Tag Archives: movies

Longreads Goes to the Movies: A Reading List

It’s 10:45 p.m., and I’m about to indulge in one of my strangest habits: watching a horror movie, alone, late at night. My cat is nearby, but he sleeps through this particular ritual. There are rules; the lights stay on. I don’t watch movies about home invasions or slasher flicks. Minimal gore, please. I love demon possessions, haunted houses, and paranormal investigations. Tonight, for instance, I’m watching the American version of The Ring for the first time. I perch my laptop on the edge, reach for the soft pretzel I picked up on the way home and press play. The scenes so far are tinged green; it is always raining. There’s an ill-fated Amber Tamblyn, gone in five minutes. There’s Adam Brody, harbinger of death and teen angst. My cat stretches, body bisecting the coffee table. The ceiling fan burns bright, blades in orbit.

What are your movie habits? What films do you return to, over and over? Here are five stories about A League of Their Own, High Fidelity, the films of John Hughes, Ghost in the Shell and, the criticism of Roger Ebert.

1. “‘A League of Their Own’ Stands the Test of Time.” (ESPNW Staff, ESPN, June 2017)

An oral history celebrating the 25th anniversary of the greatest baseball movie ever made, A League of Their Own, a film based on the real-life adventures of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

2. “I Grew Up in a John Hughes Movie.” (Jason Diamond, BuzzFeed, August 2014)

Jason Diamond wrote this beautiful essay two years before his memoir Searching for John Hughes debuted, and it made me want to watch and re-watch all of his films. Diamond’s childhood in the Chicago suburb of Skokie mirrored the neighborhood in Hughes’ iconic teen-centric films, Shermer, Illinois.

3. “Roger Ebert’s Zero-Star Movies.” (Will Sloan, Hazlitt, February 2017)

I finally accepted the fact I wanted to (maybe, possibly) be a Serious Writer the same summer I read Chris Jones’ iconic profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire. Ebert has held a small but significant piece of my heart ever since. At Hazlitt, Will Sloan explores the movies Ebert hated most, where he wonders, “What does it mean when the most famous and widely read American film critic regards a movie as ‘artistically inept and morally repugnant’?”

4. “All Shell, No Ghost.” (Eric Chang, Vogue, April 2017)

On hacking as “a method of seeing,” the parallel histories of Eastern and Western cyberpunk storytelling, and the laziness inherent in whitewashed films.

5. “‘High Fidelity’ Captured the Snob’s–and the Soundtrack’s–Waning Powers.” (Sean O’Neal, The A.V. Club, March 2017)

My first movie soundtrack was PhenomenonI’ve still never seen the movie, but I know every word to Eric Clapton’s lead single, “Change the World.” I can still hear Clapton crooning “and our love would ruuuuuuuule…” I thought Bryan Ferry’s “Dance With Life (The Brilliant Life)” was unspeakably beautiful (still do, honestly). My family listened to the CD on repeat. According to MovieTunes, this soundtrack was “the cutting edge of a collaborative art-form whose time has come.” The exuberance of 1996 stands in stark contrast to 2000—what a difference four years makes!—as you can see in Sean O’Neal’s take on the jaded and vaguely anachronistic High Fidelity and its accompanying soundtrack.

Our Zombies, Ourselves: An Undead Reading List

When you think of zombies, it’s likely you envision something like the flesh-eating, immortal creatures created by George Romero, who defined a new genre of horror with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Thanks to Romero, who died this week at the age of 77, the zombie movie has become more than a chance to feel scared. It’s also an essential lens through which we can view pop culture, politics, and society. In honor of the great director, here is some our favorite writing about the terror of the living dead.

1.“Why Black Heroes Make Zombie Stories More Interesting,” by Matt Thompson (NPR Code Switch, October 2013)

One of Romero’s most famous narrative coups was casting a black actor as the hero of his 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. It was a decision that turned a run-of-the-mill horror movie into a complex commentary on the civil rights movement, and imbued other zombie films with the ability to criticize society.

The thing about good zombie fiction (and I say this as someone who enjoys an awful lot of zombie fiction) is that the zombies are never the most horrific thing. Zombies don‘t typically have the capacity for complex thought — they don‘t execute stratagems, play politics, torture people. All they do is feed. The true horror in any zombie story worth its salt is what other people do when faced with the zombie threat. Zombies are merely relentless; humans can be sadistic.

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In a League of His Own: One Man’s Mission to Make Moviegoing Fun Again

Launched in Austin 20 years ago by Tim League, the Alamo Drafthouse chain of cinemas has spread to 27 locations and 20 cities, serving up League’s fun, eclectic blend of film, food, and entertainment: a Vin Diesel trivia contest before the screening of The Fast and the Furious. A DeLorean displayed during a run of Back to the Future. Food and drink menus curated for the films. Super-fans dressed in costumes.

But as more people stream movies on their TVs and tablets at home than ever before, traditional theaters face an uncertain future. And League, as Dan Solomon writes in Texas Monthly, believes he can bring us back into theaters — and make moviegoing great again.

In recent years, box office receipts have been high—2015 shattered the previous record, nudging past $11 billion—but much of that profit is based on people paying higher prices. The average cost of a movie ticket has spiked by more than $2.50 since 2004; it is now $8.84. But the number of tickets sold—the number of people going to the movies—has been declining. Except at certain theaters, like the Alamo, which are consistently selling out.

All of which highlights what Tim League and the Alamo Drafthouse are really selling. You can see a movie anywhere, but anyone who’s had to buy tickets weeks or months in advance for the opening night of a movie at the Drafthouse, a movie that will also be playing at every theater in town, knows that, like Marcus Loew, League doesn’t sell tickets to movies, he sells tickets to theaters—to an experience.

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The Making of ‘Meatballs’: Is Bill Murray Even Going to Show Up?

Ivan Reitman and his crew didn’t have a solid script for the screwball 1979 summer camp comedy Meatballs. They didn’t have Bill Murray. They had a few months to film, and most of the camps they asked to use as sets thought they were nuts. Yet the movie they made stands as one of Hollywood’s enduring comedies, a surprisingly sensitive look at one teenager’s rite of passage through summer camp. At Vanity Fair, the always spicy Eric Spitznagel talks with cast and crew in a revealing oral history of the making of Meatballs. As they say in the movie, “Are you ready for the summer?”

Goldberg: We had our cast, but there was still the matter of Bill [Murray]. “Is Bill going to do it? Will he show up?” I didn’t know if he ever read the script. Then he kind of committed, but not really. Three days before we start shooting, we have no idea if it’s going to happen.

Banham: Dan Aykroyd was supposed to play the part. That’s what I heard. And that’s what we all believed. Most of us in the cast, we would talk about it. “Can you believe we’re in a movie with Dan Aykroyd?” Everybody knew who Dan Aykroyd was. And then we show up for the movie, and there’s Bill Murray. And we’re like, [deflated] “Oh. It’s the new guy from S.N.L. [Sighs] O.K.”

Blum: Bill turned up in this Hawaiian shirt and red shorts, wearing an alarm clock on his wrist, which eventually found its way into the film.

Reitman: I remember how amazing he was that first day he showed up. I handed him the script—I think it was the first time he was reading it—he flipped through it and said, “Eh.” And he very theatrically threw it into a nearby trash can. [Laughs] That’s kind of terrifying to see an actor do that just minutes before you’re going to shoot your first scene with him.

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The 1972 Movie of the 1969 Musical, “1776”

There’s no going out on the 4th of July at my house. The evening is allocated to the soothing of an anxious dog. The shift runs from dusk (around 8:30 in my Northwest corner of the U.S.) until the bad noises stop. It’s a good night for movies. Thanks to a recommendation from Salon, I landed on 1776, the 1972 movie version of the 1969 musical.

“1776” brings to life the vibrant personalities that helped bring America to life. You have Daniels as the acerbic, indignant and unshakably honorable Adams, Da Silva as the sly and charming but deeply idealistic Franklin and Howard as the quiet and cerebral Jefferson. Like all of the best works about history, it forces audiences to see important figures from the past as flesh-and-blood human beings rather than stodgy icons.

Spoiler alert: the vote goes to independence and the rest is (sorry) history.  I did not read the entire Salon piece up front; I didn’t want to know anything more than “Yep, this movie is a great choice (for those of you stuck under 15 pounds of quaking dog) for July 4th.”

Because I didn’t read the entire write up, I didn’t know that none other than President Richard Nixon had feelings about the movie. It’s thanks to him the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” was cut; it’s since been restored.

In the musical “1776,” the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” depicts Revolutionary War era conservatives as power-hungry wheedlers focused on maintaining wealth. So it’s not surprising that then-President Richard Nixon, who saw the show at a special White House performance in 1970, wasn’t a big fan of the number.

What is surprising is that according to Jack L. Warner, the film’s producer and a friend of the president, Nixon pressured him to cut the song from the 1972 film version of the show–which Warner did. Warner also wanted the original negative of the song shredded, but the film’s editor secretly kept it intact.

Small wonder — it’s a scathing number. “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor,” scowls John Dickinson. (Dickinson refused to sign the Declaration of Independence.) The cast breaks into a second verse about the joys of conservatism.

We’re the cool, cool considerate men
Whose like may never, ever bee seen again
With our land, cash in hand
Self command, future planned

And we’ll hold to our gold
Tradition that is old
Reluctant to be bold

We say this game’s not of our choosing
Why should we risk losing?

No wonder Nixon hated it. It was the Broadway version of the 1776 version of “We’ve got ours, we’re good, thanks.”

The movie holds up well enough for 1972, though I’m fairly certain Martha Jefferson would not have sung to John Adams and Ben Franklin about her husband Thomas’ prowess at… violin, sure, that song is about his musical skills, sure. I found Franklin too cartoonish, though I liked William Daniels’ Adams a lot (he played Benjamin’s dad in The Graduate). I was riveted by “Molasses to Rum,” the number praising, among other things, the slave trade.

Once the credits rolled, I had to research any number of things — where Edward Rutledge stood on slavery, what happened to John Dickinson after he declined to sign the Declaration, and what about that Abigail Adams anyway?

I don’t know how I got through the 70s without seeing 1776. When I posted to Facebook that I was watching it, my feed lit up with commentary — including one friend admitting he would like to play Andrew McNair, the long suffering custodian/bell-ringer who keeps trying to open the windows to let some air into what’s now known as Independence Hall.

All those men in brocade, arguing in the heat of a Philadelphia summer. It must have stunk to high heaven in the room where it happened.


Stories mentioned:

Desperately Seeking Daniel Day-Lewis

In 1989, during a performance of Hamlet at the National Theater, Daniel Day-Lewis walked off the stage. Like Hamlet, he claimed, he’d seen his father’s ghost. He never took to the stage again. With this week’s announcement that Day-Lewis is retiring from acting, it looks like his film days are over, too. And when Daniel Day-Lewis commits to something, he really commits.

Cue the public mourning for one of our most dedicated actors, a man as famous for avoiding the cameras as he is for standing in front of them. Day-Lewis embodied Acting with a capital A, embracing all of its finicky pretense. The end of his career may also be the end of an era for the great method actor — and the brilliant, if reluctant, male movie star.

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How ‘Austin Powers’ Became the First Cult Hit of the DVD Era

No movie channels pre-Millennium, “the end of history is kinda fun!” exuberance better than 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The film, which turned 20 this week, feels incredibly out of step with our dystopian present, yet the cheap gags and sophomoric puns still work. (Did you remember Carrie Fisher played the Evils’ family therapist? I didn’t).

At the Hollywood Reporter, Ryan Parker presents the cast and crew’s memories of making this unlikely cult movie — including the realization they had a DVD-fueled sleeper hit on their hands.

[Director Jay] Roach It opened internationally on the weekend Princess Diana died, and there was no one in the world in the mood for Americans mocking English people. There was some reference to Prince Charles that did end up getting cut for the U.K. release.

[Actor Seth] Green The movie came out and did fine. I think the total take after eight weeks was something like $50 million.

Roach But then DVDs kicked in — they were a new market channel, and Warner Bros. was a pioneer. Mike and I did the commentary and worked on bonus features. They asked us to do a sequel, and I figured the video numbers must have done really well. They hide the video numbers, so you never know. To this day, it’s in the red. I don’t think that movie is listed as in profit, which is hilarious to me.

[Writer and actor Mike] Myers I knew we had something when I was driving on Halloween in Los Angeles and I couldn’t get past Santa Monica Boulevard because of a parade, so I sat on the hood of the car and I saw like 15 Austin Powers go by and one of the Austin Powers spotted me and came over. I had a picture with all these Austin Powers, which was unbelievably cool.

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“It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”

At Bloomberg Businessweek, Robert Kolker walks us through the confusing, byzantine, and downright shady world of Hollywood profits and payouts, as part of an exploration of the $400 billion lawsuit brought by the creators of the ancestor of all mockumentaries, This Is Spinal Tap. The lawsuit details are interesting enough (according to the film’s current owner Vivendi, the creative partners’ share of worldwide merchandising over a 32 year period was… $81), but Spinal Tap fans will also love the insider tidbits about the creation of the film, which started with a 20-minute demo version.

“I was amazed when I last looked at it,” says Shearer, who plays Derek Smalls, the band’s bare-chested, mutton-chopped, pipe-smoking bassist. “We had this little pittance”—a $60,000 screenplay fee from a company that eventually rejected the idea—“to shoot characters and performances.” He remembers his long black wig costing about $5, and that it took an hour and a half to remove once the shoot was over (the costumer had used super glue). Shearer, Reiner (who plays Marty DiBergi, the fake documentarian), Guest (as lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel), and McKean (as vocalist David St. Hubbins) had been nursing and developing the idea since 1978. They first performed as the band in a 1979 variety show called The T.V. Show. Then they wrote seven new songs, played a few gigs in costume in Los Angeles, and worked out a complete band history to ensure that their improvisations had a narrative spine they all could rely on. “Michael McKean, I believe, still has the napkin on which the possible names and the possible misspellings were outlined,” Shearer recalls, “because I think at one point we thought maybe S-p-y-n-a-l?”

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The Bitter History of Law and Order in America

Andrea Pitzer | Longreads | April 2017 | 11 minutes (2,800 words)

 

During his heady first days in office, Donald Trump developed his now-familiar ritual for signing executive orders. He began by swapping a large sheet of paper for a hinged portfolio, then he started revealing the signed documents to onlookers a little awkwardly, crossing his forearms to hold the folio up, or bending it backward to show the press his signature. Finally, he perfected the motion by turning the open folder completely around to face the audience, displaying it from three angles, as if delivering tablets of law from Mount Sinai. By the end of the week, he seemed pleased with this bit of theater in which he could star as the president. The ritual, of course, became a meme.

Shortly after he perfected this performance, Trump signed three executive orders promoted by the White House under the heading “Law and Order.” The first required the Attorney General to look at crimes against law enforcement; the second directed the AG to create a task force on crime reduction and public safety, with specific mention of illegal immigration; the third delegated cabinet members to review strategies for finding and prosecuting international drug cartels. All three called for studying crime rather than implementing new programs—they also heightened anxiety over purported crime by blacks and immigrants while making it seem like only Trump was willing do something about it.

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What’s Literally Underfoot at the Oscars, or The Secrets of the Red Carpet, Revealed

At The Los Angeles Times, Daniel Miller goes behind the scenes to report on the famed red carpet that graces the entrance to the Oscars. What you learn about the care, installation, and true color of this 50,000 square foot rug may just surprise you.

A red carpet made its debut at the Oscars in 1961 and has since become an integral part of the spectacle, whose pre-show extravaganza is widely viewed by fans tuning in to check out stars’ fashion hits and misses.

The unique nature of the Academy Awards extends to its carpet: It isn’t even a traditional red.

Instead, the carpet is closer to burgundy and has been for the last 15 years. The exclusive shade — called Academy Red — is supposed to flatter the A-list actors who are photographed and filmed walking on it. It’s a secret color, one whose precise specifications the show’s organizers won’t reveal for fear of copycats.

“Listen, there is only one Academy Awards,” said Joe Lewis, an associate producer of the arrivals and pre-show portion of the Oscars. “Some things that make the Academy Awards the Academy Awards should be proprietary.”

The secrecy surrounding the carpet illustrates the exacting nature of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the annual awards show. And it’s just one quirk of the custom carpet.

A crew of about 18 workers began installing the red carpet along Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Dolby on Feb. 21. It will take them nearly 900 man-hours to install the carpet, and the work won’t be finished until just before the stars begin arriving Sunday afternoon — as throngs of foreign tourists, street performers in superhero costumes and edgy security guards look on.

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