New anime film is a teenage love story set during a climate apocalypse

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The Atlantic critic David Sims writes that Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You (2002) is chockfull of “whimsical world-building,” “a little comedy, plenty of giddy flirtation between the two leads, and raunchier dialogue than one would get in a Miyazaki film.” (Image Courtesy: The Atlantic).

Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You (2019) is part of the environmental allegory subset of science fiction that is making a comeback in the wake of the devastating climate change which is ravaging the planet as we speak, according to The Atlantic. Shinkai has directed six animated features since 2004, but his Your Name (2016) broke global box office records for anime, grossing more than any domestic release ever in Japan, second only to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001). Set in a modern Tokyo where it never stops raining, Weathering With You stars an impoverished young writer named Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo) and an orphan named Hina (Nana Mori), who has the power to pray away the clouds while the world ends slowly and imperceptibly around them.

Disney rebranding 20th Century Fox

After buying 20th Century Fox last year for seventy-one billion dollars, Disney will remove “Fox” from the name of this film division, which will be rebranded as “20th Century Studios” without the word “Fox” in its iconic logo, according to The Washington Post. Fox Searchlight, the prestige unit, will also be renamed “Searchlight Pictures,” while Twentieth Century Fox Television as well as Fox 21 Television Studios will retain “Fox” in their names for now. The maneuver comes as Disney’s attempt at distancing itself from Rupert Murdoch’s new Fox Corporation, which counts the Fox Broadcasting Network and Fox News among its assets.

Hulu review: Paul Feig’s “A Simple Favor” (2018)

Can you keep a secret?

If you don’t know what to watch next, Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor (2018) is available to stream on Hulu. The black comedy mystery thriller stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. It is based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell.

Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) is a widowed single mother who vlogs.

She befriends Emily Nelson (Lively), a fashion PR director as well as wife to English professor Sean Townsend (Henry Golding), after a playdate between their sons, Miles Smothers (Joshua Satine) and Nicky Townsend (Ian Ho).

When Emily disappears, Stephanie tries to solve the mystery.

All fictional genres are governed by their respective rules of writing, especially in film, which is edited according to an assembly-line formula as cutting as journalism, but the beats of suspense are arguably the most rhythmically drummed.

Jessica Sharzer’s script marches along its tightrope of tension with nary a misstep, a whole as much greater than the sum of its parts as a jigsaw puzzle. This female-led noir, written by two different women, feminizes a stereotypically misogynistic tradition of storytelling.

And leading the charge is Lively, the femme fatale herself. Even with a male filmmaker behind the camera, she is not objectified under the male gaze – in fact, her costumery, though sexy, is borderline androgynous, stylizing her sex appeal without exploiting it.

Through a look on her face, Lively can charge even just a line of dialogue into a livewire.

Kendrick dynamizes, too, as the unreliable narrator with secrets of her own. She chases her candy-coated vlogger persona with an ominous subtext which unsettles every foundation she lays for this closet where she hides her skeletons.

Stephanie is as psychologically complex as any noir antihero, but in a way that doesn’t masculinize her.

Now, for all the movie’s generic pleasures, its comedy dulls its sharp edges. The climactic fart joke is anticlimactic, and, as with many age-diverse casts, the child actors try too hard (which is not to judge them, but the adults who write and direct their characters).

This isn’t to say humor and crime are mutually exclusive, but, where, say, David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014) satirizes the “missing white woman” media narrative ingeniously, A Simple Favor is apolitically set in white, upper-middle-class suburbia.

Still, no picture is above reproach, and while A Simple Favor isn’t perfect, like Stephanie and Emily, it’s picture perfect.

One critic’s take on the politicization of film criticism

The Guardian contributor Jessa Crispin writes that 2019 was a mediocre year for film, even though police departments issued warnings about mass shootings at premieres for Todd Phillips’s Joker (2019) because critics participated in an online moral panic over incel violence. According to Crispin, this overestimation of a movie’s sway over the course of real-world events has led to an overappraisal of releases such as Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019), with reviewers accusing filmgoers like Crispin of misogyny because she found it oversentimental. Crispin says shaming viewers into seeing certain titles for political reasons, even if the titles in question are poorly made, further divides audiences from the critic’s authority over the cinematic arts, and shifts the blame for nondiverse storytelling from the producers, where it belongs.

No women nominated for Best Director at this year’s Academy Awards

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Only five female directors have been nominated a total of five times for the Academy Award for Best Director, and only one – Kathryn Bigelow – has won. (Image Courtesy: The Hill).

Even though Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019) was nominated for Best Picture as well as Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Academy Awards, the filmmaker herself was not nominated for Best Director, nor were any other women, according to The Hill. 2020 marks the third year in a row no women have been nominated in the category, despite the fact that more than ten percent of the top films in 2019 were directed by women, the most in more than a decade. Women of color are even more underrepresented; out of two hundred seventy-three nominations over the last thirteen years at the Golden Globes, Oscars, Directors Guild of America, and Critics’ Choice Awards, Ava DuVernay was the only female director of color to be nominated.

Iowa museum hosts film-based photography exhibit

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Blanden Memorial Art Museum Director Eric Anderson says film photography demands more investment in the film itself (with a limited number of frames per roll) and more patience than digital photography. (Image Courtesy: The Fort Dodge Messenger).

The Blanden Memorial Art Museum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, will host the “Analog It” juried film-based photography exhibit from January 4 until May 7, according to The Fort Dodge Messenger. The Fort Dodge/Kosovo Art Initiative, an international exchange between Fort Dodge and Iowa’s sister state, the Republic of Kosovo, is running the exhibit, with submissions received from fifteen photographers at anywhere from two to five images apiece. Hans Madsen, a reporter as well aa photographer for The Messenger, saw four of his five submissions selected, and says it doesn’t matter what kind of camera a photographer uses when shooting on film.

Netflix review: Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976)

In 1981, John Hinckley, Junior, shot then United States President Ronald Reagan in an attempt to impress Jodie Foster. His stalkerish obsession with the actress began at the release of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), when she was still only just a child star.

The would-be assassin even sported Robert De Niro’s mohawk from the film.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Taxi Driver is available to stream on Netflix.

The neo-noir psychological thriller was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for De Niro, Best Supporting Actress for Foster, and Best Original Score for Bernard Herrmann.

It is based off the diaries of Arthur Bremer, who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972.

Travis Bickle (De Niro) is an insomniac Vietnam War veteran living in New York who works as an overnight cabbie.

He becomes infatuated with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a campaign volunteer for Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), and befriends Iris “Easy” Steensma (Foster), a twelve-year-old runaway prostitute whom he fixates upon saving from herself.

As the city falls apart around him, Travis’s mind descends into madness right along with it, until he resorts to violence in his desperation to connect with the women in his life.

The filmmaker cinematically externalizes Travis’s broken psyche via the setting, thanks in no small part to Herrmann’s atmospheric composition.

Herrmann, whose most iconic work is featured in Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), also scored Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) as well as Hitchcock’s own Vertigo (1958), both of which are in competition for greatest film ever made.

The songsmith died in his sleep Christmas Eve 1975, after going home from finalizing Taxi Driver.

But a cinematic character study such as this is a marriage between the musical in addition to the dramatic arts, and De Niro proves to be a bedfellow worthy of Herrmann, and, for that matter, Scorsese.

If an actor is only as good as their director, then Scorsese and De Niro’s partnership is a match made in Heaven.

Scorsese’s rapport with editor Thelma Schoonmaker speaks to his understanding of film as a collaborative medium, and his Cape Fear (1991) is his most cathartic concert with De Niro, capturing him at the capstone of his Method acting.

Travis Bickle festers at the more sympathetic end of the spectrum, a product of his ultraviolent environment.

As for Foster, even at Iris’s age, she could be counted upon to hold her own against De Niro. She is all at once childishly innocent and aged beyond her years, something for Travis to live for but also something for him to kill for.

She is the foil reflecting back at us our (anti)hero’s journey from ticking time bomb to celebrated media vigilante, and it would be rhapsodic, if not for its real-world consequences (for which Foster is not to blame).

Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) is the last New Hollywood masterpiece, and this critic writes this knowing Taxi Driver came out the same year, because it is not Scorsese’s masterwork (that honor belongs to GoodFellas (1990)).

The auteur almost quit filmmaking over the Reagan shooting. While Hinckley probably would have turned to terrorism anyway with or without Taxi Driver, his fetishization of Foster and his plan to get her to notice him were both informed by the movie, leading one to wonder…

…Does Travis get what he deserves from Scorsese?

Again, this is an artistic judgment of the director, not a legal one; no artist is anything other than human, and at least he doesn’t take the power of his craft lightly.

Fascist propagandists employed motion pictures to Nazify Germany, and, though militant antisemitism existed before cinema, Doctor Joseph Goebbels still articulated this far-right ideology for Adolf Hitler and his followers.

It’s his reverence for the art form where Scorsese’s genius comes to life, and a movie that can change the course of history itself is an essential study for any cinephile.