Category Archives: The Roundup

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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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The Roundup – March 4, 2015

Cinema

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

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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

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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.

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The Roundup: February 19, 2015

Cinema

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

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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

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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.”

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