Monday, May 19, 2014

Update

Well, things have been busy recently.

The Criticwire survey debate begat an Atlantic pitch which begat an article which begat a...response from Derek Thompson and a Huffington Post Live debate with Matt Zoller Seitz?!

This is madness.

I also got to review Godzilla for CT, which was fun. I didn't quite have all the words for it, but critic David Ehrlich adds some good ones here.

In a season of firsts, the Godzilla review stands out for its comments section, in which I have been denounced as a liberal for the first time in my life. The comment was sadly deleted, but someone captured it first:

"'...less malicious than a birther'? Really, Timothy Wainwright? Why does Christianity Today allow liberals like Timothy Wainwright to be writers for what should be a conservative Christian magazine. I can get liberalism from any worldly news publication. I don't need it here."

Amazing!

I'm working on a longer addendum to the superhero movies debate which I'll post here soon. I also plan to follow through on the Carroll notes.

But for now, I'll just share the spirit I'm trying to stick to for the moment, from Mike D'Angelo in a comment on Seitz's "Advice to Young Critics"

"I second Craig's #12. A couple of the sites for which I regularly write have a strict ban on use of the first person in reviews, and while I understand why they prefer that, never saying "I" makes it difficult if not impossible to confess ignorance about certain things, and that makes me feel dishonest. (And no, I don't always have time to correct that ignorance, if for example it means reading a dozen lengthy novels and the piece is due tomorrow.) Likewise uncertainty. I tend not to trust critics who never question themselves."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Carroll's "The Philosophy of Horror" Pt. 1: The Introduction



Currently reading through Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror, or: Paradoxes of the Heart. Interesting approach. There have been a ton of great treatments of the horror genre, the most famous probably being C. Clover's Freudian tour-de-force Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Carroll stands out for trying to understand horror through the lens of "analytic aesthetics", which is now not quite in vogue, to say the least.

Here are some standout moments from the Introduction.

1. Carroll's inspiration is Aristotle's Poetics

"Taking Aristotle to propose a paradigm of what the philosophy of an artistic genre might be, I will offer an account of horror in virtue of emotional effects it is designed to cause in audiences." ... "That is, in the spirit of Aristotle, I will presume that the genre is designed to produce an emotional effect; I will attempt to isolate that effect; and I will attempt to show how the characteristic structures, imagery, and figures in the genre are arranged to cause the emotion that I will call art-horror. "

2. The two paradoxes of the heart

"With respect to horror, these paradoxes can be summed up in the following two questions: 1) how can anyone be frightened by what they know does not exist, and 2) why would anyone ever be interested in horror, since being horrified is so unpleasant?"

On number two: "most of us don't play in traffic to entertain ourselves, nor do we attend autopsies to while away the hours."

3. On the suspicion of popular art

"Philosophical aesthetics...is either oblivious to or suspicious of mass or popular art. One reason for this is that mass and popular art gravitate toward the formulaic, and aestheticians often presume a Kantian-inspired bias that art, properly so called, is not susceptible to formula."

Next up is chapter one, "The Nature of Horror". Subheading "Fantastic Biologies and the Structures of Horrific Imagery" sounds fascinating. I look forward to reading about a fantastic biology, whatever that is.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Amazing Superhero Movie Debate 3: Into Darkness

 

Another good CriticWire survey about a hot topic, another couple of posts in response, a bunch of tweets, and another mopping up by yours truly.

This week, in the wake of Amazing Spidey 2, Sam Adams asked the survey question, "Are there too many superhero movies?"

I was surprised by the response. I expected a good amount of poo-pooing the plebs, but instead 54% of the 26 critics surveyed said No!



 To be sure, there were loud voices on the Yes side who argued a point of view we're all familiar with: "big business" in the form of the studios is spraying cinematic diarrhea all over the walls of good taste. For example, Neil Young wrote that "so long as short-term-fixated corporate cinema targets male under-25s at the expense of all other sections of the population, their bombastic preponderance is assured and guaranteed. Excelsior!"

 While the Yes side had the clear numerical victory, there were zero respondents who wanted to defend Marvel and Co. as strongly as Young denounces them above. The closest was perhaps Richard Brody of the New Yorker, who wrote that "much of the complaining about the number of superhero movies involves critics donning their own superhero mantle and presuming to defend the supine masses (while praising those mediocre naturalistic and political dramas)."

Most Yeses shared two qualifiers. The first: while there aren't too many superhero movies, there is far too much superhero press. Because of the ravenous comic fanbase, every casting announcement and still photo release is reposted by a zillion outlets. Douglas, Rocchi, Snider, and others all made this point to different degrees.

The second is pretty intuitive: quantity is more important than quality. The Wrap's Alonso Duralde cautioned against snarking at the super, but admitted that "Directors of these movies should consider spending five fewer minutes on destroying Manhattan yet again and use that time to provide some character insight and/or intelligent dialogue." 

And Michael Pattison gets the dubious distinction of being probably the first person ever to use the word "smegma" in a CriticWire survey.



Fresh from the last survey-inspired critical dust-up, Matt Zoller Seitz took to his blog to give his perspective in the fairly-titled "Things crashing into other things"

It's a witty and forceful piece whose arguments waver between energetic (spot on criticism of where CGI isn't yet) and exhausted (the "ad-hamburger fallacy").

I'll share his central argument here: 

As long as viewers ask little of superhero films, there's no impetus for studios to encourage an auteurist vision. That's how they like it. Real artistry terrifies them. It's too volatile and uncertain. They'd rather have a mediocre sure thing than encourage filmmakers to try something truly new. Personal expression on this scale is high-stakes gambling with someone else's fortune. That's why, thirty-six years after "Superman, the Movie," we still haven't seen a range of big budget superhero films as tonally different as post-"Night of the Living Dead" zombie pictures, or Hollywood westerns released after Vietnam, when the genre was allegedly dead. What do George Romero's ghoul films, "Dead/Alive," the "Rec" series, "Shaun of the Dead," "Zombieland" and the "Days" movies have in common besides a basic situation? Almost nothing. What do "Little Big Man," "The Wild Bunch," "Blazing Saddles," "Silverado," "Unforgiven" and "Open Range" have in common besides horses and ten-gallon hats? Almost nothing. What do modern superhero movies have in common? Entirely too much. Once in a great while you get an outlier like "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass." There's a reason why anybody seeking to counter gripes of superhero film sameness brings up "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" and "Kick-Ass": because most superhero movies are not "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass." They're "Thing Crashing Into Other Thing 3."

In short? "This genre is where imagination goes to drown itself."



Devin Faraci, writer at Badassdigest and author of a great piece parodying sentiments like Seitz's, chirped in on social media.


Responses:




Seitz was also tweeting during this window.





The links are there for anyone who wants to catch up on the conversation but can't sift through volumes of tweets to get there. This will be helpful the more time goes by, as it's not easy to search past Twitter.

I gotta say I lean towards Team Faraci here. My reasoning is best expressed by survey respondent Ali Arikan, who wrote: "When you skew the sample size, everything starts to look like a trend."

More thoughts on this soon.



Monday, May 5, 2014

Blog Plug: The Brennanator Briefing

Former editor over at Marvel Comics, current producer of political comedy show Electoral Dysfunction and all around good guy Tom Brennan is getting his blog back up and running.

He starts his new series with an argument for why the Right should love Jeb Bush. I'm undecided on this one. My knee-jerk populism makes me suspicious of political dynasties, but my enjoyment of Game of Thrones says maybe I just have to get used to it.

An excerpt:

"Don't get me wrong, I hope they don't nominate Jeb Bush.  I was able to see him speak last month, and was horrified at his mix of a folksy, friendly demeanor and his mastery of issues like education, the economy and defense.  He was charming, he was funny, he was in the middle of liberal Manhattan, so he clearly wasn't afraid to talk to a potentially unfriendly audience, and he offered solutions beyond the current conservative solution to every problem, "cut it's budget."

But a quick perusal of websites like Breitbart and Townhall would leave the average reader convinced that Jeb Bush is as some sort of Manchurian Candidate for a left wing, commie pinko conspiracy.  Yes, this staunch Pro-Life Republican, the governor who signed the "Stand Your Ground" law and who's 1994 gubernatorial campaign promised to "get tough on welfare recipients", who, lord knows, are the real bullies, is apparently not conservative enough.  Why? Mainly because he doesn't support throwing people who risk their lives to come to our country into prison.  Stupid hippy."

(Full disclosure: I know Tom and regularly perform in ED.)