Archives For Opinion

I’ve worked as a projectionist. Not on a reel-to-reel system, or with digital projectors, but I’ve put films together to sit on a platter, threaded them, projected them, broken down the reels, all that jazz. As someone who’s worked with these system, it bothers me every time I see people complaining on Twitter or in articles about what are clearly unavoidable projector accidents. The latest incident to cause a stir was at a press screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 15/70mm IMAX.

Let me be clear. People, particularly critics and media, need to understand that film projection is a complex process, whether it’s on film or digital, and unless it’s a clear mistake like the picture being out of frame, improperly masked, or out of focus, problems can happen and things can go wrong. Now, these problems are often human error, sometimes they’re mechanical, or electrical, or electronic. I’d imagine that on digital systems there are also potential software glitches. When there are so many potential points of error, errors are going to happen, and frankly it’s a miracle of modern fool-proofing that they don’t happen more often. People should be looking at these failures and cutting some slack, and they definitely shouldn’t be holding such incidents up as examples for why a particular projection system isn’t good enough. Click to read more.


Last night, I finally re-watched Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, the long-in-post-production film, shot in 2005, released in late 2011. I ‘d seen the film here in Toronto when it was released for exactly one week in the Fall. I fell in love with what I saw, ultimately naming the film my #2 of 2011, a ranking I’m still extremely comfortable with. Interestingly, before I saw the film I was aware of its tortured history, in which the Lonergan was unable to get it down to the contractually obligated 150 minutes maximum running time. This had led to years of edits and re-edits and fighting back and forth and litigation that is still ongoing. What I remember at the time was a beautiful film that had some idiosyncratic cuts, but also some areas where it truly felt like chunks of story were missing. I’d remarked at the time that it felt like a longer movie cut down to size, but my main takeaway was that I could’ve spent far longer in the world Lonergan had created. The movie was 150 minutes, but I’d just as easily have sat through a 4-hour cut of the film or longer.

The version of Margaret I saw last night is a nearly 3-hour cut available on the upcoming DVD. It’s not clear that this is a true “director’s cut” because it’s only officially referred to as and “extended cut.” It’s quite possible that while Lonergan put this cut together and approves of it, there is a still longer version out there that he’d be even happier with. Or not. Who knows. Directors can be fickle. Importantly, at roughly thirty minutes longer, the extended version of Margaret doesn’t feel any longer. In fact, in some ways it feels quicker, smoother and better paced than it did back in the Fall. Subplots that were previously dropped in confusing fashion are now transitioned out of in a more delicate way. The story has a flow, a more natural progression. It’s not just a case of the longer version being better because it adds more detail, but because it actually ends up feeling like a tighter film, and without feeling any longer. I said that I would gladly watch four hours of Margaret and the same remains true. It’s a breezy three hours.

All this got me thinking about long films. Click to read more.

In this age of side-taking and constant arguing, I think what gets lost “appreciation” film is that love of sharing. Sure, it’s fun for me to tell my friend, Ryan McNeil, how wrong he is about films, and getting into arguments is fun, too. But you know what’s more fun? Enjoying a film together with someone else. Sharing an appreciation. This is doubly true as a film lover who often gets other people to watch films I already love.

My mom, for example, is particularly open to watching all sorts of films. Sharing films with her is a joy because she’ll actually watch most anything I recommend to her. She won’t like everything, but she’s open, and I’m usually pretty good at figuring out what she’d like. For example, a couple weeks ago we were looking for a movie to watch on Netflix, without even really asking her or telling her about it, I put on The Skin I Live In. The name “Antonia Banderas” was enough to pique her interest—stupid, sexy Antonio—and so she gladly sat down to watch it with me. About thirty minutes in, with the disturbing elements of the film making themselves known, she said, “I’m not sure I like this film.” But guess what? She stuck it through. She watched the whole thing, and when the final, gut-punching scene came around, all she could was was, “Wow!” Click to read more.

In the grand scheme of things it’s good to remember that Brave is just a movie. That’s not to dismiss it, rather it’s a statement of fact. The film’s purpose is, like almost any film, to stimulate its audience. In this case it aims mostly to entertain, as well as illicit and emotional reaction. It’s possible to judge the film on this level alone. Does it achieve these basic goals? How well does it achieve them? This is the level most people will settle on in terms of their appreciation for the film.

There’s another set of criteria that gets attached to certain films, though. The first is a placement within a group, in the case of Brave this would amount to a measurement against other Pixar films. For other films it might be a comparative evaluation within a director’s body of work. Or a writer. Or an actor. Or anything. This sort of judgement is both fair and not. Judging Brave as “not up to par for Pixar” means very little for the film itself despite what it may say about the film within the given grouping and from the critic’s perspective. I have issues with judging a film this way, though I do acknowledge the usefulness of this sort of comparison. More problematic is burdening a film with a weight of necessary importance. The way I see it, Brave has struggled greatly with this kind of unfair weight. Click to read more.

One of the great things about Production Code-era Hollywood is that it forced writers and directors to find roundabout ways of including adult or bawdy subject-matter in films. Just because some censor board decided that all movies had to be chaste didn’t mean filmmakers and audience wanted less adult-oriented films. But, instead of being crude and vulgar, movies of classic Hollywood hid sex in witty dialogue and double entendres. Then the 60s happened and the Production Code died and audiences became more accepting of open sexuality in films and the whole thing went to shit.

I’m fine with more direct sex and language in films. I love me some Judd Apatow. But wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the days where filmmakers couldn’t rely on spelling things out crudely and directly? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some more creativity in the dialogue of romantic comedies or dramas? Those thinly veiled double entendres were witty and funny and bold and sexy as hell, and I want them back! Click to read more.

The modern movie age has become a cycle of hype more than an appreciation for film itself. I chalk it up to the mainstreaming of the nerd class and the ubiquity of the Internet. Film culture online is rarely about the films themselves, but the industry and hype surrounding them. I fall prey to it, as well. It disturbs me, though. For about half the year, all anybody cares about is how the films of the Summer will stack up. Once that’s over it’s just a big race to see which films get the most acclaim and awards. If any of these two seasons is better, it’s the awards one, mostly because the good films tend to stick around in the consciousness more, giving them more time to find an audience. The Summer season is altogether a different story. Almost the opposite, really. Months—sometimes years—of hype lead up to one short weekend, the discussion explodes for roughly a week, petering off through the next week, and nearly disappearing after that.

Take a look at this summer, for example, which arguably began early in the Spring with the release of The Hunger Games. In fact, we can start even earlier, with John Carter. Pretty much since that film’s release, the two or three-week cycle has played out like clockwork. It’s partly a sign of a year with many big releases, but it’s also an illustration of how Internet culture works. There are several stages, but essentially they come down to: The Hype, The Pre-Release Buzz, Release, Taking Sides. Click to read more.

If you’re going to see Brave this weekend (which you should be doing), and you happen to be in one of a few lucky cities, you could be one of the first to experience Dolby’s brand new theatrical surround sound system, Dolby Atmos. I got to check out the new system at a showing of Brave at the SilverCity Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto, and the results are quite impressive. First off, the system is loud. Very loud. But it’s also the first time outside of an IMAX theatre where I’ve heard a sound system be this loud without also losing fidelity. This has everything to do with the way Atmos is designed.

If you’re unfamiliar with how surround sound in theatres generally works, well, let me give you a primer. Theatres have operated with what’s called 5.1 surround for a few decades now, and recently have been upgrading to a 7.1 system. Those numbers are simply an indication of how many separate audio channels a system can support. 5.1 has one subwoofer channel and five regular speaker channels; one in the centre, two on either side and two more on the sides of the cinema. There are often multiple speakers on the sides as well as the back walls, but these all share the same two channels of sound. 7.1 is effectively the same, except that it adds two more channels specifically for the back. A sound mixer on a movie now has control of a more full environment of sound. Dolby Atmos takes that control to a whole new level. Atmos can support up to 128 channels of sound plugged into up to 64 speakers. You don’t need to be good at math to know that’s a huge difference. Click to read more.

It’s happening again. It happened back when Toy Story 3 was announced, and then when it came out. It happened when Cars 2 was announced, and when that came out, as well. Now that Disney has released the teaser trailer for Pixar’s Monsters University, it’s happening all over again. I’m speaking, of course, about the annoying requests for a sequel to The Incredibles. It pops up in lots of threads about one of these Pixar sequels. It can’t be escaped. The logic is always the same: we want Pixar making original movies, and we don’t want them to become Dreamworks, so no sequels or prequels or unending franchises, oh but wait, make an Incredibles sequel because it’s a superhero movie so it must have one.

I’d rather see “Incredibles University” – Sanford Bell, /Film commenter

Do you know how many times I’ve heard people claim that the end of The Incredibles was a perfect set-up for a sequel? I swear, these people have no concept of humour. The ending of The Incredibles is not some call to arms for an inevitable sequel, but a thematic capper that completes the arc of the Parr family. It’s left open only because that is thematically functional. Plus, the concept of the Underminer is hilariously silly. It’s an ending almost like the joke ending of Back to the Future, only with more emotional and thematic resonance. And sure, that joke at the end of Back to the Future was used as the the set up for sequels, but by using that scene as a jumping-off point for Back to the Future Part II, the film was significantly hampered all the way through. So why would anyone on earth think The Incredibles was setting up a sequel? And more importantly, why on earth would anyone think an Incredibles sequel is necessary? It’s this mentality, quite frankly, that is destroying Hollywood blockbuster entertainment. Click to read more.

I got into an interesting conversation at a film blogger meet-up last night about Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Specifically, the discussion was about the fact that the film only barely passes the Bechdel Test, and that in general Anderson doesn’t go to great lengths in his depictions of female characters. First, what is the Bechdel Test? Well, it’s name given to a test that comes up in one of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novels. It’s basically a test meant to illustrate how few complex portrayals there are of women in Hollywood films. To pass the Bechdel Test, a movie must meet the following criteria:

  1. It has to have at least two named women it it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man

The test does have problems. There are some great films with great portrayals of women that, by virtue of function, don’t pass the test. But that’s not really the point. A film not passing the test is not also a condemnation. The test simply highlights a larger problem in Hollywood films, where white males are effectively seen as the blank norm and anything else, including a female character is often a purposeful deviation. But that’s not what the conversation was really about. We didn’t just talk about whether the film passes the test, but how much responsibility we should place upon Anderson for these failings. Click to read more.

If you’re not already a regular reader of Matt Singer’s Indiewire Criticwire blog, you’re seriously missing out. Every day, Matt posts amazing content and commentary about the state of film criticism and film appreciation. Some of the best film discussions on the net begin or end up at Criticwire, which makes it an invaluable source for cinephiles today. But what about those budding cinephiles out there? What about the kids who aren’t yet exposed to the wider world of film? Well, Criticwire has that covered this week with the latest entry in the Criticwire Survey column. Every week, Matt Singer poses a question to a selection of online film critics and then posts the responses. This week he had a particularly interesting question submitted by contributor Rania Richardson.

“I mentor a 14-year-old from Harlem and nothing would make me happier than to have her enjoy ‘art house’ movies. She goes to Hollywood movies in chain theaters, and doesn’t particularly like what she sees. Of course, the fact that she’s African-American makes it even harder for me to find movies that I think would speak to her. She is sophisticated and would probably not mind some subtitles and nontraditional narratives. Help!”

It’s a really great question. What “art house” movies could you recommend to a kid about 14 years old who hasn’t yet had much exposure to films outside the Hollywood norm? The answers were varied, and in some ways quite indicative of the people recommending. Particularly interesting to me were the responses that I couldn’t imagine subjecting a kid to. Click to read more.