Cinematic Listology

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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Sean Bean in Troy

As we all know by now, Sean Bean has a problem. Or maybe it’s not a problem, because he’s really good at it. At any rate, he dies a lot. It’s such a common occurrence that you can easily find dozens of lists of all the movies where he dies, rankings of each death and YouTube video compilations where he shuffles off his mortal coil repeatedly. A friend of mine recently described him as “a walking spoiler” because if he’s in a movie, there’s an excellent chance that he’s going to get shot, stabbed, beheaded or poisoned before it’s all over. But surely, I thought, there must be some films in his acting credits where he doesn’t have a dramatic death scene. And there are! But not many. I found a mere seven that most people would have actually heard of. Naturally, this list contains spoilers of a guy not meeting his maker.

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I Know What You Did Last Summer

No one has any lingering affection for I Know What You Did Last Summer, right? No? Great. Just making sure no one’s feelings will be crushed by the announcement that Sony has an IKWYDLS reboot fast-tracked for 2016. The following details come by way of Deadline: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard (Oculus) will script the reboot, which will “again” take its inspiration from the 1973 novel by Lois Duncan. “Again” should really be up for debate, because it’s not like the original film was a slavish page-to-screen update. The book saw a group of teens kill a kid in a hit-and-run and then be haunted by a mysterious figure with a spooky connection to the killing. The movie saw a group of teens kill a scary hobo. Then they were slashed apart by a scary hobo. Still, it’s not like anyone’s thought of IKWYDLS in years. It made a boatload of cash in 1997, churned out a sequel in 1998 and was promptly forgotten, but for a direct-to-DVD threequel in 2006 that turned the hook-wielding killer into a magic zombie with teleportation powers. Long-dead franchise that was originally a hundred-million-dollar hit? That’s prime reboot real estate. It’s also a sign of the times — as a society, we’re above continually remaking the slashers of the ’80s. Because it’s now been 20 years since the ’90s, and whatever weird cultural embargo everyone was following is up, it’s open season on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air-era serial killers. Hollywood is already dipping its toes into ’90s slasher rebootdom, […]

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The Look of Silence

Given the enormity of the festival, with all its glitz and glamour and galas, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the Toronto International Film Festival is one of the premier destinations for the top documentaries of the year. Curated by Thom Powers and his team, the selection here definitely leans towards the cinematic, where a compelling narrative and well-assembled, cohesive film is often as important as any journalistic intent of the work. With dozens of films to choose from, along several nonfiction titles that play outside the already impressive TIFF Docs slate, this year once again reestablishes the festival as the place to see some of the finest documentaries from around the world. Of the dozen-and-a-half selections I screened this year, here are the six best documentaries of TIFF ’14: The Look of Silence This quiet, contemplative film at times belies the sheer enormity of its accomplishment. Joshua Oppenheimer and his team of collaborators (often simply cited as “Anonymous”) follow on the work done for The Act of Killing with a penetrating examination of the ramifications of war. It follows Adi, an ophthalmologist who helps his clients see, both literally and metaphorically, as he gently but persistently quizzes several of them about the death of his brother. Tying together footage shot over almost a decade, the film confronts the very act of memory and the stories we tell about ourselves and our past. Much of its power comes from the contrast to the previous film — the brash and colorful extravagance of The Act of Killing gives way […]

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Nightcrawler Movie

It can be quite magical to be at a large film festival. There are hundreds to choose from – heaps of beautiful films that will never again leave their home country, indie delights that will receive the most minimal distribution, and of course, a smattering of Hollywood forays into deeper subject matter. You can meet people from all over the world, hear filmmakers and casts give insights into their productions, and have a valid excuse to eat piles of junk food as you race between screenings. But after the fiftieth time someone pushes their reclining seat back so far that it’s pinned your legs to your own chair, or people come and go repeatedly throughout the movie, or someone pulls out their phone and someone else yells at them, or any of the other results of hundreds of people seeing countless films together, any film fiend will start to descend into madness and wish for the joys of home couches and television screenings. This year, it’s not so hard to replicate the TIFF experience at home. There are filmmakers revisiting old tropes and material, actors honing talents that once made them stars, and features that nod to the films that came before. Here are seven films currently screening at TIFF, and the films they can be replaced with at home.

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Braveheart Stirling Spears

September 11th is a date that will forever live in infamy due to the terrorist attacks 13 years ago. Every time it comes around, we remember and honor the victims of what is usually written as the date itself, 9/11. Parents wish for their unborn kids not to be stuck with it as their birthday. Couples no longer plan their weddings on the day. It’s not an occasion for any other memories besides those of the events of 2001. But it is one of 366 days on the calendar, and things have and will take place on that particular day in September. Famous people have died, including John Ritter. Other terrible incidents have happened, such as the U.S. embassy attack in Benghazi two years ago. Meanwhile, there are people celebrating anniversaries of weddings held before the attacks cast a dark shadow on the date (two of my own family members included). And people celebrate birthdays on September 11th, including Harry Connick Jr. and Moby. Also occurring on September 11th in years prior to 2001 were Henry Hudson’s discovery of Manhattan (1609), the groundbreaking for the construction of the Pentagon (1941) and the first public performance of Stephen Foster’s “Oh! Susanna” (1847). And at least four known historical events happened on the date that have been depicted in movies. Joined with one fictional scene taking place on a September 11th, see these movies below. 

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Joan Rivers

When Joan Rivers died last week, a common refrain resounded throughout the movie sphere of Twitter: “Watch Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” It was good advice. Anyone who wants to understand her importance as a media figure, or just as a person, would do well to check out that documentary. And after seeing it, you might have a hankering to check out more docs about entertainers who are devoted to making people laugh. Here are ten, including the Rivers film, to catch up with: Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2002) and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013) The Broadway legend kept working right up until her death earlier this year. At Liberty is Elaine Stritch in her own words, a filmed version of her acclaimed one-woman show. She won an Emmy for her riotous recounting of her life and work, a two-hour cavalcade of memories shot by a team of directors led by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. Shoot Me is Stritch as viewed through someone else’s lens. While the actress and singer is still on point with her defiant rambunctiousness, director Chiemi Karasawa delivers a more raw, vulnerable side of her. Footage of Stritch without makeup, lying in bed due to sickliness, are the sort of thing that you don’t get from a performer just talking about it on stage. It’s a funny but moving look at reflection in old age while still pursuing what one loves. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Poltergeist

Everyone’s heard of movies that are cursed. One terrible event after another happens on set, things go horribly wrong, the movie goes way over budget. Sometimes, people even die. But it’s not a curse, it’s just bad luck. Right? Well, sometimes there’s just one little detail that elevates movie curses from “Oh, that sucks” to “Please, hand me the fucking holy water.”

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Scream Video Store

There are many reasons to mourn the end of the video store era. Our world of curated shops with mainstream and independent cinema is being replaced with narrow, short-term selections dictated by studio agreements with streaming services. We’re losing the system that allowed for interaction and exploration before the solitary trek to pop a tape in the VCR. We’re losing the world that allowed future creatives to meet, interact, and explore together – most famously, at Video Archives, where Quentin Tarantino clerked and shared his geekery with locals like actor/writer Danny Strong. But video stores also served many different functions in the medium. In movies, the video store is the place where geeks immerse themselves in their passion, where clerks gets creative or just condescending, where employees try to make romantic connections, and of course, the playground where characters could banter about anything and everything cinema. At least it lives on in films like the 9 below.

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Night Moves Movie

Superheroes rule the box office and the Guardians of the Galaxy have brought us the biggest film of the summer (which is about to dethrone Captain America to become the biggest film of the year). But talking about these big-budget behemoths with gigantic box office rewards (unless you’re the latest installment of the Expendables or Sin City brand) means talking about the same thing over and over again – a happy hour of strange creatures, diversified only by a couple comedies. Fortunately there’s a great mix of summer fare that kicked absolute ass on a very modest per-screen basis. One can’t exactly expect that a limited release in select big cities would fare as well if it expanded to thousands of theaters across the nation (averages generally shrink when/if they do), but it’s still great to see the “little guy” head into a release in a handful of theaters and earn a better average than the top summer film (Guardians had $23,118 on 4,080 screens). All of the following movies beat that average (save one that opened on only two screens), and offer everything from period dramas to modern comedy to films that took over a decade to capture. The men in tights, so to speak, may have won the box office, but I’m happy a selection of films like this still exists in this ever-mainstream movie world.

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Spider-Man 3

If you’ve been on the internet for more than a few minutes, then you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of the movies that everyone hates. They’re movies that are legendary in their awfulness, ruined people’s childhoods, whatever. And then those movies get sequels and people go bananas wondering who’s greenlighting these things. The answer, of course, is the same people complaining loudest about them. They’re doing it with their wallets.

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Body Heat nude bodies

The Sin City movies are remakes. Not of other movies, but of the comic books they’re based on. Before you argue that this means they’re “adaptations,” not “remakes,” let me explain. More than perhaps any other comic book movies, these are so faithful in style to the source that they’re redundant. They’re just like the old cartoons we watched as kids that took children’s books, lifted the pictures right off the page and animated them. Now we see a lot of that done in documentaries about artists, such as the recent one on Ralph Steadman. The main difference is that Sin City and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For use actors in a sort of moving tableau vivant recreation of Frank Miller‘s drawings, panel by panel — or shot-for-shot. Another thing the Sin City movies are, of course, is a series of film-noir-influenced anthologies that are far more violent and explicitly sex-filled than any true entry into the classic film genre. Unless you want to count all the remakes of films noir that came about in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, when Hollywood realized they could recycle a lot of golden age works for a new cinematic era, post-Hays Code, allowing for graphic violence and, more importantly, graphic sex and nudity. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is likewise noted for its nudity, nearly every review pointing out how naked Eva Green is in the movie — not a surprise given that the original, banned poster depicted the actress in a fairly revealing […]

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Zoolander

From Robin Williams’ suicide to James Foley to the shooting death of Mike Brown and the ongoing tension in Ferguson, Missouri, that it inspired, it’s been a really crappy month. The idea that there’s always something bad going on seems to have reached new heights, obliterating the Rule of Three and morphing social media into a daredevil experience – stay current if you dare. In times like these we need moments of recalibration, feel-good experiences that allow us a reprieve from the negative. As movie fiends, film is the perfect safe-haven, or so one would think. During the mess of drama this week I started Googling feel-good movie lists and was shocked to see how many required the viewer to feel bad before they felt good (if at all). Lists included the melancholic Little Miss Sunshine, Robin Williams’ own dark suicide comedy World’s Greatest Dad, the Holocaust drama Schindler’s List, and Up, which requires you to go through cinematic devastation before the sweet journey. One list of movies “that instantly make your day better” even includes Magnolia. Another at IMDb is labeled as “feel-good melancholic atmosphere.” Sure, these films might make some viewers feel good, for whatever reason – we all have beloved films that other people can’t understand – but they aren’t “feel-good” films guaranteed to brighten everyone’s day. They are not movies someone who is feeling bad can turn on to lighten their mood and take them out of their angst and pain. So, in an attempt to […]

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Marvel Studios

2014’s summer movie season comes to an end in a week or so, but while some folks will be editorializing about the box office being down 15-20% compared to last summer and others express surprise that a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy could be days away from becoming the year’s highest grossing domestic hit, we here at FSR have a different agenda. Simply put, we saw a lot of great movies this summer, and we hope you did too. The year’s best “big” movie (per me anyway), Captain America: The Winter Soldier, missed the summer cutoff as it opened in early April, but there were still some fantastic blockbuster-type flicks that entertained the hell out of us over the past four months. Of course, there were also some brilliant smaller films too. An informal staff survey revealed a mix of both to be our favorites of the summer. Keep reading to see which movies moved us the most from May through August.

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Don

After a long absence, I have returned to Film School Rejects. Some of you may remember me as the guy who complained about how movies aren’t girly enough or the guy who told you how Hollywood is out to screw everyone. Or maybe I’m best remembered as the guy who foisted David Christopher Bell on you all. I’m sorry for that. I didn’t realize he was literally a bear with a keyboard who somehow knew where all of our readers lived. But Dave has moved on to bigger and better things (Cracked.com wanted a bear they could keep in their office), so I’m back, baby! And to celebrate my comeback, I am presenting you with this group of actors who tried to make cinematic comebacks and fell flat on their faces. Which I hopefully will not do. Hopefully.

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Superbad

It’s that time of year. School is mere weeks away from starting up again, the biggest blockbusters have had their bows, and the studio releases are transitioning to the distribution equivalent of tossing an old couch on the curb to make room for the new one. May, June and July (and let’s be honest, now April) bring the big crowd pleasers. The last two weeks of summer herald the arrival of the “Everything Must Go” Sales before fall sends us into Oscar bait prestige pictures. Don’t believe me? The slate for the next two weeks includes Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, a sequel that’s arriving at least five years too late; Are You Here, the directorial debut of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner that garnered early reviews in the exact opposite tone of his acclaimed show; Jessabelle, a release from the Blumhouse factory that’s not getting a plum horror spot, so you know it’s good; and The November Man, an entry in the very neglected genre of CIA agents dragged back into the game because “this time it’s personal!” It’s generally an accepted fact that if a movie is set for the dog days of August, the studio has less confidence in it than Taylor Swift’s latest beau does of being the one guy she dates who doesn’t end up inspiring a song. But every now and then, conventions are made to be broken. Going back through the last fifteen years of releases, I have come up with […]

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First Position Documentary

Dancing is a kind of performance that lends itself incredibly well to cinema. Both art forms are heavily steeped in movement, and a film allows the viewer to get closer to a dancer than they ever could in reality, to study and appreciate the remarkable physical capabilities possessed by any good dancer. In recent years, dancing has flourished in nonfiction media. Besides the numerous documentaries on the subject, there are multiple popular reality television shows involving dance competitions, such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. But in fiction film, dance struggles. We’re far from the heyday of Busby Berkeley musicals and the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films. There are a few exceptions to this, however, the most notable being the Step Up series. Each film in this franchise has proved financially successful, and Step Up: All In, the fifth installment, is poised to repeat that pattern when it opens this weekend. The 3D sequel acknowledges the current dance TV craze by centering around a competition-based reality show taping in Las Vegas. Step Up: All In may showcase some true dancing talent on screen, but because it focuses on a fictional contest between fictional characters there’s not any reason for us to care who wins or loses. So, for this week’s Doc Option we’ve selected a few necessary nonfiction alternative that also form their plots around dance competitions, the stakes of which are genuine reality. To one degree or another, these three docs are about how young people use their talents to build their prospects for what lies ahead in […]

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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