Category Archives: The Roundup

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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.

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The Roundup: April 9, 2014

The best things I’ve read over the past week; usually they were also posted during the past week, but I make no promises. Sometimes I read old stuff and think it’s still worth sharing, so hopefully I’ll highlight some good reads you hadn’t come across yet.

Cinema

Girls on Film: Hollywood Should Stop Pretending It’s Hard to Make a Female Superhero Movie by Monika Bartyzel at The Week

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The first thing I said coming out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was “can Black Widow have her own movie now?” I enjoyed the whole film, but she was a standout to me, and definitely Cap’s equal in all but movie title. But really, whether it’s Black Widow or Wonder Woman or whoever, it’s time to give a female superhero her own film. Monika’s Girls on Film column is always worth reading, and this one is especially timely and 100% right. Lots of other stuff on this general topic this week, too. Brett White at Comic Book Resources goes through Widow’s contributions to Winter Soldier in depth, showing how strong her characterization is and how perfectly set she is for carrying her own story. Chrystian Harris over at Film School Rejects shows how all three women of Winter Solder are treated as equals, not damseled, and not even relegated to love interests. Also at FSR, The Bitter Script Reader directly addresses the question of why there isn’t a solo Widow movie, but kind of takes the tack that if there had been in Phase 2, she wouldn’t have been such a big and wonderful part of Winter Soldier, which is probably true, but doesn’t negate the fact that she should have a movie in Phase 3. A bit further afield but still related, Monika Bartyzel (again) looks at Five Franchises That Could Keep Wonder Woman from Getting Sucker-Punched, suggesting that plot details and backstories done in successful franchises led by both women and men prove that Wonder Woman is not that hard to do. And Five Thirty Eight even has The Dollar and Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women, which uses hard numbers to show that movies that pass the Bechdel test make more money than those that don’t (there are a number of issues I have with this methodology, because it doesn’t actually address the immediate problem on my mind, which is the lack of major release films with female LEADS, but it’s still a good piece of the puzzle).

“We’re waiting for the right story” is a pretty clever turn of phrase. It’s a statement that implies interest, but is basically a polite way to express disinterest in long-established female characters. Films like ­X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman Returns, Iron Man, and Captain America aren’t the result of execs sitting around hoping inspiration would strike; they are the result of active, concentrated work. Marvel’s Louis D’Esposito admitted as much himself: “A lot of R&D goes into it.” [...] The fact is, the terrible movies that have been released have allowed studios to hide behind an all-too-convenient fear of superheroines. Sure, we can try and try again on Wolverine, Superman, and Incredible Hulk movies. But no one dares risk the studio’s precarious finances because Supergirl was bad, or because Catwoman was abysmal. Those films failed not because they starred women, but because they were bad.

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The Roundup: April 2, 2014

The best things I’ve read over the past week; usually they were also posted during the past week, but I make no promises. Sometimes I read old stuff and think it’s still worth sharing, so hopefully I’ll highlight some good reads you hadn’t come across yet.

Cinema

Please, Critics, Write About the Filmmaking by Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com

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I shared this article on its own earlier this week, but it has since become the talk of the film blogosphere. The discussion really started with an article from jazz critic Ted Gioia lamenting that music critics don’t talk about musicianship. Criticwire took it from there, polling a variety of film writers with the question Should Film Critics Be Filmmakers?. Matt Zoller Seitz’s article is an expansion of his answer, pleading with film critics to talk about film form and not just writing/acting/ideology. That set off a bunch of responses, including Sam Adams saying that Critics Should Definitely Write About Form, Except When They Don’t Want To, and several other responses, mostly saying that yes, film form is important, but not everybody has to write about it all the time. Personally, I can say that when I don’t include a discussion of form, it’s because I’m being lazy, and I should definitely do better than that. I love reading articles that discuss form, and I’m capable of writing it when I hunker down to it. That said, different critics are good at different things, and also just because they’re cognizant of form doesn’t mean that talking about it fits in with the article they’re trying to write. I don’t think you have to shoehorn it in just because you can. It’s a good discussion to have, though, because I think it’s easy to get lazy like me and just not take the time to really closely read filmmaking techniques.

We have several successive generations of film watchers—some of whom consume TV and movies voraciously and have surprisingly wide-ranging tastes—who don’t know how to interpret a shot, or how to think about what the size or position of characters in a frame might tell us about the story’s attitude toward those characters. That’s a problem. We have critics and viewers who can agree that a particular episode of a particular show ended in a “shocking” or “unsettling” way, but they don’t think about the role that, say, a jaggedly timed cut to black or atonal music cue might have played in provoking that reaction. That’s a problem.

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The Roundup: March 24, 2014

[The best posts I read this week. A few are a bit older than that, as I work through the backlog of my reading list, but hopefully you'll find some things you hadn't seen yet.]

Cinema

The Little Mermaid’s Twisted Sofia Coppola-esque Origins by Noah Gittel at The Atlantic

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When I first heard that Sofia Coppola was taking on The Little Mermaid, I had the Disney one in my head and was like “whaaaaa…” But then I remembered the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and how DARK it is, and I was like, wait, maybe this could work. Noah Gittel has gone me one better and proven how perfectly suited Coppola actually is to the original material. Here’s hoping the film goes this direction.

Andersen is depicting a girl’s transformation into a woman, but it involves a horrible ordeal and lasting pain. The mermaid will be beautiful by man’s standards, but she will have no voice and be in constant discomfort. For every woman who has worn a corset or six-inch heels, or had plastic surgery, this trade-off may sound achingly familiar, and it applies in particular to some of Coppola’s heroines. Marie Antoinette and Charlotte from Lost in Translation suffered not pain but ennui (the upper-class version of pain) from being objectified—and they also essentially had their voices muted.

James Agee: All There and Primed to Go Off by David Bordwell at Observations on Film Art

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I’m a few posts behind reading David Bordwell’s series on 1940s film critics (he’s since posted two entries on Manny Farber that I haven’t gotten to yet), but this one on James Agee is gold, as usual. When I’ve attempted to read Agee in the past, I’ve had a difficult time overcoming the sheer distance between then and now in terms of film criticism (a lot of Agee’s reviews of films that are considered canon now are often dismissive, and he often praises films that are totally forgotten now), but when you consider the state of film writing at the time, which was almost nonexistent in terms of serious criticism, and the kinds of things Agee was looking for, which this article illuminated quite a bit, I’m ready to go back and give him another try.

Instead of delivering a final, fixed judgment in a clever epigram, he shares with us his effort, pushing against the limits of language, always approximating, trying to capture hard outlines by lightning sketching. The task is that of the congenital Romantic, the artist who knows that every experience, every item in the world, flickers with untapped but felt energies. These the artist tries to convey, usually in vain. The privileged vehicle for this nearly hopeless pursuit is lyric poetry, and Dwight Macdonald considered Agee at bottom a poet.

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