April 11, 2014
Spring has officially sprung. The days are getting longer, the nights are getting warmer and baseball season is finally underway after a historically brutal winter. For fans of America’s Pastime, it’s a glorious time of year as the Detroit Tigers — and baseball’s 29 other, lesser teams — take the field. A look at the odd origin stories behind nine famous baseball traditions, at Discovery News.
April 11, 2014
from Indy Week
Can fine art be replicated by innovative technology? That’s the question at the heart of Tim’s Vermeer, the fun and fascinating documentary from the creative team of Penn and Teller.
The film — directed by Teller, narrated by Penn — documents one man’s quest to essentially reverse engineer a painting by 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. Historians have been baffled, for a few centuries running now, at how Vermeer managed to create the images he did. Vermeer’s paintings are so precise in color and detail that they look like impossible 400-year-old photographs. What Vermeer accomplished, in his time, was magic. There had to be a trick to it, right?
Entrepreneur and inventor Tim Jenison believes he has uncovered that trick, and the film chronicles his five-year quest to prove it. Jenison’ hypothesis: Vermeer achieved his effects by way of a giant camera obscura — an optical device that projects a reflected image on a wall — along with a system of concave mirrors that allowed the artist to “zoom in” and match color and detail with startling precision.
But theory is one thing, evidence is another, and Jenison is a scientist at heart. So he sets out to recreate the exact conditions of Vermeer’s studio, using 17th century math, materials and technology. What Jenison achieves must be seen to be believed. It’s no spoiler to disclose that the non-artist Jenison does indeed replicate that Vermeer painting, astonishing experts like art star David Hockney and historian Philip Steadman.
So can art be replicated by technology? The answer to that, the film argues, is that it’s the wrong question to begin with. In this case, technology is technique — Jenison simply sleuthed out Vermeer’s 400-year-old secret and repeated it. That Vermeer had a “trick” doesn’t make the work any less beautiful, any less wondrous. “There’s this modern idea that art and technology must never meet,” Jenison says. “But in the Golden Age, they were one in the same.”
Penn and Teller are the perfect guys to bring us this story, because it’s basically a fine art riff on an observation they’ve been making for years. Selectively revealing the “secrets” of stage magic — or in this case, 17th century Dutch art — doesn’t diminish the magic at all. In P&T’s humanist, rationalist, occasionally righteous worldview, Vermeer the brilliant technician is a thousand times more awe-inspiring than Vermeer the divinely-inspired savant.
As a filmmaker, Teller isn’t much of a stylist and Tim’s Vermeer gets awfully slow in spots. There are moments when we’re literally watching paint dry. But if you’re at all prone the pop scholarship of earnest inquiry and notional noodling, prepare to geek directly out.
December 27, 2013
from the The Raleigh News & Observer
As played by veteran actor Bruce Dern in “Nebraska,” the new film from director Alexander Payne, 80-something Woody is a cantankerous pillar of stubbornness. His long-suffering wife Kate (June Squibb) is at the end of her rope. Dementia is creeping in on Woody’s mind, and he’s getting into the bad habit of wandering off and out of town, down the local interstate.
Woody has a purpose, though: He’s just received one of those magazine sweepstakes coupons in the mail that says he’s won a million dollars. Woody can’t drive anymore, so he intends to walk – from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska – and claim his prize.
Enter Woody’s son David, played by comic actor Will Forte in a successfully odd casting choice. David tries to explain that the sweepstakes bit is the oldest scam in the book, but Woody chooses not to hear that. The million-dollar prize is his last chance to be a winner. David sees his dad’s doomed quest as a chance to connect, and agrees to drive him to Lincoln, over the incredulous objections of mom and brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk).
So begins the damnedest road trip movie you’ll ever see. Shot in crisp black-and-white, “Nebraska” is both bleak and funny, its moments of grimness regularly offset by scenes of laugh-out-loud comedy. It’s a potent mix, with everything rooted deeply in character. Dern won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance, and it’s the role of a lifetime.
November 5, 2013
It’s Halloween again, and now that we know there will be no Game 7 of the World Series, that leaves you an open evening to enjoy running back and forth to the door to drop tiny Snickers bars into plastic bags carried by children dressed as superheroes.
But this strange ritual is not the evening’s only appropriate entertainment. Perhaps you just want to scare the pants off yourself. Perhaps you just want a Scary Movie Night. Fortunately, with the proliferation of distribution methods for films both scary and less so, you’ve got plenty of options
November 5, 2013
from OMNI Reboot
It’s the year 2086, and an alien race called the Formics has just attacked Earth, looking for a new planet to colonize. The invasion is repelled, just barely, when Earth’s most brilliant military commander intuits a way to defeat the swarming alien motherships during an epic battle in the skies.
The bad news? Ten of millions died in the initial assault. The worse news? The Formics are planning a second invasion, with an armada 100 times bigger than the first. In response, a worryingly militarized human society conscripts children to train as lethal drone pilots.
That’s the set-up for the refreshingly smart and visually dazzling science fiction adventure Ender’s Game, based on the famous military sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card. Like the book, the film starts out in established hard sci-fi territory, then digs deeper into cultural critique and moral dilemma.
October 26, 2013
from OMNI Reboot
Filmmaker Shane Carruth made his bones in the indie film world with the 2004 science fiction puzzlePrimer. The ultra-low budget film, concerning a group of engineers who accidentally invent time travel, collected the Grand Jury Prize at that year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s become something of a legend in filmmaking circles: Primer was made for a little over $7,000 with Carruth acting as director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, actor and musical composer. For lovers of brainy, conceptual sci-fi, it’s a real gem.
Earlier this year, Carruth’s long-anticipated second film, Upstream Color, also premiered at Sundance. It was released in April to select theaters, then quietly ported to DVD and digital distribution. Upstream Colormade a splash at Sundance with the critics, but outside of art house devotees and attentive film nerds, the official release barely registered.
The film’s extremely quiet, extremely slow roll-out is all part of the plan, according to Carruth. The filmmaker, never one to delegate, handled distribution himself. “The people that this is for, it will be for,”Carruth told The Los Angeles Times. “Everything about the choice to do the distribution is about contextualizing.”
Sure enough, Upstream Color is getting a second life thanks to that most reliable of grassroots distribution strategies, word-of-mouth. And that’s genuinely good news, because Upstream Color is a gorgeous and intricate film—one of the year’s best—and a giant leap forward for Carruth as a storyteller and filmmaker.
October 26, 2013
from OMNI Reboot
The first 15 minutes of Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón’s graceful and ambitious new film, provide one of the most startling, wondrous movie experiences ever delivered to the multiplex.
Floating in low-earth orbit, space shuttle astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are diligently at work, spacewalking and making repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope. The rookie Stone is tethered to the satellite, while the veteran Kowalsky jets around in his thruster pack. The mood is relaxed and the view, as Kowalsky notes, can’t be beat.
The camera floats along, drifting in lazy ellipses. We marvel as these objects in space float in and out of view – the satellite, the shuttle, the impossibly beautiful and delicate Earth, and these two vulnerable souls locked in their hard shell space suits.
Complex trajectories swing the camera from long establishing shots to extreme close-ups. The 3-D effects produce wonders here that reveal the relative shabbiness of typical 3-D retrofitting. Cuarón is working with a more-or-less infinite depth of field, and he does things with spatial relationships that you’ve never seen before. In one seemingly unbroken 15-minute sequence, we swirl in giddy delight, weightless inside of Cuarón’s carefully crafted hi-tech illusion of orbital physics.
Oh, it’s a trip, man. For all the time, effort and money that’s put into the Hollywood spectacle machine, it’s actually pretty rare indeed to see something genuinely brand new on the silver screen. CGI has changed the game forever, especially with science fiction, and the effects people can usually generate anything a filmmaker can dream up. But no one’s dreamed up anything as graceful as this before.