PostConsumer Culture Club: A list of everything we at PostConsumer Reports have been digesting this week, with brief commentary. Hopefully, we can culture something good in you. Happy PostConsuming!
Here is what we watched the week of September 13 through September 19.
Podcast and Film: Fresh Air interview with Wes Craven and his film Scream
I don't really watch horror films. In the last few years I have really gotten into zombie films and that one zombie TV show, but that is about it as far as the horror genre goes. I am not interested in ghost movies or movies where people have to cut parts of themselves off to survive or movies where people are forced to become part of some sadistic science experiment. However, last week horror icon Wes Craven died. Again, I did not really care, that is, until I listened to Fresh Air's Terry Gross' interviews with him (which the show did a retrospective of), where he talked in depth about the nature of violence and of becoming desensitized to images of violence through oversaturation in the media age. My interest was thoroughly piqued—I did not realize such a considered philosophical and ethical voice was behind some of the most watched horror films of the past 4 decades
But then I decided to watch his satirical genre revitalization Scream from 1996. I had seen smatterings of the more iconic scenes (Drew Barrymore's opening, the chases with the ghost mask guy, and the creepy phone call trope), but was never interested in the film itself. It looked like a dumb horror movie to me. But wait. Wes Craven said in his interview with Terry Gross that these films represent a moment in the horror genre, a turning on its head of all the horror movies that came before it. Scream was the start of a new era, and in its spoofing of horror cliches it was making some kind of comment on the genre.
And so I watched it. It is actually a pretty lame movie, while being technically excellent. Basically, it spoofs all the old movies and pays homage to them and still manages to be just like them. If someone can tell me what is so different about this film I would appreciate it. Granted, some of the scenes, most especially Barrymore's opening and Neve Campbell's excellent work throughout the whole film (I love how she portrays both innocence and strength, fear and courage), are wonderful and I appreciate the emphasis on strong female leads who get the bad guys in the end. Nonetheless, the film does not work for me. I found the grand reveal at the end to be immensely anti-climactic and unconvincing (it was the creepy boyfriend and his doofus friend! Maybe the reveal being such an obvious cliche was the point?) and all the horror film references empty and used to no end (unlike in Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. Shaun of the Dead in particular is more of a loving comedic homage to the zombie genre, rather than a satirical deconstruction). The plotting was shoddy and strung together without logic (is this itself a satirical comment on the cliches of horror films?) and for the life of me I cannot think what kind of criticism this film might be making on violence or the way violence is depicted in the media. Uh, everything is over sensationalized? Yes, I get it. The whole film seems pretty shallow to me (if often fun and beautifully shot), but a classic? I think not.
I watched Martin Scorcese's Hugo with my boys this week and they seemed pretty mesmerized by it. I'm kind of fascinated by how a movie so dense with it's references to classic cinema (it's a glorified history lesson) is able to capture young children's attention for close to two hours. Hugo is a pretty good movie, although for some reason it does not quite ascend into "great" territory. I like it a lot and it has even made me cry each time I have watched it. I especially love it's mediations on loneliness and loss and the myriad clever ways Scorcese pay homage to the early films he loves. In fact, you can stream Georges Melies' A Trip to the Moon on Netflix, which I plan to do soon with my boys.
1. Ben Kingsley is a legend.
2. The CGI backgrounds of Paris ring hollow for me—that is, they feel fake. It's like watching the overly packed backgrounds in the later Star Wars films or the pervasive dead-eyed creepiness of The Polar Express. In this case Paris, as a living entity, has the dead eyes.
3. No matter how many times I watch this film I will keep expecting Sacha Baron-Cohen to do something incredibly inappropriate.
Film: The Duchess
The Duchess, staring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes is one of those movies that is not a masterpiece but it ropes you in anyway because it is so good. I am a sucker for British people talking in British accents dressed in old-timey clothes and having lots of melodramatic scandals and love triangles. The Duchess is all of these things, so when I came into the living room and found my wife watching it I just sat right down and watched, even though I definitely should have been washing dishes. Like I said, it is not a masterpiece but Knightley and Fiennes (the latter of which is a master—he manages to be hilarious, pathetic, an evil tyrant, a bumbling overly educated idiot, entirely serious, and somehow even sensitive and caring all at once) are excellent in their roles. Let me warn you: this is not some fun rom-com costume drama. It is a depressing look at the historical pressures and prejudices facing women in our society. The story is compelling enough though that you'll keep watching.
Podcasts: Jonathan Franzen and Nadia Bolz-Weber on Fresh Air and Patrick Stewart on WTF.
On WTF: I dare you to listen to Patrick Stewart's interview on Marc Maron's WTF and not absolutely fall in love with him. Patrick Stewart is an utter delight. An effervescent ball of joy and wonder. On Fresh Air: I have never read any of Jonathan Franzen's works before, but I am not yet convinced he is America's Greatest Living Author. Perhaps a person should never listen to an author interviewed before they read one of their books as I have. But the whole bathroom scene reference in his latest book Purity seemed pretty cliched to me and his whole excuse for not having kids ("no one can write books like you") struck me as laughably narcissistic. Nadia Bolz-Weber's interview, on the other hand, was fascinating. She is obviously in a different realm of ministry than myself, a realm I would have more than a few a few quibbles with, and yet her words were filled with grace and wisdom. I was challenged for sure and will be mulling over her words for a while.
Educational Videos: Understanding abstract art and a new way to teach math.
Through friends on Facebook I came across two videos worth watching, one explaining why abstract or concept art is worth trying to understand and the other explaining why the recent changes in the way math is being taught in public schools (Common Core!) is valid. I found the math video more convincing. I am still not sold on the depth of concept art. A lot of it (especially the works presented in the video, e.g., the side by side clocks and the candy of Felix Gonzalez-torres) irritates me (I might go into why at another time). Nonetheless, the video is worth watching if only to get us started thinking about how to approach the more difficult works of art made in the last hundred or so years.
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