September 5, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #28


The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) begins this week, and I'm already jealous of the many film lovers attending it. It's been interesting to watch the growing popularity of TIFF each year as it evolves into one of the world's top festivals. There are countless screenings that I'd love to attend; even some of the major films might not hit theaters until 2015. Some prominent examples include Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, Al Pacino in David Gordon Green's Mangelhorn, and Mia Hansen-Løve's Eden. I'm curious to find out which premieres stand out, though I'll keep my distance. There's so much to watch right here, and I'm only two months from the St. Louis International Film Festival. It may not be TIFF, but it's an incredible festival and will have plenty to offer.

Here are some interesting blogs and videos that are worth your time:

Skyler White was a character that was hard to like at times during Breaking Bad, but Anna Gunn never struck a false note with her performance. Alyssa Rosenberg at Act Four brings up so many great points about the character in her piece “How Anna Gunn’s performance as Skyler White changed television”. Skyler changed so much over the course of the series and became more intriguing as the show progressed.

We’ve seen plenty of examples of the plot device where a woman is killed or terrorized to help a man learn more about himself. This trend of “women in refrigerators” was named by Gail Simone 15 years ago, but it still holds true in movies today. This supercut identifies many of the prominent examples like Superman, Casino Royale, and Gladiator. Laura Berger at Women in Hollywood provides some context for a pretty standard way to let the male heroes show some emotion in action movies.

On a related note, Anita Sarkeesian has created a series of videos documenting the unfortunate themes in many video games. The “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series does an excellent job in showing the inherent sexism within these popular titles. You can watch them all through her Feminist Frequency site, and they’re definitely worth your time. The culture has gotten pretty nasty, and Sarkeesian has faced incessant threats. This post from Andrew Todd at Badass Digest identifies some of the ugly behavior.


Do you ever wonder why Man of Steel felt so serious? With the exception of a few throwaway lines, the material was played like high literature. I don’t have a problem with a dramatic superhero film, but there are limits. Matt Singer at The Dissolve points out reports that Warner Brothers has a “no joke” policy in its DC Comics movies. Trying to avoid having fun with an inherently silly premise is a dangerous idea. Even The Dark Knight had the Joker. Things aren’t looking good for their upcoming movies.

I can’t get enough of talking about Whit Stillman and The Cosmopolitans, and it’s been refreshing to read so many warm pieces about the Amazon pilot. Max Winter at Press Play identifies some reasons for why Stillman’s work endures and makes some great points. Deriding his films because they cover upper-class young people feels short-sighted. His characters are smart and a bit full of themselves, but Stillman’s writing never makes them caricatures. They have goals and dreams just like the rest of us, and the clever and witty style makes them feel more alive than ever.

I’ll close with this excellent piece from Jandy Hardesty at The Frame that makes the case against evaluative criticism. She covers her evolution from rating films towards finding them unnecessary. Her convincing argument points out that whether a movie is “good” is limiting when it comes to in-depth discussion. I’ve found with my own writing that not giving a rating allows for different analysis. We all have our own opinions, so let’s try to go further with our reviews. Here’s an excerpt from Jandy’s awesome essay:

By this point in my life, I’ve had over 25 years to figure out how to choose movies I’m going to like. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I generally enjoy most movies anyway, but not having any obligation to review them, I have the freedom to choose more carefully, and I can get through a year pretty easily now without ever seeing something I really dislike. This means that while I do like some things more than others, it’s often a pretty small range of positive valuations we’re talking about, which makes evaluation basically useless. Why quibble over whether something is a three and half or four star film? It’s much more interesting and informative to talk about specific things in the movie – not to buttress my overall opinion of the film, but simply because I find them interesting.

13 comments:

  1. Great post. You've given me some reading material for the weekend. Thanks. I'm familiar with the plot device, but I've never heard it called Women in Refrigerators before. Interesting. A "no joke" policy on DC Comic movies? Really? I can't possibly explain how dumb that is. They just don't get it at all.

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    1. It's possible the Batman/Superman movie will surprise us, but I have my doubts. Could it be worse than Man of Steel? I'm starting to wonder...

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  2. Thanks for the link, Dan! I'm glad the essay has struck a chord with people - it's definitely been on my mind for the better part of the year.

    I've been pretty focused on all the stuff happening lately in games culture; it's interesting to see a piece covering the Women in Refrigerators trope from the film side. One of the early arguments against Sarkeesian was "but this stuff happens in movies and stuff, too, not just games!" (i.e., leave games alone), which is exasperating, because that doesn't make it okay - it just proves it's a culture-wide systemic problem. If you look a few eps back in Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, there's a whole episode devoted to Women in Refrigerators in games.

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    1. That's not a good argument against her. I still need to watch the earlier episodes of her series. I'm way behind in terms of the hottest games, but it still really interests me.

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  3. Hi Dan! It's definitely Film Festival season. I'm looking forward to Twin Cities Film Fest myself. Cool that you'll be attending St. Louis International Film Festival. There's a member drive tonight for TCFF w/ sneak peeks into what's gonna be playing :D

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    1. Ruth, that sounds like a really cool sneak peek event. I'm not sure how many SLIFF films I'll be able to see, but I'll do my best. If nothing else, I'll try to promote it however I can.

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  4. That last quote you picked out from Jandy Hardesty has spoken to me. This year's the first year I've opted to NOT try and squish 100 films into the year and review them all. And it's enjoyable. I feel free to choose what I really want to watch, and if I do want to watch Ghostbusters for the millionth time, that is okay. I'm back to really enjoying the films I enjoy. Which is a nice feeling.

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    1. Jaina, I don't think it's an accident that my thinking about film this way has coincided with having my first kid (she's 18 months old now). Having less time to watch films has helped me focus on choosing carefully the ones I want to watch, enjoying the ones I'm able to watch, and why I want to watch films in the first place. When I was hitting 100-200 films a year, it was much more like "get to the next, get to the next." It's been surprisingly refreshing.

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    2. I'm also in a similar boat with having two young kids, so I try to make better choices in movies. Of course, I always mess up a few times. Still, there haven't been nearly as many clunkers now that I've narrowed down the films. We used to see so many movies, which was fun, but it could be overwhelming in a quest to see everything.

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    3. Ha! Well, I've got no kids. BUT I have just moved to a whole new country and living with my OH. Means more time doing practical things than being able to sit on the sofa and just watch a film. I know it doesn't nearly compare to having kids, but getting a better perspective on time and what you want to watch rather than feeling you have to watch something is definitely a good thing.

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    4. I think a lot of different things can make you change movie viewing habits. I do sometimes wish that I could get the theaters more, but there are some great benefits too. I end up watching a lot fewer bad movies!

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  5. That women in refrigerators trend really irks me. I enjoyed that supercut, but man, that's just lazy damn storytelling right there.

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    1. Definitely. The sad part is that it's still used today. We aren't making so much progress.

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