The Daily Traveler: Museum of the Moving Image


Why the Museum of the Moving Image is the Coolest Museum Ever

From its Breaking Bad exhibit to its vintage arcade and console games, the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, is one of the coolest museums in New York City. Here's why you need to visit ASAP.

REASON ONE: THE BREAKING BAD EXHIBITION
Admit it. While worrying about how the saga of Walter White will play out in its final season, you've pored over every frame of old Breaking Bad episodes, looking for clues to how it will all end. MoMI understands—and celebrates—your attention to detail. In its Breaking Bad-centric exhibition, the Museum lets you get a closer look at the props, costumes, color schemes, and other behind-the-scenes material that show White's narrative arc. "Our exhibition is all about process," says David Schwartz, the museum's chief curator. "We want to show what they do physically to bring about the transformation in Walter White."

Click through to see the full slideshow on the website of the Condé Nast Traveler.

Photo by Sam Suddaby/Museum of the Moving Image


DVD Review: The Great Gatsby


...But The Great Gatsby isn’t just about details. It’s about people. You’d think it’d be hard for any performance to punch through all that art direction, but the assembled cast succeeds in making an impression—not just the shining DiCaprio, who fully earns his reputation as a movie star. Cary Mulligan as Daisy makes for a beautiful object of adoration, but Mulligan also embodies Daisy’s flightiness and superficiality, while Joel Edgerton is a brutal, physical Tom Buchanan. Still, no one projects the sleek, slinky Jazz Age glamour as newcomer Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Jordan Baker.

Luhrmann doesn’t always get at the inner lives of all these characters. Poor Jordan is reduced to best-friend capacity, and her relationship with Nick is barely explored. That’s the other perpetual problem with The Great Gatsby adaptations—even at 142 minutes, your favorite part from the novel has probably been cut or altered. Luhrmann sneaks in as much as he can, but even he knows there has to be a limit somewhere.

But rather than mourning what has been cut, Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is worth it for what he’s able to keep in: the exuberance and longing of people living out their younger and more vulnerable years in a glitzy time. This version of The Great Gatsby is for those who are all about the riotous excursions, not those looking for the privileged glimpses into the human heart.

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.

Film Review: Prince Avalanche



'Prince Avalanche': David Gordon Green's Quiet Comedy


Prince Avalanche remains resiliently funny. If there’s one thing Green has carried over from Pineapple Express and Your Highness, it’s silliness. This even as the new movie also resists the conventional aspects of that lesson: it may be painted with the same buddy-comedy brush as those films, but the description would be inaccurate here, since Alvin and Lance never develop a friendship. Instead of a movie where two people learn to accept the flaws in each other, Prince Avalanche is a movie about two people inhabiting the same space who learn to accept the flaws in themselves, even if these flaws are made up. Lance observes that they’re both “old fatties” (not true), Alvin minces his way through what an intellectual’s vision of an outdoorsman would be, and both argue about the “equal time agreement” on their shared boombox and chase each other around the woods. It’s some of the most enjoyable bickering ever put to screen.

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.


DVD Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Sam Raimi Puts His Twist on a Classic with 'Oz the Great and Powerful'

Oz the Great and Powerful‘s origins are slightly ambiguous. It isn’t exactly a book adaptation. Baum wrote at least 14 books in his Oz series, and even after his exit, other authors took up Baum’s mantle. While Oz the Great and Powerful draws from details and characters in the books, it’s not an adaptation of any plot or combination of plots from the series, like Walter Murch’s Return to Oz was in 1985.

Nor is it a straight prequel to the MGM’s 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz movie. It hews extremely close, with a visual style that’s of a piece with that world. The Wicked Witch bears the same trademark green skin, the Emerald City has those familiar glowing skyscrapers reaching into the sky, and the Yellow Brick Road winds its way through the land. But Oz the Great and Powerful didn’t have the rights to some of that movie’s other signatures—the ruby slippers, for example, which are entirely absent from Oz the Great and Powerful. You can tell the movie was striving for continuity, but not everything lines up exactly.

Instead, the not-book-adaptation, not-movie-prequel has a much harder job at the start. It has to return to a beloved fantasy land, staying true to both Baum’s words and Victor Fleming’s vision while expanding both of them. It has to not only tell the story of how Oz, the wizard (James Franco), goes from a Kansas huckster magician to a Great Man (“Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison all mixed into one”), but it also has to fill in the backstories of all of Oz’s witches, including Glinda (Michelle Williams), Theodora (Mila Kunis), and Evanora (Rachel Weisz)—one of whom turns out to be the infamous Wicked Witch of the West. And it has to do it all on an epic scale, traveling through more than 30 sets; co-mingling live action and CG, animation and marionettes; and wrapping the whole thing in a unified turn-of-the-century stagecraft-meets-Hollywood-studio-glamour aesthetic. The only thing they didn’t throw at the production was musical numbers (though Danny Elfman does add a nice score).

It’s an extremely tall order, and it’s a shame that Sam Raimi didn’t record a commentary track to explain how he negotiated it all...Instead of hearing in-depth about the nuances of a new Oz film from Raimi himself, we can marvel about how much Raimi-ness he was able to add to such an iconic, established world. The twister that removes Oz from Kansas, with its speediness and slapstick, is quite possibly the Raimi-est act of severe weather ever brought to screen. Even Oz himself, at times, resembles Ash from the Evil Dead series—a stance of confident buffoonery described as “Charlie Chaplin meets Clark Cable”—that Franco doesn’t quite nail, but does well enough. (This is most evident in the character’s insistence on calling Glinda by the incorrect name of Wanda.)

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters

DVD Review: Dark Skies

'Dark Skies' Leans on the Right Nerve

Dark Skies follows Lacy (Keri Russell) and Daniel (Josh Hamilton), a typical small-town couple trying to make ends meet while raising their two sons, 13-year-old Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and six-year-old Sam (Kadan Rockett). Throughout the movie, two types of dramas unfold simultaneously within the family. The first is a suburban tale of a weakened marriage, with a husband and wife at odds with each other, threatened by outside forces and tested under the scrutiny of a close-knit (and judgmental) community. The second is a sci-fi/horror story about unknown visitors wreaking havoc in the homestead and menacing the children...

All of the suburban elements of Dark Skies work well, even when they don’t necessarily further the plot. The movie often goes on diversions with Jesse, delving into his best-friendship with a neighborhood thug (L.J. Benet) and his first romance with a girl (Annie Thurman). It might seem incongruous to insert in a coming-of-age subplot into a movie already stuffed with a broken marriage and supernatural beings, but these scenes don’t seem shoehorned in. They’re genuine and give an honest, nostalgia-free glimpse at what it’s like to be a new teenager, even if this is the last movie where you’d expect to find such sentiment.

When the movie veers away from the naturalistic and towards the horrific, though, it starts to falter. Sure, the forces at work serve their purpose for the characters, driving a wedge between Lacy and Daniel. Taken on their own, however, the threats feel overly familiar. These forces cause clichéd ailments: birds crash into windows (didn’t we just see this in Red Lights?); noses become bloodied; time is lost; and rashes, bruises, and strange marks appear. Some of it is even captured on home-security webcams, just like in Paranormal Activity.

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.

DVD Reviews: BBC's Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland

Two of the worst Alice adaptations I've ever seen!

A 3-Dimensional World, Flattened: 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' & 'Alice in Wonderland'

...Alice Through the Looking Glass is hardly a joy to watch. The scenes mostly take place with the actors standing in front of painted, storybook backgrounds, a halo of green-screen surrounding them. In each scene, Alice comes upon another character, they stand almost stock-still and have some kind of loopy conversation, a poem is recited (reenacted by different actors in front of a different storybook background), and Alice is on her way again. It’s hardly cinematic and barely even dramatic. It’s one step beyond having someone read the book aloud at the local library. 

With all of its limitations, somehow Alice in Wonderland manages to be worse. The cheap sets and poor effects are still present despite the 13 year gap. Kate Dorning, who’s taken over the role of Alice, seems much too old for the part—with someone as old as she is demonstrating a basic lack of understand about how the world works, she comes across as just plain simple (and with a squeakily high voice). Sometimes she argues with herself aloud, other times her inner monologue is presented as a voiceover, and it’s impossible to tell why one is used over the other...

... With the low-budget production values and bad special effects, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland combine the worst of public-access television with the worst of community theater. Take, for instance, the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland. There’s a crowd of extras, but the stage is so small there isn’t room for any running. Instead, the characters just shuffle about, remarking at how chaotic it all seems. It’s so ineffective, it can’t even be appreciated as camp.

Click through to read the full review on PopMatters.

Film Review: Upside Down

'Upside Down': Two Worlds, Little Sense

By ignoring its own guidelines, Upside Down breaks a rule that’s even more important than the prohibition on combining matter and inverse matter: when inventing a new world, make sure the laws governing it are coherent. Trying to sync up the background information about life on these planets with what appears on screen becomes a distraction that plagues the viewing experience. It doesn’t matter what the film has to say about wealth inequality when all the audience is thinking is, “Wait, shouldn’t something be on fire by now?”

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.

PopMatters Best Films of 2012

My contribution to PopMatters' year-end wrap-up.

The Best Films of 2012

No. 4: Lincoln

In tackling one of the United States’ most iconic figures, a man who looms largest in American history, Steven Spielberg’s success is in matching Abraham Lincoln’s grandiosity with his film’s smallness. Instead of an all-encompassing biopic, Spielberg chose to focus on the final months of Lincoln’s life and his most important political success: the passage of the 13th amendment. And, while there is certainly much political theater surrounding the amendment, with flamboyant characters on both sides of the debate, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner choose to keep the showiest scenes away from the president. He has a couple of emphatic, passionate monologues, but mostly you get a sense of the man through the tiniest moments: a rambling story, a bawdy joke, a wordless and restless afternoon pacing the White House with his son while Congress debates, a sullen glance. As the 16th president, Daniel Day-Lewis is in full control of this remarkable restraint—though he’s buoyed by a supporting cast rising to meet his greatness. Like the characters in the film, with Lincoln you get the sense that everyone is striving to quietly accomplish their most important work.

Click through to read the rest of the list at PopMatters.