Harry Potter Years 1-3 Podcast

In our second podcast, we reflect on the first three Harry Potter films: Harry Potter & the Whimsical Misappropriation of Turbans, Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secretions and Inferences, and Harry Potter & the Expectant Patronus. We reflect on the style of the first two compared to the third, the development of the actors, the refinements in the series, and spend way too much time laughing at our attempt to figure out the logic of the second film.

Check back for two more podcasts giving our once-over to the rest of the Harry Potter series.

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Romantic Movies as Couples’ Therapy?

In the December issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Researchers at the Relationship Institute at UCLA published findings that the divorce rate decreased by half in couples that discussed one relationship movie per week. At the risk of coming off as an insufferable gloater, have I not argued ad nauseum the structuring capacity of film?

Reporting on the study, MDConnects.com explained that “The findings show that an inexpensive, fun, and relatively simple movie-and-talk approach can be just as effective as other more intensive therapist-led methods-reducing the divorce or separation rate from 24 to 11 percent after three years.”

After attending a ten minute lecture on the nature of relationships, participants “then watched Two for the Road, a 1967 romantic comedy about the joys and strains of young love, infidelity, and professional pressures across 12 years of a marriage. Afterward, each couple met separately to discuss a list of 12 questions about the screen couple’s interactions.”

In historical context, essentially this study confirms what the Romantics insisted in every scrap of poetry they ever penned, every apologia produced, or idea expressed (and which the ancient Greeks would have found surprising it even needed mentioning). Take the poetry of Wordsworth’s for instance, which announced in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads with immolating candor the desire to produce a humanist literature that would remind humans what it took to earn that title of ‘human’. Film, hailed as it was the necessary extension of that idealistic (dare I say, romantic) impulse by theorists like Eisenstein, enables this potential for any who might seek its power.

In this new study we have something approaching proof of film’s humanizing potential. This new study ought to give filmmakers pause then, so that they may reflect on the potential of their art, and to consider what its continued cultivation may bring. One way to achieve this, I have already argued (indeed, this entire blog stands as testament), is by reflecting on the very methods and conditions which anticipated and produced this effect. This accountability may sound laughably idealistic, but it bears considering that to whom much has been given, much will be expected; and the more entrusted, the more demanded. Filmmakers, I entreat you.

An Impromptu Conversation With Max Tohline regarding the Magic of Black Swan

What began as a simple conversation between Max Tohline and myself about art began to mutate into new fields. One area in particular concerned the use of affect in Aronofsky’s Black Swan. With the permission of Mr. Tohline, I have included a portion of our correspondence below. Continue reading

“Are you a good flick or a bad flick?”: The Waste of Arguing for Goodness

In 1983 Siskel and Ebert got into a frivolous argument with fellow critic John Simon, then film critic for the National Review and Drama Critic for New York Magazine, over whether Return of the Jedi is a great film or not. I include this piece because it displays the profound emptiness associated with a profession that wastes its time classifying films according to prescriptive judgments. It also reveals that these issues with which we contend in contemporary popular criticism are not so isolated. Though I am undoubtedly on the side of Siskel and Ebert in arguing the technical and affective merits of the original Star Wars trilogy, notice how both sides lapse into strings of non sequiturs when asked if the film is great. The reporter asks “Is this film good?” To which Ebert replies “it excited me, it made me laugh, it made me thrilled, and that’s what a movie like this is for.” I agree with him completely, but this gets us no closer to answering the original question, precisely because the original question is a useless question. Not a good or bad question, but a useless one. Nothing can be made of it. It’s the work of youtube viewer satisfaction tallies, not the issue of prolonged study (though the results could then be tabulated to form the basis of some anthropological observations about cultural responses to art, yet this work would be an abstraction from the original product in question: the film).

The real valuable statements are found precisely in Ebert’s response to the movie. The question “what did this movie do” provokes a more solid and valuable answer than “is this movie good or bad.” Ebert’s remarks are a useful foundation for exploring the film further, while ostensibly acknowledging its intent as an affective rather than intellectual piece of pop art. How did it excite Ebert, and what tools did it employ to do so? How did it thrill him? Arguing whether a movie being thrilling or not thrilling is good or bad is a useless debate. Continue reading

The Gravitas of Gravity

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in Cuarón’s Gravity

(95% Spoiler free, read without caution)

If Kieslowski had ever been inclined to tackle science-fiction, Gravity, I suspect, would have been something close to the film he would have made.

Ostensibly a loose remake of Kieslowski’s first film in the Three Colors Trilogy, Blue (1993), Cuarón’s return to film after an agonizing eight-year absence similarly features a bereaved mother struggling to cope with the loss of a child. Indeed, if I explained it is a film that illuminates the startling vicissitudes between life, death, faith, hope and the universe of human emotion, bound up in a work of sublime grandeur, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was still talking about Blue. Cuarón’s singular feat, however, is the way in which he gracefully navigates between the chaos of the universe and the supreme beauty of its idiosyncrasies that we as mere spectators in a cosmic dance have the supreme fortune of observing, and more amazing still, are sometimes called to participate within. Continue reading

Of cabbages and twinkies: Listing listlessly through the IMDB list

Silence of the clams

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

–Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”

Today’s rant is not about a movie, but about a movie list.

I took an online quiz today. There was no wrong answer, only one question: “how many of the Top 250 movies on IMDB have you seen?”

After learning my score (212), I may have been tempted to say “I’ve got some watching to do”, but then, upon reflecting on some of the films included past the 100-film mark, I started doubting the reliability of IMDB users.

That the films are voted on by a community of users is important, and I’m not arguing otherwise. There is a value in the democratic election of films deemed worthy of watching. The problem is that we cannot ascertain what this list purports. Top 250 films ever made? Top 250 films to watch? Top 250 films most liked by a collection of anonymous users? In order to understand the ramifications of this list we must understand the purpose of this list. What are viewers really voting on when they make their ranking? The answer requires a small bit of unpacking,  Continue reading

The State of the Art

New York Observer’s film critic Rex Reed has been making the rounds on twitter and the blogosphere recently as the subject of a revolving litany of abuses and defamations. Some are asking for his head, others, like this reasonably cool-headed piece by Jason Bailey, are only asking for his job, not simply for their disagreement with his negative review, but for the admission that he walked out. Heinous though that sin may be, I want to examine Reed’s review of V/H/S 2 (the particular film is irrelevant to my discussion) in more detail and consider what it might mean for the state of film criticism: Continue reading

A Vision of the New Criticism

Go on any major film site and marvel at the display. Let your jaw drop at the crass wasteland masquerading as Eden, where neon banners sit atop the words in all their glittering pageantry. Now scroll down to their denizens of the deep, scouring in the muck in search of the almighty Quote. Now look beyond it, to the expanse it could have occupied. Gasp in awe at what it could have been—a beacon of salvation upon a hill shining its light for all to see. But the people won’t look, nor will they listen, they’re too busy suckling at the teat of false knowledge. Junkies looking for the next critical fix, and the site provides. It pushes its content into their ossified network of veins, blasts it in their deafened ears just so even a faint blip might register. Truly this is hell, if only because some of us can still see that hill, and we’re moving further from it every day. The train has left the station, it’s teetering above the chasm, and there’s no stopping its descent. Continue reading