Wed Jun 01 2016 07:02 Mad May Beyond Film Roundup:
It is with great pride that I announce Film Roundup Roundup, a page that collects my recommended films in one convenient table, without any of the bad movies or nuance-adding reviews that clutter these monthly blog posts. Of all the films I've written about on NYCB over the years, there are about 125 that I'm willing to go on record and say that you, random person on the Internet, should check out. I'll update the list... at least once a year, how about that?
And now, the latest candidates for addition to that big list, though I set up the toolchain before I wrote these reviews, so none of 'em are on there:
- A Beautiful Planet (2016): A 3D IMAX film shot on the International Space Station. It was edutainment aimed at the casual viewer (someone sitting in the theater hadn't known there was an International Space Station, and I hope they came out of the theater feeling better about humanity), but I didn't come to be edutained, I came to recapture the thrill I got from Gravity (2013)! And... it's fine as long as you don't compare it to a fictional experience like Gravity. It's a cinema verite documentary about life on a space station. There's a cool Blair Witch-esque scene filmed during a spacewalk, and lots of microgravity shots. The astronauts are competent and nothing goes wrong. This was in and out of theaters like a flash, and I do think it benefits greatly from the IMAX treatment, but to simulate the experience at home, check out Sunita Williams's 2014 tour of the ISS. Oh, according to the website if you're in Columbus, Ohio it's still showing until June 10.
- Rien a Declarer (2010): Seen with Sumana at her recommendation. A mismatched-cop comedy about the collapse of nationalism in the face of the European Union. It was pretty fun, had some Hot Fuzz moments, but it's no Hot Fuzz. There seemed to be jokes surrounding the fact that Benoît Poelvoorde's character is extremely racist, but I couldn't make them out; maybe the joke is that no Belgian could be that racist? But it seems quite possible! His extreme nationalism is comical, but why shouldn't it be paired with racism?
- Mad Max (1979) This isn't Mad Max, it's.... no, hold on. This is Mad Max, but it's not what I want from the series. It's a kinda generic exploitation flick with cool car stunts. According to IMDB trivia, the canonical explanation for why this movie isn't like the others, is that there was a nuclear war two weeks after the events of Mad Max. The real reason is "no money", a problem I'm sympathetic to. But if you're allowed to say "two weeks later there was a nuclear war", a whole lotta movies could be the prequel to The Road Warrior. For instance, what if The Jerk (1979) was secretly the first Mad Max movie? All you'd need to do is change the footage at the beginning of The Road Warrior to show Navin Johnson being shot at in a gas station. Much more satisfying.
Speaking of which, Memorial Day weekend was Mad Max weekend at the museum, so I also saw...
- Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981): This is more like it. Cool worldbuilding, clever eyeball kicks, exciting chase scenes. I was not a big fan of the feckless community of refinery operators, but I did like how even though Max is central to the movie he's only a supporting character in their overall story. It creates a western-style loneliness that is used to excellent effect in Fury Road, and of course in...
- Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985): This one I'd seen before, a long time ago, and I thought it was really stupid. And... it is stupid, but it's also very fun. This is the one where the series comes into its own as an anthology that shows different approaches to post-apocalyptic worldbuilding. Probably the most realistic entry in the series, not that we're going for realism.
Thunderdome also gets points from me for not having a "villain" per se. Auntie Entity is coded as the villain, but by Mad Max standards she's pretty chill. Max blows up her city, and she stands on the rubble and shouts "We will rebuild!" and everyone's still with her. That's the kind of popular support Immortan Joe can only dream of.
So... I guess from most perspectives I like this one better than The Road Warrior. The action scenes are a lot better in The Road Warrior, though, and that's really the heart of the series. Fury Road remains the best entry, because it combines the super-dense worldbuilding of Thunderdome with the nonstop action of Road Warrior.
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971): One of the truths of genre fiction is that if you set out to deconstruct or destroy a genre, it is likely you will simply produce an example of it. Thus it is in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman's "anti-western" and the first Altman film I've seen. It's a very good western, full of loneliness and corruption and sad little schemes brought low.
It was quite entertaining to watch Rene Auberjonois effectively play Quark. On the other hand, this has one of the cruellest scenes I've ever seen in a movie. Not that it's more violent or sadistic than other movie scenes, in fact it's a really good scene. Just... what a mean thing to do to a minor character I didn't realize I cared about until this scene started.
(2) Sun Jun 19 2016 16:39 Paris Pictures: Versailles:
I'm back with another Paris trip photoessay! This time we venture to
Château Versailles, a short train trip from Paris. Versailles is a
small commuter city whose major attraction is the residence (and occasional prison) of kings; sort of if
New Rochelle used to be the capital of the United States.
There are four parts to the Versailles experience and it all depends
on how much you want to pay and how far you're willing to walk. We
paid full price and walked all day, we saw it all, and I'm here to
tell you that the best thing is right at the end. I would not have
chosen to go to Versailles, but I'm glad Sumana suggested it as our
Let's start at the Château proper. This was... a big palace with
a lot of history. You get in a big line, which goes through a metal
detector and then shuffles as a single unit through one extravagant
room after another. It's not what the original architects had in mind
but it does instill the intended sense of being dutiful and oppressed.
I took lots of pictures of this stage, but afterwards I realized 5000
other people had taken the same photos that day, so I won't show most
of them. I will show the big Hall of Mirrors, which was really
intimidating back when mirrors were an advanced technology, but which
now kind of feels like a tinpot dictator showing you his Hall of
"Yeah, it's all on one chip, no big deal."
There was a big gallery of paintings of French military victories,
from which I took this dyptich I call "Leonard's Two Moods":
In a sop to the non-bloodthirsty, the gallery of military prowess was balanced by a
hall of statues honoring humanists and statesmen who "spread the glory
of French civilization without drawing the sword." They were able
to get some big names, like Descartes (left).
In the many Versailles gift shops we learned that
Frédéric Lenormand wrote a series of mystery novels
staring Voltaire, including Le diable s'habille en Voltaire
(The Devil Wears Voltaire), which according to the back-cover
copy is the book that finally delivers the long-promised
Voltaire-Satan grudge match! I don't read French well enough to read a
historical-fiction novel, but I'd love to see some translations of
There's a restaurant (a branch of Angelina, a famous Paris
hot-chocolate joint) in the main Château. Their croque monsieur was
the only bad food I ate between the time I got off the plane at De
Gaulle and the time I got back on the plane a week later. Generally
museum restaurants are not great, so not too surprising. However the
hot chocolate was excellent! And it's hard to beat the ambience; it
called to mind a Ken MacLeod quote about how "our children giggle and
eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers."
Speaking of which, let's move on to part two of the Versailles
Journey, the gardens! This is a park about twice the size of Central
Park, all done in the perfect shaved-trees geometric format that seems kinda
creepy to me but it's just the way the French do parks. We took some
establishing shots for Sumana's mom just so she could see we made it.
This part of Versailles is free, so if you're a cheapskate
and just want to have a day in the park, this is for you. It's also
the part of Versailles with the most replay value. Lots of kids
running around eating ice-cream. You can rent a bike or a boat.
Near the entrance you see this fountain full of statues of frogs,
and statues of people being turned into frogs. There's an implied
threat that the king might himself turn you into a frog. (He had the legal right to do this, though it was rarely exercised.)
A lot of the gardens operate on the hedge-maze principle. You leave
the beaten path, wander around in the trees and eventually stumble
into a fountain or statue grouping. Unfortunately, although you're
free to wander through the mazes, the fountains and whatnot are all
caged behind gates, so you can't get a good look at them! Kind of
spoils the fun.
You can't really see it in that picture, but the latticework on
that gate says "XIIII XIIII XIIII XIIII".
A lot of people call it a day after seeing the main chateau and a
bit of the gardens, but we pressed on! We took in the Grand Trianon,
the palace that Louis XIV had built to get away from it all. This
was the exact reason he'd had Versailles built, but when
you're the king, truly "getting away from it all" would require
delegating important decisions to someone else, and Louis XIV was
not the delegating type, so he brought "it all" with him wherever he
went. If he'd lived longer he would have probably built another
palace even further away.
Because of this history the Grand Trianon made for a disappointing
sequel to the Château. It is a little more informal, though; you get to see Louis's
man-cave, where he would bro down for some billiards.
you're over here you can check out the Petit Trianon, originally
built for Madame de Pompadour but later occupied by Marie
Antoinette, of unhelpful-suggestion fame. This is still more
informal, a little closer to something a modern person might be able
to live in. And if you're undeterred by the fact that it's now well
into the afternoon and you've been walking all day, you can step
outside the Petit Trianon into the Queen's Hamlet. And this is where it gets freaky.
I had of course heard that Marie Antoinette had "dressed up as a
milkmaid", but there were a lot of slanders going around about ol'
Marie, so a) I wasn't sure this had
really happened, and b) I'd assumed it had maybe
happened once, at the sort of party you see nowadays where
frat boys dress like they're homeless.
Well, I'm here to tell you that it didn't happen once. It happened
all the friggin' time, and the Queen's Hamlet is where
The backyard of the Petit Trianon is pretty normal, with winding paths through a
natural-looking constructed environment. Trees, bridges, a theater,
a "temple of Love"; what the French would consider an English-style
park. Then you enter the Hamlet, a working replica of a farming
You know in
Constellation Games where Tetsuo Milk creates the Ip Shkoy
Replica Village with its convenience store and printing press, then
goes around pretending to be all the inhabitants? It's like that, but it happened for real, in the 1700s, and it wasn't even the first time someone had done this. It was a fad!
There's a barn-type building with chickens and other farm animals.
There's a little pond with its own fairy-tale lighthouse.
There's a mill that doesn't do anything.
There are many other single-use buildings--a dairy, a "boudoir" whose only purpose seems to be to let Marie have a conversation in private, etc.
Over the centuries the Hamlet has fallen into disrepair and been
restored with modern techniques. Here's the main house, which we
couldn't enter because it's undergoing renovation. That's right,
we're restoring the replica farmhouse to recreate the effect of the
And it works! It's clearly fake, but the part of my brain that likes this sort of thing doesn't care. Even with tourists and kids running around, the Hamlet
is a nice relaxing place to be. There's something deeply appealing
about these tidy replicas of rural life. It reminds me of watching
Peter Jackson's Hobbiton. Sumana called it the "Pinterest mom" look.
In general we found the French attitude towards Marie Antoinette
confusing. The Versailles gift shop was full of kitsch indicating a
demand for the pomp and decadence of pre-revolutionary
France, and the doomed queen in particular. But most tourists, having gotten
within a mile of her really nice Minecraft base, were not
willing to walk out here, to what, in our opinion, is the highlight of the park.
So we asked a French friend about history's final judgement
on Marie Antoinette, and he thought about it a long time and said,
"Well... she wasn't French." 'Nuff said!