy and other LiCers. It’s my most eagerly anticipated film of the year.

    Keep the pics coming Craig! They’re a treat.

  12. The Smurfs drawing money is more proof of how nostalgia is everyone’s bitch. One day, we’ll see the likes of Johnny Quest, Darkwing Duck, Rocko’s Modern Life and others getting the live-action film treatment.

  13. Not much moviegoing for me this weekend but some work kept me busy. I saw:

    Drive Angry – Don’t know why I did this to myself. There was a time when N. Cage was among my favorite actors but what he did with his career in the last 10 years or so is just… 0.o …. Can’t really express myself on this one. The film is a complete exploatation and as a fan of such I found things to enjoy but not that many to be worth the time.

    Your Highness – Couldn’t finish that… 30 min or so in the film I just had to stop. Now that I think about it – it’s not the best idea to decide what to watch by voting in a company full of guys who don’t know who is David Lynch.

    Pierre, I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed Inside The New York Times. I think that just last week we were wondering if it was good or not. Now I have my hopes up :)

    I’ll try to watch Tree of Life today. All of you sound so excited after seeing it that I can’t wait any longer. There is a screening at my favourite cinema this evening and I intend to watch the film then.

  14. Pierre, it’s a funny thing about Lebowski that I too like it more each time I see it. When it first came out I saw it and enjoyed it, but didn’t rate it as highly as Raising Arizona. Now though, I love it.

    The sense that it might be a bit of a puff piece on the NY Times is what has kept me from seeing Page One, yet it’s a fascinating subject and I imagine worth looking at even with a less-than critical eye. It just feels like a rental for me at this point.

    Rodrigo, is it nostalgia? I never watched the cartoon when I was a kid, but the movie seemed crass even by comparison to that.

    Piro, that’s kind of too bad about Drive Angry. I too continue to love Nic Cage despite the fact he has horrible taste in movies. Something about Drive Angry sounded potentially appealing and I was sort of hoping it would at least be dumb fun.

  15. Rodrigo– a well-done “Johnny Quest” movie would be awesome. Too bad if it ever gets made, it’ll just be your typical spoof, with tons of Dr. Quest/Race Bannon gay jokes.

  16. Now I have my hopes up [about Page One: Inside the New York Times]

    The sense that it might be a bit of a puff piece on the NY Times is what has kept me from seeing Page One,

    PiroHunter/Craig: “Puff piece” is the phrase that came to my mind as I approached my computer to respond to PiroHunter’s comment. I wouldn’t go that far, but one must remember that, even though the Times gave a year’s access to the filmmakers, one must realize this is not a rigorous, fly-on-the-wall portrait. That said, it’s worthwhile for those interested in journalism theory and practice.

  17. Pierre, I still plan to see it. It just doesn’t feel urgent.

  18. jennybee: so sweet, thanks :) thrilled you liked it as well, it’s been several days since I saw it and I’m still thinking about it

    joel: I had a feeling you’d have enjoyed it as well, and it is certainly a treat. I almost want to see it again this weekend, but time will tell (there are some other films I have my eye on, but TOL was at the very top of my list, we’ll see if I get out and catch some other offerings)

    sartre: I can’t wait to hear what you think of ToL once you get a chance to see it. It’s worth the wait!

    Sam: my friend, I should have known you’d love it as well. I looked up your review earlier in the week and it was such a well-thought out, impassioned review. Bravo!

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