Indiewire’s Weekly Reads compiles the week’s essential news stories and critical pieces for you.
1. In An Era of Streaming, Cinema Is Under Attack. In the wake of digital overload, with multiple screens constantly vying for your attention, it’s tempting to think that the movies as a communal, theatrical experience has gone the way of the dodo. The New York Times’ chief film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis discuss the state of moviegoing in this current era.
Manohla Dargis: One of the big, possibly bad movie stories of the last few months has been Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju’s proposed new venture, Screening Room, which would bring first-run movies into living rooms for $50 a pop for 48 hours, though customers would also have to pony up $150 for the device to stream these titles. A lot of the news stories on Screening Room have focused on the industry: Theater owners have given it the thumbs down, because it will cut into their business, as have those lovers of big-screen spectacle, Christopher Nolan and James Cameron. Those who support it include Steven Spielberg and, surprisingly, Martin Scorsese. Right now, Screening Room sounds like a hustler’s dream, suitable mostly for agoraphobics and children’s birthday parties. But it is worrisome for what it suggests for cinema and its future. That may sound apocalyptic, but it’s not, given how fast movies zip from theaters to video on demand.
2. “We’re Not All Warriors”: South Sudanese Filmmakers Work To Revamp Their National Image. Many Americans’ conception of the film industry is limited to Hollywood, but filmmakers in other countries face their own unique struggles in order to realize their work. Quartz Africa’s Anne Quito reports on South Sudanese filmmakers trying to revamp their national image.
There is not a single movie theater in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation. But that doesn’t mean the people of the war-riven country aren’t movie buffs. In the absence of an organized local film-making industry, the “enormous appetite” for stories is satisfied by pirated Hollywood movies passed around on DVDs and USB sticks, Internews explains. But in the capital city, Juba, a gang of 20 merry South Sudanese filmmakers armed with cameras, boom microphones, and umbrellas are working to correct that. The filmmakers are taking part in the Juba Film Festival, the country’s first ever festival of its kind. Working through torrential rains and the tense political climate, the filmmakers are racing to finish four movies in time for the festival’s culmination in July. “There is a great need to tell our own stories,” says the festival’s founder, Simon “Bingo” Lokwang Paul, an orphaned refugee turned local TV personality. He described the festival as a kind of creative, peaceful revolt, to combat—or at least diversify—the pervasive stereotypes about the four-year old nation in the foreign press.
3. Spoiler Alert: This Is a Post About Spoiler Etiquette. Though the constant cry of “Spoiler alert!” keeps millions of people on their toes so they can avoid the latest twist in “Game of Thrones” or in the new “Star Wars” film, spoiler etiquette isn’t exactly clear-cut, especially the rules for how long to wait before it’s appropriate to discuss crucial narrative surprises out in the open. Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz examines the spoiler problem with relation to “Game of Thrones.”
I’m a near-absolutist about spoilers. I almost always care more about how things happen in a story than what happens. Back in 1998, somebody told me the ending of “The Sixth Sense” before I had a chance to see it, and I still enjoyed the film immensely, not as a thriller with a twist ending but as a tenderhearted supernatural character portrait about a man who died and then spent the next few months denying he was dead. I realize most people don’t watch things that way, though, so I try to be sensitive to that. (“Screw you for spoiling ‘The Sixth Sense,'” somebody writes in the comments section.) Should viewers bear responsibility for protecting themselves against inadvertently learning what happened on a show they love but for whatever reason failed to watch the first time it aired? Maybe. But let’s all live in reality for a second and acknowledge what Twitter is: a platform designed to react immediately to things that happened right this second. It is unnatural to expect social-media users to protect the sensibilities and preferences of strangers in all 24 time zones for a period of hours, days, or longer. I’ve always found it strange that people go on Twitter, the platform of immediate reactions, and then say, “Hey, please don’t discuss what just happened on that show until I’ve had a chance to see it.”
4. “You Ruined My Childhood”: The Fetishizing of Nostalgia. The “Ghostbusters” reboot will enter theaters soon enough, but the film has already been mired in backlash from certain fans of the original franchise who believe the new all-female reboot has negatively impacted a beloved property. Bibliodaze’s Kayleigh Anne looks at the fetishizing of nostalgia ahead of the new film.
Remakes are not a new phenomenon. They’ve been around almost as long as Hollywood itself. The past decade or so has seen a noticeable increase in the output of remakes, mostly because it’s seen as a safe financial bet. Look at Disney’s slate for the next few years. Often seen as soulless money making exercises, remakes can offer a variety of artistic opportunities, and help evolve interesting but dated themes and ideas to fit a more mature audience. The 2011 remake of the 80s horror-comedy “Fright Night” is my favorite example of this. Taking a story that arouses fond nostalgic memories in the most profitable demographics and tailoring it to fit a particular film-maker and his strengths is a good idea: Paul Feig’s films make money and get good reviews, Melissa McCarthy is one of the few people in Hollywood who can open a film and take it to the top spot at the box office, and “Ghostbusters” is a familiar tale not over-told that’s full to the brim with potential. I’m stunned it took as long as it did to remake it. But let’s be honest. That’s not why these men are mad. The act of remaking is not the offending part. It’s the women at the forefront that incite their ire. They’ll justify their often aggressive opinions with other elements – “the trailer isn’t funny,” “why remake everything,” and so on – but their message is clear.
5. When Did Audiences Stop Taking “Middlebrow” Television Seriously? “Prestige television” dominates the cultural conversation, with shows like “The Americans” and “Better Call Saul” considered “highbrow” entertainment, but in the process, “middlebrow” television, like CW’s “The Flash” or Lifetime’s “UnREAL” seems to be casually omitted from the larger discourse. Slate’s Angela Jade Bastién surveys the “middlebrow” and why audiences don’t take it seriously.
Distinctions like “midbrow” and “highbrow” may seem like awkward descriptors within the current, massive television landscape, but they can provide a useful lens in terms of distinguishing what types of stories we find culturally important. Prestige television, as we’ve come to define it, boasts high production values, an interest in weighty themes, and, more recently, high-profile actors and behind-the-scenes talent. We can see the beginnings of this in “The Sopranos” continuing in recent years with “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Rectify,” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Comedies like “Veep” and “Louie” can fall into prestige television, but much of what we deem “prestige” hews toward darker subject matter, presented with literary flair. Looking at some of the shows dubbed prestige over the last decade — the forgettable “Bloodline,” pure soap opera “House of Cards,” and exploitation-tinged “Game of Thrones” — you can see that the label doesn’t necessarily indicate consistent quality or depth but the appearance of it. “Bloodline” also shows that looking like a prestige show, or even being one, doesn’t necessarily guarantee you public attention or awards — the problem is that shows like “Bloodline” seem to think they need to be viewed as highbrow to get the right attention (more on that in a minute).
6. The Columbine Movie in the Age of Mass Shootings. In the wake of the Columbine massacre, some movies attempted to examine the shooting and the shock it left on the nation at large, most famously with Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film “Elephant.” Now that mass shootings have unfortunately become a commonplace event in American life, how do those movies look today? At Oscilloscope’s Musings blog, Scott Tobias examines the Columbine movie in the age of mass shooting.
At the time, there was a too-soon-ness to “Elephant” that seemed to fuel the criticism against it, like Van Sant had answered one obscenity with an obscenity of another kind. But what does it look like in 2016, when school shootings have become so commonplace that only a handful of the worst ones make the news cycle? Everyone remembers Virginia Tech in 2007 (32 killed), Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 (28 killed, 20 aged six or seven), and Umpqua Community College in 2015 (10 killed), not to mention the recent horrors at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a black church in Charleston, and regional center in San Bernadino, California. And yet, can we even remember the names of the perpetrators? It’s like a cancer that’s metastasized across the entire country: The sickness is so widespread now that any one case cannot be examined in isolation for too long. The days when pundits could safely bloviate about violent video games on cable TV now seem positively quaint. Time often changes our perception of art. Items inevitably shift during flight. But it would seem like the Columbine movie would stand to be affected more than most, because our perspective on mass shootings has evolved so much over the past decade and change.
7. The 1989 Movie Conservatives Who Want To Reclaim Hollywood Need to Watch. It’s generally difficult for explicitly conservative or religious entertainment, like “God’s Not Dead,” to gain a foothold in the culture, but it’s possible that conservative filmmakers are taking their cues from the wrong movies. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg looks at 1989’s “Listen to Me,” a film she claims conservatives who want to reclaim Hollywood should watch.
Every time actor and conservative advocate Kirk Cameron makes headlines, as he did this week for arguing that women should be submissive to their husbands, I think back to the only work of his that I’m really familiar with, his 1989 college debate movie “Listen To Me.” When I was in high school, I watched “Listen To Me” more times than someone who makes a living off her taste in art ought to care to admit, but I haven’t seen it in at least a decade. Revisiting it yesterday, the movie’s most cringe-worthy scenes aren’t any less hideously embarrassing, and I still want to burn every part of poor Jami Gertz’s very, very 80s wardrobe. But while elements of “Listen To Me,” which builds up to a debate about “Roe v. Wade” judged by Supreme Court justices, are certainly hideously dated, it’s a movie that contemporary conservative moviemakers could learn a lot from if they want to give their audiences more than pure sermonizing — and especially if they want to try to make arguments for their values that could reach mainstream moviegoers.
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