Rotten Tomatoes has some wonderful ideas for the best (and easiest) Halloween costumes inspired by movies. It includes classics like Indiana Jones and Carrie, current hits like Nurse Joker and some good ideas for friends to coordinate like Gogo Yurbari and the Crazy 88 from “Kill Bill” and costumes that are so easy to make that you can pick up everything at Goodwill for under $5, like The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” and Jay and Silent Bob from the Kevin Smith movies. Happy trick or treating!
Print and new media writers debate the pros and cons of writing about movies online, where everyone’s a critic in a roundtable from Cineaste, a leading publication on film.
In introducing the Critical Symposium on “International Film Criticism Today” in our Winter 2005 issue, we maintained, with a certain resigned pride, that “critics at independent film magazines have virtually complete freedom, and a generous amount of space, to express their opinions if they are willing to endure the relative (or, in some cases, total) penury that results from being unaligned with the corporate media.” In recent months, American critics, having been fired, downsized, or bought out by a host of publications, are realizing that even making compromises with their corporate employers does not guarantee them a job. Given the current economic malaise, the role of online criticism has become increasingly prominent. There has also been, at least in certain quarters, an intensification of the occasional friction between print critics and the denizens of the blogosphere. In a typically ungracious broadside in The New York Press, Armond White wailed that “Internetters…express their ‘expertise,’ which essentially is either their contempt or idiocy about films, filmmakers, or professional critics. The joke inherent in the Internet horde is that they chip away at the professionalism they envy, all the time diminishing critical discourse.”
One goal in coordinating this Critical Symposium on “Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet” was to chip away at some of the hyperbolic rhetoric exemplified by White’s jeremiad.
Twenty-three participants respond to these questions:
1) Has Internet criticism made a significant contribution to film culture? Does it tend to supplement print criticism or can it actually carve out critical terrain that is distinctive from traditional print criticism? Which Internet critics and bloggers do you read on a regular basis?
2) How would you characterize the strengths and weaknesses of critics’ blogs? Which blogs do you consult on a regular basis–and which are you drawn to in terms of content and style? Do you prefer blogs written by professional critics or those by amateur cinephiles?
3) Internet boosters tend to hail its “participatory” aspects–e.g., message boards, the ability to connect with other cinephiles through critics’ forums and email, etc. Do you believe this “participatory” aspect of Internet criticism (film critics form the bulk of the membership lists of message boards such as a film by and Politics and Film) has helped to create a genuinely new kind of “cinematic community” or are such claims overblown?
4) Jasmina Kallay, writing in Film Ireland (September-October 2007), has claimed that, in the age of the Internet, the “traditional film critic… is losing his stature and authority.” Do you agree or disagree with this claim? If you agree, do you regard this as a regrettable or salutary phenomenon?
Some of the advantages of online criticism:
1. Ability to read broadly and deeply — no more being limited to whoever happens to write for the local paper or to the reviews of movies currently in release.
2. A wider range of coverage from a wider range of perspectives. Mike D’Angelo, who went from his own site to Esquire, calls it “the freedom to define your own audience, both in terms of what you choose to address and how you go about addressing it. If you have no editor, maybe nobody’s catching your occasional lapse into self-indulgence; at the same time, though, neither is anybody shooting down your prospective ideas on the grounds that readers don’t give a damn about Guy Maddin or Hong Sang-soo.”
3. Immediacy and vitality of online writing.
4. Interaction and responsiveness between critics and between critics and their readers.
Advantages of print:
1. Editing. As J. Hoberman of The Village Voice puts it, “On the one hand, blogs are spontaneous and unedited; on the other, blogs are spontaneous and unedited.” (NOTE: The Village Voice has let go some of the country’s best film critics.)
2. Difficulty of finding the best that’s out there. Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek says, “Internet criticism has made a significant contribution to film culture in that it’s opened the door for a wide range of voices. But as we’re all seeing, it’s opened the door too wide: There are so many film enthusiasts–if not actual professional critics, either former or current–writing on the Web that now we’re faced with a great deal of noise. Let’s not even talk about the zillions of film bloggers who aren’t worth reading–who cares about them? The bigger problem is that many of the people writing about film on the Web are knowledgeable and have pretty interesting ideas. Unless you’re really systematic about checking up on all of them regularly, there are too many to even read, so good people get lost.”
Be sure to check out the list of recommended online sources for movie reviews and features.
Some things are different. No more Nazis — it is now a Cold War and the guys on the other side are the Soviets. And there may be enemies at home. A harmless-looking professor could be a Red. Or maybe it is the agents of the U.S. government who are the bad guys when they see enemies who are not there. And teenagers are acting wild. Some of them speed by in jalopies and some of them slick back their hair, drop out of school, and ride motorcycles.
But some things are the same. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, for the fourth time) still packs a mean punch and carries a bull whip. He still has a way of getting himself into and out of trouble. He still hates snakes. And he is still a lot of fun to watch.
As always, we start right in the midst of the action. A motorcade of soldiers is approaching a “Hanger 51” Army base in Nevada that is shut down for a test of an atomic bomb. But it turns out not to be what it seems. They are Soviet spies and they want Indiana to find something in storage there (Indy fans will enjoy seeing a familiar item in one of the crates). This time, the artifact everyone wants is a crystal skull from South America that, according to legend, will grant great power to whomever returns it to its home. The Soviets are led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett, severe in an impeccable uniform and a ruthlessly aerodynamic bob), a specialist in the paranormal.
Instead of being congratulated for escaping from the Soviets, Indy becomes a “person of interest” to the FBI due to “this charged climate” and is suspended from his job. When he gets a message from a young man on a motorcycle who looks like he just rode in from the set of “The Wild One” that his old friend Professor Oxley (John Hurt) has been captured, Indy and the young man (“Transformers'” Shia LeBeouf) set out to rescue them.
Ford brings it. He is vitally and vibrantly present every moment on screen. He gets the a-word issue out of the way early on with a wry response to “we’ve gotten out of worse before” — “We were younger then.” He can still throw a credible punch and he has an even better and deeper sense of who he is as an actor and who Indy is as a character dealing with his own issues of aging. Moving the characters forward in time provides many opportunities for fresh and intriguing details that are instantly evocative of the past and lightly resonant for today’s circumstances as well. LeBeouf, Ford, and Karen Allen, who makes a welcome return as Marian, Indy’s best leading lady, have terrific chemistry. The stunts are thrilling and brilliantly paced, and the script, the first three-quarters of it, anyway, if not up to the level of the first Indiana Jones film, is at or better than the other two. The old-school effects are far better than the brief CGI. The unscripted real-life bug swallowed as an ad lib by Rene Belloq in the first movie was far more effective than an army of man-eating ants made from pixels in this one. John Hurt is underused as the addled Oxley as is Ray Winstone (“Beowulf”) as a fellow traveler in more than one sense of the term. And it is a little too long, but that is understandable. Ford, Allen, producer George Lucas, and director Steven Spielberg enjoy spending time with Indiana Jones and don’t want to say goodbye. We feel the same way.
There may be a good argument to make on behalf of teaching Intelligent Design in science class, but this documentary from Ben Stein does not make it. The movie itself is an example of design by faith and emotion rather than intelligence, defined as rationality grounded in proof. Instead of making a straightforward case for Intelligent Design as a scientific theory, Stein employs misdirection and guilt by very tangential association to try to make his case.
Intelligent Design advocates believe that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected or random or mechanical process such as Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Stein begins by interviewing scientists who lost their jobs for even mentioning the theory, baits some Darwinian scientists in selective clips from interviews, and then visits Dachau and the Hadamar euthanasia center, where the Nazis murdered thousands of disabled people. Stein tells us he is not saying that Darwinism leads to mass murder, but the connection he draws is unmistakable.
Like the tobacco companies once they could no longer question the legitimacy of the scientific evidence connecting cigarettes and disease, Stein quickly shifts the debate from a head-to-head assessment of analysis of data to frame the issue as one of freedom of speech. The movie opens with archival footage not of science labs or the animal life on Galapagos Island, where Darwin first began to develop his theory, but of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Stein tries to draw a parallel between the wall that divided Germany and the impenetrable wall that keeps Intelligent Design out of the science establishment. But he is also associating Darwinian science with Godlessness, communism, and totalitarianism, with detours into Nazi atrocities and atheism so over-the-top that it becomes shrill and irrational.
And irrationality is the opposite of scientific inquiry. Stein says that freedom of speech requires that both Intelligent Design and Darwin’s natural selection should be taught in America’s classrooms. But he never subjects Intelligent Design to the kind of scrutiny required by scientific analysis, which is based on observation and experimentation. Intelligent Design is based the fact that (1) there are questions that natural selection does not answer — which Darwinian scientists admit, and (2) therefore, some intelligent force must be behind creation — which cannot be proven by scientific means and therefore is more appropriately considered within the fields of philosophy or religion.
Science is all about challenging, refining, and refuting established theories, as the movie concedes, with Albert Einstein’s improvement of the theories of Isaac Newton as an example. But both Newton and Einstein agreed on what science was and how to evaluate scientific theories. As presented by Stein, Intelligent Design and Darwinian theory make the same observations, but come to different conclusions. Darwin says that life forms evolved through random mutation and natural selection, the survival of the fittest. Intelligent Design says that life is so complex that it is all the evidence we need to show that some intelligent (conscious, intentional) force must have created it. Stein never shows that Intelligent Design can go from theory to explanation as it must to be considered science. As a lawyer, he should understand that freedom of speech also guarantees the freedom not to have to listen to mangled, manipulative, and disingenuous rhetoric like this.