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

March 30, 2015

Elsewhere on the Web...

Chris Hemsworth stares down the villain as Hathaway in Blackhat.

It’s been pretty quiet lately on this site, but that doesn’t mean the music has stopped. I’m still writing and chatting about movies, theme parks, and Survivor all over the Internet. The challenge is finding enough time to balance all my interests. It’s fantasy baseball draft season, so even my love of movies is taking a back seat this week. In case you’re curious, I’ve included some recent blogs and episodes below from sites that deserve your attention. Thanks should go out to the webmasters and podcast hosts that believed I had something to contribute to their fine establishments.

Back in January, I ranked Michael Mann’s 10 features for Movie Mezzanine at the time of Blackhat’s release. After re-watching Ali and Miami Vice for my latest marathon, I might already change those rankings. Heat is the obvious top choice, but spots 2-6 remain a lot more fluid. It’s been thrilling to revisit Mann’s work this year, and he’s only fallen short once during a long career.

I recently joined up with the guys at Battleship Pretension to write periodic reviews. Tyler and David do great work on their podcast and have a talented group of writers on their site. My first post was about the indie film Growing Up and Other Lies, which started a limited run on March 20. The movie wasn’t very good, but it was still exciting to join up with this excellent site.

Another site that I’ve enjoyed writing for in the past year is Cinema Axis, which covers a diverse selection of new releases and classics. Courtney Small is a very good writer and has recruited smart people to join the fun. Once again, I’ll be writing about several films appearing at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto next month. I also spotlighted lesser-known movies available on Netflix in a regular series. The most recent piece in January was about the documentary Bill Cunningham New York.

Last week, I was the guest on the Forgotten Filmcast with Todd Liebenow. Our topic was the 1967 political satire The President’s Analyst, starring James Coburn. It’s a ridiculous film that’s firmly within its time period, but it mostly works. Catching up with Todd to discuss a movie that I knew nothing about previously was a blast. If you’re interested in finding hidden gems, Todd is your guy.

Jason and Nolahn recently celebrated their 100th episode at the Lair of the Unwanted. They cover some terrible movies but find a way to make the shows entertaining. They’re fun even if you haven’t seen the films, which is common for me. I happened to be on Skype at the right time and made a very brief appearance on their big show, which included a lot of friendly guests.

I’m also a serious theme park fan, and one of the top blogs in covering the parks is Theme Park Insider. Robert Niles keeps the tone light but professional, which is a tricky balance in a world filled with very enthusiastic Disney blogs. He covers both the behemoths and the regional parks and is even-handed by theme park standards. I started writing for his site back in November and contributed three articles following our trip to Disney World in January. The most recent post recounts our experiences with FastPass Plus, Disney’s controversial crowd management system. There are some positives with the new structure, but it also introduces major challenges that don’t enhance the guest experience.

One of my favorite TV shows is still Survivor, which is currently airing its 30th season. That’s an amazing number, and it’s easy to think the show couldn’t sustain itself creatively. Surprisingly, some of the recent seasons (especially Cagayan) have been among the best. I started writing about Survivor for former contestant Rob Cesternino’s awesome spot Rob Has a Website last year and love digging into all the strategy each week. My latest post looks at the reasons for throwing a challenge and how everyone stands going into the merge. Writing thousands of words about a reality show each week may sound ridiculous, but it’s easily one of my favorite hobbies.

February 26, 2015

The World That I See: Reads and Listens (February Edition)

Common and John Legend perform "Glory" at the Oscars.

The major event this past week was the Oscars, though it already feels like they happened a long time ago. The impact of a Best Picture win isn’t the same as it once was, especially since there was little drama in the result. Most prognosticators expected Birdman to grab the top prize, and the acting awards were also predictable. The truth is that it’s hard to get too riled up about who “deserved” the win or gave the best speeches. It’s easy to think of ways for the show to re-invent itself to be more relevant to movie goers or not feel so safe. Even so, this may be a situation where little can change the prevailing trends. Awards campaigns play a huge role in determining the contenders, and the lengthy ceremony needs more than a few tweaks to change. Host Neil Patrick Harris is charming yet didn’t seem comfortable on stage. There were fun moments, particularly the rousing opening number. His one-liners mostly failed, however.

On a positive note, there were a few amazing moments that will stick with me. The performances of “Everything is Awesome” and “Glory” transcended the show for very different reasons. The first was a jubilant performance that captured the fun of the movie and brought together a wonderful group of artists. Mark Mothersbaugh, Questlove, and a hilarious Will Arnett as Batman were clearly having a blast on stage with Tegan and Sara. Arnett’s monotonous voice for the cry of “Darkness! No parents!” was pitch-perfect. Equally memorable was the moving work by Common and John Legend in the rousing hymn from Selma. It reduced many in the audience to tears and existed apart from the strange ceremony. What ties these two performances together is the way they didn’t feel self-serving. They showed the potential for something unique that was missing during much of the night.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts from the past month that deserve your attention:

This month included the 100th anniversary of Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s epic about the Civil War and Reconstruction. It’s a challenge to watch this film and not want to toss it in the garbage because of its racist content. On the other hand, Griffith masterfully used filmmaking devices that pushed the medium forward towards a new era. Godfrey Cheshire’s piece for Vulture about the film is a fascinating look at both the historical impact and the importance to the medium. Cheshire acknowledges the problems with Griffith’s depictions but doesn’t let it derail the most interesting aspects of the essay.

PBS is such a valuable commodity for children’s programming; our kids watch it every day. What’s often undervalued is the benefits it can provide for movie fans. I admit to taking the service for granted, which isn’t wise given constant funding concerns. Andrew Lapin’s “Why Cinephiles Need to Care about PBS before It’s Too Late” for The Dissolve points out the benefits yet shows how they’re being diminished. My local PBS affiliate sometimes skips episodes of The Independent Lens and POV for less interesting programming (in my opinion). Lapin shows how their impact is being lessened and why we need to seek them out right away.

Many writers mourned the loss of David Carr, a New York Times journalist who inspired so many young minds. He represented a different era for journalism in Andrew Rossi’s Page One: Inside the New York Times documentary and was known for honest essays about his past challenges. In “Personal Writing as Professional Empathy: On David Carr” at Movie Mezzanine, Alissa Wilkinson captures what made Carr so important. She uses his own words to make a convincing case for what we can learn from his approach to life. His work in covering movies also can provide important advice when writing about films.

There have been some huge losses in the movie world during the past year, including Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s hard to wrap our minds around a world that won’t include future work from them. A rarely discussed topic is the emotional depth that some artists mine to deliver such moving performances. This clip of Ethan Hawke on Charlie Rose seems so fitting to help explain the torment experienced by these guys. The idea that “it didn’t come for free” is the most simple and honest explanation that I’ve heard to try and understand the situation. Credit goes to Sheila O’Malley for posting this moving video on her great blog The Sheila Variations.

I’m still digging through the movies of 2014, so it’s refreshing when podcasts take their time and present their top 10 lists much later. Tyler and David at Battleship Pretension revealed their favorites last week, and their choices mostly avoided the obvious titles. The best part was hearing their lengthy discussions about the picks during an episode that lasted more than three hours.

Batman Begins

Several new podcasts have risen this year that deserve your attention. The first is Super Zero!, which explores the history of super movies from two very different perspectives. Matt Brown is the comics expert, while Alia Miller is the newbie. The duo has a great on-air chemistry as she asks the tough questions about genre landmarks like Batman Begins and Superman. My favorite episode thus far covered the original Batman, a movie that I loved as a kid. Matt and Alia delve into the surprisingly dark content from Tim Burton and other quirks from the movie that resurrected the genre.

Another podcast that’s just begun is Not at Odds, hosted by Jandy and Jon Hardesty. They’re married and bring a down-to-earth style to film discussions. The most recent episode covered their “Year of Positivity”, which aimed to avoid the first impulse to take a negative approach when considering movies. I haven’t gone as far as Jandy and Jon but am trying to use a similar way of thinking. Another one that I really enjoyed discussed the term “overrated” and why it’s problematic. The episodes last about 30 minutes and don’t waste time, and I appreciate the more focused approach to the medium.

This week also saw the final episode of Parks and Recreation, a series that I’ve admired more with each passing year. Few shows have such warmth among the characters without making the emotions seem forced. Alyssa Rosenberg’s excellent piece “The brilliant, confident liberalism of Parks and Recreation on her blog Act Four also identified the rarity in how the writers approached politics. She provides another reason for why I’ll miss Leslie Knope, Ron Swanson, and all the Pawnee gang. I’ll close with a quote from Alyssa that gives one of many reasons for why it succeeded:

And in keeping with the show’s confident liberalism, Leslie Knope’s enduring friendship with Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) wasn’t merely a way for Leslie to demonstrate that she was tolerant enough to have a libertarian in her life, or as proof that brown liquor and breakfast food are the only two truly non-partisan things in America. While the two characters had wildly different visions of the best way to make the world a better place, Parks and Recreation didn’t just respect Ron’s position as an expression of principle; it found real value in the ways he lived his life.

January 15, 2015

The World That I See: Reads and Listens (January Edition)

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and it’s easy to understand why Twitter exploded with rage. My expectations were low for the awards, but they seemed especially strange this time. The most glaring theme was just how much white males dominated the results. This trend isn’t new, but the lack of any racial diversity in the acting categories was stunning. The nominees do include some remarkable performances, so pointing out the issues shouldn’t diminish their success. It’s also important to remember that the Oscars are chosen by a large group of voters and not by some all-powerful panel of old guys. That said, I’m finding it harder to care than usual, which is saying a lot given my lack of recent interest.

What’s difficult with dismissing the Oscars is recognizing the sway they still have with some filmgoers. They’re considered a stamp of approval for quality rather than the result of a powerful (and expensive) marketing campaign. There are cases where the year’s most engaging films also win Oscars. However, it’s hardly a simple correlation and feels more like chance than real acknowledgement. The discussion of “snubs” implies the idea that there’s a way to signify what the “best” performances are with an objective ranking. While smaller movies will get more attention because of the Oscars, it's mostly just a restrictive competition. Thankfully, there are plenty of exciting 2014 films that I still need to see. I’ll be giving those movies a lot more attention that who’s destined to win awards this year.

Here are some interesting blogs and podcasts that deserve your attention more than the Oscars:

I could fill this post with the excellent pieces about Michael Mann’s films that have appeared this week in advance of tomorrow’s release of Blackhat. Some of my favorites have come from The Dissolve, which is featuring Mann’s signature film Heat at its movie of the week. Scott Tobias does a great job analyzing Mann’s work in “Codes, chaos, and the world of Heat”. He aptly describes how the orderly plans of master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) are disrupted by chaos outside of his control. The symmetry between the cops and robbers is a consistent theme in Mann’s films, especially this one. Tobias shows the way that McCauley and Al Pacino’s Vincent Hanna are connected by their inability to control their personal lives and occupations; it’s a fascinating study.

There were plenty of memorable “best of 2014” posts in recent weeks, and one of my favorites came from Jandy at The Frame. Instead of creating a simple top 10 from this year, she split everything into different categories like “Most Thought-Provoking Films” and “Most Scene-Stealing Side Characters”. Jandy also didn’t stick with 2014 releases and covered anything that she watched last year. Her lists also include gadgets, creepy things, ridiculous plot twists, and my personal favorite — “Most Made Me Want to Fall in Love with Film Again”. Jandy put a lot of work into the choices and descriptions, and it’s a cool resource to gather ideas for your watch list.

Catherine at Cinema Enthusiast also delivered an inventive collection of lists with her year-end post. Her choices stick with 2014 and include a few inspired TV choices alongside the movies. While I may disagree with Catherine about her hate for God Help the Girl, it’s impossible to argue with the depth of her picks. Choosing “everybody” in X-Men: Days of Future Past for the “Why Are You Even Here” award is one of many fun moves. Nearly everyone who writes about movies creates a list, but few are as enjoyable as Catherine’s rankings.

Podcasters also entered the fray and made their fearless choices for the best of 2014. My favorite example was on The Cinephiliacs with guest Keith Uhlich joining host Peter Labuza. Their picks were engaging and original (especially Uhlich’s), and what made them click was how long they spent on each choice. The two-part episode (Part 1, Part 2) covered nearly four hours, and the time allowed them to really dig into films like The Immigrant and Listen Up Philip. It takes intelligence and wit to keep me listening for that long when I haven’t seen a lot of the movies.

I recently joined up with the guys at Battleship Pretension and will be writing home video reviews for them in the future. David and Tyler passed the 400-episode mark late in 2014, which is an incredible feat in the podcast universe. Back in December, they spoke about why they want to be film critics and are so attracted to this realm. I wish that more writers and podcasters took the time to cover this topic, which comes up frequently in my thoughts while I ponder if it’s worth the time and effort.

Glenn Kenny has a real knack for deflating all the bombast that surrounds movie making. Earlier this week, his article for entitled “Confessions/Observations of an Awards Season Skeptic, Part One: How I Was Compelled to Stop Worrying and Be Okay with the Golden Globes” was refreshing for its lack of cynicism. Kenny admitted the reasons for why this year's show seemed to work out better (many which I share) and avoided the typical talk of “snubs” or who was “deserving”. His second part today discussed the Oscars and all the indignation about them. Like Kenny entertainingly admits in the end, we may complain loudly about the picks, but we’ll still keep watching. I’ll close with this excerpt from today’s essay:

"“Selma Was Robbed, And Other Unforgivable Oscar Crimes,” reads the headline of one nom roundup that’s popped up in my feed. Nothing succeeds like overstatement, I guess; I’d like to say “can we agree that ‘crimes’ is maybe a bit much, even for headline English?” but I’m afraid a lot of people would sincerely say “no” to that. So instead I’ll ask a question. Or a few questions. Here goes: Who is it that is not to be forgiven? And how, exactly, will this forgiveness be withheld? How about “we” all stop paying attention to meaningless award shows? THAT will teach them, right? Who’s with me?

Ha! I didn’t think so! We’ll take this up again right before, and right after, the damn Oscars.”

October 31, 2014

The World That I See: State of the Blog Edition

Wong Kar Wai's 2046

During the past month, I’ve slowed down the posting frequency for this blog and spent a lot of time pondering its existence. Like most creative endeavors, the site has morphed into something much different than where it began. It’s been thrilling to discover great films and connect with so many intelligent people in the online film community. I had little understanding of what the site would become and didn’t expect to enjoy blogging so much. I started posting four to five times a week, and keeping up with that pace was a constant goal. Somewhere along the line, the site reached a tipping point and started feeling like a job. I want to continue this project but must change to make it worthwhile again.

Although I’ve never considered the blog as a stepping stone to being a professional critic, it’s hard not to look for validation. There have been three times this year where I hoped to expand my online presence. The first example was applying for the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), which seemed like a no brainer. It was a long process to get a juried response, and the reasons for the rejection were all over the map. I also inquired about participating in the Criticwire Survey, which gives online critics a chance to respond to a timely question about the movie world. This seemed like a long shot, but the lack of any answer was disconcerting. Finally, I hoped to cover the upcoming St. Louis International Film Festival by reviewing screeners prior to the festival. I located the right contact through a Twitter acquaintance and sent an inquiry. This request also was met with no reply, and that dismissal surprised me.

I mention these examples not to gain sympathy but to offer context for my thinking. That outreach was part of plans to strive for something more. Instead of bringing new opportunities, the results raised questions about the entire effort. My writing has improved, but there are thousands of similar sites. When you add in a full-time job, friends and family, and just trying to enjoy life, more time in front of a screen was less exciting. Beyond the external audience, was watching movies and writing about them still satisfying? That is the most important question in this endeavor. I don’t have an easy answer, and I’m definitely not ready to quit. Instead, I’ve decided to enact this solution:

Stop trying to be a film critic.

This choice may sound like I’m retreating, but it’s actually the exact opposite. I’ve often felt pressure for not seeing the movies that I “should” see. There are hundreds of worthy films released each year, and catching even a portion of them is difficult. When you add in trying to review them, it becomes impossible. This environment has led me to put together short reviews that have solid writing, but say very little. If I’m going to continue this blog, I must recognize that it’s okay to bypass obvious trends.

Once Upon a Time in the West

What’s strange about writing a personal blog is setting up deadlines that seem essential, but are really just markers. Instead of exploring a movie, I’m writing to meet an arbitrary date. Creating a schedule is important to keep the site flowing, but it can constrict the posts. By choosing to follow the rule above, I’m hoping to focus more on content. Why not take the time to do a more detailed post instead of a quick review? I’ve already moved in that direction by not having ratings and avoiding plot summaries, but there still are boundaries keeping the pieces in a certain format. This leads me to my second solution:

Slow down the writing process.

It’s important to get my thoughts down quickly after watching a movie. However, that doesn’t mean that publishing should happen soon afterwards. There’s a term called Slow Blogging that refers to a choice to ride against the stream of constant information. It’s hardly a new idea; the New York Times wrote a story back in 2008. Even so, the approach seems just right in my current stage of life. I have two young girls and want to spend as much time with them as possible. I’ve also been working to get healthier, and cramming in a quick blog post around other activities rarely works. It diminishes the quality of my writing and leads to stress and disappointment. It’s time to create a better balance.

Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes

When I think back to my favorite posts on this site, most of them are detailed essays that I spent weeks putting together. The short reviews barely register; it’s the more thoughtful pieces that stick in my mind. Doing a standard review of Skyfall was okay, but digging into it for several thousand words was much better. I’m not an expert on form, so it takes some time for visual themes and devices to make sense. Letting my mind ponder a movie can only help the blog. The number of posts may be smaller, but the results won’t feel like I’m checking a box. This leads to my final solution:

Diversify the content.

This evolution started earlier this year with a weekly look at Deadwood and several posts about Stargate Universe. I’ll keep doing marathons, but they’ll employ a looser format. The topics also may stray further into TV, books, and themed entertainment. The goal is to avoid falling into predictable patterns. I’m also trying to keep the subjects engaging for me. If I’m not excited to watch a movie or TV series, it’s going to carry over into the writing. It’s been so refreshing to blog about Survivor for Rob Cesternino’s site during the past two seasons. The community supporting RHAP loves the show, and connecting with them has been great. I’m engaged with the show, and writing never feels like work.

I want to develop a similar feeling about my writing for this site. I don’t have illusions that these choices will lead to more readers. There are so many blogs discussing films, and even having a small audience is inspiring. The current blogging environment is much different than where it was in March 2011 when I started the blog. Sites that were social centerpieces for many have become less influential. It’s just part of the ebb and flow of the Internet age. We’re all still figuring out what we can do, and new forms of content delivery keep changing the game. Professional critics are doing similar soul searching. It’s an exciting time for connecting with people around the globe. The challenge is ensuring that whatever we do is satisfying to each of us. I’m hopeful that these adjustments and others down the road will make this blog something that keeps inspiring me well into the future.

October 3, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #30

I’ve been shifting the attention of this blog during its fourth year. The marathon structure makes it easy to look back at classics, but I’ve been spending more time with recent films. I’m still a few months behind the conversation in most cases, yet it’s enjoyable to at least have a better gauge on the latest releases. There are still huge blind spots to check off the list, and I won’t be disregarding those landmarks from the masters. Even so, staying afloat with the wave of new films has been rewarding. Video on demand has made it easier to keep up, and I’m going to continue using it to keep on track. There’s no way to catch everything, but the gap isn’t as large as previous years. We’ll see if that trend continues as the big-time fall movies keep dropping as we head towards the end of the year.

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

It seems like much of the goodwill that Lost generated during its six seasons died after the finale. The conversation focuses so much on how the show ended that it forgets the successes. That situation makes it even more refreshing to read Andy Greenwald’s excellent post for Grantland. His piece is more than just a look back at the successes of the groundbreaking series. Instead, he focuses on the lessons that broadcast networks should learn from the creative and commercial success of such a great show.

I’ve been a long-time Denzel Washington fan, but watching him spend time in clunkers like Safe House is frustrating. He’s getting more commercial success, yet the characters feel beneath his talent. In “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Denzel?” for Slate, Aisha Harris documents his progression towards more action vehicles that don’t make the best use of his talents. I agree that he’s still giving solid performances for the most part, but there’s a limit to how much you can do in The Equalizer. Harris offers some good ideas that might help Denzel to dig into more challenging roles in the near future.

The right use of pop music can elevate a good scene towards cinematic greatness. What’s surprising is how even a mediocre song can work so well in the right situation. The Dissolve has dug through many of the best examples for their list of the 50 greatest pop music moments in movies. It’s hard for me to put anything above “Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous, but I can’t argue with their top pick. There’s a nice mix of the expected choices along with some that I don’t know or wouldn’t have predicted. You can waste a lot of time digging through all these classic moments.

I’ve been a fan of film critic Karina Longworth since her time on the SpoutBlog, a site that’s long gone. She recently appeared on The Cinephiliacs to discuss a wide range of topics, including her recent books on Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. She’s also started the podcast You Must Remember This, and it’s been receiving rave reviews. I still need to check out that show, but I doubt you can go wrong if you’re interested in the Hollywood history.

Linda Holmes made waves last year when she called out the sexism on Survivor in her great piece “The Tribe Is Broken: How Sexism is Silently Killing Survivor.” The KQED Pop blog has added to this conversation with a new post titled “Survivor: 14 Years of Problematic Depictions of Women”. It shows the different categories that women are placed into on the show in most seasons. There are exceptions to these rules, but it’s hard to argue that the show gives women a fair shake on the whole.

Emma Watson is becoming a strong voice for feminism.

Emma Watson has sidestepped any type casting and continues to tackle interesting roles. She’s also outspoken away from the screen and recently gave a fascinating speech about feminism. Unfortunately, those comments have made her a target from online trolls. Her recent speech at HeForShe 2014 is a fascinating statement that proclaims why feminism is good and important. She also describes how men are damaged by the lack of equality for women in our society. I’ve been a Watson fan because of her acting for a long time, but this brave speech makes her even more important beyond her characters.

Here’s an excerpt from her statements:

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either. 

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

September 19, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #29

Last Friday night, I ventured to a warehouse-like club and re-ignited my fandom for the Afghan Whigs. Greg Dulli and the guys brought the power and showed they are still as fresh as ever. Their raucous 100-minute set included some old favorites from the ‘90s but a bunch of new songs that went over well. This was hardly a greatest hits performance. I should note that Dulli and John Curley are the only original members that remain in this group. Even so, this wasn’t Bruce Springsteen playing without the E Street Band. This concert got me thinking about what attracts me to the Afghan Whigs. Dulli’s characters are guys that venture into the dark sides of the human psyche. It’s aggressive music that isn’t always my thing, yet I’ve been a consistent listener since Gentlemen arrived in 1993. There’s just something about their mix of soul and intensity that captures my attention.

I mention this concert because we spend a lot of time explaining why we liked a movie or TV series. It isn’t always easy to describe why a certain piece of art speaks to us, even if it seems to differ from our mentality on the surface. I’m on the far left side of the political sphere, yet I’m still drawn to the jingoistic “good vs. evil” tone of 24. That side of the show isn’t the real connector for me, yet it’s hard not to at least enjoy part of it to stick with the show. Neflix may use a crazily intricate algorithm, but the recommendations usually seem a little off base. The reason is that few of us fit inside a box of certain likes and dislikes. Sometimes it’s okay just to roll with it and enjoy the ride. If it means singing at the top of my lungs to “Going to Town” or “Fountain and Fairfax”, I can get with that program.

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

Speaking of Netflix, they’ve found a way to sell the idea of materials at your fingertips while offering pretty limited content. Sam Adams of Criticwire effective presents this concept with his post “The Availability Gap: What We Lose When Netflix Wins”. He pulls an example from Jon Brooks at KQED Arts and uses it to discuss the unfortunate side of the streaming culture. We may have access to certain movies quicker than ever before, yet plenty of others are becoming harder to locate. I have the benefit of several great library systems plus a few video stores in St. Louis, but it isn’t that way in a lot of places.

The snowy vistas of Snowpiercer.

There have been some interesting examples this year of ways that smaller films have bypassed the traditional model. Snowpiercer is the type of film that you’d expect to see in theaters, but it received a very limited run. This was by design and helped The Weinstein Company and Radius to avoid the huge marketing and distribution costs. Dorothy Pomerantz at Forbes describes the importance of the way VOD and worldwide sales helped them to earn profits. Theater owners will not like this trend, and it continues to grow in the future.

I’m a fan of pro football, but it’s been hard not to wonder if the sport has crossed a new threshold in recent weeks. It’s always been a violent sport that rewards brutal players, and the news about Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson puts a spotlight on that fact. There have been plenty of intelligent pieces written about this topic, but I was struck most by a short commentary from Hannah Storm. She’s been in the business for a long time and is finding it hard to sell the sport to her three daughters.

This next item seems a bit less consequential compared to the previous one, but it still means a lot to me. Disney recently announced that they’re replacing the EPCOT attraction Maelstrom with a ride themed to Frozen. Building an attraction centered on such a popular film is a no brainer and totally understandable. However, there has been an uproar among fans because it’s going in the Norway pavilion in World Showcase. The hubbub may feel silly if you’re not a diehard theme park fan, but I’ll admit that it’s really struck a chord with my feelings about the direction of one of my favorite places. This post from the EPCOT Explorer does a great job summarizing the thoughts of many about this announcement.

I’ll close with a fiery piece from Sofia at Film Flare about her anger at shallow criticism. “Film Criticism? Count Me Out, Folks” describes her weariness at much of the process of analyzing a film. I don’t agree with all of Sofia’s points, but it’s still interesting to think about why we spend so much time digging into movies. I still love discussing a film and what worked or didn’t, but I understand that there’s another side to spewing nasty comments to get noticed. I also have little patience for this approach and can sympathize with Sofia on that front. Here’s a brief quote from a piece that you should check out in full:

Discussion is crucial, and film analysis is immensely interesting, even beautiful, but it's also rare: what most commercial and amateur "critics" want is not discussion, they're probably not even ready for it (it may actually be a blessing that they seem to be facing extinction). All they want is to throw the hate in your face and see if it sticks, because more often than not, it does. And that's extremely profitable for them — no such thing as bad publicity, right? Well, for me there is. The minute you do this, you lost me. I'm not coming back.

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.

August 22, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #27

The Polyphonic Spree

Last weekend, Erin and I caught up with our old friends The Polyphonic Spree at the Duck Room — a basement club here in St. Louis. We caught the massive group at the same place in 2012, and it was amazing to watch them cram so many people onto a small stage. Frontman Tim DeLaughter brought 14 to town on Saturday for a thrilling show that barely missed a beat. The Polyphonic Spree should be playing theaters; their sound is designed for that type of venue. Even so, the club setting works surprisingly well and brings an intimacy that you wouldn’t expect from such a large act. After breaking out in the early 2000s, The Polyphonic Spree have become more of a cult band with a smaller but dedicated fan base. This brings immediacy to their shows that you don’t feel with more popular artists.

Connecting this subject to movies, it’s easy to wish for a larger audience to see our favorite gems instead of the latest blockbuster. That idea doesn’t work for several reasons, however. A film like Snowpiercer is epic but too offbeat to work for the masses. If it was designed to draw huge crowds, it would probably be less inventive. There are exceptions to this rule. From what I’ve heard, Guardians of the Galaxy finds a common ground between originality and mainstream appeal. That’s pretty rare, however. Another challenge is keeping us from growing numb to the hype. Boyhood is a niche film, but I can’t go anywhere online without hearing raves about it. The hyperbole is way over the top, even if it’s one of the year’s best films. I’m not a person who wants to keep the sleepers to myself, but there’s the other side of the coin when our beloved little film becomes something else entirely.

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

Ryan McNeil of The Matinee took the long trip to Missouri last week to visit our baseball stadiums. On Thursday, it was great to meet up with him in St. Louis at a local establishment. Ryan also hosts The Matineecast, and his latest episode with guest Adriana Floridia covered a trio of interesting films. Along with Woody Allen’s new release Magic in the Moonlight, they discussed The Brothers Bloom and Certified Copy. The two older titles are both intriguing films, and Ryan and Adriana did an excellent job delving into them.

The meet-up with Ryan also was the first time that I met fellow St. Louis resident John LaRue, who writes at The Droid You’re Looking For. A few weeks ago, John put together the “Seven Reasons to Go to the Drive-in”. I have fond memories of visiting drive-in theaters as a kid, and he explains why we should be giving those places more attention. There aren’t too many left anymore, but that doesn’t mean they’re obsolete. Beyond the nostalgia of visiting an old-school theater, they’re also a great value!

Chloe Sevigny in Whit Stillman's The Cosmopolitans

Amazon will premiere a new group of pilots next Thursday, including The Cosmopolitans from the wonderful Whit Stillman. It’s been on my radar for months and easily ranks as the most anticipated piece of pop culture on the horizon. Stillman directed three witty gems in the ‘90s but didn’t return to feature films until 2012’s Damsels in Distress. I love all four movies, and this new project seems right up my alley. It stars Chloe Sevigny, who starred in Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco back in 1998. Adam Brody and Carrie MacLemore from his last film also appear in this show about young Americans in Paris. This behind-the-scenes preview from Indiewire gives more details on this exciting potential series. I’ll be promoting the heck out of it next week and will post a review on Thursday night.

The awful situation in Ferguson has continued this week, and this community will be feeling the impact for a long time. There have been many intelligent pieces written about the aftermath, and one of the best is from Omer M. Mozaffar at Roger His article “Ferguson, Missouri: Third World America vs. Atlas Shrugged” looks at the very different reactions to Michael Brown’s death and places them in the context of our history. Mozaffar reminds us there’s no easy answer and introduces questions that will be front and center in this country in the near future.

I’ll close with a reminder of one of Robin Williams’ greatest roles as a grieving widow in Homicide: Life on the Street’s “Bop Gun”. David Simon recalls in “Robin Williams: A Brief Encounter” how that episode saved the show during its brief four-episode second season. The ratings were not good, despite massive critical acclaim. Back in 1994, it was extremely rare to have a movie star of Williams’ caliber appear on a network drama. His most recent film at the time was the massive hit Mrs. Doubtfire. Simon’s anecdotes about taking Williams to see The Nutshell Studies and then watching him do an impromptu comic riff on set are fascinating. These moments reveal so much about a guy that could make us laugh while struggling every day. Here’s an excerpt from Simon’s wonderful post:

His performance in that Homicide episode was brilliant and thorough, and when broadcast, the ratings assured that the NBC drama would run another five years. Yesterday, after the news broke, Jim Yoshimura wrote to me his sadness and reflected on the fact that he would be a starving playwright now or worse if not for Robin Williams. Me, I’d be on a newspaper copy desk somewhere. David Mills, too, would have departed this vale as something other than a dramatist. All of our lives turned because a very rare and talented man came to Baltimore for a week and a half to film a television episode.

August 15, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #26

The Battle of Algiers

It’s been a difficult week to think positive thoughts about our future. Here in St. Louis, we’re seeing the dark side with footage of destruction and police brutality in Ferguson. The anger at a questionable shooting makes sense, but violence is harder to understand. Watching police treat the situation like a military conflict is equally troubling. I’ve seen friends risk their lives to cover the story for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and face serious danger. I recognize that it’s a complicated situation with seeds of anger growing over many years. This is hardly the first example, but it feels different because it’s close to home. My former workplace was a short drive from Ferguson, so I’m familiar with that area. It’s easy to criticize people everyone involved, but it’s hardly that simple. How close are we to utter chaos?

My daughter started kindergarten this week, and I was thrilled to watch her take this next step. I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of world she’ll see. We live in a divided political country with an uneven economy that isn’t getting much better. I understand that we’re hardly alone in having challenges. Turning on the news for even a few minutes is all it takes to remind us about the conflicts in Israel and Iraq, and there are many other examples. Violence and struggles have been around since the dawn of recorded history. Of course, I can only directly compare this environment to my own experiences. The Internet gives us close access to what’s happening minutes after it’s occurred, and journalists place us right into the stories. This perspective is amazing, but it doesn’t allow us to push the troubling events from our minds. They’re right in front of us with no end in sight.

Robin Williams in Insomnia, directed by Christopher Nolan

This week also saw the death by suicide of Robin Williams, who struggled with depression. Following the loss of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it makes me wonder about the fine line between gregarious performers and troubled souls. I realize that both situations are very different, and the similarities mostly involve the affection they received from audiences. Williams intrigued me when he explored dark, anti-social characters in films like Insomnia and One-Hour Photo. He also was magnetic as a psychologist whose life was shattered by loss in Good Will Hunting. Williams brought a similar tragic sadness to a grieving father who watched his wife die in front of him in Homicide: Life on the Street’s “Bop Gun”. He could deliver great comedy, but these examples show a complicated man who understood these characters. Going to the darkness wasn’t difficult because he’d faced it in his personal life.

This week’s posts focus only on the Ferguson situation and Robin Williams, and there are plenty of interesting stories on both subjects:

I’ll start with the story of David Carson, a photographer for the St. Louis Post Dispatch who’s been covering the situation in Ferguson. This story documents his experiences and gives a first-hand look at both his courage and a chaotic environment. Dave’s a friend so I have a personal interest in this story, but it’s definitely a gripping read for anyone. You should also follow him on Twitter to catch his remarkable photos and get an up-close look from a journalist in the middle of everything.

After the initial shock of the riots, what’s been stunning is the behavior of police towards journalists and citizens engaged in nonviolent protests. It’s a complicated situation, and there are dangerous individuals out there. However, there’s a militaristic feeling to the way the cops have treated the situation. Alex Kane’s post on Bill Moyers’ site gives many examples of the evolution of a force set up to “protect and serve” the people. Titled “Not Just Ferguson: 11 Eye-Opening Facts About America’s Militarized Police Forces”, it should be essential reading for anyone questioning what’s changed with police tactics.

Another great example in a similar vein actually comes from Battlestar Galactica, which effectively shined a light back on our society. Devin Faraci at Badass Digest prints a fitting quote from William Adama that says quite a lot about the current state in Ferguson. He makes a convincing case that it’s living proof of this comment, especially when tear gas and questionable arrests come into play.

Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

It seems like an odd transition to go from this discussion to recollections about Robin Williams’ career. There’s really no connection beyond everything happening during a single week. Despite being known as an over-the-top comedian, Williams made a huge impact on so many people’s lives. Alex Withrow of And So It Begins… talks about “Robin Williams and the Look That Changed My Life”. It’s a revelatory and emotional post that says a lot about what Williams could bring on screen in the right role. Alex consistently does great writing on his site, and this is one of his best pieces.

Christy Lemire offers another personal experience of seeing Good Will Hunting on Christmas Day just 10 days after the her mother’s death. His performance connected with so many and brings such heart of to the film. Her description of Williams as a “constant and reliable force” feels right. Even when he veered into less exciting comic material, he always gave it his all and found points of brilliance in the mix.

Matt Zoller Seitz does an excellent job summarizing Wiliams’ career in an obituary at Roger He mentions roles that I barely remember like his brief appearance in Dead Again and illuminates so much about what made him so memorable. I’ll close with this quote from Seitz on the contradictions between Williams’ role in front of the camera and away from it:

That was the most surprising and often haunting thing about Williams: that sense that when he unleashed the full force of his talent—chasing a spark of inspiration as it hopped from neural pathway to neural pathway like a speed-demon driver changing lanes; rattling off free-associative thoughts that were sometimes connected by shared words or images or vowel sounds; pacing or racing while yammering and gesturing as if his whole being were taking dictation from his subconscious—he was reaching out to the audience and running away from something.

August 8, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #25

Top of the Lake, created by Jane Campion

No matter how much I focus my movie and TV watching, there’s just too much to catch in any given day. I’m constantly making tough choices on what to see, and other options fall by the wayside. Taking a business perspective, there’s essentially an opportunity cost to any decision. For example, I spent much of July watching the first season of Deadwood. I loved the show, but those 12 hours were used at the expense of something else. I could have spent that time seeing Boyhood or another promising new release. I’m currently watching Top of the Lake for the first time, and a DVD of Inside Llewyn Davis hasn’t found its way onto my screen. The ease of access is great, but there’s part of me that finds it constricting. The option paralysis leads to wasted moments figuring out what to do. It’s a silly complaint given the benefits, but it’s hard to escape. There’s no way to catch everything that we want to see, so prioritizing becomes a real challenge.

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

The glowing reactions to Guardians of the Galaxy have been surprising to me despite the massive buzz that preceded it. Unfortunately, this excitement has caused some fans to go too far in attacking the dissenters. Stephanie Zacharek from The Village Voice didn’t like the movie, and the comments against her were sexist and brutal. Alan Scherstuhl’s reply calls out the ugly behavior and reminds us that perhaps being a little more open-minded about films that we love is the right way to go.

Ryan McNeil from The Matinee and Jandy Hardesty of The Frame have started an intriguing series where they discuss the writings of critics included in the American Movie Critics anthology. Their latest post about Hugo Munstenberg goes into a lot more issues than his writing. I’m not familiar with him, so it’s great to see Ryan and Jandy taking his work and letting the discussion go from there. An example is their take on why films are so accessible and how it brings different classes together.

Disney World, Tomorrowland

Looking in a different zone, I’ve grown concerned at signs that Disney World is changing for the worse. While their competitor Universal is opening Diagon Alley and a giant Transformers ride, Disney is focusing on ways to be “efficient” and get more revenue from guests. There are few signs this will change anytime soon. Tim Grassey at Micechat feels very similar and describes the situation in his piece “It’s Time for a Walt Disney World Renaissance”. It’s a measured and fair article that uses numbers to show that Disney is losing some guests and doesn’t seem willing to work to get them back into the fold.

Leigh Singer at Press Play has created a video essay that includes clips from a massive number of films within the “Slow Motion Movie Supercut”. This collection presents the many ways that slow motion is used to create drama, make people look cool, and enhance the power of a scene. It doesn’t always work, but there are countless examples that combine to make a convincing case for how it can succeed. I love this type of video, which reminds me of great moments from some of my favorite films.

Welcome to Twin Peaks

The Blu-ray set “Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery” was released last week, and its most exciting feature is 90 minutes of extra footage from Fire Walk with Me. Titled “The Missing Pieces”, the segments function like a separate movie and fill in some blanks. Joel Bocko provides his thoughts on them in a great post at Lost in the Movies. He’s a Twin Peaks fanatic and is the right person to dig into them and provide an interesting analysis. It’s an even-handed, well-written look at something that fans have wanted to see for a long time.

There were many insightful pieces written about Twin Peaks this week. One of the best comes from The Dissolve’s Keith Phipps, who delves into the show’s legacy including Fire Walk with Me. It’s a long post that does a great job explaining what worked and didn’t. It’s a perfect companion piece to Joel’s post because it only briefly touches on the new footage. Phipps brilliantly describes the “mystery made complete by its incompleteness” that keeps us fascinated by the show. I’ll close with an excerpt from his essay:

I’ve never liked Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but even though I’d still rank it toward the bottom of my list of favorite David Lynch films—above Dune and Inland Empire—I’ve also spent more time watching, thinking about, and sorting out my feelings about it over the last 22 years than I’ve spent on more successful but less memorable films. It’s a frustrating movie, but one too strange and vibrant to dismiss, and too untidy to reshape into what we want it to be.

August 1, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #24

One of the driving forces behind this blog is the use of our library system here in St. Louis. I’m writing this piece from the reference area of the branch that’s just a short walk from my work. The hold shelf had five requested DVDs waiting for me, and it’s hard to complain about such an easy way to access movies and books. I’m amazed when I talk to adults that haven’t visited a library in many years. It’s easy to get into a habit of buying books and renting movies without realizing there’s such a valuable local resource. What made me think of this topic is the personal story “How the Public Library Turned Me into a Reader” by Claire Fallon at the Huffington Post. She was a “library brat” who would come home with loads of books after each visit, and I remember similar experiences from my childhood. I’m trying to do the same my daughters, and we’re definitely on the right track so far.

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

Stalwart indie director Joe Swanberg has found more success recently with films like Drinking Buddies, but it’s hardly a profitable life to work in this realm. His interview at Filmmaker with Esther B. Robinson delves into the challenges in even making a living as an indie filmmaker. It’s an honest look at why it’s so difficult to get movies made apart from the studios. Video on demand is helping the cause, but there’s still a long way to go before guys like Swanberg can get out of debt and live more comfortably.

Despite some minor advances for actresses in getting prominent roles, it’s still quite challenging especially if they want to break the mold. Zoe Saldana spoke to The Telegraph about being considered “old” at 36 and being unwilling to take generic roles in Hollywood. Her candor at the continued hypocrisy in the business, especially when it comes to actresses, is surprisingly refreshing. I’m hoping this approach will lead her into more interesting roles beyond the blockbuster sphere. Her mindset could make things tricky at times with old-school executives, but I expect it’s going to lead to great things.

There was a big event in San Diego recently, and I’m guessing a few people have heard of it. Kate Kulzick from The Televerse podcast took another trip to the San Diego Comic-Con this year and was joined by her sister Maggie. Their recap for the latest episode provides great details on what it’s like to visit the festival, which has become so gigantic. Kate also scored interviews with some prominent folks in the TV world, and she talks with Hannibal composer Brian Retzell this week. I haven’t been keeping up with a lot of the summer TV shows, but it’s still always cool to check out The Televerse.

I don't check out video essays about film nearly as much as I should, and that's a real shame. A recent example that shows how great they can be is the gorgeous look at Richard Linklater's cinematography from Nelson Carvajal at Press Play. It reminds me of just how many amazing films Linklater has made during the past few decades, and this beautiful tribute is a must-see for fans of his work.

I'm constantly thinking about what makes a film critic and how the role has changed in recent years. In connection with the release of Life Itself on KCRW, Matt Holzman talks with many critics about this job and how it works in the age of Rotten Tomatoes. It's only eight minutes long but includes some interesting perspectives from voices like Karina Longworth and Kenneth Turan on the topic.

Lucy was the big winner at the box office last weekend, though reviews were mixed. I haven’t seen it but get the sense that some audiences weren’t sure what to think. Luc Besson helps with a basic summary in the script that outlines how the film is organized. Sam Adams at Criticwire has posted it (via The Film Stage) and offered a brief glimpse into Besson’s mind. Here’s an excerpt from his note about the way to understand Lucy:

I have come up with a simplified summary, therefore, like a reader’s guide, which will conjure up the images in as few words as possible: 

- The beginning is Leon the Professional
- The middle is Inception
- The end is 2001: A Space Odyssey

Given this description, how could the movie go wrong?

July 25, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #23

Walt Disney in the EPCOT film.

When I’m organizing my ideas on blog posts, I’m questioning how far to stray from reviewing movies. Covering dramatic television shows like Deadwood is one thing, but discussing theme parks may go too far in an alternate direction. I’ve enjoyed connecting with other Disney theme park fanatics recently, and one of them is Estelle from the This Happy Place blog. This week, I contributed my second guest post for her site about Disney attractions that I’ve yet to experience around the world. I’m not sure that I’ll be heading to Japan anytime soon, but a guy can dream, right? If you’re interested in Disney and its theme parks, you should definitely check out Estelle’s blog. I’ve discovered a fun community of bloggers that love the parks but recognize where they need improvements. I’m less interested in reading pieces that obsess over the “magic” and don't concede that everything Disney touches does not turn to gold. They're fans but also seem like normal people.

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

I’ll start this week with two oral histories of films with very different production experiences. The first is Jordan Hoffman’s extensive look at Galaxy Quest, which continues to surprise many viewers with its clever take on a show that has a lot of similarities with Star Trek. The insight on Tim Allen and his larger-than-life personality on the set doesn’t surprise me, and it’s clear that everyone has fond memories of working on a movie that did a lot better than expected. I’m a big fan of this type of oral history, and this MTV piece gets input from all the major figures in the talented cast.

Less happy but equally compelling is Amy Nicholson’s look at the very long production of Eyes Wide Shut for Vanity Fair. Stanley Kubrick is known for extreme behavior on the set, yet his efforts to create a certain mood are still astounding. I recognize the greatness of his films, but there is a point where the term “control freak” doesn’t do it justice. His efforts to separate Cruise and Kidman and dig into their actual relationship move towards sociopathic behavior. I’m impressed that both actors would put up with all the head games, especially since they were husband and wife at the time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The Dissolve is featuring Terminator 2 this week, and that film sticks in my mind as the first R-rated movie that I saw in the theaters (I was 15). Beyond that distinction, it also stands up well in the action department. I’d put it below the original Terminator film, but it’s a small drop-off between them. Tasha Robinson’s piece on T2 explores the way the marketing betrayed one of the most intriguing plot points. It telegraphed Arnold’s switch to the protector, which makes sense in selling the film. However, that move removed the impact of what could have been a huge revelation. It’s an intriguing post that covers the history while giving a unique perspective on the massive sequel.

I’m continually amazed that there isn’t a documentary about Walt Disney that provides a more balanced take on his history. That’s why it’s so exciting that PBS’ American Experience will be featuring him in a four-hour (!), two-night film in fall 2015. The running time is the key in showing more than the expected notes like Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, and the animated features. I’ve read Neil Gabler’s massive biography of Disney, but there’s so much information that it’s difficult to retain much of it. The visual medium is the right way to show his impact and give us an insight about this life. Here's a brief description from the PBS site:

"Directed and produced by Sarah Colt (“Henry Ford,” “RFK”) and written by Mark Zwonitzer (“JFK,” “Triangle Fire”), the film features rare archival footage from the Disney vaults, scenes from some of his greatest films, and includes interviews with animators and artists who worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Imagineers who helped design Disneyland."

This sounds awesome.

July 18, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #22

Code 46

This past weekend, I ventured up I-55 to Chicago and met up with some fellow bloggers and podcasters affiliated with the Large Association of Movie Blogs (The LAMB). I just stayed for one night but had a fun time meeting people in person that I’d only known through the site. What was interesting is that we didn’t talk that much about movies. It was refreshing to not spend all the time digging into our favorites of the year or best of all time. Instead, people mostly chatted about what they did and had the usual small talk you’d expect from friends. I’ve spoken to many of the people that I met on podcasts for hours on end, but there’s no substitute for an actual meeting. With everyone spread all over the country and involved in their own busy lives, it was a rare treat to get the chance to arrive in the same town.

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

Speaking of Chicago, a large contingent of the group there was from the Baltimore podcast known as French Toast Sunday. It was great to meet several of the regular hosts in person, including Lindsay and Jess. They just released their 200th episode, which is a remarkable feat. This special show involved a trivia battle of the main crew with the other contributors to the site. The B Team had no issues keeping up with the leaders. The nearly two-hour podcast was great fun and helped to pass the time during my drive.

Kicking & Screaming, directed by Noah Baumbach

One of my favorite movies is Noah Baumbach’s Kicking & Screaming, which perfectly captures a time right after graduating from college where everything is possible. The problem is that no one has any idea what to do. Is leaving the nest really just a good thing? Wouldn’t it be easier to just hang out with friends at the same bars and not move forward? Nathan Rabin from The Dissolve is a fan and does an incredible job describing why this film works. He also delves into the challenges with Baumbach’s follow-up movies, particularly Mr. Jealousy. It took him a while to get back on the right track.

By pure chance, I have two posts by Nathan Rabin in this piece. Am I a fan boy? Regardless, his essay for Salon where he apologizes for coining the phrase “manic pixie dream girl” is worth mentioning. The title seems perfect for characters like Natalie Portman in Garden State, but Rabin aptly feels that it’s become too prevalent. It’s also been extended to characters where it doesn’t really fit like Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall. Rabin makes convincing points that it’s time to avoid using that phrase.

Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon in Tammy

I’m not very excited to see Tammy and won’t be rushing out to catch it in theaters. Even so, I think it’s great to see Melissa McCarthy taking charge of her career. I knew her originally from The Gilmore Girls, and it’s been amazing to watch her star rise. Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed correctly points out that the criticism of this new film as a “vanity project” isn’t fair to McCarthy. The fact that she’s a woman is playing a major role in the poor treatment from some writers, and that hypocrisy needs to stop.

I’ve been a fan of At the Movies in its various incarnations (with one notable exception), and I really enjoyed its regeneration with Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on PBS. He was only 24 and an intriguing guy because he came from the world of online criticism. Vishnevetsky has written a fascinating post for the A.V. Club that discusses the history of the show and his contribution at the end. He’s way too hard on himself, but that’s understandable given the ultimate outcome. It’s fascinating to read his discussions on the failure of the Bens era and how the TV show format is so challenging. I’ll close with an excerpt from a post that anyone who ever watched At the Movies should read:

Searching through my inbox for production emails from the show, I come across a long list of notes sent in by Thea Flaum, Siskel & Ebert’s original producer, about an early episode. She tears into me and Christy—well, mostly me—for peppering our crosstalks with too many specialized references, a 'serious viewer turnoff.' Among other things, she points out the fact that we reviewed a documentary about poetry slams without bothering to explain what a poetry slam was.

When I first read that email, it made me angry. (Frankly, I don’t think I could stomach being the dude who explained what a poetry slam was on broadcast TV in 2011.) By the middle of that year, I got it. She was right: Ebert Presents: At The Movies was the kind of show where you would explain what a poetry slam was, just in case some portion of the viewership didn’t know.”

July 11, 2014

The World That I See: Reads and Listens #21

Tomorrow, I’m hopping in my car and driving to Chicago to meet a group of film fans that I’ve been talking with online for years. I’ve also appeared with them on podcasts, so there’s a familiarity that you normally don’t have without meeting people in person. It’s going to be surreal, but I can’t wait to hang out with such a cool group. To prepare for the 300-mile drive to Chicago, I’ve loaded my iPod with podcasts. This week, I’ve already caught up with a bunch of interesting shows that had been lingering on my computer for too long. In honor of the impending meet-up, I’m making this an all-podcast post and including episodes that are definitely worth your time. Some are new and others are from a few months back, but they all have something interesting to say about the film world.

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

I’ve been participating in the Blind Spots Series for the past three years, and it’s been a great way to push me to finally catch up with movies that have been on my watch list for a long time. The topic of blind spots was the focus of an episode of Filmwhys, hosted by Bubbawheat of Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights. His guests were Steve Honeywell of 1001 Plus and Ryan McNeil of The Matinee, and both have seen a lot of classic films. Ryan leads the blind spots project, and Steve has completed the 1001 Movies You Must See before You Die list. The fun conversation reveals a lot about each person’s approach to catching up with the classics and the challenges of seeing all the essential films.

Speaking of the difficulties in doing everything, The Film Pasture covered this topic in the “Get a Life” episode. Host Lindsay Street from French Toast Sunday brought Mette from Lime Reviews and Strawberry Confessions and Chris from After Credits onto the show to talk about finding that balance of life and film blogging. It’s quite a challenge to make time for everything, and something is bound to get left behind. Lindsay makes a great point that having other hobbies beyond movies is a major hurdle. I’ve been trying to get back in shape with lots of swimming, and it’s hard to do that along with family, work, and keeping up with new movies. I’ve been failing on the last task, but I’m okay with it.

The guys at Mamo have been cranking out the episodes this summer. I blinked and four new shows had arrived. Matthew Brown and Matthew Price are the only guys that I regularly listen to that cover the box office side of the year’s big movies. One of their recent episodes tackles a different topic and covers another wave of price increases at TIFF. They’ve been regular attendees for years, but the huge costs are becoming too much even for adults with a solid income. When does the quest for profits change the nature of the festival? Or has that already happened? This informal discussion hits on so many topics and reminds me why Mamo is one of the best shows out there.

Staying in Canada, Ryan McNeil (he’s all over this post!) recently brought Matthew Brown onto his podcast The Matineecast to talk about How to Train Your Dragon 2. I bypassed that discussion since I hadn’t seen the film, but I stuck around to hear them talk about Dragonslayer and Reign of Fire. Their conversation about the latter was very entertaining. Both admitted that it’s extremely dumb and has a ridiculous premise yet still has a certain charm to it. It was an enjoyable show from two guys who know each other well and have a relaxed camaraderie that’s impossible to fake.

I’ll close this post with a show that brought a huge smile to my face. Nick Jobe of Your Face and Pat McDonnell of 100 Years of Movies have found a great formula with the We Sing Poorly podcast. Instead of just talking about a movie, they sing about it and ask a guest to join them. Each week, they tackle a musical and sing their reviews in hilarious fashion. I checked out the Beauty and the Beast episode, which brought in Mette (again!) to belt out variations on the tunes from the classic soundtrack. This was a clever way to get into some possible issues with the beloved movie while having a great time doing it.