The Long Goodbye on Los Angeles

“I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars. When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of the traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty-four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.” – Philip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye (by Raymond Chandler)

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The Roundup: April 9, 2014

The best things I’ve read over the past week; usually they were also posted during the past week, but I make no promises. Sometimes I read old stuff and think it’s still worth sharing, so hopefully I’ll highlight some good reads you hadn’t come across yet.

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Girls on Film: Hollywood Should Stop Pretending It’s Hard to Make a Female Superhero Movie by Monika Bartyzel at The Week

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The first thing I said coming out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was “can Black Widow have her own movie now?” I enjoyed the whole film, but she was a standout to me, and definitely Cap’s equal in all but movie title. But really, whether it’s Black Widow or Wonder Woman or whoever, it’s time to give a female superhero her own film. Monika’s Girls on Film column is always worth reading, and this one is especially timely and 100% right. Lots of other stuff on this general topic this week, too. Brett White at Comic Book Resources goes through Widow’s contributions to Winter Soldier in depth, showing how strong her characterization is and how perfectly set she is for carrying her own story. Chrystian Harris over at Film School Rejects shows how all three women of Winter Solder are treated as equals, not damseled, and not even relegated to love interests. Also at FSR, The Bitter Script Reader directly addresses the question of why there isn’t a solo Widow movie, but kind of takes the tack that if there had been in Phase 2, she wouldn’t have been such a big and wonderful part of Winter Soldier, which is probably true, but doesn’t negate the fact that she should have a movie in Phase 3. A bit further afield but still related, Monika Bartyzel (again) looks at Five Franchises That Could Keep Wonder Woman from Getting Sucker-Punched, suggesting that plot details and backstories done in successful franchises led by both women and men prove that Wonder Woman is not that hard to do. And Five Thirty Eight even has The Dollar and Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women, which uses hard numbers to show that movies that pass the Bechdel test make more money than those that don’t (there are a number of issues I have with this methodology, because it doesn’t actually address the immediate problem on my mind, which is the lack of major release films with female LEADS, but it’s still a good piece of the puzzle).

“We’re waiting for the right story” is a pretty clever turn of phrase. It’s a statement that implies interest, but is basically a polite way to express disinterest in long-established female characters. Films like ­X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman Returns, Iron Man, and Captain America aren’t the result of execs sitting around hoping inspiration would strike; they are the result of active, concentrated work. Marvel’s Louis D’Esposito admitted as much himself: “A lot of R&D goes into it.” [...] The fact is, the terrible movies that have been released have allowed studios to hide behind an all-too-convenient fear of superheroines. Sure, we can try and try again on Wolverine, Superman, and Incredible Hulk movies. But no one dares risk the studio’s precarious finances because Supergirl was bad, or because Catwoman was abysmal. Those films failed not because they starred women, but because they were bad.

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Fantasy is Escapist

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? …If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!

- J.R.R. Tolkein

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The Roundup: April 2, 2014

The best things I’ve read over the past week; usually they were also posted during the past week, but I make no promises. Sometimes I read old stuff and think it’s still worth sharing, so hopefully I’ll highlight some good reads you hadn’t come across yet.

Cinema

Please, Critics, Write About the Filmmaking by Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com

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I shared this article on its own earlier this week, but it has since become the talk of the film blogosphere. The discussion really started with an article from jazz critic Ted Gioia lamenting that music critics don’t talk about musicianship. Criticwire took it from there, polling a variety of film writers with the question Should Film Critics Be Filmmakers?. Matt Zoller Seitz’s article is an expansion of his answer, pleading with film critics to talk about film form and not just writing/acting/ideology. That set off a bunch of responses, including Sam Adams saying that Critics Should Definitely Write About Form, Except When They Don’t Want To, and several other responses, mostly saying that yes, film form is important, but not everybody has to write about it all the time. Personally, I can say that when I don’t include a discussion of form, it’s because I’m being lazy, and I should definitely do better than that. I love reading articles that discuss form, and I’m capable of writing it when I hunker down to it. That said, different critics are good at different things, and also just because they’re cognizant of form doesn’t mean that talking about it fits in with the article they’re trying to write. I don’t think you have to shoehorn it in just because you can. It’s a good discussion to have, though, because I think it’s easy to get lazy like me and just not take the time to really closely read filmmaking techniques.

We have several successive generations of film watchers—some of whom consume TV and movies voraciously and have surprisingly wide-ranging tastes—who don’t know how to interpret a shot, or how to think about what the size or position of characters in a frame might tell us about the story’s attitude toward those characters. That’s a problem. We have critics and viewers who can agree that a particular episode of a particular show ended in a “shocking” or “unsettling” way, but they don’t think about the role that, say, a jaggedly timed cut to black or atonal music cue might have played in provoking that reaction. That’s a problem.

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