Cinematic Listology

Nick Cave

By most accounts, Nick Cave is a particular taste, only occasionally entering pop culture by covering iconic songs or collaborating with pop superstars like Kylie Minogue. Yet the man who “sings every line like a Batman villain” thrives on film. His idiosyncratic brand of storytelling songwriting morphs to the occasion. It’s a strange phenomenon of film – that particular songs about particular experiences can become so universal in the right filmmaker’s hands. But this isn’t merely a songwriter whose early work is continually reembraced and reimagined like Leonard Cohen. Nick Cave is a ghost who haunts cinema with his melancholy and anger, and a noticeable presence within it – creating, scoring and performing for the camera. 20,000 Days on Earth, out this week, reinforces his image as the cinematic preacher, depicting 24 fictional hours of his life, but his life on screen stretches much farther – especially in these 7 glorious uses of his music and presence.

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Blade Runner Roy Batty

This year we had Maleficent, and Sony is working on a Sinister Six movie. Wicked has been on the verge of being made for years. Now is the age of the villain film. They’ve moved beyond the horror genre (where Jason and Freddy are the real stars) and now anyone is fair game. I, for one, am stoked. Let’s get some bad guy movies for…

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The Heartbreak Kid

Sixty-four years ago today, one of Alec Guinness’ best films hit U.S. screens – Henry Cass’ darkly comedic Last Holiday. Guinness plays George Bird, a boring bachelor in a boring job who goes for a routine check-up and finds out he has a deadly and incurable disease. Upon his doctor’s advice he decides to clear out his savings and make the most of his final days, checking into a luxurious hotel. It is a choice that paints his remaining time with the most wicked irony. Having a moment to stop and live rather than work and worry, George earns all the fortune his life had been missing – friendship, love and professional success that he can’t act upon. Except, this is a wildly dark comedy with enough cruel life twists that make George’s experience anything but simple. Though its wickedness is irresistible, the film has been tragically forgotten, its themes only vaguely living on in Joe Versus the Volcano until it finally got remake in 2006. But George became Georgia, Queen Latifah was cast, and the film excised all the darkness that made the 1950 film such an atypical treat in order to whip up a chipper and typical comedy full of good tidings and bolstered by Latifah’s charm. Though we always lament the obvious remakes, there are many more where the source material is forgotten, wiped away because the remake came so long ago, or because the remake was so terrible that no one ever wanted to look beyond […]

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Inglourious Basterds - Shoshanna

Happy Veterans Day, or early Veterans Day if this goes up early, or belated Veterans Day if it goes up late! Don’t blame me, blame our unpatriotic commie editors. (Note to editors: It was just a joke! Haha! Please give me back my family.) And what better way to celebrate our veterans than a good old fashioned war movie! But what if, like me, you’re not really a fan of war movies? Well, never fear, because I am here to help with these war movies for people who don’t like war movies. Simple enough? Good. MOVE OUT!

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Pineapple Express

“I think we have to get beyond the idea that we have to categorize people,” Roger Ebert once said. It is an idea that is no more felt than in the realm of cinema and celebrity, where our compulsion to categorize merges with the worst of typecasting and image-making. The minute a person excels at something they are defined by it, so much so that any and all departures become shocking diversions rather than relatable human actions. It doesn’t make sense to be shocked (we all have diverse interests that don’t fit into one neat mold), but we are, time and time again. Generally, it defines our actors as talents are typecast into one very specific sort of role that either makes us forget all that came before (like Christopher Walken being a trained song and dance man before a creepy villain), or keeps them narrowly cast until someone dares to showcase their other talents (like the countless comedians who shock people when they offer stellar dramatic work). It also happens with directors. If they dare to slip into a certain visual style or approach, we expect every film to follow suit. It can be downright shocking if they diverge from their norm, no matter how many times it happens, and no matter how many times we acknowledge how much Hollywood requires someone to manufacture an image rather than just be themselves. We forget the fact that image is what gets money, and sometimes style is the only thing that gets […]

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The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King

We’ve talked previously about movies that are better than their source material on the whole. Now let’s talk about movies that improve upon their source in a very specific way — the ending. A bad ending can ruin a perfectly good film (The Ninth Gate) and a good one can make an otherwise mediocre film shine (The Usual Suspects — Yeah, I said it, come at me). Even if the rest of the film was a complete dog turd, at least the creators got the ending right in movies like…

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Argento Deep Red

Not only is this week the 10th anniversary of the release of Saw, but the movie is also back in theaters as of today in commemoration of the occasion. Conceived by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who met in film school as students at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and directed by Wan, this original installment of what would become a seven-movie franchise is also one of the most influential movies — not just horror movies — of the past decade. Like most seminal movies of the past few decades, though, it’s also a highly influenced movie. To discuss the inception of an idea like Saw is to discuss earlier movies that inspired Wan and Whannell. In honor of both the anniversary and the re-release, I’ve compiled the latest Movies to See… list as a retroactive primer for fans of Saw, or just for anyone who has or does see the original and wants some great precursors to check out afterward. Not all are horror movies, but the ones that aren’t technically of the same genre are relevant for their darker elements. Some are directly acknowledged as being actual influences and inspirations for Saw while others are just obvious predecessors in some way or another. Only one of this week’s picks, however, is included primarily for being an earlier movie starring one of the members of the cast. If by chance you haven’t seen Saw yet and have been able to go 10 years without it being spoiled for […]

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Poltergeist Poster Image

I’ve never been shy about my disinclination for horror, which is possibly my least favorite movie genre if I had to pick one. It’s not that I hate all horror films, but very generally they don’t ever immediately appeal to me. I find that I don’t scare easily, I don’t like to look at a lot of gore and I don’t have much interest in the psychology of fictional killers or the suffering of fictional victims. Most horror movies I see bore me, even those I might appreciate as being more than just a conventional series of deaths or hauntings or other frights. I often rationalize my disfavor as being the effect of watching a ton of horror movies at a very young age and becoming immune to their tricks and subtext. That might not be the truth, but I do remember having a dream around age 6 or 7 in which I was basically on a set visit to a horror film production, where I saw all the suicidal people who’d volunteered to play victims, because in that world the actors in horror films are literally killed. That makes me sound more messed up as a kid than I was, when really I think it was just my imagination reminding me that the actuality of horror movies is all just pretend. I’m sure my overthinking of the genre even then kept me from enjoying it. Anyway, whatever the reasons for my being a “horror hater” (nowadays my being a […]

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Cabin in the Woods Acker

The Final Girl was a pretty great evolution for horror movies. Instead of endless heaps of screaming ladies falling victim to supernatural and human evils, some would rise above, running out the front door rather than up the stairs, finding a way to fight back rather than just blow the audience’s ear drums with blood-curdling screams. But the Final Girl was just that – a girl. One solitary girl might live so that the evil had someone to fight with in future, franchised battles. The down side to having a Final Girl was that only one would persevere while many more perished – victims who were often just as capable (if not smarter, or at least more charismatic) than the ones who would live. To make the victims into Final Girls might not always make narrative sense – and indeed, can change the entire outcome of a film – but it’s still fun to imagine the alternative, especially on Halloween.

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Romeo is Bleeding Olin

The scene starts out typically enough. An exhausted, blood-covered man jumps into a car and peels out of the area with a prone, bloodied female body lying in the back seat. As he drives away, however, she watches. Before he can notice the change, she’s turned around, raised her legs, and wrapped them around his neck. It’s equal parts sadistic and erotic as she perches on her shoulders, her skirt riding up to reveal her garter belt and panties. She isn’t serious and focused, but delightfully cackling, her eyes closed as if she just heard the funniest joke. He swerves left and right, struggling for air and failing to stop her as blood smears all over the car. He crashes and is knocked unconscious. With her hands cuffed behind her back she crawls to the front, kicks out the windshield, grabs an envelope with her teeth, and wiggles her way out. She isn’t impervious to pain. When she falls to the ground she cries out, but pulls herself to her feet and wobbles off, kicking off her remaining stiletto to run away. When Gary Oldman drove off with Lena Olin in the back of the car in Romeo is Bleeding, the incomparable actress revealed the joys of female evil and the potential inherent in leg-based violence. The male gaze, quite atypically, merges with feminism in moments like hers. There is a sexual element of provocation mixed with a feminine release as she attacks with the very body part that differentiates […]

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We Need to Talk About Kevin

With adults, you have to put in a lot of effort to make them creepy – layering on makeup and blood and involving them in increasingly horrific acts to impact increasingly apathetic audiences. With children, however, you often need little more than a cherubic face juxtaposed with an evil act to make an impact. Mixing evil into childhood innocence is often the perfect horror concoction for movies, whether it’s a horror movie teasing at the fear of the unknown or a drama exploring the world of a truly terrible child. Of course, sometimes it’s nothing more than the result of really bad parenting. In the premiere of The Affair, Dominic West’s son fakes a suicide to get a rise out of his dad. But when West’s Noah quickly gets over his anger and shrugs off the stunt, it’s perfectly obvious why his kid is acting out – dad is an ineffectual parent. But sometimes it’s about much more than slightly atypical adolescent rebellion. Nothing compares to the chills that a child can evoke, whether they’re the perpetrators of evil or the seemingly innocent guardians of it with their redrum warnings. Many of our most chilling cinematic moments come at the hands of children, whether it’s little Gage bringing Mommy knives in Pet Semetary, twins wanting to play in The Shining, or some of the most truly terrifying images, like Linda Blair’s young Regan in The Exorcist – a film whose frights transcend the tarnish of age. Here are some of […]

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Scarlet Road

Sex is still a taboo topic, to one degree or another, in most parts of the world. Historically, art has played a tremendous role in rolling back such taboos and getting people to speak openly about sex and sexuality. Documentary cinema is no different in this regard. It is an incredibly intimate art form, and it perhaps never gets more intimate with its subjects than when dealing with the topic of sex. These films feature people laid bare (often literally) before the viewer, to the cause of opening dialogues about sex. Taboos are broken when silence is broken, and each of these documentaries explores a different aspect of sex or sexuality. Love Meetings (1965) Always the provocateur, director Pier Paolo Pasolini sat down with as many of his fellow Italians as he could in order to throw questions about sex and sexual practice their way. Pasolini himself is front and center, acting as the interviewer in every scene, meaning that the whole film is a proudly gay man challenging people about their sexual mores. He gathers interviewees from every class strata and finds a common thread of ignorance and repression running through them. We can look at it as a snapshot of a bygone age, although one wonders how much more enlightened we’d find people if similar interviews were conducted today. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Michael McKean in Whatever Works

Actor, writer, musician, comedian — Michael McKean seems to have done it all over his extensive career. From his early work in television, including an iconic role as Lenny on Laverne and Shirley, he soon established himself as part of the ensemble responsible for bringing the term “mockumentary” to the masses. Starting with Rob Reiner’s sublime This Is Spinal Tap (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year), McKean joined bandmates Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and a group of improvisatory geniuses in a string of features that toy with nonfiction filmmaking conventions, including modern classics such as Best In Show and A Mighty Wind. For the first part of our new “Pick 6” series, Nonfics reached out to McKean for a selection of films to recommend to our readers. The goal with this series isn’t to create some definitive, “best in show” list, but to bring to light works that quickly come to mind when artists, actors, filmmakers and programmers are asked to list documentaries that mean something to them personally, crafting a kind of mini-festival or “mixtape” of different tonalities that share one factor: they’re the films chosen by someone pretty remarkable, with a brief commentary about what these films represent for them. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Pan

Most horror films fall apart in the third act. This is an indisputable fact. Think about how good Insidious was up until they point that they showed the goofy Darth Maul wannabe demon. Remember how stupid it was in The Happening when it turned out the trees were killing people? These are not outliers. A lot can hinge on the reveal of the monster (even if it’s not a monster-monster) in a horror movie. If a film can’t deliver on its antagonist, it’s going to end on a ridiculous note instead of a scary one, letting us walk out of the theater laughing in urine-free pants. So here are some monster reveals that aren’t crappy! (But they are spoilerific. Beware.)

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Interview with the Vampire

We’re still over a month away from the 20th anniversary of Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire, yet everything’s coming up bloodsucker. Years of griping about a certain sparkly vampire saga wasn’t enough to kill moviegoers’ bloodlust, as August brought news that Anne Rice’s popular series would be adapted for new adaptations of the pulp novels (adapted by her son, Christopher Rice), and this week brings the arrival of the new 20th anniversary Blu-ray of Jordan’s film. The question, of course, is who will play Lestat. Rice thinks it should be Chris Hemsworth, while I’d fight to the death for Lee Pace to get the gig (his scene-stealing bits in the final Twilight film simply can’t be the only rakish Pace vampirism we see on-screen). But if Lestat’s cinematic legacy has taught us anything, it’s that Lestat thrives in the unexpected. In the early ‘90s, Tom Cruise seemed like the worst possible choice for Lestat. Even author/screenwriter Rice railed against the casting, until the film premiered and she saw the actor’s performance. Cruise was downright perfect in the role, and Rice ended up retracting her earlier complaints. Rather than casting with another unexpected male actor, what if Lestat was genderbent? It wouldn’t be the first time it’s been considered. On top of the fact that Lestat is a bit of an extension of Rice herself, she actually experimented with genderbending her characters. Before Jordan’s take, Hollywood was iffy with the themes present in the novel, so Anne turned Louis into a […]

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Chris Elliott Get a Life

Sometimes I think Hollywood is directly screwing with me, personally. Recently I compiled a list of the comedies from the 1980s that couldn’t be made today. Big was one of the 10, and the feature itself was inspired by a commemorative piece for its 25th anniversary from a year earlier. At that time I’d written, “We can’t be sure that this movie won’t be remade anytime soon, but we can be sure it won’t mean as much after the careers of Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Will Ferrell and others of their ilk.” Well, now suddenly there are plans to remake Big, albeit as a TV sitcom on Fox rather than a movie. My point about the premise of Big‘s lack of relevance today still stands, especially in the wake of A.O. Scott’s much-discussed New York Times Magazine article on “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” The people developing the Big show seem to be aware of the issue they face, however, with the pitch communicated via Deadline being that it will “explore what it means to be an adult, what it means to be a kid, and how in today’s world those two things are more confused than ever.” The problem then, I think, is that the source of comedy — seeing a grown man act like a 12 year old — is gone, and this is sounds more like a drama with social commentary regarding the modern prevalence of grown men who at like 12 year olds. Either way, is it going to have much […]

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Universal Pictures

Hey, it’s almost Halloween, so let’s all get ready by putting this on repeat for the rest of the month and talking about some horror movies. Specifically, let’s take a look at the dreaded horror remake. Everyone’s gotten one now — Freddy, Jason, Michael Meyers, and even the freaking Amityville Horror have all seen attempted remakes of their films. Why the hell are the production demons in Hollywood foisting these turds on us? Everyone knows that horror remakes always suck. Except when they don’t, anyway.

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Warner Bros.

“It wasn’t as good as the book.” That old refrain comes up with just about any film adaptation, and for good reason. (You know, because it’s usually true.) Books have all the time in the world to tell their story. 200 pages? A bit short, but no biggie. 1,200 pages? Okay, George R. R. Martin, but only because we like Tyrion so dang much. Books aren’t a visual medium and can use your imagination how they see fit. Books don’t have a budget. Books can easily get a character’s internal perspective. But sometimes the unlikely happens and the film is just as good as the book. And sometimes a miracle happens and it’s even better.

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Secretary

This past Sunday, Leonard Cohen, the poet and singer songwriter with the beautiful baritone voice sandpapered by time, “about 500 tons of whiskey, and millions of cigarettes,” turned 80. A day later, he released his thirteenth studio album (Popular Problems), 47 years after his first. Nearly half a century since he sung about Suzanne, Cohen’s career has been beautifully long, spanning vastly different worlds, and evolving through the years without being felled by the indecipherable mumbles of his contemporary, Bob Dylan. His poetic lyrics ruminate on everything from love and passion to religion and politics, sold through the man in the suit and fedora, but extending far beyond his shadow’s reach, especially in the realms of cinema. Where other artists enjoy surges and disappearances, their music only returned to when the passage of time makes then wildly affordable, Cohen’s presence in film has been almost constant, spanning everything from silent foreign films to bloody Hollywood blockbusters. It’s music and sentiments that might seem straightforward superficially, yet have an uncanny knack of seamlessly sliding into any scenario it faces, regardless of the format or generation. What follows are eight of the best uses of his work in film – one for every decade of his poetic life. (And let us never speak of sex scenes inside of owl ships.)

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Banksy-in-Exit-Through-the-Gift-Shop

Documentary cinema has a lot of stories about the art world. It’s not surprising, really. Readings or lectures about art can be tedious to the average viewer, and fiction film often has trouble jazzing up the subject, but the standard model of doc filmmaking is ideal for conveying facts and concepts while keeping the audience engaged. Still, such films usually struggle to attract an audience, and it’s not hard to figure out why — art is usually seen as a stodgy field, fit only for snobs. And given how deep the ties run between fine art and the whims of the upper class, this is not an entirely unreasonable stereotype. This makes it particularly funny when someone comes along to upset the fruit cart. Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman‘s new film, Art and Craft, demonstrates what happened when museums discovered one forger who only donated and never sold his fakes. In that spirit of rabble-rousing, here are a few more that come in a similar vein. These are films that refuse to play by the art world’s rules. In one way or another (and sometimes unintentionally!), they lay bare the eccentricities and hypocrisies that fuel this sheltered sphere of rich collectors and stodgy institutions. F for Fake (1974) One of Orson Welles‘s last projects, this freewheeling cinematic essay starts as an interrogation of famed forger Elmyr de Hory‘s career before spiraling off into various explorations of the nature of art and authenticity. Welles is keeping company with a host of other “fakers,” mainly his fellow actors […]

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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