The Roundup: July 20

Cinema

How Kerry Conran Saw Hollywood’s Future – And Then Got Left Behind by Olly Richards at The Telegraph

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I loved Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – I’ve always been sad it didn’t do better, but I didn’t realize the directors hadn’t really done anything since.

While Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is far from perfect, with some stiff line readings and uneven plotting, there’s much in it that is wonderful. Visually, it’s never dull, throwing up military bases in the sky, elephants that fit in the palm of your hand, dog fights through the streets of New York. Any faults are a result of too many ideas, not too few. It received mixed reviews, but some raves, notably from the late critic Roger Ebert, who said the film, “reminded me of how I felt the first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s like a film that escaped from the imagination directly onto the screen”.

But a few great reviews don’t make a difference if your numbers are bad, and Sky Captain’s were very bad. Cinemagoers, perhaps put off by its black and white visuals or comic-strip tone, stayed away: the film made just $15.5 million on its opening weekend. This would have been fantastic if the film had used the tiny budget for which the brothers had originally asked, but the reported cost of $70 million made its eventual worldwide takings of $58 million a catastrophe.

The Next Transition: The Bright But Uncertain Future of Film Criticism by Daniel Carlson at Movie Mezzanine

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I believe this IS the best kind of film criticism, but Daniel appears to expect it to be financially viable and I think that’s overly optimistic. Individual writers are doing this (like the ones he mentions) but only as part of much larger publications or in very non-mainstream publications like Film Comment. So in one way, this kind of criticism already exists, but in another way, I’m not sure it will ever exist in the kind of pervasive way we’d like.

Somewhat related, mostly by virtue of being about film criticism, but also relevant in this projected move toward more essayistic criticism, Sam Adams at Indiewire discusses whether film critics should write in the first person.

Some of the best film criticism being published today follows suit—that is, eschewing the typical constraints of a review and instead opting for the potentially much more rewarding, all-encompassing criticism modeled by the best TV reviewers. Think of Wesley Morris’s stellar essays on Let’s Be Cops and Ted 2, both of which placed the films in the broader context of the political struggles of the moment and demonstrated how films can show us who we are, who we want to be, and who we wish we weren’t. Or David Ehrlich’s critical (in every sense) assessment of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which made deft arguments about the film’s use of perspective and style, interwoven with his own experience of caring for a loved one in pain. Or Jessica Ritchey’s examination of gender politics and Jurassic World. Or Matt Zoller Seitz’s piece about the contrast between Only Lovers Left Alive and our hyperactive, inattentive age. Or Tasha Robinson’s look at Disney’s latest iteration of Cinderella and its structural sexism. These and many other such pieces aren’t reviews as we’re used to thinking of them, but powerful works of criticism that look at any and all aspects of a movie and examine their artistic meaning and cultural impact.

This is the future of film criticism: deep, meaningful essays that aren’t afraid of spoilers and that blend aesthetic investigations with social reflections.

Love Me Tonight Review by Danny at Pre-Code.com

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A delightful look at a delightful film. I especially like Danny’s examination of how Mamoulian uses the existing star personas of Maurice and Jeanette (down to their names in the film being their own).

An integrated musical (AKA ones where the songs fit in with the plot), Mamoulian kicks off the picture with the sights and sounds of Paris waking up. It’s a cute way to begin the movie, and properly sets up a fantastical view of the city. It takes the reality we know and lobs it into the surreal. We follow this by being introduced to Maurice, the jovial spirit of Paris, who, besides having trouble keeping his lovers straight, sings about his desire for a nice housewife to scrub his floors and, when he’s showering, his back. The dialogue in the movie flickers between spoken words, rhyming, and song, like the characters can’t hold back when the feeling strikes them.

Barbara Stanwyck and Film Noir by Karen at Shadows and Satin

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I looked at Barbara Stanwyck’s Top Ten over at Flickchart last week, and that had a few noir films in it – here are some more that are definitely worthwhile!

Also on the film noir topic, Susan Doll at Movie Morlocks looks at the use of staircases in noir and German Expressionism, and Wide Screen World does a close reading of one scene in Double Indemnity.

Some question whether Clash by Night is film noir – I say it is. It fairly reeks with cynicism, bitterness, betrayal, frustration, and rage. It’s directed by Fritz Lang, whose previous noir output includes such classics as Scarlet Street and The Big Heat. It’s has an oppressive mood and an overarching sensation of doom. It’s dark, okay? And that’s all I have to say about that.

The plot: Mae Doyle returns to her hometown after a lengthy absence, looking for peace and fulfillment. She winds up married to a good-guy fisherman, but she’s more attracted to his bitter best friend. Conflict ensues.

Favorite Stanwyck quote: “Home is where you come when you run out of places.”

The Judy Greer Effect: Why a Ridiculously Talented Actress Gets Stuck with So Many Thankful Roles by Scott Meslow at The Week

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I’ve always loved seeing Judy Greer in movies and wondered why she seems relegated to supporting roles, and apparently increasingly smaller ones.

How did an actress as charismatic and multifaceted as Judy Greer end up in so many tiny, thankless roles? It’s a baffling missed opportunity that can be traced all the way back to the beginning of her career. In movie after movie — The Wedding Planner, 27 Dresses, Love Happens, Playing for Keeps — Greer has threatened to steal the movie from the bland actress cast in the romantic lead, despite her exponentially more limited screen time. At the start of her career, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; in the theoretical version of Hollywood’s path to stardom, putting in the hours on those small supporting roles — and performing them well — generally leads to bigger and better opportunities. This summer, Greer’s movies have gotten bigger, but her parts have gotten smaller.

The Directors: Kathryn Bigelow by Alex Withrow at And So It Begins

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Great career overview and appreciation of Kathryn Bigelow. Helpful, as I’m planning to catch up on a few more of her films myself soon.

Roger Ebert said it best, Kathryn Bigelow is a master of stories about men and women who choose to be in physical danger. Choose is the operative word. The characters in Bigelow’s films always seek out trouble. Sometimes it’s their job to do so; cops, soldiers and secret agents are paid to place themselves in dangerous situations. Other times, Bigelow’s characters start trouble just for the hell of it. The through line of these characters is that they all become obsessed with danger. The thrill of the chase, the determination of discovery.

Of course, Kathryn Bigelow is the only female who has won a Best Director Oscar, but that’s not what makes her work so iconic. In her three decades plus career, she’s made films in all different genres. Her movies are all different, but, in some ways, all the same. That’s what makes a great director, a great director.

A Female Producer Explains 4 Ways Women Get a Raw Deal in Hollywood by Mynette Louie at Vulture

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The last piece mentioned Bigelow’s unfortunately unique status as a woman in Hollywood – here are some of the ways women struggle in the industry.

A powerful paradigm in the ego-driven, self-obsessed film industry is key players’ desire to seek collaborators who are similar to themselves — not just in terms of taste and perspective but also culture, background, and, yes, gender. That’s how Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow was able to get the directing gig on a massive blockbuster like Jurassic World despite having only one microbudget independent feature under his belt: Another established director, Tomorrowland helmer Brad Bird, recommended Trevorrow to Jurassic World producer Frank Marshall, saying, “There is this guy that reminds me of me.” Few female directors are given the chance to jump straight from Sundance into a $200 million studio movie, and one of the main reasons why is that there aren’t enough female Brad Birds in Hollywood who can look out for their mini-mes.

The 50 Most Daring Film Roles for Women Since Ripley by the Dissolve staff

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Another Dissolve piece from before they closed, but well worth flipping through.

Alien’s Ellen Ripley wasn’t the first female action hero, but she was the one who changed the way people think about women in mainstream cinema. Tough but tender, by-the-book yet creative when it matters, desperately vulnerable but capable of pulling off her own rescue, she embodied a new kind of role for women: the multi-faceted female lead that earns a huge fandom specifically by giving viewers something fresh and new. Hollywood tends to play it safe and try to follow in the footsteps of success, which has left women with a lot of naggingly familiar roles over the decade, pun intended. But since Ripley proved there was a mainstream appetite for diverse types of female roles, there have been an increasing number of groundbreaking characters expanding those traditional boundaries. Here are 50 of our all-time favorites, in chronological order: The roles with audacious intentions, unconventional characterization, and an active interest in expanding the onscreen possibilities of female stars.

A Few More

Not Cinema

The Original Ghostwriter Behind Nancy Drew Was One of The Most Interesting YA Writers of All Time by Marissa Visci at Slate

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I think I read every single Nancy Drew book as a kid – cool to learn a bit about one of the women who wrote them!

Some of Benson’s greatest adventures happened while she was in her 50s and 60s. She made numerous trips to Central America, including the Yucatán Peninsula in the 1960s, traversing the jungle in a Jeep, canoeing down rivers, visiting Mayan sites, and witnessing archaeological excavations. She had been an active swimmer since her college years and would often take a dive at the Toledo Club before going to work at the Blade. She saw Halley’s Comet twice in her lifetime: first as a child in 1910, and then again in 1986.

On Work and Play and Human Flourishing by David Kern at StoryWarren

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I think this often as I see Karina interact with the world – everything is new and wonderful and interesting and possible. Seeing through her eyes is an incredible gift.

I was thinking about this recently while watching my son, Coulter, play in the yard. I realized that most of his play – the vast majority of it, in fact – looked a lot like what I might consider work. Digging in the dirt and hauling sticks and pine needles from place to place. Pushing his toy mower up the hill on the edge of the yard. And he loves to help around the house. When my wife cleans up the living room he often wants to help dust the blinds and vacuum. When I’m cleaning the kitchen he wants to help load the dishwasher and sweep the floor. And if there’s wood or power tools or spray paint, well, then it’s all over as far as his ability to focus on anything else.

But it’s not as if he wants to do these things out of a sense of duty or even obedience, as it might be one day (if I’m lucky). For him, right now, as a three year old, it’s about discovery. He finds pleasure in the work because through it and in it he discovers the wonders of the universe, much as I discovered the pleasure of athletic competition and accomplishment when practicing football. Coulter still encounters the world with eyes wide open and full of wonder and anything that demands effort of him is magical because it reveals a new layer of reality to him. He doesn’t like to “work” because he enjoys pain or prefers stress; he like to work because it allows him to engage with the world, with existence, in a deeper way.

Video Games Without People of Color are Not “Neutral” by Sidney Fussell at Offworld

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This has come up a LOT lately, but this is a good entry in the conversation – I especially liked the close treatment of neutrality, and how that plays into our sense of what is “default.”

So how is it that a game fully aware of how ethnic and religious prejudices are inventions used to control us can produce such myopic and prejudiced arguments? Why are the metaphors lost on players? Because it positions the protagonist and thus the player as a “neutral observer,” a perspective that falsifies the dynamics of oppression.

From the outset, Geralt has no specific allegiance to either humans or non-humans and remains an observer until finally forced to act. So while there are many clear real-world parallels for both oppressors and the oppressed, Geralt (and thus the player) spends most of the game engaging with prejudice from a position of comfortable neutrality. […]

And this neutrality is rewarded, as the game ultimately equates rebellion against an oppressive system with oppression itself, in order to make a tepid point about the corruptive nature of power. Here, as ever, neutrality is not neutral, but rather a façade that allows us to ignore the political and human consequences of systems of disenfranchisement.

This is the Future of First Person Shooters by Brian Crecente at Polygon

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Okay, this sounds really cool. If perhaps a little more active than we’re used to video games being.

Figures in blue-tinged armor and glowing facemasks start to walk over the hill toward me. They carry rifles not unlike my own. I can see their aim and typically can scramble out of the way of their fire. I book it forward using my thumbstick and stop just behind an upright chunk of alien stone. As I crouch down in the real world, my virtual counterpart does the same. Then we both lean to the left, rifle firmly tucked into the pit where shoulder meets chest. We lift the rifle, aim through the slightly magnified scope and pop off a shot, downing one of the aliens. I swivel and lean in the other direction, quickly taking out the second alien.
In the distance, I see a cluster of three aliens hiding behind a rock just below a cliff face. I can’t help but notice that the cliff eases down to my level like an onramp. I run for it, crouching as I approach the aliens from above, then drop next to them, spin and fire. Suddenly, I notice something a bit surprising: a cord wrapping around my midsection. It’s the connector to my virtual gear, a tether to reality, which in my excitement I forgot even existed.

10 Things You May Not Know About Pride and Prejudice by Jay Lanzendorfer at Mental Floss

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I admit, I did in fact not know many of these things.

The characters in Pride and Prejudice constantly exclaim over Mr. Darcy’s $10,000 pounds a year, but how rich is that exactly? In 2013, The Telegraph calculated that adjusting for financial changes, a decent estimate might be 12 million pounds, or $18.7 million U.S. dollars a year. And that’s just interest on top of a much larger fortune.

A Few More

Videos of the Week

I haven’t even seen Mad Mad: Fury Road yet, but I’m greatly enjoying the trailer mashups that keep coming out. Here’s an impressive compositing job as Fury Road meets Star Wars:

And here’s a film of a different tone, as Fury Road meets It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World:

Image of the Week

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What’s the Fastest Ship in Sci-Fi History