26. Januar 2013
2009. J. J. Abrams directs Star Trek, a Reboot of the original “Star Trek”-Franchise.
2011. J. J. Abrams directs Super 8, produced by Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin, which allows Abrams, as he points out in Interviews to “share DNA” of earlier Amblin movies like E. T. – The Extra Terrestial.
2013. (January) J. J. Abrams is officially confirmed as the director of Star Wars: Episode VII.
2013. (May) The Abrams-directed Star Trek Into Darkness features a post-credit sequence, in which James Kirk returns to his quarters to find E.T. sitting at his desk. He is pointing a glowing finger at the Captain and says: “Mr. Kirk, you’ve just become part of a bigger universe.”
2015. Star Trek: Episode VII features a longish subplot about a kid on Tattooine making friends with a gnarly outcast from the galactic senate, who has moved into Ben Kenobi’s old cabin.
2017. SPACE AVENGERS
15. Dezember 2012
“Retromania is a provocation. It deals in what Mark Fisher calls ‘negativity’. The term is intended to be less pessimistic that it sound. ‘Negativity’, for Fisher, is a productive spure: discontent as a call to arms. [...] Rather than simply represent that negativity, however, Reynolds and Fisher would have us respond to it. This is the difference too between the kind of negative politicism expressed during the recent London riots and those camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral and across the nworld in the name of the Occupy movement. Negativity is obviously not an end in itself, but sometimes it simply has to come first.
- James Parker, University of Melbourne (via)
2. November 2012
As a big fan of the idea that artistic trends make so much more sense when you take a step back, I very much recommend this article in the “Guardian” that uses Skyfall as an entrypoint into a discussion of the “New Serious”.
Beneath humanity’s mood swings, a self-correcting pattern can be detected. The laughing cavaliers beget Cromwell’s roundheads, who in turn beget the Restoration’s libertines. Edwardian buoyancy morphs into Great War despair. This delivers the roaring 20s, which bring forth the despondent 30s. Frivolity, it can be conjectured, is intrinsically wearing and eventually boring: it produces a backlash of its own accord. By this reading, we should have been due for a period of pensiveness about now, even without the debacles that have beset us.
- David Cox
Personally, I thought Skyfall was probably one of the prettiest Bonds ever, but I could have done without the over-psychologising. I liked James Bond a lot better when he was an almost mythic cypher without much of a past. On the other hand, I loved the first half of Skyfall for the succesful exploration of the new continuum set up by Casino Royale. Can you have one without the other? Believable universe-building without putting too much weight on the shoulders of the characters? That is probably a topic for another blogpost.
12. September 2012
I did not have time to comment on the most recent “Sight and Sound” poll, but I loved this quote on Vertigo:
“Vertigo has always struck me as the Hitchcock film for those who don’t really like Hitchcock all that much (it’s long, hasn’t got much in the way of jokes and the plot doesn’t work, when he is known for his economy, wit and storytelling), or at the least wish very much that he had been French.”
- Tom Shone (via)
My favourite Hitchcock film, by the way, is The Birds.
24. Juli 2012
“[O]ne of the points I made clear to my designers, every head of department, is we should not reference other movies. We should not re-watch Gamera, or re-watch Gojira, or re-watch War of the Gargantuans. We said, ‘Let’s create the world that we’re doing. It falls in here and falls in there, but we should not be doing a referential film.’ If things happen, they happen because they’re being made by people who love those genres. But I didn’t want to be postmodern, or referential, or just belong to a genre. I really wanted to create something new, something madly in love with those things.”
- Guillermo del Toro about his philosophy on Pacific Rim.
David Bordwell really is a sort of hero of mine. Not even that much for his work published in book form (although Film Art is pretty nifty) but especially for that really cool Blog he keeps. He recently published an eBook, which came out of a series of blog posts called “Pandora’s Digital Box”. I reviewed the book for epd film. You can read an English variation of the review here.
David came to give a talk on his web activities at my old university in Mainz today. He spoke mostly about his blog and the way it has changed his way of working, especially now that he is retired. He already wrote up most of the content of the talk about a year ago, in a blog post. New to me was that he puts about three days of work into each post. I regularly lament that so few German academics use blogging as a communicative tool, but I can somehow understand it, if I think about the work involved to create such a quality blog as David’s. (Still, come on!!!)
At the end of the lecture, I really wanted to get David’s autograph. But since “Pandora’s Digital Box” is an eBook, he couldn’t really sign it for me. So instead, I asked him if he would sign my review in the magazine. And he did. I’m pretty sure Baudrillard would have appreciated this degree of meta-ness.
Yeah, we kind of look like differently aged versions of each other – Looper?
Update: To read David’s account of the lecture and trip, click here.
I’m wearing a t-shirt by 65daysofstatic. Consider them plugged!
A great cultural upheaval like the digitisation of cinema may tempt academics to bury it under a heap of ontological theory. This makes it all the more refreshing that it is an academic of all people, who has now published one of the most grounded accounts of the topic.
The American film studies guru David Bordwell, wo renewed the popularity of formalist film analysis in the 80s, first approached the digital changeover in a series of blog entries, which he has now assembled and reworked in a compact eBook for Sale on his site. With a real reporter’s spirit, Bordwell set out to learn about the changes on the very scenes they happened – in arthouses and multiplexes, with organizers of film festivals and overseers of film archives.
Especially these last two chapters allow for surprising insights into the work of institutions that even cinephiles rarely get to see the other side of. Bordwell describes the almost insurmountable chaos of formats in the booth of a festival projectionist, as well as the enormous effort, the costs and problems with data compatibility that figure in the digital storage of movies. All this, the Wisconscin professor enriches with journalistic background knowledge; he describes the institutional and economic history of the changeover without any frills and sketches the moves and motivations in the big business of film, or in this case – as the subtitle of the book makes clear – files.
Bordwell avoids choosing a clear side in the ongoing debate – even if his affection clearly rests with celluloid, or rather: acetate. As he points out in the introduction, he feels mostly excited about the fact that as a film historian, he finally gets a chance to witness a historic paradigm shift first hand. Istead of just reconstructing the details and the feel of such a change after the fact through a series of educated academic guesses, he enjoys being right in the middle of it – as a sort of embedded student of cinema. And he succeeds outstandingly.
“Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files and the Future oF Movies” is available for $3.99 from davidbordwell.net.
A different, German version of this review appeared in epd film 7/2012.
13. Mai 2012
This is a rant. And a whiny one at that. With the internet so free and international as it is, there is one problem it hasn’t solved: the language barrier. Sure, computer translators like Google Translate do an okay job at translating the gist of foreign websites, but they will never give you the real experience of reading something in a language you actually understand. They still produce too much gibberish for someone to actually enjoy an article written by someone in a language that’s foreign to the reader.
Which puts people like me in a strange predicament: What language should I use for publishing on the internet?
I can only work from my own example here, because I have not heard anyone else complain about the topic so far, but I am sure there must be others that feel the same way. Having studied the language in college and spending some time abroad, I think that I speak and write English well enough for others to understand me and for me to be able to express even slightly complex thoughts in it. Since English is the language understood by most people around the world, the logical conclusion should be to keep my writings in English. This way, I will reach more people, right?
However, my native language is German, and I know that not only can I express myself better in German, I also have a different style in each language. When I write in English, I can also never be absolutely sure that what I am writing sounds “natural” and not like a foreigner who is trying to impress native speakers with his English. (I recall giving one of my essay papers for proofreading to my English flatmate in Edinburgh. He started reading it and then stopped, unnerved. “I don’t know what to say”, he said, “nothing you wrote is actually wrong, but it just doesn’t feel like something a native speaker would write.”)
While I have been writing mostly about films recently, I started this blog while I was still working full-time as a media journalist. And there’s a lot of topics where I just doesn’t make sense to write in English, because they concern the German media landscape or debates going on in the German blogosphere which concerns itself a lot with developments in media and the internet (and not much else).
Okay, you might say, write in German, then. Do what you do best, link to the rest.
Really? But Germany has no real movieblogging scene to speak of. Most of the people blogging about movies in Germany either just review what they last watched, link to the newest trailers or translate news from English movieblogs. Almost no one in Germany just writes about the stuff that interests them in that half-academic, half-nerdy way that is so popular (and often so good) on British and American blogs. Why would I want to alienate these people that I admire and miss the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with them. “Great post, here’s my thoughts on the topic translated into English by Google. Nevermind that most of it doesn’t make any sense this way.”
Right, then. Blog in both English and German, depending on the topic.
That’s what I am doing at the moment. Stuff that concerns only Germany, I write in German. Everything else, I write in English (although sometimes, I wish I could just write it in German because it’s so much less of an effort [told you, I'd be whining]). I’ve also switched my Twitter account to be (almost) exclusively English, because most of the people I follow speak English.
This solution, however, is adequate at best, neither fish nor fowl at its worst. If what you read is true, a personal Internet “brand” is at its strongest when it is at its most recognizable. Bilinguality does not help. If I was a reader of, say, a blog written by a Spaniard, I would regret every post she writes in Spanish, because I don’t understand Spanish. On Twitter, there is some German topics I would really like to write about sometimes, but I would feel silly writing them in English (especially when replying to a German tweet) and I don’t want to “break character” by writing in German.
The only “real” solution, I guess, would be to split my online persona, have an English blog and a German blog, an English Twitter and a German Twitter. But with my output as irregular as it is, I feel it would be very stupid to not put everything in one place. I could also code this blog into parallel sites in English and German, but with only 25 hits a day, I don’t think it would be worth the effort. And it still wouldn’t solve the Twitter problem, because unlike Facebook or Google+, Twitter doesn’t allow you to sort your followers into groups or circles and broadcast only to some of them.
Whichever way you look at it, one thing or another always looks askew. I have no solution. Which is probably why I am so frustrated. If you have a solution, or a comment, please post it in the comments. In any language you choose.
Walt Disney Pictures
(This is a sort of summary of all the thoughts I’ve had about the Avengers movie in the last year or so, some of which I’ve already blogged about. The actual review starts about halfway through the post.)
Universal Studios’ Missed Opportunity
The year is 1940. Imagine you are J. Cheever Cowdin, President of Universal Studios, and you have an idea. Universal has built large parts of its reputation on a slate of genre movies based on gothic novel characters from the last century. “Hang on a minute”, you might say, “all the actors from these iconic roles are still alive, we have them under contract. Why don’t we assemble them in a large-scale gothic ensemble movie and let them have a big adventure together?”
Sadly, Cowdin didn’t have this idea at the time. The best classical Hollywood cinema could come up with, in terms of character crossovers, was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It took the medium of comic books, both to realize a pan-gothic tale of high adventure (Alan Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) and to lay the tracks for what would become one of the most ambitious projects in recent film history: Marvel Studios’ The Avengers.
When it comes to high-end production values, TV has definitely caught up with movies in recent years. At the same time, though, movies have taken a step towards TV’s more ambitious modes of storytelling. Film franchises, nowadays, are no longer content with telling a single story over a single film. Instead, they lean more and more towards building a cinematic universe that can be filled with stories from several films communicating with each other, as well as other media like games and novels that can run alongside.
One of the driving forces behind this development was, once again, comics, and the movies based on their characters, which hit their third big stride (after the Superman films of the 80s and the Batman flicks of the 90s) with the Spider-Man films in the early noughties. Comics had proven over several decades that the characters called into action every week in the serial medium could meet, fight each other and help each other out, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in gigantic climactic battles. These characters were owned by the same company, ergo: they inhabited a universe generally governed by the same rules. A crossover would draw together fans from each of the series, in the same way a musical supergroup can bet on devotees from each of their members’ regular bands showing up at a concert – and later on checking out those other regular bands as well. You don’t need Professor Xavier to see how this concept, in reasonable doses of course, lends itself if not to artistic success then at least to financial gain.
When “The Avengers” first assembled in 1963, they weren’t the first superhero supergroup. Rival comic book company DC’s “Justice League of America” had already crossed over Batman, Superman and other characters several years before. I have read only a few of the “Avengers” comics, but let’s just say that, like many of Marvel’s characters, the team members were mired in all-too-human and superhuman problems, and the actual “Avengers” troupe saw more lineup changes in its fifty years of existence than a badly organized rock festival. Members married, fought, went to war, made up, quarreled and fell in love more often than you want to know. However, they were all still part of one giant narrative called “The Avengers” and overseen by Marvel Comics. (For a brilliant (albeit German) assessment of superhero team dynamics, I recommend Sabine Horst’s article in the upcoming issue of epd film, which she kindly let me read in advance).
Walt Disney Pictures
Hinged on a Promise
Movies of course, are a different breed from comics. Making them costs a lot more and they are dependent not only on the imagination of artists and writers but also on the schedules and egos of actors and directors. And it’s very rare to make a movie that starts to tell a story and then hope that the audience comes back next week to buy the next issue (even though Peter Jackson is doing it again at the moment).
Enter Kevin Feige, President of Production of Marvel Studios, who – at least in the media version of reality – is the mastermind behind the astounding feat that is The Avengers. When Feige took over the reins in 2007, the studio had already prepared the road for him. They had their $500 Million deal with Merrill Lynch set up and they had just bought back the rights for Hulk and Thor.
But it took Feige’s post-credit stinger in Iron Man in 2008, in which Samuel L. Jackson (who signed an unusual nine-movie-deal with the studio) first mentioned the “Avengers Initative” to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, for the transformation of comic book mechanics to big budget filmmaking to suddenly seem palpable. Everything that happened since then was no more than a gigantic buildup of expectations towards The Avengers.
Introducing characters in Iron Man 2 that were rather unnecessary to the film’s central narrative; releasing Thor and Captain America only several months apart; actually making Captain America (a film about a character which should have worried at least some executives about its limited potential in overseas markets); ending Captain America with the hero’s love interest lost and many questions unanswered; all these hinged on the promise of an as-yet-unmade movie to be directed by geek god Joss Whedon, which would be released in Spring 2012. One thing was sure: Even if The Avengers sucked, you would at least have to admire the effort.
When Fury Calls
Fortunately, it doesn’t suck. What could have turned into a huge clusterfrog of incompatible story lines, star personas battling for screen time and superhero technobabble, instead was gracefully crafted into one of the most enjoyable, clever, action packed pieces of big budget genre filmmaking in recent years. And at its centre rests, amazingly enough, a remarkable ensemble performance by mostly marquee-worthy actors not seen in this field since The Lord of the Rings.
To see the ensemble in action, however, you first have to put it together. The Avengers takes its time doing so, first introducing its main villain Loki and his attack on the headquarters of SHIELD, where he steals the energy-laden cube called the tesseract introduced in Captain America, turns several of SHIELD’s employees into his minions and plans to unleash an alien army to conquer Earth for him. SHIELD, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury at the helm, is the smartly-constructed glue that holds the story together. It’s the Avengers‘ MI5, which monitors the superhero universe and calls upon its inhabitants as needed.
This time, Fury decides, the situation is so severe that it justifies a tryout of his masterplan – the superhero supergroup, which so far he has only discussed with the most visible of the future Avengers’ team members, Tony Stark aka Iron Man. So it’s Fury who sends word to Stark and the recently thawed Steve “Captain America” Rogers, and who sends Scarlett Johannsson’s Black Widow to charm Bruce Banner into returning from India – strictly for non-Hulk purposes of course. Thor finds his brother’s mischief on his own.
Walt Disney Pictures
It will take another hour and a half until Earth’s Mightiest Heroes actually get to fight against Loki in the streets of New York. Until then, the team has to discuss among themselves, ulterior motives have to be revealed, a first test of their collaborative spirit has to pretty much go haywire. Someone, in true Joss Whedon fashion, even has to die. Most of the action takes place on SHIELD’s mobile headquarters, an airborne aircraft carrier outfitted with a command centre that would make the USS Enterprise hide in shame. While the action setpieces that dot the first two acts of the movie are well thought out and keep the suspense alive, they are really just an accompaniment to a number of well-choreographed dialogue scenes between the groups’ members.
Lover’s of bare-bones-narratives might find these first two acts of The Avengers a bit lacking in momentum, but I think Whedon plays his cards exactly right. As a viewer, you need this array of quieter moments for the individual characters and their relationships with each other, to get a sense later on that there really is something at stake in this story, both with respect to external threats and internal morale. There is a scene in which Stark, who is obviously fascinated with the possibility of unleashing the Hulk, and Banner discuss their situation as one scientist to another, except that one of them is a loudmouthed playboy and the other one a soft spoken lost soul with what is repeatedly called “anger management issues” in the film. Another moment pits Thor (“You are all so puny!”) against Captain America’s superhuman righteousness, which simply knocks the arrogant norse god out cold. The situation is a little less clear with both Hawkeye and Black Widow, who are given back stories but cannot help but remain fighting ciphers, even referred to by Tony Stark at one point simply as “a couple of master assassins”.
Walt Disney Pictures
Despite this maybe somewhat wordy first part of the film, however, the story is still rather lean. Whedon never goes for cheap inside jokes unless they serve to push the narrative forward in some meaningful way. When the group finally stands in a circle in full costume, collects their orders from Cap and then sets out to put Loki’s cats back into their intergalactic bag, the audience has a clear feeling for each character’s motivation and roots for every single one of them. Loki as a villain, of course, makes for a great mirror image of the superhero team, borrowing some traits from each of them – from Thor’s arrogance and Stark’s cunning to Hulk’s uncontrollable wrath. That he still has to be a typical comic book villain with no real motive except a hunger for power stemming from a bad childhood, is a conceit that comes with the genre.
Who is the love interest?
In short: I really liked The Avengers. It’s a spectacular thrill ride for everyone who spent the last couple of years yearning for this moment and should be an entertaining ensemble action flick for everyone else, with a cast of colourful characters to match forebears like The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven. It delivers on all promises made, it’s tightly written and cool enough to look at, featuring a star-studded cast in which the performances of Samuel L. Jackson and especially Mark Ruffalo probably stand out as most memorable. Ruffalo as Banner, the only member of the team who doesn’t wear his superhero guise on his sleeves, gives the film an emotional centre otherwise often occupied by the female love interest.
One last thing though. The Avengers is exhausting and after all that climax it makes you wonder what will happen next. Kevin Feige has already commented on how he plans to avoid sequel-itis in the following years. We shall see if he manages to pull it off a second time. I wouldn’t want to bet against it.
13. April 2012
I can’t believe I got so lucky. I actually won two tickets for the fan screening of The Avengers tomorrow in Berlin. So I will actually see my most anticipated film of the year a week and a half before the rest of Germany! Thanks so much.
I will try my best to capture the experience in this blog, as much as I am allowed to. I’ll bring my camera and audio recorder and use the train ride back to Mainz to write/edit/post something for this blog.
If you are also at the screening and would like to meet up for a chat about the film afterwards, tweet me!
UPDATE: The post about the screening is in German and it’s here.