ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
The Cinema of Excess
This article. Dear lord, this article. Last year was a banner year for characters who rejoiced in their own excess – in Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby, and The Counselor, just to name a few. These are movies that “speak to the false, illusory, or destructive promise of the American dream,” to quote Izzy Black.
By comparing The Wolf of Wall Street to American Psycho, Black highlights the qualities that separate the new genre of excess from satire and anti-consumerism films – a lack of judgmentalism on the part of the director, a use of formal techniques to emphasize the sensory overload of debauchery over the comfort of glamor, and the use of montage and monologue voice-over as a sort of infinite accounting by sensory barrage. She even dips into music’s recent entries in the genre – covering Kanye West, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde.
Black’s article makes so many points I’ve circled around for ages but struggled to put words to. It is an insanely well-studied and comprehensive piece. Cinephiles get reading. This is one of the best pieces of film writing we’ve seen this year.
Reviewing Black Widow
I’ve made it a priority never to review a woman’s performance in a film differently than I would a man’s. There are obvious exceptions, such as when those differences are crucial to a movie’s themes, but in the case of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Scarlett Johansson could play the Captain and Chris Evans could play Black Widow and it wouldn’t make a jot of difference to the plot.
I’m not here to review a woman’s sexiness. If your eyes and your brain can’t do that much on their own, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. What Johansson is wearing ought to make as much difference to me as a critic as what Evans is. In fact, less so – his costume change gets its own scene, starring Stan Lee. Besides, I’m pretty sure Black Widow’s most notable accessories were an assault rifle and a jet plane.
So here’s where I’d take the majority of mainstream critics to task for reviewing Black Widow’s wardrobe over her function in the plot or Johansson’s excellent performance…except Gavia Baker-Whitelaw already did at The Daily Dot. I highly suggest you read her compilation and condemnation of so much of the sexist laziness and celebrity-revue-as-criticism we so regularly rail against here.
Lessons from The Wind Rises
Qina Liu has a treasure trove of deep, intelligent, heartfelt reviews. She blends a broad analytical knowledge of theatre and literature with a passion and storytelling ability that gets her reviews to that next level, where they themselves become pieces of social commentary and art.
Storytelling is about giving your reader all the information they’ll need for that one perfect sentence that hits them in the gut, without ever letting them know that’s what you’re doing. Liu has that ability in spades. She does it succinctly to make a cultural point about The Wind Rises and she draws her reading of August: Osage County into a dreamlike contemplation on family and death that reflects and expands on the themes of the film itself.
I discovered her this week and already she’s leapt to the top of my list of fellow critics.
TV’s Love of Dead Women
This is a fascinating article that picks apart the trope of that eternal, plot-driving mystery of the murdered woman. Sarah Marshall at New Republic deconstructs its use on Twin Peaks, a TV show that used that mystery to drive its first season but plummeted into ratings obscurity once her killer was found.
Marshall juxtaposes the comfort we have in publicly mourning the loss of a dead woman – even if she’s just on a TV show – against the difficulty we have in coming to terms with details of her life that don’t match our preconceptions. By doing so, she calls out a lazy cliché relied upon far too heavily in TV storytelling, and whose time has passed.
Captain America vs. The Tyranny of “Dark”
Here’s why you should read this article: “Captain America is, at his core, someone who believes, really believes, in the potential for goodness in people, in the values America purports to represent, and in basic concepts like personal freedom, equality, and fair play. He isn’t a ‘my country, right or wrong’ kind of person, he’s a ‘my country can and should be better’ kind of person. If there’s any period from US History he embodies, it isn’t the Nixon years, it’s the New Deal.”
What Wednesday Collective Gets Wrong About Wednesdays and Collectives
A few weeks ago, I foolishly clicked on an article Huffington Post blatantly ripped off of Politico. It was titled “What Noah Gets Wrong About the Bible.” I waited eight years for Huffington Post to load 765 separate ads and finally read an article in which the writer clearly demonstrated his vast and boundless ability to not know anything about the Bible. He also didn’t know how to interpret a film any way but literally, which is your last priority when going to see an Aronofsky flick like Noah, but that’s secondary.
Critic Sam Adams isn’t a big fan of this type of article. He argues that articles about the X number of things that Y gets wrong about Z should be banished to the Seventh Circle of Hell (that’s Dante, not the Bible, for those keeping score. Please don’t interpret Dante literally, you’ll hurt yourself.) Adams argues that movies and TV shows aren’t often meant to be accurate depictions of what they cover. An article about what absurdist comedy Veep gets wrong about the vice-presidency is clearly useless.
I’d suggest these types of articles aren’t particularly factual either. They’re assigned in a day. Critics need to tell their audience when they don’t know something, not pretend they do. Informational inaccuracy in movies comes in so many forms, it needs to be treated like a disease – you need to find the right specialist in every genre.
For instance, click on Huffington Post and you’ll learn that Noah never had an adopted daughter who was barren but then later had children. What deep analysis. How dare Aronofsky and Russell Crowe make something up like that! Anger, anger, pitchforks & torches.
Click on the link of someone who’s studied the material and you may learn that the orphan is drawn from Korean flood mythology and that her barrenness is an analogue for Abraham’s wife Sarah, who in the Old Testament was barren until God gifted her with Isaac, who God then demanded Abraham sacrifice. How 10,000 critics missed that Crowe’s Noah is playing Abraham the last half of Noah is beyond me, but that’s why you find the right specialist in every genre. Let me recommend a good one:
Forget about Noah, it’s time for Russian Ark
A. E. Larsen
Look at that segue. Here’s yet another stellar article from An Historian Goes to the Movies. This time, Larsen passionately implores you to see Russian Ark, an intricate movie containing 300 years of Russian history and filmed using 2,000 actors and 3 orchestras in 33 rooms across a single 96-minute take in Russia’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. I’m guilty of not having seen it myself, but I’m pretty sure I just got convinced.
Disfigurement Stigma and Under the Skin
Day reports on her interview with Adam Pearson, an actor with disfiguring growths on his face. He discusses how his new film with Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin, helps to isolate preconceptions we hold about those who look different from the norm.