Film Essent Archive for July, 2012

On Kids and Midnight Movies

There’s this sidebar discussion about the Aurora theater shootings that I’ve seen crop up a few times with people questioning why there were young kids, including a three-or-four-month-old infant, at a midnight screening. And they mostly tend to have this disapproving tone with regard to the babe-in-arms in particular, and I find that disturbing. Because really, how is the whole, “Why did these irresponsible parents have kids at a midnight screening anyhow?” thing different than a woman being raped and then being grilled on the witness stand by the perp’s defense attorney as to what exactly she expected if she was out late at night in a skirt that short?

As a mom of seven kids (five mine, two stepsons), I can say that I brought my kids to movies, even late-night movies, when they were that tiny. Why? Because a three-month-old baby could be expected to just sleep through it, in his mom’s arms or a baby sling, and if they woke up and made noise, I’d just put them on the boob to nurse back to sleep, or step out of the theater. I stopped bringing them at around seven months or so because it was less reliable that they’d sleep and not disturb other patrons. Really, not the big deal some folks are making it out to be, that these parents brought a baby to a late-night thing. Geez, my parents took me and my brother to the drive-in until 2AM all the time when we were growing up.
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For &*%$@ Sake. Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Over on his blog, Some Came Running, Glenn Kenny stirred up some of the most interesting conversation I’ve seen lately in a comments thread with this piece he wrote yesterday asserting that the culture of film blogging is, at least in part, responsible for this ridiculous deluge of Batman fanboys making death threats – death threats! – against certain film critics who dared to post less-than-positive reviews of The Dark Knight Rises. I got into a back-and-forth late last night on Twitter with Matt Seitz and Devin Faraci about the issue, but given that Twitter’s not the best forum for intelligent conversation, I thought I’d expand a little on all this in a space that allows more than 140 characters at a time.

I do agree with Glenn that the bloggers who target the fanboy market are, at least in part, responsible for sparking some of the flames that occasionally get fanned out of control in that realm. If you’re a film journalist or a film blogger (and the distinction between the two is all but disappearing these days) and you’re out there on Twitter getting into heated arguments that get blown all out of proportion and spiral into name calling and what have you – you know, the general kind of pissing contests that happen almost daily in this industry – you are creating a certain perception, a “brand,” if you will, of decorum, that I do think in turn encourages the kind of vitriolic fanboy reactions that have become so commonplace they’re becoming the new normal.

Film bloggers have helped to create this space where it’s not just about journalists and other industry folks talking about what we like or don’t about movies, but equally about what we like or don’t like about each other. And Christ, I hate that. That negativity we as a community put out there not only makes it okay for commenters to be just as hateful as they see us being, it encourages it. But that’s what we want, isn’t it? After all, those anger-fueled back-and-forths of commenters lobbing grenades of mean-spiritedness wrapped in snark at each other drives the comments up, and then readers see comments spiking on a particular post, so they click to see what the big deal is, and that’s a CLICK, hey! That creates traffic numbers that in turn can be sold to advertisers!

It doesn’t matter to your traffic counter if the 497 comments on a blog post have anything to do with the actual movie you started out talking about, or if it’s turned into some playground dick-swinging contest of clashing personalities. For fuck’s sake, guys, who cares about the personal battles and bullshit? Why can’t people just stay on topic, argue about trailers and box office and a given person’s subjective opinion about a film, without it having to turn into chest-thumping machismo nonsense? Except … that it’s those personal battles and bullshit that the commenters really love, it’s what they come back for, right? When comments on sites like The Hot Blog or Hollywood Elsewhere do stick to actual discussion about a relevant topic, people bitch about how boring it is. It’s much more entertaining to watch a train wreck in progress than to read an intellectual discussion about film. Traffic is traffic, those number are what sells the ads, so who cares what’s driving those numbers up? Until you post a negative review of a fanboy movie and the shit hits the fan, and the fanboys are coming after you with death threats. Over a fucking movie.

All of us who work in this space have, in one way or another, contributed to the problem of internet assholerly among commenters, even if we started out with the best of intentions, with the idea that it was cool to be able to engage in the kind of immediate conversations with our readers that print media could never allow, like every blog was its own office watercooler around which cool conversation could happen. The difference is that if we were standing around a real watercooler talking face-to-face, I think (or geez, I certainly hope) that most of us would be politer to each other, more respectful of the fact that we’re speaking with another human being. Kinder. I’d like to think things wouldn’t deteriorate from “Man, those box office numbers for Big Tentpole Movie are gonna tank after the first weekend!” to “You’re the stupidest cunt on the entire planet” to “go fuck yourself” in the spate of 30 seconds. It’s exhausting, it’s dehumanizing. This aspect of the internet sucks.

Thing is, the problem isn’t just film bloggers, and it isn’t just fanboys, it’s this culture of internet anonymity that allows people to think it’s okay to spew hatred and negativity without the restraint that face-to-face social interaction forces us to uphold. Even when we’re posting under our own names, when we’re talking over Twitter or Facebook or in blog post comments there’s this illusion that the words we say don’t matter. Not really. That it’s okay to bully, to target people for personal attack, to make accusations, to name call. And apparently, even to make death threats.

I stopped writing for parenting sites years ago because the hormone-fueled rages of women attacking each other over parenting choices, and the need to police comments when the personal attacks got out of hand, was just awful and soul-sucking to deal with. In many ways, the fanboys and the generally vitriolic movie blog commenters have nothing on defensive, angry mommies when it comes to sheer viciousness. But take a stroll around the internet, folks. Go on any news site, pick a random story, and scroll down to the comments; the things people say to each other, and about the person the story is about, make me cringe. Lindy West regularly gets shockingly misogynistic comments on her posts on Jezebel from men attacking her for the way she looks, or just because she’s a woman and who the hell told people with vaginas they were allowed to have opinions? And the political blogs, criminy. Even on sites you would think would be completely innocuous, you see the ugly come out. The other day I happened on a blog site for a neighborhood in my town, and saw a discussion that started with someone very nicely asking folks to please take down garage sale signs once their sale is over deteriorate rapidly into insults and personal attacks. Cyberbullying among school kids has become so common we speak of it as something that’s just to be expected, not something to be abhorred. But our kids get it, at least in part, from what we adults put out there, and what we choose to tolerate as acceptable behavior, do they not?

I don’t have any answers for how to fix the way our technology has corrupted our sense of decency in interacting with each other. Hell, I’m not even sure there are any answers, other than to just attempt, as much as possible, not to allow arguments about things like movies or parenting techniques or garage sale signs to deteriorate into full-blown wars, to ignore (or even delete) non-germane comments that veer into personal attacks, and to generally just try to be as positive and kind and compassionate to each other as we’d probably all like everyone to be to us. It’s mid-July, and the battles of the Oscar film bloggers will soon be upon us. Post-Toronto, we’ll be past the summer tentpoles and the fanboy Dark Knight orgasms and death threats, and the opinions on what’s awesome and what’s not for this awards season will really kick into high gear. Passions will run high as we advocate for or against this film or that one. We can all agree that making death threats over a movie isn’t a nice thing to do. Can we maybe also agree to keep our discussions this awards season civil and relevant to the films, and not personal? To try to see the other person we’re engaging with as more than just target practice for our quick-witted barbing? To just agree to follow Wil Wheaton’s catchphrase: Don’t be a dick?

Yeah, probably not. But it’s worth hoping for.

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Review-ish: The Amazing Spider-Man

Warning: Spoilers contained herein.

We took the kids to see The Amazing Spider-Man at the midnight screening so I wouldn’t have to do a coin toss to see who got the golden ticket to see it with me at a press screening, and then I ended up not reviewing at the time because I felt pretty meh about it, and I was irritated about that. And I’ve been so buried in work this last week and over the weekend that I didn’t take time to read any reviews of it. But reading David’s glowing, ecstatic review of the film, and some of the comments on that review, made me seriously wonder if we’d even seen the same movie, so I wanted to jot down some thoughts on ASM while they’re still relatively fresh in my head.

So, okay. I know many of you really dug this version of Spider-Man, but c’mon guys. This movie has some problems. Tonally, the script nails the character of Peter Parker as the writers and (presumably) director imagined him to be, and that take on who Spidey is works very well. Much of the rest of the story, less so. It’s clumsy, sloppy. There are just problems is all over the place, believability holes — even within the context of a superhero movie based on a comic book character — you could drive a truck through. And given that the screenwriting credits here are James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, I don’t know what the excuse is. Too many otherwise solid cooks spoiling the broth? Studio heads with an eye toward big bucks from the video game?
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Review: Starry Starry Night

Starry Starry Night, the second feature film by promising Taiwanese filmmaker Tom Lin, is a visually stunning, lovely coming-of-age tale and one of my favorite films of SIFF so far this year. Based on a Taiwanese picture book by Jimmy Liao, the film takes common themes of death, divorce, and growing pains and weaves them into this beautifully imagined and creatively rendered story of Mei (Jiao Xu), a young girl dealing with the unraveling of her once-happy family and the death of a beloved grandfather whose love has been her anchor. Untethered and emotionally bereft, Mei finds a kindred spirit in new student Jie (Hui-Min Lin), a sensitive, artistic boy whose talents are unappreciated by most of the kids at school.

When Mei’s parents announce they’re getting a divorce and Jie’s mother informs him that they have to move yet again to stay a step ahead of his abusive father, the teens embark on a fantastical journey back to Mei’s safe harbor, her grandfather’s remote mountain cottage, through a world inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night and the jigsaw puzzles that serve as a symbol for both Mei’s family life and her sorting through these complicated familial issues. Along the way, Mei is accompanied by fantastical, larger-than-life, colorful carved animals – Mei’s link to her woodcarving grandfather – and the watchful shadow of a protective dragon.

My one issue with the film is the ending, which drags on a bit, although it kind of pays off; still I wanted the film to end maybe 10 minutes before it actually did, leaving things a bit more open. I loved almost everything about this film, in particular the way in which Lin composes shots with a meticulous care and attention to detail; nothing ever feels like it’s there by accident or without purpose, I could go back and watch the film a couple more times just to catch all the minute details to which the filmmaker has paid such attention. Every frame of this film feels like a painting brought to life.

Lin’s seamless and lovely use of the jigsaw puzzles as metaphor for life, which comes to fruition with an emotionally engaging sequence in which picures of Mei’s life with her parents fall apart in her hands as she desperately tries to make all the pieces fit together, is one of the best uses of symbol in storytelling I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a literal way of conveying Mei’s inner turmoil that could come across as contrived, but it’s done in such an honest and heartfelt and literary way that what could have been cheesy in a lesser director’s hands here becomes the emotional center of the film.

Note: Starry Starry Night played as a part of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival

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“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many recappers, while clearly over their heads, are baseline sympathetic to finding themselves routinely unmoored, even if that means repeating over and over that this is closer to “avant-garde art” than  normal TV to meet the word count. My feed was busy connecting the dots to Peter Tscherkassky (gas station), Tony Conrad (the giant staring at feedback of what we’ve just seen), Pat O’Neill (bombs away) et al., and this is all apposite — visual and conceptual thinking along possibly inadvertent parallel lines. If recappers can’t find those exact reference points to latch onto, that speaks less to willful ignorance than to how unfortunately severed experimental film is from nearly all mainstream discussions of film because it’s generally hard to see outside of privileged contexts (fests, academia, the secret knowledge of a self-preserving circle working with a very finite set of resources and publicity access to the larger world); resources/capital/access/etc. So I won’t assign demerits for willful incuriosity, even if some recappers are reduced, in some unpleasantly condescending/bluffing cases, to dismissing this as a “student film” — because presumably experimentation is something the seasoned artist gets out of their system in maturity, following the George Lucas Model of graduating from Bruce Conner visuals to Lawrence Kasdan’s screenwriting.”
~ Vadim Rizov Goes For It, A Bit

“On the first ‘Twin Peaks,’ doing TV was like going from a mansion to a hut. But the arthouses are gone now, so cable television is a godsend — they’re the new art houses. You’ve got tons of freedom to do the work you want to do on TV, but there is a restriction in terms of picture and sound. The range of television is restricted. It’s hard for the power and the glory to come through. In other words, you can have things in a theater much louder and also much quieter. With TV, the quieter things have to be louder and the louder things have to be quieter, so you have less dynamics. The picture quality — it’s fine if you have a giant television with a good speaker system, but a lot of people will watch this on their laptops or whatever, so the picture and the sound are going to suffer big time. Optimally, people should be watching TV in a dark room with no disturbances and with as big and good a picture as possible and with as great sound as possible.”
~ David Lynch