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SFFH in Film, TV, and other NonTextual Media

Tuesday 30 July 2002

§ Newsweek raves about M. Night Shyamalan and his next film Signs, opening this Friday, to the point of putting him on its August 5th cover, calling him "The Next Spielberg".

Shyamalan is every bit the movie buff that the ’70s auteurs were. His idols are unapologetically pop, though: not Fellini, Bergman and Kurosawa, but Hitchcock, Lucas and Spielberg. The scares in “Signs” call Hitchcock to mind, but Shyamalan is more akin to the young Spielberg in his careful rippling of the heartstrings, his deft touch with child actors, his fascination with the middle-class American family and his desperate desire to keep pleasing the same demographic over and over: people between the ages of 10 and 100.
David Ansen's review begins:
Director M. Night Shyamalan is a very young man who understands a very old lesson (one most of his peers have forgotten): it’s what you don’t see that makes a scary movie scary.

§ Meanwhile, Sunday's New York Times Magazine has an article about the making of a movie trailer, with Signs and trailer-editor Art Mondrala as the examples at hand. Some revealing details:

Mondrala doesn't watch movies the way most humans do. In order to distill a feature film into a demographically targeted, two-and-a-half-minute montage, his job is to become obsessed, myopic, perhaps even a little mad. To him, movies aren't sustained narratives that build to a climax. ''I watch purely from the standpoint of single moments,'' he says. ''Someone turning his head quickly, a fast camera sweep, lines with compressed emotion. In my work, I live in fractions of a second; one second is an eternity..."

The hardest challenge of trailer cutting, everybody agrees, is paring the thing down to two and a half minutes. That's not an aesthetic choice. It's a limit enforced by the Motion Picture Association of America. Each studio gets one exception every year; the DreamWorks trailer for ''Road to Perdition,'' for example, clocks in at 2:46. (Disney has yet to choose a 2002 exception, but it is not ''Signs.'')

Tuesday 9 July 2002

§ Jonathan Lethem reviews Spider-Man for London Review of Books...

As for me, I shed an awkward tear at several points, mourning my own lost innocence as glimpsed through the double lens of the film and the crowd's response to it, and overwhelmed by the simple power of a collective experience you've anticipated for decades, as when your mostly-losing local sports team nails a championship. I was completely beguiled from my cynicism. You may now safely consider me to have overrated the movie.

§ Looking forward to this Friday's release of Reign of Fire (about fire-breathing dragons let loose on modern Earth), Lewis Beale in Sunday's New York Times essays on the history of apocalyptic movies, from "Things to Come" to "The Road Warrior", with comments from James Gunn:

"There is a kind of pleasure that people get in seeing familiar things destroyed," Mr. Gunn said. "This represents not a reformist mood but an apprehension mood. What we're dealing with here is that somehow things at various moments in history can fall apart, everything can turn dark and dismal. It appeals to people to see — in that imaginary sense — the world around them going through all this."
Also, Los Angeles Times explores how the special effects guys created the ultimate dragon.
Instead of relying on prior effects-based dragon films, such as "Dragonslayer" and "Dragonheart," they turned to National Geographic TV specials. ...

§ The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) has selected a list of the Top 100 Sci-Fi Films of the Past 100 Years, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Tuesday 2 July 2002

MIB2 Buzz

§ The earliest buzz for Men In Black II, opening tomorrow, is not positive. David Edelstein in Slate:

Men in Black II (Columbia) was hatched before 9/11 and doesn't have a thing on its mind except more and bigger squiggly beasties. If it isn't the worst sequel ever made, it's only because it has too much competition: Impersonal and frenetic, it's a landmark Hollywood disgrace.

Minority Links

§ Here are links to reviews by several of the major critics:

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
— David Edelstein, Slate
— Richard Corliss, Time

Some reviews were accompanied by sidebars about Philip K. Dick, like this long one in Los Angeles Times, though this shorter one in Time is notable for containing, in a mainstream publication, the following remarks about 'sci-fi':

Verne and Vonnegut, Borges and Burgess, Lessing and LeGuin—they all wrote science fiction that was taken seriously during their lives. Philip K. Dick's work, no less serious or searching, was confined to the ghetto of SF (that's the short form, folks—never, ever sci-fi).
LAT also printed this article about Harald Becker, designer of Minority Report's cars.

Edelstein's Slate review offered several associated links: Citizens for a Murder Free America [high bandwidth!] Lexus Minority Report
(However this fan site, appears to be defunct)
More in-depth are a couple essays. Tim Appelo in Slate argues that Spielberg doesn't understand noir.
Spielberg is proudest of the element that most critics have liked least in Minority Report: the plotty whodunit denouement. But Edmund Wilson could've told him: What's good in noir stories is not the puzzle solved—it's the malaise along the way. ... Minority Report has virtuoso grit, but it wipes off with one swipe, like waxy buildup in a commercial. Philip K. Dick's original hero dreads noir betrayal by his dame; Tom Cruise's wound is the morally irreproachable loss of a child. (Cruise says boosting the kid theme was his big script contribution.) Cruise is great, huffing street drugs like the Bad Lieutenant— but his grief lets him off the moral hook. What's his depraved kink? Watching 3-D home movies of his angelic son and his perky ex blushing coyly in a PG negligee.
And Jeremy Lott in Reason notes the film's correspondence with current political events.
But the rooting-out that Spielberg says he supports is, of course, pre-emptive. The Justice Department has detained hundreds of suspects for months on immigration and other charges and stonewalled any requests for details on the identities or whereabouts of said persons. On the international scene, much ink is currently being spilt over the government's claims to the right of "anticipatory self defense."


§ This USA Today article (via Yahoo) summarizes Hollywood's treatment of genetics and DNA, which long ago replaced radiation as the mechanism for creating monsters.

This Los Angeles Times profile of Michael Chabon (pronounced, by the way, SHAY-bin) describes his career and current attempts to write a screenplay of his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

June Media Refractions

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