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.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s career doesn’t exactly lend itself to glowing retrospectives. But Nick Pinkerton’s piece for the Village Voice highlights the filmmaker’s strongest assets, in the words of critics and colleagues alike. His dialogue won’t reach legendary status, but his penchant for extensive choreography and elaborate setpieces could merit some reevaluation.
“Like buildings and prostitutes, genre directors only become respectable with age. Dismissed even by the studios that profit from them, Mr. Anderson’s films do not tend to screen ahead of release for critics, preventing any serious present tense analysis of their visual schemata, and we’ll have to wait decades for any self-respecting rep house to stage a retrospective. It’s a shame, for these are movies that benefit immeasurably from being seen on the big screen; at home, one tends to notice niggling details like the rudimentary dialogue that’s a composite of tone-deaf comic relief and fourth-grade playground braggadocio (‘I don’t think so!’ heard in two films!), but seen in their proper aspect, Anderson’s films preeminently exhibit the panache that is variously called mise-en-scène, ‘film sense,’ or ‘cool,’ depending on age and education.”
Given Woody Allen’s propensity to avoid public attention, Oliver Burkeman’s profile of the legendary director for the Guardian is astounding in its access and candor. Allen’s personal life has been the subject of much discussion and, in his talk with Burkeman, he doesn’t shy away from it either. It’s entertaining just to read the paragraphs of quotes that often read like his signature dialogue, talking about his work, his marriages or his mortality.
“‘I have an idea for a story, and I think to myself, my God, this is a combination of Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller … but that’s because [when you’re writing] you don’t have to face the test of reality. You’re at home, in your house, it’s all in your mind. Now, when it’s almost over, and I see what I’ve got, I start to think: what have I done? This is going to be such an embarrassment! Can I salvage it? All your grandiose ideas go out the window. You realise you made a catastrophe, and you think: what if I put the last scene first, drop this character, put in narration? What if I shoot one more scene, to make him not leave his wife, but kill his wife?’ These fusillades of self-criticism, you sense, aren’t false modesty, nor real terror, but something else: the musings of a veteran who has long since come to terms with the fact that his creative process will always be a long slide into disillusionment. Nine times out of ten, he says, when he leaves the screening of the first rough cut: ‘The feeling is: OK, now don’t panic.’ The other 10% of the time, it’s: ‘OK. That’s not as bad as I thought.'”
Matt Zoller Seitz’s Press Play editorial, inspired by a recent mixed reaction to a screening of the early James Bond film, is a helpful examination of why some people are unwilling to accept older cinema as it is. It stresses the importance of engagement with a film and is a helpful reminder that it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a film even if it doesn’t represent a form of reality that you might prefer.
“There might be a lot of factors contributing to the viewers’ failure to engage (surely including lack of film literacy), but ultimately, that’s their decision and their loss. It’s up to the individual viewer to decide to connect or not connect with a creative work. By ‘connect,’ I mean connect emotionally and imaginatively—giving yourself to the movie for as long as you can, and trying to see the world through its eyes and feel things on its wavelength.”
Amidst the wave of critical pans that’s befalling the latest installment in the series based on video games, Hollywood.com’s Brian Salisbury solicited some defenses from “Resident Evil” supporters. Most reasons are connected to the on-screen action and the degree to which it mirrors that generated by a gaming console. They range from the basic to the eloquent and, judging by the franchise’s box office receipts, they’re not the only ones.
“‘Milla is the only reason I’m still watching,’ admits Mico Low. This is an argument that’s easy to understand, and probably represents the most legitimate root cause for the franchise’s continued financial success. The sad truth is that far too few actresses have been given the opportunity to shine in action films since the genre was created. That’s not to say there haven’t been females featured prominently, some even in formidable leads, but the frequency of something like, say, a woman headlining an action franchise was abysmally low. Enter Resident Evil. Though the films may fall well short of capturing the imaginations of scores of detractors, it is impossible to deny the new age of gender equality in action cinema it ushered in.”
Articulating an idea that has been somewhat addressed on Criticwire before, Katey Rich’s reaction to the “Lincoln” trailer at Cinema Blend is one of the first entries in a discussion that will probably persist through the film’s release date. In the case of a larger-than-life historical figure, it’s likely that audiences will be clamoring for an iconic portrayal rather than one driven by accuracy. Daniel Day-Lewis’ voice is already drawing attention, but time will tell if that’s a sticking point for paid customers.
“Lincoln scholars have often said otherwise, and now we know that Spielberg and Day-Lewis agree– when we first hear Lincoln’s voice in the new trailer, around the minute mark, it’s practically as high-pitched as Truman Capote’s. When he explodes and shouts at the men in the room, they seemed shocked and so does he– this is a tall, gangly man who’s always used his words instead of his fists, and a soft voice to prove it. Given Day-Lewis’s reputation for research there’s no doubt his take is the most historically accurate, but it’s far from the one we’ve invented for ourselves over the decades. Now we Americans have to choose if we can get used to this newer, softer-spoken Lincoln, or hang on to the one we always imagined.”
And, although Matt already aptly covered this territory earlier in the week, Karina Longworth’s investigation into the fate of the collection of Kim’s Video is fascinating.