Then [Nothing] Changed: On The Zombie Genre

Some might argue that the well of zombie survival-horror started drying up long ago. Filmmakers continue to create speculative fictions using Romero-style undead, but clever movies like Shaun of the Dead (Wright, 2004), Planet Terror (Rodriguez, 2007), and Dead Snow (Wirkola, 2009) are the exceptions. Most zombie-movie makers (better: zombie movie-makers) approach the genre’s tropes with all the imagination of a wedding band covering “We Are Family.” Continue reading “Then [Nothing] Changed: On The Zombie Genre” »

The Capitalist Complicities Behind “The Wolf of Wall Street”

When I first put my arbitrary list of the Top 10 Movies of 2013 together, I included Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street. The decision didn’t come lightly; I’ve had a very odd and ongoing conversation about this film. It had been my most anticipated film of the year by a country mile, but the experience of watching the movie drained me. It is too long, filled with shots and scenes that serve no real purpose except to keep telling us things we already know, shocking us with continued depravity or reinforcing the excessiveness and repetitiveness of Jordan Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) drugs-and-sex compulsiveness. Was it satire? Was it condemnation? Was it, as so many people claimed in various critiques, a glorification of rampant immorality? I had many conversations with colleagues about the goal of this film following that initial viewing. These conversations opened the film up as an ambivalent, outraged work about the failure to prosecute the finance sector, channeling its anger into gross satire. On a second watch though, The Wolf of Wall Street reveals significant political problems that can’t be ignored. Continue reading “The Capitalist Complicities Behind “The Wolf of Wall Street”” »

The Sea of Information

When Orgeron, Orgeron, and Streible talk about a “dense, rich, and largely neglected history,” their language carefully situates the state of educational film history as a stand-in for all film history and even the daunting task of the archive itself. I wrote about some of these issues once in a piece for UCLA’s Mediascape Blog, talking about the anxieties over information glut that have attended the history of the archive in western culture, and the compulsive need for hierarchical systems of organization. My central trope—the anxiety of the mis-shelved book, speaks to the fear that a historical artifact can be hidden in plain sight, obscured by the indifferentiable sea of entries that surround it (an idea that finds filmic expression in Citizen Kane, All the President’s Men, and Zodiac, among a host of other movies). Canons, whether personal (an informal list of movies you want to watch again) or institutional (the National Film Registry) are created in order to banish the thought of a lost film by drawing a permanent circle around what’s worth keeping. I’ve been thinking, however, about a number of film screenings I’ve attended in the past few years, and the cycle of loss and recovery as a value-making system. Continue reading “The Sea of Information” »

Media in the Classroom: Using Batman and ‘The Simpsons’ as Teaching Tools

Every year, the Comic-Con and Wonder-Con Conventions greet hundreds of thousands of fans, industry insiders, and reporters from across the world in order to showcase the latest and greatest of all things superhero- and comic book–related. While the conventions have been taking place since 1970 and 1987, respectively, for the past 20 years there has been an added facet to the festivities: the Comics Arts Conference. Known as the CAC, the purpose of its panels is to showcase work in the academic field relating to the world of comic books and superheroes. This past March, I was lucky enough to attend five of the different panels, whose topics range from utilizing The Simpsons as a learning tool to questioning the morality of DC Comic’s “The New 52” relaunch. What follows is a summary and analysis of some of the first panel I attended, titled “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned from Batman and Bart, Man: Embiggening Brains Without Crayon Implants.” This panel featured three different professors utilizing comic book and animated characters in an academic setting to improve student learning. Continue reading “Media in the Classroom: Using Batman and ‘The Simpsons’ as Teaching Tools” »

What My Knees Knew: Cinematic Action, or Milla Jovovich in the Flesh

In a recent email correspondence, Professor Chon Noriega and Matthias Stork discussed the merits of Resident Evil: Retribution (RE5), The Expendables 2 (E2), and other films.

Matthias Stork
I am sorry that you did not enjoy RE5 but I am truly elated that you seem to be familiar with the entire series. I still hold that the newest entry in the franchise is interesting and thought-provoking (even though I might be channeling my 14-year-old self). And it is even better than Dredd, which was extraordinary.

Chon Noriega
Dredd? Any better than the original, which today looks more like an ’80s film than actual ’80s films…? The Total Recall reboot was a real bomb. Like RE5, it suffered from an inability to imagine or represent a diegetic space that made any sense (let alone resonate with Verhoeven’s critique of the elite-media-industrial-state complex). RE5 seemed to borrow more from Cube than game narratives per se, but even that seemed like little more than a slight pretense for set pieces featuring Milla Jovovich with leather and guns. Alas, that franchise has become more about a family pension plan than nudging 14-year-old boys into the imponderables of life through sci-fi–action narratives. 🙁 Continue reading “What My Knees Knew: Cinematic Action, or Milla Jovovich in the Flesh” »

The Top 10 Movies of 2012: Four Opinions

To mark this year’s Academy Awards, four UCLA graduate students offer up their Top 10 lists for 2012.

James Gilmore

10. Rust and Bone
Marion Cotillard gives what could justifiably be called the best female performance of the year in Jacques Audiard’s sad and tender story of two damaged souls trying to rebuild their lives. Paired with Matthias Schoenaerts, Cotillard fits seamlessly into Audiard’s deterministic universe. The film really stuns on an emotional level: there’s pain here, but also something transcendental that only a mannered filmmaker like Audiard could capture.

9. Argo
The beauty of Argo is how it meets its dangerous blend of espionage history and Hollywood formula head-on. A chase thriller and a spy movie as much as a political commentary, Ben Affleck’s third directorial effect has plenty to say about geopolitical relations with Iran. More impressively though, it is keenly aware of how and why Hollywood has a vested interest in transforming history. That, and it’s damn entertaining and tight as a drum. Continue reading “The Top 10 Movies of 2012: Four Opinions” »