1. “Braving Ebola.” Portraits of those who labor and those who survived at an Ebola treatment center in rural Liberia.
“The patients arrive, at first fearful of the people in spacesuits whose faces they cannot see. They wait for test results, for the next medical rounds, for symptoms to appear or retreat. They watch for who recovers to sit in the courtyard shade and who does not. They pray. The workers offer medicine, meals, cookies and comfort. They try to make patients smile. Very, very carefully, they start IVs. They spray chlorine, over and over, and they dig graves. They pray. These are the people of one Ebola clinic in rural Liberia. Run by the American charity International Medical Corps, the clinic rose in September out of a tropical forest. It now employs more than 170 workers, a mix of locals and foreigners, some of them volunteers. There are laborers trying to make money for their families, university students helping because Ebola has shut down their schools, and American doctors who, after years of studying outbreaks, are seeing Ebola’s ravages in person for the first time. A mobile laboratory operated by the United States Navy has set up shop at a shuttered university. Now, test results come back in a matter of hours instead of several days. Some of the workers will stay a few more weeks, or until the end of the year. Many of the Liberians vow to remain until the disease is gone, when they can go back to their old jobs or resume their former lives. They work toward a time after Ebola.”
2. “Birth of the Method.” For Sight & Sounds, Foster Hirsch and James Bell on the revolution in American acting.
“But was there no equivalent of the Method before the Studio or before the term itself became a household word? Was there no great acting in American films before the explosion of acting talent in the postwar period? The answer to both questions is, yes there was. Often causing consternation among disciples, Strasberg would cite movie stars of earlier generations, such as Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy, who seemed to him to be doing the Method by instinct. With a glance, a silent reaction, a pause, a gesture, naturalists like Cooper and Tracy could convey a rich sense of their character’s inner life. Strasberg often cited Garbo as a Method actress before the fact and Kazan hailed her Camille as the finest, most complete film performance by an actress he had ever seen.”
3. ”Interstellar May Be Grand, But It Doesn’t Connect.” Stephanie Zacharek on the Christopher Nolan film.
“There’s so much space in Christopher Nolan’s nearly three-hour intergalactic extravaganza Interstellar that there’s almost no room for people. This is a gigantosaurus movie entertainment, set partly in outer space and partly in a futuristic dustbowl America where humans are in danger of dying out, and Nolan—who co-wrote the script with his brother, Jonathan—has front-loaded it with big themes and even bigger visuals. Interstellar is supposedly all about what it means to be human, but it’s supersized in case we really are so out of touch that we need to have everything blown up IMAX-big. ’We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars,’ says Matthew McConaughey’s farmer-astronaut-dreamer in one of his many, many proclamations about life, family, and the cosmos. ’Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.’ But even the dirt in Interstellar looks spectacularly art-directed. Nolan may be invoking Walker Evans, but Interstellar is really just Jethro Bodine–sized.”
4. “Direct from Video.” For The A.V. Club, Katie Rife on the rise of the VHS collector.
“These fetishists fall into two broadly defined camps: the nostalgists, who are looking to relive childhood memories, and the aesthetes, who are drawn to the roughhewn beauty of low-budget horror. Both, like any group of collectors, err on the completist side—collecting every title from long-defunct distributors like Unicorn Video and Midnight Video is a common goal—and live to unearth hard-to-find or undiscovered videos that will make fellow hobbyists seethe with jealousy. The packaging of the tape itself is important: Clamshell and big-box tapes are more desirable than the run-of-the-mill slipcase, in no small part because the box art is bigger. Box art is a huge draw for VHS collectors, who collect outstanding (or outrageous) VHS box art and create coffee table books and, more recently, art exhibits. Some of these titles are valuable exclusively for the box art: The cover of Evils Of The Night, for example, depicts a suspiciously Millennium Falcon-esque spaceship (an extra cockpit keeps the illustration out of copyright infringement territory) and a floating orb containing skeletal bloodsucking aliens, neither of which actually appear in the rather forgettable movie. But it looks cool, so who cares?”
5. “The Curse of Crash.” Mark Harris, for Grantland, on the narratives that doom Oscar movies.
“’Y’—as in, ’Why, God, why?’—is a symbol of mediocrity, compromise, and injustice. And that is a terrible thing to be anywhere, including in contemporary movie culture. There are Best Picture winners that seem to make people cringe almost as soon as the envelope is unsealed: for instance, Braveheart. But Braveheart is not a ’Y,’ because for a ’Y’ to exist, there has to be an ’X’—the slighted masterpiece that time will vindicate. The year Braveheart won, there was no ’X’—no Monday-morning quarterback shook his fist and railed against the movie having beaten Il Postino or Sense and Sensibility. The presence of an ’X’ is what causes an undeserving Best Picture winner to be demonized for years to come. Robert Redford’s Ordinary People was a ’Y’ because it beat Raging Bull, possibly the ’X’-iest ’X’ since Kane, in 1980, sparking a ’Scorsese is owed’ narrative of grievance that took a full quarter-century to play out. During those decades, Ordinary People, which is actually a superbly put-together, beautifully acted, only slightly dated movie, was dismissed by generations of knowing critics as (roughly) bourgie complacent smug privileged middlebrow white-bread pandering suburban horseshit. But many of them hadn’t really been looking at the movie; they’d been glowering at the voting body that had decided it was better than Raging Bull, and working backward from their contempt. That view turned Ordinary People into nothing more than comfort food cooked up by the collective unconscious of blind fools with lifetime memberships.”
Video of the Day: Flying Lotus’s graphic (NSFW) video for “Ready Err Not”:
Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org and to converse in the comments section.