By Steve Greene | Criticwire May 6, 2012 at 1:33PM
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 email@example.com.
If a soldier in Kandahar is able to see “The Avengers” this weekend, it might be because of Hyman Strachman. Instantly claiming the title of World’s Most Productive Nonagenarian Copyright Violator, Strachman is not portrayed in this New York Times article as an average criminal. Over the past nine years, he has scanned and copied thousands of bootleg DVDs to send to American forces fighting in Afghansitan, Iraq and elsewhere. At seemingly no personal benefit (other than an altruistic sense of combat camaraderie), the 92-year-old veteran has managed to send enough boxes of discs to cost him roughly a median American’s yearly salary.
"Mr. Strachman has never ripped a movie from a store-bought DVD and does not even know how; rather, he bought bootlegged discs for $5 in Penn Station before finding a dealer closer to home, at his local barbershop. Those discs were either recordings made illegally in theaters or studio cuts that had been leaked. Originally, Mr. Strachman would use his desktop computer to copy the movies one tedious disc at a time. (“It was moyda,” he groaned.) So he got his hands on a $400 professional duplicator that made seven copies at once, grew his fingernails long to better separate the blank discs, and began copying hundreds a day."
The Internet is reaching critical mass with discussion of the new Marvel superhero movie (the name of which escapes me, does anyone happen to know?), but a better appreciation of the latest installment may come from reading a bit of the director/screenwriter’s backstory. For those not versed in the ways of Buffy and Firefly and Dollhouse, Alex Pappademas’ GQ profile of Joss Whedon delves into the writer’s genesis and the main themes that run through much of his work. An anecdote about Whedon’s pitch session for the Batman movie he’ll never see made is particularly memorable.
"And yes, sure, it's Hollywood, it's Chinatown, and every day before Joss Whedon's even had time to brew a pot of tea in the spacious open-plan kitchen of his fancy Santa Monica house, the industry bones fifty other equally passionate artistes harder and more heartlessly than it has ever boned him. And of course Whedon knows this. It just doesn't make him feel better. Here is Whedon, talking to the fanboy glossy Wizard Universe in 2007, about films he never got to make: 'That's the problem when you throw your heart into those things; it just stays there.'"
Whether minimalist, art deco reboot or…other, the world of movie posters has maintained a level of artistic innovation, even when dealing with blockbuster material. At Movies.com, Peter Hall spoke with a pair of staff members at Mondo, a company that creates posters for the Alamo Drafthouse. What makes this a compelling read is not that it examines the artistic process for how these posters gain life, but the business-logistical side of the endeavor that comes with a number of inescapable pitfalls. Imitators, re-sellers and copycats are just as much a problem for them as they are for the biggest studios.
"Mitch can tell you the story how at the Mystery Movie this dude came up and said the cops came to the hotel because he flew down and then put ads on Craigslist, on the connections thing, and was like, 'I need four women to come with me to a movie tonight to mule posters.' And he couldn't find anyone, so he started asking the housekeeping staff to come with him, and they thought he was going to kidnap him so they called the police. Then the police came to arrest him and he was like, 'No, I just need people to get these posters for me.'"
Well, those helicarriers and eponymous towers certainly don’t design themselves. Charlie Jane Anders’ conversations for io9 with, among others, “Avengers” production designer James Chinlund, yielded some insight into how these mammoth setpieces were conceived, modeled and created. While the depth and detail of the individual character looks is a tad skeleton-ish (gotta save a little something for the DVD Bonus Features, right?), it’s a nice overview of the design process and a reminder that hundreds of minds go into a single vision.
"In retrofitting the MetLife Building into Stark Tower, Chinlund worked hard to make it 'feel familiar to the Stark esthetic developed in the first two Iron Man films,' including the 'sweeping curves and glass" from his home in Malibu. Except now, those huge curved windows had a view of the Big Apple. The goal was that New Yorkers could leave the theater looking around at the skyline, 'feeling that the Tower might actually be there [and] they just haven't seen it yet,' says Chinlund. This is a very Marvel notion — that these stories take place in the real New York, just with little tweaks here and there."