A Week Later: Obligatory 2013 Oscar Nominations Post

Estimated time: 9:05 AM, CST, Thursday morning (January 10, 2013). My cell-phone alarm jolts me awake with a blast of smiley ska-pop, Reel Big Fish’s Average Man, piano chords skipping faster than my heartbeat. I see lavender walls, gravy-gray in the light of snow and sun funneling through the dented blinds. The coarse ridges of the couch cushions dig into my back. A chill nips the skin my covers have abandoned for the floor. A tragic image of a squatter in transit, but actually, it is only me at college, recovering from a night of no drinking but plenty of aimless YouTube browsing.

From the corner of my eye I see my roommate slogging through the room with his backpack on, ready for class. Inspired, perhaps, by his incentive, I twist over to grab my cell phone from a table covered with used tea bags, almonds, Wii game controllers, empty DVD covers – an artist’s home, all right. I turn off the alarm and move to set the phone back down when it buzzes. A text notice from CNN.

The screen reads (I paraphrase): “The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announce complete list of 2013 Oscar nominees. Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, and Argo amongst Best Picture. Lincoln leads 11 nominations.”

At 10:40 AM I’ll depart for my first class. Until then, a free hour-and-a-half presents itself, a time to push ahead on work, exercise, write a blog post, eat breakfast, watch a movie or four episodes of a TV show, read a book, practice either of my instruments (saxophone, drums), read an article on a subject I’m unfamiliar with, dance half-naked in my room to “Average Man,” or return to browsing YouTube aimlessly. I choose a separate option. I spend my time reading the list of Oscar nominations, engaging them with a sleepy fervor: surprise, a pleasant wash of bemusement at seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild under Best Picture – a movie over five-months old considered for top honors! The irregularity … Matched by the boil of Les Miserables, an expected seething, less pronounced than the rage felt in past years at The Help, The Blind Side, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. An overall matching of expectations. These choices were apt and deserving of their accolades, or, these choices were apt and undeserving, but it fits the Academy’s modus operandi, and I’d expect nothing less.

For the next hour I digest the list, meaningless but for the names of films and actors, and measure some of the reactions to it around the Web, the talk of snubs, offenses, and insults to filmmaking by an outdated, ghastly husk of an award show. My friend trudges out of his room at around the forty-minute mark (9:45 AM), having just risen to use the bathroom while still in boxers and an over-sized green tank top. I alert him to the nominations. We digest the list again, together, and share our dismay: no Holy Motors! No Best Director for Wes! Moonrise Kingdom, Cloud Atlas, and Samuel Jackson for Django all but made invisible! We wax philosophic on the state of movie awards: the usual, good-natured college BS. He returns to his room and I return to browsing award reactions.

90 minutes – a feature film’s length – whittled away by someone else’s superlatives. A “Best of/Worst of” I can’t share in because I do not belong to the Academy and cannot vote on what films constitute the cultural zeitgeist today. I can only vote through the films I see and tickets I purchase – infinitesimal statements, helpless against the maelstrom of piracy unfolding across the Web, even more worthless when stacked against the convictions of an Academy voter, with their firm notions of what a traditional, good ol’ American film needs to be significant… A pathetic mote next to those phrases that obliterate all beside them: “prestigious,” “feel-good,” “landmark,” “epic”…

I keep returning to this list the rest of the day.

That evening I log onto Facebook to find a message waiting, logged at 7:38 PM. A request from a friend: could I please write about the Oscar nominations on Check the Reel? he’d really like to read it. I am flattered. I’m drawn to action, for his sake, for the sake of dialogue, for the sake of this blog and my own confused productivity. I sit down the next morning (time unknown, Friday, January 11, 2013) to set down the words that will capture the essence of that previous dawn, waking up to a phone buzzing with ska and a crisp, relevant news-byte. I will relive my discovery, reaction, and subsequent rationalization…

But I don’t know what to say.

I still don’t know what to say. After spending 800 words describing my morning routine with Tolstoy-like precision, I’ve yet to crack the essential questions. What do I think of the Academy Awards? Am I satisfied? Am I enraged? Like Peter Travers, do I want to yell, “Damn you, Oscars! Damn you, Hollywood!” because, yes, I spot more oversights than agreeable choices. I could say Django Unchained wouldn’t have been nominated had it been released before December. I could also say Les Miserables featured the sloppiest, most inept filmmaking of any film in recent memory. I frothed at every creative choice: the disregard for any mood but misery; Hugh Jackman’s pores pressed against the lens, camera canted as if to slide him off; murdering the revolutionary boy on screen, the most blatant delight in human anguish without justification, enough to reverse all good-will fostered by Anne Hathaway in her moment of schadenfreude spectacle. I could say these things, implying Les Mis doesn’t deserve a place near Best Picture while Django snuck in through marketing luck, implying with everyone else the Academy is defunct and out of touch…

But that would be missing the point; I’d be thinking too small and personally. If I should really describe my reaction to the Oscar dynamic, the interplay between categories and films selected, no individual nomination would do. I need words descriptive of many films and many ideologies. I need to crack into the heart of the Academy and its structure, tendencies, biases; its instinct for preservation. I would need to write a book to cover the subject’s breadth.

But why bother?

Why do we care what the Academy says?

Because it seems like a big deal.

The word “Academy,” with all its suggestions of authority and academic intrigue; the golden statuettes; a glossy, red-carpet award show with its array of celebrities spruced-up beside loved ones, quietly brooding their chance at victory… We pay attention to the Academy Awards for all the same reasons we discuss, watch, and bitch about the Tonys, Grammys, Golden Globes, you name it. Authority draws glances; spectacle holds it. If Barack Obama made a list of his favorite US Presidents and said he’d announce the best one on NBC, flanked by Seth MacFarlane and Christina Aguilera, we’d eat that shit up. Nothing gives credence to his claim, and yet nothing has to. Conversely: replace the “Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences” with “freshman at Northwestern” and the nomination list loses all value. People stop caring.

I understand the zest of award season, its irresistible allure, and I’ll still watch this year’s ceremonies like I would a ten-car pileup. If we want to talk film, though – and capture its flux, the liveliness of this art – awards will not do. Neither will superlatives from any authority of any pedigree. Last year, Quentin Tarantino posted his favorite films of 2011. Immediately we see Green Lantern and Three Musketeers and no matter Tarantino’s achievements we’re tempted toward rebuke (See his comment section). This is not a slight against Tarantino, whose Django Unchained is every bit as exuberant, subversive and genius as you’d expect. It mean there’s a line between opinion and discourse. It means we need to stop talking about film awards and move onto the films themselves.

And the films are many.

Cloud Atlas, Holy Motors, Moonrise Kingdom, Hitchcock, Jiro Dream of Sushi, Bernie, Dredd, Indie Game: The Movie, The Master, Sleepwalk With Me, Seven Psychopaths, End of Watch, Hotel Transylvania, ParaNorman, Magic Mike, Cabin in the Woods, Chronicle, Rise of the Guardians, Wreck-It Ralph, “Paperman,” The Grey, and more –  Films hidden within or nowhere near the Oscar ranks. Films that sing, spasm, provoke loud reactions on both ends. They don’t demand you love them. They only demand your full, undivided attention. They demand engagement.

Freed from the shackles of award speculation, these movies fall from their false hierarchy into an imbroglio of ideas eager to be devoured. We can talk about how each film works on its own terms instead of terms laid out by an award jury and enjoy them all. Daniel Day-Lewis’s embodiment of Abraham Lincoln suddenly becomes one in a crowd of great acting turns this year, albeit a distinguished and superb turn. He stands beside Denis Lavant, the sullen chameleon in Holy Motors, one minute a madman eating cemetery flowers, the next a kind father doting on his daughter. Together they walk with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña prowling the ghettos of LA in their police cruiser; Karl Urban, eyes hidden beneath reflective visors and lips a bubble of lawful contempt; a gleefully manic and infantile Sam Rockwell, enraptured by bloody fables; Jack Black waddling from small town to state prison basked in aw-shucks naivete… The same substance fills their roles as Wreck-It Ralph, the lugging CGI brute with a heart of gold embodied in the dopey, downtrodden bark of John C. Reilly’s voice-work, and all these fictions mingle with the stark reality of Jiro Ono wrapped in his sushi-craft, or the makers of Super Meat Boy sublimating childhood solitude into gameplay, replayability, and nostalgia. I would not dare diminish each individual by ranking them, defiling them with that word’s rancid odor.

I value every film that speaks earnestly. When art is crafted by human hands and driven by human needs, emotional or intellectual, it’s achieved the most important perfection. If you asked me how Hotel Transylvania stacks up next to Citizen Kane, I’d tell you they each deal with old men who have lost plenty and can’t afford to lose any more, who cling to loved ones because they know they’ll have to let go. They are the work of artists entrenched in the system even as they subvert it, frustratingly aware their greatest fame – theatre for Welles, cartoons for Tartakovsky – might be behind them. They ring with wit and light touches. Although they stand on different pedestals critically, they speak with one multifaceted voice. It’s the voice of the storyteller. It shines a light on the teller and listener and enriches both.

The Oscars are just a game, and while games are fun to play the novelty wears thin. Film is a way of seeing. It can shine a light on evil and reflect prejudice. It draws the eye to the smallest act of kindness and outlines the grandest heroism. When a film opens your eyes to vistas never seen, at all or from this angle, they are important and should not be demeaned by comparisons with other films just because one seems more “significant” than the other. That motion pictures can convey morals and change lives – through optical illusion! – is significant enough. So take award shows lightly as you look back at what films touched you in 2012. Think instead of how, brought together in a colorful, vibrant mosaic of stories, they make this Earthly life worth its expense.


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The Summer of My Amateur Music Video

In my first post for Check the Reel I set out a vision for the type of article content I intended when I said, “I’ll be discussing film and film-related news as it comes. Since I also write and direct films… I will sometimes describe that experience and what I learn from the process.”

Half a year later, I’ve written about the Alien franchise, Pixar, Wes Anderson, Star Wars, superheroesand feminist film theory with some Seth MacFarlane sprinkled in on top of moviegoing philosophy and trailers torn apart for the purpose of reaching their essence, and all this time the only material I neglect to mention is my own.

Pictured: the "my" in "my own"

Pictured: the “my” in “my own”

I am indeed an amateur filmmaker alongside my day not-job of writing film articles, and when I say “amateur” I mean “at the starting line, all other horses are on the track and mine is nuzzling the grass.” The paths to a career in film are wide and varied, encompassing graduate programs, internships, self-funded productions, festivals, spec scripts, and tangential professions (actor/writer/editor/critic) segueing over the years into the crème de crème position of director. I have not yet fallen on any of these paths yet, much less reached the crossroads between them, so if you want advice from a filmmaker who’s worked at all the major broadcasting networks, been accepted to Sundance five years running, and can explain the difference between the GoPro Hero3 and Hero2 cameras you might want to close this tab and move onto the next film blog not run by a poor liberal arts undergrad.

But if you’re at a similar place, not sure where to start or how to translate the ideas brewing in your brain into stunning camera angles and the crackling dialogue that makes people laugh, cry, and applaud a job well done, I can maybe through example and shared experience set you walking in a direction near if not pointed at that goal. I don’t profess to know the ingredients of success because I haven’t tasted it. The decisions I make in my films may be the worst decisions ever, but at least you’ll know then what choices you will never make.

We all begin somewhere. I began this summer with an amateur hip hop music video.*

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Three Friends and a Movie

(Foreword: My heart goes out to the victims of the Connecticut shooting. Please send them your empathy, prayers and love. They need it.)

Like an Illinois winter, when weeks of unseasonable warmth plummet to sub-zero in an hour, then revert, Check the Reel has fallen into a familiar pattern: weeks of stillness broken by a staccato flurry of posts followed by more stillness. I don’t intend to alter this rhythm; inactivity will come and go as life demands it. At the least, you can expect in-depth articles on amateur filmmaking, the teenage film genre (John Hughes, Perks of Being a Wallflower), and TV comedy before New Years passes, if the Mayans be so merciful. Also, make room in your tabs for Festival of Films: it’s not only a fantastic source for free movies, documentaries, and news courtesy of passionate, talented film writers, but I have recently had the honor of joining as blogger and reviewer. Check out my first two reviews on the site, for the Wreck-It Ralph short “Paperman” and Rise of the Guardians. They’re nice under-1,000 word bites of analysis, less likely to suffocate first-time readers than anything on this blog.

What else do you need to know? Hm… The semi-regular feature, “Trailer Thrash,” an uphill battle from the start, has ceased to struggle and accepted death peacefully – I will no longer post my impressions of new trailers in an omnibus format. Rumors that Matthew Vaughn will direct Star Wars Episode VII have flared into near-confirmation with stray remarks by Jason Flemyng – this excites me, and I almost forgive Vaughn for abandoning the Kick-Ass and First Class sequels. You should see the new Man of Steel trailer.

Perhaps you want me to talk about the elephant in the room, or, rather, the Hobbit in his hole. At this moment of writing The Hobbit premiered in many US theatres an hour and fifty-three minutes ago (Eastern time). Tolkien fans are still seated, watching Ian Holm’s Bilbo trek across Middle Earth with Gandalf and his band of dwarves. For many this is the first time since Skyfall, or The Dark Knight Rises, or Avengers, they have left the comforts of home – Netflix! On Demand! Blu-Ray! – to enter the dark room where mouths masticate popcorn, suck red-striped straws, and whisper hushed excitement at what their eyes see on the screen. Who’s to say some of these viewers haven’t been to movie theatres since Return of the King in 2003? Who’s to say some haven’t been ever?

I haven’t seen The Hobbit yet, and I’m not the person to ask about it (I was a Narnia kid myself). What I have to say deals tangentially with the film proper and partially with how it will be seen, at least for the next month. These are stray thoughts, mostly anecdotes, more sleepy dream-musing than news or argument. It shouldn’t take too much of your time.

The Hobbit is Hollywood’s newest gambit against the television, web, and “Cloud” industry, another coup de grace in an increasingly lopsided duel that movie theatres won with Gone with the Wind, then lost against TV; won with Star Wars but died fighting VHS; recovered briefly under Titanic only to collapse, heart stricken, when it faced the World Wide Web. Theatres will never again draw the numbers they commanded in the 30s when 80 million, or 60% of the American population, went to picture shows weekly. The reasons are many: people are lazy and watching movies on your couch is lazy entertainment, ticket prices are higher, indie cinemas are fewer, it takes fifteen minutes of ads to reach the movie (If I had a dollar for every person who grouched “Another one!?” at a green-band), and diversity in multiplexes, a venue designed to accommodate more options, is distinctly lacking. It’s not “Chicken or the egg” but many eggs, and many chickens, conceiving one another and in the process conceiving themselves.

Studios have maneuvered this dusty, suffocating cobweb with the short-fix philosophy of “Just stay afloat,” using opening weekend to make the bank and coast along on theatrical releases. Thus the glut of sequels, comic adaptations, safe bets, and everything that makes critics giddy with doomsday proselytizing.

None of those complaints matter, of course. Nostalgia kills analysis. You can dress it up with statistics and Latin-based words but in the end it’s just a game of how I, the first-person, fell in love with film, remote from all other experience and infinitely selfish. Whether you watched Breaking Dawn, Part 2 its first weekend and had fun, or you’ve torrented Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest auteur-epic from your dorm room, you are participating in film, sustaining it, and carrying it, vitalized, into the future. I would never in a thousand years take that from you.

I am blessed with the means to attend the cinema on a regular basis and experience a broad spectrum of film, from the mainstream to atomic, and I understand not everybody is so lucky. So long as people continue to watch film, the medium will evolve, and ten years from now the industry might have a better understanding of how to deliver films to the largest number of audiences.

That’s the one thing that will stay constant. Wherever you watch it and however seemingly isolated, you experience film as an audience, a participant, a member of communities that makes it possible to enjoy motion pictures. When you call yourself a film buff what you really say is: I am legion, for we are many, and you’re possessed not by demons but the kindred spirits around the world, all enraptured by celluloid.

This year, I’ve seen Moonrise Kingdom and Wreck-It Ralph four times each in theatres, more than any other 2012 release and certainly more than I’m apt to in any other year. I knew from my first viewing of Moonrise Kingdom that I would be revisiting this film in the same context – darkened room, cluttered with bodies focused on a flickering box of light. Wreck-It Ralph took me by surprise. You could say it revisited me, as friends invited me to see it again, circumstances foiled other movie plans, and wherever I meant to go I found myself instead watching the same Pac-Man jokes, exactly as I saw it before, down to the last Power Pellet.

Some people despise repeat viewings. Without any novelty the film lacks suspense; the emotional beats telegraph themselves far ahead, when on your first viewing they shocked you silly. On the opposite end of spectrum some viewers hate surprise and seek spoilers to avoid the dreaded nail-biting that comes with ambiguity. You have a right to either stance.

I didn’t mind. It might have been my second, third, or fourth viewing. These two films could have been replaced by different films, either greater or inferior, and the effect would remain the same.

My experience changed because the people around me changed.

Call up your earliest memory of film, perhaps the film dearest to your heart for reasons of nostalgia or wonder. Chances are it’s associated with some familiar faces: friends, family, even the vague, shadowy fragments of bodies looming over you in the surrounding theatre seats, still barely clinging to the memory. Someone recommended it or you watched it settled on their lap or it’s the occasion of a date gone horribly, utterly wrong (or wonderfully, gloriously right). Loners can’t escape it. Generation X can’t escape it. Even these Internet babies grow up thinking of film in a context, and people – not robots, not computers – but living, breathing people create context, because they also create the films.

With Wreck-It Ralph and Moonrise Kingdom, I progressed from opening weekend and packed houses buzzing eagerly to near-empty rooms. In the case of my last Wreck-It Ralph viewing the theatre was barren save for three friends and myself (plus one server – this was a dine-and-flick place). We had nobody else’s laughter except our own, and the back of our heads itched with the awareness of lifeless air blowing through the rows behind us. Afterward, I left the theatre close to skipping, nearly floating. Three friends and a movie was all I needed to savor the experience as if it had been the first time.

One friend (who hadn’t seen the film) laughed so earnestly despite the silence he compelled us to join in. Another leaned over and described the creative sex life that would ensue from Fix-It Felix and Sgt. Calhoun’s height gap. On the drive back we dissected the film with faux-nalyses spanning feminist, queer, Marxist, deconstructionist, and historical theory, alluding to Jean-Paul Sartre and the 80s crack epidemic so fervently the highway slipped beneath us and we’d arrived home having talked of nothing else. I didn’t regret the $20 I paid; it gave me one of the best nights of my life.

Inside the theatre, outside the theatre, within the film, without the film; during and before and after and however you approach film, there exists people. They exist in your head or physically around you. At the very least, they exist as flat recreations of real people moving on a screen in a bid to amuse you. In theatres you hear them as grunts, gasps, blown noses, baby babble, the roar of a standing ovation when individual and collective reaction merge in blissful synchronicity. Crane your head and they’re shadows with dimly lit faces and expressions you can almost make out. You associate them with movies and vice versa, and after watching a new film it often happens that you think without thinking, before you know it, “I know who would like this.”

Why is this fall the most exciting time for motion pictures? Because alongside so many breathtaking films like ParaNorman, Dredd, End of Watch, Life of Pi, Hotel Transylvania, Cloud Atlas, Wreck-It Ralph, Rise of the Guardians,  Seven Psychopaths, Lincoln, The Master, “Paperman” … I’ve cemented my ties to a community I knew all my life and yet only just discovered. Of course something special enters into the formula, a will to enjoy myself more, when I attend films with family or friends. We often forget that spark also exists with strangers.

Imagine someone you’ve never met who shared a movie theatre with you, a child experiencing the cinematic art for the first time three rows down, moved by the same sights, struck by the same transcendent beauty of it all, and in that shared moment they’ve decided they want to make movies. I like to think I sat by a few. Hell, why limit it to children? I visited LA for the first time last week and caught a restored print of Robert Bresson’s The Devil Probably, a scathing, bitter French New Wave film about disenfranchised teens rebelling against the system and each other. My dad accompanied me and hated it. It had no life, he said. A lot of teenagers might agree – it’s slow, philosophical, deliberately polarizing. I left the theatre for a bathroom break and, passing the last row, overheard a pair of sixty-something men rapt in conversation, discussing the lead character’s suicide and the significance – not just in the film, in our world! – of someone taking the conscious step to end their life.

And though they talked frankly of death I only thought of living. Call me naive: the more we remind ourselves we aren’t alone when watching film, the greater our capacity to appreciate that experience; the more that experience links with someone else’s, the deeper our respect for all humanity. If I grieve one part of America’s fading filmgoing, it’s the chance to watch anything, the grand and the obscure, with crowds of eager peers willing to risk disappointment. For crying out loud, I watched in LA an eight-minute film of baby cockroaches being slaughtered with twenty other people. They cringed, laughed nervously… We shared something. You can share it also on Netflix Instant Watch. Just browse the user reviews or summon some of Mama’s ol’ home cooked empathy. Even when there are no bugs and no three friends to keep you company the ride home, use your imagination. Turn on your memory.

Remind yourself: movies aren’t islands unto themselves but Asia-sized continents. Inside them are the hundreds of people who made the movie possible and the billions upon millions more who gave it meaning by packing those theatre seats, wearing their Tolkien t-shirts, conversing in Elfish, cheering when Ian McKellan first appears. The modern film industry might disenchant you, but the instant you distance yourself from other film buffs and the notion, friends or not, their experience affects yours – that’s when cinema loses its magic.

One last anecdote, a brief one: I went to see Cloud Atlas a second time for the purpose of writing an article for Festival of Films. I had previously seen it opening weekend with my sister in a decently filled theatre that responded with the usual dose of gasps and laughter at the appropriate spots, even exclaiming “Wow!” when the credits illustrated the number of transformations applied to the actors across the film’s six stories. Flash forward three, four weeks and the film is on its way out of most major multiplexes. At my local AMC, Cloud Atlas was only screening at 3:00 PM. Skyfall and Life of Pi had rapidly supplanted this three-hour bulk of a sci-fi financial failure and the number of people present reflected its slow death: one man who quietly watched the film, another who entered the theatre twenty minutes late and left ten minutes early, and a teenage couple who sat at the very back and responded with the most enthusiasm, albeit a passion still dulled by the lack of reciprocation from their fellow audience.

As the credits rolled, I went down the stairs. The couple walked in front of me with their faces turned away so I couldn’t see. I felt curious. I asked them what they had thought of the film. The boyfriend (who from behind sounded and looked like Adam Driver on HBO’s Girls) sputtered jumbled praise: “It was great… Loved it…” The girlfriend had already seen it before, as I had, and she loved it. “It still makes me cry,” she said. I complimented her on sharing the film with her boyfriend and from there had little else to say, so I shut up.

They walked faster ahead of me, down the hall in the direction of the bathrooms. For a second they took each others’ hands, swinging them to let off the pent-up enthusiasm, goofy, careless, the whimsy of young lovers together. Then, breaking off in unison like a molecule splitting, they disappeared into their respective restrooms.

Beaming, I exited to the parking lot and slid inside my car. The memory of their swinging hands, their silhouettes in the dim hallway, their synchronized parting, kept me company the ride home.


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One Nation, Under Disney…

You’ve probably forgotten amidst the change sweeping the world, from Superstorm Sandy to elections to Greece buckling under fiscal strain yet again, or you never heard in the first place. It’s impossible to write about film in a vacuum; it’s filtered through the events flanking it and the willingness of readers to set aside whatever important business they have to read 1,000-plus words from a person they’ve never met with an opinion they may or may not care for, and film news happens to be pretty low on the hierarchy of priority journalism.

Nevertheless, it’s been brought in the open and repeated throughout the web for two weeks: Walt Disney bought Lucasfilm and they’re making a seventh Star Wars.

Those who saw the headlines responded with outrage, passion, but also ambivalence and an apathy hardwired by Lucasfilm’s less-seemly legacy in recent years, on top of the common notion — not incorrect — that sequels are the norm in the industry and there’s no point hitching our breeches over it. A few thought it might even be the best move for a company tainted by age, stagnation, and whatever else decays creativity over time. George Lucas is out of touch; he set the wheel in motion but now it’s time for younger talents to take control.

I can’t disagree with any of this, although there’s few people to argue now as we go into November and recent events have nearly wiped the story from memory. All the better for Disney, who must appreciate the anonymity now afforded them to lay the foundations not only for their handling of Star Wars but also every other property under the Lucasfilm banner. That includes Indiana Jones and video games produced by LucasArts like the Monkey Island series (assuming these will be remembered with all focus on marketing Star Wars). It’s also a self-esteem boost for a company still flexing its muscles in the entertainment world, testing how many companies it’s allowed to absorb. Lucasfilm followed Pixar and Marvel, and now Hasbro seems destined for assimilation. Disney’s media empire grows with alarming speed, even by Hollywood standards where conglomerates prosper.

So why am I dredging up a news story that’s run its course? What’s left to say? You may have noticed I don’t really deal in around-the-clock news, aside from my Twilight article and “Trailer Thrash,” itself a more leisurely take on the “find the latest trailer and write about it!” blog post. I never wanted to write about film in two/three paragraph bursts, giving just the facts and a hint of what I think. I find more merit in fleshing out the significance of these news bits, delving into the unspoken assumptions and subtleties guiding films, the artists and businesspeople behind them, even their criticism from supposedly objective observers, journalists bound to standards that can’t mask all bias – and that includes mine. You get a lot more out of an analysis built from that level of thought, while deadlines can sharpen writing but also strip down and dehumanize it.

I wanted to write about the Lucasfilm purchase when news first broke out. Had I published the story then it might have received more hits than now; I would have gotten to join the discourse at the time it was freshly waged across the web. Now, in the lull between merger and further news of Star Wars Episode VII‘s production, I’m just sharing my two cents for those who still care. For that person still reading: this is for you.

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Trailer Thrash VII: The Croods, Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, The Smurfs 2

Every Saturday, Check the Reel features Trailer Trash, a close look at previews, trailers, and sneak peeks for films not yet released. What does the rest of the year promise for theatres and Netflix accounts? Which are the masterpieces? Which are the flops? Serbian Filmmaker reaches into the future and tells you what to expect from Hollywood’s up and coming.

Imagine you’re a Dreamworks animator: not easy shoes to fill. You’ve been chasing the specter of multimillion blockbuster success since Prince of Egypt opened the floodgates of your career, but after that initial gush of praise and fortune you found the lake wasn’t quite so deep and the torrent became a thin, leaky stream around when Sinbad debuted. Disney rode the traditionally animated gravy train to its death while Pixar took the reins on a new movement, that CGI thing people were starting to rave about, so you and your team jumped aboard with Shrek and it shook the world: hundreds of millions of dollars, an Academy Award over Pixar, and Dreamworks could finally claim to have inspired other studios’ films (i.e.: the zero-parts inventive, all-parts dull Chicken Little.)

Even then people knew your team as Pixar’s lesser, more slapsticky brother. You followed their Finding Nemo with your Shark’s Tale. For every Shrek 2 there was A Bee Movie, a Shrek 3, or – worse – Shrek Forever After. Sometimes you settled with riding the coattails of hired studios, watching Aardman charm critics with stop-motion while you wearily milked the celebrity voices and pop culture jokes. Your bosses were happy, of course – they’re getting the money. It’s your artistic integrity on the line.

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Trailer Thrash VI: Iron Man 3, Die Hard 5, The Evil Dead… 1.5?

Every Saturday, Check the Reel features Trailer Trash, a close look at previews, trailer, and sneak peeks for films not yet released. What does the rest of the year promise for theatres and Netflix accounts? Which are the masterpieces? Which are the flops? Serbian Filmmaker reaches into the future and tells you what to expect from Hollywood’s up and coming.

Iron Man carries a terrifying burden, even after Avengers shifted the weight of its success onto an ensemble cast and the nerd cult gathered around Joss Whedon. It set the wheels of the Marvel universe in motion, completing its transition onto film and assuring producers they could support a single chronology film series bringing together multiple worlds of heroes, villains, and side characters. Robert Downey Jr. left his indie corner for Iron Man and it made him a star, his charm sustaining even the sequel’s strained mimicry of the first. Tony Stark/Iron Man has overtaken Spider-Man as Marvel’s poster child. If Iron Man goes down, so might the whole enterprise. Iron Man 3′s job after Avengers raked billions: keep that from happening.

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Trailer Thrash 5: Silent Hill Revelations, Hitchcock, Movie 43

Every Saturday, Check the Reel features Trailer Trash, a close look at previews, trailer, and sneak peeks for films not yet released. What does the rest of the year promise for theatres and Netflix accounts? Which are the masterpieces? Which are the flops? Serbian Filmmaker reaches into the future and tells you what to expect from Hollywood’s up and coming.

The Silent Hill video games have nothing to do with the jump scares and “Aaaaah!” moments you see in modern horror. They’re much more quaint than their grotesque, fleshy imagery implies: journeys through the psyche disguised as physical thrill. In the namesake town, we learn about the main character’s mental states through the monsters they meet, the warps and contours of the architecture as the town descends into its hellish alternate form. Everything has a purpose: the mannequin legs tied to a bloody chicken represent the character’s repressed sexuality, or the father they never had, or their fear of commitment, or maybe they just had a bad childhood experience with chicken and mannequins.

My description doesn’t do the series justice. Neither did the 2006 movie, which like all movies based on video games mistook aesthetic for conceit. It viewed the video games passively, ignoring the self-evident reality that interactive media exists to be interacted with. Silent Hill the game unfurled over the course of fifteen to twenty hours, changing the story based on the gamer’s choices and all the subtleties of player-computer interaction, drawing attention to different playing styles, philosophies, and mentalities of the people who play it. Silent Hill cobbled together the games’ iconography – monsters, characters, music – into a freak show. “What creepy monster will we see next?” it asked when it wasn’t pontificating about the nature of motherhood and faith – understanding neither. Visually stunning, Silent Hill captured the look of the games, but then again they were never about superficial touches.

The film did well enough to justify a sequel, directed by Michael Basset instead of Christopher Gans, and it’s coming out this week after months of uncertainty when the film couldn’t find money for distribution. Its producers have promised a more “accessible experience” (Translation: “We promise not to fuck this one up”) and aside from a similar visual design and some returning actors (notably Sean Bean), Silent Hill: Revelations 3D features a younger teen protagonist and more thrills permitted by the 3D format. Advertisements have positioned this as the Halloween movie, and Universal Studio’s Silent Hill exhibition will also boost attendance.

But it’s not Silent Hill.

It doesn’t understand Silent Hill.

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