The Roundup: April 22

Cinema

Criticwire Survey: Spoiler Alert

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This is a debate that’s never going to go away, but it’s always interesting to see different perspectives on it. I think I’m personally closest (both as a writer and a reader) to the perspective Richard Brody puts forward in the quote below. Yes, if something is really good, it doesn’t matter whether or not you know the ending (after all, those things stay good on rewatch), but as Richard said, there’s still something delicious about seeing it fresh the first time. That’s a big reason I don’t watch trailers for anything I know I’m planning to see. And there’s no statute of limitations on spoilers for me – someone’s as unlikely to have seen Casablanca as Captain America these days (if not more so), and why would I want to ruin that for them? That said, criticism intended for people who have seen the movie is so much more interesting and SHOULD be full of spoilers. Just slap a content warning on there and be done with it.

“If the way that the surprise is realized isn’t better than the surprise itself, the movie or the episode is hardly worthwhile. […] On the other hand, there is something special about the first time, and, even the morning after a national episode-orgy, I assume that plenty of readers will be catching up with a show later in the week. […] Allusiveness doesn’t just hold for surprises; it gets to the very nature of criticism, which isn’t a matter of analysis but of evocation, of getting to an experience and rendering its most intimate and subjective implications readily and publicly and objectively visible. […] Since the twists and turns of a plot, the pushing and pulling of expectations, are inextricably part of that experience, I’m as likely to avoid apparent spoilers with movies that have been around for seventy years and that lots of readers may have seen — and not just with big endings, but with enticing details all the way through; if there’s any marvel to the mystery, it’s better to suggest it than to show it openly; sexier, too.” (Brody)

Anna Gets It Right: Disney’s Frozen, C.S. Lewis, and the Primacy of Caritas by Chris at Classical Ascendancy

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Remember that story about conservatives who claimed Frozen would make your children gay? Yeah, that’s ridiculous. This post from a Christian is much closer to what Frozen is actually about, which is a self-sacrificial love that’s greater than romantic love. Spoilers for the entirety of Frozen. (See? Content warning. Done.)

The plot twist of the movie works wonderfully because it exploits a mistaken idea that is at the core of the human condition: the tragically misplaced idea that what the Romans and Medievalists called amor, or romantic love, is the highest form of love in the universe. The examples and evidence of this idea in popular culture span centuries and are everywhere: from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Othello, to Jack and Rose from Titanic, to the sexual liberation movements of the last 50 years, to the current astronomical divorce rates worldwide. All point to humanity’s willingness to sacrifice anything and everything on the altar of amor. […] The failure of Hans to save Anna works splendidly to show the fragile nature of amor. It is inadequate to sustain or save Anna, even though all the characters, including Anna herself, assume it to be the most powerful force in the world. Amor is not the panacea, the end-all, cure-all that our culture holds it up to be.

Upon 20 Years: Rethinking the Classics by Greg Ferrera at Movie Morlocks

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Turner Classic Movies is 20 years old this year, and Greg Ferrera takes the opportunity to reflect on the concept of “classic” itself, which is also a debate that will never be solved. I definitely prefer the term “studio era” to define what we typically think of as classic (and what TCM typically plays), but it’s inevitable that newer eras will become classic, too. I think New Hollywood of the ’70s is already there for sure. But I really love the quote I highlighted below – some people have trouble with classic film because the styles are often very different than what we see today, but that’s what makes classic film so amazing. It’s like stepping into a different time and seeing what people were like then (or wanted to be like then). There have been several other articles about TCM at 20 (and of course, lots of coverage of the 5th TCM Film Festival, which I haven’t even had time to read yet); one of them I can’t manage to find now, but it was basically wondering how TCM could continue showing old movies as the audience for those film theoretically ages and dies. I’d just suggest, as Noel Murray does here and Will McKinley does here (based on a panel at last year’s TCM Fest) that TCM’s audience, and the classic film audience in general, is much younger than you’d expect. Don’t count us out yet!

That said, the movies from the studio era of Hollywood do feel distinct, different. They feel different, not just because they were made a certain amount of years ago, in a different time, but because they were made in such a different way. […] It’s why I continue to watch as many movies from the first half of the 20th century as I can because I fear that the further we remove ourselves from them, the more we lose. I find something so invigorating and refreshing in their different styles of writing, acting, editing, photography, even their music. It signals something gone forever and precious, something that needs to be cared for and loved and remembered. It’s these movies that I think TCM will always push, first and foremost, as the priority. There’s still so much to discover from this era, and learn, to let it ever become just another era.

Please Kill the Expert Review: A Modest Proposal by Sam Adams at Criticwire

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This week’s call and response deals with the “expert review” – you know, those “10 Things Gravity Got Wrong About Science” type articles. Sam Adams calls these little more than nitpicking with little care for how the overall film works. Noah Gittell of RogerEbert.com responds, pointing out the value in expert reviews done well and understood for what they are. I think expert reviews can be fun and a good way to learn more, but if the tone is that the movie is bad BECAUSE these things that are likely not really essential to the story, then yeah, I’m not a fan. However, the “goof-squad niggling” that Sam mentions in the quote below? Very little value except as pure trivia.

By its nature, the Expert Review evaluates what the director Werner Herzog calls “the truth of accountants,” the extent to which a work of fiction dots its i’s and crosses its t’s. At best, it guards against the devolution of drama into sloppy generalities. At worst, which it most often is, the Expert Review is a half-step up from the goof-squad niggling of cinematic and televisual trainspotters who derive a puny sense of superiority by pointing out that a license plate has the wrong prefix or that particular style of telephone wasn’t available until the following year.

Anthony Mackie on a Wonder Woman Movie by Jill Pantozzi at The Mary Sue

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I think a Wonder Woman movie would make more than twenty bucks (even a metaphorical twenty bucks), but basically, Anthony Mackie is awesome. That’s all.

“There should be a Wonder Woman movie. I don’t care if they make 20 bucks, if there’s a movie you’re gonna lose money on, make it Wonder Woman. You know what I mean, ’cause little girls deserve that. There’s so many of these little people out here doing awful things for money in the world of being famous. And little girls see that. They should have the opposite spectrum of that to look up to.”

A Few More…

Not Cinema

How the Oculus Rift Helped Robert Firstenberg Battle Cancer by Tom Rudderham at The Rift Arcade

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A post or two back I shared an article arguing that the VR generation of games should focus on things other than guns and violence, and here’s a great story about using the Oculus Rift for something so simple but so absolutely magical. I’m sure there will be some really amazing games using VR, but it’s going to be so much bigger than that. Related: Ben Kuchera parses Oculus founder’s comments about the future of VR, suggesting it will replace TV as we know it. I don’t know about that because VR is not something I really want over physical presence with family and friends, but I can see it becoming ubiquitous in some form. Let’s say I’m very curious to see where it goes without being invested in it either way.

Roberta’s experience with the Oculus Rift only hints at the possibilities that virtual reality affords. It’s escapism in its most visceral form, transforming the lives of those with severe and crippling limitations. The Rift headset enabled Roberta to walk again, to reach out at virtual butterflies, and to forget all of her problems if only for a brief moment. In the videos comments section below Pri’s video, mdbuehler describes how he visits assisted living homes, and uses the Rift to let pilots and veterans fly again. It’s just another example of how this new technology is being used for the benefit of others.

Why FX’s Fargo is the Perfect TV Show for the Anti-Hero Age by Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post

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We’ve only watched the first episode of the new Fargo TV show (and so had Alyssa when she wrote this), but I’m already loving it. This is a great take on it and why it’s extra uncomfortable to watch – in a good way.

Where fans who cheer on Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” or Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos,” fantasize, but do not act, Lester suddenly starts behaving like the anti-heroes we see so often on television. Without really believing it is possible, Lester asks Lorne to kills Sam for him. And after he gets news of Sam’s death, an emboldened Lester takes a hammer to Pearl’s head, then tries to make himself look like a fellow victim. Unlike Walter, though, Lester is no genius. And unlike Tony, Lester has a reasonably well-developed capacity for guilt and shame.

Anatomy of a Bad Cover: DC’s New Teen Titans #1 by Janelle Asselin at Comic Book Resources

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Comic book covers are a big bone of contention among comic fans who’d like to read comics without seeing unnatural and impossible female figures, and covers are usually far worse even than the art in the comics. Here’s a great takedown of a particularly egregious one. I advise you not to read the comments. I didn’t, but there are a ton of them and I bet they’re depressing.

The cover to the new “Teen Titans” #1, released earlier this week, is not just a terrible comics cover, it’s a prime example of how even the most corporate comic book companies can make basic mistakes regarding the potential audience for a book. It’s embarrassing that anyone, in particular a company as large and full of intelligent people as DC Comics (I swear! I used to work there — many of those people are wonderful), could produce something this non-functional.

The Female Gaze: How Being Watched Affects Morality in Adventure Games by Alexa Ray Corriea at Polygon

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I’ve avoided Telltale Games series because I don’t like the episodic release pattern, but it sounds like The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead are really well-written. There are other games that make you care about the decisions you make like this (especially BioWare games – KOTOR, Mass Effect), but I’m always on the lookout for more.

Bigby is offered increasingly difficult choices that place his humanity on the line as the episodes continue. How much of himself, of his human self, will Bigby have to give up to earn respect from his fellow Fables? To solve the crimes and set things straight? And as we struggle with Bigby to retain his humanity despite dealing with some truly despicable characters, we measure his success in keeping it against Snow’s reactions. She is our moral compass, our barometer for how much of Bigby is left. We see ourselves through her eyes.

Doctor Zhivago: How the CIA Turned the Novel Into a Cold War Weapon by Peter Finn and Petra Couvee at the Sidney Morning Herald

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What a fascinating story. I had no idea of any of this.

During the Cold War, the CIA loved literature – novels, short stories, poems. Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov. Books were weapons, and if a work of literature was unavailable or banned in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, it could be used as propaganda to challenge the Soviet version of reality. Over the course of the Cold War, as many as 10 million copies of books and magazines were secretly distributed by the agency behind the Iron Curtain as part of a political warfare campaign. In this light, Doctor Zhivago was a golden opportunity for the CIA. Both epic and autobiographical, Pasternak’s novel revolves around the doctor-poet Yuri Zhivago: his art, loves and losses in the decades surrounding the 1917 Russian Revolution.

25 Things You Should Know About Life With a Toddler by Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds

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All of this is absolutely true, and absolutely hilarious. Especially the one below; Karina is fully embracing the liquid form these days and it is all but impossible to hold on to her when she doesn’t want to be held on to. That’s her above, by the way – this article didn’t come with an image, so I added my own. :)

I was a dick about kids and parents when I did not myself have a kid. I was Judgey McJudgerson, judging you with my judgey-face. A crying kid on a plane would stress me out. I’d think — as do many other asshole adults — DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR CHILD. Having a kid now has, erm, softened that judgment. I admittedly still think some parents are way too disconnected from their children (and way more connected to their goddamn iPhones — “Hey, is my toddler in traffic? Candy Crush, bitches!”), but in general, I’m a lot more sympathetic because you can’t just “control” a toddler. They’re not a lamp you can move into the corner and turn on and off. They’re not even dogs. They’re tiny human beings with orangutan strength. I used to think, “Just physically control them, just put them somewhere, like in a drawer or something,” but toddlers do this trick where they either let all the tension go out of their bodies or they instead flail about like an unmanned fire-hose. Imagine trying to wrestle an angry octopus, and you get the idea.

A Few More…

Images of the Week

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Disney Firefly Fan Art by Stephen Byrne

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Sci-Fi Vintage Posters by Peter Stults. And aside from the Gravity one, not only is he redesigning them as pulp posters, but recasting them with classic actors!

Video of the Week

YouTube channel Cinefix has done a bunch of these 8-bit versions of movies, and they’re all pretty fun. The latest is one of The Fifth Element, a movie I love unabashedly.