This Week You Will Learn:
- How to cook like a cartoon rat
- The most common words cut out of documentaries (hint: one is “um”)
- The location of a theater venue within sitting distance
- The names of two movies that didn’t completely ignore the War in Afghanistan
- Billy Zane’s most perfect line reading
- Why Jerry Lewis is holding a knife
Thanks to the never half-baked scb0212 and Casper for contributing this week. Send articles throughout next week to ploughmanplods [at] gmail, post articles from the past week below for discussion, and Have a Happy Friday!
Scott Tobias and Keith Phipps resurrected some of that old Dissolve feeling this week with the launch of their newsletter The Reveal, kicking off this week with Phipps’s essay about David Chase’s little-seen Not Fade Away, a belated review of A Quiet Place Part II and Tobias’s discovery of maybe the definitive movie on the War in Afghanistan:
A few weeks ago, less than a month short of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, America finally withdrew from Afghanistan. It became the first time in years that the longest war in the country’s history got headlines. That astonishing neglect was reflected by the movies, too. The war in Afghanistan never got its Apocalypse Now or Platoon or Casualties of War. Hollywood ignored it almost completely, unless you want to count the Tina Fey comedy Whisky Tango Foxtrot, which, fittingly, centered on the difficulty journalists faced in drumming up printable stories about the war. And for independent filmmakers, too, the war seemed as out-of-mind-out-of-sight as it did for a national media that did not have the patience or the attention span to monitor a quagmire. […] Yet it’s Restrepo that feels like the true soul of the war, in part for the startling immediacy achieved by having two filmmakers embedded with the unit, and in part because of the tragic fecklessness that defined so much of our time there.
Vinnie Mancuso has been thinking about Billy Zane’s cameo in Zoolander every day for the last twenty years. He breaks it down for Collider:
Billy Zane is a cool dude. He made his first significant screen debut as Background Goon #3 in two Back to the Future films, but really gained notoriety as an absolute psychopath in the Australian high-seas horror, Dead Calm, alongside Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman. From there, it was a string of extremely interesting, if not always successful genre roles, from the ill-advised cult comic book film The Phantom, to a brief recurring pitstop in that part of Twin Peaks season 2 that everyone skips, to a henchman of literal Satan in the absolute classic, Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, all leading to a little film titled Titanic. By now, you’re well aware James Cameron’s box office-breaking disaster film saw Zane play Caledon Hockley, a role for which he should have won an Oscar almost solely for his delivery of the line “I hope you enjoy your time together.” (Titanic was also egregiously snubbed for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling win strictly for that one strand of Cal’s hair that flops out while he’s trying to commit tiny handgun murder in the bowels of a sinking ship.) Simply put, that’s almost a solid decade of audiences dealing with what makes Billy Zane a compelling on-screen presence; it’s a push-pull scenario, a Brad Pitt-esque dilemma, the fact that Billy Zane is a wonderfully committed character actor inside a body that looks like, well, a male model.
In The Drift, Blair McClendon calls on his experience as a film editor to walk through the manipulations – deliberate and intrinsic – that separate documentary from straight journalism:
What is more difficult to parse — at least without access to a filmmaker’s hard drives — is how much of a documentary relies not on what you’re seeing, but on what you’re hearing. In recent years, experts warned that “deepfakes” — AI-assisted video manipulation in which somebody’s face would be convincingly grafted onto another body — had the ability to potentially destabilize societies. Someone, anyone with a computer and time could make a head of state declare war or engage in some compromising activity. As I read these concerns, I thought about how many dialogue edits in documentaries already go unnoticed.
At Eater, Jaya Saxena risks home and health attempting to recreate the lightening-cooked mushroom from Disney’s Ratatouille:
“Now, it turns out it’s pretty hard to generate lightning bolts on demand,” says [cooking writer Chris] Young, and even if you could, the average lightning bolt is about 300 million volts, or 30,000 amps. In comparison, you probably get about 120 volts of electricity out of your wall plug in the U.S.. With lightning’s power, instead of the beautiful popcorn mushroom Remy ends up with, he and the mushroom would probably just explode, as the water in both him and the mushroom would boil and burst into steam almost instantaneously. Luckily, Young outlined a way for me to cook mushrooms using a lower amount of electricity so that maybe I could see what Remy was going for and not explode my own body.
For The Verge, Ian Carlos Campbell describes the experience of Future Wife, an interactive play that took place entirely in an online Google spreadsheet:
Blush, tang, and their collaborators leave the audience a lot of digital space to interact, sometimes a whole pirate island’s worth, coordinating with their cast over Discord to prompt discussion and improv with lines delivered by the alien activists trying to rescue Boots. Combined with the anonymity inherent to the experience, this can lead to some candid sharing. It also produces magical moments of interaction. Multiple times I left a goofy attempt at being funny in one sheet, only to come back later and find an honest response or multiple equally dumb riffs. It’s those moments that wowed me. Honesty, playfulness, even community in a shared anonymous space is an increasingly rare thing in 2021. You’d be considered naïve to expect it. But for its hour runtime, Future Wife makes it happen.
And finally, Buzzfeed chronicles in photos what celebrity birthday cakes looked like before baking shows altered our perceptions of confection construction:
[image caption] Michael Jordan “dunks” a cake basketball as he celebrates his 33rd birthday on Feb. 12, 1996, at Michael Jordan’s Restaurant in Chicago.