Category Archives: The Roundup

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The Roundup: January 2, 2015

This is the first Roundup since the beginning of December, so just count this as covering anything posted during December – and yeah, there are a couple older than that, because I worked extra hard this week to clean out my article backlog completely. And I was successful! Let’s see how long this particular New Year’s Resolution can last, but I’m starting my feedreader with a clean slate as of January 1st and hopefully can manage not to get behind on reading.

Cinema

The Birdcage: How Hollywood’s Toxic Addiction to Franchises Changed Movies Forever in 2014 by Mark Harris at Grantland

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This is a great piece, though it starts off covering a lot of ground that we’ve heard before (franchises are about building expectation for the next thing, etc.). Harris has a lot of insight into film history and it’s very helpful. I’ve seen a lot of people trot out the “but Hollywood has always had series, like Andy Hardy or Ma and Pa Kettle” counterargument, and he debunks that quite well. Not really an answer to this, but something to think about as a counterpoint is the surprising number of thoughtful blockbusters we had in 2014. Maybe if we’re stuck with franchises, we can at least get smarter ones?

That’s not where we are anymore. In 2014, franchises are not a big part of the movie business. They are not the biggest part of the movie business. They are the movie business. Period. Twelve of the year’s 14 highest grossers are, or will spawn, sequels.2 (The sole exceptions — assuming they remain exceptions, which is iffy — are Big Hero 6 and Maleficent.) Almost everything else that comes out of Hollywood is either an accident, a penance (people who run the studios do like to have a reason to go to the Oscars), a modestly budgeted bone thrown to an audience perceived as niche (black people, women, adults), an appeasement (movie stars are still important and they must occasionally be placated with something interesting to do so they’ll be cooperative about doing the big stuff), or a necessity (sometimes, unfortunately, it is required that a studio take a chance on something new in order to initiate a franchise). A successful franchise is no longer used to finance the rest of a studio’s lineup; a studio’s lineup is brands and franchises, and that’s it.

How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA by Jason Bailey at Flavorwire

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A byproduct of the kind of franchisization Mark Harris is talking about in the article above is the loss of the midbudget, not-quite-mainstream film and the auteurs known for them.

While we weren’t looking, the mid-budget adult-oriented motion picture has all but disappeared. And the gifted directors behind them are in danger of disappearing as well. Movie wonks and box-office watchers have written and talked about the death of mid-budget filmmaking, but mostly in business terms — as opposed to personal ones, contemplating the phenomenon’s effect on the individual artists it cripples. There’s an entire constellation of cult and indie stars, filmmakers who came of age in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, who have either vanished from the current scene or are struggling to maintain a place within it. How many of that generation’s auteurs have we lost? How many great movies — how many Blue Velvets and Hairsprays and Traffics and Do the Right Things and Godfathers — are they, thanks to the current myopic model, not making?

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The Roundup: December 1

Cinema

Is the Word Overrated Ruining Film Criticism? by Clarisse Loughrey

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The Guardian’s new series “My Most Overrated Film” where guest columnists write about a film they think is overrated has gotten a lot of response from the critical community, and most of it’s not positive. Here’s a good essay on the issues surrounding a series like this; she also explores some reasons why people feel the need to declare highly-regarded films as overrated. Sam Adams at Criticwire goes even further, declaring that “overrated is a garbage word, and I can’t disagree. As is probably clear from my stance on evaluative criticism and positivity, I have little use for the concept of something being overrated, much less building a whole post series around it. Stuff like this is basically clickbait in this format; don’t give the Guardian your clicks.

And yet the problem with this overuse of ‘overrated’ is that such arguments tend to exist in a vacuum. It’s great to shake up the establishment, but if we challenge Hitchcock and Kubrick, are we then automatically burdened with offering up the alternative? The real issue is perhaps less to do with the attacks themselves, but with the perceived arrogance and cynicism of its author. Do critics always have the best intentions when they go after the “classics”? It’s hard to say, but we can safely assume there will always be those who deliberately set out to incite scorn and unhealthy debate, just as there will always be the attention-seekers, the click-bait sensationalists.

Nathan Rabin vs. the IMDb Top 250: The Best Years of Our Lives by Nathan Rabin at The Dissolve

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Nathan Rabin has started going through the IMDb Top 250 in random order, which I think is a pretty fun series to do in general. He puts post-WWII classic The Best Years of Our Lives on top of the several he’s seen so far for the series, and it is a fantastic film, for all the reasons he talks about and more (Myrna Loy!).

Wyler’s film tells the story of an entire generation of lost men who came home from the greatest triumph of their lives only to discover that they had to fight a new war, for recognition, direction, self-respect, and for the wives, lovers, and jobs they assumed would always be there for them no matter what. It manages the singular quality of being at once intimate and epic. The Best Years Of Our Lives represents the studio age at its best. It’s adult, mature filmmaking that didn’t just feel important and socially significant, it was and remains important and socially significant, preserving the weary, uneasy mood of the moment that created it.

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The Roundup: November 14, 2014

Cinema

Quiet on the Set and…Panic! by Greg Ferrera at Movie Morlocks

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This is a nice companion piece to the American Movie Critics conversation Ryan and I recently had on Alexander Bakshy. Bakshy was bullish on the coming of sound, but he was in the minority. Greg points out how panicked most studios and filmmakers were, trying to figure out what to do with this newfangled technology.

Charlie Chaplin, a July, 1928, article, expresses his concerns that the cinema would quickly devolve into “photographed stage plays,” and one story starts off with the suggestion that cinematographers will be put out of work as the sound engineer takes over and the camera gets locked in place. If you ever needed proof that people have unreasonable fears about anything and everything new, just read stories from 1928 about sound in movies.

The 50th Freeze Frame: The Godfather by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee

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I always enjoy Ryan’s “classic” series, looking at a still from a classic film and discussion its meaning; this time, he gives his analysis in a brief but trenchant paragraph, saving space to reminisce over the previous 49 entries in the series.

Today marks the fiftieth image in the series, and in honour of the half-century mark, I decided to keep it simple: I’ve gone with my favorite shot from my favorite classic. There are dozens of other iconic shots from THE GODFATHER that I could have chosen, but for me, so much about America is said in this one frame.

All around it is the untamed natural environment it came from. Front and centre is one of the game-changing inventions that made it great. Inside of said invention, we have a glimpse of the violence that has defined it for more than 200 years. In the background, the promise of what it could be, what it wants to be, and what so many want to deny it being.

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The Roundup: November 3

Cinema

Why I’m Dreading the New Slate of Superhero Movies by Todd VanDerWerff at Vox

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This guy pretty much nails it. Knowing all the movies in advance like this doesn’t whet my interest, it just makes me exhausted. How much cooler would it be to wake up on a Friday, check the local listings, and be like “holy crap, there’s a Captain Marvel movie and it’s out TODAY?! Awesome, I’m going to THAT!” Of course, that will never happen anymore. I’m only planning to see a few of these, since I actually don’t care about being “a good movie geek,” (and I may see fewer than that if they’re as interconnected as it seems), but I’m still dreading the next SIX YEARS of stupid non-news that’ll be all but unavoidable unless I cut myself off from online film culture completely.

The difference here is that this is a list of films we are going to see, a list of films we had better start planning our lives around right now, if we are going to be good movie geeks. It has nothing to do with being surprised and everything to do with being kept in a state of vague anticipation for a half-decade before watching a movie that will inevitably result in a mild feeling of anticlimax. It has everything to do with taking that surprise and leeching all of it out of our moviegoing experience, bit by bit, until finally seeing the movie is just the last chore on the list. It’s a Christmas morning when we don’t just know the packages but have gotten done playing with them ages ago.

To Save and Project: The 12th MOMA International Festival of Film Preservation by R. Emmett Sweeney at Movie Morlocks

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I have occasionally been guilty of complaining that just because a film is preserved and archived doesn’t mean anyone will see it, and been corrected that most quality archivists consider exhibition to be an integral part of preservation, and To Save and Project is a visible sign of that commitment. I wish I were in New York to attend.

Late last month, on the outrage machine known as Twitter, Variety tweeted the following: “Most films and TV shows are now available online legally, says a new study”. As with most provocative headlines, it turned out to be incredibly misleading. The “study” was commissioned by NBC Universal and performed by audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG. They only chose to track the most “popular and critically-acclaimed” films, which according to them comprises films with the “highest gross box office receipts” and those that won Oscar Best Picture awards. So this is a highly selective, entirely meaningless 808 film sample that overlooks the majority of film history. [...] A situation is growing where studios don’t want to ship prints of rare titles, but neither do they want to shell out the money for a decent HD transfer and clean-up, a very expensive proposition to enact on a large scale. Thus my dream of a 127-film 4K-scanned Edward L. Cahn retrospective will never come to pass.

That is why festivals like To Save and Project are so vital.

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The Roundup: October 27

Cinema

Destroy All Monsters: Marvel vs. DC Could End the Moviegoing World by Matt Brown at Twitchfilm

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If you think we’ve had a lot of superhero movies already, scroll down this post a minute to the Image of the Day and take a look at what’s in the pipeline, if both Marvel and DC hit all their announced release dates (I’m betting DC won’t, but that’s neither here nor there). Then come back and read Matt Brown’s astute take on why this rivalry might destroy moviegoing as we know it. Personally, I’m in for about four of these announced films, but I’m feeling fatigue already.

I’m not referring to the glut of similar properties (though that will be a factor) and the perennial movie business column-incher called “audience fatigue.” I’m simply referring back to the infinities of scale problem above. Great: you’ve assembled fifty superheroes and literally saved the universe. What now? What’s next?

DC and Marvel’s real-world pissing contest will force each of them to go bigger and bigger and bigger or go home, home, home. But on both a conceptual and visual level (and alongside them, a financial one), there is actually a ceiling on how big these movies can get. Iron Man vs. Captain America in Captain America 3? Brilliant, but what do you do for an encore?

15 Great Russian Movies by Sergey Kuznetsov at Film School Rejects

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Most of the time “12 Great Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen”-type lists irritate me, because I usually have seen many of the films on them, and it’s incredibly difficult to target one of those lists well when your potential audience is everybody. First of all, this one doesn’t make the mistake of titling itself with “you haven’t seen”, but it also focuses on films that are well-known and revered in Russia but not as well-known outside of Russian, which is a fascinating tack for me. I’d love to see more lists like this from other countries.

The Diamond Arm (Leonid Gaiday, 1969)
Perhaps the best Russian comedy, the story of an ordinary man who was incidentally involved in illegal diamond trafficking. It’s a parody of crime movies and of the Hitchcockian “wrong man in wrong circumstances” plot, as well as a satirical sketch of Soviet life. Sometimes the American audience might need some knowledge of Soviet realities, but I’m sure real cinephiles would highly appreciate the stylistic diversity and charms of the actors.

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