Category Archives: The Roundup


The Roundup: March 13, 2015


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


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

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


Matt Zoller Seitz of 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.

Continue reading


The Roundup – March 4, 2015


Charles Laughton: The Actor as Artist by Farran Smith Nehme at the Self-Styled Siren


I’m a big fan of outsize performances like Laughton specialized in; I share the Siren’s disdain for moderns who think it constitutes bad acting.

Or, in some cases, worse than forgotten. “Laughton’s mannered performances are liable to elicit laughter today,” sniffs one writer reviewing Callow’s book. This prompts the Siren to a rare display of temper. Mannered? What could be more mannered than some contemporary actors who wait for the camera to discover each tiny effect as they overact their underacting? (That is, if indeed they are actors; of late the Siren has endured too many nonprofessionals cast by wannabe Bressons.) You can keep that kind of pallid realism, where the goal is to be the closest thing to real life. Sure, it’s close. And real life is being on hold with the airline, or flossing your teeth, or staring into the middle distance while trying to recall whether you took your vitamins. The Siren doesn’t require tedium to be all that accurate.

Birdman vs Boyhood: The Oscar Debate’s Classic Aesthetic Divide by Lincoln Michel at Electric Literature


I’m certainly more interested in seeing Birdman.

Indeed, these two films might be quintessential representations of a classic debate: should art be dazzling and inventive or should it be stripped-down, simple, and honest? Should the artist be in-your-face with her talent, or should she recede into the background of the work? Should she be a magician or a workman? [...] The “magician” school of writing risks pointlessness, while the risk of the “workman” school of writing risks being boring. Plenty of “magician” writers do come up with technical conceits that seem to serve no purpose. Cool, your chapters expand in length according to the Fibonacci sequence and your characters each embody a different animal from the Zodiac… but why? On the other hand, plenty of “workman” realists present the reader with nothing other than the banalities of daily life, fiction as diary entry.

Continue reading


The Roundup: February 19, 2015


Why No One is Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Feature Film by Godfrey Cheshire at Vulture


When I first saw this article’s headline, I tweeted something snarky about Birth of a Nation not being the first feature film. That’s still true and I still think this is a dumb headline for the article, but I have to apologize for assuming the article didn’t have merit based on the title, because the rest of the article is really great – a discussion of Birth of a Nation‘s origins and initial reception, a thoughtful treatment of both its offensive content and incredible technical achievements, and some good insight into whether and how it should be seen today.

My own thoughts on these questions involve a recollection of teaching Birth a few years ago to a class of bright undergraduates at a Southern university, as part of a survey course on the history of film. Aware that young viewers today are notoriously resistant to anything old, black-and-white, and (especially) silent, I was expecting yawns and annoyed fidgeting. Instead, the film — its hypnotic power intact after nearly a century — held the class riveted for three hours, few students even taking bathroom breaks. Afterward, I asked: Should this movie be shown today, in this class or anywhere? Some white students, shocked and embarrassed by the film, said it shouldn’t be shown, at all. African-American and Asian students, on the other hand, felt just the opposite, saying it must be seen — as widely as possible.

Bombast: Lizabeth Scott by Nick Pinkerton at Film Comment


I admit to only having seen a couple of Lizabeth Scott films, but reading a few eulogies after her death last week has convinced me I ought to see more – particularly Pitfall.

Lizabeth Scott is an actress who always made an impression on me, through the fact of her existential presence if nothing else. Scott was a blonde. Not usually a platinum blonde, though she photographed that way, for her time in pictures was a great time—maybe the great time—for brunettes. She had a heavy sculptural brow, wide-set eyes, almost impossibly symmetrical features, a broad mouth that turned down ever so slightly at the corners, and, her calling card, a deep, damask-plush burr of a voice. Even when playing light comedy, Scott betrayed a close acquaintance with dolor. Commenting on the characters in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (46), one of them played by Scott, a young Manny Farber wrote that they “act as if there were no evil that hadn’t been imposed on them.”

Continue reading


The Roundup: February 10


Ten Films to Watch Before Inherent Vice by Robbie Collin at the Telegraph


Literally every little thing I read about Inherent Vice makes me more eager to see it, no matter how many of my friends and acquaintances come away saying it incoherent (and thus terrible). This list of things that in some way influenced it (or at least, are helpful for understanding it) are mostly things I love. Here’s a tongue-in-cheek look, too, at how the film manages to become one of the most walked-out-of this year.

They’re worth looking up, because if you plan on seeing Inherent Vice, or even if you’ve already seen it, you’ll need all the help you can get. Watching Anderson’s film is a deeply confusing experience – and that’s exactly as it should be, because deep confusion is its subject. In the early Seventies, America was a country of riots, murderous cults, high-profile overdoses, backroom deals and the emerging horror of Vietnam. A tide of “bad craziness”, as Hunter S Thompson called it in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was washing up the beach.

So when Joaquin Phoenix’s dope-puffing private investigator Doc Sportello can’t make sense of a byzantine case in which one conspiracy seems to bleed into the next, it’s not rank incompetence: it’s just a reflection of the national mood. But if you’re prepared to spend a little time with the rascals, outcasts, babes and bozos below, you might find it easier to find your way around the strange goings-on in Anderson’s film. Not because the solution to Doc’s case is contained within – but because its total lack of one starts to make a bleary kind of sense.

Masters of Screwball, Part 1: Sturges Before Sturges by David Kalat at Movie Morlocks


I love David Kalat’s writing style, and hopefully he keeps going on this screwball comedy series for a long while. I’m not a huge fan of Easy Living, but after glancing through this I definitely want to give it another look.

Problem is, now she’s up a fur coat, a hat, and a ride to work but down a job. That’s because the harridan spinsters (I did mention them, right?) see her richy new wardrobe and assume the only way some strange man would buy her all that nice stuff was if he was getting something (or rather, getting some) in return. And since that kind of behavior isn’t compatible with the moral character of this upstanding Christian magazine, she’s out.

Of course it’s here that everything goes all wonky. Within 48 hours she will be living a life of unimaginable luxury, wealthy and famous, with a loving husband, a powerful benefactor, and everything she’s ever wanted–all because of the same assumptions that led the harridan spinsters to reject her. One by one, everyone she meets draws the same insulting conclusion about what she’s done to get that coat–and then, for their own selfish calculations, proceed to reward her in new ways.

Continue reading


The Roundup: February 2, 2015


The Palm Beach Story: Love in a Warm Climate by Stephanie Zacharek at Criterion


Once in a while I come upon a piece of writing that I love so much that I get depressed because I know I’ll never be able to write like that. This is one of those. It’s not just the depths of meaning that Zacharek gets out of what seems like a fairly slight film, but the turns of phrase that I simply would never think of – like this description of Claudette Colbert.

But it’s Colbert, of course, who lights the movie from within, giving it so many of its colors. Through the thirties and forties, there were plenty of stars who equaled or perhaps even surpassed Colbert in physical beauty, but there were few who were so alight with life. Those apple cheekbones, so gorgeously prominent that they arrive on the scene a fraction of a second before the rest of her does, those quizzically arched eyebrows—if there’s such a thing as beauty that speaks of intelligence, Colbert has it. Her voice is the sound of laughter in waiting—you never know when it’s going to bubble up through the surface. And her physicality goes far beyond being a willowy hanger for gorgeous gowns: Gerry has to board that train without a suitcase, which means she has no sleepwear. A jovial Ale and Quail type lends her a pair of silk pajamas, five sizes too big and featuring jumbo circus stripes. Trekking from car to car, searching for a quiet place to sleep, she flops around in them, an haute couture Dopey. Her carriage is elegant even when she’s tripping over her pant legs.

Tumbling Into the Screen: How watching movies with my daughter changed the way I thought about film by Dana Stevens at Slate


With my own toddler starting to grow into patterns of favorite movies, I’m endlessly curious about how older children relate to movies and to their movie-obsessed parents. This is a great piece by Dana Stevens about her daughter’s moviewatching modes and how they’ve affected Stevens’ own way of thinking about movies.

Watching P. grow into a very different kind of watcher than I am—less passive and analytic, more collaborative and engaged—has been a welcome stripping away of my own viewing habits and assumptions. I’d long presumed films should be watched from beginning to end; she’s happy to keep returning to one beloved scene, or watch a musical song by song, skipping all the dialogue in between, or watch the first half-hour of 101 Dalmatians 10 nights in a row. (In her defense, that is a killer half-hour.) I consider seeing a movie in the theater and then talking about it over dessert to be the ideal outing; she professes to find theatrical projection unbearably loud, so if I really want her to see something on the big screen (as with The Lego Movie), I have to drag her, using the dessert part as bait. I’ve always sought out cinematic novelty as a viewer, so my instinct as a parent is to continue expanding the list of movies we can watch together. But as a film-watcher the normally sensation-seeking P. is a homebody, preferring the cyclical repetition of a dozen or so favorites to the introduction of new titles. I collect movies, sort them, interrogate them for their meaning and artistic value. She ransacks them for pleasure, inspiration, and what a standup comic would call “material.”

Continue reading