Every week, With a Little Help from Our Friends highlights the best pieces of writing on film, television, and literature published around the Internet. Please share if you like what you see.
For your reading enjoyment …
Is Wonder Woman feminist? Yes, the Amazon princess is often seen as an icon of female empowerment and heroism. But she also wears that swimsuit … and in the original comics from the ‘40s, more than a quarter of the panels included images of bondage, as Tim Hanley documents in Wonder Woman Unbound. How committed can a work of art be to feminist liberation when women (and it is overwhelmingly women) are shown being tied up on every page?
Earlier this week came news of WB/DC’s Suicide Squad, and the sparkly list of celebs wanted to play various morally murky supervillains. And right afterward came an update from Deadline- yes, Tom Hardy, Will Smith and Margot Robbie are super interested in pursuing some supervillainy (save for Ryan Gosling, who’s being all finicky). But in one throwaway sentence of that Deadline piece was something even more shocking (more shocking than Will Smith playing an outright villain, if you can believe it). It seems Robbie was free to pursue Suicide Squad because her previous target, the live-action Ghost in the Shell adaptation, had ditched her to pitch woo at Scarlett Johansson.
A year ago, writing partners Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman—who’d been responsible for Star Trek Into Darkness, Cowboys & Aliens, and Transformers—signaled their intent to revive the classic Universal monsters as part of a single “universe” like the wildly successful Marvel movies. Orci and Kurtzman have since parted ways, but the idea lives on with Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, the primary caretaker of Universal’s Fast & Furious franchise. Last Friday, the new monster-verse had its Big Bang event when the dreadful Dracula Untold swooped into theaters, retrofitted with a modern-day epilogue that presumably puts Vlad The Impaler among The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Frankenstein, and other crime-fighting immortals. Future Universal monster reboots will almost certainly follow a more carefully designed blueprint, perhaps with a post-credits sequence where a young Victor Frankenstein picks up his doctorate degree. It’ll be a rich mythology for sure.
Bob Rafelson is best known as one of the early architects of the so-called American New Wave, a movement towards personal, idiosyncratic filmmaking that flowered in the 1960s and ’70s. He made his directorial debut in 1968 with the Monkees film “Head,” written by a young actor named Jack Nicholson, who would go on to star in two of Rafelson’s signature films, “Five Easy Pieces” and “The King of Marvin Gardens.” Rafelson continued to work feverishly for decades after, directing, writing and producing projects that showcased his eccentric sensibility and love for subverting genres: “Stay Hungry,” “Blood and Wine” and his 1981 version of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” all testify to his restless, hard-edged, yet often unexpectedly romantic sensibility.
When Dear White People premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, director Justin Simien, introduced every screening with, “For all the white people in the audience, on behalf of all the black people in the world, you most definitely have permission to laugh.”
In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), Walter Benjamin points out that theatre and film do their work in different time signatures. Benjamin argues that non-continuity filmmaking fragments the labour of the performer, and hence the perception of the spectator.[i] In this article, I want to consider three films that ask of the cinematic illusion, “Where did the time go?” Their responses, which draw on real time, continuity filmmaking, durational structuralism, and alternate labour practices, affirm a feminist ethics invested in the idea that time could, and must, be alive.
The uncanny and the macabre were themes that cinema embraced from the outset. The cinematograph, after all was invented during the time of the Victorian Gothic renaissance, the popular bloody excesses of The Grand Guignol Theatre Company and Jack The Ripper. Germany was home to the first masters of horror cinema. Robert Weine’s 1919 Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (recently remastered and rereleased) is regularly credited as the first ‘Horror Movie’ proper and titles like Der Golem (1920) and Murnau’s Nosferatu Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (1922) featured characters that would be reinterpreted for the next one hundred years.
The move by HBO to make its online streaming site HBO Go a standalone Web feature—meaning no longer dependent on a cable subscription—is certainly no surprise. Rumors of the change have been circulating for years, and the rise of the cordcutter combined with HBO’s premium content of late makes it a natural move for the pioneering network.
Jason Reitman is a hard filmmaker to pin down. He’s made six features, and when a director has made that many films, it’s usually not terribly difficult to find themes or ideas that tie a filmography together. Besides generally following smart but naive characters, you can’t really do that with Reitman’s pictures. The element that comes closest to defining Reitman’s body of work is his passion for self-reflective stories. After his past two divisive efforts, Labor Day and Men, Women & Children, it’s obvious his voice and interests go beyond one story or one specific idea.
Hollywood loves a comeback story, and this one couldn’t be any sweeter. With the much-anticipated release of Birdman this weekend, Michael Keaton is back on top. One of Hollywood’s biggest draws in the 1980s, he seemed to be able to do it all. His work with Ron Howard showcased his biting comedic talents and quickly made him a leading man. Playing a crude ghost with the most and a legendary superhero for Tim Burton made him a worldwide superstar. But by the late ’90s, Keaton’sstar was on the decline, though he continued to work consistently. With around 80 roles under his belt, we look back on 11 that shine brightest.