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In the Bleak Midwinter: Remembering A Midwinter's Tale

A Midwinter's Tale

I mentioned earlier on both Tumblr and Twitter that the only holiday-themed film I'll admit to liking (because I'm generally a surly, Scrooge-like character) is Remember the Night, the 1940 Preston Sturges-written film starring Barbra Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. While that under-appreciated gem deserves all mentions it gets, I belatedly realized that comment of mine wasn't entirely true. There is another film that takes place during the holidays that I'll freely acknowledge I treasure: Kenneth Branagh's 1995 A Midwinter's Tale.

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In Which the Author Discusses Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

tmnt

This is what happens when I let the blog go on auto-pilot as it's been for the past few months - I miss reporting important news such as the announcement of a forthcoming new live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. My sincerest apologies.

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Cinematypography

I love it when I can touch on more than one of my pet interests at the same time. Here David Corti combines design and film in Cinematypography.

Comic-Con Diary: Where the Girls Are

Have I mentioned that film blogger Karina Longworth is one of my favorite writers on the web? Well, she is:

But linguistic clumsiness aside, panel after panel featured actresses, who should have better things to do, endlessly discussing their own physical attributes, as the young men in the audience continually made it clear that this was all they were interested in. When asked how playing the girlfriend role in the third Mummy film differed from her usual day at the office, Maria Bello answered, "Well, I'm not naked in this film!" Cue the smirking slur from a young gentleman in the crowd: "Wow, that was the wrong thing to say. They just lost my ticket."

Long Way Down

I just started reading Long Way Round, the memoir written by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman about their motorcycle journey around the world. Very interesting stuff. They took a second trip as well, from Scotland to South Africa (the first went from London to New York), and, in addition to the book, filmed both journeys. The first documentary aired on the BBC - the second, Long Way Down, will show in a number of theaters on July 31, for one time only.

McGregor also talks with the /film podcast about the journey.

Oh, Here We Go - The Women

I've been complaining about the forthcoming remake of 1939's The Women for quite some time, even before it was given a definite release date. That's some dedicated whining. And now that the remake is scheduled to be unleashed upon us this September, I can take my whining to a whole new wonderful level.

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Saturday Morning Podcast - Movies by Women

If you're into issues of women and film, you'll probably want to subscribe to this still fairly new podcast from Movies by Women - but even if you're not, you might want to swing by and pick up the latest episode, 15, about the early women of Hollywood. (Note - the blog is out of date, but there's a link to the iTunes spot where you can download each episode.) Author Cari Beauchamp has some wonderful stories to tell about some of Hollywood's earliest writers and directors, who, amazingly enough, were women. It's strange to think that women were actually more powerful in film during the first couple decades of the twentieth century than they are now in the first decade of the twenty-first. But their stories are fascinating.

Rebels by Proxy

In the "Rebel Genre" there are three kinds of feminine prototypes: The Vixen, The Good Girl and the Rebel by Proxy. The Rebel by Proxy was an especially strong concept in 1950s and 1960s, when The (Male) Rebel was still being defined and the fact of his having a strong female lead was in negotiation. After all, we wouldn't want The Rebel to be domesticated by love now would we?

Pop Feminist discusses Rebels by Proxy.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead

I'm not too sure about this film. It looks like it will either be awesome or horrible, or possibly awesomely horrible. But I like dark humor, I like vampires, and I like playing with Shakespearean themes, so we'll see.

In the meantime, enjoy a bit from the film version of Tom Stoppard's original Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:

Spout @ Cannes - with Indy

Karina Longworth at the Spout Blog has the best report thus far from the Cannes Film Festival. By the way - you can keep the less-than-stellar Indiana Jones reviews coming all day long, folks. It's not going to change my burning desire to see it one bit.

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The Obligatory Sex and the City Post

I suppose as a blogger who regularly dispenses unsolicited opinions about female issues in film media, the premiere of the Sex and the City movie means I have to do this.

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Kate @ 101

kate

Today, the twelfth of May, would have been Katharine Hepburn's 101st birthday.

So, starting today, blogger Aerien will be posting an image and quote from Miss Kate until she hits 101 of them. Interesting project, and one I'll keep checking in on.

(Hat tip: The Film Experience.)

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Celebrating Old Movie Houses

old movie house

A collection of photos of and links to sites about classic movie theaters.

The Demise of the 'Chick Flick'

I could not have possibly said it better myself:

The fact that these movies [non-traditional female-led films] have been hits, while films like The Holiday, Music and Lyrics, and 27 Dresses have failed to reap huge profits, should be a wakeup call to producers. These high-budget flops all feature white, ultra-skinny heroines prancing against the backdrop of suburban mansions or windowed penthouses. I know they take place in cities, or towns, but I'm not sure which ones. The heroines dress fabulously and have nary a wrinkle, or an accent of any kind, and usually lack back-stories or families - or even much personality besides a frenetic cutesiness. And even when they do feature unusual characters, they ignore them.

It's definitely time to define "movies interesting to women" as something else than the bland, formulaic and privileged territory currently allotted to the chick flick genre.

The 24-Hour Ohio SciFi Marathon

The 25-Annual 24-Hour Ohio SciFi Marathon is set and ready to go for 19-20 April at the Drexel in Bexley. You can get the schedule at their site, plus the intriguing news that The Day the Earth Stood Still star (and The Fountainhead and other classic films), Patricia Neal, will be attending.

(Hat tip: Film School Rejects.)

Noir Monday: The Trial

This is a deliberately unconventional pick. Orson Welles directed many other films that fit better into the noir canon - The Stranger, The Lady from Shanghai, and the film noir to end all films noir (literally), Touch of Evil - but The Trial is a newfound favorite of mine.

I'm not going go into too much detail with it, because discussing enough details to give the movie justice would quickly expand this post into book-length. But The Trial is a cinematic adaptation of Franz Kafka's novel, turned by Welles into a sharply stylistic, brutally beautiful dream of oppression and death. In a very loose sense, it's very noir-like in its themes (complete with some mysteriously dangerous dames). It's almost a meta-noir. It's also essential for any noir fan to watch, if only to compare to the other, more conventional offerings.

Pixar Girl Hero on the Horizon

Pixar has finally seemed to answer the question of when we're going to see a Pixar film with a female main character with the announcement of their upcoming slate of movies and the planned 2011 release of The Bear and the Bow, an action/adventure retelling of a Scottish tale of a rebellious heroine. It also boasts a female director and producer. I have high hopes for this one, but since it sounds like a different route for Pixar to take, we'll have to see. The rest of the forthcoming Disney/Pixar films (barring the unfortunate "Fairies" DVD series, which looks like sparkly little girl bait and nothing more) also look pretty great.

Cinematic Titanic

I've mentioned the other MST3K alumni's RiffTrax project in the past, but I don't think the topic of Cinematic Titanic has come up yet - which is clearly a horrible oversight, because it looks like a lot of fun:

You can download the episode or order the DVD.

Spike Lee, Instigator

I thought it was kind of silly when, a few years ago, Spike Lee tried to sue Spike TV over their name (although, occasionally, I'd like to punish them as well for forcing me to sit through commercials for the Ultimate Fighters Reality Show when I just want to catch the odd episode of Star Trek: Voyager, but that's another issue). However, I'm pleased to know that, in general, he's fighting more important battles. For instance, when he recently received Chrysler's sixth annual Behind the Lens award, he politely thanked them all - and then let loose a torrent of accusations about the lack of diversity in the film industry and the difficulty of getting worthwhile film financed:

He started with financing difficulties for indie films. "I took my ass on a plane to Europe and got the financing for this film," Lee said of his latest joint, the World War II drama "Miracle of St. Anna." "So, as Malcolm (X) said, the struggle is far from over."

And:

Lee continued on what he called his "little tirade," addressing the African-American industryites in the audience and telling them it didn't matter what kind of car they drove or how big their houses are, "we're way behind in film."

The author of the article keeps framing Lee's quotes as "jokes" and "quips," but I don't think he was joking. If an established and honored director such as Lee can't even get films financed, what are chances of currently unknown minority directors doing the same?

Our New Heroine - Lynn Hershman Leeson

Wow, if there ever were a piece to be featured here on my blog, this one from io9 is it: Bio-Art Is Not a Crime, an interview with director Lynn Hershman Leeson about her new film, Strange Culture, her old films (all with heavy doses of technology and art exploration), the role of women in technological innovation, and the challenges of female filmmakers. It's all my favorite discussion topics rolled up into one.

I have yet to become familiar with much of her work: Lynn's first film, 1997's Conceiving Ada, has been on my list to see for a long time, but tracking down a copy wasn't easy (finally have it in my GreenCine queue). But it's a scientific time-travel story involving Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron's daughter, and the first computer programmer) and actress Tilda Swinton, so I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy it. Time to bump it up in the queue, I think.

Lynn's official site is at lynnhershman.com.

Movies Are Not Pills To Make You Feel Better

Movies are not supposed to be pills that you take to feel better. They're not travelling carnivals with elephants and jugglers. They're supposed to be aesthetic journeys and emotional hikes that get us in touch with things that too many of us tend to push away (or anesthetize ourselves from) in our day to day. They're supposed to be compressions and condensations that create indelible moments, insights and excavations into our collective soul.

Jeffery Wells addresses the "didn't see 'em" (as in Oscar-nominated films) factor.

Via Kottke.

Coraline Teaser

After the trailer for the upcoming 3-D movie version of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, one of my favorite books, was leaked to the internet, the studio went ahead and released their own, higher-quality one. I have some trepidation about seeing a book I love through another's perspective, which I generally have with all movies adapted from books - but, beyond that, I'm excited to see this.

Iranian Filmmaker Tehmineh Milani

Her films have divided Iran, led to her arrest and seen her charged with four crimes that carry the death penalty. But Iranian filmmaker Tehmineh Milani refuses to be silenced. "She focuses on women's rights and shows things the way they are", states a fan. Milani's latest film, 'Payback', is her most contentious to date. It's about four women who meet in prison and form a vigilante gang, posing as prostitutes and handing out their own brand of justice to men. "I wrote the story but the characters are based on real people", Milani states. Although Milani is Iran's most commercially successful director, filmmaking for her is about much more than making money. As she explains: "I think I have an ability to make a positive cultural change."

Tehmineh Milani @ YouTube.

And for a bit of commentary - a woman is the most commercially successful film director in Iran and yet we have still to get one American female director even remotely on par with Spielberg or even Tarantino? What the hell is going on?

(Via DollyMix.)

I Win Stuff

I had forgotten I had even done this, but apparently last November I entered GreenCine's Joy Division/Control contest, which celebrated the release of the Ian Curtis biopic Control with a prize of the new 2-disc collector's CD set of Joy Division's Closer. And I won it. There's no particular reason for me to even mention this, except for the facts that A) it's cool to win stuff, and B) GreenCine is pretty cool for giving it to me. Go show them some love.

The Wild Things

Where the Wild Things Are

New stills from the forthcoming Spike Jonze-directed adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.

More Noir Stories

Since this is an off week for Noir Monday, you can fulfill all of your noir blogging needs over at Noir of the Week, which has posted over the last two weeks the one-two punch of arguably the two best noirs ever: Sunset Blvd. and Double Indemnity.

Hollywood's Code

In 1933 an accessible synopsis of the Payne Fund Studies by journalist Henry James Forman was published under the bracing title Our Movie Made Children. The project marshaled the full weight of lab-coated social science to confirm the gut-level suspicion that the movies burrowed like termites into impressionable juvenile minds: girls took to rouge and tobacco, boys to back talk and violence, and all to disrespect and deviance.

Rouge! Back talk! Disrespect and deviance! Good heavens! Thomas Doherty examines the moral crusade that brought forth the Code of the early 1930's and the "most intrusive censorship regime in Hollywood history."

This is a fantastic article, and raises questions of the code's existing Hollywood legacy. The motion picture industry still does operate under a ratings systems that influences both film production and distribution, and that system still likes to tell us that our youth is lost if they see an actor on screen smoking, or playing a gay character. I hope someday these "threats" will seem as quaint as the ones posed by girls using rouge seem to us now.

MPAA: "Piracy Is Bad ... Unless We Do It"

I don't like the MPAA. I may have mentioned it before. And instances like this are why:

The MPAA's "University Toolkit" (a piece of monitoring software that universities are being asked to install on their networks to spy on students' communications) has been taken down, due to copyright violations. [Via BB.]

Putting aside the whole questionable ethics about producing spyware, we're reminded yet again that the MPAA isn't really concerned about copyright. They're concerned about money. Money for them. Period. This isn't even the first time they've ripped off someone's software. If they were truly the copyright crusaders they make themselves out to be, you would think they would put a bit more effort into upholding those standards when it comes to others' copyrights (and resulting money). In reality, the MPAA is a hypocritical, corrupt organization that inexplicably has an unfair stranglehold on the practices of American film distribution.

Tarantino Vs. the Feminists

There's an interesting point/counterpoint discussion at the Fword about Quentin Tarantino and his views on women. I think they're both right. I think that Tarantino does have issues with women, and that his female characters end up more exploitive than empowering. But I also agree that feminists don't have to view every single film (or piece of art or music) through the narrow lens of being "good for women" only. There are a lot of artists whom I admire in spite of their misogynist tendencies, intended or otherwise.

Tarantino, however, I also object to on cinematic grounds. In fact, he's been one of my favorite film blogging whipping boys. I think his treatment of women in his films springs from the same distance from reality and indulgent immersion in his own fantastical world that drags down the films themselves.

(As a side note, I realize that same type of argument could be used against my other boy, Wes Anderson. Why do I generally let him get away with it and not Quentin? Don't know. If nothing else, I think Anderson's fantasies are much less derivative than Tarantino's. The rest, I suppose, is a mystery.)

Motion Capture and Animation

This week's IFC News podcast is an especially good one - discussing the increasing use of motion capture technology in film versus traditional animation. Of course, it's inspired by the premiere of Beowulf, which, despite Neil Gaiman's writerly involvement, I have next to no desire to see. I'm all for employing new technologies, and computer animation can be wonderful (proved by Pixar) - but I think there's a line where it stops being creative and ends up being only convenient. Matt and Alison talk about all the pros and cons in the podcast.

Miss Navajo

I recently came across Newspaper Rock, which blogs about Native American issues in popular culture, and last week they posted about Miss Navajo, a documentary about the real-life "beauty" pageant for Native young women.

A welcome antidote to the dominant society's soulless spectacle of the female sex object glamour girl gladiators scrutinized so brutally in the feature film Little Miss Sunshine, Miss Navajo has much to enlighten and convey to American women about self-respect, gender consciousness, honoring historical memory, and collective unity versus ruthless competition.

Of course this type of event has special significance for Navajo women, but it's not a bad point to make that other American women could benefit from such a model in their own lives.

Honor Killings and Tortune Porn

Du'a Khalil AswadA couple of weeks ago, I posted a quote by Joss Whedon, from a recently posted article called "Let's Watch a Girl Get Beaten to Death." The incident that inspired the article was the 7 April murder of seventeen-year-old Du’a Khalil Aswad, who was stoned to death. What made her death so notable was the fact that it was recorded by a camera phone and uploaded to the internet. Not only can you find still images of the attack, but video. You can literally watch a girl get beaten to death, from the point of view of someone standing amidst the crowd that killed her.

Honor killings are a huge challenge to human rights, and, because they generally (although not exclusively) target women, they are also often a special cause of women's rights movements. But Whedon's piece is not just about honor killings. To him, the phenomenon of digitally recording a woman's murder and sharing it across the internet for everyone to see is inextricably tied to a current Hollywood trend - that of extreme horror movies, such as Captivity and Hostel: Part II - movies that have been labeled "torture porn" for their almost fetishistic concentration on gore for gore's sake.

Whedon goes much farther into a panic of real-life misogyny (he's right, for all intents and purposes, but the issues he raises are too complex to address fairly in a single website post), but I'm branching off the discussion into a consideration of the connection between filmed fictional violence and filmed violence in reality. It's a question at the very least worth asking. What exactly is the difference between our desire to see girls on movie screens mutilated, tortured and killed, and the desire of those swapping footage of a girl being kicked, stoned, and beat to bloody death in a public street? Is there one? And if there is, is it smaller than it should be?

I have never been a fan of extreme horror films. The first I saw is, well, Saw. It's probably the most credible of the genre, but I still found it both trite and disgusting. I am, however, a long-time fan of horror, both print and screen, in general, and I don't have a problem with gore and explicit violence within the course of a worthwhile story. Or even with an artistic twist. I can appreciate Dario Argento and George Romero. Surprisingly (and to no one more than me), I can even handle some Rob Zombie. I didn't expect his film work to have the creativity and perspective it does.

That last, though, might just be my impression, considering that Zombie is an outspoken defender of extreme horror movies. In a recent NPR piece, he described the genre as harmless "escapism." Maybe so. But is this the best world to which we can offer an escape? One of senseless violence and death? And what precisely are we escaping? The drudgery of our daily lives, as Zombie suggests - or, as others suggest, the distant terror of war, persecution, and tragedy that already inhabits our collective unconscious? If that latter is the case, experiencing fictional violence can help make the real violence more distant and less important. Which can make us feel superficially better, but doesn't do much to solve the real problems, either in besieged foreign lands or within our restless minds.

Where is the line drawn, anyway? What makes a horror movie cross into "extreme" territory? I don't think it's just the equation of how much violence it contains. I think the difference between good horror and torture porn, between cinematic violence and real violence is very simple: context. Real violence is so shockingly horrendous because of the context in which it was done - which is, namely, reality. Fake violence gets a pass because it's not real and thus doesn't really matter. But what about distinctions within the realm of fake violence? Is there ever a point where it becomes just as reprehensible as real violence? Definitely. It happens when the context in which the violence is placed - artistic context, historical context, even a decidedly escapist context - becomes less context and more backdrop, or just an excuse for the violence. When that happens, essentially the same dynamics are working as are during instances of real violence. In both cases, the end is violence that fulfills a base human need, and it has no higher purpose than that - or a morally supportable purpose at all.

Of course, I've readily admitted I've personally seen very few of the entries in the torture porn genre, so it's possible my opinions are off the mark when it comes to the individual films. However, I also couldn't bring myself to view the online video of Du’a Khalil Aswad, struggling, screaming, and ultimately dying at the hands of a vicious mob. If it's the same impulse that keeps me from both, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.

Some other discussions on the merit (or lack thereof) of extreme horror, inspired mostly by the release of Hostel II: