Archive for film wish list

Cannes 2013 Poster

I’m still working out a few of the details, but this spring I’ll be celebrating the end of another school year by attending the Cannes Film Festival. With that in mind, I’m going to indulge a bit and point to the super-stylish poster celebrating this year’s festival featuring an image of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward kissing. Meanwhile Anne Thompson also mentions that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the American pavilion and offers some background about her role in its founding.

 

cannes-poster-2013

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Kickstarting All the Way to Mars

I just learned via Facebook friends about the launch of a new Kickstarter fundraising effort to crowdfund a Veronica Mars movie. The fundraising effort is asking fans of the critically acclaimed show, which ran from 2004-2007, to donate $2 million to support film production, which would begin over the summer if the producers reach their goal. Watching the Kickstarter page this morning, I’m pretty optimistic that the project will happen. In just about twenty minutes, the total amount pledged has increased by something like $30,000, and the number of donors has also gone up considerably (by at least 800 or so). Given that this project launched only in the last day or so, I suspect that word-of-mouth (including commentaries in the tech and entertainment press) will only increase donors’ awareness exponentially, even if the show had a relatively small fan base when it first aired.

The fundraising pitch itself is pretty savvy, using some of the self-aware techniques that fans enjoyed during Veronica’s initial broadcast run, gently mocking the characters’ personalities and making references to the show’s storytelling style. The technique also helps to establish that many of the major actors (Kristen Bell, etc) are already signed on to do the movie, as well. The perks offer a range of collectibles, and for the biggest donors, opportunities to interact with cast members (including the opportunity to have Bell or one of the other actors record a voice mail greeting) or even to appear in the film and have a speaking part (sorry, that one’s already taken).

But in watching this project unfold, it raises a few questions for me about how to think about Kickstarter. First, I don’t think that high-profile projects like the Veronica Mars movie will necessarily prevent smaller projects from happening. If anything, these projects may bring further attention to the site, encourage people to view themselves as donors, and in turn to consider funding other projects. Still, I think we may need a new term to describe the massive crowdfunding practices to contrast them from smaller scale projects that ask for only a few thousand dollars.

In fact, since I typed my original paragraph on the show, probably another 200 or so donors have chipped in. This project could open up new ways of thinking about how fan cultures can serve as a new version of the “pre-sale” model that independent studios have used to finance low-budget films in the recent past.

Here’s the Veronica Mars Kickstarter pitch:

 

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Sunday Links, Hulu, Video Privacy, and 56 Up

Embracing the last quiet Sunday morning before classes start back to catch up on some of my online reads. This semester will involve a number of transitions for me in that I’ll be teaching an online class for the first time (Introduction to Business Writing, which is also a new prep for me) and I’ll be preparing to teach a completely revamped Introduction to Film course next spring. I’m also in the final stages of polishing up my second book (page proofs should arrive in my inbox in the next few days). But all of these changes point toward the possibility that 2013 could be an exciting year. Here are the links:

  • I’ve been writing bits and pieces about the Video Privacy Protection Act, the 1988 law that is now being revised to allow companies like Netflix greater freedom in sharing customers’ rental habits. The bill is designed to give Netflix more freedom to create an app on Facebook similar to Spotify that would allow users to post what they’re watching in their Facebook news feeds (I’d assume something similar would be in place for Twitter, too). Think Progress has a great article on the implications for the bill, but I also wanted to highlight an Ars Technica article that documents how much (over one million dollars) Netflix has spent over the last two years lobbying Congress to pass this bill. It’s also worth glancing at some of the other media companies have spent to pay for lobbying efforts.
  • David Poland attempts to forecast where the studios will go this year in terms of cultivating new delivery systems. Since this is a major aspect of my next book, I was intrigued by Poland’s analysis. The most striking prediction is the speculation that Disney may eventually “eat” Netflix and seek to split its independent and children’s content into separate systems. I’m hoping to write further about some of these issues elsewhere, but Poland’s hunches–from my experience–have been pretty solid.
  • Hulu CEO Jason Kilar has apparently left the company. Om Malik reviews his tenure at the company and where Hulu might go from here.
  • Michael Atkinson has a review of 56 Up, the latest in Michael Apted’s long-running documentary series. I think that my introduction to the series came at around 35 Up, so like many others, I now feel as if I have quite a bit invested in the series, and I’ve also been fascinated to watch as it has evolved from an effort to document class stratifications in Great Britain to something more profound about the changes associated with aging, and how that experience is altered by having your life documented periodically.
  • For my online course this semester, I decided to use audio podcasts to deliver the course lectures. After struggling mightily with a podcast function on our university’s course management system (CMS), I had the good luck of stumbling into a slideshow instructing people on how to embed podcasts on Blogger (which I can then link to in our CMS). The cool part is that you can upload your podcasts to the Internet Archive where they are stored for free and where they uploaded very quickly. My two 7-minute mini-lectures both went up in about five minutes or less.

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Sidney Lumet, 1924-2011

Like a number of other film bloggers (including David Lowery, among many, many others), I was deeply saddened to learn that film director Sidney Lumet passed away yesterday. Although Lumet was often overshadowed by some of the other prominent directors from the film school generation, such as Coppola and Scorsese, Lumet’s films offered a powerful engagement with the everyday: with the ethics of law enforcement (Serpico), the implications of racial bias (Twelve Angry Men), and the politics of populist spectacle (Network), often while presenting us with deeply flawed, but fully human, characters.

Like Matt Zoller Seitz, my favorite Lumet film is Dog Day Afternoon. I saw the film while a graduate student, and it quickly became a touchstone film for me because of the way in which it seemed to mix a heightened sense of immediacy and topicality with a much deeper sense of the broader social and historical forces at play. As Matt points out, the opening credits, featuring Elton John’s “Amoreena,” help ground the film in the everyday of 1970s New York, until Sonny (Al Pacino) quite literally bursts onto the scene, stepping into the bank he plans to rob, and setting in motion the hostage crisis and media spectacle pivotal to the film. It’s difficult to account for the sense of immediacy I felt when watching the film–most of the cultural references, including the Attica prison riots–are nearly forgotten–but the film, especially the scenes in which Al Pacino rallies the crowd against the police, seemed to tap into a sense of political urgency.

Some of this sense of urgency, I think, is connected to Lumet’s ability to capture a sense of time and place. As Glenn Kenny puts it, in his blog post, “He lived, functioned, and made films in the world, the world we live in, not in the exalted far-off fantasy land that any number of puling mediocrities who make a show of turning up their noses at ‘paycheck gigs’ insist their favorite artists inhabit.” Although he is discussing Lumet’s willingness to take a “paycheck gig” (somewhat rarely), Kenny also taps into something central, for me at least, when it comes to Lumet: he and his films were engaged with the everyday, with the concrete challenges and problems we face. Like a number of film fans and scholars, I find myself wanting to revisit some of Lumet’s films.

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Poetic Transmedia

Although I haven’t been able to track some of the more innovative uses of transmedia storytelling over the last year or so–too many other obligations–I have to admit that I find myself transfixed by the powerful use of web video to introduce viewers to Terrence Malick’s latest film, Tree of Life. Although the website offers little conventional material–unless I’m missing something, there is no mention of the cast or a plot summary–it has succeeded brilliantly in increasing my anticipation for the film and for seeing it on the big screen.

As you enter the website, it invites you to follow one of two forking paths, the father’s way or the mother’s way, while a haunting, almost mournful score plays in the background. Once you choose, you encounter a split screen with half the screen filled by a semi-circle of video clips and the other a white space with some cryptic text that evokes a moral parable. Below that are some of the social media responses to the website, and although many of them are direct expressions of fandom, others emphasize the aesthetics of the website, Malick’s characteristic use of slow pans and subtle camera movements. None of the video clips offer any dialogue (unless I missed something), meaning that the images and score tell us the entire story. Contemplation prevails over plot summary. Included in the white space is a small flash video player that shows the clip the user has selected. Choosing the opposite path–going from the father’s to the mother’s path–offers a mirror image: the semi-circle of video clips is now on the opposite side, suggesting that the two halves complete each other.

As a result, the website seems, at once, to offer a compelling depiction of the film that Malick has created and to critique the typical film website that places emphasis on narration and character. As one of the social media comments cited on the website suggests, “so glad that someone has really gone for it and made a movie trailer that evokes the atmosphere of a film rather than a head ache inducing compression of the entire plot.” And, yet, I am also aware that, like the media franchises that are implicitly criticized in this comment, the Tree of Life website is also involved in producing its own culture of anticipation, its own community of fans.

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Saturday Links

Now that my computer seems to be back up to speed, I’m hoping to blog on a regular basis again.  I’ve got a couple of posts brewing including a discussion of a graduate seminar I’ve been asked to teach, a version of my Using Technology in the Language Arts Classroom course I’ve done twice before.  I was unhappy with how the previous version turned out, so as usual I’ll be soliciting advice, crowdsourcing, and trying to rethink how the course might work best.  I’m also still thinking about a “decadism” post as I contemplate all of the decade-in-film posts that are circulating in film blogs these days.  I think they’re a fascinating form of popular (film) history, but I still need to process those thoughts for a while.  For now, here is a list of some of the things I’ve been reading and watching this weekend:

  • The Film Doctor pointed out a couple of must-watch videos the other day: Matt Zoller Seitz’s insightful documentary short about Bill Melendez, the director of dozens of Charlie Brown specials.  As Seitz observes, Melendez’s eye for visual storytelling is often underestimated, and his influence on contemporary filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, is well worth noting.  Also of interest, Mario Balducci’s “The Knife,” a completely surreal reimagination of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.
  • Via The House Next Door, a sharp video essay on “Video Games & The Tentpole Film.”  One of my biggest regrets with my book is that I spent little time thinking about video games (other than as part of a larger marketing chain within a larger entertainment franchise), but this essay makes a compelling case for the ways that video games are fining new and innovative ways of proucing suspense and horror that are more compelling than their cinematic counterparts.
  • Via Tama Leaver, what appears to be an incredibly useful research report on contemporary practices of movie engagement, Moviegoers 2010, a report that starts with the observation that studios and other entertainment professionals know little about current audience behaviors.  One quick factoid from their blog: most “moviegoers” now spend slightly more time online than watching TV.  Such categories are, of course, rather blurry given that many people now watch TV via Hulu and other online portals.
  • Bad Lit has a pointer to the Sundance NEXT lineup, a connection of ostensibly “low- and no-budget” films that will play at this year’s festival. On a quick skim, I recognize one name, Linas Phillips who made the quirky autobiographical documentary, Walking to Werner, which I saw at Silverocs a few years ago and quite liked.  But, as usual, the list provokes big questions about what counts as “independent” and what role Sundnace seems to be playing in fostering the work of aspiring filmmakers.  On a relate note, AJ Schnack compiles a list of this year’s Sundance documentary competition films.
  • Bad Lit also points to a new documentary that I’m curious to see: Guest of Cindy Sherman, a documentary by Paul H-O, a New York public access TV host who was briefly romantically involved with visual artist Cindy Sherman, famous for her Untitled Film Stills, in which Sherman photographed herself in a variety of poses of different female characters.  The trailer suggests that the film will meditate on what counts as art, how art mediates and engages with identy and celebrity, all things I find fascinating.

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Thursday Links (Clearwater, Florida, Edition)

Because my girlfriend is attending a conference in Clearwater this weekend, I decided to tag along, get a little sun, go for a run along the beach, and get away from North Carolina for a couple of days (perfect timing, too, because it’s rainy and miserable back home).  The wifi at the hotel is fast and free, so I’m also taking advantage of that to get a little work done.  At any rate, a few more links before I go on a mini-hiatus from the blog to finish up the paper:

  • On Ira Deutchman’s blog a few days ago, Tyler Davidson issued a call for a “public option” for filmmakers.  There is, of course, some public support for U.S. filmmakers already, but Davidson calls for a model resembling the Canadian system in which films “are primarily funded by a mix of government funding and incentives, government mandated funds from broadcasters, broadcasters themselves, international financing partners, and film distributors.”  I’m certainly intrigued by this idea, and the Canadian model has helped to foster some unique filmmaking talents, but I also recognize that it might be a difficult sell, especially given the culture wars that raged around the NEH in the 1980s.
  • Anne Thompson has an article on the “Flixster effect,” an analogue to the so-called Twitter effect.  Thompson notes that Flixster, which has a huge presence on both MySpace and Facebook, is host to over two billion reviews.  I have a very brief discussion of Flixster in my book, taking note (as Thompson also does) that Flixster can also collect data on its reviewers in order to better target them with advertising.
  • Via Tama, a link to the trailer for Truth in Numbers, a documentary about Wikipedia.  From the trailer, it appears that the film gives equal time to both proponents and critics (Andrew Keen, among others) of the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit.  Given my struggles with the Wikipedia assignment I gave my first-year composition students, it would have been helpful to have had this documentary as a way of framing student discussion.

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More Sunday Links

Here are some of the film and media links I’ve been thinking about this week:

  • First, Pamela Cohn discusses SnagFilms’ new YouTube channel, which will provide documentary fans with yet another site for fining some very cool nonfiction films.
  • Also, in YouTube news, the video sharing site has reached a deal to make content produced by Lions Gate, Sony, and MGM available, in part in an effort to compete with Hulu (via The Extratextuals). Karina also discusses the YouTube deal and argues that the site needs to work on restructuring its search tools to direct viewers to the legally available content, supporting something I’ve been thinking for a log time: that we need better filters for finding quality films online (hopefully SpeedCine, when it’s ready, will help here).
  • Anne Thompson has a link to the trailer and some discussion of one of the summer flicks I’m most looking forward to seeing: Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control.
  • Via David at IFC Daily, another film I can’t wait to see: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Women Art Revolution, which looks at the history of feminist art from the 1960s to the present.  Based on the trailer, this looks like a thorough reflection on art, gender, and politics. The film is currently in post-production and I can’t wait to see it.
  • Liz Losh has a terrific roundup of spoofs of that notorious anti-gay marriage ad with its bad special effects and paid actors.  On a related note, Frank Rich reads the indifference over the Iowa Supreme Court ruling as a sign that we’re finally turning the corner on gay marriage as an issue.
  • Virginia Heffernan joins the Twitter-ambivalent crowd, expressing how Twitter has helped contribute to her wariness about social networks.  I’ve already discussed why I think Twitter is valuable, so no need to rehash that here, but I do appreciate that Heffernan criticizes it fom the position of someone who uses and knows what Twitter can do. Especially valuable, her reading of Twistori, “a new site that sorts and organizes Twitter posts that use emotionally laden words like ‘wish’ or ‘hate’ or ‘love,’ thereby building an image of the collective Twitter psyche.”
  • Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times has an interesting blog post about the ongoing popularity of Paul Haggis’s Crash.  I criticized Crash when it first came out an still think the film is flawed, but I think it is worth asking what contributes to the film’s continued high ranking on Netflix as a popular favorite (note: I may expand this question into a longer blog post later). On a related note, Karina also points out that the LA Times has started a regular independent film column.  Like her, I think this is a smart way to attract new readers.

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Saturday Links

I did see Paprika last night, as planned, and I think Shaviro’s read is about right. The basic SF plot involves a machine that allows users to enter the dreams of others, but as the technology develops, the dreams collapse on each other in a giant, permeable collective dream. This SF plot overlaps with a classic detective plot, with the main character, psychologist Dr. Atrsuko Chiba, is attempting to discover who has stolen copies of the devices used to hack into people’s dreams. It’s a visually stunning film, one that uses animation beautifully to push this dream narrative. As Shaviro notes, the dream plot works well for Satoshi Kon’s visual style. Many of the backgrounds are almost photorealistic, but the foregrounds feature all manner of psychedelic imagery. And the movie’s (and dream’s) most commonly repeated motif–a loud, cacophonous parade of broken toys–is an interesting mishmash of Japanese popular culture. Oddly, I happened to watch Waking Life, another animated film about the permeable boundaries between dreaming and reality, the other night, and while Paprika is much more tied to the genre films that underscore its narrative, the use of animation to convey a dream state was somewhat similar (both films also, notably, use movies to evoke dreaming). I’d like to write a longer review, and if I get some more writing done on the book, I’ll try to do that.

While I’m blogging, I just wanted to give a quick mention of Alex Karpovsky’s latest film, General Impression of Size & Shape, which follows a group of bird-watchers who come to a small Arkansas town after someone spots an ivory-billed woodpecker, a species previously believed to be extinct. Karpovsky’s previous film, The Hole Story, was incredibly entertaining, so I’m very much looking forward to checking out his latest film.

Also, I’ve been planning to mention the launch of CommentPress, an open source comment tool based on “the WordPress blogging engine that allows readers to comment paragraph by paragraph in the margins of a text.” I had a chance to play with CommentPress at a MediaCommons meeting last spring, and it looks like a fantastic tool. There are a number of interesting examples available of how the technology could be used, including a heavily commented version of the Iraq Study Group Report and Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Scholarly Publishing in the Age of the Internet.

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Lazy Tuesday Bullet Points

I’ve spent the last few days working on the book, hence the lack of time for longer, more sustained blog posts (and, yes, I should probably stop apologizing for that fact). But here are a few random bullet points that could very well wind up becoming longer blog posts.

  • Just found out that the Cameo will be getting Sicko one week earlier than I originally reported. The theater’s owners cut a deal with the distributors and the film will begin its Fayetteville run starting this Friday (July 6). I mention this because I’ve been getting several hits per day from people here in town looking for information on Sicko, so I’m glad we’ll be getting the film a week earlier than I expected, which is certainly great news.
  • But even with Sicko playing in Fayetteville, I need to find an excuse to travel up to Cary, a suburb of Raleigh-Durham, to check out the independently-owned and very international art house, Galaxy Cinema, which was apparently revived after the Madstone art house chain collapsed a few years ago. The Independent Weekly review of the theater suggests that it’s a pretty cool place. Lots of international and interesting indie films, with an emphasis on Bollywood. Worth noting: it looks like the concessions on weekends feature samosas, so it might be worth hitting the theater on a weekend just for that.
  • I’m working up a review of Jacob Septimus and Anthony Howard’s documentary, B.I.K.E., about the anti-consumerist bike subculture, the Black Label Bicycle Club. Among other activities, the group frequently participates in tall bike jousts, known as “Bike Kills,” and often joins in activities such as Critical Mass. I wrote a fairly tepid review of the documentary when I first saw it at Silverdocs last year, but I liked the film much better this time and definitely have a lot to say about it. It was nice to be given the opportunity to revisit the film and my initial impressions of it.
  • Like pretty much everyone else (except, of course, David Brooks, who would have lost all credibility with me if he hadn’t already), I’m angered and frustrated by Bush’s decision to commute Scooter Libby’s jail sentence. I guess it’s OK for public officials to lie to get us into an ill-conceived war, after all. I haven’t been writing as directly about political issues here, but if people like Brooks continue to write such misleading columns, I might just be drawn back into the fray.
  • Nick Rombes has an interesting post on the New York Times article on the Sundance Channel’s space in Second Life. His big question: “When I watch a Sundance movie in Second Life, am I watching the movie, or am I watching myself watching the movie?” Almost makes me want to go into Second Life.

Update: Wow!  This is very cool news.  I just learned from Film Snob that Jem Cohen’s Chain will be playing on the Sundance Channel several times this month. Chain is easily one of my favorite films of the last five years or so, and I can’t recommend it enough.  Set your DVRs now.  For my New York readers, Cohen’s Building a Better Mousetrap, which I also liked quite a bit, will be having its New York premiere on July 24.  You can also watch Cohen’s one-minute short, Free, commissioned by the col folks at Renew Media to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Media Arts Fellowships.

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Lazy Post-SCMS Blogging

Still recovering from SCMS, but here are some links I don’t want to lose:

  • First, via the cinetrix, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival has announced its list of new documentaries in competition at this year’s festival. Among the many cool choices, blog friend AJ Schnack’s Kurt Cobain About A Son, North Carolina neighbor Godfrey Cheshire’s Moving Midway, and Talk to Me, filmmaker Mark Craig’s compilation of twenty years of answering machine messages.
  • The cinetrix also points to The Onion’s list of movies starring “Magical Black Men.” I still think the Nic Cage Wonderful Life rip-off, The Family Man belongs somewhere on that list.
  • Dr. Mabuse has a few SCMS links, including Michael’s wrap-up post and Chris Cagle’s review post.

According to my count, this is my fifth SCMS conference–somehow it feels like more–and like Michael, I can’t help but respond to the conference’s tremendous growth over the last decade. This growth speaks to the continued relevance of film and media, and I’m happy to see the conference become a much larger tent, welcoming panels on television, music, radio, and digital media. I don’t really have time to blog specific panels, but the conference was a rewarding one.

Update: Via GreenCine, Joe Swanberg and Kris Williams’s Nerve video series Young American Bodies is entering its second season. I was a big fan of the first season, and the first video of the second season looks promising. GreenCine also has a video interview with Swanberg.

Update 2: GreenCine also has a report from Austin about Austin native Richard Linklater’s SXSW conversation with John Pierson.

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Frederick Wiseman at Duke

Just found out that acclaimed documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman will be giving a lecture at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies on Monday, March 26, at 5 PM. I’ll be traveling, so I won’t be able to attend the lecture, but in anticipation of his appearance, the Center for Documentary Studies will be screening several of his films, including Law and Order, Model and Titicut Follies. Looks like I’ll be wearing out the highway between the ‘ville and Durham over the next few weeks.

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Bunker Hill Trailer

I’m still in heavy-duty writing mode but I just wanted to mention the trailer for Bunker Hill, a new film by Kevin Willmott, who made C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, one of the smartest and most thought-provoking films I saw last year. Bunker Hill focuses on a Wall Street banker, who after being released from prison, goes to the small town of Bunker Hill, Kansas, where his ex and their children are living. Soon after his arrival, an apparent terrorist attack takes place, leading the town to take extreme measures to protect itself. Given Willmott’s past work in interrogating the politics of popular culture images, I’m really looking forward to seeing this film.

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“You Can Watch a Country Eating Itself Alive”

Interesting Todd Gitlin review of Brett Morgen’s documentary, Chciago 10, which mixes archival footage and animated sequences in retelling the story of the horrific events that took place in Chicago in 1968. Significantly, Gitlin reads the 1968 war protests against what he regards as the much savvier netroots actions during the current war in Iraq.

Morgen has done some interesting work in the past. His 2002 doc, The Kid Stays in the Picture was a fascinating look at a Hollywood mogul, so I’ll be curious to see if Chicago 10 lives up to its Sundance buzz.

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Robert Altman, RIP

Just learned that Robert Altman, one of the great American film directors, passed away today. Altman’s Short Cuts, which I first saw when I was just starting graduate school, is one of the most important films in my “cinematic eductaion,” and I never tire of teaching The Player, especially that tour de force opening shot, in my introduction to film courses.

Update: Here’s the Washington Post article.

Update 2: David at GreenCine has compiled a number of blog entries and articles offering their memories of Altman. And here is the video of Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin introducing Altman before his honorary Oscar in 2006.

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