Archive for May, 2007

Thursday Links

Still writing for some relatively immediate deadlines, so just a quick pointer to a couple of links. I’m still apparently having problems with comments here (again, signing in through TypeKey seems to be working), which has made blogging seem like much more of a one-way activity lately and seems like it may be changing how I blog. Kathleen wrote recently about the ways in which blogging consistently changes the way she sees the world, and I think that my uncertainty about whether anyone is reading has changed how I blog, which in turn, may be changing how I see the world (and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of not commenting on others’ blogs as frequently as I should, especially now that I’m reading blogs through an RSS feed). I’m blogging relatively consistently this summer, but for whatever reason, the blog feels less like it’s part of a conversation and more like it’s part of a monologue.

At any rate, via Adrian, I just discovered that film and media scholar Sean Cubitt now has a blog. Given my own interests in the relationship between screen and media cultures and configurations of public and private, I was particularly taken by his discussion of Virilio and the iPod. I like his reading that one of the main distinctions between the iPod and the Walkman is the “shuffle” function, which perhaps intensifies the sense of privacy in public already associated with the Walkman.

Thanks to Tama’s delicious page, I also came across yet another trailer mashup, this time combining Star Wars with Boogie Nights, which is just a great combination on about fifty different levels. Enjoy.

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Local Professor Recycles Bottles…

…and makes the local news. I’m actually pretty annoyed that Fayetteville doesn’t have curbside recycling, so I’m happy to use a few seconds of my fifteen minutes of fame to push for a better recycling program. Yes, that’s me dropping off shopping bags full of beer bottles in the recycling bins in the video (not sure how much longer the video will be up, but it’s pretty amusing).

Comments, alas, still seem to be down (although they may be working now). For now, maybe, if you have comments, email them to me (chutry[at]msn[dot]com) and I’ll post them in the “extended entry” section of whatever post you want to address.

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The Summer Sizzle

A few days ago, I was interviewed by Fayetteville’s alternative weekly, Up and Coming Magazine, about the summer movie phenomenon, and while I was able to get across some basic points about summer movies, I can’t help but think that the article’s author and I were speaking at cross-purposes. While I did try to emphasize that there is some evidence that “tentpole movies routinely suck the air out of the box office,” as Charles Acland observes in Screen Traffic (a great book by the way), I didn’t intend to create such a polarized relationship between film franchises such as Spider-Man or Pirates of the Caribbean and independent filmmaking.

But I also found myself working against the author’s thesis that Hollywood movies are getting worse (something that got cut out of the final article). As the “Badger squad” discussion suggests, sequels are not automatically second-rate, nor do they imply that Hollywood is in a state of decline, and in fact, the trend towards serialized storytelling can open up possibilities not available in a single two-hour film (it’s also worth noting, as David Bordwell points out, that sequels have existed at least since Homer penned the Odyssey as a sequel to the Iliad).

More than anything, I was trying to challenge some of the assumptions typically found in many summer movies articles, but I’m not quite sure it worked. At any rate, I always find it jarring when I’m quoted by somebody else, so I find the article pretty frustrating, but I’m glad that I’m starting to connect with some of the folks in the arts community here in Fayetteville.

Comments seem to be down again. We’re working on it [updated to clarify/correct a couple of points].

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Tuesday Links

My original post on On the Lot disappeared, and I’m too busy to re-create it, but here’s the Cinematical review of the show best described as American Idol meets Project Greenlight minus Simon Cowell. I like the idea of a competition show about making movies, but a big part of the appeal of Idol has always been the liveness of the performances, something that is harder to reproduce in a moviemaking competition. Plus most of this week’s comedy shorts played like Farrely Brother scripts as directed by David Lynch–exquisite visuals to tell fart jokes. I want to like On the Lot, in part because the show seems to be working to cultivate an interesting online community, but so far I’m uninspired. Gabe at Gabe’s Declaration of Principles appears similarly unimpressed.

One of my projects this summer is a co-written article on political mashup videos. We’re obviously focusing on “Vote Different” and “George Bush’s Imagine,” but I found a few others I’d like to discuss, including this Godfather 4 trailer that satirizes the Department of Justice scandal. And while it’s not strictly a mashup, I find this Tom Tancredo 24 video very funny (although I imagine that the humor in this case is unintentional).

I can’t remember how I stumbled across the news about Jonathan Demme’s latest documentary, Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower 9th Ward, but it sounds like a compelling film, an important companion to Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke. From what I understand, the film will be playing at Silverdocs, but segments of the documentary will be airing on the Tavis Smiley Show (many of those segments are available online at the link above). More than anything, I think it’s important to continue to focus attention on the rebuilding process in New Orleans, and I’m glad that Demme is using his clout as a filmmaker to tell these stories. Felicia Lee has an article on Return in the New York Times (which may be where I learned about the film).

Also worth checking out: Jason Mittell crunches the box office numbers and debunks an article arguing that this year’s sequels are underperforming at the box office. In fact, Spidey 3, Shrek 3, and Pirates 3 are drawing about as well as, if not better than, the third films in most film cycles. And while not explicitly mentioned in Jason’s post, these sequels are also keeping alive all of teh ancillary sources of income associated with film franchises.

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Monday Links

Spent last night watching movies with friends until late into the night, so I’m getting a slow start this morning. Worth mentioning: we caught Adrienne Shelly’s Waitress at the local art house. Like Film Snob, I enjoyed the film’s primary framing device, Jenna’s (Keri Russell) habit of inventing new pies to reflect her current mood (I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie), and while Film Snob is probably right to point to some narrative gaps, Waitress, which I found to be far less self-consciously quirky than last year’s Little Miss Sunshine, generally hit the right marks for me. More than anything, I enjoyed the camaraderie among the three waitresses (Russell, Shelly, and Cheryl Hines). It’s a nice antidote to the blockbusters that tend to dominate the summer schedule.

I also wanted to mention, at least in passing, the fan uprising to save the CBS series Jericho, one of my favorite new shows in 2006. Virginia Heffernan is reporting on a campaign to send thousands of pounds of peanuts to CBS headquarters to protest the series’ cancellation (the use of “nuts” refers to a specific line from the show during a confrontation with a neighboring town). So far over 14,000 pounds have been received, according to Nancy Baym, who has also written extensively on the fight to save Jericho. Baym also discusses the anti-fan backlash when the fight to save Jericho got Slashdotted. I may return to this topic in the next few days in my next column for Flow, which will come out in just over a week.

Baym also has a post about the very cool project, Pop Songs 07, in which Matthew Perpetua is posting mini-reviews of every R.E.M. song. Growing up near Athens, GA, in the 1980s, I “discovered” R.E.M. relatively early, so this project not only taps into my mini-music geek but also into my memories of listening to the band. As Baym points out, the reviews have inspired some interesting conversations about those kinds of memories, about politics, and even the songs themselves.

Comments may be working soon. I was able to leave a comment by signing into TypeKey, so if you feel so inclined, you should be able to comment that way. But we should have comments working correctly soon.

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638 Ways to Kill Castro

I received a review copy of Dollan Cannell’s 638 Ways to Kill Castro (IMDB) a few weeks ago but haven’t had time to review it because of a variety of circumstances–including some technical difficulties with the blog. It’s also one of those documentaries that confounds any kind of immediate response, in part because of the twisted political relationship between the US and Cuba, one that has been in the news quite a bit lately because of Castro’s health problems (old age may finally do what the CIA could not) and because of Michael Moore’s depiction of the Cuban health system in Sicko (or more precisely Fred Thompson’s depiction of Sicko).

638 Ways takes its title from the extensive catalog of assassination attempts compiled by Fabian Escalante, who has written a book by the same title. But instead of offering a somber, overly serious treatment of these attempts, Cannell’s film borrows from B-movies and detective films in depicting the often bumbling attempts to take out Cuba’s longtime leader. Many of these attempts–which included a CIA plot to put a beard-removal substance on Castro’s shoes, an exploding cigar, a poisoned wetsuit–are the stuff of bad spy movies, or at least bad James Bond villains, which makes this B-movie approach seem rather fitting (in fact, according to the Guardian article on the film, John Kennedy actually consulted Bond author Ian Fleming). This B-movie technique has the approach of satirizing Castro’s would-be assassins, many of whom were willing to appear in the film, but it also has the effect of trivializing Cuba’s human rights record, which is far from perfect. In fact, the film offers only minimal insight into Castro or the specifics of the Cuban government, which likely means that the film will do little to change perceptions of Castro, socialism, or Cuba itself as a country.

That being said, I think it’s worth emphasizing and criticizing US policy towards Cuba, specifically the widely documented assassination tries and the other attempts at regime change (including, of course, the Bay of Pigs fiasco). And while the accounting system that identifies 638 different assassination attempts might exaggerate things slightly, the film raises important questions about the US role in Cuba, with Escalante asserting that there have been multiple attempts on Castro’s life under every US president since Eisenhower. And as Cannell points out in the Guardian article, the film addresses important questions about how the US government defines terrorism: “what shrieks at you is the double standard.”

The film’s website has a number of articles about Cuba and Castro and features a number of clips from the film itself. I continue to be fascinated by the access Cannell received to people who might, under other circumstances, be labeled as terrorists and continue to think about the film’s resonances with contemporary events, including Moore’s depiction of Cuba in Sicko. Comments are currently down, so if you have anything you’d like to add, feel free to email me (chutry[at]msn[dot]com) and I’ll include reactions in updated versions of this entry.

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Lazy Sunday Links

Thanks to some thunderstorms near Chicago, I returned from my visit to Champaign very late last night, so I’ve spent much of the morning recovering from the trip. I very much enjoyed my visit, especially catching up with old friends, but I was also vividly reminded of why I enjoyed my two years as an instructor at the University of Illinois. Champaign-Urbana is an underrated college community, even livelier than I remembered.

But because of the travel and a general desire to escape from the wired world for a few days, I’ve fallen way behind the rest of the blogosphere, so here are a few links that I’ve been following this morning over my second–soon to be third–cup of coffee:

  • It’s somewhat old by internet standards (it was posted a month ago), but I think this “Introducing the Book” skit from Danish television, in which a medieval reader is being introduced to the book as if by an IT expert is pretty funny. It might also fun to watch in a media studies class.
  • There are some interesting conversations going on over at Dr. Mabuse’s place. One of the most interesting is the discussion of Cinema Tour, a website devoted “to thoroughly research and document the locations and histories of cinemas throughout the world.” This prompts Jason to propose a game in which he asks whether you can remember where you saw a specific film. I generally have a pretty good memory for this sort of thing, and in some cases, I can even remember the specific screen on which I watched a certain film. But Cinema Tour looks like a great resource for people interested in screen culture.
  • Jason also has an interesting post on the politics of cinephilia, something I’ve been thinking about in my own work lately (Jason includes a mention of Richard Porton’s Cineaste essay, “The Politics of American Cinephilia,” which I need to revisit).
  • On a related note, Michael at Zigzigger offers a useful taxonomy of film blogs in order to give that discussion a little more (media) specificity.
  • Finally, the Cinecultist points to Mike Mills and Miranda July’s Blonde Redhead video. Enjoy.

In other news, I read most of Michael Chabon’s latest novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union during various legs of my travels this week, and I’m very much enjoying it. Hopefully more on that at some point.

Update: Forgot to mention that comments are still down because of ongoing security issues. We’re working on it.

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Wide Awake and Storming the Gates

Lots happening at the home office of The Chutry Experiment. I’ve been frantically finishing an article that I’d temporarily shelved, hence the relative blog silence (said article is now in the mail). And later this week, I’ll be traveling to Champaign, Illinois to visit some very good friends of mine. It’ll be great to see them again, and I’m also looking forward to seeing Chamapign, where I lived for two years while finishing my PhD.

I’m revisiting some of my work on documentary this summer and I happened to notice an advertisement for Alan Berliner’s latest documentary, Wide Awake, which deals with insomnia. There’s an “insomniac premiere” Tuesday night at 1:30AM. Since I’ll probably be awake–I’ve fallen deep into my summer schedule–I may try to watch, but as a fan of Berliner’s The Sweetest Sound, I’m curious to see what he’s doing in his latest doc.

Comments are still down, so I’ve been posting elsewhere when I think it’s relevant. If you’re so inclined, check out my latest contribution to the blogger-critic fray, a response to Richard Schickel’s remarkably undemocratic anti-blogger screed.

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100 Movies and More

Like Michael, I really enjoyed the 100 Movies 100 Quotes 100 Days montage on YouTube, which counts down from 100 using quotes from Hollywood films. It’s a gentle parody of the AFI video montages, but the video also wears its fannish enjoyment of the movies on its sleeve, relishing both classical and contemporary Hollywood films. Michael mentions Clint Eastwood, but there’s also Humphrey Bogart, Bettie Davis (at #32), and, my personal fave: Emilio Estevez talking about fake IDs.

Still having some trouble posting entries here (and with comments as well), so I may re-post this and some other material over at Newcritics, just because I’ve been a slacker about posting over there.

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Still Blogging Elsewhere

Still having problems with Movable Type, so for now, I just wanted to point to a couple of posts on my temporary Tumblr blog. One post focuses on my interest in the recent controversy over Michael Moore’s Sicko, specifically Moore’s open letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson regarding the investigation into Moore taking 9/11 workers to Cuba for medical treatment. Of course the controversy will do nothing other than serve to further promote Moore’s film.

Also worth noting: Two excellent posts at Dr. Mabuse on Julia Lesage’s article on film blogging and social bookmarking. I’m working through some of these ideas for the book chapter I’m revising, so the discussion has been especially fruitful (and I’d encourage others to join in).

Also intrigued by the new documentary, Trailer Trash: A Film Journal, which apparently makes extensive use of home movies in relating a family drama. Comments still aren’t working, but hopefully things will be back to normal soon.

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Blog Issues

Looks like we’re continuing to have security problems with comments, which means that comments probably aren’t working right now (and may not be for the next few days). The Wordherders are in the process of moving to Word Press, which may, of course, take a few days. I’ll keep everyone posted on all the changes that are taking place.

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Blogs, Reviews, and Buzz

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists has another interesting discussion this week. This time, they’re addressing whether “buzz” belongs in film reviews. In particular, they’re looking at the recent examples of gossip about Lindsay Lohan’s partying in reviews of Georgia Rule and details of Adrienne Shelley’s untimely death in reviews of Waitress. Interesting question, because in some cases, repeating such buzz may put the reviewer in the position of promoting the film by repeating what amounts to studio publicity (I’m thinking here of something like the Brad-Angelina gossip that was used to promote Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the Jennifer-Vince rumors that were used to promote the stunningly mediocre Break Up).

But because I see the publicity as part of the film’s overall meaning, I have to admit that I think it’s inappropriate to completely ignore this kind of buzz. It would be impossible to view Georgia Rule completely in a vacuum, and Lohan’s partying ways will inevitably inform how we view her character. But there’s a second issue for me when it comes to Lohan, and it’s the gender double-standard when it comes to partying. In her response to this question, Eleanor Ringel mentions the ways in which Lohan’s partying seems to be treated much differently in the press than, say, Johnny Depp’s behavior when he was a young star trashing hotel rooms.

The Shelley case seems a bit more complicated. In a sense, knowledge about her death shouldn’t matter, but I can’t imagine watching or writing about the film without thinking about it (Waitress doesn’t come to Fayetteville until May 25th). Again, the discussions taking place at the AWFJ blog are worth checking out, especially given the ongoing conversations about the new directions that film reviews and criticism are taking.

Note: I had trouble posting this entry earlier today, so reposting to see if things are working properly. In other news, I’ve accepted an invitation to post occasionally at the very cool Newcritics blog. More on that in the next few days.

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Year of the Dog

For well over four years, I’ve written blog reviews–more precisely responses–to virtually every film I’ve seen in a movie theater. A 4/4 teaching load and some other priorities have made such a task impossible to sustain. More crucially, I’m not enjoying writing the responses as much as I used to. This change of heart coincides with, but isn’t really related to, last week’s dust-up about blogging film critics or cloggers or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days.

I’m still planning to blog about most of the films that I watch but in a less formal way. It’s probably no accident that my decision to change my blogging practices occurred after seeing Mike White’s Year of the Dog, a self-consciously quirky indie film that seemed to be about being a Self-Consciously Quirky Indie Film more than anything else. And I’m not sure if what follows counts as a review as much as a mini-rant about a certain mode of indie filmmaking.

I wanted to like the film quite a bit more than I did. Molly Shannon’s Peggy, an unmarried thirty-something woman who has her comfortable life shattered when her pet beagle dies suddenly, isn’t a character who normally appears a lead character in a Hollywood film. And I could easily get behind a film that affirmed Peggy’s freedom to be single, quirky, and weird. But I could never quite grasp what the film’s attitude was towards Peggy. White seems to be aligned with other misanthropic indie filmmakers such as Alexander Payne and Todd Solondz, and while a film shouldn’t feel obligated to like its lead character, the coldness of Year of the Dog, especially towards its female characters is what stuck with me, and Dog is absolutely icy towards Peggy’s over-protective sister-in-law, Bret (played by Laura Dern).

If I were writing a regular review, I’d probably also complain about the third-act disappearance of Newt (Peter Saarsgard), an animal rescue worker who seems like a potential suitor for Peggy, but whose sexuality is so ambiguous that reviewers have read him as straight but celibate, gay, and just plain celibate. White has assembled some interesting characters (again, with the exception of Bret, who isn’t remotely funny as satire), but the film stopped well short of doing anything interesting with them.

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Up in Smoke

Just noticed the news that the MPAA has decided to take cigarette smoking into consideration in assigning ratings for its films. Movies that “glamorize” cigarette smoking or depict “pervasive” smoking may now receive R ratings according to this policy. MPAA chief Dan Glickman notes that some people have lobbied for an automatic R-rating for any film that depicts cigarette smoking, and while the MPAA wisely chose a less stringent policy, the new policy still seems overly restrictive, and it opens up a gray area that is likely to harm smaller films that tackle subjects in an insightful, reflective manner.

Kind of makes you wonder whether Thank You for Smoking would now get an NC-17 for excessive promotion of tobacco use.

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Blogger Critics Redux

I’ll try to return in a more focused way to this topic later, but for now some links to various versions of the ongoing and quickly evolving conversation about blogging and film critcism.

First, Anthony clarifies yesterday’s post and points to Kurt Cobain About a Son filmmaker AJ Schnack’s contribution to the discussion. I think AJ is right to distinguish between film bloggers and IMDB commenters, which AJ calls “online know-it-alls” or OKIAs, and to raise questions about what exactly constitutes an “average” moviegoer and how those moviegoers might be using film blogs to make decisions about what movies they watch. There is an issue of “taste” that needs to be considered here and those readers who consult OKIAs rather than Manohla Dargis or A.O. Scott probably already recognize that they fit into the taste community addressed by the OKIAs.

That being said, Anne Thompson has pointed to some of the fundamental economic and industrial shifts that are rapidly changing the status of the film critic, with many critics being fired or replaced by wire services or other cheaper alternatives. Most recently affected is Eleanor Ringel-Gillespie, who was replaced after thirty years of service by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by a wire service. Because I grew up reading the AJC, I know Ringel-Gillespie’s reviews rather well and always appreciated her work (even if I didn’t always agree), and I’m dissapointed by the AJC’s decision.

There’s a much longer disussion of this issue at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists that is worth checking out. They point out that while the media landscape is clearly changing, “moviegoers have relationships–love ‘em or hate ‘em–with their local movie reviewers. Local critics provide priceless perspectives that simply cannot be replaced.” In reading through the AWFJ article, however, I’m wondering the real villain isn’t the film blogger but media consolidation itself as media conglomerates increasingly find ways to reduce expenses. I do think it’s important to preserve these local perspectives, and I think AJC readers will quickly discover that the paper is underestimating Ringel-Gillespie’s valuable contribution to the city’s film coverage.

There’s also an elitist assumption going around that most film bloggers are merely celebrating the popular, that they are complicit with the ongoing “homogenization” of mass culture, which strikes me as a serious misreading of what many film bloggers are doing. Certainly a number of film bloggers go out of their way to promote independent and non-US cinemas rather than merely adding to the noise about the latest franchise film to hit the local megaplex (on five screens!). It’s probably also worth noting that these discussions of the state of film criticism usually take place over the summer when the biggest excesses of Hollywood are most visible and when the gap between critical perspectives on Hollywood films and populist tastes are probably at their widest.

Somewhat unrelated: Ted Pigeon has an interesting reading of Dargis’s article on the relationship between the critic and the modern blockbuster. That being said, I’m not sure I agree with many of Dargis’s conclusions. I don’t think that negative critical opinion of Top Gun or 300 necessarily derives from the “literary bent” of critics who are horrified at the “infection” of movies by MTV or videogame aesthetics. While I more or less enjoyed Top Gun when it came out (I was about 12 years old at the time), it’s the film’s politics that troubled me, not some other aesthetic form that threatened the “purity” of cinema. I don’t think that many film critics object to action sequences if they’re well done–witness the critical praise for Spider-Man 2, which probably helped feed the disappointment over the more recent film. That being said, I’m probably inherently suspicious of any film whose budget exceeds that of a small country, in part because as the budget increases, there’s less space for taking certain kinds of risks.

I need to get back to some last-minute grading (and some other work that has been on my desk for a while), but David at Green Cine also points to a few more articles that are discussing the changing role of the film critic.

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