Plastic Podcast

The venerable and exceedingly intermittent Plastic Podcast, which has outlived the two blogs with which it was intertwined, and whose audio archives were difficult to ...

The Plastic Podcast

An audio program about movies. Listen with your iPod or computer.

Plastic Podcast

The venerable and exceedingly intermittent Plastic Podcast, which has outlived the two blogs with which it was intertwined, and whose audio archives were difficult to ...

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Daily Plastic is a Chicago-based movie blog, a collaboration between Robert Davis and J. Robert Parks, the same pair who brought you the wearable movie tote, the razor-thin pencil pocket, and that joke about aardvarks. If you know the whereabouts of the blue Pontiac Tempest that was towed from the Plastic Parking Lot on the evening of August 7th, 2008, or more importantly if you've recovered the red shoebox that was in its trunk, please contact us at your earliest convenience.

Davis was the chief film critic for the late, great Paste Magazine (which lives on now as a website) from 2005 through 2009, and he counts this interview with Claire Denis among his favorite moments. Every once in a while he pops up on Twitter. He's presently sipping puerh in Chicago, even at this hour. Meanwhile, Parks, whose work has appeared in TimeOut Chicago, The Hyde Park Herald, and Paste, is molding unsuspecting, college-aged minds in the aforementioned windy city. Media types are warned to stay clear of his semester-sized field of influence because of the distorting effects that are likely to develop.

The © copyright of all content on Daily Plastic belongs to the respective authors.


People used to tell me when to watch TV. They'd print up complicated charts for me to study so that I could always be in the favor of their dictates. Thursday night at 8:00pm. Be there. We're not waiting for you, so finish dinner quickly or eat it on the couch.

I don't travel with that kind any more. For the last year I've been testing a couple of solutions that break the schedule's stranglehold and give me control over what I watch and when I watch it. And they've given me a taste of what I assume will one day be the norm: I think of a movie or TV show I want to watch, I press a button, and a few seconds later I'm watching it on a plasma TV. And I watch it without commercials.

That's the future, but it's closer than you may think. The biggest shortfall at the moment is that not everything I think of is available -- not by a long shot -- but so much of it is that I'm not sure I could ever consume all that's available to me through this pipe. We've passed some kind of threshold.

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Focus Features and Nina Buesing/Kino International
Left: Steve Coogan and Elizabeth Shue in Hamlet 2. Right: Azazel Jacobs

This edition of the Plastic Podcast features two interviews: Robert Davis talks with writer-director Azazel Jacobs about his new film, Momma's Man, and J. Robert Parks talks to actor and comedian Steve Coogan about his new film, Hamlet 2, among other things.

0:00 Intro
4:04 Interview: Azazel Jacobs on Momma's Man
16:50 About Steve Coogan (and Al Pacino?)
19:27 Interview: Steve Coogan
38:03 Dangerous Outro

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Sony Pictures
Patrick Wilson and Samuel L. Jackson in Lakeview Terrace

Twenty minutes into the new film Lakeview Terrace, I wrote in my notes, “Is this a ‘neighbor from hell’ story? I hate those.” Yes it is, and yes I do. The movie tries to trick us at the beginning, since the first person we meet is Abel Hunter (an expectedly strong performance from Samuel L. Jackson). That’s significant because usually the first character in a narrative is our hero, and Abel doesn’t seem like a villain. Initially, at least, he’s a strict but loving father. But when the interracial couple Chris (a surprisingly good Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (the always welcome but unfortunately underutilized Kerry Washington) move in next door, Abel quickly turns into the nastiest s.o.b. who’d ever show up at your housewarming party.

There are the consistent, not-so-subtle digs about Chris being white. The security lights shining in Chris and Lisa’s bedroom. Their air conditioning mysteriously breaking down. And that’s all in the first act. Before long, Abel is flaunting the immunity he has from being a cop, cutting down their trees, and sexually humiliating Chris at a bachelor party. If Lisa had a dog, it’d be a goner.

The movie wants to say something about race, particularly how black men can feel threatened by interracial relationships. But Abel’s character is so punitive that we quickly come to hate the way he consistently pushes Chris’s buttons, and the backstory the script provides for Abel is no excuse. Besides, director Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men) has never been known for his subtlety.

Even those flaws can’t prepare you for the ludicrously awful last twenty-five minutes, which combine a wildfire, several guns, and a well-timed ringing cell phone. That the movie has the gall to arbitrarily gloss over its one interesting conflict is indicative of the film’s bankruptcy.

"He was a huge talent, our strongest rhetorical writer," Jonathan Franzen, a friend of [David Foster] Wallace and the author of The Corrections, said in an interview on Sunday, adding later, "He was also as sweet a person as I've ever known and as tormented a person as I've ever known."

FYI, I've posted a few comments about some of the festival's American and otherwise English-language films over at Paste.

See all of our Toronto 2008 coverage here.
Benecio Del Toro as Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh’s Che

I wake up early this morning. Not just because it’s a 9 a.m. screening, but because it’s a 4+-hour film at the Ryerson, by far my least favorite theater used in the festival. The Ryerson isn’t actually a movie theater for most of the year; it’s a college auditorium. So the seats are narrow, there isn’t much leg room, and the rake (the change in elevation) is flatter than a traditional theater, much less stadium seating. What this means is that the only way I’m going to be even remotely comfortable for Steven Soderbergh’s Che is if I get an aisle seat. So I get in line an extra hour early. At least it’s not raining.

The film is a surprisingly straightforward bio-pic of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Like Soderbergh did in Traffic, he uses various film stocks and color schemes to separate the various storylines: Che in Mexico before heading to Cuba, Che in the jungles and hills of Cuba, Che speaking at the United Nations several years later. But once you get used to that framework, the story moves through its paces. Only a faux-overture feels the least bit postmodern.

Those unfamiliar with the Cuban Revolution will find much to learn here, though anyone relying on a movie for that kind of information is asking for superficiality. And while the movie isn’t out to make Che into some kind of saint, it doesn’t do anything to puncture the balloon of reverence many people feel for him. Benicio Del Toro is fine in the lead role, though I was surprised at how low-key his performance is. It’s certainly not Oscar-bait, for which I guess I should be grateful. And Soderbergh knows how to edit his footage together, keeping everything moving forward, never letting the audience lose track of the story.

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Jean-Claude Lother / Why Not Productions / IFC Films
Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale

Every festival goer makes his own festival and finds her own themes. Half way through this year's Toronto International Film Festival -- which wrapped up on Saturday -- it was clear that I'd accidentally scheduled movies about families.

Then in the second half, film after film continued to round out this theme, whether it's because I was looking for it or because a coin flipped seven times will sometimes produce seven heads. (It was probably a little of both.) I'd have grown tired of the family reunions and blow-ups if the films hadn't been so honest and true, many of them not only exploring interesting subject matter -- deeply and personally -- but also exercising film as an art form. Denis's musical minimalism and Desplechin's cinematic vortex, each in its own way, found new ideas in a century-old toolbox. All of my favorites were fresh takes on the familiar, so every time a black sheep would darken the family's door or a shoebox of photos would appear from beneath the bed, I'd smile instead of roll my eyes at the repetition.

In that box of photos, Darren Aronofsky's wrestler finds a photo of his daughter and turns it over to find a list of phone numbers, all but the last one struck-through. The daughter in Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum finds an old letter that concerns her. The house in Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale has pictures of the black sheep's first wife, the mysteriously-named Madeline, now dead. Instead of a shoebox full of photos, Olivier Assayas's film, Summer Hours, has an entire house full of keepsakes, and Assayas considers his characters by measuring their affection for these objects: the stuff of museums and dollars on one end, mementos of sentimental value in the middle, and things that will remain in daily use forever, the past repurposed for youth.

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Hugo St-Onge-Paquin and Marianne Fortier star in Lea Pool’s My Mom’s at the Hairdresser

I first noticed director Lea Pool with her 1999 feature Set Me Free, about a girl on the edge of adulthood. Pool’s ability to portray and work with adolescents was powerful. So when I heard her latest film, My Mom’s at the Hairdresser, also dealt with children, I slotted it into my schedule. I’m glad I did, as she again obtains wonderfully naturalistic performances from her trio of stars.

In this case, the characters are three siblings--the oldest Elise, middle Coco (a boy), and youngest Benoit--starting summer in idyllic Quebec in 1966. Elise jumps off the school bus barefoot, ready to get going, Coco has plans to build his own go-cart, and Benoit ... well, Benoit is asking a lot of questions at the age of 5 or 6. The first third of the film is wonderfully comical, as Pool, working from a novel by Isabelle Hebert, captures how children play and interact. But the movie also realizes that children understand more than we give them credit for, that they watch adults and learn, in both good ways and bad.

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Mathieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve in Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale

Fridays are normally reserved here at Daily Plastic for new reviews. And unlike the last few weeks when almost nothing good was released, there are some interesting possibilities for today. But we’re having too much fun in Toronto to wax poetic about Burn after Reading and Righteous Kill. But to make it up to you, we’re posting TWO days of TIFF reflections. Cuz you really didn’t want to work today anyway, did’ya? This is Day 7, while Day 6 (due to the brilliance of blogging technology) is farther below.

Today was a strong day, with three winners out of five and only one bad film. The best was Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale. Festival co-director Piers Handling introduced it as a movie “about a dysfunctional family par excellence,” and he’s exactly right. The mother Junon (a wonderfully cold Catherine Deneuve) is openly hostile to her son Henri (Mathieu Amalric, delightfully unstable), whom she blames for her eldest son’s death at the age of six. No matter that Henri was still in diapers at the time. Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) detests Henri as well and even went so far as to banish him from the family. Elizabeth’s son Paul is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. And I could go on and on. Only the patriarch Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon as the doughy moral center of the film) and the youngest son Ivan seem to get along with everyone, but maybe not.

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A shot from Jia Zhang-ke’s 24 City

I’ve realized over the last couple years that sold out doesn’t always mean sold out at TIFF, and I’m not just talking about the possibility of rush lines. Tickets are reserved in advance for publicists and other festival guests, but obviously not all of those seats are needed. So often by the fourth or fifth day, when TIFF has a better perspective on what it requires, it releases more tickets. Furthermore, the lines to exchange tickets are often significantly lighter by Monday than they are over the weekend. So today I walked into the box office at 9 a.m., strode confidently to the open agent, and proceeded to get all four movies for which I had been shut out of in the lottery. Woo hoo!

The morning just keeps getting better when I meet up with Ken Morefield for a delicious breakfast at Cora’s, which includes lots of discussion about college teaching, academic writing, and of course movies. And then we’re off to one of the more difficult films of the fest. But I’ll save that for the end.

• • •

The Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke made one of my favorite films of the decade with Still Life/Dong. Though those are two different movies, I saw them both at TIFF ’06, and their similar subject matter makes them a natural pairing. He followed that up with last year’s Useless, which was interesting and well made but didn’t scale anywhere near the heights of his previous work. Even still, I had high hopes for his latest, 24 City.

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