Discussion

Beasts of the Southern Wild Fantasy

Jim Henson has been dead for almost 25 years. Hayao Miyazaki is retiring. And Carl Rinsch may have single-handedly killed all hope for anyone getting a lot of money from Hollywood for an original live-action fantasy film for a while. His 47 Ronin was only partly original, too, since it was based on a historical legend. Still, it was a fresh take on the true story with additions of magical and mythical creatures. The movie wasn’t just a flop; it broke the record for biggest box office bomb of all time (maybe even when accounting for inflation). So don’t expect to see any more epic entries into the genre unless they’re sure things with a built-in audience. Do we need original fantasy films, though? On TV, we have Game of Thrones, which has plenty of imagination in spite of being adapted from the novels of George R.R. Martin, and which is now back on HBO for its fourth season. And there are occasionally great movies sourced from previously written material, as well. For instance, out on home video today there’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of the Smaug, a highly entertaining installment of Peter Jackson’s second (and by most accounts lesser) Tolkien-based trilogy. Occasionally is key, however, as that was one of only three titles on my list of the best sci-fi and fantasy movies of 2013 that didn’t have sci-fi elements.

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Pulp-Fiction-Diner

We all love to quote our favorite movies. Even my one-year-old son just started uttering “I’ve got it!” all the time, having picked up the phrase from his most-watched movie, Dumbo. I don’t know that it’s the most original or noteworthy piece of dialogue, but he hasn’t seen much yet. Usually the lines we remember and recite are those that stick out for a reason. They don’t always have to be something never heard before, as the quote’s notability could be all about the way it’s delivered by the actor saying it, though most of the time it’s a line specific and exclusive to a certain movie. Even if a hundred scripts since have borrowed “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” we all know it comes from The Wizard of Oz. Aside from the fact that it gives us something with which to represent our fandom or appreciation of a movie, though, original dialogue isn’t that important. A lot of the time it’s really clever and stylized and therefore wouldn’t likely be found in a film with characters intended to sound natural. Imagine a serious realist drama where someone suddenly said something like “Fasten your seat belts… It’s going to be a bumpy night” or “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” or “I feel the need — the need for speed.” Sometimes original, quotable dialogue is so unnatural that it makes some people cringe, as in the cases of Juno and Napoleon Dynamite. Other times it might […]

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HER

There are two things that are probably beyond contestation about Spike Jonze’s Her: It’s a critical darling (as evidenced by its many rave reviews, its presence on end-of-year lists, and its continued haul of awards season recognition), and It has an immersive, thoroughly realized vision of an unspecified near-future. It’s hard to think of a science-fiction movie in recent memory as invested as Her in what the future will look like, feel like, dress like, and what effects this will have on something as intrinsic and everyday as human relationships. But beyond these two points, there is much to be found that’s worth debating in Jonze’s film. Her diverts from science-fiction’s tradition of painting an overtly dystopic future of constant surveillance and centralized control familiar to any Philip H. Dick fan, yet as sleek, inviting, and even beautiful as the film’s immaculate surfaces and evolving technologies are, there seems to be an insidious coldness and emptiness that lies beneath the surface, a sense that something is lost between the glass walls and mobile devices that separate people in Jonze’s Los Angeles.

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francesha03

I spent 30 minutes last night watching Frances Ha before I turned off the movie. I wasn’t into it. I just didn’t care for the characters or story I was watching. I appreciate that it’s considered a great film. I even enjoyed little bits, namely Adam Driver seemingly transformed into Jean Paul Belmondo (with a touch of Stranger Than Paradise‘s John Lurie and Richard Edson) simply by putting on a hat. The cinematography is terrific. Maybe it is a great film. Because I didn’t finish it, I can offer no criticism of the whole value of Noah Baumbach’s latest. I am only at liberty to state that I gave it a shot and didn’t like it enough to continue. That’s my prerogative, right? Given that a lot of the basic praises the movie is receiving in terms of people loving it, regardless of whether it’s a great film or not, I feel okay putting it out there that I just don’t. Still, I wonder if it was too easy for me to walk away — or “walk out,” if we want to make it about the movie experience. It’s hard to believe that I would have enjoyed Frances Ha any more if I stuck with it the remaining 50 minutes, but at least I could be better qualified to discuss it as a work of art. After Tweeting that I turned it off because I didn’t like those 30 minutes I felt like I had judged the Mona Lisa after only getting […]

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Fay Grim Scene Still 027

In the history of indie film, sequels haven’t been very common. If we exclude horror movies, that is. And now documentaries. There’s Clerks II, S. Darko, John Duigan’s Flirting, Wayne Wang’s Blue in the Face, Lars von Trier’s Manderlay, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? and I guess The Road Warrior (and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). There tend to be weird circumstances and technicalities for a lot of them, too. One of the purest examples of an indie sequel is, of course, Before Midnight, which is even rarer for being a third part. It’s possibly the most beloved and critically acclaimed film of the year, and it could very well lead a new wave of follow ups to indie favorites and cult classics that aren’t necessarily easily banked genre flicks. Back in May we learned of another indie threequel in the works, Hal Hartley’s Ned Rifle. The sequel to Henry Fool and its first follow up, Fay Grim, will complete a trilogy about the Grim family with stars Liam Aiken, Parker Posey, James Urbaniak and Thomas Jay Ryan all returning. And the means to finance this film, which is highly anticipated among Hartley’s core 25-year-strong following, has now been announced as falling on the shoulders of that fanbase. The Kickstarter campaign began yesterday with a goal of $384k. And it’s already taken in 10% of that amount. Apparently some of his devoted — of which I was once a huge one — weren’t as turned off by the second installment as […]

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cornish monsters

After the terribly disappointing Star Trek Into Darkness, there may be hope for the next installment in the very good possibility that Joe Cornish will direct Star Trek 3. Yesterday, Deadline exclusively reported the rumor, whatever that really means, and ever since I’ve been trying to imagine what this development could mean. A lot of fans of both Cornish and Trek have been debating the pros and cons of the pairing. Cornish is too inexperienced as a director, some say. He shouldn’t waste his time with a franchise threequel, others argue. Well, I am optimistic for a few reasons. One is that we’ll probably get more Simon Pegg‘s Scotty, because Cornish and Pegg go way back — he helmed behind-the-scenes docs for Pegg and Edgar Wright films and also scripted The Adventures of Tintin, which featured voice work from the actor. And maybe he could find a role for Pegg’s buddy Nick Frost, who acted in Cornish’s sole feature directorial effort, Attack the Block. Mostly, though, it could be a lighter, more humorous episode. Not just if that reunion happened, but because of the Star Trek stuff Cornish has done in the past. Namely the TNG parody from The Adam and Joe Show that you can watch after the jump.

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wwz07

Spoilers Ahead: This article contains advanced talking points for Marc Forster‘s World War Z. We recommend reading it after you see the film. I know. It’s pretty futile starting up a list of unanswered questions regarding a popcorn flick about vaguely defined zombies co-written by Damon Lindelof. But just because something is futile doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. I haven’t read the original book by Max Brooks, which apparently doesn’t matter given how little the movie resembles the text. I also haven’t followed every little piece of the production, but that shouldn’t matter either since the movie on screen should stand alone. However, where there is some relevance to explaining something on screen by the issues of the rewrites and reshoots and such, so I do try to mention it if I’m aware of it. Speaking of the infamous production problems, they do tend to factor into narrative flaws and holes and confusion like those I raise below. Additionally the expectation that the story of World War Z will continue in sequels means the filmmakers might be choosing to flesh out some stuff later on. And of course, as usual, some of the questions are not answerable at all because they’re more criticisms in the form of a hypothetical query or simply disagreements with how the movie was plotted or how the characters thought or acted. All in all, let these talking points first and foremost serve as a means to discuss the movie in full without concern for spoilers.

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vaughn_bestof

In honor of the release of The Internship being the largest release upon the masses this weekend, we’ve got it in our heads that we should talk about the film’s biggest star, arguably Vince Vaughn, and try to settle the question of his best performance. Known mostly for more recent comedic work in things like Dodgeball, Wedding Crashers, Old School and the like, the Minneapolis, MN native has had a fairly long and interesting career. From his early work in television (he once had a guest roles on Doogie Howser, M.D. and 21 Jump Street) to his breakout performance in Swingers, he’s been around for a while and he’s done more than just speak jokes written by Adam McKay. With that in mind, we put the entirety of our career to our panel of writers, asking simply: what is Vince Vaughn’s best performance to date. Their answers (and a place for your own) can be found below.

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last stand 23

You probably missed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback. Most people did. The Last Stand was supposed to be the former Governor’s mighty return to movies, but instead it grossed a paltry $12 million domestically and now marks Schwarzenegger’s lowest grossing movie ever (factoring inflation). It’s a shame, because those who (really should) take the opportunity to give The Last Stand the second chance it deserves on video will discover that it’s not just an enjoyable burst of Golden Age action cinema filmmaking, but a meta narrative that makes it far more intriguing than it appears. Most comeback movies dutifully pander to fans’ nostalgic expectations by just giving them more of what ain’t broke. Exhibit A: The Expendables series, which recreates for its actors (including Schwarzenegger) the roles they’ve always inhabited while exhibiting an “Oorah! We still got it!” enthusiasm about bringing back its aging heroes. The Last Stand, however, isn’t interested in simply rebooting its star into his old plot and character archetypes. Instead, it offers Schwarzenegger a comeback movie with a character — Sheriff Ray Owens — with a comeback narrative of his own. What’s more, because it biographically grafts Ray to Arnold, The Last Stand turns its fictional character’s journey from former to restored hero into one that parallels the very re-ascension Schwarzenegger is undergoing with this film.

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sw7_header

During the production of 2008′s Star Trek, director J.J. Abrams was quite determined to keep as much information about the film from the public as possible. This included tactics on set such as putting actors under blankets to hide their costumes, additional security on set and limiting (until the last moment) how much information was distributed to the press. He loves this game, as evidence by the even more secretive Cloverfield project and his extensive talk about his mystery box. He enjoys the fun of not knowing everything that’s going to happen next. As a longtime Star Trek fan, I found myself alright with his stance. Even though knowing a great deal about the film would fulfill some part of my devilish curiosity, the moments of discovery that occurred during that fateful first screening of Star Trek in 2008 were more than worth the wait. In that case — as it has many times — J.J. Abrams’ mystery machine worked. So now that he’s signed on to bring Star Wars back to life for new owner Disney, will Abrams toy with Wars fans as he did his Trekker brethren? And would you want him to play things close to the chest? This is the subject of this weekend’s big discussion.

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thesixthsense1999720pbr

Less than two years ago, scientists at UC San Diego made the “discovery” that spoilers don’t matter. Not only did they find that stories aren’t ruined by knowing the ending but that people prefer stories when they know the ending. That sounded like hogwash to a lot of us, and to a degree the study was faulted. For one thing, it doesn’t really apply to anything but short stories, as that’s the only medium employed. And on top of that, these short stories weren’t of much significance to the participating subjects. The people weren’t invested in the stories, which makes a huge difference according to a more in-depth look at spoilers in a new article at The Atlantic. Change the studied medium to a series finale of a TV show the subjects had been watching for years (or at least many seasons’ worth of episodes), and you’ll surely see different results. Even then, there are always a number of factors to consider. One thing the UCSD study got correct, not that it was a revelation, is that good storytelling throughout is more important than plot, especially a plot’s conclusion. That is what matters most to enjoyment, regardless of the medium, and what makes us return to certain stories over and over. But if you consider the way we relate to stories, the return to some works can also be more akin to revisiting our past, thinking back on a memory or watching an old home movie. Even if you’re re-reading […]

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SNITCH

Editors note: this discussion features spoilers for the movie Snitch. Read at your own discretion.  When you sit down to watch a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson action vehicle like Snitch, you generally expect the film’s crosshairs to be sighted on fictional bad guys, not the real world United States government. But as it turns out, Snitch’s action-film ready “How far would you go to save your son?” conceit is less a narrative gimmick than it is a point of departure to dramatize a social issue. The film isn’t ultimately propelled by the urge to flip semi-trailers but by the desire to criticize the problematic mandatory minimum sentencing laws the government wields to fight the war on drugs. Snitch’s social conscience is the offspring of the activist mandates of Participant Media and the same-named episode of PBS’s Frontline. The investigative report shed condemning light on how some of the United States anti-drug tactics – mandatory minimum sentencing and conspiracy charges – breed an environment where big fish get lighter sentences by informing on smaller (or non) fish. Snitching may be the documentary’s hook, but its core criticism is how in the government’s singular mission to win against drugs, it will unjustly, indiscriminately and indifferently ruin people’s lives to achieve its goals. As one interviewee put it: “It’s no longer about protecting people who are innocent. Now it’s part of the casualties of the drug war.”

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warm bodies guys

Warning: the following post contains a bit of a spoiler about the end of Warm Bodies. Read on at your discretion. With a decent opening weekend gross mostly attributed to young, female moviegoers, Warm Bodies is supposedly confirming its status as the new Twilight. Of course, the vampire love story made a lot more money and received mainly negative reviews, while this new zombie romantic comedy (or zom-rom-com), is certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes and received a B+ CinemaScore grade but only earned about a third of what it cost to produce. There’s an expectation for Warm Bodies to have strong legs, however, through word of mouth. And hopefully that buzz extends to more male viewers, who should appreciate that it’s not as sappy as it seems, even though its main message is the cheesiest of cheesy: “love conquers evil.” Sure, we’ve seen the power of love employed as a weapon by The Beatles and to turn Darth Vader and to keep The Princess Bride‘s Westley alive, but over time the idea that “all you need is love” has become corny enough to ruin the ends of Ghostbusters II and The Fifth Element, among others, with too much sentiment.

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AMC Comfy Chair

“Movie Houses of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, we don’t have a theater to share so I’m writing about comfort at the movies instead. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor. It used to be that movie theaters tried to compete with home viewing options by offering amenities you couldn’t find in your living room. But bigger screens, gimmicks and special menus are no longer enough. Or maybe even a draw at all. Now it seems the theater industry is out to accomodate us in ways that mimic our experience at home. They want us to feel as comfortable as we would had we never even gone out. That has to be the reason that AMC Theatres has introduced to five of its locations across the country new “comfy seats,” plush power recliners with footrests that are just like (or for some us better than) our favorite movie-watching chairs at home. Do we need such comfort at the movies? Can we take our shoes and pants off, too? Hold a cat on our lap? Can we all have remote controls so we can pause the screen if we have to go to the bathroom? Presumably theaters will keep the line drawn at decency and personal conveniences that don’t infringe on others’ comfort and enjoyment. […]

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12year_disappointments

If there’s one word I think of that’s best tied to the story of film in 2012, it’s “disappointing.” That’s not to say that 2012 was a disappointing year for movies. I don’t know if it was the best in a while, as some of my fellow critics claim, but then I still haven’t seen a lot of the “best” titles of the year. What I do know is that there were enough movies that really, really, really disappointed a lot of people, and so I feel like I heard — or read — the word “disappointing” more than any other. Whether it was a long-awaited prequel to a classic helmed by the original’s director or the expected return to form for a filmmaker or a final installment of a much-worshipped superhero trilogy or a reboot of a beloved comic-based franchise or a new animated feature from a usually dependable studio, there were plenty of major releases that turned out to be less than satisfying. At least for some.

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sorel_pi

When contemplating my favorite films of the year, I keep forgetting about Life of Pi. Yet very few narrative features wowed me as much as Ang Lee’s spectacular adaptation. Given how much I enjoyed it in the theater, the film should have stuck with me more than it has. I blame the ending, which traded the magnificent visuals and wondrous sea adventure for a talky bookend that too directly spelled out the point of the story within the story. I don’t know that I’d say the ending ruined the rest of the film for me. I could go back and re-watch the whole thing and still appreciate all the effects and thrills and drama that excited me the first time around. But if that’s the stuff I want to remember first and foremost, I’ll probably have to leave a few minutes early next time. Lee surely is familiar enough with the craft of storytelling to know that endings are extremely important, that they can make or break an audience’s satisfaction with a movie by being the part that it is left with. He would presumably disagree with me that Life of Pi has a weak ending. And at least the staff of Entertainment Weekly believes the film actually has one of the best endings of the year. And that is fine, because a lot of people hated the endings of Prometheus, The Bourne Legacy and Savages, and I think those movies have three of the best endings of 2012. The […]

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Zero-Dark-Thirty

As dissent continues to flourish in this country, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that discordant responses to films is also on the rise. Divisiveness has always been one thing among film critics, with publications throughout the past decade loving to showcase opposing views of everything from Dancer in the Dark to Tree of Life. But it’s another thing for broader American society to not only disagree with one another but to really go at each other over a certain motion picture or movies overall. This is the year that a right-wing political documentary (2016: Obama’s America) outgrossed all but one of Michael Moore’s films, including the gun violence issue doc Bowling for Columbine. It’s also a year, now, when the notion that violent films may have an impact on gun violence more than guns themselves is being spouted by everyone from NRA leaders to actor Jamie Foxx. Does that make Foxx’s new movie, Django Unchained, one of the most dangerous films of 2012? It depends on whether or not you agree with that idea of films and video games being so influential. Also depending on your side of a debate, you might agree with those calling Zero Dark Thirty “dangerous,” as Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side; My Trip to Al-Qaeda) has now done. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I can’t offer any real opinion on the torture scenes provoking discussion, but here’s what Gibney has to say about it in a lengthy article he wrote […]

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In lieu of a Movie Houses of Worship column (in part due to a lack of entries from readers), this week I’d like to discuss a part of the cinema industry that I feel needs addressing. Think of it alternately as a sermon, to keep the religious aspect of moviegoing analogy going. The topic of this sermon is dine-in theaters, aka movie-grills, aka Drafthouse-type cinemas. The other night I attended the grand opening of a new Movie Studio Grill location in Duluth, GA. It’s a beautiful place, one of the more upscale dine-in movie theaters (leather chairs!) yet not so hoity toity as those that sell themselves on signature cocktails and fancy foods sprinkled with magic truffle dust and such. And for the most part I had a great time in spite of the movie shown to us being the very messy Hyde Park on Hudson (in a way, though, the film’s culture-clashing themes worked for the fancy   digs meets bar food concept). I should point out for full disclosure, by the way, that I was fed at this event. Not that it should influence anything since the experience has prompted a larger complaint about this cinema concept. I honestly wasn’t a fan of most of what I ate, though my companion (okay, it was my mom), loved every bite.

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The Ingredients is a column devoted to breaking down the components of a new film release with some focus on influential movies that came before. As always, these posts look at the entire plots of films and so include SPOILERS.  Even the most visionary and original films can seem derivative, especially to those of us who watch tons of movies on a regular basis. Occasionally it’s intended for the audience to spot certain allusions and apply them to our experience with this new work, as in the case of Holy Motors. Other times it’s not so deliberate, and the fact that new movies trigger memories of older movies (and vice versa depending on when they’re seen) is all on us, yet not totally without reason given how there are really only a few base plots and themes in existence and also given that our comprehension of things, particularly imaginative things, has to be relatable to other things we’ve comprehended previously. That’s why a movie like Avatar can be “like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” but only to an extent. For it to be accessible to a wide audience — let alone be one of the biggest worldwide hits of all time — it has to “unfortunately” resemble other movies. And now Life of Pi can be likened by critics to Avatar for similarly giving us spectacle like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It sounds ironic but it’s not. Even if the magical island in Pi may even further remind us of […]

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Every Sunday morning, I like to begin the day with a regular feature called Movie Houses of Worship. It doesn’t actually run every week, however, because I don’t receive enough submissions to make that happen. See, this feature requires help from our readers. I wish I had the time and money to travel the world checking out different cinemas (if you ever want to witness someone doing this, read Kevin Murphy’s “A Year at the Movies”). But I also don’t want the feature to be a review of theaters based on one-time visits. It’s intended for the places we attend regularly, as if these movie theaters were our regular house of religious worship. We all have preferred local cinemas, and I want you all to have the opportunity to share your experience(s) of being a longtime and loyal patron to these establishments. One day most movie theaters will be gone, so now is the chance to showcase your appreciation for any currently standing.

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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.14.2014
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