The Roundup: October 25

My top flips into my Flipboard magazines this week, whether the articles are new or old. Read more of my magazines at my Flipboard profile.

Current Film

Girls on Film: The Real Lesson of Gravity by Monika Bartyzel at The Week

Most people seem to be advocating Gravity as pure experience, best seen in IMAX 3D with ATMOS sound. I saw it in 2D, and while I’ll admit I maybe didn’t have as mind-blowing an experience as everyone else, I find myself continuing to think back about the film’s themes and story, which may be simple, but are far from simplistic. Monika Bartyzel does a great job looking at the film as a female-led blockbuster.

For all of the film’s flaws and awe, it tells its story through the character Hollywood would swear is most likely to fail. Dr. Ryan Stone is a woman with classic mommy issues, but she’s also almost half a century old and free of the usual mix of brawn and beauty the industry expects. She both mirrors Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and evolves beyond her. Stone doesn’t need an original film as a 30-year-old gal in bikini briefs or franchise success before playing a bald and brassed off 50-something fighting to stay alive. She just needs a good filmmaker, good effects, and a script that can hold it all together. She is Hollywood’s do or die challenge for long-needed rebirth.

In Defense of Boredom and Boring Movies by Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects

In this sort-of companion piece to the one on Satantango below, Landon Palmer (who is always worth reading) suggests that maybe boredom isn’t such a bad thing.

This is why boredom is not only an increasingly rare experience, buat one that should be valued specifically because it is feared. Boredom of value simply asks us to experience time. Ironically, boredom (or the idea that we are “wasting time”) actually reveals the ways in which we associate time and value it, which is, of course, based on our understanding that our time is limited. To embrace boredom, then, is to acknowledge mortality. There is indeed danger in boredom.

The New Netflix Canon by Anne Helen Petersen at Slate

This article has already made the rounds, but there’s a bunch of Netflix stuff going on, so I figured I’d start with this one. This is talking about TV, and that’s good and well – Netflix is focusing on TV, so while they don’t have HBO shows or some of the other greats, you can still watch some pretty great TV on Netflix. The Dissolve’s Matt Singer asks what the Netflix Canon for movies would be, and it’s more distressing. Meanwhile, there are more signs that Netflix is not too far off from eliminating their DVD business, which severely limits access to classic film.

Through this reliance on Netflix, I’ve seen a new television pantheon begin to take form: There’s what’s streaming on Netflix, and then there’s everything else. When I ask students what they’re watching, the answers are varied: Friday Night Lights, Scandal, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, Breaking Bad, Luther, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Arrested Development, The Walking Dead, Pretty Little Liars, Weeds, Freaks & Geeks, The L Word, Twin Peaks, Archer, Louie, Portlandia. What all these shows have in common, however, is that they’re all available on Netflix. Things that they haven’t watched? The Wire. Deadwood. Veronica Mars, Rome, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos. Even Sex in the City.

Acting Right Around White Folks: On 12 Years a Slave and “Respectability Politics” by ReBecca Theodore-Vachon at RogerEbert.com

I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet, and probably won’t until it’s on DVD, but I found this article really interesting, taking as it does a larger-scale approach to issues of race in cinema. There’s been quite a bit of talk surrounding race in cinema lately, and I’m kind of late to the party. The interesting thing here is that to me it seems like there’s a fine line between “act right around white folks” and “act right around other people in general.” There are things I will teach my children to do and not do in public, but then again in my case, how they behave only reflects on them and me, not on my entire race.

Although the roots of Black respectability were well-meaning in theory, in actuality they foster a double standard for African-Americans, by selling the false premise that they live in a fair and balanced meritocracy. As demonstrated by Patsey and Solomon’s tragic narratives in “12 Years A Slave,” their “respectable” behavior could not absolve them from the cruelty of human bondage.

Classic Film

Is Bela Terr’s Satantango the Dullest Masterpiece of All Time or Just Dull? by Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs at Film School Rejects

Going through the Sight and Sound list of greatest films of all time, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs reach Bela Tarr’s marathon Satantango – seven hours of long takes watching cows eat, girls torture kittens, and townspeople dance for unbroken minutes at a time. True confession – I’ve only made it through half the film myself, but I enjoyed reading their different reactions. Landon acknowledges the film’s difficulty but ultimately finds value in it, while Scott found the experience pretty unbearable.

Tarr’s films are structured so repetitively, so cyclically, that you’re often very aware of the passage of time as it occurs. So first, yes, this is an excessively long film that feels like an excessively long film, and that in of itself is a frustrating experience. There were times during this film that I really despised Tarr for his indulgences, but there were others where I became mesmerized by it.

Forum: Chungking Express at The Dissolve

I for serious want to share every entry related to The Dissolve’s movie of the week, every week. They’ve already moved on Trouble in Paradise, and all of those entries are great, too. Last week the round table about Chungking Express really stood out to me, though, as the crew goes through several aspects of the film that hadn’t coalesced in my head yet.

Re-watching the film, I personally wanted to draw all sorts of conclusions about the difference between the way the two stories are shot: It feels like the first one is more about communicating that the world is a large and lonely place, where everything blurs by and stories don’t have pat resolutions, while the second story focuses on a small, still place within that loneliness, and finds individuals there.

Lost Films, Found by David Kalat at Movie Morlocks

David Kalat, one of my favorite writers over at TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog, lays down some technical knowledge about film preservation. I’ve read a good bit about film preservation, but there’s a ton of facts in here I didn’t know about at all, like all the little pieces of film that were actually produced as part of the original print.

In the end, when high profile “recoveries” of “lost” films occur, most of the time we’re not actually talking about something being discovered so much as something that was already there being correctly identified. By way of a metaphor, we’re not talking about finding loose change under the sofa cushions you didn’t know you had, it’s discovering that your bank account is higher than you thought because you’d been doing a crappy job of balancing your checkbook.

The Legend of Carmen Miranda by Lara at Backlots

As a kid growing up as a giant fan of musicals, I saw plenty of films featuring Carmen Miranda, but I never knew anything about her background. She was just that lady who came on with the big fruit hats and did a specialty number. This is a great look at her background in Portugal and Brazil, and how some of the traditions in Brazil informed her persona.

Her trademark outfit is based on the cultural costume of largely poor Afro-Brazilian locals from the Bahia region of Brazil. She adopted it (in a glamorized style) in 1939 for the movie Banana-da-Terra and the song she sang in the movie, ”O que é que a Baiana tem?” became one of her signature songs, intended to shed a new, cheerful light on the often marginalized black Baiana population. Through her usage and popularization of this costume in the United States, and her eventual evolution into the face of Brazil to American audiences, the traditional costume of Bahia is now likely the most recognized cultural outfit of Brazil.

White Zombie Review by Danny at PreCode.com

George Romero may have invented modern zombie movies, but this is the real original, with great old-fashioned voodoo zombies. To me, voodoo zombies are almost scarier than the post-Romero kind, and White Zombie definitely has that creep factor that I like in classic horror films.

Bela Lugosi’s eyes haunt White Zombie. Deep, expressive, focused. It doesn’t hurt that they’re attached to the rest of Bela Lugosi, but it’s that magnificent stare straight through the camera and into the audience that creates a lasting impression. His eyes are one of the major components to the atmosphere of White Zombie, a pre-Code horror film drenched in mood. The horde of the undead here are not flesh eaters but simply those who have lost the ability to think and feel, the result of voodoo, hypnotism, and Lugosi’s ghoulish eyes.

Not Film

Why are Fictional Females So Boring? by Hannah at Unpublished for a Reason

An old article, responding to an even older article, but I think what Hannah has to say is right on point – “strong female character” shouldn’t necessarily mean “kick-ass female character.” It needs to mean characters that are real people, that have a multitude of “filters,” as Hannah put it, beyond just being “female.” Her point is not unlike the article she’s responding to (the “I Hate Strong Female Characters” one from a couple of months ago), but I like her particular way of putting it.

Media women […] seem to view everything through the “woman” filter – and, conveniently, only deal with issues that SHOULD be dealt with through that filter. They’re constantly encountering openly, blatantly sexist people, or fighting with themselves about whether or not they want babies, or fighting to claim authority. Compare this to male characters, who nearly always have more than one filter. “As a man” is joined by “as a jock,” “as a teacher,” “as a Republican,” “as someone who may or may not have Asperger’s.” This makes them much more relatable. Someone who has introvert, nerd, AND nice person filters is much more similar to me than someone who only has the woman filter in place. So most of the characters I identify with in movies and television are male.

How Indie Games Went Mainstream by Tracey Lien at Polygon

We spend the day at Indiecon in Culver City a couple of weeks ago, an expo devoted wholly to indie games, and there are definitely exciting developments out there. Nintendo and Sony both had booths there – interestingly, though Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade has been a big part of indie gaming, they did not have a booth. Hopefully this doesn’t mean bad things for the future of XBLA.

If the video game press conferences, conventions and expos of the past year are anything to go by, the forthcoming console generation will be the first where games made by independent teams have shared almost as much of the stage as the blockbusters made by some of the world’s biggest studios. Both Microsoft and Sony have drummed up their support for indie games, bringing indie titles to their press conferences and devoting large portions of their floor space at events like E3 and Gamescom to smaller titles.

How Scale Strives for Zelda-like Exploration, Not Just Clever Puzzles by Griffin McElroy at Polygon

This game looks pretty awesome.

“I’m interested in exploring a lot of the implications of the Scale Gun, but my goal in doing that is not to just make a bunch of clever puzzles and show you how clever I am as a designer,” Swink said. “My goal in doing that is to provide that sense of wonder and exploration and discovery that you get from, like — when you play Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and you get turned loose in the overworld, and you have all these cool tools like the Hookshot and the bombs, and it’s just like, ‘Fuck this main quest, I’m gonna go find stuff, and look for secrets, and discover hidden things.’ That’s the taste that I’m going for with this.”

Neko Case Talks About Being a Guy, Asshole Parents, and Writing Songs While Doing Dishes by Kyle Ryan at the AV Club

I’m always up for a new Neko Case album. I’ve listened through this one a few times, liked it, but I need to listen to it some more. I like how she talks about it, though.

Neko Case has generally avoided getting too personal—or at least autobiographical—in her music, but it doesn’t get much more personal than the title of her new album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Its 12 songs contain the most autobiographical music Case has written over her six studio albums, with numerous allusions to family and romantic entanglements that seem to come from a place closer to her heart that on previous records.

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.

Alternate Gravity Posters

There are a number of these going around; these two I particularly like. The first one is by Peter Stults, the second by John Houzer Smith. A few more here.

Hot Fuzz in the Style of Final Fight (1989)

This one’s a bit older; found it several weeks ago when I first started drafting this post – and then never had time to complete it, so I replaced all the articles with newer ones, but I couldn’t resist including this image.

Video of the Week