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.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927)
Brian Darr recently researched the history of the Academy Awards, which were first issued in 1929, and he compiled a slide show about the Oscars that played before the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's Valentine's Day screening of Sunrise.

Cynics like me think of the Academy Awards less as a celebration of quality filmmaking than as a promotional tool, both for the nominated films, which coincidentally tend to come into the marketplace just at the time when "Awards Season" hype puts their titles on people's tongues, and for Hollywood as a whole. But it wasn't always so. Announced 80 years ago this week, the first-ever Academy Awards for the 1927-1928 business year were decided upon not by a large voting pool but a small cabal of judges in a smoke-filled room, handpicked by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences founder (and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio chief) Louis B. Mayer. The surprising thing is that the winners really were some of the best cinematic achievements of the year.

The best two books I know that provide a behind-the-scenes, unofficial history of the Academy Awards are: Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, and Behind the Oscar by Anthony Holden. Read them! — BD
Louis B. Mayer

Mayer had instigated the creation of the Academy as a means for staving off unionization efforts in Hollywood. As the story goes, his attempts to use MGM workers to construct his new Santa Monica beach house were foiled by a 1926 union contract which made studio laborers prohibitively expensive to employ for outside projects, even those strong-armed by the Big Boss. Mayer was outraged; he had been able to use MGM art director Cedric Gibbons to design his beach house because designers, as well as writers, directors, actors and producers, had not yet organized into guilds. By inviting prominent members of each profession into a fraternity (and it was mainly men at first; Mary Pickford was one of three women among the founding 36 members) known as A.M.P.A.S., Mayer staved off the further alphabet-souping of Hollywood talent into the S.A.G., D.G.A., W.G.A., etc. for several years.

Awards were an afterthought in the initial A.M.P.A.S. meetings, but they soon grew to become a crucial strategy of studio/employee relations. "I found that the best way to handle [moviemakers] was to hang medals all over them," Scott Eyman quotes Mayer in his biography of the mogul. "If I got them cups and awards they'd kill themselves to produce what I wanted. That's why the Academy Award was created." This quote might help explain why that first year, the statuettes (also designed by Gibbons) were often given out for a body of work, not for a contribution to a particular film. For example, Janet Gaynor won the first Actress award for her work in three films: 7th Heaven, Sunrise and Street Angel. German star Emil Jannings won the Actor statuette for two roles he played during his brief stint in Hollywood: The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh, which is the only Academy-Award winning performance in what is now considered to be a "lost film" — if you find it please inform the Academy Film Archive!

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Unmade Beds by Alexis Dos Santos

I've posted a final scorecard for this year's Sundance film festival over at Paste. I have a few more capsules to wrap-up the coverage, and then I'll be back here at Daily Plastic with a backlog of goodies. Just you wait.

Adam Eliot's Mary & Max

Sundance 2009 opened this evening with a claymation film for adults called Mary & Max, from the guy who made that Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet. Sorry to make another pointer post, but for the next week I'll be blogging about Sundance over at Paste.

On one of our podcasts from last year we talked about how odd Hellboy II is, that it seems like the sort of thing made for young people or kids, but it has language and violence that you normally wouldn't put in a children's film. I'm not sure who it's for, exactly, and I feel the same about Mary & Max. Cute, sentimental claymation that touches on suicide, Asperger's syndrome, sexuality, depression, pharmaceuticals, drunkenness, etc. An odd mix. More at the Paste blog.

For more immediate and ill-considered reactions to films, watch the Daily Plastic sidebar or join us at Twitter.

Benicio Del Toro is Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's new film.

On this edition of the Plastic Podcast we chat about some of the films we saw at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

0:00 Intro
2:28 35 Shots of Rum (Denis)
4:29 Festival Anxiety, Goodbye Solo (Bahrani)
5:44 Listmaking
7:39 Rachel Getting Married (Demme)
9:31 Still Walking (Kore-eda)
12:20 Summer Hours (Assayas)
14:15 Snow (Begic)
15:04 Rain (Govan)
15:53 Experimental Films: Nathaniel Dorsky
19:26 Experimental Films: James Benning
22:25 The Wrestler (Aronofsky)
24:55 Slumdog Millionaire (Boyle)
27:57 Che (Soderbergh)
33:02 Dislikes
36:25 Two-Legged Horse (Makhmalbaf)
38:23 Outro

Further Reading

  • Index of our Toronto coverage
  • Video of Variety's Robert Koehler, The Village Voice/L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas, and Cinema Scope's Mark Peranson and Andrew Tracy kvetching (or if you prefer whingein') about the festival.
  • Audio of SpoutBlog's Karina Longworth and Kevin Kelly talking about TIFF and sharing a funny anecdote about seeing Burn After Reading while sitting next to noisy celebs.
  • Audio of James Rocchi and David Poland talking about TIFF and offering, among other opinions, spirited defenses of Che and Slumdog Millionaire.

Thanks for following our reports from this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Here's an index of our coverage:

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Hee Yeon Kim and Song Hee Kim in Treeless Mountain

It’s the last day of the Toronto Film Festival, and a bit of regret darkens my morning. I’ve skipped a few films the last few days, both because of poor reviews as well as a lack of energy. But as I walk to lunch, I can’t help but think of movies not seen, opportunities not taken. Who knows? Maybe one of those would’ve been my favorite of the fest? Ah well. Sometimes 40 films don’t feel like enough. Fortunately, there are three more before I head back home, and two are exceptionally enjoyable.

Some friends have described Treeless Mountain as a “children-in-peril” movie, which I find a bit strange. Yes, it’s a movie about two young girls, aged six and four. And, yes, they’re in a somewhat uncomfortable situation, as their mother has left them with an aunt to go find their father. But the girls are never in any danger. The aunt may be harsh at times, but she’s not a wicked stepmother figure, and most of the other adults in their lives are kind and comforting.

Instead, the movie’s focus is on how siblings interact, particularly in the way older ones, even as young as six, look after the younger ones and how the younger ones both depend on the older ones and live in their shadow. In this, director and writer So Yong Kim has captured incredibly naturalistic performances from her young charges. Much of the film is shot in tight close ups on their faces, and the tremendous emotion they convey is reminiscent of Victoire Thivisol’s amazing debut in Ponette. The movie is also funny in numerous places, as the girls try to take care of themselves, believing that if they can save enough money their mom will return.

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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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