Every week, With a Little Help from Our Friends highlights the best pieces of writing on film, television, and literature published around the Internet. Please share if you like what you see.
For your reading enjoyment …
Most movies are content to simply fade their titles in and out over the course of a few minutes as the movie opens. There’s nothing wrong with keeping things simple, but we certainly love it when someone goes the extra mile and creates a truly memorable title sequence that really reflects the personality of the movie around it. With that in mind, the coolest title sequence of the year belongs to the gonzo horror anthology ABCs of Death 2, which you can now watch below (the titles; the whole movie is currently in theaters and on VOD). But not only that, thanks to Austrian animator Wolfgang Matzl, we can see how this beautiful, haunting, and delightfully macabre animation was created.
It isn’t difficult to see where they were coming from. Brad Bird’s giddy valentine to the caped crusaders of yore does appear to lament regular folks’ tendency to impede awesome people from being awesome. Bird’s vision of an ungrateful public barring its deific protectors from exercising their God-given talents sounds like something ripped out of Atlas Shrugged. There’s also Bob Parr’s breadbox-sized boss, Gilbert Huph, whose greed and inflated sense of importance prevent Bob from quashing a nearby mugging. (If Bird’s estimation of Huph wasn’t clear enough, the twerp gets thrown through several walls mere seconds later.) Edna Mode’s zero-tolerance policy for emotional weakness fits the theory; a woman who consoles a teary-eyed Helen Parr by commanding, “Pull yourself together!” and “Go, confront the problem! Fight! Win!” most likely has a copy of The Fountainhead lying around somewhere.
Racking up over $5 million thus far in around 200 theaters (with many more to come), Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman is shaping up to be one of the fall’s most successful dramas. For those that have had a chance to see it, you’ll likely be curious how the director and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki precisely pulled off the single-shot effect that’s employed for much of the film.
On Monday, The Hollywood Reporter let us in on some unfortunate news: Christian Bale is walking away from the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic. According to THR’s sources, the actor “after much deliberation and conflicting feelings … came to the conclusion he was not right for the part and decided to withdraw.” There may yet be some behind-the-scenes intrigue revealed as to why Bale is, ahem, bailing (HIGH FIVE). But for now, taking the fellow at his word, let us just say: This is a bummer.
This is Vladimir Nabokov, speaking on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1885 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The text is from a lecture on Stevenson that Nabokov gave to American undergraduates between 1941 and 1959, first at Wellesley College, then at Cornell University, as it comes to us in a collection called Lectures on Literature. Earlier, Nabokov has advised his students to “veil the monstrous, abominable, atrocious, criminal, foul, vile, youth-depriving jacket” of the Pocket Books edition of Stevenson’s story, so that they may “ignore the fact that ham actors under the direction of pork packers have acted in a parody of the book, which parody was then photographed on a film and showed in places called theatres.” Given the years in which these words were set down, we may presume that the Pocket Books edition depicts a scene from the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and though his typification of director Victor Fleming and star Spencer Tracy is unfairly, if not atypically, dismissive, I will not protest too much at his treatment of the MGM film. As to Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Paramount—well, the description “a phenomenon of style” will do quite nicely.
At a brisk 180 minutes, National Gallery is hardly one of Frederick Wiseman’s documentary marathons, but it still brims with ideas. After the classrooms in At Berkeley (2013), here the incredibly spritely octogenarian filmmaker focuses on the halls of the National Gallery in London, and contemplates ways of looking, storytelling, and, through this, the nature of cinema itself.
That there are no less than ninety-nine film stills used to illustrate the thirty-three-page introduction to Hou Hsiao-hsien, the first English-language critical anthology published on the Taiwanese filmmaker, indicates just how “visual” the director’s style is. All films are definitionally “visual,” of course, but as is repeatedly argued in this insightful tome, Hou’s cinema seems to be exceptionally so: since making his debut feature Cute Girl in 1980, he has continued to consciously set new challenges for himself and his cinematographers, resulting in visually interpretable works of staggering image density and cinematographic depth. Collecting and editing a volume such as this is no easy task; to his credit, Richard I. Suchenski has amassed a body of essays from critics, academics and Hou’s collaborators that is as insightful about Taiwan as it is about the director’s working methods.
If you’re not up on your comic plots, I have some bad news: Wolverine is dead. He was recently killed in the uncreatively named series “The Death of Wolverine.” The question: When will he be brought back, and in how ridiculous a manner? Death in comic books is notoriously silly, a stunt used to grab publicity and spike sales. Sure, some comic deaths are sacred—like Bruce Wayne’s parents and Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben—but they weren’t superheroes. Most superhero deaths are as temporary as a rash. Even if you’re dead for decades—like the Flash and Bucky—your return is assured. This is probably the best reason to be a superhero. If you don the spandex and sell enough comics, you’re pretty much guaranteed immortality.
In Fall 2013, undergraduates at the University of Redlands, a small private school in San Bernardino County, California, could find an unusual offering in the course catalogue of the visual and media studies program: “Doctor Who: Transmedia Travels.” Piers Britton, who teaches television studies and art history, promised to explore the texts of Doctor Who—and not just the classic series (1963-1989) and the revival (2005-present), but also the TV movie, novels, and audio plays that continued during the hiatus between the two.
The much-anticipated arrival of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar — which, whatever you think of it, aims to be so very, very, very much more than a “space adventure” — made us think about our favorite space movies since the one that transformed the genre, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interestingly, there haven’t been that many such films in the ensuing decades. (We’re talking movies about space, not just aliens. So, for example, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or E.T. don’t count, since they’re mostly about aliens coming to Earth, as opposed to what might happen to us out in space.) We also had to butt up against our own limitations here: The vast majority of these films are in English, and we’re sure there are films from Eastern Europe and Japan and many other places that we’re missing. We’re sure folks will let us know about these omissions soon enough.