Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there's anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past week, we ran a piece about writers that our Criticwire members felt deserved a wider recognition. The following quartet of selections are from critics mentioned in that survey.
The Film Experience, a blog by Nathaniel Rogers, features a regular series called "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," wherein Rogers and trusty contributors submit their best (or favorite) visual touches from a particular film. This past week, in the post-”Cabin in the Woods” deconstruction, it seemed only fitting that the franchise of choice would be “Firefly”/”Serenity,” the too-short television series and its theater-bound extension. The added visual component makes it all the more ideal for this collection.
"I never read contributor posts until I've finished mine but I'll be surprised if someone doesn't choose the bravura post title scene. It's actually a four and a half minute long continuous shot reintroducing us to the entire Serenity crew from the shortlived but wonderful Firefly series. It begins by following Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) around as he barks order to his crew until its finally handed off like a baton to the stowaway siblings Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau) at the heart of the plot. Whedon rarely resists self-mythologizing the Whedonverse and it's just perfect that the shot ends with the mysterious psychic River Tam promising you a good time at the movies — 'we're going for a ride' — just as Joss's name materializes on her body like a branding."
The explanation of a film’s plot is sometimes the most awkward and frustrating element of a review. But when it’s done well (particularly when discussing a film that strains credulity), it’s wonderful. I don’t know how long this took to cull together, but Vince Mancini’s post at Film Drunk gathers bits of exposition explanation from dozens of reviews in an attempt to recreate the entire plot. The result is a post that celebrates good writing, revels in laughable plot details and operates in a “Reality Hunger”-like way of creating a wholly conscious piece of writing with the help of others. (Bravo to film criticism’s newest Mr. Pulitzer, Wesley Morris, for providing some brilliant, choice barbs.)
"As you may know by now, whenever there’s a new Nicholas Sparks movie out, I get inexpressibly excited. We’ve got this feature where we take a movie we know we’re probably not going to see and try to recreated the entire plot using only expository (and usually passive-agressive) quotes from the critics forced to suffer through it (NO ANALYSIS!). Nothing works better for this feature than schmaltzy Nick Sparks movies (my personal favorite was the one where Miley Cyrus turned down her piano scholarship to Juilliard to rescue sea turtles). Sparks’ latest is The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron as a Marine who returns from Iraq to find himself, and on the way, finds love. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, this is definitely a record for the most times I’ve read 'sun-dappled' in a single day. Another popular sentiment seemed to be 'Who’s The Lucky One? Not the audience, LOL!'"
Girish Shambu’s blog post about the history of filmmakers as teachers features some deep selections that indicate both a pure love and expansive knowledge of cinema. The excerpts that Shambu provides are academic in nature, giving the collection an instructor’s perspective on filmmakers from Scorsese to Alexander Mackendrick to Harun Farocki. Equally as impressive as the writer’s look at the subject is how the blog’s readers are engaged. There’s a lively discussion on the post that takes the original subject material and intensifies the amount of knowledge (not just about film study, but life itself) being shared across the forum. This is what quality film talk is made of.
"I wonder: Are there accounts in film culture of filmmakers who were also good teachers and mentors? Do any former students have experiences to share about being in classes taught by filmmakers? Also: We would have to include in this discussion directors who were teachers or mentors outside a classroom setting, on film projects. Any thoughts — or stories? I'd love to hear them."
Last week, we featured Reverse Shot’s look at the early television work of director Steven Spielberg. Even though this piece is featured in the same issue, Andrew Tracy’s essay-length look at "Jaws" is almost too comprehensive not to be included here. It touches on all the relevant points when discussing the pioneering blockbuster, doing it with a particular analytical heft. The story is familiar, the narrative repackaged countless times. But Tracy gets at the heart of what makes "Jaws" so captivating, framing it in the context of how that fascination paved the way for the fuller realization of Spielberg’s style.
"No less than nature, critical minds abhor a vacuum, but Jaws’ triumph is precisely that it means nothing—that its effect alone is the sum total of its being, and its reason for being. Shorn of the pop-existentialist gloss of Duel, Jaws pointed the way towards the 'classic' Spielberg cinema of wordless sensation—located anywhere on the spectrum from terror to bliss—raised to the level of the absolute, sensation shorn of anything outside our own willingness to experience it. Richard Dyer’s well-known thesis about the musical—that it presents what utopia might feel like rather than how it would be organized—could well have been written of Spielberg. Where other films provide material to dream upon, Spielberg offers the dreamlife readymade: the intriguingly suggestive made dazzlingly, overwhelmingly concrete, the oceanic delimited within the span of two hours."