Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - discussion w/ Bob Clark on the feature film (& more)

Welcome to my viewing diary for the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008 - 14). In this prelude (the diary will begin in earnest sometime in the future), Bob Clark and I discuss the preliminary material, particularly the film (which I reviewed yesterday). I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

The impetus for covering The Clone Wars came largely from Bob Clark (creator of the webcomic Neo Westchester), a passionate fan of both the Star Wars prequels and this series. He joined me for a chat a few years ago, which I'm happy to finally produce now. We go in-depth into various aspects of the film The Clone Wars, branching off at points into discussions of various American animation styles (even allowing for these detours, I had to cut out long segues into auteurism in fan culture and the tone of the Disney renaissance - hopefully I can find a place for them eventually). Whereas I'm coming to the series as a total newbie, Bob is a long-time fan, and whereas I'm not particularly well-versed in animation techniques, Bob has far more grounding in that area. The resultant conversation will probably be of interest to both new viewers of The Clone Wars and those far more immersed in its culture, as well as those simply curious about the topic.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

This is an entry in the viewing diary for the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series (2008-13).

I don't think any other TV series I cover will require quite as much "easing into" as The Clone Wars. We are now four entries into this viewing diary and after two live-action features, a couple dozen cartoon shorts, and an animated feature we still haven't quite hit The Clone Wars proper. Then again, this movie is probably best viewed not as a standalone film but as a pilot for the series. After all, its stakes are hardly as high as any other Star Wars film (well, ok, maybe Phantom Menace) and its purpose is clearly to establish characters and solidify a universe that will pay off. And actually I thought it did a pretty good job at that. In fact, I found The Clone Wars quite enjoyable - a surprise given its abysmal reputation. Although the series itself has been acclaimed, earning several Emmies, establishing a new generation of Star Wars fans, and winning over many viewers who had been dismayed by the prequels, The Clone Wars got off to an ignominious start with this theatrical feature.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars microseries

This is an entry in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, covering both versions of the animated show alongside the prequel films.

As I prepared to do a Clone Wars series, I was confused. I knew there had been a movie, not very well-received (Rotten Tomatoes reveals an 18% - far, far worse than any prequel score). I knew there had been a TV show recently, supposedly much better than the movie, that was cancelled by Disney when they bought Lucasfilm - apparently they preferred to focus on a later period of Star Wars history for a variety of reasons. I knew that a decade ago, there was a Clone Wars show created in traditional 2D animation. So I was surprised when I looked at images from the Clone Wars film that were computer-animated (even though I hazily remembered that detail in retrospect - when the film was released in 2008, I looked askance at it partially because it seemed to be taking the prequels' obsession with CGI even further). Turns out there are two versions of this story. The first, called simply Clone Wars, was created by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network in 2003-05, between the release of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Designed in short, stylized bursts of action (following one episode of quick exposition), each chapter of Clone Wars ran but three minutes, until season three, when the runtime was extended to twelve (for five episodes). Taken all together (either on the two-volume DVD set or as stitched into a relatively continuous narrative on YouTube), these twenty-five chapters form a two-hour twelve-minute exploration into untapped corners of the Star Wars universe. I loved it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Star Wars: The Clone Wars prequel prologue - Attack of the Clones

This is an entry in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, covering both versions of the animated show alongside the prequel films. (as a general update - the YouTube version of my public podcast episode was finally published yesterday)

Here is where the story of The Clone Wars really kicks off; by comparison, it's questionable whether I even needed to review The Phantom Menace for this series, though it did make a good personal prologue. This feature film was released a year and a half before the first TV series (whose 3-15 minute episodes I will be reviewing all together tomorrow, before beginning to cover its longer-running incarnation). And it takes place immediately before the events of the show, climaxing with the first battle of the Clone Wars. The clone army is introduced, mysteriously farmed on the ocean planet of Kamino at the behest of a long-dead Jedi. Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is established as the primary villain, a rogue Jedi who believes that the corrupt Republic is under the sway of Sith Lord Darth Sidious (he isn't wrong although he is a liar, since he too obeys Sidious). Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) transforms from a cheerful little kid into a brooding adolescent, extremely skilled and powerful but also entitled and resentful, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), no longer the solemn padawan of Phantom Menace, is depicted as a seasoned warrior and diplomat. Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) is also given his first opportunity to play the man of action. Hell, we even learn that feeble old Yoda (Frank Oz) is no slouch with a lightsaber.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Star Wars: The Clone Wars prequel prologue - The Phantom Menace

This is an entry in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, covering both versions of the animated show alongside the prequel films.

As I prepare my Clone Wars viewing diary, it occurred to me that I should probably include entries on the Star Wars prequels. After all, they are essentially part of the same story, and I did review the Evangelion films as part of my series on that show. I happened to be rewatching these films anyway - for the first time in a half a decade - so why not take a little time to write about my reactions in the context of the series? Of course there are a couple problems with this. One is that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones take place before the events of the show, and therefore should properly be written about before I see the series. Perhaps more importantly, the films were made without any knowledge of either version of the show (Revenge of the Sith did come out after the first, short-lived Clone Wars series began, but before the later, longer show was born). So to a certain extent I'll be flying blind here, in terms of comparing the film to the series, as were the filmmakers themselves.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Leading up to The Clone Wars: 5 "prologue" entries, starting tomorrow

My previous TV entry was on Star Trek, which makes a nice segue into the similarly titled, similarly legendary, yet radically different world of Star Wars. Like the Trek entry, this week's posts will essentially be standalones, attached to a larger viewing diary yet not  covering actual episode of the respective series. However, in this case there are enough pieces - five in all - to justify an introduction.

The Clone Wars, Lucasfilm's six-season prequel-era animated series (which tended to bridge some of the thornier divides within the ever-more-divided Star Wars fandom) had quite a long build-up. In terms of real-world chronology, that includes six feature films over thirty years, two trilogies that - along with the massive (and now largely defunct) extended universe - laid the groundwork for the show's bustling galaxy, mythology, and ensemble. In these "prologue" pieces, however, I'll be focusing mostly on in-world chronology, and thus limit myself to the first two prequel films (The Phantom Menace and The Attack of the Clones) whose stories precede the series, the earlier cel-animated series by Genndy Tartakovsky which overlaps with it (and introduces many of its characters), and the CGI feature film which essentially serves as its theatrical pilot. Finally, on Friday, I will publish a conversation with Bob Clark, who has been nudging me to cover this series for many years.

None of this week's pieces will be in my conventional viewing-diary format (story/reaction, ideally a paragraph on each, although Mad Men's first season stretched those boundaries by its end). They're a bit more free-range than that. I have also started work on the larger series (the above image is from the debut episode) but those entries probably won't appear on the site until next year or later. When they does, each season, perhaps each story arc will wrap up in another discussion with Bob.

See you tomorrow, and may the Force be with you...

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Patreon update #15: Twin Peaks pilot & Eyes Wide Shut w/ Andrew Cook (season 3 rewatch prologue begins, the Frankenstein legacy, my short film Class of 2002 & more

The time has come to change things up a little bit. From now on, I will be offering "Twin Peaks Reflections" earlier in each episode, just after the opening updates, with the "Film in Focus" closer to the middle of the episode. This is to highlight the Twin Peaks season three rewatch, which will begin in earnest on May 21, the one-year anniversary of The Return's two-hour premiere. In the weeks before that, I'll be covering the earlier seasons in broad strokes along with the film and some other Twin Peaks phenomena from the past twenty-five years, including fan culture and speculation we all had about the third season before it aired (that should be fun to revisit). That "prologue" begins in this episode with a commemoration of the pilot just in time for the twenty-eight birthday. This episode differs from the rest of the series in both its nature as a "TV movie" and as a "premiere episode"; I dig into both, among other aspects, in this section.

However, even as I highlight Twin Peaks my film coverage will not be getting lost in the shuffle. I still plan to devote about as much time each episode toward examining a particular movie, and with all the patron recommendations I received in March (before closing down that reward) I have plenty on deck through late June. This week's pick is probably one of the most well-known of the upcoming titles. I first saw Eyes Wide Shut in 2006, at the tail end of a two-day Stanley Kubrick marathon in which I watched all of the director's works chronologically. It has perplexed, bemused, and compelled me ever since - as it has many others, including this week's guest, Andrew Cook. We cover the film's place in Tom Cruise's screen iconography, its conspiracy-theorist milieu, its kinship with Barry Lyndon (as well as David Lynch and Nathaniel Hawthorne), and much more. Ironically, for a film about a secret society, I decided this was an episode I'd like to open up to a wider audience.

& the illustrated YouTube upload:

Friday, April 13, 2018

Star Trek - "The Cage" (unaired pilot)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Star Trek. For now, I am only posting this standalone novelty episode, as a teaser for the full series which begins at a later date.

Eventually, I will review every episode, followed by reviews of the first six films, and then Star Trek: The Next Generation and the remaining films. I have seen very few Star Trek episodes, and watched several seasons of TNG over twenty years ago, so for the most part this will be a first-timers' perspective. There will be NO spoilers.

Story (screened for NBC in February 1965, not released until the late 1980s/written by Gene Roddenberry; directed by Robert Butler): Capt. Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) is tired of the pressure of being chief officer of the USS Enterprise. Wistfully remembering pastoral scenes from back on Earth with Dr. Phillip Boyce (John Hoyt), he's told that "A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on and licks it, or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away." Surprisingly, before the episode is over, Pike will get to return to those pastoral scenes but with a twist: he isn't really in the quiet countryside, he's inside a zoo-like cage, with the alien race of the Talosians controlling his mind in a desire to domesticate him. Lured to their planet by a distress signal, distracted by the beautiful Vina (Susan Oliver) - who turns out to be a fellow prisoner - and deceived by illusions of crash survivors who have long since died, Pike must now face the choice between meeting life head on or withering away in its starkest terms. Eventually he will defy the Talosians with his willingness to die rather than submit. They must let him go even if means the extinction of their race and Pike returns to his command with a new appreciation of his responsibility and the freedom that goes with it.

My Response:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Living the Art Life

A visual tribute to David Lynch: The Art Life

Yesterday I reviewed this documentary film - today I offer its images on their own terms.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

David Lynch: The Art Life

In the recent documentary The Art Life, Lynch describes a late sixties visit to a morgue while he was an art student; a friend who worked there let him in at night and the guilelessly morbid (or perhaps just curious) young man wandered the room, fascinated by the bodies on display - lifeless yet only just recently full of life. As a painter, he was surely drawn to their strange form, their texture, as organic objects that carried natural energy and manifested it in unusual ways. Yet as a budding storyteller (possibly unbeknownst even to himself at this time) he was drawn to something else too. "The thing that gets you," he muses after a moment of reflective silence, "is that you wonder the story of each one. You wonder the story. Who they were, what they did, how they got there just makes you think and...it makes you think of stories."

This obviously speaks to Lynch's process of realizing Laura Palmer, who began her onscreen life as a corpse (inspiring Lynch to retroactively explore/invent her actual life up to that mysterious point). The anecdote also suggests that Lynch is a narrative artist as well as a non-narrative one, and this captivating biographical documentary toys with both poles of his artistic persona not just in its content - Lynch's autobiographical interviews, laid out chronologically and accompanied by archival photos - but in its own form: spending more time with Lynch's present-day craftsmanship in his studio than with snapshots or home movies that more directly illustrate the memories being shared on the soundtrack. Through this method, we are invited to contemplate duration and immersion in a more visceral way than broad surveys of a life usually allow.

The Art Life was patiently assembled over many years by Jon Nyugen, who (along with the same crew) documented Lynch's creation of Inland Empire in Lynch (aka Lynch One). In that film, Nyugen's team observes Lynch's process, watching as the enigmatic filmmaker interacts with actors and crew members to realize his vision, drawing the curtain on a very private man in a way that it's sometimes surprising to see Lynch allow (he even brought Nyugen back to provide most of the behind-the-scenes footage on the Twin Peaks season three blu-ray). While providing plenty of examples of the filmmker's infamous spontaneity and hands-on creativity, Lynch also reveals a more complex figure, poking holes in the genial, Zen-like persona Lynch likes to publicly present: he loses his temper, grows anxious and doubtful, is overwhelmed and frustrations by limitations.

In The Art Life, where the working process being depicted is solitary rather than collaborative, and more entirely on Lynch's own terms, these messier qualities retreat from the artist-at-work footage but are offloaded into the biographical material. This dual approach also proves a compelling reflection of Lynch's own duality as creator of flee-floating iconic enigmas who also likes to tell stories. The elliptical, decontextualized nature of the painting/sculpting footage serves as a reminder that Lynch's ideal form of storytelling tends to differ from the Aristotlean norm: he's more about world creation than plot machination. Stories are means rather than ends, offering environments within which figures, experiences, moments can be suspended, expanded, made eternal. Narrative provides the space to escape narrative, and it's telling that Lynch is far fonder of starting stories than of ending them.

Appropriately, this tension between forward movement and patient contemplation exists in The Art Life's own narrative. Lynch's youth is presented as an intuitive, stumbling, yet determined journey toward immersion in the work of creation. The child, teenager, and young man described in Lynch's words, suggested by his paintings, and occasionally glimpsed in old photos or home movies has a sense of what he's seeking but is not clear on the path to get there. He knows only how to seize upon momentary flickers of that feeling but not how to hang on or extend it, nor how to overcome the challenges life puts in its way (parental disapproval, unexpected pregnancy, early marriage, the demands of a daily job). The film stops on a note simultaneously certain and uncertain, as the Lynch family advises their wayward member to abandon his apparently endless Eraserhead project, yet the crushed twentysomething (now close to thirty) finds a kind of happiness in the world he has created - as if he finally managed to enter the canvas and close the door to the messier social world behind him.

The film never mentions Transcendental Meditation, a more direct method Lynch discovered to tap into that blissful inner realm he sought in his work; he became a practitioner at roughly the very time he was crawling deeper inside the Eraserhead universe, even sleeping on the set after his divorce. Our knowledge of both TM and Eraserhead's success, however offscreen, give this open ending a sense of completion. Lynch has finally achieved "the art life," and whatever explorations lie ahead of him, his journey of creation reaches its destination. On the other hand, the film is to an extent a thing unto itself, and it chooses to closes without closing. Yes, Lynch's own life will follow a positive, exciting course, allowing him to keep creating and, indeed, to continue growing and evolving as an artist (Eraserhead, in retrospect, was still embryonically "Lynchian" and so much more would develop in time).

Yet there's something just as beautiful in an altogether different idea, one that I think a part of Lynch embraces, one which is reflected in his work, and one which this film imaginatively evokes in its own structure. In this reality, Lynch didn't plunge into Eraserhead - or into a meditative immersion in consciousness for that matter - in order to complete something and follow a path to newer and better things. He plunged in to be swallowed up by something completely unbound by the limitations of time and space, to shed the very form that had allowed him to stumble and grasp his way into this nirvana in the first place. The Art Life doesn't "end." How could it?

Tomorrow, I will share dozens of striking images from the film in a visual tribute.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Rewrapping Twin Peaks: discussing the pilot w/ Twin Peaks Unwrapped (+ J.C. Hotchkiss & John Thorne)

As part of their ever-expanding approach to Twin Peaks, Ben and Bryon have decided to begin periodic episode discussions covering the first two seasons. I mentioned a few episodes I'd be interested in joining them for, and at the forefront of the pack was the pilot. Why? It isn't because it's my favorite (I'd rank most other Lynch episodes higher, personally) - it's because this is the point where, on the one hand, Twin Peaks could still be anything, and on the other hand, so much of what it would become hadn't materialized yet.

After some technical difficulties (in which potential guests were unfortunately lost), 25 Years Later editor J.C. Hotchkiss, Wrapped in Plastic publisher John Thorne, and I were able to join the hosts to talk about the legendary two-hour premiere that changed television exactly twenty-eight years ago this past weekend. There's a lot of deep digging into what was different about the script (scored, sound-designed re-enactments by various contributors), where the creators' heads might have been as they shot it, and whether or not one can know the killer based on the pilot, along with discussion about what's onscreen and how it works on its own.

This also marks the 150th episode of Twin Peaks Unwrapped, a wonderful and dedicated project begun by Ben and Bryon nearly three years ago (they've only taken one week off during that whole time). Here's to many more.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Mad Men - "The Wheel" (season 1, episode 13)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 18, 2007/written by Matthew Weiner & Robin Veith; directed by Matthew Weiner): As the first season ends, Mad Men hones in on the four main characters of the series so far. The pace is more relaxed this time, and (with one major exception) the stakes are not so high as in the previous episode but we still get a revealing snapshot of each individual. Don triumphs in the office but fails at home. He nails a meeting with Kodak to promote their new slide projector with a heart-stirring pitch, a re-name (the "carousel" rather than the "wheel"), and the personal example of his own family photos. Indeed, the nostalgic kick is so strong that he races home for Thanksgiving and imagines a warm, loving family embrace in which he surprises his wife and children just before they leave for the in-laws', informing them that he's changed his mind and wants to come with them. Instead, Don arrives at a chilly, dark, empty house. This leaves the suddenly nest-seeking breadwinner little to do but perch on a step and contemplate the gap between fantasy and reality.