Category Archives: The Roundup

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.

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The Roundup: July 10, 2015

Cinema

The Dissolve: The End by Keith Phipps at The Dissolve

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Sad news for fans of online criticism – The Dissolve’s two-year run of thoughtful, varied, and accessible criticism have ended. The quote below is from Matt Zoller Seitz’s heartfelt eulogy, and you can find more good thoughts at former Dissolver Todd VanDerWerff’s Tumblr and from Alyssa Rosenberg. Here’s a day-after interview with editors Keith Phipps and Scott Tobias. But let’s not give up – in the Dissolve’s absence, support thoughtful criticism on Movie Mezzanine, Little White Lies, and others, and look for Phipps, Tobias, Genevieve Koski, Tasha Robinson, and other Dissolve contributers whereever they end up.

Mostly it was an example of the kind of big-tent criticism that some of the most enduring American movie critics, including Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris and James Agee, practiced. Its editorial bread-and-butter was a mix of straight-up reviews, profiles, conversations and thinkpieces (which used to be called “essays” or “features”). The site wrote about new big movies, and nostalgic touchstones of a sort that thirty and forty-somethings can’t stop obsessing over. But it also found ways to draw readers’ attention to small American and international films they might not have heard of. It offered veteran writers a new platform and gave new writers their first professional bylines, and threw in attractive layout, proofreading and according-to-Hoyle editorial guidance to boot. The writing was mostly analytical and paid a lot of attention to form, which is still unusual at a time when too much pop culture writing relies on versions of “What X gets wrong about Y” and “Why A owes B an apology” and “What so-and-so doesn’t get about such-and-such.” Day after day, The Dissolve writers were not content merely to talk about what films said; they took the trouble to discuss how they said it. They talked about framing. They talked about editing. They talked about sound and color. They talked about what movies actually are.

A Weekend at the World’s Most Dangerous Film Festival by John Lingan at The Verge

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This sounds amazing.

Back in the theater, the lush yellow curtain raised and Ben Tucker’s co-workers trained their beam on the screen. The scratches and pops crackled like a campfire, then a blaring fanfare announced the Warner Brothers logo and a map of Africa. I stared intently, eager to see something life-changing. But it only looked like an old movie. Maybe a little sharper than usual, but also blemished and scuffed.

Then, right after Peter Lorre’s corrupt operator is gunned down and Humphrey Bogart goes upstairs to his office safe, there’s a shot of Claude Raines’ scheming Vichy officer, standing fully lit, talking to Bogart’s shadow. When that shadow darkened the screen, I sat up. Here it was: the famous depth of nitrate’s blacks. It looked and felt like real negative space, like an infinite void. From that point forward, I began to notice all sorts of little details: the clarity of individual fibers in Bogie’s low-lit hair or the texture of Ingrid Bergman’s dress.

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The Roundup: May 26, 2015

Cinema

The Annotated Godfather: 10 Times Art Imitates Life in Coppola’s Classic by David Conrad at Flickchart

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This is a fascinating post connecting things in The Godfather to the real-life events that inspired them, or that they’re referencing. As a huge history buff, I eat this kind of stuff up, and I will likely appreciate The Godfather that much more next time I see it thanks to this kind of trivia.

Rumors of mob connections shadowed Frank Sinatra throughout his career. In the early 1940s the crooner wanted out of his contract with band leader Tommy Dorsey, who was skimming a third of all Sinatra’s earnings. As the story goes, Sinatra’s literal godfather was Willie Moretti, a member of the Genovese family — one of the real-life “Five Families” of New York City crime — and Moretti bought Sinatra’s contract from Dorsey for a fraction of what Dorsey knew it was worth. The incident was widely publicized, which itself is an indication that it might be at least partly a media fabrication. In any case, the story is the inspiration for the “offer he couldn’t refuse” story that Michael tells Kay at the beginning of The Godfather. At the time Sinatra was a teen idol, hence the young ages of the screaming girls who watch Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) perform at Connie Corleone (Talia Shire)’s wedding.

The Marvel-Industrial Complex by James Rocchi at Movie Mezzanine

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Lots of stuff to chew on in this wide-ranging piece about Marvel movies and their implication for our larger culture and film industry.

This, then, is not a critique of the Marvel films, although it will discuss some of the intrinsic structural problems that plague all superhero films, and the Marvel movies specifically. Nor is it a discussion of whether or not “superhero fatigue” exists or not, although it will look at how, and where, money is spent on these films as they are bought and sold both domestically and internationally. The simple question which we have to ask—which we I think we’re obligated to ask—is: If these movies are the biggest thing in American pop culture, what does that say — openly, obliquely, or accidentally — about American culture itself?

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The Roundup: May 4, 2015

It has been like two months since I managed to publish one of these, and so these articles cover a great deal of time. I apologize for the age of some of them, but I also hope that they’ll hit upon some new and appreciative readers who hadn’t seen them before.

Cinema

The Gospel According to Cinema, Part 1: The Rise of Christian Film and Part 2 by Corey Atad at Movie Mezzanine

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As a Christian, the topic of Christian films interests me a lot, even though I basically never watch any (because they’re usually bad). For some reason, the topic of Christian films has come up a lot in secular blogs lately. This pair of posts on Movie Mezzanine is quite good, basically looking at the history of Christian movies, and taking a deep dive into one of the most prolific producers of them today. See also Vox.com trying to figure out why Christian movies tend to be bad (coming to the very sound conclusion that they’re so focused on message that they don’t pay enough to attention to how that message is conveyed), and The Atlantic (though it’s written by Christianity Today’s Alissa Wilkinson, one of the finest explicitly Christian film critics I know) wondering if certain indie films don’t carry a more thoughtful approach to spirituality.

Stories of Evangelical congregations in the Bible Belt being bused en masse to screenings of The Passion of the Christ caused quite a stir in the movie industry. Several studios stood up and took notice. They saw the potential for a niche genre: films made by Christians, featuring overt religious content and messages, and marketed directly to conservative Evangelical Christians. 20th Century Fox created its own faith-based label, Fox Faith, with the intent to make and distribute several Christian films theatrically each year. They saw mild success, but the experiment had died out by 2008. Walt Disney and Walden Media had great success mobilizing Evangelical Christians to go see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005, but were unable to maintain that audience for the film’s two sequels. Hollywood had gone too big too soon.

Already a successful producer of Christian television programming, Michael Scott and his business partners David A.R. White and Russell Wolfe saw a different, more independent path. [...] For almost a decade, Pure Flix has specialized in releasing films through direct-to-video, television, and other home-media channels. In 2010, after steady growth year over year, the company dipped its toe in the theatrical market with a film called What If…, an inspirational drama starring Kevin Sorbo about a godless, greedy businessman who wakes up in an alternate reality in which he’s the pastor of his hometown church, and married to his old college sweetheart. What If… played in about 80 theaters and pulled in over $800 thousand in box-office receipts. Building on that film’s success, Pure Flix released God’s Not Dead in 2014 in over 1,800 theatres. Produced on a budget of $2 million, the film grossed over $60 million.

Destroy All Monsters: The Ghettoization of Miles Morales as Spider-Man by Matt Brown at TwitchFilm

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tl;dr – There’s no reason Peter Parker has to be white. But you should read it. This is not a new idea if you listen to Mamo, but it’s nice to see Matt lay it all out like this. For more Matt Brown-on-superhero-adaptations, check out his column on Netflix’s Daredevil.

The problem with Miles Morales is that inasmuch as he’s a necessary response to representation in comics specifically, everywhere else, he’s an excuse. He’s a reason we don’t have to redress the wider context of representation in these stories; he’s the reason an enormous number of people don’t even have to think about whether there’s a problem with Peter Parker being cast white again.

Actually, scratch that too: let’s not even call it a problem. It’s not a problem.

What Peter Parker represents at this moment in the Marvel mega-franchise is an opportunity. There was an opportunity here to crush stereotyping and expectations for the gargantuan audience of the MCU, just as Marvel did seven years ago when they (again, taking a page from the Ultimate universe’s book) cast Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

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The Roundup: March 13, 2015

Cinema

TCM Film Festival Fanatics Cry Foul by Wade Sheeler at The Black Maria

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This year’s TCM Fest includes such classics as Apollo 13, Out of Sight and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which has some purists among classic film fans up in arms. Wade addresses this concern with some well-needed perspective. Personally, I myself had some words when Raiders was announced purely because it plays three times a year in LA, but a friend helpfully reminded me that most people coming to the fest aren’t blessed with the kind of rep culture we have here. The final lineup announced this week is extremely diverse and well-rounded, with films from 1900 to 1998 represented, and with 81 films playing over 3 1/2 days, there’s absolutely no reason anyone will have to see anything they don’t want to. My own festival preview is coming soon; in the meantime, here are some guides from other sites: Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, Hollywood Revue, and Pre-Code.com.

So, when the 2015 TCM Film Fest schedule was released this week, it was tantamount to Martin Luther’s 95 theses being nailed to the church door. Fanatics took to Twitter, to Facebook and to all manner of social media to decry that TCM has “lost their minds.” They were “super disappointed”, the programming “uninspired” “dull,” one going so far as to say “their programming sucks. I’ve been telling them that since Year 1.” Another says the TCM programmer “got drunk and chose a film at random without much thought behind the selection.” While yet still another lamented: “if I am told it is a TCM CLASSIC Film Festival, I have every right to the expectation that the overwhelming majority of the fare be what I fully believe Mr. Robert Osborne himself would define as a classic movie.” Another is secure that “empty theatres will tell TCM all they need to know.” There are even factions that plan on having their “voices heard” at the Meet TCM Panel at the beginning of the festival, to complain about this loose definition of classic, while others fear that they won’t follow through with their resolve, and pull a “Caine Mutiny.” (These are all real quotes, btw).

People. Chill.

There’s No Universal Right Age for Aliens or Any Other Movie by Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve

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Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com showed Aliens to a bunch of kids at his son’s birthday party, and then wrote about the experience, attracting a whole bunch of concerned parents worried that 11 is too young to see Aliens. Tasha Robinson pens this great, spot-on response to the maelstrom.

In turning this into a large-scale fight about parental control, age appropriateness, exposure to violence, and the long-term earnings potential of early Aliens-watchers, the debaters are, predictably enough, skipping over what actually happened at the slumber party. Seitz made a number of eminently responsible choices. He picked a movie he’d already seen multiple times, so he knew what to expect. He talked to the children about what films they’d already seen—in this case, virtually all of them had already seen Alien or an Aliens franchise movie. (Frankly, any kid who’s seen the suspenseful, graphically bloody, mildly risqué Alien should be automatically vetted for the much more action-oriented Aliens.) He stayed with them while they watched the film, and guided them through it. He monitored their reactions individually to see how they were responding, and was clearly aware of the behavior of the meekest one of the crew. Here’s the MPAA’s explanation of what constitutes an R-rated movie: “Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.” Seitz followed every aspect of that description fully and responsibly: He accompanied the kids in watching a film he knew well, and he helped contextualize it for them.

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