Features

Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka is hard to over-hype. Certainly the most influential animator in Japanese history and among the most significant contributors to the form worldwide, his work launched both manga and anime as we know them today. He’s been called the Japanese Walt Disney, a bold comparison to say the least. Yet it works because of the ingenuity they shared, as well as their impressively broad body of work. The American built an empire out of theatrical cartoons, animated features, theme parks and more. Tezuka has an equally diverse body of work, bridging the world of print manga and animated cartoons for both television and cinemas. He also made a number of experimental short animations, one of which turns 50 years old this weekend. Mermaid premiered in September of 1964, right in the midst of a real hot streak for Tezuka. Astro Boy, which would become his most internationally successful series, was approaching its 100th episode. Big X, an anime series about Nazis and the young man who foils their plans, had just debuted in August. Galaxy Boy Troop, a TV series that incorporated both marionettes and traditional animation, was entering its second year. It’s something of a miracle that he even had the time to think about working on anything smaller and less commercial.

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Son of Rambow 01

As one of the more enjoyable YA adaptations and one that skews male in its appeal, The Maze Runner could be a crossover hit this weekend. To be a part of the crowd, you’ll want to go see the story of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), a guy who wakes up en route to a mysterious courtyard that will be his new home until he can escape the surrounding labyrinth. And afterward, as you try to figure out all the questions you have about the plot and which might be answered in the sequel (and maybe prequel), you’ll want to go through this week’s list of movies to watch, each of them relevant to Wes Ball‘s adaptation of the James Dashner book. First, though, you should also check out Ball’s previous films, all of them shorts. I shared his Student Academy Award winner, A Work in Progress, the other day. In the past we’ve posted his bigger breakthrough, an action sequence and proof of concept for a feature version of itself titled Ruin. There is a look to the latter that clearly helped the filmmaker (who also did effects work for Mike Mills’s Beginners) get the gig directing The Maze Runner. And maybe the rest of the series? That reminds me, this week’s recommendations come with a spoiler warning for their tie-in. Don’t read about the selections’ relevance until you’ve seen the new movie or you don’t care about spoilers.

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The Flat documentary

If you are in the mood to see a film about a Jewish family coping with the death of a loved one, then there is, believe it or not, a documentary alternative to This Is Where I Leave You that falls under that extremely specific set of parameters. Granted, that premise is pretty much all that The Flat shares with the new drama, but it is by any metric a more interesting use of one’s time. The most consensus on This Is Where I Leave You is that it wastes a good cast on standard faux-indie story tropes. The Flat, meanwhile, goes nowhere the viewer expects it to. After the death of his grandmother, director Arnon Goldfinger set to cleaning out the Tel Aviv flat in which she lived for more than 70 years. It was in the midst of this cleaning that Goldfinger and his family discovered some stowed-away documents that baffled them. Goldfinger’s grandmother and grandfather had fled Germany to escape its persecution of Jews ahead of the instigation of the Holocaust. But the two had remained in contact with an old friend, both during and long after the war. This friend was a high-ranking Nazi official. Goldfinger documented his long quest to figure out just what had happened all those years ago, and this film is the result. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Dumbo Drunk

Ashe never got to see a ton of modern classics from his youth, so we’re making him watch them all as a nostalgia-less adult. Check out the inaugural article for more info. Before you get the idea that I skipped out on watching a bunch of Disney movies as a kid, I’d like to point out that I’ve seen most of them, but not all. (How many of you can honestly say you’ve seen The Black Cauldron?) I grew up with three brothers, so I especially missed out on the princess themed ones, i.e., Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Disney also had that silly policy back in the 80’s and 90’s where their home videos were only put out in limited releases, which they still do, but I don’t think it’s nearly to the same degree, especially not with piracy as popular as it is. (And, again, keep in mind that video tapes were incredibly expensive for the first several years of their existence.) So yeah, I totally missed Dumbo. But I bet I can tell you something right now that would surprise you even if you saw it dozens of times as a kid: Dumbo is only 60 minutes long. It’s pretty much exactly a full hour, no more, no less. Apparently, this was a calculated move on Walt Disney’s part. Fantasia cost the studio so much money that they took no chances with Dumbo. They went with a simple, heartwarming story, slightly less fancy animation and art (though still just as good, if not better, than any animation produced today), and […]

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Film scores

Film series are a great way to tell a story that cannot be contained to a single film. Successful films usually end up getting sequels, but series are stories intended to be digested over the course of several films. The cast will (usually) stay the same throughout a series, but there is another important element that should remain consistent to help link each film to the next – the music. While it is not a requirement to stick with a single composer throughout a series (and sometimes you have no choice but to change things up due to schedules and prior commitments), having a singular musical voice working on a film series helps keep a consistent feeling from film to film. Most film series have kept the same composer throughout the series, and the few that have changed composers from film to film had it fit the story or ultimately ended up returning to the original composer.

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Gwyneth-Paltrow-and-Luke-Wilson-in-The-Royal-Tenenbaums

Whether you’re home for the holidays or sitting shiva after the loss of a loved one, family get-togethers can be rough. Never mind if yours is a “dysfunctional” clan or not. Aren’t they all, anyway? It may be relative, but we all have our family dramas and difficult times when reunited with our most direct relatives. If not, you’re a lucky one, except when it comes to trying to relate to a lot of movies. The rest of us like to see stuff like This Is Where I Leave You for both the identification and the exaggeration, the former allowing us to laugh at ourselves, the latter hopefully leading to an understanding that everything could be worse. Movies about family get-togethers can also be a source of learning. We already relate to the basic experiences, but how much do we connect with the specifics of how the characters survive those events? A bunch of these movies feature complete parallels as far archetypes and plot and jokes, so it would seem they’d be universal. And a lot of the times everyone turns out just fine in the end. So, for your next get-together, perhaps this fall for Thanksgiving or next summer for a road trip or full-on reunion, consider the following steps, each one applicable in the movies and, of course, therefore in real life. 

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Batmobile in Batman vs Superman

The movies of director Zack Snyder are about as polarizing as any studio filmmaker’s, so when he tweeted out a picture of the new Batmobile from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we can assume he was prepared for some criticism. Fans complained about a particular aspect of the vehicle that does not conform to the version seen in the comics: the guns. This new Batmobile is front-loaded with weapons that would not look out of place in an American military vehicle. It’s a concerning decision, especially since Batman’s code of ethics precludes him from intentionally killing people. But the real problem is that it shows how little Snyder has learned from the mistakes of Man of Steel. We all remember the outcry from fans when Snyder had Superman kill General Zod in that movie’s climax, and it appears that Snyder is doubling down on the violence, despite that criticism. But it is unfair to lay all this at Snyder’s feet. There has been an increasing militarization of our superheroes afoot for decades, and Snyder is only continuing that tradition. In the Marvel world, superheroes perpetually exist in a military milieu. Tony Stark is a reformed defense contractor, while The Avengers was essentially about a Special Forces unit that prevented another 9/11.

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Eraserhead

I love looking at filmmakers’ early work. Sure, it might be juvenile or lacking the grace of experience, but it’s also the artistic eye before fame, celebrity personas or narrowly honed visions. It’s the work they made before output was partially (if not totally) influenced by investors, studios and critics. First films can be like cinematic diaries of the directors’ vision – like David Lynch’s iconic Eraserhead, which is now on Criterion Blu-ray with almost all of his short films – or whiffs of artistry before the mainstream. Some, sadly, are still out of reach to the Internet masses, though they’d be fascinating first glimpses at cinematic themes and techniques. Long before 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen debuted with a revealing video installation, Bear, which only makes the rounds at live events. Kathryn Bigelow “plays down” her first film from 1978, The Set-Up, where Gary Busey and another guy fight each other as semioticians deconstruct the images – a film that certainly speaks to her future work, but hasn’t been released for modern audiences. And though someone who thinks they’re clever put up a slave scene on YouTube, insisting it was Spike Lee’s first film, his debut – the Super 8 film Last Hustle in Brooklyn – is actually about “Black people and Puerto Rican people looting and dancing.” Those three might remain out of reach, but here eight filmmakers’ early visions that speak to humor, darkness, unexpected twists, and for one – an artistry before an obsession with […]

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George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight

Out of Sight is the film George Clooney is the most proud of, and for good reason. Beyond being just an all around fantastic movie, it showed how much charm and range Clooney has as an actor. In fact, director David O. Russell was originally opposed to casting him in Three Kings, but after Clooney pleaded with him to watch Out of Sight, Russell’s mind was changed. Not only did it help land him that role, it led to a series of great collaborations with director Steven Soderbergh. Since the 1998 Elmore Leonard adaptation, the two have paired up five times, and that’s not including the pictures they’ve produced together. Sadly they haven’t collaborated in years, but plenty of the talent involved in Out of Sight have continued to produce excellent work. Soderbergh is killing it on television with The Knick, George Clooney is still George Clooney, and screenwriter Scott Frank has gone on to direct two exceptional crime films. Seven years after his fantastic directorial debut, The Lookout, Frank returns behind the camera with this week’s A Walk Among the Tombstones. Before jumping into what we learned from the commentary for Out of Sight, here’s a fun little anecdote: Scott Frank took on this adaptation purely as a job. He couldn’t have asked for a better work-for-hire gig, because it landed him an Oscar nomination and a movie that’s stood the test of time.

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Sgt. Pepper

Cargill and Brian serve as grand marshals as they lead a parade of weirdness through your brain streets. In the first movement of their two-part schlock symphony, the guys delve into some of their favorite bizarre musicals from the late seventies and early eighties. This initial trio of flicks takes them from the Heartland to Skatetown all the way to The Village, people. Strike up your bandwidth and join the junk masters as they wax melodious on this first batch of singing, dancing oddities. You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema). Download Episode #24 Directly

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The Maze Runner Last One

Two things struck me while watching The Maze Runner. One is that director Wes Ball definitely nailed his pitch to make “Lord of the Flies meets Lost.” The second is that there are a number of English actors in this movie who speak with an American accent for no discernible reason. This wouldn’t be so weird except that there is one English actor, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who got to keep his. Well, not exactly his, because he purposefully changed his dialect slightly for the role, but he still got to be the sole English actor on screen who actually sounds English. Except for the one noticeable and unfortunate moment when English actress Kaya Scodelario accidentally lets her American accent slip. That’s when the whole thing started to bother me, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. The only members of the Maze Runner cast I knew to be English beforehand are Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter — who does a pretty great job with his speech, I’ll point out. I wasn’t familiar with Scodelario, yet as soon as I heard her mess up, I could tell she wasn’t from the U.S. either. And that immediately took me out of the movie, at least for a brief period. Following the screening, I couldn’t help but look up the rest of the players. One of the other major characters, Alby, is also played by a Brit — Aml Ameen. I believe that’s it (not all the young actors have birthplaces listed on IMDb or […]

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Mandalay Pictures

This year brings us the 10th edition of Fantastic Fest, the biggest and boldest genre film festival in the United States and the creation of the minds who brought the world the wonderful Alamo Drafthouse theater chain. As longtime FSR readers will note, we’ve been covering this thing for a number of years. We’ve seen blood spilt, psyches tortured, evils emerge from the depths and heroes triumph. We’ve seen the festival’s founder dress up like Kim Jong-Un and a number of in-person roundhouse kicks from legendary action stars. Fantastic Fest brings out the best (and creepiest) of genre cinema. Action, suspense, horror and a commitment to the everlasting weird. We’re excited to send the team back into that dark environment, where audiences are terrorized, energized and stuffed with delicious fried foods. It’s our favorite time of year and we’re excited that we get to take all of you along for the ride. So stick with us over the next week as we report on the movies of Fantastic Fest X. First, we take a look at the most fucked up things we expect to see down in Austin this week.

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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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MGM

There’s nothing quite like the autumn when the cooler weather allows you to open your windows and enjoy the fresh night air. And nothing serves as a buzzkill than hearing sirens or gunshots in the distance. Even as society has grown and people feel they’ve become more enlightened, crime is still a big problem. Sure, not every place is like Detroit in films like Beverly Hills Cop and RoboCop – or like Detroit in present day, for that matter. However, with crime still running rampant in some areas, it’s enough to keep one awake at night (especially if you keep hearing those sirens and gunshots in the night air). Everyone wants to do something about crime, but it’s not like we really want someone to turn into a maverick cop like Sylvester Stallone in Cobra. In reality, you’d want a super cop to actually care about civil liberties, laws, and individual rights. Though it’s a really violent film, the title character in Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop at least attempts to serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law. It helps that these prime directives were hard-wired into his programming. And that got me thinking: Is the world ready for a real-life RoboCop?

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A Work in Progress

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. Let me start by admitting to a slightly misleading headline. Wes Ball is not an Oscar winner. He has no statuette from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. What he does have is a Bronze Medal with a picture of the Oscar statuette on it. That’s right, he’s a third-place winner at the Student Academy Awards. But don’t let the “student” part of this prize, which like the professional Oscars are given by AMPAS, make it any less significant. A lot of great filmmakers have started their careers with this honor, including Robert Zemeckis, Spike Lee, Shane Acker, Jaco Van Dormael, Cary Fukunaga and John Lasseter (twice!). Also, Bob Saget. Provided that The Maze Runner is any good, we can add Ball to the list. He won the medal in 2003 for his seven-minute film A Work in Progress, made the year before as his BFA thesis while at Florida State University. It was honored in the animation category, though it features both computer animation and live-action, the former being used to illustrate a story being told in the real world of the latter by a little girl. The plot is familiar, basic children’s book stuff. A lonely bear goes off in search of friends, which he attempts to make by mimicking different animals. Eric Carle, better known for “The Hungry Caterpillar,” wrote a similar story back […]

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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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Jeremy Renner

  Let’s take a journey back in time. The year? 2010. Hot off The Hurt Locker (and reasonably hot off The Town), Jeremy Renner looked poised to break out in a big way. He was going to be Hawkeye. He was going to be the new Jason Bourne. He was going to take over the Mission: Impossible franchise. It was going to be Jeremy Renner’s world, and we were all just going to live in it (and buy lots of movie tickets while living in it). It was going to be great. It didn’t happen. The literal promise of Renner’s breakout did come true – he is Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he took over the Jason Bourne franchise, he was introduced as a new character in the last Mission: Impossible film – but he’s still not the star of any of those franchises. And, based on the latest round of Hollywood news, he’s not going to be.

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Robin Williams Teddy Roosevelt

As with any Ken Burns documentary, PBS’s The Roosevelts (having finished its second of seven two-hour episodes last night) features a trove of archival material including photographs, documents, newspaper headlines, excerpts of diaries and books reads by actors ranging from Meryl Streep to Billy Bob Thornton, and new footage from the preserved estates of the title characters. Yet what dominated yesterday’s entry (which takes place roughly between 1901 and 1909) was silent film footage of the United States’ 26th President, often brought to life for a sound-sync audience through music or even foley effects. While Burns’s films are known for their archival display, they don’t always contextualize how certain information is made available at certain points in history. Yet as The Roosevelts promises to cover over a century of ground between 1858 and 1962, the way information spread is a story that will inevitably be told, explicitly or implicitly. Between the early days of the moving image alongside the rise of industrialization in the late 19th century to Hollywood’s important role in rallying Americans during WWII, the story of how media develops in turn shapes how history is known.

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THE BATTERY discs

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. The Battery The zombie apocalypse has left America a wasteland of the undead with pockets of mankind struggling to survive. Two former baseball players forced by the situation to become fast friends travel the country looking for supplies and safety, but their different personalities and views on the situation lead to dramas far removed from the flesh-eating varieties. Zombies have been ubiquitous in the horror genre for years now with three out of every five horror films focusing on them as their monster of choice. (I totally made that up, but it feels right.) The vast majority of them are pretty damn terrible, but once in a while a real gem comes along, and one of the best is this American indie that dares find the humanity in a story about the inhuman. It feels like a drama, but a lack of flesh-chewing scenes doesn’t mean it’s devoid of horror as the reality these men find themselves in is a terrifying one. Writer/director Jeremy Gardner (who also plays one of the two leads) is a refreshingly smart new voice in genre film-making. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, outtakes, featurette, trailer]

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Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch

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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