A couple of years back, I did not publish a year-end piece on those articles I most enjoyed reading for the period. Routinely, my online browsing turns up a number authors and write-ups that exceed whatever threshold I have in my head. I promised not to get caught flat-footed again. So, I rectified the issue by gathering them up and presenting each quarterly. This the last of such for the year.
Shall we put 2014 to bed then?
A number of my most-liked and gifted writers looked at David Fincher’s early awards contender, which starts this highlight reel in grand fashion. Movie fan, blogger, author, occasional @thejournal_ie contributor and all-round pop culture nerd, Darren Mooney of the m0vie blog is no stranger to this site. Or this series. His fine piece leads us off:
“The stories that people tell.
In many respects, Gone Girl is a story about narratives. It is a film about how we construct and manage our own narratives, and the narratives of those around us. Facts are malleable, reality is arbitrary. Everything that happens exists as a detail to be woven into some sort of story. Inevitably, stories differ, narratives conflict. The story that Nick Dunne tells about the disappearance of his wife differs from the version of events presented in her diary; the narrative that the public and the press construct is rather distinct from that constructed by those inside the story.”
The Writer Loves Movies website became a regular haunt for this reader in the past year. Brought by freelance film writer Natalie Stendall, she offered another stirring interpretation of this thriller:
“What’s most gripping about Fincher’s Gone Girl are not the twists and turns, of which there are many, but its unflinching attempt to jab and cut its way into the dark, bleeding heart of modern marriage. This is solid writing from Gillian Flynn, adapting her own book, poking at the foul, soiled and malignant in long-term relationships. Partners know the very worst parts of each other and in Gone Girl this becomes a kind of perverse attraction.”
Author Nicholas Conley over at his Nicholas Conley’s Writings, Readings and Coffee Addictions also intrigued with his distinct look at Gone Girl’s most-talked about feature:
“Let’s face it, both of these two characters are horrible spouses, but also horribly suited for each other. Nick is naïve, simple, fraught with desperate and needy self-consciousness, and he’s clearly a bit of a narcissist; though he isn’t inherently dangerous, there’s nothing in Nick’s world but Nick. Amy, of course, can only be described as an equally narcissistic, cunning, brilliant psychopath. She knows what she wants, and she doesn’t care who she has to maim, injure or ruin in order to get it. She plans things out to such an extent that it’s almost impossible for anyone to find a loophole.”
Finally, Natalie Wilson’s piece for Ms. blog Magazine struck on a subject that had to be said, whether you agree with it or not. You won’t be able to help yourself, which is what I mainly look for as a qualifier in this series of articles.
Yes, this is fiction. Yes, it’s a dark, twisted mystery. The author made it clear that she “wanted to write about the violence of women” after her first book, Sharp Objects. And this is not a problem, but what is vexing about Gone Girl is that at the heart of its narrative is a woman who falsely accuses several men of rape and assault and tries to frame one of them for murder. Rape and assault are at epidemic levels in our society, and along with the horrible statistics is a pervasive narrative of blaming the victim. At the heart of this narrative is the myth that women lie about rape. Not once in a blue moon; often.“Let’s face it, both of these two characters are horrible spouses, but also horribly suited for each other. Nick is naïve, simple, fraught with desperate and needy self-consciousness, and he’s clearly a bit of a narcissist; though he isn’t inherently dangerous, there’s nothing in Nick’s world but Nick. Amy, of course, can only be described as an equally narcissistic, cunning, brilliant psychopath. She knows what she wants, and she doesn’t care who she has to maim, injure or ruin in order to get it. She plans things out to such an extent that it’s almost impossible for anyone to find a loophole.”
Cindy Bruchman teaches AP US/World History, Holocaust Studies as well as community college Humanities courses, photographer, and a wonderful writer. I’m lucky she’s a frequent visitor and commenter here, too. Someone I consider as a friend. Her look at Hollywood and the stereotypes made me do what I hope most articles I read would…think.
“If you think stereotypes are bad, how do you combat them? In films, characters shouldn’t display a single image. They should contain complexity. Thinking about womens’ roles my favorites characters followed no stereotype, and they possessed strong personalities. Clever and amusing, their self-confidence makes them attractive. Complicated and compassionate is a fine mix. Their loyalty to their mate and devotion to others is true sex-appeal. Simply being a sex object is boring.”
Jonathan Robbins of RobbinsRealm Blog is part of my regular reading these days for good reason. No less so than for his examination of one of my all-time favorite television specials. One that enthralled me as a twelve-year old when I watched first-run on October 27, 1966.
“Even with it first being put out on VHS tape, and later both on DVD and Blu-ray, each year, when it is re-broadcast, the network airing of the Peanuts classic draws, on average, 10 million plus viewers. That is really something special for a show that can be watched at any time on other mediums, and is almost fifty years of age. The special is also a reminder that, at one point, Halloween also had a greater degree of innocence to it. The Peanuts special aired long before parents and guardians had to check each individual piece of candy, to make sure that some psycho hadn’t tampered with it, and inserted a razor blade, pill, or God knows what other devastating item into the candy.”
Hard to believe it’s been thirty-five years with a landmark film. One that brought a lanky American actress and an artistic British director together, and to the forefront. The film has been examined many times since, and I couldn’t tell you the exact number of times I’ve seen the sci-fi/horror classic on the big and small screen over the years. So when it was announced Sigourney Weaver would be at an anniversary screening, with a discussion, here in Los Angeles, I tried to get tickets. Naturally, it sold out before I could. Luckily, Gina McIntyre for the L.A. Times Hero Complex covered it in-depth:
“He pulled out these drawings, [H.R.] Giger drawings, and I think some were by Carlo Rambaldi. I still to this day have never seen anything like it. I couldn’t believe you could actually make a film with these kinds of images, they were so powerful, they were so unsettling and terrifying. I don’t know what I thought about science fiction — that it was sort of “Flash Gordon” — this was on a whole different scale. I thought, gosh, I think I’d really like to be a part of that. I still hadn’t made a commitment to the character.”
Quite a year of anniversary celebrations, once again, for The Lads. What with the fiftieth for “A Hard Day’s Night” and all. Their music both that old and still made anew. David Fricke writing for Rolling Stone took a listen to one album in particular from their newest set release. The mono vinyl reissue of The Beatles (AKA The White Album):
“Recorded and released as they began to fall apart, this 1968 double LP is the longest and most eclectic album John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr ever made. It is still capable of great surprise, even discovery, in the right circumstance. In this case: freshly pressed monaural vinyl, especially via headphones.”
Taste of Cinema has an ongoing bit with movie lists for their readership, with various writers taking on all kinds of things. Though it was posted earlier in the year, I didn’t catch up to this till mid-October. What was it? “Long take. One-shot. Oner. Continuous take. Different terms for the same principle: An uninterrupted (or seemingly uninterrupted) shot in a movie.” This Emilio’s list for the best:
“The most often mentioned take is the spectacular and insane car ambush scene, in which the characters are driving along a road and are ambushed by a bunch or forest dwellers. To achieve this shot a special rig was constructed inside and around the car, whilst the seats and windshield were modified so that they could be moved to get actors out of the way and the camera out through the windscreen whilst being able to turn 360 degrees. Four people were on top of the roof to control the whole contraption.”
Cassandra Khaw’s piece for The Verge highlighted some real poster gems of classic horror films for the Halloween season:
“Halloween is drawing closer, and with it comes a slaughter of costumes, parties, and themed merchandise. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment collaborated with cult decor company Skuzzles to create limited edition artwork for 13 cult classics. Like the movie posters of yesterday, these images are bold, vibrant, and sometimes just a little over-the-top.”
It’s not because the article has some of the best film category titles ever (“Coolest Name”, “Least Believable Service Member”, “The Best at Not Giving an Order”), but what Shea Serrano articulated in this passage of his piece for Grantland:
“The story that Matt Damon’s character tells Tom Hanks’s character about his oldest brother nearly having sex with a very unattractive woman is so great, particularly near the end, when Damon realizes he’s talking about the last time he and his brothers were together before they died, and especially the way Hanks absorbs it, knowing the realization is about to come. It’s amazing and devastating that these sorts of conversations are common. If I ever happen to be in a war (let’s say that, all of a sudden, 33-year-old out-of-shape Mexicans become super in demand in the military next year and I get drafted) and I get killed like one of the Ryan brothers did, please have my body cremated and my ashes scattered on Kawhi Leonard’s scalp. Thank you.”
One of my all-time favorite epics was the subject of a Movie Mezzanine essay. Written by Omer M. Mozaffar for a Bernardo Bertolucci retrospective at the Castro Theater that occurred back in October. Only wish I could have been there:
“Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) chronicles the story of a man unable to break out of his destiny. The Chinese Emperor Pu Yi (played as an adult by John Lone) receives the throne as a child. “The son of heaven,” he is the most powerful person in the whole nation. He spends his life incarcerated in the Forbidden City, with his behavior controlled by the protocols of his seat. This is a man of tremendous means, but so closely guarded that he is expected to be divine, while not permitted to be human. This is a profound film about the ways political change affects an uncommon man.”
Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson writing for his blog, PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews, is someone I keep an eye on. I stop by fairly regularly, quietly lurking. So glad I could put the spotlight on him and his site with his fine review for one of the most unique films this awards season has to offer:
“Every so often, an actor will seem so perfectly suited for a character that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. This goes beyond giving an amazing performance; there’s some other, meta force that makes said actor the only real choice. One of the best examples of this in recent memory was Mickey Rourke’s turn in The Wrestler. Great performance, but it was the parallel comebacks for both the character and the actor which made it seem even more poignant. This year, we have a comparable case of an 80’s actor making a comeback in a role that seems no one else but he could play. That man is Michael Keaton, famous for playing a superhero in the 80s and 90s, plays an actor famous for doing just that in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new film Birdman.”
No matter which side of the argument you land on, this Stephen King novel, and its film adaptation, draws controversy no matter how you examine it. Each side has fervent fans. Laura Miller’s excellent piece for Salon cut to the heart of the author’s contention. She, and he, has a point:
“This supposition that King resents Kubrick as a rival reveals more of the person making it than it does of King himself; few bestselling authors offer a more modest and unassuming public face than King. Kubrick buffs also like to point tauntingly at King’s poorly regarded 1997 miniseries adaptation of “The Shining,” labeling it a failed attempt to better the master. But by all accounts King is motivated not by competition but rather by a protective instinct toward characters who clearly mean a lot to him. Kubrick’s detachment sticks in his craw. King wants to do right by his own story — his own in more ways than one, since King has stated that Jack Torrance, the deranged aspiring writer played by Jack Nicholson in the film, is the most autobiographical of all his creations.”
Oh, and I had to include Jacob T. Swinney‘s stellar video essay in this quarterly highlight reel. Especially, since he kindly stopped by and read an article of mine as part of his exhaustive research on the subject he featured:
“A versatile aesthetic, silhouettes can be used to express everything from suspense to romance. Some display the lost, lonely nature of a character, while others make the character seem empowered and iconic. Here is a look at a wide variety of silhouettes in an array of films.”
Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business coach, artist coach, and young person’s mentor. He was also, at one time, a studio recording engineer who worked with a number of music artists during the 70s. His memoir on these sessions a wonderful well. A look back blog post at one of the best 1979 albums, by my wife’s favorite jazz singer and songwriter, worth your time:
“On occasion, though, I would work on a record where the folks making it were nice and somewhat sane. And on rarer occasions, these records were beautiful, and the people who made it were excellent at what they did. One such album was Tiger in the Rain by Michael Franks, produced and arranged by John Simon.”
As covered a few years back, I was a projectionist in the mid-70s at the Warner Huntington Park. Of late, this venerable old theater (closed down during the 90s) has been in the news. Bought by developers trying to turn it into a retail clothing store. Luckily, the South on Spring photography blog got a chance to display the magic and beauty in this deserted gem of a movie palace. There are a number of us fans still pushing for her restoration as a center of arts and entertainment for the city, though:
“The ceiling and chandeliers were intact, and stunning. There was some visible water damage, but the paint hadn’t begun to peel or stain black from nicotine as bad as we expected. Aside from the awkward sloped “stage” it was beautiful. There was a moment of panic as we looked through the vintage photos and realized the proscenium was gone. Katie slowly climbed up to the stage, fretting that any second she would fall through the wooden slope. Upon a closer look, we found the proscenium hidden behind a mask of textured black spackle-like coating. It’s hard to say if it could be uncovered, but at least it hadn’t been torn out. Down in the barren concrete basement, we stumbled upon a small reserve of emergency drinking water in corroded barrels. A little further past them lay a pile of vintage cast aluminum marquee letters which were incredible.”
Changing up for the moment, typography, especially in the visual arts, is also an interest of mine. Naturally, Dave Addey’s sci-fi piece on the subject, for one of all-time great and scary films (see Sigourney Weaver’s interview above), gathered me in. Should among the typeset out there reading this too, I suspect:
“This title card from Alien is an example – possibly the Ur Example – of a popular sci-fi trope, the Foreshadowing Inventory. Seven crew, you say? Hmm. Seven. Let’s hope nothing disastrous happens to them, one by one. And their course is set for a return to Earth, eh? Well, I’m sure that’s the likely outcome for this particular story.”
Admittedly, this may only be of interested for those of you who share my ongoing enthusiasm for The Beatles. The December uDiscover article offered some choice tidbits of the group, and was something I just couldn’t pass over:
“17. There are around seventy famous, and not so famous, people on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band including, Aleister Crowley, Mae West, Carl Jung, Edgar Allen Poe, Bob Dylan, Stuart Sutcliffe, Aldous Huxley, Marilyn Monroe, Laurel and Hardy, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich and Diana Dors.”
In the new trailer for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie, one controversy (of a few) arose that centered on a shadowy, hooded figure flicking on a red-bladed lightsaber…with two smaller lightsabers sputtering out at the base of the hilt a half second later. Here’s John Brownlee’s fastcodesign.com article that defended the idea:
“So yes, the Star Wars universe needs crossguards. But J.J. Abrams’s particular solution to the problem is making the Internet laugh. Critics say the lightsaber crossguard is more likely to make Driver (or whoever that is) sever his own hand than actually protect him from someone else’s blade. Even if the crossguard did work as intended, it looks silly, these critics argue.”
If you’re a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic tribute to the San Fernando Valley’s notorious cottage industry, then Alex French and Howie Kahn’s (with illustrations by Alexander Wells) piece at Grantland is right up your alley (with a title to match):
“Boogie Nights began as a teenage boy’s wet dream. Nearly a decade before its 1997 release, it was a fantasy to chase. The year was 1988. The boy was a precocious, plotting 17-year-old named Paul Thomas Anderson. He was growing up in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, obsessed with the studios all around him. He wanted in and hustled plenty — sneaking onto sets, working a Betamax camera from the age of 12, filming everything — but he also gained entrée from his father, Ernie, who was famous from his voice-over work for ABC on shows like The Love Boat.”
Good friend and author Joe Maddrey has been on a roll of late via music and the mixtape medium on is MOVIES MADE ME blog. A recent post covering a few of his “firsts” had me at “MY FIRST RECORD” (which gives me an idea to copy…later). Fascinating read, if I do say so:
“I’m not sure it would be possible for me to overstate my enthusiasm for Michael Jackson at that point in my life. His music was a kind of refuge for me. While my mom was battling a life-threating illness, and when my family moved to a new town… I could always lock myself in my room, turn on the music and try to dance like Michael. I couldn’t do it, of course (who could?), but I promise it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I found it impossible to listen to any of those albums without moving. And as soon as I started moving, I pretty much forgot about everything else. Now, really, what more can you ask for?”
As a longtime fan of Bond, James Bond, I’d like to sincerely thank _DavidSmith for gathering up all the segments of Dan and John’s podcasts centering on each movie back in 2011 and putting them all in one place:
“The James Bond movies are some of my favorite movies of all time. I remember very fondly following along with Dan and John each week as they made their way through the first twenty three films. Those conversations still stand as one of my favorite podcast series.
In 2012 (just before Skyfall came out) I had the notion to go back and re-listen to them all. Unfortunately since they were done as a segment inside of regular Talk Show episodes it was initially a bit tricky to find them all. However, once I was able to isolate them the re-listen was worth it.”
I don’t do one of these myself, but The Editors of RogerEbert.com have come up with their best tensome for the year and I must say it’s good one:
“An actor taking one last shot at redemption. A young woman realizing that we all have to look back to move forward. The arc of boy to man. The best films of 2014 took viewers on unpredictable journeys that somehow still felt universal and emotionally resonant. The diversity of this unique year in film is reflected by a top ten that spans the globe from San Francisco to Poland to New York to Detroit to an imaginary place called Zubrowka, but that always draws the viewer back toward universal concerns.”
My friend Terri Wilson doesn’t post often on her In The Comfy Chair blog, but when she does it’s always of interest. More so when somehow she riffs on something by someone else, improves on the idea, and makes it her own. As she did here:
“At first, my research into which movies were released in 1965, my own birth year, took me to a list of the top grossers. The top grossing film for the entire year was The Sound of Music. If you knew how much I hate musicals, you would understand my complete horror at this discovery. After delving a little further, though, I realize that I was born right in the middle of the spy movie genre’s peak of popularity. Lead by the James Bond franchise, studios on both sides of The Pond wanted to jump on the spy bandwagon and cash in on audiences’ fascination with the murky world of shadows. The Bond offering that year was Thunderball. While not as cool as, say, Goldfinger from the year before, Thunderball is still a great Bond flick with relatively realistic gadgets, a great villain, and a kickin’ John Barry score.”
Author John Kenneth Muir is a semi-regular here, but for good reason. So when he examined one of my favorite, thought-provoking films of the year, in his usual insightful manner, well, how could I not include his article as the penultimate entry for 2014:
“In a significant fashion, Snowpiercer — though based on a graphic novel from 1982 called Le Transperceniege — reflects our 2014 political weariness and cynicism. The movie dwells in that gnawing, familiar sense that no matter which party is driving the train, things won’t meaningfully change for the least fortunate of us. We all just keep going around in a circle, and the rich stay rich while the poor stay poor.”
Finally, returning to a subject that continues to weigh on me, photochemical vs. 1s and 0s, Paula Bernstein’s Indiewire article asked this year’s best cinematographers their thoughts on shooting film and digital. No matter where you land on this, their opinions are worth moviegoers’ attention:
“It’s been four in a row that I’ve done digital. There is still something inherently magical about shooting on film, and to some degree, it’s mysterious and you get to be the wizard behind the curtain that makes everything happen, which I kind of love. But also, with digital photography, you’ve eliminated some of the things that could become problematic, both photochemically and technically in labs with scratches and all kinds of mysterious things that can arise. There’s not many surprises with digital, but there’s more risks you can take. You certainly sleep better at night because you don’t have to wake up at 4 am and call the lab to see if there’s still a job for you to do that day. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less work, you still have to put the lights in the right places and you still have to make good choices and fight continuity along scenes.”
p.s., while you’re at it, don’t miss The Movie Waffler‘s stunning end-of-year pictorial, too:
p.p.s, might as well add the Book Depository‘s for their best cover-wise, too:
The entire series can be found here.