Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 9:52 am
Some might characterize what filmmaker Ross McElwee does as navel-gazing. But in the hands of this veteran documentarian, that which might be self-indulgent egomania from a lesser artist is often the stuff of quiet revelation.
Simon and the Oaks, a handsomely upholstered Swedish drama about two troubled families trying to survive World War II, is based on a runaway best-selling novel by Marianne Fredriksson. The film was made with money from several Scandinavian countries once occupied by the Nazis, as well as from Germany itself. It won a truckload of Swedish Oscars, and in the accolades heaped upon the movie, the word "epic" is thrown around with abandon.
If you do the math, the number of true psychopaths in Seven Psychopaths may not quite add up. Perhaps writer-director Martin McDonagh didn't want to go overboard with the murderous crazies. As it is, he's peopled his whimsically brutal comic thriller with — to name just three — an Amish throat-slasher, a dynamite-packing Buddhist and a serial killer who's fond of white bunny rabbits. That's probably enough.
The original French title of The Big Picture — an adaptation of a novel by American expatriate writer Douglas Kennedy — means "the man who wanted to live his life." That's pointedly ironic, since this existential thriller is about a person who seeks personal freedom by becoming somebody else.
When you think about the great music of science fiction, a few staples spring to mind — say, the theme from the classic Star Trek series, or John Williams' compositions for the Star Wars movies.
Nathan Johnson, the composer for the new time-travel thriller Looper, wanted to break with tradition. Instead of going for that slick, orchestral sound, he immersed himself in the world of the film to find his source material.
Farms in Chester County, Pa., produce 400 million pounds of mushrooms annually. That's about half of all mushrooms grown in the U.S. They're grown indoors in long, gray cinder-block houses built into the side of a hill.
Southeast Asian workers cut shiitake mushrooms at Phillips Mushroom Farms. The mushroom industry in Chester County, Pa., has relied on several waves of immigrant workers, beginning with Italians in the late 1800s.
At an industrial compost facility that supplies the mushroom industry in Kennett Square, ground-up corn cobs are mixed with chicken manure, hay, cocoa shells and horse manure. Over time, growers have learned that mushrooms grow best with this blend of nutrients.
Every 10 weeks, the beds inside the mushroom rooms are filled with compost mixed with spores, and covered with peat moss. The spores germinate and create a thick web of white threads called mycelia, shown here. As the fungi try to reproduce, they send up their fruit — the mushrooms.
Here's an astonishing fact: Half of America's mushrooms are grown in one tiny corner of southeastern Pennsylvania, near the town of Kennett Square.
But why? It's not as though this place has some special advantage of climate or soil, the kind of thing that led to strawberry fields in Watsonville, Calif., or peach orchards in Georgia. Mushrooms can grow indoors. They could come from anywhere.