Wednesday, April 18, 2018

KMSU Spring Pledge Drive

89.7 KMSU FM "The Maverick" is currently holding its spring pledge drive. If you listen to Sounds of Cinema from this station or simply believe in independent radio, please consider making a financial contribution. You can make a pledge by calling 507-389-5678 or 1-800-456-7810. You can also make a pledge online at the the station's website.

This pledge drive has a fundraising goal of $30,000 this spring. The money primarily goes to maintaining KMSU equipment so that we can keep the station and its diverse slate of programs on the air.

If you listen to KMSU and enjoy its content, please help to ensure that the station continues to broadcast its unique blend of programming. In stressful and uncertain economic times we all have to take extra care in how we spend our money. But it is also important to remember that we demonstrate what we value by where and how we spend our money. Consider the impact KMSU's programs have on the community. Many of the programs, especially those that are locally produced, provide a very important service to the listenership and to the Mankato area as a whole.

It's also important to remember that pledges are not just about money. Space and funding are at a premium across higher education. When you make a pledge to KMSU you demonstrate that the station is valued by the community and that helps justify the station's continued existence.

On Sunday, April 22nd, those listening to Sounds of Cinema from KMSU will hear a special pledge drive episode. Those listening from 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona will hear the regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Interview with Paul Talbot

Today's episode of Sounds of Cinema featured an interview with Paul Talbot, author of Bronson's Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films and Bronson's Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson. In this interview, Talbot discusses the Death Wish franchise and the legacy of the series.

You can find an archive of other Sounds of Cinema interviews here.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Movies that the Oscars Missed 2018

The Academy Awards will broadcast Sunday night. As in most years, there are number of films released in 2017 that did not get the attention that they deserved or were shut out of awards contention. Here are a few of those:

The Florida Project
My pick for the best movie of 2017, The Florida Project is a drama about people living in a cheap Orlando motel outside of Walt Disney World. The film was profound, honest, and subversive and was a portrait of American life that so much of our mainstream media diet obfuscates. Willem Dafoe has been repeatedly nominated for his performance (and rightly so) but newcomers Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince should have been recognized as well.

Darren Aronofsky’s film Mother! was one of the most contentious releases of last year. Whatever we might make of the film’s meanings, it was a disappoint to see Mother! passed over even in the technical awards. The film had extraordinary use of sound and some astonishing visuals and seamless editing.

In the current political climate, Kathryn Bigelow’s movie should have been one of the most talked about releases of 2017. Instead it died at the box office and was ignored by the Hollywood awards circuit. It may be that Detroit was just too much--too grueling, too authentic, and too challenging--for the audience to accept at this time. Look for Detroit to gain a renewed appreciation in a few years time.

Wind River
Taylor Sherridan’s directorial debut was  another title that ought to have resonated with the current political climate but got lost in the shuffle. The movie was a police procedural involving sexual assault and complex characters.

The Beguiled 
Sofia Coppola's adaptation of Thomas Cullinan's novel was exactly the kind of movie that Oscar voters love but for some reason Hollywood forgot about it by the time awards season arrived. The Beguiled had a terrific cast including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell and some exceptional cinematography and production design.

Good Time 
Good Time was probably too gritty and not commercial enough for the bland highbrow tastes of the Academy. But Good Time was one of the best movies of 2017. Robert Pattinson was terrific, New York City has never looked quite like this, and the electronic soundtrack by OneohTrix Point Never was one of the most effective music scores of the year.

Catfight doesn't suggest itself as Oscar material but this black comedy was one of the better and more provocative movies of 2017. Underneath its slap happy veneer, Catfight is a political metaphor for our time.

Ingrid Goes West
The tastes of the Hollywood award establishment, especially the Academy Awards, skew older and stories about the younger generation are usually dismissed. Ingrid Goes West was a black comedy for the millennial generation that featured a terrific cast including Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, and O'Shea Jackson Jr.

One of the best movies of 2017 that nobody saw, Novitiate is a drama about nuns entering the convent at the time of Vatican II. The entire cast of this movie is great, especially Melissa Leo and Margaret Qualley. It's a movie about spirituality and carnality that takes both of those cravings seriously.

This film was primarily a showcase for Harry Dean Stanton and he is terrific as a ninety year old atheist confronting his mortality. As heavy as that sounds, Lucky is actually quite funny.

Strange Weather
Another 2017 title that passed under the radar, Strange Weather features a great performance by Holly Hunter as a woman investigating her son's suicide.

Comic book movies aren’t usually recognized by the Academy but Hugh Jackman really should have been nominated for his final performance as Wolverine. And if Patrick Stewart had given the same performance in a mainstream drama he would have been considered a shoo in for award nominations.

War for the Planet of the Apes 
War for the Planet of the Apes earned a well deserved visual effects nomination at this year's Oscars but it should have been taken a little more seriously by the Hollywood awards circuit. In particular, War should have been recognized for Michael Giacchino's music which was one of the best film scores of last year.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What Does 'Black Panther' Mean?

Having reviewed Black Panther, I want to comment on the way the movie has been discussed by film critics and by cultural commentators in general. Black Panther has achieved an impressive 97% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and deservedly so – the movie is quite good. But the conversation about Black Panther has gone beyond praising its cinematic craft to proclamations that the movie represents some kind of rubicon that will change Hollywood and American culture.

The past few weeks have seen the publication of numerous articles emphasizing Black Panther’s cultural significance and framing the movie as a game changer. Black Panther has become one of the most Tweeted–about films and, as Carvel Wallace explains in New York Magazine, African American social media turned the release of the movie into a cultural event. Black Panther has been seized upon by political activists who have used screenings as voter registration drives and fundraisers for community organizations.

Film critics were not immune to the excitement. Rohaan Naahar wrote that Black Panther “will be taught in school [and] debated among intellectuals.” Leonard Maltin gave the movie a mixed review but ultimately decided that his misgivings about Black Panther’s cinematic merits “may not be what matters.” One of the most hyperbolic reviews came from CineVue’s Zoe Margolis who proclaimed that “Black Panther is the film that will change everything. When you see it, you know that from here on in, everything will be different.”

There is something to the narrative around Black Panther. The movie takes place in Africa, a continent whose people have been ignored by Hollywood, is written and directed by black filmmakers and features a primarily black cast in a story in which black identity is central. And all of this happens in a tent pole studio film. But we should be cautious about proclaiming Black Panther as a defining moment for American culture or for Hollywood. Its impressive box office performance is encouraging but it’s just too early to know if this film actually represents that kind of change.

Recent history provides more than enough reason for skepticism. In 1998 the Marvel comic book Blade was adapted into a feature film starring Wesley Snipes. It was rated R and was released at a time when the box office for comic book features wasn’t quite what it is now. Regardless, Blade was a hit and the movie spawned two sequels (one that was very good and another that wasn’t) and a television series. The release of the original Blade was preceded by 1997’s Spawn, an adaptation of the popular comic book that also featured an African American actor in the lead role. Spawn was not the financial success that Blade was (nor was it as good) but Spawn was nevertheless a high profile release by a major studio headlined by an African American actor.

At the time of their releases, there was some mention of the fact that these movies were comic book adventures with black protagonists but neither Blade nor Spawn were regarded as game changers. And they weren’t. Hollywood’s representation of characters of color has remained more or less consistent in the two decades since Blade’s release. In the interim we got 2004’s Catwoman starring Halle Berry, a movie that the actress probably wishes we would forget. But Catwoman is worth mentioning because Berry made it after becoming the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. At the time her Oscar win was discussed in much the same way as the release of Black Panther: a historic game changer that would bend the course of Hollywood and open doors for other people of color. A decade and a half on, it’s clear that her win was not the sea change it was initially proclaimed to be, something Berry herself has admitted

There is a distinct difference between the culture that Spawn and Blade played to and the one that showed up for Black Panther. For one, the internet is a ubiquitous presence. With that comes the networking of social media but also the hyperbole and moral grandstanding that defines online discourse. Black Panther also comes at a time of greater awareness—and anxiety—about the status of people of color in American society and in particular their absence from a lot of mainstream entertainment. Those components, as well as the impatient pace of today’s world—sends many of us looking for validation and lead us to prematurely declare pop cultural events as more significant than they actually are. The same dynamic played out in 2017 with the release of Wonder Woman and in 2016 with the remake of Ghostbusters.

So where does that leave Black Panther? For the moment it is a well-made and financially successful movie. And, just as impressively, it is a major studio film with intelligent political themes in which the artistic voice of its makers was not steamrolled by the corporate filmmaking process. And the movie is a high profile success for the cast and crew of color. That is more than enough to celebrate. Whether Black Panther is more than that depends on whether or not other filmmakers and studios follow its lead. And whether Hollywood does that will depend, at least in part, on whether or not audiences continue to show up at the theater.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Best and Worst Films of 2017

Yesterday's episode of Sounds of Cinema revealed my picks of the ten best and worst films of 2017. You can find more, including rationales for each title and lists of honorable mentions and trends of 2017, here.

Best Films of 2017
1. The Florida Project 

2. Get Out 

3. Mother! 

4. Call Me By Your Name 

5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

6. Logan

7. Detroit 

8. Baby Driver 

9. Good Time 

10. I, Tonya 

  1. A Cure for Wellness 
  2. Baywatch 
  3. War on Everyone 
  4. CHIPS 
  5. I Do Until I Don’t 
  6. Home Again 
  7. The Only Living Boy in New York 
  8. Rings 
  9. A Quiet Passion 
  10. Transformers: The Last Knight 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sounds of Cinema 2017 Wrap Up Coming January 28

The Sounds of Cinema episode for Sunday, January 28th will look back at the cinema of 2017 and count down my picks of the best and worst films of the past year. Sounds of Cinema airs every Sunday morning at 9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, Minnesota and at 11am on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato, Minnesota. You can hear the show over the air and live streaming from each station's website.

Until then, here are the year end picks from other critics: