September 28, 2020

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Science & Technology

From diamonds to rockets, mourning the dead has gotten high-tech (National Geographic)

Flying cars: Should we believe the hype? (NPR)

We are not living in a simulation. Probably. (Fast Company)

Arts & Culture 

An interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates (Goodreads)

Cornhole (yes, cornhole) is going pro (Experience magazine)

David Sedaris brings his act home (Raleigh News & Observer)

Movies & Television

“Marriage Story” is one of the year’s best films (Indy Week)

In “Blade Runner 2049” the question is the answer (Thrillist)

Halloween on DVD: The Year’s Best Horror (NPR)

from Indy Week 

Artful, twisted, and scary as hell, the indie horror film Hereditary is designed to mess you up. You won’t find the pleasant chills of the ghost story or the cathartic thrills of the slasher. Instead, the film trades in real human anxieties, hideously disturbing images, and the occasional headless cultist. It’s a lot of fun.

Toni Collette plays Annie Graham, an emotionally fragile gallery artist who specializes in meticulously assembled miniatures. Annie’s cruel, creepy mother has just died from dementia, and her little girl, Charlie, has started to make miniatures of her own—with dead animal parts. Meanwhile, Annie’s relationship with her teenage son Peter is a bit strained ever since that night when she kinda-sorta tried to kill him.

Yes, the Grahams are a troubled lot. The sinister strategy of Hereditaryis to dig deep into the festering wounds of one family’s dysfunction—grief, guilt, resentment, and neglect—and then turn the emotional violence into both physical and metaphysical trauma.

Director Ari Aster conjures echoes of classic familial horror films of the past, such as The ShiningRosemary’s Baby, and Carrie. But then he confounds expectations with a series of bold narratives swerves concerning the Graham family ancestry.

Collette is simply brilliant in the lead. She really should be officially funded, like a national monument. And Broadway child actor Milly Shapiro does new things with the standard Spooky Little Girl role. But the real star is Aster, who has delivered an extremely disturbing yet carefully controlled art-house horror show.

Despite some unfortunate choices in the closing scenes, Hereditary largely transcends its disreputable genre. In fact, it fits better into the older literary tradition known as weird fiction, which often uses supernatural elements to explore all-too-real human themes and fears. This is the best horror film of the year so far.


Solo: Han Shot First

May 31, 2018

Like 2016’s Rogue One, the new franchise installment, an origin story for beloved space smuggler Han Solo, is a spinoff from the main series of films, ostensibly designed to be one-off endeavor. If Rogue One was basically a war picture set in the Star Wars universe, then Solo is a space Western—and a pretty good one, too.

Blockbuster rookie Alden Ehrenreich takes over for Harrison Ford, and he’s perfectly adequate when channeling the character’s outlaw charm. Ehrenreich lacks Ford’s inherent forcefulness, though, and as a result, the entire movie has a lightweight quality that sometimes undercuts the thrills. There’s no menace, phantom or otherwise. Fans of the late, great sci-fi franchise Firefly will recognize the vibe; the movie is remarkably similar in its pulpy comic tone.

Director Ron Howard ably stages a series of action-packed set pieces, including an urban landspeeder chase, several gunslinger showdowns, and the infamous hyperspace heist known as the Kessel Run. The script’s best invention, though, is the suffragette droid L3-37, who doubles as a love interest for dedicated space pansexual Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Weird, funny, and unexpected, the droid-love subplot is the movie’s second-best surprise. First place goes to a last-minute character reveal that sets things up for a potentially intriguing sequel.

In the spirit of internet-age rankings, I’d sequence the new movies thusly: Rogue One > The Force Awakens > Solo > The Last Jedi. Feel free to disagree. That’s half the fun.



from Indy Week 

Asequel to the surprise 2016 blockbuster, Deadpool 2 is one of those rare follow-ups that improves upon the original, expanding its ideas instead of repeating them. If the first movie was a halfhearted R-rated Spider-Man (it was), then the new one is a controlled detonation of the superhero-movie template: filthy, funny, and cheerfully ultraviolent.

The Deadpool series stars Ryan Reynolds as a suicidal wiseass mercenary whose superpower is that he can’t be killed. He can be shot, stabbed, lacerated, suffocated, decapitated, eviscerated, mutilated, and incinerated, but he can’t actually die. Deadpool is also aware that he’s in a movie, which opens up another layer of meta comedy as he delivers a steady patter of fanboy in-jokes. (“You’re so dark,” he says to one villain. “Are you sure you’re not from the DC Universe?”)

Plot-wise, Deadpool 2 is ostensibly about the formation of the super group X-Force and its battle against the time-traveling cyborg Cable (Josh Bolin). But this movie isn’t about what it’s about. The talky script (cowritten by Reynolds) deploys plot elements only to serve the film’s more noble purpose of making us laugh.

Hundreds upon hundreds of gags crash down in a delirious cascade of dirty jokes and disposable pop culture. Jokes about LinkedIn and body cavities and Arby’s. Jokes about melanoma and strap-ons and dubstep. Jokes about Basic Instinct and Flashdance and Yentl. Jokes about Dave Matthews and Pat Benatar and Enya. At times, the script achieves the giddy density of peak TV comedies like 30 Rock; you’re afraid to laugh because three more punch lines will slip past.

Not all the jokes land, and the movie sometimes tries too hard to offend. For instance, I counted at least three jokes about pedophilia and sexual violence against kids. Really? We’re doing that now? For laughs? These aren’t throwaway lines, either; they’re graphic and directed specifically at a fourteen-year-old character played by a sixteen-year-old performer. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s fucked up.

On balance, though, Deadpool 2 is a seriously funny comedy and a genuinely good time at the movies. It’s fearless in a way that the first film only pretended to be. I laughed more at this superhero story than at any other multiplex comedy in recent memory. Avoid spoilers, watch for some great cameos, and hang around for the post-credits scenes.


from Indy Week

RBG, the new documentary chronicling the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is way more fun than it might sound. Surprisingly bouncy and engaging, it charts Ginsburg’s gradual ascension from pioneering legal scholar to eighty-five-year-old pop-culture icon.

RBG is one of those rare docs that built enough momentum on its festival rounds (it opened Full Frame this year) to propel it onto the indie cinema circuit. It’s perfectly timed for a theatrical run through the heart of the American zeitgeist. With SNL skits and Notorious RBG T-shirts, Ginsburg has found a new generation of young admirers energized by #MeToo and America’s broader resistance. As the Supreme Court continues its rightward drift, Ginsberg has become an absolutely critical voice: our Great Dissenter.

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