By Steve Greene | Criticwire December 2, 2012 at 3:03PM
Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there's anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katie Calautti's piece for Movies.com is anything but a standard assembly of films with a tenuous overall connection. Using the anniversary of her father's passing as a framework, she lists the cinematic stories that not only helped her cope with his passing but that were placed in a new context after what transpired. It's a beautiful, meditative piece rich in sincerity that adds a fresh perspective to a handful of tales that aren't ostensibly about mortality.
"After dad died, I busied myself with moving to New York City. I found a job, an apartment, I adapted to the frenzied pace. For the most part, I avoided the one reprieve I sought all my life - the movie theater. It was too painful. It wasn't until the second anniversary of his death that a film saved me - that I was reminded of the healing power of cinema, the intense connection one can make with its material, and the visceral reaction it elicits. Since that moment, I've sought out other movies about terminal illness - stories that don't seek to terrify (I'm looking at you, My Sister's Keeper) or delve into maudlin dramatics (sorry, Beaches) but instead touch upon realistic situations with authenticity. Like rapid-fire therapy sessions, I've gone through stints of watching (and rewatching) certain films back-to-back."
You might have noticed that shooting of a different sort made a slight comeback in 2012. Between "Brave," "The Hunger Games" and "The Avengers," moviegoers saw the reemergence of archery, a trend that, combined with the 2012 Summer Olympics, inspired a fresh interest in both the competition and craft. Matt Patches at Hollywood.com talks with multiple professionals in the sport to measure the tangible effects that these movie representations might have spawned.
"The sudden emergence of the bow and arrow in pop culture has positively invigorated fans to pick it up in real life, but the trained archers hope that newfound interest pushes Hollywood to better represent the sport in the future. "Brave obviously benefited from technical advice that made archery look excellent and authentic in that movie, but other films and television shows would strongly benefit from receiving technical advice from an archer," Johnson says. Archery is not a one-bow-fits-all sport — Johnson notes that if an archer in a film uses a compound bow, he should work with a compound archer. If they shoot instinctively (without sights), work with an archer who understands instinctive shooting. Simple."
Much has been made about how much "Argo" sticks to the story that it's based on. At the very least, the film has sparked conversations and recollections among those who lived through it or had special relationships to it. One such writer is Irish Times' Conor O'Clery, whose status as an Irish journalist afforded him access to the hostage stories after other American reporters had been banished. Rather than dwell on what details the movie chooses to amend, O'Clery uses the events of the film as a starting point for his incredible, yet concise tale.
"Rahim presented me with a 'revolutionary pack' of copies of secret papers which the CIA had failed to destroy before the siege and which showed the extent of the spy agency’s use of fake passports. One document specified Belgian cover for an agent with the alias Paul Timmermans. It stated, 'According to personal data in your passport, you are single, were born in Antwerp, Belgium 08 July ‘34, have blue eyes, have no distinguishing characteristics and are approximately 1.88 metres tall. Your occupation is that of a commercial business representative. Your Belgian passport was ostensibly issued in Jette [and] to enhance its validity the following back travel has been added, a trip to Madrid, Spain, in April 1977, a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, in August 1977, a trip to Helsinki, Finland, in 1978.'"
A little over two months ago, we featured another (albeit shorter and less formal) interview with Bill Murray, prompting me to think that this weekly feature could be filled solely with profiles of the legendary comic actor and most wouldn't complain. But there's something about Dave Itzkoff's talk with Murray for the New York Times that adds another layer to the enjoyment. Q&As are sometimes as much a puzzle for the interviewer as they are an examination of a particular subject. Itzkoff preserves the casual artifice of a friendly chat while giving readers a glimpse into the difficulties behind what may seem like a simple interview.
"Q. Did you ever think that the lessons you first learned on the stage of an improv comedy theater in Chicago would pay off later in life?
A. It pays off in your life when you’re in an elevator and people are uncomfortable. You can just say, 'That’s a beautiful scarf.' It’s just thinking about making someone else feel comfortable. You don’t worry about yourself, because we’re vibrating together. If I can make yours just a little bit groovier, it’ll affect me. It comes back, somehow."
This is a tiny stretch for a "Reel" Reads column, but Brian Raftery's GQ oral history of the production of the "Blackwater" episode on the past season of "Game of Thrones" does have some film pedigree to it. One of the most intriguing set of recollections is from Neil Marshall (director of "The Descent" and "Centurion"), who helmed this episode. The comparisons between the budgetary and time constraints of a feature film vs. a TV episode with considerable spectacle are insightful and there a few nuggets of trivia for "Game of Thrones" fans (and ficitional decapitation enthusiasts.
"Neil Marshall (director): I got a phone call on a Saturday morning from one of the producers: 'Would you like to do an episode?' And I said, 'Absolutely. When is it—in the next month or something?' And they said, 'Oh, no. We need you Monday morning.' I hadn't seen the series, so I had to watch the first season back-to-back on a Sunday, get a flight [from London] to Belfast, and be in the office on Monday morning. I was given a week and a half to prep before shooting, but having come from a low-budget-feature background, I know what it's like to work fast."
Another television-centric piece, but the analytical approach that Matt Zoller Seitz takes in evaluating the third season of HBO's "Treme" reads more like a piece about an epic film than a TV series. Seitz withheld commentary on this season until after it had concluded, a practice not often seen in high-profile TV criticism. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the article is that it's helpful (and in many ways most satisfying) to look at a piece of art in its totality rather than pick at its various flaws. As we prepare to look back and honor the best that the year had to offer, it's a helpful reminder.
"It’s not just an ensemble show, it’s a stubbornly democratic one. It settled on particular characters, some more emotionally accessible than others (I’m looking at you, Sonny, with your mute, pained expressions), and insisted that we consider all of them equally important and valuable, even if they’re going through uneventful patches or acting like ninnies. As in the films of Robert Altman — a major inspiration on Simon’s career — Treme believes that some of the most profound realizations and changes happen in between the 'big' moments, often inside people’s minds, and that oftentimes these shifts can’t be articulated without sounding like self-serving lies or greeting-card homilies. That said, if you watch a whole season of Treme in a couple of chunks instead of piecemeal, as I did this year, then let it sit for a few days, certain themes emerge and coalesce into — well, not a statement, exactly; maybe take is a better word: a take on cities and the people who inhabit them."