Showing posts with label The World That I See. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The World That I See. Show all posts

July 4, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #20


Back in the early days of podcasts, I devoured episodes about two topics: movies and theme parks. There were limited options in both categories, and Filmspotting was the saving grace on the film side. With theme parks, I became a regular listener of several Disney podcasts that offered good information, but were also overly positive about the “magic”. It was a relief to discover The Season Pass, which focused more on the industry and its creative forces. Hosts Doug Barnes and Brent Young brought insiders onto the show and delivered intelligent conversations that explored how attractions were made. They’ve delivered more than 270 episodes of content without charging listeners for any of it. Unfortunately, real life has intervened and forced them to adjust or close down the podcast. If you’re a fan of theme parks, I highly recommend The Season Pass podcast. They need listeners’ support to keep providing great material about an industry that keeps growing.

Here are some interesting blogs that are definitely worth your time:

I’ve only seen the first Transformers film, but I know enough about Michael Bay to realize the franchise (and much of his work) gives a limited perspective on women. Kyle Buchanan at Vulture outlines “7 Ways To Tell You’re a Woman in a Michael Bay Movie”, and it’s hardly a glowing portrayal. Female characters are introduced legs first, cower in the face of danger, and largely exist so guys can talk about them as physical objects. What’s unfortunate is how many people are seeing this image of women in very successful movies that could do better with a less simple-minded filmmaker at the helm.


It’s been refreshing to see Do the Right Thing receive such positive attention on the 25th anniversary of its original release. Unlike many films released in 1989, Spike Lee’s look at a day in the life of a Brooklyn neighborhood still packs a punch. It’s the testament of a great film when it still gets audiences talking and can divide viewers with similar political leanings. Michael Mirasol at the Movie Mezzanine does a fine job discussing his personal reactions to the film and how they’ve changed over the years.

I’ve enjoyed watching Community over the years, but there was a strong part of me that was ready for it to end. My interest waned even after Dan Harmon’s return, and I wasn’t sure what else they could do during a sixth season. Yahoo’s renewal has brought joy to many fans, including my wife. Alyssa Rosenberg at Act Four raises interesting points and connects this return to the dangers of drifting too much into fan service. She raises essential questions that go beyond Community’s return.

Glenn Kenny is one of the most interesting voices in world of online criticism, and he delved into the nastiness of Internet commenting in a recent post. What makes this piece on his blog Some Came Running so effective is that he turns the scrutiny on himself and identifies ways he could have done better. It’s rare to see this type of introspective writing that doesn’t feel self-indulgent. Kenny’s work is never dull and does a lot more than discuss the basics of the film universe. Here is an excerpt from this fascinating essay:

"When you’re a drunk, and have some facility for words, and things aren’t going so great for you, you can read something and infer that the writer’s situation is better than your own, and it can throw you into a frothing bloody rage. You think, 'Why is the world paying attention to this NOBODY?' or 'why is this NOBODY making more money than I am?' and 'why isn’t this NOBODY beset with paralyzing depression and fear like he or she deserves to be instead of me?' and so on, and then because you fancy yourself a critic or a perspicacious observer of the cultural scene, you mold these resentments into a theory that there is something VERY WRONG with the culture and that the person you hate is the one responsible for that thing being very wrong."

June 27, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #19


A few weeks ago, I joined four other bloggers on the LAMBcast for a draft of international character actors that went beyond the expected names. In fact, there was a “do not draft” list of actors like Brian Cox, Jim Broadbent and others that have become too well-known beyond film aficionados. It was a fun podcast that lasted for several hours and included some questionable picks. I’m still irritated that my Timothy Dalton choice was shot down because of his two films as James Bond. Beyond listening to the podcast, you should go vote for my team, which was chosen in categories split by age. Here is my team of heavy hitters: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lee, Rutger Hauer, Peter Stormare, John Rhys Davies, Sean Bean, Ray Winstone, Robert Carlyle, Samantha Morton, and Mads Mikkelson. While the other groups are impressive, none include this level of depth and variety. Let’s take the win!

Here are some interesting blogs and other posts that are definitely worth your time:

My favorite band of all time, Midnight Oil, is being honored by a huge exhibition in Sydney that includes rare memorabilia, sound clips, and a lot of historical information. I’m really jealous that the Aussie fans have the chance to see all the greatness in person. This news clip gives a peek at the exhibit and includes an interview with drummer Rob Hirst. There’s a “bonus” near the end that has nothing to do with the main story but is such a strange transition. This online clip needs an editor! If four minutes isn’t enough, a devoted fan created a 19-minute (!!) slideshow from the exhibition.


I finished watching season two of Orange is the New Black, and it did not disappoint. The stories dug even further into the backgrounds of the diverse female characters that are so rare in this industry. The mix of comedy, raw human emotions, and the horrors of an uncaring institution combine to make something quite original. Alyssa Rosenberg at Act Four wrote an excellent piece about the show’s depictions of love and how it maintains hope within all the challenges. The warm, brilliant post delves into characters that do the wrong thing frequently yet remain likable despite their difficulties.

Over at The Dissolve, Noel Murray talked about the “dreaded PG-13-ification” of movies. It’s allowed for the bloodless violence that makes us immune to what we’re seeing, and that’s hardly a good thing. I also included this article because he discusses the great James Bond film Licence to Kill, which was the first to be rated PG-13. The harder edges of the drug world were so much different from the silliness of the late Roger Moore era. There’s no easy way to solve the issue, and it seems like we’ll keep seeing violent films that find ways to just barely avoid an R and mute themselves in the process.


Joel Bocko is a David Lynch expert, and he’s delivered a massive post that covers his entire career over at Lost in the Movies. I could spend hours digging into this piece and why it’s great. He’s essentially provided thoughts on every feature film, TV episode, and short that Lynch has ever directed. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about his work, but I know little compared to this expertise. I need to dedicate more time to dig into Joel’s post and all the avenues of Lynch’s work that I haven’t explored. I’ll close with a sample from Joel that talks about the confounding Inland Empire:

Inland Empire (2006) is a trap. If you enter into its universe looking for a narrative throughline, however obscure, you'll be confounded by non sequitur sequences impossible to reconcile with one another (no wonder - the film was improvised by Lynch over the course of several years; he would sketch out dialogue and action the morning of the shoot, later interweaving the results with footage from different projects, like Rabbits, featured prominently throughout). Yet if you give up on comprehensibility and attempt to embrace Inland Empire as a stream-of-consciousness flow of spooky images, cryptic dialogue, and jarring noises, you'll be equally stymied because the film never stops dropping clues that there is some larger puzzle to figure out.

June 20, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #18


This is the week of book signings for friends of mine here in St. Louis. Last night, the great Traci Angel appeared at Left Bank Books to talk about her book The Scars of Project 459. It chronicles the environmental devastation caused by the explosion of tourism at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. I picked up my copy last night and can’t wait to read it. If you’re curious to learn more about the book, you should check out these articles in the St. Louis Post Dispatch and St. Louis Magazine (where Traci was the managing editor years ago). You can also check out the website for the book to order a copy.

Tonight, I’ll be going back to Left Bank Books to hear my old friend Joe Stange speak about his book Good Beer Guide Belgium. There will also be a free beer tasting at the event, which means I’ll be there when the doors open. Craft beers are really taking off here in St. Louis and around the country, so this is a must read if you’re interested in that topic. I’m looking forward to trying a lot of new beers after I pick up the book tonight. I may not be traveling to Belgium anytime soon, so this title will be a substitute.


We now return to my regularly scheduled links post. Here are some other interesting blogs that are definitely worth your time:

I’m a fan of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Steve Honeywell at 1001 Plus finally caught up with it on the recommendation of Nick Jobe at Your Face. Instead of writing a normal review, Steve posted a lengthy text conversation with Nick that showed two very different takes on the movie. I’m more inclined to fall on Nick’s side of this discussion, but I can see Steve’s points. It’s an entertaining way to dissect a film and should be a must-read no matter where your opinion lies of this Edgar Wright movie.

Roger Ebert’s birthday was Wednesday, so it was time to again revisit his greatness. On Rogerebert.com, they posted a brief yet intriguing conversation between Ebert and David Stratton about film criticism. It’s from 1988, yet the topics remain very relevant today. It doesn’t dig too far, but Ebert’s outlook on reviewing movies more than 25 years ago strikes a chord with my feelings on the topic.


The big news in the theme park world is the preview of the new Diagon Alley section at Universal Orlando. The official opening to the public is July 8, but some lucky folks were able to take a look behind the curtain. The spotlight attraction is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and the early reports are incredible. Robert Niles at the Theme Park Insider gave his first impressions yesterday, and while there were a few glitches, the technology sounds amazing. I’ll be curious to see the attendance bump that follows the most anticipated opening in Orlando since the first Harry Potter land.

Over at The Dissolve, Tasha Robinson digs into many “strong female characters” that still fall victim to similar tropes in movies. She cites the “Trinity Syndrome” where even the most kick-ass women still much be identified by their connections to men. There are a lot of examples of the “hugely capable woman who never once becomes as independent, significant, and exciting as she is in her introductory scene”. Robinson makes a convincing case in the engaging piece, which talks about the limitations even with characters that appear powerful on the surface. Tasha closes her thoughts in this way:

So maybe all the questions can boil down to this: Looking at a so-called Strong Female Character, would you—the writer, the director, the actor, the viewer—want to be her? Not want to prove you’re better than her, or to have her praise you or acknowledge your superiority. Action movies are all about wish-fulfillment. Does she fulfill any wishes for herself, rather than for other characters? When female characters are routinely ‘strong’ enough to manage that, maybe they’ll make the ‘Strong Female Characters’ term meaningful enough that it isn’t so often said sarcastically.

June 13, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #17

Johnnie To's Triad Election

There’s been so much chatter about the creative demise of Entertainment Weekly this year, and it’s clear the publication inspired plenty of movie lovers. One aspect of the magazine that I hadn’t considered was corporate interference from its parent company Time Warner. Their influence was hardly a recent trend and started during the first few years. This conflict and a lot more is covered in Anne Helen Petersen’s piece this week at The Awl. She talks about her history with EW and the many challenges faced over the years as new editors arrived. It’s safe to say that not everyone working at the magazine was primarily interested in pop culture. I’ve let my subscription run out this year, but it isn’t because of any new changes. With life getting busier at home, reading EW just wasn’t a priority. The reviews aren’t at the same level, and the news is available everywhere. It was an easy decision, and I expect that plenty of other former fans are making a similar choice.

Here are more interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

My podcast listening has also lessened, but I always try to make time for NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Linda Holmes and the gang talked this week about dealing with times of grief through pop culture. It was a very engaging conversation that said plenty about how each participant deals with loss. It was hardly a morbid conversation, and the freewheeling tone reminded me of why I like this podcast so much. It’s consistently entertaining and touches on so many different aspects of pop culture each week.

Damon Lindelof still takes flak for the finale of Lost.

The discussion on the Pop Culture Happy Hour directed me to a surprisingly frank interview in the New York Times Magazine with Damon Lindelof. It covers the emotional toll that all the nastiness about the Lost finale has taken on the sensitive soul. It isn’t my favorite ending, but the ugly behavior towards the guy has gone way overboard. Reading about his challenges after facing that scrutiny is a good reminder to everyone that a line remains for criticism. Disliking how Lost closed is one thing; verbally butchering Lindelof is something else entirely and isn’t right in any case.

I’m a serious fan of theme parks, and it’s thrilling to see what Universal is doing in Orlando with the Harry Potter franchise. They’re spending a lot of money to create immersive environments that are brilliantly executed. This is a major positive for me, but I can see the downside if Universal, Disney, and others focus solely on using the parks to market their largest franchises. There’s something to be said about creating an attraction that’s separate from an existing property, but that rarely happens these days. Lucas Shaw and Jordan Zakarin at The Wrap discuss the studios’ renewed interest in theme parks, which could be a double-edged sword despite the investments in high-tech experiences.

If you’re a fan of Survivor, you should go to Rob Has a Website and vote for your favorites. Rob Cesternino is putting together a list of the top 20 players of all time based on votes by the fans. You vote for the top 10, and the results will be revealed in a podcast later this month. Picking my 10 was very difficult since you can use so many different criteria. Is winning a necessity? Should it be the biggest characters or the best players? How can we compare first-time results to contestants that have appeared four times? There’s no easy answer, and I’m intrigued to find out who makes the top of the heap.

James Gray's The Immigrant

Nick Pinkerton’s recent Bombast column for Film Comment covers so many pivotal topics under the title “The Punishment Continues”. He discusses James Gray’s The Immigrant, which is receiving rave reviews but not making a dent at the box office. This leads him to consider the hidden business model of video-on-demand and the challenge in evaluating financial success with only part of the information. Pinkerton closes by addressing the continued challenges for film critics, who are being attacked by directors like Ken Loach while other writers claim that reviews lose money. His irritation at much of the discussion is evident, but it’s the passion that comes through. I’ll close with this excerpt from his column:

The only thing that I know with any certitude is this: whatever the beat you’re covering, there’s always something interesting going on, but it rarely happens in the same place or in precisely the same way twice. If you’ve been waiting around for a reprise of Such-and-Such New Wave or Seventies New American Cinema or Punk Rock, you have a better chance of catching Jesus on his next go-around. The arts do have a tendency to flourish in decadence, though, and this is heartening, for this current edifice, founded on a bluffed understanding of the new playing field, is but erected on shifting sands, and destined to come down in good time.

June 6, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #16

2046

There’s been a lot of talk this year about the loss of paying jobs for film criticism. Although the trends haven’t looked great for a while, this feels like a tipping point with no turnaround in sight. People recently announced that it’s dropping all its reviews in favor of “People Picks”. When you combine this with the steady stream of layoffs at large publications and websites, the future looks bleak. Dustin Rowles at Pajiba addressed the issues this week by looking at the economics of movie reviews. He explains how they typically lose money on his site compared to gimmick posts. This is anecdotal for Pajiba but probably not that farfetched for many sites, and this is disheartening (though not surprising). I have a separate full-time job, but a lot of people have invested their souls into being film critics. I really wish there were more outlets to make that happen for such intelligent voices.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

My podcast listening time is a lot more limited, so I’ve fallen behind on many shows. One of them is the LAMBcast, which brings together a wide range of bloggers and podcasters to talk about the latest issues in the film world. This week, I caught up with an episode that’s different than the usual format. Host Jay Cluitt and four guests talked about their personal lives and how their sites have impacted them. Released last month, this post is the third of the “Getting to Know Your LAMBcasters” episodes, and it gives some background into the different ways that loving movies and creating a blog or podcast affects our lives.

Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven

The Blind Spots series is happening in full force at many sites, and Jandy at The Frame delivered two posts on very different films this week. The first was Predator, one of the better Arnold Schwarzenegger films that appeared during his heyday. It keeps the title character in the background for a long time, and that raises the tension once it appears. Her other choice was Days of Heaven, which is easily my favorite Terrence Malick film. It’s gorgeous and doesn’t overstay its welcome, which makes it feel nearly perfect.

Over at the Movie Mezzanine, they put together a list of “25 Emerging Filmmakers to Watch”, and there are plenty of great talents within this list. Many of the directors are in their early 40s and just getting started on the scene, which some are even in their late 20s. I’ll be referring back to this list when I put together the choices for my young filmmakers marathon later this month. There are far too many good options to fit within one series, but this fine list should be a great reference.

Disney World finally opened a new ride; it only took five years to build it! If you’ve visited anytime recently, you’ve noticed the walls and fences blocking the middle of Fantasyland. They’ve finally come down and revealed the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The reviews are flying in, and many aren’t so kind. Disney fans were expecting something to compete with Universal’s Harry Potter, and a family coaster won’t do the trick. Even so, it does sound like a good experience. Tom Bricker at the Disney Tourist Blog gives an evenhanded review that addresses both sides of the issue. He always does excellent work and is the best photographer that I’ve seen on any Disney blog.

Survivor Cagayan

The Survivor Cagayan finale happened a few weeks ago, and the big winner was Tony Vlachos. He was quite a character and hardly the only memorable figure. If you’re a fan of the show (why wouldn’t you be?) and looking to close the book on the last game, you must read Sarah Freeman’s Individual Games blog for Rob Has a Website about the finale. She analyzes every part of it and goes a lot further than what’s on the surface. I took my best shot at dissecting the finale, but it doesn’t reach the sharp work from Sarah.

I’ll close with an excerpt from the post that talks about why the season worked:

What elevates Cagayan is certainly its cast, particularly the double bulls-in-a-china-shop of Tony and Kass. Overall it was a diverse group, not so much in race as in age and philosophy—and as Jeff said, they came to win… even Woo. But we also have to credit the editors. It seems a little ridiculous to praise them for a more balanced edit when Tony probably got even more screentime than Tyson and Cochran in their so clearly telegraphed wins, yet Tony was presented as a flawed character with a flawed game—and thank goodness! I’d much rather have the comical side of Tony than see him shoehorned into a puppetmaster role.

May 16, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #15


It’s been a hectic few weeks in real life, and that’s made this blog a quieter place. When the kids are sick and work gets busier, film viewing takes a back seat. Even so, I’m getting ready to rebound and start posting more once again. My Jean-Luc Godard marathon began this week with Contempt, and I’m hoping to catch some new films in the near future. My next series will focus on young filmmakers, beginning with Richard Ayoade’s The Double. There are so many interesting faces to watch as the medium evolves to a new distribution model that varies from the traditional formula. The challenge is finding the time to uncover the hidden gems and rising stars that could become household names in the next decade.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

I’ll begin on a different note and talk about The Season Pass Podcast, which is easily my favorite theme park podcast. Doug Barnes, Robert Coker, and Brent Young are so excited about the industry and do a excellent job mixing their enthusiasm with the business side. I’ve recently caught up with a bunch of their latest episodes, and the podcast does an amazing job going beyond the normal routes of conversation. My favorite was the latest edition of the Disney Files with Chad Emerson, who covered many of the pivotal issues facing the Disney parks in the near future. Doug and Chad also dug into Universal’s plans for rapid expansion at their resort and the impact that it could have on Disney’s Florida parks.


Twin Peaks has countless devoted fans, and its reputation is still strong thanks to younger viewers catching up with it on DVD. The challenge for many of them is what to think about Fire Walk with Me, the theatrical prequel released after the series was cancelled. Joel Bocko and Tony Dayoub at To Be Continued are doing a series of conversations that explore the film and delve into the themes behind it. Their first entry makes an intriguing case that gives one reason for the vitriol from a lot of viewers.

Over at Indiewire, Anthony Kaufman paints a bleak picture of Americans’ interest in subtitled films. They’re being abandoned by Netflix, don’t have the powerful theatrical distributors, and aren’t seeing the gains from video on demand. It’s possible the numbers could improve, but the case against this happening from Kaufman is pretty strong. The potential in our modern age is for audiences to have better access to a more diverse selection of movies. The question is whether we actually want that variety.


Continuing the bad news, Shailene Woodley made headlines with bizarre comments against feminism. Melissa Silverstein at Indiewire’s Women in Hollywood blog used this opportunity to shed some light on the subject. She makes 12 points to Woodley that spotlight the continued challenges for women in the film industry and the direct connections to feminism.

Finally, Donald Wilson at Film Comment talks about “The Great Flood” of releases that can be overwhelming to film critics in larger cities. He makes the case that publications like the New York Times shouldn’t try to cover every small film. Wilson wants critics like Manohla Dargis to serve as gatekeepers that provide content on movies that are truly worthy of attention. This statement offers a good summary of his views:

Instead of attempting to achieve some impossible platonic ideal of fairness (the Times, though it reviews every release, certainly prioritizes films in a number of subtle ways: review placement, photo inclusion, length, additional feature coverage), shouldn’t the cultural gatekeepers live up to their responsibilities? Instead of covering every film released, they should make smart decisions about what films are worth covering (and on what platforms they’re being released—should great films released only on streaming be penalized for how they reach viewers?). I imagine that the arts editors, in conjunction with the lead reviewers—who, one assumes, talk to other critics, hear about interesting films, and see other interesting films while attending film festivals—could do a decent job of putting together an editorial calendar that makes sense. Films would fall through the cracks, sure. But instead of being a clearinghouse, the weekly review coverage could be a curated space for the best writing about the best films. Does the front page of the Times cover all the news? Or just what’s fit to print?

May 2, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #14

The Immortalists

I’ve been writing a lot for other sites lately, so forgive me as I drop in some plugs before getting to this week’s blogs and podcasts. Most recently, I’ve watched several documentaries that will screen at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto. Courtney Small does great work at Cinema Axis, and I’ve reviewed Pine Ridge and The Pink Helmet Posse for his site. I also just checked out The Immortalists, and that review on Courtney’s site went up yesterday. Another recent piece followed the model of the Criterion Top 10 lists that appear on that site. Fellow St. Louis resident John Larue of The Droid You’re Looking For is running a series where film writers provide their lists. My choices (which will post soon) were more personal and not designed to list what’s truly “best” from that remarkable collection.

On a different note, I contributed for the first time to a Disney blog called This Happy Place with a review of Marty Sklar’s book Dream It! Do It!. Estelle does an excellent job running that site, and it was a treat to write about one of my hobbies beyond film. I’ve also been writing about the latest season of Survivor for Rob Cesternino’s excellent site Rob Has a Website. It’s been a real treat to connect with so many fans of the show through these lengthy posts on the strategic side of the game.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

Let’s start with some advice for young critics from Matt Zoller Seitz at Rogerebert.com. He gives practical input on ways to improve as a writer that go beyond the cynical take on the work. I may not be able to write for two hours every day like Matt suggests, but I’ve found great value in doing so more often. One of the benefits of doing a regular blog is becoming more confident as a writer and developing a voice. It may sound simple, but young critics often forget that it’s an art that takes a lot of practice.

The Afghan Whigs

I love the Afghan Whigs and am thrilled that they’ve just released a new album (Do the Beast) this year. Greg Dulli has been doing remarkable work with The Twilight Singers and other acts, but it’s still great to see them back together. Nick Pinkerton wrote a long piece about the Afghan Whigs this week for Film Comment, and it does an excellent job in grasping what made them work. He digs into the way they presented themselves through music videos and says a lot about the music of the time period.

The latest episode of The Cinephiliacs includes Carrie Rickey as the guest, and she joins host Peter Labuza for an engaging review of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that ‘90s comedy, yet it’s stuck with me clearly. Rickey also discusses her past as a critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer and provides insight into the way that writing about films has changed over the years.

The cast of Star Wars 7 has been announced.

Good news: The Star Wars cast was announced this week! Less exciting news: It’s almost all dudes. While it’s easy to get outraged over stories that mean little, this is not one of those cases. I’ve generally liked Abrams’ work, and he’s no stranger to depicting strong female characters. On the other hand, the fact that we have only one new female character within the announced group is sad. In “Hey Star Wars — Where Are All the Women?”, Annalee Newitz at io9 covers this topic and outlines the frustrations from plenty of fans that are looking for more balance within this highly anticipated cast.

Here’s an excerpt from Newitz’s piece:

Star Wars isn't just another silly B-movie whose all-male cast I can laugh off. It's an evolving cultural mythos for the twenty-first century, whose stories evoke a future for humanity even if they take place "a long time ago." It's a story that all of us — young and old — look to for inspiration, for heroes, for nostalgia, and for shared jokes when it goes wrong. It's no exaggeration to say that Star Wars is an important part of the collective imagination game that we call culture.

So when Star Wars cannot offer us anything remotely like a diverse cast of characters, at a time in history when we know better, it's not just a bad casting decision in a Hollywood office. It's a move that will absolutely shape how children think about themselves, and the possibilities that are open to them. It's a decision that sends a signal to adults about where they stand relative to each other.

April 25, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #13


This week was the start of Ebertfest, and I’m already feeling jealous about my fellow bloggers and critics that are enjoying their time in Champaign. Spike Lee and Oliver Stone are making appearances this weekend, and I’m sure that Wednesday’s Life Itself screening was something to see. I’m only three hours away, so this festival remains high on my list. The question is whether it will keep going long enough for me to make the trip. I have a feeling it’s not going anywhere for a while. Along with the True/False Film Fest in Columbia, there are two remarkable nearby events that keep growing in popularity every year.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

Alexander Huls always has something interesting to say, and his piece “How Hollywood Killed Death” for the New York Times Magazine makes a convincing case. Citing examples from Star Trek into Darkness, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World, he describes the lack of impact from the likely deaths of major characters. They’re telling examples of the interest that may be missing from many blockbusters.

Great minds joined forces on The Matineecast this week when one of my favorite bloggers was Ryan McNeil’s guest for the latest episode of his fine podcast. Alex Withrow does excellent work at And So It Begins… and is pursuing a career as a filmmaker. They discuss both parts of Nymphomaniac and cover other films that would follow it naturally.


James Blake Ewing at Cinema Sights has been tackling The Wire and writing about the series in three-episode increments. He’s nearly finished and just completed his second post about the final season. It’s been refreshing to read a fresh take from a new viewer, and it’s inspired me to revisit it soon. James’ writing on TV and films is intelligent and often takes a different perspective from the normal approach.

Another exciting recent event was the TCM Classic Film Festival, and it’s been fun to live vicariously through others who attended it. One example comes from Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, a site that I’ve discovered fairly recently. On her third day, Laura watched remarkable films like Stagecoach and Touch of Evil plus the musical Meet Me in St. Louis. That’s quite an amazing day for movies. She’s also a fan of the Disney theme parks, so I’ve found plenty to like with Laura’s blog.

Speaking of Touch of Evil and the TCM festival, Jandy Hardesty also checked it out and wrote about the experience for her blog The Frame. She doesn’t write as many reviews now (I understand with both of us having young daughters), so it’s great to get her perspective on this experience. I was lucky enough to see Touch of Evil on the big screen after it was revised based on Welles’ notes. It probably wasn’t the same as seeing it with such an admiring classic film crowd, however.

Have you read or listened to anything remarkable that you’d like to spotlight?

April 17, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #12


I’ve yet to mention the end of Television Without Pity, which was one of my regular sites for a long time. What really sucked me in were the extensive recaps of The Amazing Race and Survivor by “Miss Alli”, known today as Linda Holmes from NPR’s Monkey See blog. The early seasons of those shows were much different than how they are viewed today. Survivor was a phenomenon with huge viewing numbers but wasn’t as focused on the strategy like today. The Amazing Race was a less popular upstart with diehard fans loving it and hoping for just another season each time. I read the very long recaps of each episode, and that experience just added to the fun. I haven’t kept up with TWOP as much in recent years, but I still have fond memories of digging into the long posts after each new episode.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

Speaking of Holmes, her warm piece about Say Anything has an excellent grasp on what makes it so affecting 25 years later. She describes how it’s more than your standard teen love story for so many reasons. The label of Lloyd Dobler as “perhaps the single most human 19-year-old that the films of the '80s and '90s gave to us” might sound like a stretch, but there’s some real truth to it. What I love about Cameron Crowe is the heart in his films, even the less interesting ones. That compassion is everywhere in this movie, and Holmes’ piece makes me want to watch it again very soon.


One of my favorite ongoing blog series is “In Character” from Alex Withrow at And So It Begins. He picks a character actor that’s a familiar face but not might be a household name and spotlights the top roles from that person’s career. His latest subject is Gary Cole, who is widely known as Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. That only tells a small part of the story, however. I first saw Cole in the TV series American Gothic as the evil Sheriff Lucas Buck. He’s delivered so many great performances over the years, including Kent Davison in Veep. Alex does great work on his blog, and his spotlight on Cole is just another example of why you should be reading his work.

Lauren Brooks always has plenty to say at Man I Love Films, and her column this week is one of her most interesting pieces. She tackles the auteur theory and its limitations on interpretations in film criticism. While I think it can be applied to certain figures in cinema history, I agree that the director is given too much emphasis in the final outcome is a movie. Of course, I have a feeling that new obstacles would arise that might distract us from having more complex discussions. Regardless, it’s an interesting topic that deserves more attention. Lauren is the right person for the job.


Steve Honeywell at 1001 Plus always has plenty to say, and I’m right with him with his take on Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. I admire it greatly, yet watching it a second time doesn’t sound very exciting. It’s a gorgeous film with interesting performances, especially from Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Even so, there’s something about the movie that pushes me away. I’ve seen Magnolia plenty of times, but Anderson is working on a much different plane with his last movie.

I’ll close this week in a much different sphere with the world of theme parks. One of the best Disney blogs is Passport to Dreams Old and New despite the infrequent posting schedule. Foxxfur’s latest essay moves across town to Universal Orlando to explore The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride. It’s one of the most stunning achievements that I’ve ever seen in themed entertainment. The combination of 3D visual effects and physical sets works so perfectly, and the attraction is so much fun. This post delves into why it works so well and compares it to the similar Transformers attraction at that resort. Here’s an excerpt that summarizes the article’s points:

Although Spider-Man's 2012 visual upgrade has helped close the gap between the two rides in many respects, Spidey is still an intentionally cartoonier experience. I often decry tooniness in my articles, but it just works like gangbusters in Spider-Man. Spidey has an immediacy lacking from the usual take-you-inside-the-cartoon visual vocabulary employed successfully by, say, Roger Rabbit's Car-Toon Spin (which it vaguely resembles). Some of this can be attributed to Universal Creative's successful adaptation to the tone of comic books and pulp adventure serials: crazy action with a healthy seasoning of sarcasm. The villains in Spider-Man are absurd: instead of simply trying to kill you for discovering their secret hideout they take time to terrorize you with various objects (electrical plugs, pumpkin bombs, tongues) in a way that makes nearly no sense at all but adds to the sense of lighthearted menace. This same ride wouldn't work with Batman villains.

April 11, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #11


My college years arrived just as the Internet was picking up steam in the mid-‘90s. However, the ancient technology of slow dial-up left me with few opportunities to even use it away from campus. During those struggles, I found that a text-only format allowed me to read film reviews from Entertainment Weekly. Checking in with Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum spurred my interest in writing about films. Their reviews were much longer than today’s version of the magazine and delved into more than the basics. That inspiration is what makes it even rougher to watch the demise of that publication’s film writing. Gleiberman’s firing last week followed the announcement of a community of unpaid writers, and that combination is unfortunate. The issues contain less substantial content and often pile up on the shelves at home, and that trend won’t change anytime soon.

Matt Zoller Seitz’s piece for RogerEbert.com last Thursday on this issue and the larger ramifications for this practice offers a sobering take on the current trends. His final line that “it’s still not right” says it all, and the results are a shame for Gleiberman and so many other skilled writers. Film criticism is an art that takes years of practice, and reducing it to unpaid writers hoping to get “exposure” is just sad. On a related note, there’s an interesting comparison from the Listen Eggroll blog of Entertainment Weekly issues from 1998 and today. It’s hardly a shock to see a lot more text, but the difference is still pretty striking.


Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

Friday was the one-year anniversary of Roger Ebert’s passing, and his site included some amazing and heartfelt writing from his team of writers. First of all, his wife Chaz posted the “Leave of Presence” that Roger wrote one day before he died. It shows a dedicated guy who’s involved in so much and passionate about his work despite the health difficulties. It’s easy to get sidetracked by the smallest challenges in life, and he kept the faith after losing his voice and enduring so much over his final years.

I could recommend any of the dedications to Roger on his site. One that struck me came from film student Jamie Tyberg, who never met him. There are so many examples of aspiring writers and filmmakers who learned so much from him. I never met Roger, yet it seems like I know him after watching him on television and reading his reviews for so many years. His legacy continues beyond the individual reviews, and he still inspires many of us today.

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody is not a fan of television. While I disagree with his points about the “five-minute rule” when it comes to serialized TV, he makes an interesting case. Essentially, he believes that a great film should inspire you with any random five minutes of its screen time. While this may be the case for classics, I’m not sure it applies to every movie. It also doesn’t take into account the extended running time when you look at television. It’s a simplified concept but still raises thought-provoking points about what constitutes art and how we view and enjoy each visual medium.


I don’t talk enough about the greatness of Matt Singer and Alison Wilmore on their podcast Filmspotting SVU. They have such a laid-back charm that combines perfectly with intelligent film discussions. I’ve been focusing more on streaming and video on demand lately, and their show is an excellent way to learn about major films and hidden gems available online. Their latest episode includes a review of Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and covers the sword-fighting genre. Matt and Alison are also accomplished writers, and they bring those same skills to the audio world. Their discussions move smoothly between high art and lowbrow cinema, and we learn plenty about the movie world.

Sam Fragoso is carving quite a niche for himself through his site Movie Mezzanine and his work at Rogerebert.com. This week, he added another publication to the list with his post for The Week about ignoring the online trolls. It’s a thoughtful piece that makes good points about the damage of focusing on terrible reviews instead of the best writing. I’ll admit that it’s easy to get sucked into looking at the weaker parts of this practice, but it does little good. You can follow all of Sam’s work through his new personal site at Sam Fragaso.com. Let’s close with a quote from his piece that exemplifies the key points:

As anyone who has ever put pen to paper can attest, producing an intelligent and incisive piece of writing on any subject matter is difficult — but highlighting quality writing shouldn't be. If you care about good film criticism, please, pay attention to good film criticism.

April 3, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #10


Last weekend, I caught up with the Disney film Saving Mr. Banks and its rare depiction of Walt Disney. My fandom of the Disney theme parks and interest in their legendary founder made it a no brainer to check out this glossy production. I’ll be writing more about it in the future, but one thing struck me after this viewing. The movie focuses on Disney’s challenges to acquire the rights to Mary Poppins from author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). She’s the lead character, but there are easter eggs that Disney fans will catch in the background. I admired Tom Hanks’ performance and these small tributes, yet they're secondary to analyzing the actual film. How do I reconcile my interest in movies with my love of theme parks when considering its creative success? It’s a tricky question that goes beyond this picture and seems especially prevalent with another Marvel release arriving this week.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

I’m not a regular viewer of How I Met Your Mother, though I’ve enjoyed most of the main cast in other work. It’s been intriguing to read the scathing reactions to the series finale and its jarring twists. Two pieces that engaged me came from Linda Holmes at NPR’s Monkey See blog and Alyssa Rosenberg at Act Four. Both delve into the reasons why the last episode was an unfortunate miscalculation and make excellent points about how it fell flat.

My daughter Elise is just shy of five years old, and she’s obsessed with cooking and baking. She’s a picky eater yet is fascinated by the process of making food. Elise already talks about owning a bakery one day. Who knows if that will happen, but it’s great to see her so inspired. If those dreams stick around, there are a few great models for her to follow. Marnie Hanel’s piece “A Woman’s Place is Running the Kitchen” for the New York Times Magazine presents an established mentor and a rising star in the cooking world. Barbara Lynch and Kristen Kish are carving a firm place in a male-dominated environment.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the 1992 film Juice, and it’s mostly remained in my head for a fiery performance from Tupac Shakur. Over at Reverse Shot, Ashley Clark makes a convincing case for its connections with The Wire. Focusing on the episode “Misgivings” from season four, he focuses on the visual style of the widely acclaimed show and how it connects in surprising ways to Juice.


John Wayne’s range has surprised me as I’ve caught up with more of his work. Despite being known for just playing himself, that’s hardly the case with intriguing roles in Red River, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Searchers. At the New York Times, Peter Bogdanovich describes his experiences with Wayne and reviews Scott Eyman’s massive new book John Wayne: The Life and Legend. I’ve read Eyman’s excellent book on John Ford, and I can’t wait to learn more about his most famous collaborator.

I’ve been digging through the back catalog of The Cinephiliacs podcast, and I can’t get enough of Peter Labuza’s smart conversations with critics. The very first episode with Glenn Kenny is one of the best and includes so much information about has film coverage has changed over the years. Kenny worked at Premiere during its heyday and then saw its unfortunate death just a few years later. He’s so outspoken about the industry and writing, and his blog Some Came Running includes that same raw feeling. Here’s a quick example of his surprisingly direct take on ignorance in the film culture.

If you are coming from a place where it make it so manifestly plain that you literally do not know what you are talking about, that is bad practice, and it’s spreading lies. It’s worth getting mad about. It’s worth fighting against.

March 27, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #9


An interesting discussion arose last week about the importance of describing form in film writing. It started with Ted Gioia’s piece for The Daily Beast that derided the “lifestyle reporting” that has overtaken music criticism. He labeled it the “Bieberization of arts journalism” and makes incisive points about these trends. While it’s a simplification, that doesn’t mean that Gioia doesn’t strike on some key issues with the online culture. Sam Adams of CriticWire used this opportunity and asked “Do movie critics need filmmaking experience or an understanding of film theory to do their jobs?” to the survey of critics. The responses were all over the map and included a firm answer from Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com. On Monday, he expanded on his thoughts and took a tougher stand on the subject. Here’s a quote from Seitz’s piece that’s really stuck with me as a blogger:

We have several successive generations of film watchers—some of whom consume TV and movies voraciously and have surprisingly wide-ranging tastes—who don't know how to interpret a shot, or how to think about what the size or position of characters in a frame might tell us about the story's attitude toward those characters. That's a problem.

There’s a part of me that wants to reject Seitz’s assertion and look at him as a cranky guy angered by the progression of film writing. That’s far too simple, however. Looking internally, I have avoided digging into the form enough in my posts. It’s easy to write about a film, do some quick editing, and publish it. My interest in film writing started with a high-school class that gave me the chance to write long pieces analyzing movies. While these papers were certainly terrible, they did consider the technique behind the art. This approach continued during college film courses that offered more background on the standard terms to describe the process. I’ve lost much of that knowledge along the way, and it’s time to dig back into the basics of filmmaking. It may not affect my writing directly, but I’m doing the research.


Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

The lineup for the 2014 Ebertfest was announced this week, and it’s filled with movies that would be amazing to catch on the big screen. It opens with a screening of the documentary Life Itself, which should be very emotional for the attendees. Guests will include Spike Lee for Do the Right Thing, Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July, and Ramin Bahrani for Goodbye Solo. I won’t be able to attend this year, but making it to Champaign for this festival is on my unofficial bucket list.

Matt Singer didn’t care that much for Veronica Mars, yet he came out of the experience feeling great about what it signifies. His intriguing piece for The Dissolve talks about the ways the movie doesn’t try to cater to non-fans to draw in a larger audience. It may not bring in huge crowds but accepts the fact that the viewer knows these characters and doesn’t need a long refresher about each one.

My interests in film and reality television crossed paths when Rob Cesternino appeared as a guest on the Battleship Pretension podcast with Tyler Smith and David Bax. I’m a big fan of their work, so it was fun to have them invite Rob to discuss the topic. As a blogger for Rob Has a Website and a Survivor fan, I enjoyed getting a different perspective on reality TV and Rob’s background.


Speaking of Survivor, fellow blogger Josh Wigler listed his "Top 10 Strategic Moves Ever on Survivor" for Vulture. His picks cover the entire series and don’t just include the most obvious choices. You could argue for a few other moves (the Edgardo vote in Fiji is a favorite), but it’s hard to push back against any of these examples. Josh has quite the expertise when it comes to the show’s history.

I’ll close this week by presenting the final post from Nick Pinkerton at Bombast, the SundanceNow blog. I only recently discovered it, and it’s too bad that it’s now defunct. Nick starts by covering the challenges of the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in facing down Mayor Steven M. Follop’s attempts to replace its current format by working with for-profit entities. If this wasn’t enough to make me sad, he shifts gears and gives some thoughts on the closure of the blog. Here is an excerpt from that piece:

Through the run of the column, you can trace my slow-dawning realization that the life of a workaday critic that I’d been preparing myself for was no longer an option, at least not in the form that I’d envisioned it, and that I was not a special exception immune to the insidious forces far larger than myself that were at work, spoiling far more than my own petty ambitions.

March 20, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #8

Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel

Back in January, I chose five movie resolutions for 2014 that didn’t seem hard to reach. Thus far, I’ve been rolling along with all but one of them. Choosing to see at least 40 movies released this year felt like child’s play. I’ve already seen more than that from 2013, and my schedule was nuts. Unfortunately, my count is only at three in this category. Cold Comes the Night, Mitt, and Veronica Mars are the only tallies for 2014. Thankfully, my interest will increase with releases in theaters like Grand Budapest Hotel, Noah, and Transcendence in the upcoming month. The challenge will be getting out and seeing them.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

Stevee Taylor does excellent writing at the Cinematic Paradox in New Zealand, and her piece about feminism and women in the film industry may be her best work. What separates this post from gloom and doom about underrepresentation is Stevee’s call to action. She recognizes that the problem is serious but wants to do something about it. A key phrase is “Be the change you want to see.” Well said, Stevee.

I’m constantly saying that I need to watch more short films, yet they still escape most of my attention. Richard Brody at The Front Row asks “Does the Cinema Need Short Films?”. The obvious answer is yes, and Brody reveals strong examples for excellent week in the shorter form. He also shows that even the most accomplished filmmakers don’t always have an easy route to transition to feature-length projects.

My brother Dave gets introspective at Erasing Clouds and talks about the challenges for him to write about music. The issues are familiar given my hurdles to watching and analyzing films each week. It’s an engaging read that says a lot about our current landscape.

The Wild Bunch, directed by Sam Peckinpah

I haven’t been able to guest much lately, but I try to listen to the LAMBcast regularly. Last month’s discussion of The Wild Bunch was one of the podcast’s best. Host Jay Cluitt and four knowledgeable guests explored that classic Sam Peckinpah western and reminded me about its greatness. It’s been too long since I’ve watched that daring film, and this fun show has driven me to seek it out again.

I’ve recently started following the work of Sheila O’Malley, who writes for Rogerebert.com and her own blog The Sheila Variations. On St. Patrick’s Day, she posted a very entertaining story about a memorable night in Donnybrook that was filled with lots of joy. It made me smile as much as any piece this week.

Another writer that I’ve been following for a long time is Alyssa Rosenberg, who’s just started a new pop culture blog for the Washington Post. Act Four is already digging into intriguing topics during its first week. This introduction from Alyssa lays out her hopes for the blog and sets the stage perfectly. This paragraph is the mission statement for Act Four:

The highest respect we can show culture we love–or that we really, truly hate–is to take it and its ideas seriously. That’s how we determine what we value and what we’re afraid of, what we’ll tolerate from some characters but not from others, and what sorts of ideas are hot and which are marginal, or even untouchable. At a moment of what seems like wild bounty in film, television, books and music, it’s a call for pop culture to everything it’s capable of doing to help us understand the world and ourselves.

Have you read or listened to anything remarkable that you’d like to spotlight?

March 13, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #7


This Friday is the release of the Veronica Mars movie, and I’ll be watching its box-office results closely. A success would not only bring the potential for more installments of the series; it would also raise the chances of similar ventures happening for other beloved shows. Could a sequel to Serenity be that far behind it? Netflix is already involved with re-starting series that failed on other networks, so this is hardly the only show in town. Even so, there’s a lot riding on whether the fans hit the theaters this weekend. It’s also noteworthy that this movie will arrive on VOD at the same time as its theatrical release. Even if the ticket sales aren’t huge, it could draw major profits through on-demand viewings. I’ll be using that service to check it out, and I expect many others are in the same boat.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

My brother Dave knows quite a lot about music and puts my own modest knowledge to shame. He writes for PopMatters and The Big Takeover and ran his own site Erasing Clouds for 12 years. He’s re-ignited it as a blog and has started doing weekly posts again recently. You should definitely add his site to your reading schedule if you’re a music fan. His latest piece about Jeffrey Lewis and the Jrams offers a great example of his writing style.

It isn’t easy to find paying jobs as film critics, and the trends have led to many pieces about the state of the profession. Tomris Laffly takes a different approach at Criticwire and looks at the gender imbalance within film criticism. The Internet era makes it too easy for writers to follow certain patterns, so getting a fresh perspective is crucial. Laffly uses quotes from a recent panel at NYU’s Fusion Film Festival to investigate ways that women approach film. It’s an interesting piece with input from intelligent voices like Dana Stevens, Farran Nehme, and others who rarely follow the expected path.


I’m participating in the Blind Spots Series for the third year and can’t wait to catch up with such a promising group of films. It’s organized by Ryan McNeil of The Matinee, and the participation has skyrocketed this year. He also hosts The Matineecast, and the latest episode of his podcast brings six writers in to discuss their latest discoveries. What’s refreshing is hearing from voices that are mostly new to the podcasting arena and come from around the world. The diverse group of movies includes Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7, one of my favorites of the French New Wave.

Nathan Rabin’s Forgotbusters series at The Dissolve explores movies that were huge box-office successes yet have slipped away from the cultural landscape. It’s a much different approach to his excellent “My Year of Flops” series, yet it delves into another segment of films that rarely get much credit. His latest piece is about Eraser, which he aptly describes as the “most Schwarzeneggerian movie Arnold Schwarzenegger ever made.” The set pieces are so ridiculous that it’s hard to comprehend that it even exists. I haven’t seen this movie since its original release, but I’m ready to hop on board and check it out again. Here’s a sample of Rabin’s energetic take on this forgotten gem:

Kruger isn’t just an unusually pure good guy; he’s practically ass-kicking Jesus, though even Jesus had his moment of doubt on the cross. Also, Jesus had those disciples helping him out; as Kruger sternly but compassionately asserts more than once, he always works alone. (So in some ways, Kruger is actually better than Jesus.)


I’ll close by briefly mentioning the piece that I wrote yesterday about the penchant for some writers to toss excessive hate on Wes Anderson. One of the articles that I referenced was Stephanie Zacharek’s post for The Village Voice about her struggles to enjoy his work. While my personal take is different, I must give her credit for having a more nuanced take. If you aren’t following Zacharek regularly, you’re missing out on some excellent writing.

March 6, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #6

Music Faces from e.e. heatie designs

Today is my amazing wife Erin’s birthday, and she’s a lot more creative than a guy who just writes about movies. Happy birthday Erin! She makes art and has started an Etsy Shop called e.e. heatie designs. As part of the celebration, she’s offering a cool 20% off sale today with the code BIRTHDAY at her shop that you should definitely check out right away. A striking example from her Music Faces collection is included in the above photo. Saturday is also the first birthday of our daughter Etta, so this is quite a festive weekend. I also completely missed this blog’s third anniversary, which happened on March 1st. Good times.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that are definitely worth your time:

The Oscars happened last Sunday, and reactions have dominated movie and pop culture sites. I was glad to see that Roger Ebert made the In Memoriam tribute, though it reminded me of how much I miss his work. On Friday, his wife Chaz wrote on Roger Ebert.com about Ebert’s approach to the Oscars and the way he covered it like a journalist. The heartfelt piece offers a reminder that he was still a reporter and loved that side of his job.

I’ll admit that seeing Kim Novak on stage made me cringe due to her plastic surgery. Plenty of other viewers were much nastier and bombarded Twitter with snarky comments about her looks. This goes way beyond the line and disregards the difficulties for actresses as they get older in Hollywood. Farran Nehme at The Self-Styled Siren did an amazing job in providing a context for Novak’s appearance and reminding us that it’s hardly fair to take shots at her.

Cate Blanchett accepting the Best Actress Oscar

My final entry about the Oscars comes from Matthew Brown, who wrote an intriguing, nuanced piece about the show in his Destroy All Monsters column at Twitchfilm. He digs into the idea of “moral seriousness” at the Oscars and how it’s essentially flawed. He also covers Cate Blanchett’s wonderful speech given the controversy around Woody Allen.

Despite the fact that we’re already in March, it isn’t too late for an overview of the films of 2013. Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule’s post takes an epic look at his favorite 20 movies plus the top performances. He’s a big fan of The Great Beauty, which took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday. There are familiar titles in his list, but others will surely surprise you.

Shifting gears, I used to listen to sports talk radio yet grew sick of how the hosts rarely went beyond the surface. They made a few obvious points, got in arguments with listeners, and were constantly shilling for advertisers. I found a remedy with Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, which takes an intelligent approach to both the games and the issues surrounding them. I’ve been listening to hosts Josh Levin, Stefan Fatsis, and Mike Pesca since the beginning, and they keep improving the format. Their latest episode covers statistical analysis, concussions in soccer, and the NFL’s mishandled attempts to combat racism in football. It’s another great discussion from a show that’s always interesting.

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Disney World fans were dismayed by another price increase up to the hefty rate of $99 for a one-day visit at the Magic Kingdom. They also increased ticket costs across the board. This inspired a great piece from Amanda at Nerds in Wonderland about what’s really sad about the changes at the park. The price increase is just a symptom of a larger problem, and I’m totally on board with her conclusion. I’ll close with this lengthy quote from her post that sums up my feelings about what’s happening at Disney:

Quite frankly it doesn’t bother me in the least that the ticket price is going up by four dollars. It doesn’t bother me that Walt Disney World is a business. What bothers me is that a company I grew up on — one that actively encouraged me and all of us to hold it to the high standards it set for itself — is abandoning its historical business philosophy in favor of short-sighted board pandering and greed. It bothers me that thoughtful executives who loved themed design and entertainment have been replaced by MBA graduates who are beholden only to the bottom line. It bothers me that middle class American families are being priced out of a vacation experience that — like it or not — they are socially conditioned to strive for, and used to be able to afford. It bothers me that Disney PR representatives have become a little too good at spinning half-truths into exciting nuggets of joy they think we’ll swallow like obedient children. It bothers me that maintenance and infrastructure investment are relative afterthoughts. It bothers me that I’m effectively being told by certain people that ‘good enough’ is, in fact, good enough, when I know this company is capable of so much more.

Have you read or listened to anything remarkable that you’d like to spotlight?

February 27, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #5

Marco Brambilla's Evolution (Megaplex) Display

Last week, I ventured to the St. Louis Art Museum for a quick visit during lunch. It helps that it’s only five minutes from work. There was plenty to see like always, but one exhibit stood out as something remarkable. Marco Brambilla is known by movie fans as the director of Demolition Man, but he’s spent most of his career doing visual media for art exhibitions. His short film Evolution (Megaplex) combines images from more than 150 movies into a collage that’s truly groundbreaking. The continuous three-minute loop shows visions of war and conflict to present our history through the movies. They’re combined to create a seamless and beautiful collection that is more than the individual clips. Sergei Prokofiev's “Dance of the Knights” plays in the background of the darkened room, and its triumphant theme adds to the criticism of the glories of war. YouTube videos don’t do it justice.

I’ve also become a blogger for Rob Has a Website, the awesome reality TV site for Rob Cesternino that goes along with his podcast. I’ll be writing my extensive thoughts about each Survivor episode on Sundays and can’t wait to get rolling this weekend. Last week, I joined the other bloggers for a video podcast with Rob to give our predictions for the new season. It was a great time and my first experience in getting my face on the screen for a podcast. Last night’s two-hour premiere was a strong start for the show, and I’m hoping the positive momentum continues throughout the season.

Michael Winterbottom's Code 46

Here are some other interesting posts and podcasts from the past week:

I’ve recently started following The Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic, and his posts frequently are right up my alley. I wasn’t a huge fan of Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46, but I may need to give it another shot. The Fanatic makes a convincing case that there’s more to it than I remember. His posts delve into movies and TV from a fan’s perspective and are accompanied by attractive screen shots to support the writing.

It seems a little odd to include a link to another post with links, but this is no ordinary example. Jandy at The Frame does incredible work putting together The Roundup, which covers interesting stories from around the online world. She does more than simply include the links and adds quotes to give an effective summary of the writer’s points. I’ve discovered a lot of intriguing essays through Jandy’s suggestions.

Rooney Mara in Side Effects

I’m glad that Stevee Taylor is back writing regularly at The Cinematic Paradox. She’s a force for good in the universe. Her latest post covers both Side Effects and Blue Jasmine from the perspective of characters who’ve lost their economic stability. It’s part of the Motifs in Cinema blogathon and takes an engaging look at another side of two interesting characters on the screen.

Alex Withrow from And So It Begins… is doing more than just writing excellent pieces about movies on his site. He’s making them. This week, he participated in the 48-hour film project and directed Wait at a bar in North Hollywood. The seven-minute short film is a lot of fun and definitely worth your time.

Low Down, directed by Jeff Praiss

The six recipients of the Sundance Institute’s Roger Ebert Fellowship for Film Criticism are killing it right now at Roger Ebert.com. A prime example is Mary Sollosi’s post about books converted to the big screen. She talks with writers and filmmakers about this process and the challenges they face when translating the material to a much different medium.

Closing with something completely different, I’ve really enjoyed listening to the daily podcasts on fantasy baseball from the guys at CBS Sports during the past week. Adam Aizer, Al Melchior, and Nando Di Fino have plenty to say about the latest news plus guys that need to be on my team. I hope the advice helps me on Saturday.

Have you read or listened to anything remarkable that you’d like to spotlight?