Before Midnight

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As a researcher, my interests lie in screen distribution and exhibition. I rarely write about individual films. But when I heard about the pending release of Before Midnight, I was excited to say the least.

Before Midnight is the third installment of Richard Linklater‘s series of romantic dramas that began with Before Sunrise in 1995 and continued with Before Sunset in 2004. The films follow the eighteen year, on-off relationship between an American writer, Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and a French woman, Celine (played by Julie Delpy).

In Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine meet by chance on a train in Europe and spend a single evening together in Vienna. They are then in their early twenties. Nine years later in Before Sunset, having married or settled down with other people, they reunite in Paris for an afternoon. In Before Midnight, we meet the two again in Greece, and it’s clear that their lives have changed. Jesse is divorced from his wife, and Celine is caring for twin girls.

According to a recent interview with Hawke, expectations of the film were running so high following the second installment that production of the third installment was deliberately kept under wraps. Before Midnight was one of the most anticipated titles at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was eventually acquired for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. A limited release in the U.S. is planned for May 24.

There are other indicators of the series’ unusual resonance with its audience. One of the these is the volume of critical writing, and depth of feeling, that Before Sunrise and especially Before Sunset have inspired.

The films are distinctive for their cooperative mode of screenwriting (Hawke and Delpy are credited as writers in Before Sunset and Before Midnight); the remarkable naturalism of the dialogue and acting; the long-take camera work creating the illusion of real time; and the films’ philosophical bent and refusal of narrative closure. However, as this review of Before Sunset by Chris Wisniewski in Reverse Shot observes, they are also personal touchstones for many fans.

I’m looking forward to spending cinematic time with Jesse and Celine again. Variety reviewer Justin Chang has predicted here that Before Midnight will send established and new audiences for the films “into the emotional stratosphere.” Heady words, indeed.

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First Principles (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Acafandom)

It famously (within my immediate family, anyway) took me six years to complete my doctoral dissertation on the Japanese female fandom of Hong Kong stars. There are any number of reasons why this was the case, including – but not limited to – the fact that, during the same period of time, I got married and produced not one, but two, children.

Yet, much as I’d like to pin the blame for my rather appalling time-to-completion on my (hell)spawn, that’s not the whole story. When I was in the process of working through the question that motivated my research – namely, why Japanese women became interested in Hong Kong stars in such droves – I kept bumping up against assumptions that underpin research of both female fans and transcultural fandom, yet were incompatible, in the main, with what my research was telling me.

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Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

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One of the media events I’m most excited about in 2013 is the long-awaited release of Joss Whedon’s film version of Shakespeare’s’ Much Ado About Nothing. Filmed in October 2011 at Whedon’s California home, the play reunites many actors from his various projects including Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods), Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel), Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods), and Sean Maher (Firefly). In many ways, it is this that is one of the project’s biggest draws for me – as a long-time fan of Whedon’s work on the small and large screens, I’m intrigued to see many of my favourite actors from his projects come together.

Even for those not familiar with Whedon’s work – nor drawn by the thrill of seeing beloved actors (many of whom fail to land mainstream roles) on the big screen – the film offers to chance to see Shakespeare’s play re-imagined again for the contemporary age. As a Shakespeare fan, especially of Much Ado About Nothing, I never get tired of seeing new interpretations and versions of his classic plays. From Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet to Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet, by way of most of Branagh’s versions, there is always a thrill for me in seeing new ways of viewing familiar plots and lines. Similarly, as a writer known for his witty dialogue and characterisation, I’m intrigued to see how Whedon works when having to put the lines written by another writer into his characters mouths and how the usual Whedon flair is tempered or transformed by the process.

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The gap between the filming of Much Ado in 2011 and its eventual release in June 2013 speaks to the issues in terms of distribution and screening of such a low-budget independent endeavour. It’s no accident that the film’s emergence now follows on the heels of Whedon proving that he can be involved in popular and successful blockbusters such as The Avengers and attract more genre-specific crowds for his horror project Cabin in the Woods. Whatever the ultimate reasons for the sudden decision to put mainstream money behind distributing the film, it promises to be one of my most anticipated media moments of the year, and will hopefully further cement Whedon’s position as a successful and innovative film-maker.

Sherlock Season 3

Like much of the Internet, I love Sherlock (BBC). I love the characters, I love the actors, and I love the delicious subtext. Johnlock is my headcanon, and I indulge when I can in trawling YouTube for the best fanvids (to the extent that YouTube now helpfully suggests new vids for me, no matter what I might actually be searching for at the time), I gaze lovingly at the myriad Sherlock-themed animated gifs that cycle through my Tumblr feed, I read fanfic while eating, walking, waiting to pick my kid up at preschool…. The men are attractive, the stories (all that wonderful repressed emotion!) compelling; this is no ironic or otherwise detached appreciation, but a love that is immersed in affect.

And it’s because of that, and because my love of the show seems echoed in the outpourings of others, that I’m fascinated with the ways in which Hollywood is attempting to capitalize on its popularity and, in particular, that of its stars. As Josh Horowitz put it, the Internet loves Benedict Cumberbatch, and this love has translated to his casting in not one, but two blockbuster features. What interests me about this isn’t the fact of his casting; he is, as my husband so delicately put it, the “flavor of the month.” That said, I think the ways he’s been cast foreground an emerging shift in how Hollywood is thinking about audiences. His role in Star Trek Into Darkness seems little more than a reflection of the kind of blunt, demographic-driven market analysis that has governed film casting for decades; something along the lines of, “people are talking about Benedict Cumberbatch, ergo he is popular and we must cast him in our film.” And, as I’m both a fan of his and a long-time Star Trek fan, I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this mystery role of his.

But the one I really want to see is his turn as Smaug in the second Hobbit feature, and that despite the fact that I’ve not yet seen the first film, I’m not particularly invested in Middle Earth, and Benedict Cumberbatch will be entirely masked in CGI throughout. I want to see it because it brings him and Martin Freeman together in another universe, and I want that. In the same way that there was always a small part of me that enjoyed seeing Leonard Nimoy guest star on T.J. Hooker, as wretched a show as that was, I love the idea of having the two of them onscreen together in whatever shape it may take. I’m invested in that dynamic between them – that liminal place in which character and actor become indistinguishable – and the idea of seeing it, in whatever shape it takes on the big screen, thrills me. As a scholar, too, it excites me that someone – be it Peter Jackson or Fran Walsh or their team of casting directors – understands that this is something we fans care about. It may be little more than fannish wishful thinking, but this seems to me to be the difference between the two productions: the former knows what we like, but only the latter seems to know why.

And while I’m waiting for Smauglock to finally come face-to-face with Johnbo, I’ll continue to sob over all the post-Reichenbach Fall fanvids and count the minutes until Sherlock and John are once again reunited in the upcoming season of Sherlock. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

halloween cross-2 by somachiouHalloween Cross-2, by Somachiou on DeviantArt

Man of Steel

The terms ‘serious’, ‘edgy’ and ‘realistic’ have been used in describing Man of Steel by the filmmakers, scheduled for a June 2013 release. Indeed, a look at the film trailer suggests a more sombre tale on the origin story of Superman, often touted as the ‘granddaddy of all superheroes’.

Recent controversy surrounding writer David S. Goyer’s comments about “approaching Superman as if it is not a comic book movie, but as it if were real” suggests that some fans are none too pleased about the filmmakers’ decision. However, it is precisely this attempt to take this superhero seriously – and Christopher Nolan’s involvement with Man of Steel – that has me looking forward to the film.

For all his supposed greatness, previous filmic incarnations (and here I’m talking specifically about the Christopher Reeve films and the most recent Bryan Singer 2006 remake, not the various TV and animated versions) have often presented a Superman that is campy and corny. So, for someone who isn’t necessarily a fan of Superman – who actually believes his Clark Kent disguise? – but have grown up in a household surrounded by comic fans (albeit more specifically, Batman and X-Men comics), this seems like a refreshing take on the tale.

Given what Christopher Nolan and his team (including David S. Goyer, who co-wrote the entire Dark Knight trilogy) have done for the Batman franchise, giving it a darker but certainly more realistic feel, I’m curious to see their take on Superman and its universe. Director Zack Snyder’s impressive work on films like 300, Sucker Punch and Watchmen makes him an interesting choice to bring Goyer’s vision to life.

I would certainly expect that Man of Steel would be darker in tone, seemingly featuring a Clark Kent who is in conflict with his alien Kal-El identity than the ‘popcorn-movie feel’ that Marvel’s superhero films like Iron Man and The Avengers have taken.

Mad Men season 6

We’ve decided to launch On/Off Screen by sharing which upcoming screen releases we’re most excited about this year. So we’ll take turns introducing ourselves and our enthusiasms over the next few days.

This year I’m really looking forward to the start of Mad Men season 6. There are two reasons for this: One is that I really do love that show. The other is that, with a toddler and no babysitter, TV is pretty much the main source of entertainment in our household. It is readily available, and it is more compatible with sleep deprivation and general exhaustion than, say, reading novels or (good grief) doing exercise.

In case anyone has managed to avoid Mad Men altogether, it is an AMC drama that is set in the 1960s, and focuses on people at the Madison Avenue ad agency Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce. If you think you may want to watch the show, beware that this post will include spoilers.

Life in Mad Men is pleasingly different to my own, and the glamour and the cocktails are particularly attractive right now. However, blatant sexism and racism is less enchanting. It has been fascinating following the development of characters like Megan (Jessica Paré), Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan (Christina Hendricks) – the constraints they have been facing as women, and how they negotiate their roles at home and at work. Season 5 saw some major changes for all three.

Most of all, I want to see what they do with the character of office manager Joan. Towards the end of season 5 there was a heartbreaking episode where the reliably vile Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) manipulates her into sleeping with an important client, and she requests a company partnership in return. I am very interested to see how they develop the dynamic within the previously all-male partner group, and I wonder if the way she got that position will have significance later on.

Joan Mad Men

The next post will be from Bertha Chin on Monday.