Archive for personal

Rethinking Spielberg

Some of my blog posts over the years, including my reviews of The Adventures of Tintin and Munich have been republished in a neat e-book anthology called The Take2 Guide to Steven Spielberg. I’m in good company here with Jonthan Rosenbaum, Matt Zoller Seitz, and dozens of others also included. The series editor John Pruzanski has also been working on several other volumes for a series of e-books on movie directors, so hopefully there will be more to come.

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Media Distribution Notes

In case you missed them, I have a review of the second edition of Jeff Ulin’s book, The Business of Media Distribution, for Antenna, and an interview with Ulin for Filmmaker Magazine.

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Reboot Cinema

HUGOI just wanted to point out a new article, “Reboot Cinema,” I contributed to a special “debate” on 3D in the most recent issue of Convergence. My article attempts to match up industry discourse on the value of 3D with promotional materials associated with the practice of “rebooting” popular characters or narratives. I originally wrote the article in response to the new cycle of Spider-Man films starring James Garfield and the end of the Christopher Nolan Batman films, but the industrial strategy of rebooting familiar franchises has certainly continued (as the planned Batman cycle starring Ben Affleck illustrates). That said, 3D has also been promoted, in both industry materials and in films by directors such as James Cameron (Avatar) and Martin Scorsese (Hugo), as a means of “rebooting” cinema itself, of providing audiences with new forms of textual novelty that were seen as reinventing what cinema could do.

I’d encourage everyone to check out the entire issue, though, given the other fantastic writers (Barbara Klinger, Miriam Ross, Francesco Casetti, and others) who participated in this forum.

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On-Demand Culture Now Available

I’ve been waiting for a while to announce the fact that my second book, On-Demand Culture: Digital Delivery and the Future of Movies, is now available from major online retailers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can get an e-book version directly from the Rutgers University Press website. I’ve also started a Facebook page for the book where I will post (very infrequent) updates about reviews and other book-related news.

While I’ve been waiting for the final stages of the publication process to run their course, it has been fascinating to watch the continued evolution of the entertainment industry. When I was completing the manuscript, Netflix’s House of Cards was still in production, while Veronica Mars and Zach Braff still had not yet discovered Kickstarter. While I was able to discuss the role of social media sites in providing vast amounts of data for entertainment companies, I’ve been intrigued by the increasing discussions of  the relationship between movie consumption and “big data” since I put the finishing touches on the manuscript.

Writing a book in the present tense about events that are still unfolding is often challenging (which is why it’s often tempting to blog about these phenomena instead), but I hope that On-Demand Culture captures something about the spirit of this particular moment in the history of the media industries and that it adds to the ongoing conversation about where these industries are heading.

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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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Ten

If you count the original version of my blog on Blogger, I’ve been blogging for ten years (although the original posts no longer seem to be easily accessible). These kinds of milestones always invite some form of reflection and nostalgia and they certainly have inspired me to consider how my blogging practices have changed over the years.

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Netflix and Binge Watching Revisited

Just a quick pointer to a Dallas Observer article on Netflix’s distribution strategy for House of Cards with a couple of quotes from yours truly. One of the reasons I was excited to do this interview is that Welch seemed to be challenging some of the uncritical assumptions about the novelty of binge-viewing. I do think that it is significant that Netflix is moving into producing, rather than simply licensing, content, but the basic practices of binge viewing have been with us for a long time.

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Preparing Young Minds

Here’s an editorial I wrote for the Raleigh News and Observer in response to Governor Pat McCrory’s misguided comments about the need for university liberal arts programs.

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Writing Elsewhere

I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing elsewhere this month, so in case you missed them:

  • I have a blog post for ProHacker that discusses a strategy that I developed to create and post podcasts for my online course. I’ve been using the same workflow for several weeks now, and it’s continuing to work well for me.
  • I have an article in the upcoming (Winter 2013) print issue of Filmmaker Magazine that addresses some of the issues in my forthcoming book, On-Demand Culture. the new issue isn’t up yet on the Filmmaker Magazine website, but it looks fantastic, and I’m delighted to be included in some incredibly good company. In the article, I tried to unpack some of the complicated issues that are shaping movie distribution, while also discussing how independent filmmakers have been incredibly resourceful in creating their own tools–Kickstarter, etc–to find an audience (and funding) for their work.
  • I recently wrote a blog post for Antenna on the politics of representing torture in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. My ultimate conclusion is that even if it never directly states that torture led to the intelligence that allowed us to find bin Laden, the film feels as if torture helped. That being said, I also think the film leaves us with some ambivalence about how that search was conducted, making Zero Dark Thirty a much more subtle film than its many critics have suggested.

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My First Petition

I’m reposting a diary I wrote for Daily Kos (the first one I’ve written there) where I discussed a petition that my wife and I wrote asking the White House to respond to our concerns about the ban on funding for the CDC to do gun research. I’ve never started a petition before, although I consider myself to be relatively active politically and have long espoused the power of social media in mobilizing political action. I’m not sure why this particular issue drove me to try writing a petition, but it’s probably a combination of my belief in supporting research and my hope that this research will lead to a significant reduction in violence. For those who might think that this petition is simply a cover for reducing access to guns, please note that I’m open to supporting whatever conclusions the CDC might reach. I’ll try to keep track of how the proces works and discuss that here. So far, in about two hours, we’ve collected 61 signatures, and the post has moved up the Daily Kos recommended diaries list. I suspect that hitting the critical threshold of 150 signatures–if we get there–will make a big difference because at that point the petition will be “visible” on the White House petitions page. No matter what, I’ve been moved by the comments on Kos and the shared solidarity over this issue. The text of the Daily Kos diary is below the fold.

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Tar Heels and Film Criticism

Just a quick note to mention that I’ve been selected to the North Carolina Film Critics Association and that our awards nominations for 2012 were recently announced. I’m happy to point out that we have made some effort to promote local filmmaking through the Tarheel Award, which recognizes films with at least some connection to the state and enjoyed being part of a more official voting process. We’re voting on winners in the next few days and will hopefully announce the full results soon. This is also an opportunity to get other North Carolina film reviewers connected. I’ve met Ken Morefield and Daniel Johnson had a few conversations with Craig Lindsey at Full Frame over the years, but I’m looking forward to connecting with some of the other members in the future.

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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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Top Ten 2012

Inspired by IndieWire’s amazing compilation of Top Ten lists and by Umberto Eco’s reminder about the pleasures of list-making, I’ve decided to do my own list of favorite movies from 2012. This year;’s list is shaped by a number of changes in my life. I didn’t get to the theater as often as I would have liked, and my favorite theater was forced to shut down when the owners of the property decided to redevelop the space and build a grocery store. I also missed the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival for the first time in several years, which means that I was unable to catch many docs, something I hope to correct in 2013. I’m hoping to devote more energy to reviving the blog this year, and my piecemeal–in no particular order–top ten list is a way of getting that started.

  1. Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson’s compelling and comic story, set in the early 1960s in a small New England town, focuses on a young boy, Sam, on a scout trip who runs away with Suzy, who lives nearby. they exchange notes and plans and filly escape together prompting a madcap search led by Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Bill Murray. Really enjoyed the off-beat performances, the period music, and Anderson’s usual attention to mise-en-scene.
  2. Looper: gritty, futuristic sci-fi at its finest. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt plays Joe, a “looper” who waits in an appointed location–a corn field in Kansas–where he assassinates criminals sent back in time. Joe ultimately faces meeting himself as an older person, leading to one of the more fascinating ethical dilemmas about time travel I’ve seen in a long time (and one of the few movies I had time to review this year). The interplay between Leavitt and Bruce Willis also works really well.
  3. Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis’s uncanny portrayal of Lincoln has received the most attention, but I loved the movie for its attention to the mundane aspects of governing and the challenges that the president faced when negotiating to get members of the opposing party to support his proposed amendment to end slavery. An oddly apt commentary on the fiscal cliff negotiations and current complaints about divided government.
  4. The Master: Paul Thomas Anderson offers an unsettling engagement with the post-World War II sense of meaningless confronted by many vets, including Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), who wavers between submission to and resistance against a Scientology-style cult led by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was ambivalent about this film, but Jason Sperb, who has written a book on PT Anderson, ultimately sold me on it.
  5. Django Unchained: Tarantino continues his engagement with the politics of images and genres with his subversive, playful mashup of spaghetti western and slave narrative. It’s easy to dismiss Tarantino as a pastiche filmmaker, but his depictions of iconic film images–the “mandingo” fights, Samuel L. Jackson’s “Uncle Tom”–are far more subtle than they first appear. I still think this film would make a great companion with Perry Henzell’s similar spaghetti western-inspired anti-colonialist The Harder They Come.
  6. Argo: Although its depiction of the Iran hostage crisis vastly simplifies the historical record–little attention is paid to the hostages who went unrescued–Ben Affleck has deftly crafted a terrific retelling of one of the most audacious rescue efforts in recent history. The levels of performance–spies pretending to be movie executives–were terrific fun.
  7. Take this Waltz: low-key character study by Sarah Polley about a woman’s struggles in an unhappy marriage.
  8. Silver Linings Playbook: although its depiction of psychological disorders was often too glib, Russell’s film won me over with the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as a pair of misunderstood lovers.
  9. Beasts of the Southern Wild: I wavered between embracing the film’s originality and struggling with something that felt a little inauthentic about the whole thing. On the whole, though, I liked the depiction of Bathtub, a tiny, isolated Louisiana Delta community ravaged by a massive hurricane.
  10. Perks of Being a Wallflower: heartfelt adolescent drama about growing up as outsiders (the “misfit toys”). It gets all of the awkwardness of high school pretty much right and even offers a kind of utopian space where Charlie, Sam (Emma Watson in a great post-Hermione performance), and friends can feel safe and connected. Solid late-80s/early-90s period detail, too.

I still haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty or Holy Motors, so I may make one or two updates in the near future. Just missing the cut were Bernie, Les Miserables, and Safety Not Guaranteed.

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On-Demand Update

The Amazon page for my second book, On-Demand Culture: Digital Delivery and the Future of Movies, is now live. The cover image and other details aren’t available, but you can check out the description and order it if you’re so inclined.

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The End of the Galaxy

It’s official, Cary’s gem of an art-house multiplex, the Galaxy Cinema, has announced that they will be closing the doors this weekend. The last movies will unspool on Sunday evening, and then the Research Triangle will have lost one of its most significant–and eclectic–movie theaters. The theater has been fending off an eviction notice for the last few months, along with development plans that would turn the location into the site of a grocery store. Even so, it’s impossible not to see the Galaxy’s struggles in the context of the turbulent futures of so many art house theaters as we convert from film to digital projection. David Bordwell has written eloquently about this topic, and independent art-house theaters across the country have been facing difficult decisions about whether to convert or not, given that most new digital projectors cost around $100,000. It’s a situation that affects another theater dear to my heart, the Cameo Art House in Fayetteville, where I saw dozens of movies every year before moving up to Raleigh. Both theaters are owned by local citizens who love movies and who have attempted to create not just a place for watching good, engaging, independent films but also places that give back to the community in a variety of ways through fundraisers, debate screenings, and other events.

The Galaxy has always been a hybrid space–one that offered Bollywood hits alongside of art house and independent movies and that catered to the diverse communities of professors, tech industry professionals, and others who called the Raleigh suburb home. The theater employees were knowledgeable about film and consistently friendly. It was clear that the workers were passionate about movies and about creating an atmosphere where film lovers would feel at home. It’s also the place where I had part of my first date with my wife, Andrea, so of course, there is some profound personal nostalgia that I will always have for the theater. There are a couple of other art house theaters in the Triangle–the Rialto in downtown Raleigh, the Colony in north Raleigh, and the Carolina in Durham, but it’s hard not to feel like a distinctive, local space has been lost, and I’d imagine that even with these other movie theaters, that I’ll be seeing far fewer movies in theaters (and maybe even far fewer movies) in the months to come.

I do hope that some of my local readers will consider the option of donating to support the survival of the Cameo Art House in Fayetteville. They have a page on their website calling for donations and explaining the costs (about $100,000 per screen) and the necessity of conversion, as well as the difficulty of financing this type of cost for theaters operating on the margins. It’s easy to say that movie lovers still have unprecedented choices when it comes to art house and independent films–the VOD menus on most cable sites offer a massive “multiplex” on-demand for costs that aren’t that much higher than a movie ticket, but the cultural pleasures of getting out of the house, of watching with others, are in danger of fading away. I realize that I’m verging on some of the nostalgic language about a dying movie culture that I generally try to criticize, but it’s hard to keep a sense of critical distance when those industrial changes hit so close to home.

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