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BBC America

BBC America

Every TV show should be so lucky as to have their own Tatiana Maslany.

The Canadian actress has been working steadily since 2003, mostly on television and the occasional blink-and-you’ll-miss-her film appearance, but she became a bit of a sensation last year with her lead role (roles?) in BBC America’s new series, Orphan Black. It helped that the show is entertaining, twisty and surprisingly funny, but the key to each and every episode is Maslany’s incredibly diverse and nuanced performances. That may be confusing if for some inexplicable reason you haven’t watched the show yet, but Maslany plays clones. Each one is unique in character and characteristics, in movement and expression, and she does masterful work bringing them each to individual life. Things get even more impressive when she plays one character impersonating another. And don’t even get me started on her frequently displayed derriere.

Season two premieres tonight, and since I’ll be reviewing the episodes going forward I wanted to take a quick look back at the first season to bring everyone up to speed. I re-watched all ten episodes and was reminded of the show’s numerous strengths, its handful of weaknesses and the seemingly limitless power of Maslany.

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TRANSCENDENCE

Warner Bros.

In a misleading article on CNN.com this week, Americans were said to be “excited” and “upbeat” about the way technology will improve our lives in the future. The headline of the piece, though, claims it’s about Americans being “wary of futuristic science, tech.” The article reports the findings of a telephone survey that surprisingly wasn’t tied to the release of the movie Transcendence, which seems at first meant as a promotion of the real possibilities of artificial intelligence, mind uploading and nanotechnology.

Misleading in its own way, the movie begins with optimism about advances in A.I. research and then by the end has shown us the dangers of a self-aware omniscient computer that can create super soldiers, controlled via wifi and repaired via tiny, quick-acting robots. Audiences don’t seem to be walking away from the movie actually wary of this futuristic science and tech, though, because it plays out so far from believable that at many moments viewers are straight-up laughing at the way both the plot and science progress on screen.

But should the science of Transcendence be believed? And if so, should the movie have been more clear and genuine regarding the plausibility of what all occurs? 

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Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival

Something Must Break is a nude film. It is about sexuality and gender, profound infatuation and conventionally taboo, even filthy desire. Its characters are often simply, humbly naked in front of an honest but interested camera. They are beautiful and grotesque, typically at the same time. Director Ester Martin Bergsmark has not made a film in order to “rehabilitate” these socially marginal identities and attractions, however. Neither ze nor hir characters is interested in changing the mind of a perhaps unreceptive audience. This isn’t a work of well-meaning, friendly activism. This is a blood- and urine-soaked love story and it is awesome.

It goes like this. Sebastian (Saga Becker) is a waifish bundle of nerves, often terribly shy but occasionally confident with a vengeance. She is also evidently transgender, though Bergsmark and co-writer Eli Léven do not introduce simple labeling into this narrative of transitions. She has taken the name of Ellie, at least on her own, but has not yet told anyone. Instead she lives and works as Sebastian, taking on the world with a bitter resignation and an androgynous wardrobe. For sex she frequents some of the seedier gay cruising locales. She tries to pick up an older man in a public toilet and it backfires. He throws her to the ground, but more beating is stopped by the intervention of a grungy but apparently dashing young man: Andreas (Iggy Malmborg).

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Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival

The New York City skyline is one of the tired titans of American imagery. To put it more charitably, it’s awfully difficult to fill a movie with classic images of Gotham and finish with something original and interesting. In Ira Sachs‘s newest feature, Love Is Strange, one of his characters goes to the trouble of actually painting the view of Manhattan from a Brooklyn roof. This particular canvas becomes one of the most emotionally charged symbols of the film. In the hands of a less assured director, it would be entirely ponderous.

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Young Frankenstein

20th Century Fox

If I were to say the words “parody movie” out loud, and you were somehow within earshot, you’d probably be upset with me (or at least a little bit peeved). Because parody movies are not hip right now. They’re not even close to being so, not when the biggest names in parody today are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (lovingly referred to as “a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture,” by the Austin Chronicle). And not when the newest parody film to hit theaters is A Haunted House 2, something that can almost assuredly be described as not very good.

But parody is more than whatever’s churned out today. Parody is meant to cause great laughter, and to lampoon the overused and over-successful in film (preferably at the same time). And unlike some other flavors, horror movie spoofs are rooted in philosophy and intelligent thought. Might I point you towards Lord Shaftesbury (yes, that Lord Shaftesbury), who in his 1709 hit, “An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor,” provided this gem:

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It's Tough to Be a Bird

Walt Disney Pictures

Everybody loves birds. At least that’s what Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox were betting on with last weekend’s Rio 2, the sequel to 2011′s hit animated avian musical comedy. Yet the notices aren’t great – our own Neil Miller gave it a C in his review. I’m sure the film will make a whole bunch of money, especially in merchandising, but a lot of you bird fans are probably staying home.

As Adam Bellotto explained in his article about creating a great “animated bird movie,” this is actually a genre. It has rules, or at least guidelines for how to prevent something dreadful like Free Birds.

It shouldn’t surprise you, either. Cinema is the art of motion, and there are few acts more mystifying than flight. It sits just out of reach for most live action movies, as it’s a little hard to shoot in the air. Animators are the magicians best able to hone in on this fascinating, natural miracle. For proof, just look at the Oscar record.

No animated short with the word “bird” in the title has ever lost the Best Animated Short Oscar, and five have won. Here are three of the best.

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In Your Eyes at Tribeca

Tribeca Film Festival

Joss Whedon was a busy man with The Avengers. But in between the writing and the shooting and the wrangling of a real, live Hulk (I’m assuming that was the real Hulk, right?), he also shot Much Ado About Nothing on his days off.

Apparently Much Ado wasn’t enough, because Whedon actually had a third project in the works at the same time. In the early months of 2012, Whedon’s screenplay for In Your Eyes was being shot in New Hampshire. Not by Whedon, mind you, but by Brin Hill – and before you say, “Who?” Hill is known mostly for writing the competitive b-boy flick Battle of the Year. Somehow, Whedon found a way to oversee the production anyway, even if it was just through a tenuous psychic connection.

Which, conveniently enough, is the very same plot device at the center of In Your Eyes. Starring Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) and Michael Stahl-David (the lead in Cloverfield), it’s a love story touched by a vague kind of movie mysticism. Kazan and Stahl-David fall in love despite the fact that they’ve never met and live on opposite sides of the country. Somehow, a metaphysical, psychic-ish connection is to blame.

The film premieres this Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Entertainment Weekly has shared the first three minutes in case you won’t be in NYC but would still like to take a look. And why wouldn’t you?

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IFC Midnight

IFC Midnight

Director/writer Zack Parker‘s plot-heavy thriller Proxy opens on Esther (Alexia Rasmussen), a young, expecting mother at her doctor’s appointment. Good news follows her down the street and into an alley where bad news finds her. She’s knocked unconscious, and her pregnant stomach is savagely attacked by someone with a brick, and it’s exactly as shocking and uncomfortable a scene as you’d expect. The entire first hour of the film relies on the pure dramatic value of this scene to keep your interest, and, to be fair, it does. It’s a challenge though as Esther’s character develops painstakingly slowly, meandering around her apartment until she finally reaches out at a support group where she meets another mother, Melanie (Alexa Havins), who has lost her son.

About halfway through the film, a major plot twist reveals that the two women are alike in that they have some serious, underlying issues. The complex characters become a bit confusing, and thanks to either a few errors in continuity or possibly intentionally vague editing decisions, much of the story is muddled. Proxy is the type of film that slowly reveals answers over time, but Parker and co-writer Kevin Donner seem to have flat-out forgotten to answer some necessary questions, despite the space that the film’s two-hour running time allows.

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Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival

Roman Polanski‘s Venus in Fur is a film haunted by an epigraph. It’s a quotation from the apocryphal Book of Judith, used first by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch in his similarly titled 1870 novel and later by David Ives in his play, from which this film is directly adapted. It goes something like this: “The Lord hath smitten him and delivered him into the hands of a woman.” The biblical context is the slaying of the Babylonian general Holofernes, whose unfortunate drunken stupor made him easy prey for the knife of the Jewish hero. Polanski’s film is somewhat more wordy, but not necessarily more complex.

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A24

A24

As it turns out, you can take the vampire out of Twilight and find some pretty unexpected results. With The Rover, the new film from director and writer David Michôd (Animal Kingdom), Robert Pattinson sheds his sparkly teen vampire image yet again to take part in a dark and dreary drama devoid of all supernatural intervention. Pack all your girlish screams away somewhere, because this isn’t the time or place.

“Anarchy is loosed upon the world,” and it’s up to Eric (Guy Pearce) to dig through that chaos as “things fall apart” in the Australian outback (things are really bleak out there). His quest: to hunt down a strange band of criminals who have taken hold of his last possession as he attempts to stay alive and keep his head above water in the process.

In his journey, he meets Rey (Pattinson), one of the members of the gang who have messed with his life. Rey is injured and alone, no longer the menacing threat he used to pose to Eric when he and his gang stormed into his life long before. But now Eric recognizes that Rey can no longer hurt him, and scoops him up along for the ride. With Rey’s gang leaving him in the dust by himself at the beginning of the trailer, he doesn’t have much of a choice, now does he?

Check out the trailer for The Rover below.

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About Alex

Tribeca Film Festival

“You know what this is like? This is like one of those eighties movies.”

Jesse Zwick’s About Alex makes no bones about its apparent pedigree – the first-time filmmaker clearly pulled from a host of eighties features, especially the similarly themed The Big Chill for his debut, but he’s added a nice little twist to his work: no one is actually dead here. Instead, the group of college friends that make up the cast of About Alex are brought back together because someone is almost dead. (This actually makes quite a difference.) Reunited due to the attempted suicide of their pal Alex (Jason Ritter), the erstwhile group assemble at his house in upstate New York to welcome home a recently discharged Alex, find out what went wrong, and learn some stuff about themselves (and each other!) as the film unfolds over an appropriate ninety-six minute runtime.

But although the premise of the film is clearly a little contrived, but Zwick clearly knows that – amusingly enough, the dead protagonist in The Big Chill, the friend who really did succeed at his suicide, was also named Alex, and he also slit his wrists in a tub – but About Alex is so charming on its own merits that Zwick’s decision to riff on earlier features emerges as a wily and wise one.

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Dune Movie

Universal Pictures

Anyone who knows David Lynch’s work is familiar with his penchant for messing with the audience. One only has to look at how he ended his popular series Twin Peaks, or pretty much any part of the mind-bending Eraserhead, to realize this.

Even though in the early 1980s, Lynch had been courted as a potential director for some major films (including Return of the Jedi… wouldn’t you have liked to see the Ewoks in that version?), he had his big studio break with the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. While it was a commercial and critical failure, Dune also represents Lynch’s subversive filmmaking nature, more than some people even realize.

At the time, Hollywood was looking for the next Star Wars, much like how they are furiously searching for the next Hunger Games now with films like Divergent and The Maze Runner. Dune had been in development since the early 1970s, and it finally got off the ground with Lynch at the helm.

Lynch was a bold choice for the film, considering he was handed a massive potential franchise when he was known for more intimate and often obscure and surreal personal films. Ultimately, Lynch made a film that ensured a sequel was impossible, and that was a brilliant though almost career-ending move.

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The Immigrant

The Weinstein Company

For some reason, James Gray‘s The Immigrant didn’t get released last fall as an awards contender. Like SnowpiercerThe Immigrant was far better than pretty much everything else Harvey Weinstein decided to release in 2013. Both movies sat on the shelf for a little bit, but thankfully for not too long. Snowpiercer and The Immigrant will have limited releases this summer, and it’s highly recommended to seek out the theaters that will show Gray and Bong Joon-ho‘s films. Both movies were made for the big screen. Bong Joon-ho’s exceptional control over tension makes for a true theatrical experience, while Gray’s new movie features gorgeous cinematography and another superb performance from Joaquin Phoenix that shouldn’t be first seen on your television set.

Following up his best film, Two Lovers, Gray tells the story of an immigrant, played by Marion Cottillard, hoping to make it in America with her sister. It’s an often moving, refreshingly funny, and smartly structured drama.

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published: 04.19.2014
A-
published: 04.19.2014
B+
published: 04.18.2014
C-
published: 04.18.2014
C

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