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.

Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960)

He is, you know. Psycho. At least in the hands of Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey, Jr.

On this edition of the Plastic Podcast, Rob and J. Robert talk about Ritchie's recent adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's characters, about Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and about Gus Van Sant's intriguing 1998 remake of Hitchcock's classic, recklessly shaping and reshaping that trio's Venn diagram like an elementary school teacher sorting out her transparencies. Come along, won't you?

0:00 Intro
2:45 Trailer: Sherlock Holmes!
3:26 Sherlock Holmes (Ritchie, 2009)
13:49 The Manic, Mumbling Detective
16:20 The Cinematic Industrial Age
20:11 Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960), Psycho (Van Sant, 1998)
27:25 In Color
29:12 Assessing the Original and the Humble Remake
33:50 Implicating the Audience
37:09 The Moving Vernacular
44:15 Outro

Further Reading

  • Rob's piece on the lesser known traits of Sherlock Holmes, with ample links into Conan Doyle's text.
Leonardo Dicaprio in Christopher Nolan's Inception

Labor Day has come and gone, and Chicago just had its first cool day in weeks, so it's a good time to glance back at a couple of the summer's big movies. On this episode of the Plastic Podcast, Rob and J. Robert talk about Inception and Toy Story 3, with a brief nod toward Despicable Me.

0:00 Intro
0:47 Trailer: Inception Story
2:02 Inception (Nolan, 2010)
20:56 Toy Story 3 (Unkrich, 2010)
25:41 Despicable Me (Coffin/Renaud, 2010)
29:25 Complications and Traditions
33:15 Outro

Leonard Proxauf in Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band)

This episode of the Plastic Podcast concludes our conversation about the Academy Award nominations. Rob and J. Robert talk about the nominees in the other major categories and mention a few overlooked favorites of 2009. Here's part one.

0:00 Intro: The Conversation Continues
0:18 Best Acting Categories
6:46 Best Animated Feature Film
10:31 Best Original Screenplay
13:10 Best Adapted Screenplay
15:14 Best Documentary Feature
25:50 Best Foreign Language Film
35:18 Other Faves of 2009: Pontypool, Two Lovers
38:07 Make Way for Tomorrow (McCarey, 1937), Text of Light (Brakhage, 1974)
40:25 Done



This episode of the Plastic Podcast is the first half of a conversation about the Academy Award nominations. Rob and J. Robert talk about the Best Picture and Best Director categories.

0:00 Intro
1:16 Avatar
7:21 Expansion of the Best Picture Category
10:17 Our Favorite and Least Favorite Nominees
12:03 An Education
14:01 Up in the Air
18:20 The Hurt Locker
20:51 Precious
22:30 2009 as a Whole/Hole
27:31 District 9
29:15 The Blind Side Blind
30:30 Inglourious Basterds
35:18 Outro

Further Reading

Slobodan Pikula / Summit Entertainment
Michael Stuhlbarg in the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man

On this episode of the Plastic Podcast, Rob and J. Robert talk about the new film by the Coen brothers, A Serious Man, and the work of Chantal Akerman, especially her 1993 film D'Est (From the East).

0:00 Intro
2:01 The Coen Brothers and A Serious Man
26:03 Overlap
28:34 Chantal Akerman and D'Est
59:21 Outro

Further Reading

  • Rob's blog post about A Serious Man
  • Forgot to mention: Ben Russell, whose intriguing new film Let Each One Go Where He May has been receiving accolades at film festivals this fall, cites Akerman's D'Est as a major influence, along with the work of Jean Rouch.

Malcolm Gladwell's critique of Free that appears in the latest New Yorker is a sharply and persuasively argued counterpoint to Wired editor Chris Anderson, whose new book (which I haven't read) expands on the adage that says "information wants to be free." If it does, Anderson seems to ask, what does that mean for our economy? Well, it likely means that anyone who has been making money on the scarcity of information needs to find another source. Newspapers, for example.

Gladwell's comments about the cost of running YouTube are witty, although they may not apply to journalists who work on a much smaller scale. But his overall argument concludes with this somewhat saggier bit of logic about the drug industry:

The expensive part of making drugs has never been what happens in the laboratory. It’s what happens after the laboratory, like the clinical testing, which can take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. In the pharmaceutical world, what’s more, companies have chosen to use the potential of new technology to do something very different from their counterparts in Silicon Valley. They’ve been trying to find a way to serve smaller and smaller markets — to create medicines tailored to very specific subpopulations and strains of diseases — and smaller markets often mean higher prices. The biotechnology company Genzyme spent five hundred million dollars developing the drug Myozyme, which is intended for a condition, Pompe disease, that afflicts fewer than ten thousand people worldwide. That’s the quintessential modern drug: a high-tech, targeted remedy that took a very long and costly path to market. Myozyme is priced at three hundred thousand dollars a year. Genzyme isn’t a mining company: its real assets are intellectual property—information, not stuff. But, in this case, information does not want to be free. It wants to be really, really expensive.

The adage "information wants to be free" doesn't imply that the owners of the information want it to be free. The history of the information age is littered with companies who fought tooth and nail against such an idea, and that history is still being written, with new examples every day. I'll smile at his poke at the metaphor's anthropomorphism ("But information can’t actually want anything, can it? Amazon wants the information in the Dallas paper to be free, because that way Amazon makes more money.") But it's just a descriptive phrase, like saying the molecules of a gas want to be far apart, which doesn't mean we should give them them vote.

His coup de grâce about the drug companies who make expensive products for a niche market contains a joke that misreads the word "free." Information wants to be free from constraint, which probably, eventually means free of cost, too, but that's a side effect. Gladwell ignores the fact that the drug companies can make expensive drugs only because they've been able to control the information for a brief window.

Amazon wants their raw material for the Kindle (information) to be free (to them), and drug companies want their products (information, essentially) to be expensive (to their customers). There's nothing confusing about that, but what the adage implies is that when the raw material is information, keeping this status quo will be difficult. Selling information for a price will eventually be hard. If information wanted to be expensive, there'd be no need for the patent battles that drug companies are waging to keep it bottled up and no waiting period for a generic drug. Unconstrained, those molecules eventually leak out, and how long can artificial constraints remain effective?

I'm not sure what I think of Anderson's thesis, but Gladwell's example, taken a bit further, makes the case that he's trying to debunk.

Steve Earle as Walon in The Wire, Season 1, Episode 7: One Arrest

Singer-songwriter Steve Earle pops up here and there in all five seasons of The Wire. Half way through the first season, he makes the first of several appearances as Walon, a recovering addict and a Narcotics Anonymous mentor and sponsor to one of the series' major characters. At the end of the second season, Earle's song "Feel Alright" is the prominent backdrop for the season-capping montage. (Every season ends with one; the one that closes the season about blue-collar dock workers belongs to Earle.) And in the fifth season, Earle opens every show with a cover of the Tom Waits song "Way Down in the Hole."

But the appearance that makes me smile the most is the one in which Earle's face and voice are nowhere to be seen or heard. It's buried in the tenth episode of the first season, in a familiar bit of dialogue:

Jimmy McNulty: Why New York?
Omar Little: Must be something happening out there, man. Too big a town, know what I mean?

By the way, in case you missed this tweet from Darren Hughes: Alan Sepinwall is writing detailed synopses and analyses of The Wire, episode by episode. They're a great way to revisit the show. Sepinwall is churning up lots of new ideas.

The Lost World (Hoyt, 1925)
Disney / Pixar
UP Concept Art
Disney / Pixar
Rendered Still from UP
Erika Bók in Béla Tarr's Sátántangó

Look at this image from Béla Tarr's film Sátántangó. In one long tracking shot, a girl named Estike played by Erica Bók walks down a dirt road, and the camera tracks backward in front of her. Often we can see what must be — barring an unlikely digital effect or an overly elaborate crane — the freshly made tracks of the camera dolly, clearly visible on the ground behind her. We accept them without question because they make sense within the story: maybe they were made by a cart or by a vehicle that recently travelled down the same road.

In other words, a mark made by the machinery of cinema has an internal explanation within the narrative, and it's only when we stop to think about how the film works, technically, that we even notice it. But that's exactly what Béla Tarr's films ask us to do, especially the 7.5-hour Sátántangó. They ask us to stop and think, to meditate on what we're seeing, and he gives us plenty of time to do that with shots of people walking for minutes at a time.

Lately I've been interested in films that, intentionally or not, allow the evidence of their production to harmonize with their themes. Such evidence isn't an error but an amplification, a subtle echo, a brush stroke.

The first issue of Unspoken Journal appeared today, and it's dedicated to Tarr. I've contributed a rumination on Sátántangó.

While Sátántangó is often described as a detailed self-contained world, like all films it shows evidence of the filmmaking process, sometimes unintentionally as in the photographer’s reflection, sometimes playfully like the visible brush strokes of the Impressionists, and sometimes individually in an active viewer’s mind. What is most unusual about Sátántangó is that the film itself seems to mingle with its own themes of external, quasi-spiritual forces. As the characters react to foreign elements, the cinematic machinery breaches the narrative hull, hinting at something outside the film: the filmmaker, viewer, and apparatus of its art.

Read more at Unspoken Journal, edited and assembled by Yvette Biró, Edwin Mak and HarryTuttle. The issue is full good stuff.

Slobodan Pikula / Summit Entertainment
Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody in The Brothers Bloom

On the triumphant return of the Plastic Podcast after a months-long hiatus, Rob talks with filmmaker Rian Johnson about his second film, The Brothers Bloom, starring Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rinko Kikuchi.

0:00 Intro: Where Have You Been?
4:10 Interview: Rian Johnson on The Brothers Bloom
21:17 Outro

Further Reading

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