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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here.

Amelia Brooks (Beth Grant) is gone. Presumed dead, the accomplished swimmer went missing on a dive in the very lake she had been campaigning to preserve in her final years. Her three adult daughters arrive at their childhood home near the water to reminisce, console each other and make plans for their mother’s belongings, but their time together soon takes an unsettling turn.

Dead birds begin appearing on their doorstep, an incident with a camera suggests a possible intruder and the local legend of Spirit Lake — a lake that reportedly has yet to reveal its bottom — begins to fill their imagination. Long ago seven sisters walked the water’s shore only to drown, one by one, and like the Pleiades of Greek mythology they’ve come to symbolize a sad state of grace that’s eternally out of reach. Are the legendary sisters reaching out for fresh blood? Has their mother returned from her watery grave? Or is something all together different haunting their waking hours?

The Midnight Swim creates an ethereal state of unease in its atmosphere and characters, but more than just an unsettling thriller the film captures a sisterly slice of life with an effective ease. If only the film’s unnecessary insistence on a found footage-ish format wasn’t so damn distracting.

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Every Runner Has a Reason Short Film

Heist

Why Watch? Busting through like Rocky without the gray sweats on, Ronnie Goodman flies in slow motion down the streets of San Francisco like every sports documentary subject of all time. Just to hammer the standard tropes home, his low voice provides an autobiographical voiceover while chill wave music crawls in the background.

At first, this short film is hallmarked by gorgeous photography and calm, simple sentences telling an athletic story as common as 110% showing up in a post-game, locker room chat. Then, Every Runner Has a Reason shifts, and shifts again.

It’s due completely to Goodman and his personal story, marrying a common documentary method to a worthy, compelling subject. At less than 3 minutes long, it also manages to offer facts about Goodman in a specific order that challenges preconceived notions, purposefully letting the audience make assumptions about a man who is (within seconds) going to push hard against them.

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Interstellar

Warner Bros. Pictures

Here is a takeaway from this latest trailer for Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar: Matthew McConaughey is going to cry a lot in this thing. The star of the upcoming sci-fi space opus already teared it up in the film’s first teaser, and now he looks like he’s back at it. This time, though, it looks like he’s crying in space. Here is another takeaway from this latest trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar: we’re going to space, you guys!

This new trailer gives us a much better and wider look at what Nolan’s spacey stuff is going to look like — cold, watery, very cool — alongside McConaughey apparently sobbing at every turn. As it so happens, when you decide to go save the world and leave your family in the process, you get emotional about it. We’re right there with you, big guy. Take a look:

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Shirley Clarke Productions

Shirley Clarke Productions

Shirley Clarke grew up wealthy, the daughter of a manufacturing magnate and a family fortune. She had an extensive education between four universities, and married to escape her father’s tyrannical control of her adult life. At first Clarke pursued modern dance in New York City but, failing to secure a future for herself in one art form, she began making experimental, avant-garde and documentary films in her mid-thirties.

Over the next several decades, Clarke produced fiction films that looked like documentaries, documentaries that flirted with the boundaries of fiction, some of the first video art projects, and movies that possess an incredible energy to them that few filmmakers have mastered, then or now. She studied under Hans Richter, inspired other New York filmmakers like John Cassavetes, helped co-found the Filmmakers’ Co-Op with Jonas Mekas, yet the important role that she played in the New American Cinema scene has risked becoming stuck between the pages of cinema history.

Thankfully, Milestone Films has restored some of her groundbreaking works, including The Connection, Portrait of Jason, and Ornette: Made in America, all due for a home video release sometime this year.

So here’s some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from an artist who never stopped challenging herself.

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The Goldfinch

Little, Brown Company

At 784 pages, Donna Tartt‘s “The Goldfinch” is a hefty chunk of book, the kind that’s hard to tote around and read during off times, impossible to lazily prop up on the beach and difficult to casually read on the bus or the train or the whatever. It is, however, extremely rewarding for any reader who plunges past the first hundred or so pages and keeps on going through a sprawling story that zips between emotions and times and places with crisp regularity.

Tartt’s book has been the talk of the book world for months now, bolstered by its Pulitzer Prize win and a steady spot on the New York Times bestseller list (it has also garnered some major detractors along the way, as Vanity Fair reminded us earlier this summer), but its length and skipping narrative may have scared some potential readers off. So how about a movie version then? Entertainment Weekly reports that Warner Bros. has now picked up the film rights to the book, so you better start reading now, lest you be left behind when this thing goes cinematic. Still on the fence? Well, let’s talk about it.

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Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios

Earth, 1988, and a young boy named Peter is watching his mother die. As her final breath passes her lips he runs out of the hospital and collapses on the fog-shrouded lawn… at which point a spaceship appears, sucks him in and streaks off to who knows where. 26 years later we’re introduced to the now adult Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) who prefers people call him by his much cooler moniker — Star Lord.

Quill is a roguish adventurer — think a half-assed Indiana Jones or an insecure Han Solo — who makes a living acquiring things for people willing to pay for said things, but his latest attempted theft lands him in prison alongside a quartet of equally morally-suspect individuals including a fierce female warrior, an even fiercer male warrior, a verbally-challenged tree and a genetically-modified raccoon. The group soon realizes that the item holds a highly destructive power and that they may be the only ones capable of stopping it from falling into the hands of an intergalactic madman bent on doing the kinds of crazy shit madmen typically do.

If Serenity and Ice Pirates spent a drunken night of debauchery together without using protection, the result would be something like Marvel’s latest (and least Marvel-like) feature, Guardians of the Galaxy. To be clear, that’s a good thing. Hell, that’s a great thing as the resulting film is a vibrantly exciting, immensely entertaining and frequently hilarious sci-fi adventure.

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CJ Entertainment

CJ Entertainment

If you had to list the greatest naval warfare films — specifically ones focused on surface combat as opposed to submarine action — how many of them would be movies released in this century? You’ve got Peter Weir’s Master and Commander in 2001 and then… what? (Sorry, but the Pirates of the Caribbean films are not great, and I’m not currently drunk enough to allow an argument for the inclusion of Battleship.) The challenge grows only slightly easier if we extend the time frame to films released in the last fifty years and remove the “greatest” qualifier.

For whatever reason, filmmakers just aren’t making ocean-set tales of war these days. Odds are it’s a cost issue, and that’s a shame as the sub-genre (not to be confused with the sub sub-genre) is one rich with exciting true-life stories and opportunities for incredible action and visuals.

Happily, South Korean director Kim Han-min (War of the Arrows) didn’t get the memo on avoiding naval warfare movies. His latest feature, The Admiral: Roaring Currents, recounts one of Korea’s greatest military battles, a 16th century incident that saw Admiral Yi Sun-shin (Choi Min-sik) sink over 300 Japanese ships with only a dozen Korean vessels at his command.

Check out the official trailer below.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Groot

Walt Disney Studios

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere.

There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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50 Shades of Grey bondage

Focus Features

Because of shoddy source material and a healthy sleaze factor, following the Fifty Shades of Grey production (and now bizarre marketing) has felt a lot like getting to watch Showgirls get filmed in real-time. Like we knew about the creation of a sexploitation, so-cringey-it’s-entertaining classic long before it creates its cult. At the very least, the project has done nothing to diminish the idea that it’s more neon stripper pole than Maggie Gyllenhaal in fishnets.

Beautifully for better and worse, it’s become a movie that everybody knows and has an opinion about, which is a great place for the filmmakers and Focus Features to be, but it’s also an excellent opportunity for movies that want to use Grey‘s notoriety for their own purposes.

Enter Freestyle Releasing, who is sending Christianity-based romance Old Fashioned to theaters the same Valentine’s Day weekend that Grey invades with its riding crop. This is the second smartest thing a Christian film could possibly do.

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Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

This weekend, Luc Besson’s Lucy topped the box office with more success than expected. You might say that the film performed above its potential. Coincidentally, the film is about a woman (Scarlett Johansson) who, through an unexpected side effect of being a drug mule, was able to access the full potential of her brain. This led her to various super powers, including being a genius in mathematical calculations, having the ability to diagnose medical conditions by hugging someone and controlling radio waves with her mind.

The film rests on the belief that human beings only use about 10 percent of their brain’s full potential, and the drugs that leaked into Lucy’s system helped unlock the other 90 percent. It’s not the first time this theory has been brought to the silver screen. Bradley Cooper got similar powers in the 2011 film Limitless. Both the 90s cheese-fest The Lawnmower Man and the more down-to-earth 70s drama Charley feature similar ideas. Even the character of Sherlock Holmes, seen in everything from classic Basil Rathbone films to Benedict Cumberbatch and his “mind palace” in the BBC’s Sherlock, have found a way to access seemingly limitless and unnatural brain power.

This got me thinking. We might never be able to look like Scarlett Johansson or Bradley Cooper, but could we think like their characters on screen? What extraordinary things could we achieve if we tapped into our brains’ “full potential”?

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Skull Island King Kong

Universal Pictures

Given the kind of hindsight that comes with being forty-eight hours outside of something (you know, minimal, but still readily apparent), it seems safe to proclaim that Legendary Pictures won Comic-Con purely in terms of jaw-dropping announcements. This year’s San Diego Comic-Con was mostly free of big shockers (we’re looking at you, Marvel), but Legendary managed to sneak in a doozy while everyone else was busy processing their first (though still expected) announcement that they’re making Godzilla 2 and that they’re sticking with Gareth Edwards to do it.

It’s called Skull Island, and it’s the King Kong origin story that maybe we all forgot we wanted until we realized that, no, no, in fact, we would like it, especially one coming from the studio and screenwriter behind Godzilla (scribe Max Borenstein will pen the new film). The recent news that Legendary has also targeted filmmaker Joe Cornish to direct the film (as reported by Deadline this week) only adds fuel to this big, furry fire. But before we journey to Skull Island, perhaps we should familiarize ourselves with our destination.

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The Blair Witch Project

Artisan Entertainment

On July 30, 1999, The Blair Witch Project expanded to a wide theatrical release and raked in over $25,000 per screen on over a thousand screens, thus becoming the first sleeper horror hit of that late summer, one week before The Sixth Sense opened. The weekend of July 30th solidified Blair Witch’s status as a phenomenon, but to recognize it as a defining date of the film would be to misrecognize what Blair Witch did.

Rather than come about as an instantaneous cinematic event (in the way that the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain or the 25th anniversary of Batman have been nostalgically reflected upon this summer), Blair Witch’s reputation manifested as a slow unraveling over many months of speculation and word-of-mouth, from its chilling first-screening at Sundance to an Internet-based fury of speculation to a teaser attached to The Phantom Menace of all things. The film represented a first in many respects – transmedia marketing via the web, a jumpstart of the modern found footage subgenre – but it also bears its young age in surprising ways, whether in its analog aesthetic or the particularly 20th century character of its word-of-mouth circulation.

Despite that the film set the supposed standard for viral buzz-creation and found footage horror, The Blair Witch Project remains an important anomaly for a shaky tent-full of reasons.

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summer_diaries_2

There’s no shortage of love for the way Marvel has crafted its Cinematic Universe, especially from yours truly. They’ve created an entire market for themselves by weaving nine — soon to be ten — movies together into an impressive spandex suit. From Iron Man in 2008 to this year’s unofficial summer kick-off movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, every Marvel movie is the next piece in a much larger puzzle. Like clockwork, we wait in darkened theaters through lengthy credits to get to the end, where a little tease usually awaits for what comes next. Each film is built with the next stage in mind.

It’s a phenomenon not limited to Marvel, though. They simply seem to have perfected it. Warner Bros. is about to set off on a voyage to build its DC Comics universe. And Michael Bay this summer rebooted his entire franchise and took Transformers in a new direction. Every major summer tentpole film is now trying to hook you years in advance. Studios spend money on these movies specifically because they spawn franchises and propel stars who go on to lead other tentpole movies. They sell merch and home video copies and get endlessly streamed the minute they hit the web.

The concept isn’t lost on any of us (more like it’s hammered in), especially this week following Comic-Con. We are reminded that these movies are made within the confines of a well-oiled business machine. With their formula, Marvel has your movie ticket money locked up probably well into the latter part of the decade.

Still, every once in a while it’s nice to see this formula passed over in the pursuit of something even more compelling: the rare movie that is stunning in its singularity. I’m reminded of the sci-fi films of 2013. There were plenty of great films that appeared to want to boot up franchises. Pacific Rim, Elysium and Oblivion come to mind. Had these all done well financially, there would have been a push for more. Pacific Rim might get a second round. In the end though, it was those films that seemed less ambitious about being a “part one” that ended up being the most compelling. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, Spike Jonze’s Her and Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color will likely be the three most memorable sci-fi films of last year. Their unifying thread: they each exist as a complete, encapsulated idea. It’s what makes them audible through all the noise.

The great news is that this trend continues in 2014. It even appears to be gaining velocity. From big studio projects (even a sequel) to smaller, craftier films, the most compelling sci-fi films of the summer are the ones that deliver a complete puzzle, rather than just another piece. It’s a phenomenon I’ve explored over the past two weeks in darkened theaters, one that permeates this latest Summer Movies Diary entry.

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