The Roundup: April 30

Cinema

Keynote: The Boxes and Lines of Sherlock Jr. by Noel Murray at The Dissolve

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It’s never a bad time to look at Buster Keaton’s brilliant Sherlock Jr., and I love that in his keynote post, Noel Murray doesn’t even focus for very long on the justly famous entering-the-movie sequence – there are so many other incredible scenes in this film, and Murray takes an interesting analytic approach, looking at the way Keaton frames movement on screen along geometric patterns. I haven’t seen this particular approach before, but it makes a lot of sense. See also the roundtable post, which hits on various themes and stylistic touches in the film. As the film hits 90 this year, others have been thinking about it, too, and Christopher Campbell at Film School Rejects takes an intriguing tack, noting that the film was actually considered a box office failure at the time of release, and musing on why audiences in general often seem to avoid films that call too much attention to the artificiality of the screen (thus busting the illusion the screen and the bubble of escapism). I’d say that the meta aspects of Sherlock Jr. are EXACTLY why it’s so well-loved among film buffs today – I guess we don’t care about having that illusion shattered? Here’s another look at the film that backs me up: Kyle Turner at The Black Maria titles his piece “Why We Love Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., and it’s precisely those meta reasons that Campbell posits audiences avoid. Interesting things to think about.

In one of the most memorable sequences in Keaton’s 1924 masterpiece Sherlock, Jr., Keaton’s unnamed hero—nicknamed “Sherlock, Jr.” because that’s the fictional character he emulates—follows the man who framed him for the theft of the watch belonging to his girlfriend’s father. The amateur detective shadows his mark closely, with both of them moving from right to left on the screen, in pretty close to a straight line. Then the hero scrambles atop a moving train, and starts running left to right, making no progress. Finally he escapes the railroad treadmill and runs away—but it’s where he runs that’s unusual. After a few minutes of gags based on Keaton moving on the same plane as the other characters, his character suddenly takes off into the horizon, shrinking to a dot as he disappears into the distance. It’s as though he’s discovered some kind of magical power, to go somewhere other than left, right, up, or down.

Why U.S. Audiences are More Comfortable with Subtitles Than Ever by Scott Foundas at Variety

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I think this is a much more complicated issue than Foundas’ article lets on, but it’s an interesting starting point for more research. In talking with a few acquaintances who mentioned they don’t like subtitles because having to read them disconnects them from the movie, they allowed that Inglourious Basterds didn’t bother them at all. What I suspect is that U.S. audiences are comfortable with subtitles in American films that are at least partially in English and the subtitles allow speaking in foreign languages that occur naturally in the setting. I’m not sure that U.S. audiences are more comfortable with actual foreign language films, unless they’re very genre-based (The Raid, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) or extraordinarily accessible (Amelie). I do agree with what seems to be one of Foundas’ main points, which is that American audiences are starting to prefer subtitles for naturally-occurring foreign languages over people speaking English when they wouldn’t in real life – like if two German soldiers talk to each other in a WWII film, why would they speak English? – which is a switch from most movies up until recently.

When Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” premiered at Cannes in 2009, some journalists hemmed and hawed that the film’s commercial fortunes would be limited by the fact that three-quarters of the dialogue was in French and German; in reality, the movie went on to become the biggest hit (domestic and international) of Tarantino’s career up to that point. And from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to “The Passion of the Christ,” “The Last Samurai,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Avatar” and “District 9,” subtitles have become increasingly common at the mainstream multiplex in the past two decades, with no audience revolt in sight.

How Captain America: The Winter Soldier Succeeds Where Man of Steel Failed by Mike Ryan at Screencrush

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SPOILERS for both movies.

I don’t entirely agree that Man of Steel failed, at least not for the reasons laid out in this comparison (which focuses on Superman killing Zod and only passingly mentions the inordinately destructive fight between the two before that, which bothered me much more), but it does suggest one reason why Captain America is much easier to praise. I can justify the decision to have Superman kill Zod (although if there aren’t ramifications from it in MoS2 I’ll have an issue), but Captain America pointed out that you can write this stuff well without doing stuff that potentially compromises a well-loved character.

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a battle also rages in the sky, between Captain America and The Winter Soldier. Only in this scenario, the fighting remains mostly on a helicarrier above its water-set dock, high above any immediate danger to any civilians. Captain America has already won the fight and has disarmed the helicarrier (which was going to be used to preemptively eradicate any potential threats to the now Hydra controlled S.H.I.E.L.D.), but notices The Winter Soldier is trapped under a fallen beam, falling with the damaged helicarrier to his certain doom. The Winter Soldier is, of course, Steve Rogers’ now-brainwashed childhood friend, Bucky Barnes. Like Zod, Bucky represents one of the last vestiges of an era that no longer exists. Putting his own life at risk, Captain America rushes down to the fallen beam and saves Bucky’s life. Then, something remarkable happens.

The Cost of Violence in One of the Most Challenging Anti-War Films Ever Made by Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs at Film School Rejects

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I watched The Battle of Algiers several years ago on a pre-emptive attempt to watch through a list of the best foreign films of all time (I made it through about 8 of the 100 films, heh), but I’ve always been glad I got to this one. Landon and Scott get to it as part of their watching through the Sight & Sound films, and they have some really good thoughts about it. I’d like to revisit it at some point, as some of the grey area aspects that they discuss caught me offguard on my first watch, and I’d like to watch it with that in mind.

While the film has a clear enemy given a face by French military commanders, that enemy is the larger impersonal system of colonialism, not a particular target. And while we are certainly sympathetic to LaPointe, he and others are not presented as heroes in the traditional cinematic sense (though I have no doubt the composite of people he represents were political heroes to the FLN), but as people using the only means they have at their disposal when put up against a brick wall. And at the same time, the patrons of that cafe aren’t “collateral damage,” they’re real human beings who suffer horrific violence. This is a film about the price of suffering.

Why the Movie Industry Owes a Hell of a Lot to CGI Animation by Jason Krell at io9

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I don’t even know what I think about this. I like CGI just fine but I also have great love for practical effects, even when they come out cheesy like Jason Krell describes in the quote below. Even though they’re obvious sometimes, they have a weight and a physicality to them that CGI misses a lot of times for me, no matter how good it is. He scoffs at guys in rubber suits, but there was A GUY THERE IN THAT SUIT. Now there might be a guy, there might not, and there almost certainly isn’t a suit. Which is more real? Which is more real, a photo-realistic Helm’s Deep created in a computer, or the real-life set of Intolerance, which they really built at full-size out of real materials? Which is more real, a crowd shot of thousands generated by a program, or a crowd shot of a thousand extras? It means something to me to see Spartacus or The Ten Commandments and know that they really had thousands of people, thousands of horses, and giant sets to make that thing. Now, it’s probably two guys with a green screen and a motion capture and a bunch of guys sitting behind computers. I’m not denigrating the work those guys do – it’s amazing, and I get lost in it. But I get equally as lost in the work of Ray Harryhausen or George Pal, and I love its tactility.

Sure — if CGI had never existed, we’d never know the difference and probably be content with rubber suits. Still, I defy anyone (who isn’t just trolling) to say that old special were better for movies than CGI. Looking back on these visuals can be nostalgic for some (any many classic effects still hold up well today), but we’ve come a long way since then. And while the foundation built by special effects creators should be respected, we’ve moved into a new era. And to be fair, some of the old special effects looked pretty silly. Not that silliness and old technology makes a good movie bad or invalidates the resourcefulness of the time — but we are certainly in a much better place. Movie-makers have the freedom to do almost anything they want thanks to CGI and know that it will likely look gorgeous.

A Few More…

Not Cinema

How Minecraft is Helping the United Nations Improve the World by Brian Crecente at Polygon

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What a cool use for Minecraft!

Four years after first teaming up with the creators of Minecraft in hopes of using the game to help reshape urban slums, an official from the United Nations says the program is a surprisingly effective tool. […] When the UN reached out to Mojang, creators of Minecraft, two years ago, the developers were immediately really excited, he said. The two groups formed the Block by Block website and set to work teaming up with a UK Minecraft team to have them recreate real world public spaces destined for a redesign, in Minecraft, block by block. […] Once the site has been created in Minecraft the virtual creation is brought to workshops with the community where participants can try their hand at redesigning the site in game, walk around within the redesigns and discuss the impact it might have.

Playing with Privilege: The Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male by Jonathan McIntosh at Polygon

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Really good list of things that guys (especially straight guys, and especially especially straight white guys) usually don’t even think about when playing games, or partaking in any number of other things deemed “geek” culture. See the next item.

One of the luxuries of being a member of the dominant group is that the benefits afforded us often remain invisible to us. This blindness allows many men to remain blissfully unaware of what roughly half of all gamers experience on a daily basis. We have been taught and socialized not to see it and to think of our own experiences as universal. So when men, even well meaning men, hear the term male privilege it can sometimes be difficult to understand exactly how it relates to our everyday lives. With that in mind this checklist is my attempt to identify some of the concrete benefits and bonuses my fellow male gamers and I are afforded simply by virtue of being male. I say “some of the privileges” because I’m certain that I have missed a whole host of others that remain invisible to me.

Contents Under Pressure by Greg Rucka

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This shirt made the rounds on Twitter last week, and comic writer Greg Rucka has some very definite words about it, both as someone in the comic industry and more importantly, as the father of a daughter. Language warning. (Incidentally, the rape threats over a comic book cover that he mentions in the excerpt below is referring to the article I shared last week about the Teen Titans cover and I suggested you not read the comments on the article. Turns out I was right – the author of that piece been receiving rape and death threats for daring to criticize a comic book cover.)

Fake geek girl? This is still a thing? Rape threats because a woman has the temerity to point out flaws in a grievously flawed cover? Bullshit arguments about inclusiveness being overdone, overrated, that we don’t need it? So, yeah, this is directed at the guys, and you know who you are. Odds are you’re the ones who’d never read this in the first place, but that’s not going to stop me. You, yes, you. Come here. Listen. What […] is the matter with you? Are you simply stupid? Are you just ignorant? Are you broken? Newsflash: you are owed NOTHING. Not a thing. Not a goddamn thing. This fandom, that fandom, guess what? It doesn’t belong to you.

You don’t own it. You partake in it. It’s called community. [emphasis Rucka’s; edited for language]

Upcoming Space Noir Continues to Impress in New Developer Walkthrough Video at Touch Arcade

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This game looks pretty cool – like it would scratch the itch that X-Wing Alliance gave me back in the day and nothing else has quite fulfilled. Too bad it’s only coming to PC and iPad (??). I guess I have to break out that Steam account at some point, but I really prefer playing on console.

Last month developer N-Fusion and publisher Unity Games unveiled Space Noir, a visually impressive space shooter for tablet and PC with influences from classics like X-Wing, Rogue Squadron and Star Fox. Today, N-Fusion has sent along a new walkthrough video which showcases a mission form the game which includes combat as well as how some of the weapon and utility systems work on your ship. Like the reveal trailer, this walkthrough video shows just how incredible Space Noir is shaping up to be.

A Few More…

Image of the Week

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Vacation Posters for Middle Earth. The Mount Doom one is also priceless. These and many other fantasy-inspired posters (LotR, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, lots more) are for sale at the Green Dragon Inn Etsy store.

Video of the Week

Instrumental tracks don’t usually do too much for me, but trust Jack White to get through to me. His previous solo effort was my favorite record of the year, so I shouldn’t be surprised – the new one drops in the next month or two I think. I turned this on the other day and Karina was dancing like crazy, so I guess we have a young fan in the house, too!