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The Roundup: August 12

At long last and much frantic feedreading in an attempt to get something near caught up, I’m going to attempt to bring back The Roundup of favorite posts and articles. I’m doing it a bit differently, though – this post won’t be quite as comprehensive as it used to be, because I’m now using Flipboard to curate my favorite links throughout the week. What’s Flipboard? I’m glad you asked. It’s a lovely magazine-style newsreader, originally for iPad but now multiplatform, that also allows users to create and curate their own magazines on any topic they want. So I’ve created magazines about current film, classic film, television, gaming, etc., which can all be read through the app or via a browser at my Flipboard profile. What I post here each week will be my favorite flips of the past week, but if you like my taste in reading, you can find many more good reads by flipping through the full magazines.

Since it’s been a while and I literally just caught up on about a month of posts over the past several days, not all of these will be from the past week, and there are more of them than there likely will be in the future. People kept writing more good stuff while I was working on this post.

Current Film

Stop Blaming Jaws! by Heather Havrilesky of the New York Times

Couldn’t agree more with this – Jaws has great characters and pacing that lets you breathe and build up dread, rather than simply escalating action to the point of exhaustion. See following article with Lindelof interview for comparison.

“As a business model, Jaws may well have upended the movie industry. Creatively, though, it’s increasingly strange to blame Jaws for spawning the modern blockbuster, given how little Steven Spielberg’s esoteric, character-driven story has in common with today’s action extravaganzas. Compared with movies like Pacific Rim, World War Z and White House Down, Jaws is an art-house film. And a very good one: the film built suspense by focusing on what you couldn’t see more than on what you could. The young swimmer, up to her shoulders in murky water. A boy’s dangling legs, viewed from under the water. A swaying fishing boat, creaking eerily in the darkness.”

Damon Lindelof on Blockbuster Screenwriting by Scott Brown of Vulture Magazine

It’s somewhat disingenuous coming from Lindelof, since he’s the crafter of many of Hollywood’s current blockbusters (including Star Trek: Into Darkness, which falls prey to the very escalation he mentions in the paragraph before the one I pulled), but it’s an interesting insight into the Hollywood mindset.

But Hollywood’s gigantism, Lindelof points out, is practically algorithmic—and the effect tendrils all the way down to the storytelling level. When ever-larger sums are spent to make and market ever-fewer, ever-bigger movies, and those movies are aimed at Imax screens, then world-­shattering comic-book I.P. and gigantic special effects are expected, with larger-than-life characters wielding those effects. No one necessarily asks for it; it just kind of happens. It’s what Lindelof calls Story Gravity, and dealing with it—whether that means resisting it or simply surfing it skillfully—is the great challenge of writing this new breed of tentpole blockbuster. The question used to be: How do we top ourselves? The new one seems to be: How do we stop ourselves?

The Legend of Harvey Scissorhands by Vadim Rizov at Film.com

If I’m totally honest, I actually liked the shorter cut of Cinema Paradiso better than the director’s cut. But that’s a rare exception, and I do not look forward to seeing a chopped-up Snowpiercer. I’ll wait for the Korean cut to come on DVD.

Speaking to the Associated Press in 1993, Weinstein made his views on running times clear: Addressing a recent “trend” of lengthy releases (the article notes that for example “Hard Boiled” clocks in over two hours, a far cry from today’s blockbuster season), he growled “I hope it’s not a trend, for trend’s sake. Nothing’s worse than putting an audience through hell for indulgence sake.” By the ’90s, Weinstein’s unrepentant tampering had gained him the title “Harvey Scissorhands,” and some filmmakers flat out wouldn’t work with him.

Terrence Malick, Theologian: The Intimidating, Exhilarating Religiosity of The Tree of Life and To the Wonder by Josh Timmermann at Mubi

I’ve always thought of The Tree of Life in religious terms, and was glad to see someone else finally do the same, though he spends more time on To the Wonder, which I haven’t seen yet.

Malick’s long-in-the-works semi-autobiographical masterpiece, with its opening epigram from the Book of Job, seemed to be the moment when it became nearly impossible to write about Malick without touching upon, however briefly and superficially, the religiosity of his work. This is a problem that is discernibly reflected in the reception of The Tree of Life and especially To the Wonder (2012). Aesthetes seduced by the exceptional visual and aural beauty of Malick’s work, but squeamish with regard to a Christian worldview they dismiss as “New Age-y” largely because they don’t know any better, find his new work didactic, incoherent, or both. Malick—filmmaker, philosopher, and theologian—is interested in the Big Questions, the sorts of ontological and epistemological queries that you just don’t ask—outside of possibly, occasionally certain dark corners of academia—in polite, secular, post-whatever discourse, and certainly not in the antiseptic sphere of popular culture.

The Myth of the Consecrated Movie Theatre by Glenn Kenny at Some Came Running

First read “Shushers: Wrong About Movies, Wrong About the World” from Anil Dash, the provocative (read: trolling) piece that sparked a whole bunch of responses, including this straight-up one from Matt Zoller Seitz and this satirical one from Scott Beggs. I think the Dash article is ridiculous, but I do agree with Kenny’s reminder that theatres have not always had the sense of reverence that we shushers try to evoke.

I am not a historian so I cannot even begin to pinpoint the time during which the notion of the movie theater as a consecrated space came into being. But given certain cultural signifiers – the movie line confrontation scene in Annie Hall, for instance, and that movie’s lead character Alvie Singer’s neurotic refusal to enter a theater once the opening credits of a picture have begun — I infer that the art film, the repertory cinema, and the counterculture all had something to do with it.

The Big Come-On: In a Teaser Culture, the Hints of What’s to Come Matter More Than the Events Themselves by Matt Singer at The Dissolve

The teaser culture has reached the tipping point for me. I’m exhausted by it, to the point that I barely watch trailers any more (seriously, I tend not to watch trailers because I’d rather see things fresh, but at this point, I’m also just tired of all the marketing). A teaser for a trailer? A teaser for a title sequence? A teaser for a title? Stop this madness, I want off.

Modern comic-book and geek-friendly movies are certainly some of the most tease-friendly genres in cinema, and not just while the credits are rolling. The never-ending battles for truth and justice perpetuate endless numbers of sequels to not only watch, but anticipate. Fans hang on every plot rumor and casting announcement. Entire websites dedicated less to film journalism than film anticipation feed their cravings with an endless churn of cinematic speculation. At the just-wrapped San Diego Comic-Con, the star attractions aren’t movies; they’re teases of movies. Fans wait hours or even days just to watch trailers, or sometimes even less than that; Marvel’s preview of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron was nothing more than an elaborate title treatment, with almost no additional information. As its own experience, that’s almost worthless. As a tease, it’s almost perfect, leaving open infinite avenues for speculation.

What We Talk About When We Talk About 3D by Corey Atad at Movie Mezzanine

I dislike 3D, but I do think Corey’s got the right idea, that if it’s every going be something worthwhile, we (and filmmakers) need to start approaching it based on how it’s used artistically rather than technically. I really wish I’d managed to see The Great Gatsby theatrically, since it sounds like it used the 3D in a rather interesting and intentional way.

What’s more vexing is that we haven’t moved past discussions of whether 3D should exist, and to the more important critical issue, how 3D is implemented in artistic terms. Read the majority of reviews of 3D films, and when the 3D is mentioned it’s usually on a relatively binary scale. Either the 3D is “good” or “bad.” “Effective” or “ineffective.” “Distracting” or “unnoticeable.” Not that 3D and color photography are necessarily equivalent artistic tools, but could you imagine if critics reserved a sentence or two in every review to simply say, ‘the color in this film was pretty good and thankfully not very distracting.’

Classic Film

Looking at Women: William A. Wellman’s Style in Frisco Jenny and Midnight Mary by Darren Hughes at Mubi

I very nearly didn’t read this article, since I hadn’t heard of the two films under discussion, but I do enjoy Wellman in general and was interested in a more auteurist approach to him than I usually see, and I’m so glad I read it. It’s an excellent close reading of the two film’s formal properties, specifically composition, and a great reminder that we don’t have to restrict this kind of close reading to big name films.

Made just a few months apart and packaged conveniently on the same disc of TCM’s Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 3, Wellman’s Frisco Jenny (First National Pictures, 1932) and Midnight Mary (MGM, 1933) make for a useful case study of the director’s style. The former is a grand Greek tragedy dressed in gangster clothing; the latter is an interesting trifle, a mash-up of genres that occasionally transcends convention. On paper, the films’ scenarios are quite similar, and Wellman, who prided himself on making fast-paced films quickly (he’s credited as director on at least ten other productions in 1932 and 1933), lifts shots directly from Jenny and reuses them in Mary. The differences between the films’ formal strategies are revealing, though, and they go some way in explaining why Frisco Jenny is the much better film, both dramatically and aesthetically.

Keynote: It’s Always Fair Weather by Nathan Rabin at The Dissolve

I’m loving The Dissolve’s Film of the Week feature, with posts throughout the week from the various writers approaching a certain film from different angles; I was somewhat surprised to see It’s Always Fair Weather crop up as a choice, since it’s generally regarded as something of a misfire even by classic musical fans, but Rabin here makes a decent case for a reassessment.

Onscreen and off, Fair Weather was characterized by infighting, clashing egos, and personality conflicts, which helps give the film a bracing tension rare for musicals of any period, but especially the 1950s. Where the ebullient On The Town is giddy and manic, It’s Always Fair Weather is depressive and moody. Where On The Town is a crowd-pleaser, It’s Always Fair Weather is gloomy but inspired, an unabashed downer that purposefully, brilliantly denies audiences much of what they’d come to expect from musicals, such as likeable protagonists and an upbeat sensibility.

Ranked: All 50 Woody Allen Films From Worst to Best by Jordan Hoffman at Film.com

I love Woody Allen, but I’m nowhere near finished even watching his complete filmography, much less ranking and writing about them all. Bravo, Mr. Hoffman. Bravo.

Woody Allen is my favorite filmmaker. Full stop. There are dozens tied for second place, but he’s the one on top. I love his comedies, I love his dramas and I especially love when the two drift into one another. [...] Then there are also the zings. While the Woody Allen screen persona has remained somewhat frozen in time for fifty years (50% neurotic Eisenhower-era enriched New York City Jew, 25% Bob Hope letch, 20% Groucho Marx wiseacre, 5% Chaplin-esque imp prone to sight-gag foibles, though my math could be a tad off) the writing still remains fresh. And the Woody persona will be one of the lasting icons of our time.

“Daughters! They’re a Mess No Matter How You Look at Them!” by Brandie at True Classics

Preston Sturges is a great filmmaker who deserves to be better known outside of classic film fan circles, and Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is a great place to start, particularly because it is so outrageously ahead of its time.

So begins Preston Sturges’ increasingly frenetic 1944 comedy The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, a film that should not even exist, given the time period in which it was made. But this is no ordinary movie, and Sturges no ordinary writer/director. During a time of war, when it seemed every other filmmaker in Hollywood strove to perpetuate the American ideal, Sturges, with an almost tangible sense of perverse delight, set about skewering the virtues that the country held dear. And in the process, he presented us with one of the funniest and most unexpected comedies ever conceived.

In His Own Words: Bob Clampett Remembers Bob McKimson by Jim Korkis at Cartoon Research

Both Clampett and McKimson are great animators in the Looney Tunes era, and it’s a lot of fun to hear Clampett rave about McKimson’s talents.

And when I gave him his scenes, I never felt it necessary to make as many layout sketches and action roughs as I made for the other animators. I would mainly stand up and act out each action for him with each little facial expression, finger action, etc. as he stared intently at me. Sometimes he would ask me to go through it two or three more times and then he would go to his board and return with a fully animated set of drawings so exact to what I hoped to see that you would swear he had in some way photographed them in his head and miraculously xeroxed them on to the sheets.

Not Film

The Diplomat by Kevin McFarland at the A.V. Club

I was hugely into figure skating throughout the ’90s, so a little bit after Katerina Witt’s heyday, but she came back to compete in the 1994 Olympics and I saw her in a number of professional competitions and shows after that. By that time she was representing reunified Germany, so the East German aspect discussed in this article is interesting.

The Diplomat doesn’t spend much time picking apart [figure skater Katerina] Witt’s two gold medal-winning routines, or her rigorous training, or any advancement in the sport that she made as an athlete. This film is interested in Witt as a cultural icon in East Germany at a time when the government was starting to show cracks.

5 Reasons to Keep Your Current Gen Consoles Plugged In by Matt De Azevedo at Sound on Sight

We’re already planning to get both next gen consoles eventually, but yeah, our old ones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. With no backwards compatibility, they can’t.

Let’s take a look at some of the most anticipated titles which are expected to be available at or around the launch of the PS4 and the Xbox One: Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, Destiny, and Watch Dogs. What do all 5 of these titles have in common? All of them will be on both current and next generation hardware. Will the next gen versions look better? Yes, slightly, but not enough to make you feel like you’ve jumped into the next generation of gaming.

Low Fidelity: THe Reality of the Record Business, circa 2013 by Justin M. Norton at Decibel

Amoeba, the Hollywood record store we usually go to, is not like this, but it’s kind of the equivalent of a big box book store compared to an independent one.

There’s a certain romance about record stores, an idea that the employees sit around and listen to music they love and meet and have intimate discourse with others who share their passion. Let’s end this horseshit idea.

How the Sickest Mind in Comic Books Became Their Biggest Star by Abraham Riesman at the New Republic

I’ve only read a few of Mark Millar’s newer Millarworld series, not his DC or mainline Marvel stuff – sounds interesting, but also like it might go a little too extreme even for me.

Millar’s most successful books are built around provocative elevator pitches. What if Superman’s spaceship had landed in Soviet Ukraine and he’d become a Communist? Read 2003’s Superman: Red Son to find out. What if the U.S. government started giving away superpowers as a recruitment tool? Check out 2008’s War Heroes and see the carnage that ensues. What if all the Marvel heroes had a zombie virus? What if all the DC supervillains teamed up and actually succeeded in taking over the world?

First Look: American Vampire Anthology from ComicVine

Of all the comics currently on hiatus…okay, I might miss Saga the most, but American Vampire is an extremely close second. Looking forward to this to tide me over.

Things have felt a little empty since AMERICAN VAMPIRE has gone on hiatus. It’s understandable as Scott Snyder is delivering great issues of BATMAN, SUPERMAN UNCHAINED and THE WAKE. But we’ll be getting something later this month.

News

DVD Extra: Stanwyck, Lorre, Benny and Lots of Announcements by Lou Loumenick at the New York Post

No good pullquote here, but a lot of great classic film DVD announcements. Loumenick really does the best job at these, pulling a lot from specialty DVD distributors like Warner Archive and Olive Films to get at the classic releases lots of other coverage misses.

Netflix to Boost Original Content Lineup with Marco Polo from The Verge

I’ll watch it. I love medieval/renaissance stuff.

Netflix has reportedly inked a deal to bring the adventures of Marco Polo to television, acquiring the rights after its former home, Starz, canceled plans to produce the project.

Sundance Channel to Air 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Weekly Series of Classic, Indie and Foreign Film from Thompson on Hollywood

Note also that TCM is devoting a lot of time in September to programming related to Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Both of these series are going to be like History of Film 101 courses without the tuition fees, so enjoy!

The Sundance Channel has teamed up with Barron’s Educational Series to bring the popular film compendium 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die to the small screen in a new weekly series. Every Sunday, Sundance Channel will air a classic Hollywood, independent or foreign film featured in the latest edition of the book.

Microsoft ‘Committed’ to Original Xbox One Plans, Reveals New ‘Home Gold’ Sharing Feature by Tom Warren at The Verge

I’m planning to go fully digital in the next generation, so any cool features like this Xbox One can offer sound great to me.

Xbox One games purchased digitally can be used by all players in a household on an Xbox One. Just as discs can be played by any family member today, Microsoft will allow Xbox One owners to create a virtual game library that includes different games that family members have purchased digitally. Any family member will be able to pick a digital game and sign in with their account even if the original owner is not signed in.

The New Pornographers are Working on a New Album by Kayla Reed at AV Club

New Neko Case in September, and new New Pornos before too long? I’m there.

[Neko] Case also went on to divulge that most of the vocals for the as-yet-untitled sixth LP will be done by the end of July, but she’s unsure of the album’s exact release date.

Images of the Week

Click on the image thumbnail to see it full-size in a lightbox. Click the links to see the source article and sometimes related images.

Mondo Celebrates Alfred Hitchcock’s Birthday with Posters for Psycho and Vertigo from /Film

Your Favorite Movies Laid Out as Vintage Treasure Maps from Wired Magazine

Red Skull is Red, Smurfette is Blue – Cartoon Color Wheel from Slate Magazine

How Often Cities Appear in Books from the Past 200 Years from Gizmodo

Video of the Week

Great editing work here. Got me a little sad, though, thinking how samey all these films are these days. Still, gotta say the opening and closing sequences still had me enthralled – it was mostly the explosion part that got really really boring.

  • Brandie

    Thanks very much for the mention, Jandy! It’s awesome to see the Roundup back–you always highlight some wonderful things I haven’t seen yet.

    • http://www.the-frame.com/blog Jandy

      You’re very welcome! And yeah, I figure even if an article isn’t brand new, there are still probably people who haven’t seen it yet, and a lot of stuff (especially classic film stuff) is timeless.