Sunday, June 22, 2014

Film Reviews: June 22, 2014

Here is a summary of the reviews from today's show:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a very good sequel. Even though some of the action sequences are frantic to the point of being sloppy, the focus on character and story gives the movie an edge over most other animated films and over most sequels in general.

22 Jump Street frequently feels more like a Saturday Night Live skit lampooning as a Hollywood sequel than an actual motion picture. It begins well and it ends well but the long stretch in between is a marathon of college movie clichés that isn’t worth it.

Despite caving to its sentimentality, Belle is a pretty good movie. It tells an unusual story and it does a better than average job portraying the complicated interplay of race, class, and gender. The movie comes up a little light on substance but as a period romance it works.

Chef may be low on story but it’s high on character and fun. The movie is lightweight, no doubt about it, but it’s also charming and enjoyable, the kind of movie that’s rare in the summer movie marketplace.

All is Lost is the kind of film that challenges what audiences expect from the movies and from storytelling in general. The picture is excellently made and has a terrific performance by Robert Redford but it is the quiet dread of the movie that makes it unnerving and memorable.

Full reviews can be found in the review archive.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Film Reviews: June 15, 2014

Here is a summary of the reviews from today's show: 

Edge of Tomorrow is a fun sci-fi action movie. Despite its flaws, the film is very exciting, the story premise is used intelligently, and even if Tom Cruise is miscast the filmmakers are able to use his considerable charm to the movie’s benefit.

A Long Way Down has some stellar performances but the filmmakers needed to do a better job of adapting the material for the screen. The film’s whole is less than the sum of its parts.

The Fault in Our Stars may start out with some of the clichés of young adult romances but it gradually dismantles most of them. By the end this is a smart and sensitive film about confronting mortality and appreciating the half of the glass that’s full. It’s intended to make the audience cry, but it earns most of its tears.

Big Fish is a terrific film and certainly one of Tim Burton’s best pictures. It has the love of fantasy that defined Burton’s other movies but this film also has a maturity and a sophistication that distinguishes it from the director’s other work.

Full reviews can be found in the review archive

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Was Ann Hornaday Right?

Following the shooting massacre near the University of California Santa Barbara, the issue of misogyny has reentered mainstream news and commentary. One response to this shooting was offered by Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday who wrote that the shooter, who had posted an online video claiming he was going to take revenge on the women who had rejected him, suffered from “delusions [that] were inflated, if not created, by the entertainment industry he grew up in.” Hornaday went on to implicate the recent comedies of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan in creating those delusions. She wrote, “How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like ‘Neighbors’ and feel, as [the shooter] did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of ‘sex and fun and pleasure’? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, ‘It’s not fair’?”

Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan responded to Hornaday over Twitter. Rogan tweeted, “I find your article horribly insulting and misinformed” and “how dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage.”

The exchange between Hornaday, Apatow, and Rogan brought the ongoing debate about the role and responsibility of cinema to the forefront but picking on one film or group of filmmakers is not productive. To suggest that comedies like Neighbors or Knocked Up incited a shooting spree is ludicrous. For that matter, blaming violent movies and video games is equally silly. A single film or even an entire genre of films do not have the power to brainwash an otherwise normal human being and turn him or her (but usually him) into a killer.

However, that isn’t quite what Hornaday was suggesting in her piece. What Hornaday was really picking up on is something far more widespread and troubling. In her piece she wrote:
Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it. The myths that movies have been selling us become even more palpable at a time when spectators become their own auteurs and stars on YouTube, Instagram and Vine. If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger — thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections — no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large.
Hornaday is not a indicting a particular film or filmmaker here. This is about a much broader matrix of images, themes, and narratives that Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry thrust upon us.

The most effective propaganda does not conjure brand new images or ideas or directly challenge core beliefs. Rather, effective propaganda utilizes preexisting beliefs, values, and prejudices and reflects and reinforces them, usually grafting those beliefs onto a cause, an idea, or a story. The films of Judd Apatow and his protégés and imitators do have a problematic regard for women but they didn’t create it (and Apatow and company are far from the worst offenders). Their films are consistent with the way the motion picture industry and the culture as a whole have envisioned and internalized notions of male entitlement.

Women have been marginalized in mainstream Hollywood films since the very inception of the studio system. It’s only recently that the idea of a female director has become a possibility within the Hollywood old boys club but even in 2012 only 9 percent of the top 250 movies at the domestic box office were directed by women. Things are about as bad on the acting front, where less than one-third of speaking roles—not lead roles but simply acting parts with a bit of dialogue—were portrayed by women. Concerns about the portrayal of women (or the absence of women) isn't about a single film or filmmaker. This is systemic and its message to the audience, intentional or not, is that women’s stories do not matter and that women serve a utilitarian function in the stories of men.

But this isn’t just about feature films. The imagery of movies exists in concert with other media including music, novels and print ads and together they shape and reinforce, in Hornaday’s words, “what we desire, expect and feel we deserve” from life.

Misogyny and male entitlement are so deeply entrenched in the culture and in the business practices of the entertainment industry that hoping for change is an act of folly. But it isn’t the film critic’s job to hope. It is the job of critics to critique individual films and to point out the larger context in which those films exist. No one should expect Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan to accept blame for a shooting rampage because they aren’t responsible for it. But they are accountable for the content of their films. Provoking thought and consciousness of the themes and values of movies--spoken and unspoken--is about the best critics can do and filmmakers and moviegoers ought to ponder those criticisms carefully.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Film Reviews: June 1, 2014

Here is a summary of the films reviewed on today's show:

Despite its tenuous logic and other flaws, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a very enjoyable picture. The movie may not have the emotional or thematic weight of X2 or First Class but it is frequently spectacular and highly entertaining and it does manage to pull this series together, even if it does so for the purpose of negating most of it.

The Railway Man has a few very good performances and the movie does tell a compelling story. The filmmakers’ approach to the narrative is flawed and ultimately causes the movie to miss the point but there is enough right about The Railway Man to merit a mild recommendation.

Those who fondly recall movies like The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates will find at least a pleasant diversion in Blended but there’s no getting around the fact that it's not a very good movie.

In the Company of Men is not an easy film to watch but the emotional punch of the movie is exactly why it works as well as it does. The controversy that the film sparked in 1997 may have been a sign of how close this film was to its mark and the parts of it that are upsetting are also the most illuminating.

Full reviews can be found in the review archive