Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Film Critics of Tomorrow, Today

As a near-closing activity for my Winter 2011 course English 386: The Film Review as Genre, I am reprising an activity from the last time I taught the class, and I encourage (implore?) your participation. Most recently, my students have been rooting around politically and sociologically engaged reviews composed by full-time and part-time critics like James Baldwin, Molly Haskell, Robin Wood, bell hooks, Zadie Smith, and Paul Rudnick, aka Libby Gelman-Waxner. We've also discussed the increasing pressures in today's media to draw readers into your review by isolating a sentence or "hook" that distills your critical sensibility and builds instant curiosity around your piece.

So, the assignment: I invited students to write a short review attuned in some way to ideological issues or identity politics. They could devote their piece either to one of our recent course screeings (Lady Sings the Blues, Dances with Wolves, Edward Scissorhands, Pulp Fiction, Brokeback Mountain, or The Social Network) or to a 2010 release from a list I circulated. As an additional wrinkle of this assignment, I asked the students to isolate one sentence or two that they would select to advertise the rest of the piece, as happens on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic&#151suggesting that this sentence should exhibit verbal dexterity in addition to its other strategies for luring a reader.

So, I ask you, as I did two years ago (and to some unexpected acclaim!): which two or three of the following sentences most whet your appetite to read the rest of the review? I'd be especially appreciative if you could quickly suggest why you selected the sentences you did: tone, eloquence, humor, distinctiveness, the thought expressed, etc. The reviews with the most votes will get an extra bump upward when I grade them.

Please limit your comments to expressions of enthusiasm!! The point is to encourage good writing and to reward interesting effort. Many of these students never wrote critically about cinema until this term. We all know how easily the Web can breed snark and vitriol, but in the interest of pedagogy and encouragement, I really ask that this not be a venue for that sort of response!

Thank you so much for participating, and for forwarding this link to anyone else whom you think might take the time to select and respond to their favorites. The more feedback the better! (You do not need to be a registered user of Blogger in order to vote; simply choose the Anonymous option from the Comments page, below the text window, and register your opinions that way.)

BJ "Though perhaps not purposely, Dances with Wolves has succeeded in using Native American hardship as the context in which another 'White Problem' can be resolved—this time around, it's the main character's struggle with Western society's suffocation of fluid sexuality among its own members."

KF "During perhaps the most poignant scene in the film, in which Edward trims just enough hair from a dog's eyes to enable its sight, we get The Point."

CG "But the film's power actually lies in its absurdity: underneath the comic book violence and razor-sharp dialogue is a message that encourages compassion, which is exactly what our generation needs."

BH "To be American, then, is to be 'totally fucking cool.' I could try to adapt to Pulp Fiction's depiction of America by making a pilgrimage to L.A., honing up on my cultural trivia, and enhancing my xenophobia, but somehow it doesn't appeal to me; if this is what Americanism is, I'm happy to stay out of it."

AG "The film is fundamentally satisfying for the mere reason that it follows a female character who exists outside the confines of love and subservience to which so many other movies would have restricted her." (Note: This blurb was incorrectly affiliated at first with Pulp Fiction—wrong Mia!)

KD1 "With the exception of a couple, brief scenes where Ennis (Ledger) seems to need to hit something (at one point, subtly, back-lit by Fourth of July fireworks) and Jack's (Gyllenhaal's) very brief rides on bucking bulls, there is none of the hallmark action of a genre Western in Brokeback. This is a dressed-up woman's film, except they've replaced the long-suffering woman with two long-suffering cowboys."

KD2 "I am calling you out, Mr. Ang Lee, director of Brokeback Mountain: you are a homophobe!"

CG "If I pay to see a gay cowboy movie, then you'd better believe that I want to see a gay cowboy movie."

LH "Brokeback Mountain is reminiscent of the popular kid in high school who sacrifices his personality and beliefs for the sake of widespread acceptance."

CE "Some people would call it a metaphor—all I know is, I saw that metaphor's penis."

SH "Dogtooth succeeds nevertheless, exploring the complexities of gender in a world where gender does not have to be complex."

JK "The overall concept starts simply, and as the film progresses, layers of the protagonists' surreal, detached world are added that are both maniacal and brilliant screenwriting touches."

MH "Guadagnino creates leisurely, sensuous moments of microscopic camera close-ups of aesthetically interesting images that call attention to the innate beauty found in the pursuit of his characters' deviations from exclusive or heterosexual relationships."

BB "The Social Network, like Facebook itself, has important ramifications completely unintended by its creators: the film provides an opportunity to address America's continuing social problem of black marginalization."

AC "The Social Network is supposed to be the movie of our generation, but I don't know a lot of kids my age who create billion-dollar companies based on computer programming and spend their days fighting lawsuits, so I guess it must be these parallels between the guys and the girls in the film that make it so relevant."

KD "Women of Harvard, I hope you are finding The Social Network as instructional as I am."

AF "As made apparent by the film's treatment of females, The Social Network is a 'Men's Only' club."

NF "For a movie in which almost the entire plot is motivated by a woman, it's disappointing that the makers of The Social Network know as much about portraying women as James Franco and Anne Hathaway know about entertaining an audience: absolutely nothing."

AJ "However extraordinary Mark might be in terms of his programming and entrepreneurial abilities, however, his sexism is far from unusual in the world that he inhabits; misogynistic in its very structure, this film depicts men as chauvinistic and women, denied any complex characterization, as almost without exception belonging to three stereotypical categories."

EK "In truth, it doesn't matter whether Aaron Sorkin's script is historically accurate and it makes no difference that Jesse Eisenberg's Mark can fully represent only a small subset of the young population; sometimes the best fiction tells the most truth, and ultimately this is the very real story of the depersonalized new world."

RK "Sorkin satirizes the culture of the rich white male—the ritzy nightclubs, the flashy parties, and the Winklevosses' contention to their college president that 'we never asked for special treatment'—but who is doing the satirizing? A rich white male."

RL "While depicting the Facebook obsession and Zuckerberg's computer genius, The Social Network also glorifies a gender stereotype that depicts men as the innovators, the leaders, and the thinkers of the world and women as sexual objects."

SMB "The universe of The Social Network is a boys' club, plain and simple."

BM "The Social Network's shortcomings are disappointing and annoying, but are unforgivable when one considers how they distracted from the egregious generational dismissal of women—that is, if we are to understand the cast of the 'film of a generation' to be representative of that generation."

AP "The Social Network is not a film for the generation brought up on Facebook. It is a film for the generation that does not understand Facebook."

CPJ "At the end of the day, using the logic of Fincher and Sorkin's own faux-Zuckerberg, if they've made a sexist movie, they've made a sexist movie."

AS "The valuable moments in the movie resonate not because they reveal something about the movie's focal figure Mark Zuckerberg or because they reflect a generation's feelings. Rather, the most telling moments of the film give brief glimpses into a synonymous thought or emotion shared among white people."

JS "Every interaction we undertake, every pursuit, and even the dreams we have are more easily available to us. The Social Network captures that essence: the possibilities of this world of interconnectivity that, while so sleekly efficient, has departed from a quaint time of yesteryear."

KV "I've had a Facebook account for years. I don't need someone to waste a precious morsel of Aaron Sorkin wit explaining to me what a wall-to-wall is."

MW "In the process of defining Zuckerberg as the biggest asshole/genius of his generation—an intriguing paradox, certainly —Fincher inadvertently posits the status of Gen Y women as sexually superfluous objects, intellectually useless beings yet, like the audience, patently in awe of Zuckerberg's legendary and controversial stature."

SW "But most of all, what a wonderful message for our times: women don't have to do anything!"

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