Posts Tagged ‘A.O. Scott’

Still from Charles Burnett’s classic Killer of Sheep

For Black History Month, film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott of the New York Times have compiled an interactive list of culturally, artistically, and historically important motion pictures.  This resource is quite valuable and can also serve as a springboard for interesting discussion.  Along with the movies they have chosen — one per day for the month of February — there are many others noted in their comments and footnotes.  Many directors and other figures from film history who are featured in Moving Images, such as Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee, and Charles Burnett, are highlighted among the selections.

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Squad Goals: ya better nail this one or else! Exec. Prod. and UPM of Suicide Squad on set.

Squad Goals : ya better nail this one or else !     Exec. Prod. & UPM of Suicide Squad on set.

Quick little follow-up to this week’s theme of summer blockbusters: what will be the latest flavors and trends to super-hero movies when Suicide Squad splashes (or maybe splatters) onto screens this week?  Batman v. Superman may have hauled in some cash, but it was quite roundly vilified by critics – check out this selection of quotes from reviews by major critics (and reviewing director Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, A.O. Scott commented “brutality is not merely part of Mr. Snyder’s repertory of effects; it is more like a cause, a principle, an ideology” — a cause to which the director applies himself in movie after movie, apparently).  It will be interesting to see how the reception of Suicide Squad plays itself out and impacts the ever-expanding D.C.-verse in moviedom, with Marvel watching from across the street (and next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy waiting in the wings).

P.S.: A week later, the reviews are in.  Not a big surprise, but still… it is rather funny.  Joe Morgenstern’s review for The Wall Street Journal is worth quoting: “In a word, Suicide Squad is trash. In two words, it’s ugly trash. Maybe no more words should be wasted on a movie that is, after all, only a movie, not a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Still, movies contribute to the collective awareness. They can color the way we feel about the life around us. This one deserves further attention by virtue of its exceptional cynicism and startling ineptitude. Suicide Squad amounts to an all-out attack on the whole idea of entertainment.” Or the title to Michael O’Sullivan’s for The Washington Post: ‘Suicide Squad’ is as bad as you’ve heard.

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This is where it started: the original story by Chris Claremont with art by John Byrne – the graphic novel can be used in a lesson comparing media and critiquing adaptations

Let’s take a visit to the world of writers today!  For those of you either teaching or learning about the meaning of the word “exposition,” please go and see X-Men: Days of Future Past.  There’s lots on display there.

Speaking of writing, there are two wonderful examples of the craft of fine writing to be found this weekend at the New York Times: A.O. Scott’s reviews of the X-Men movie and Blended are absolutely brilliant.  I particularly recommend his review of Blended; there you will find the best summary of the “Adam Sandler” movie experience that I have seen to date, such as “There are comedians who mine their own insecurities for material. Mr. Sandler, in his recent films, compensates for his by building monuments to his own ego. In Blended, he once again proclaims himself both über-doofus and ultimate mensch, disguising his tireless bullying in childish voices and the ironclad alibis of fatherhood and grief.”  A.O. Scott concludes the piece on Blended with the rating description: “Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It will make your children stupid.”  

Every once in a while, some students will select Adam Sandler movies as a topic of study (for example, those directed by Dennis Dugan, or “Double D” as the last presenters called him), and I have to watch snippets from a variety of Mr. Sandler’s films.  I think I am going to have A.O. Scott’s review of Blended made into a poster and put on my classroom wall.  Media literacy includes examples of brilliant critical writing too, after all.

Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project and screenwriter Pamela Gray, seated

Barry Scheck of Innocence Project and Pamela Gray

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past with my eldest son this weekend, and before the movie we were barraged with the onslaught of previews for brain-frying movies that are about to arrive: Let’s Be Cops, 22 Jump Street, The Expendables 3, Kingsman, and…oh, here’s a “woman’s movie” — Lucy (starring the consistently superb Scarlett Johansson).  Ah, Luc Besson is back with the latest incarnation of his adolescent “perfect woman” fantasies that he can’t move on from (La Femme Nikita, Fifth Element, Angel-A, etc.), along with his usual vicious Asian stereotypes and more.  I’ll pass.  So, a propos of all this, I would like to bring up this article about a recent talk with screenwriter Pamela Gray (Conviction, A Walk on the Moon), who is featured in our From Page to Screen Close-Up interview.  Watching those trailers, I couldn’t help but think about these lines from the Golden Gate Xpress article, “Gray also said that what she really writes are character-driven screenplays, and that most of hers just happen to involve female leads. She said the challenge is not writing for these women, but instead lies in the sexism of the industry: ‘What’s more difficult is getting those movies made (and) finding assignments with good females roles,’ Gray said. ‘There are fewer and fewer of those assignments now.'”  So, perhaps that is your assignment right now for your media literacy and production class!

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Director Francis Lawrence measures up a shot with Jennifer Lawrence on Catching Fire

Director Francis Lawrence measures up a shot with Jennifer Lawrence on Catching Fire

This week, there was a post on Yahoo News comparing the Hunger Games movies and offering an explanation as to “why Catching Fire is superior to the first Hunger Games movie”— which is that it was shot in 35mm. with “old lenses!”  (I have to add that I have been astonished at the degree to which it has become a meme that the second Hunger Games movie is infinitely superior; literally every adolescent that I’ve heard talk about the movies says this, and some then go on to describe the first movie as if it were shot by a detoxing wedding videographer with a Fisher-Price handycam.)

jennifer-Lawrence-on-fire-in-New-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-TrailerSince issues concerning evolving platforms for image capture (both digital and celluloid-based) are addressed in Chapter 4 of Moving Images and a few of my mediateacher.net blog posts, I had to laugh when I read this article and thought, “It’s nice to see this much passion about cinematography in a Yahoo article!”  At the same time, I remarked, “Hmmm, the writer needs a few lessons — after all, the first Hunger Games movie was shot in 35 as well!”  This is why an understanding of Storytelling with Light from Moving Images can be so beneficial: One must look at all the decisions being made by director, cinematographer, and the lighting and art direction personnel on the movie that craft its look (and vfx too!).  It’s how you create and work with the light and all of the things that it’s bouncing off of.  In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out the clip from the Catching Fire Blu-Ray: it includes many interesting observations by cinematographer Jo Willems and director Francis Lawrence about visual communication, including selecting aspect ratio, working with film negative, devising approaches to shot selection through choice of lenses (such as the effect of using wider lenses on a project), and going “old school” in general.

aviatorAs an additional note, for those interested in the craft of acting, there was a superb piece on Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence by Manohla Dargis in this past Sunday’s New York Times, while for fans of Leonardo DiCaprio, a paired article by A.O. Scott was just as compelling.  Both essays from the Times “Awards Season” series provide excellent discussion points for thoughtful debates about contemporary movies and American culture.

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Dee Rees, director of "Pariah" (Chad Batka, NYTimes)

Dee Rees, director of “Pariah” (Chad Batka, NYTimes)

One investigative project that I often assign in Introductory Media Literacy courses is to have students present the work of a contemporary filmmaker, including thematic, biographical, and artistic analyses.  Here’s a useful article by critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott of the New York Times in which they offer a list of 20 young filmmakers singled out for the value of their recent work and the promise of more movies to come, including Dee Rees, Sarah Polley, Andrew Bujalski, J.C. Chandor, and others.  It can be very informative for teachers and students (great for college students, but with caution in regards to high school classes where editorial oversight for content is advised) and can bring fresh perspectives to most average viewers.  The point is that there are many great movies out there, even if they are not getting to your local megaplex.  And for those of us who are teachers, bringing a little bit of the big, enlightening, provoking, questioning, enriching world into our students’ lives is cause for exploration.  Check it out.

(Note to Ms. Dargis and Mr. Scott: many of these directors are 40-ish years old.  For us educators, we can tell you that for our students that’s not even close to being young.)

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Rachel McAdams in production still from Brian De Palma’s “Passion” shot in 35mm, victim of a digital mishap at 2012 NYFF

Catastrophe at the 50th New York Film Festival: for a gala opening of Brian De Palma’s Passion, just as the screening was about to begin, the digitally based copy … wouldn’t play.  The projectionists frantically tried to get the Digital Cinema Package (DCP) to work – it had functioned earlier in the day – but it just would not run.  They did not solve the problem, and the movie was not seen, which was disastrous for the festival and a major letdown for those in attendance, notably director Brian De Palma.

Stills from Studio Cinemas in Tours, France (photos Carl Casinghino)

In earlier posts, I have discussed the recent flurry of articles, movies, and general discussion about the enormous changes in media creation through the shift to digital moviemaking and projection; in particular, declarations of “film is dead.”  (I recommend this discussion between Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott from the New York Times.)   In fact, when I looked up information on the Passion premiere debacle, I ended up on message boards of digital projectionists and obsessives who were all dismissive of the failure at the NYFF and saying, essentially, “oh, so what” and in any case…”film” pretty much doesn’t exist any more.

One point I have not seen raised anywhere is the fact that the key to this entire discussion is linguistic.  At the time of Edison’s Kinetoscope and the Lumière Brothers’ Cinematograph, the word in English used for a transparent, supple, thin strip of celluloid (later polyester) coated with a light-sensitive emulsion was “film.”  When moviemakers took that material and recorded moving images on these bands of “film,” and then began cutting up these strips of celluloid and repasting them together, they were producing something new.

What to call it?  Well, in English, one of the words was “film.”  They simply used the same word to describe a motion picture generally intended as an attraction for theatrical distribution, whether a short or feature.  They did not make up a new word, although others have been used such as the phrases “motion pictures” and “moving pictures,” shortened to “movies.”  But the foremost word that stuck was “film” for these two things.    

So, now since in English we settled on the same word for these two distinctly different concepts, there is a debate about the end of seeing “a film” because you are not watching it “on film.”  But what if the words were not the same?  Well, they are not in some other languages.  In French, the actual roll of film is called “la pellicule” while the thing you watch is “un film”;  it is essentially the same in Italian and Spanish.  Let us remember what we are debating.  The specifics of this argument hinge completely on a linguistic distinction; if there had been another word for this different thing, we would not be having this particular debate, at least not in these terms.

I did face this issue when I wrote Moving Images.  I decided generally to call what we are watching “moving images” or “movies” or “motion pictures.”  But whatever the case I’ll still sometimes say I’m going to watch a film when I’m going to the cinema; even if it has been shot digitally and is being projected digitally, what I am going to see is at its core the same thing as what people have described as “a film” for over a century.

Digital technicians repair and update equipment at an independent cinema

I would also like to add thanks to Studio Cinémas in Tours, France (soon celebrating their 50th anniversary) for their hospitality and generosity to me during a visit last summer in which I met with Tarik Roukba and Jérémie Monmarché to discuss the role of independent cinemas in France regarding media education and public schools.  It was also enjoyable to discuss many topics concerning issues facing independent cinemas in France and throughout the world, including the conversion to digital projection and the archiving of films in the 21st century.  I chuckled when I read about the issues experienced at this year’s New York Film Festival, particularly with respect to “disappearing subtitles” for the Mexican film Here and There, which is a problem Studio Cinémas has encountered along with other digital mishaps that plague projections today.  Previously, their projectionist could repair equipment and deal with nearly all the technical problems they would face; now they must have technicians come to the cinema to deal with the glitches and breakdowns occurring in the bytes that form our moving images.

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Stills from The Avengers with cinematography by Seamus McGarvey

Right now, the memeisphere seems to be abuzz with folks talking about where we are at with the state of the actual stuff called “film” and how media industries have become a digital game overall.  Here is a discussion (“Film is Dead?  Long Live Movies”) between the two chief movie critics for the New York Times, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis about what has been gained, what could be lost, and where things stand between practicality, economics, creativity, and other factors nestled between the pixels and emulsion of moving images.

In this interview, Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey talks about his work on the biggest hit of this moviegoing year, The Avengers.  He discusses shooting digitally, including significant use of greenscreen, and there are excellent perspectives on the use of 3D, particularly its limitations.  He has mentioned elsewhere that some shots in the movie were recorded with an iPhone 4.

Joss Whedon, Captain Avenger (Image credit: Zade Rosenthal)

Speaking of inventive use of the new landscapes of our fluxing world of moving images, here is where you can find some of the most recent mischief of the director of The Avengers, Joss Whedon (along with Ira Glass of This American Life and Mike Birbiglia, the star of Sleepwalk with Me).  As usual, great fun – and inspiration too – can be had when exploring Joss Whedon’s work as he messes around with genres and platforms and finds new ways to explore character, story, emotions, and creative expression in the rapidly evolving worlds of contemporary media (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Firefly to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – and its inventive DVD – to, of course, The Avengers).  And here is a revealing perspective from Samuel L. Jackson about his work with Whedon on The Avengers.  

One last note: yes, it’s the start of a new school year!  So, fellow teachers, here’s a promise: I will be back SOON with new support and ideas concerning Chapter 1 of Moving Images.  

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