Features

Neil Armstrong Portrayed in Transformers 3

Among the criticisms I’ve seen of Gotham, the new Fox series set in a pre-Batman Gotham City, is that it opens with an event we’ve already seen too many times on TV and in movies — the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, complete with pearls flying about in slow motion. But it’s an iconic scene, isn’t it? That starting point to the origin of the Caped Crusader is almost as much a part of pop culture as the Apollo 11 Moon landing. And the latter has been been replicated on screen a lot more times. I guess the fictional event could be reworked, though, even if it might upset some fans. The Moon landing, though it’s often shown to be a hoax of some kind or another, is for the most part an unchangeable scene. That’s why it’s more remarkable that nobody seems to get tired of it. “They could make a thousand movies about the Apollo space missions and I would be right there on opening night for every single one of them,” wrote FSR publisher Neil Miller more than six years ago, when a Neil Armstrong biopic was announced at Universal with Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy) scripting the film based on James R. Hansen’s book “First Man.” Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the project has resurfaced at the studio with Whiplash filmmaker Damien Chazelle likely to helm from an adapted screenplay by Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate). In the time between our first hearing about the biopic and now, Armstrong […]

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MondoCon_logo

If you’re putting on a film festival in Austin, Texas, you can’t just be a film festival. In order to capture the attention of the tech-friendly, music-loving, attention deficit-inflicted audiences of Central Texas’ cultural oasis, you have to be more than a one-trick pony. Take, for example, South by Southwest. It’s film, music and interactive conferences that could all exist on a large scale by themselves. Even Austin Film Festival, the most specifically named of all yearly events, is known for being both a film festival and a screenwriting conference. This is something Fantastic Fest has known for a while. Beginning as simply a great genre film festival, the Alamo Drafthouse’s signature yearly event has slowly but surely expanded to meet the needs of a diverse audience. A few years back they launched Fantastic Arcade, an excellent diversion for filmgoers and a must-see for fans of the independent gaming arena. This year, Fantastic Fest expanded even further, spinning off Drafthouse’s popular boutique art division to create MondoCon: a celebration of art direction, movie posters and cult favorites. And while it may be the third leg of Fantastic Fest’s ever-growing empire, it certainly held its own. It also got us drunk.

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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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WE ARE THE BEST discs

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. We Are the Best Three girls form a tight friendship over their shared interest in hairstyles, punk music lyrics and remaining true to themselves in a sea of disco-loving, brightly dressed automatons. Two members of the trio have never even held an instrument before, but their infectious determination drives them forward and helps them navigate the all too recognizable perils of being a twelve to fourteen year old. Lukas Moodysson‘s latest film is an absolute pleasure to watch and experience, a rare treat that fully immerses you in a world that’s foreign yet familiar with its story of the time in our lives when we still believed anything and everything was possible. Watching We Are the Best! is a genuinely positive experience, one that leaves you smiling inside and out even days later as you think back not only on scenes from the film but also to memories of your own life and friends from that magical time of your life. Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me said it best — “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” Turns out that sentiment is the same the world over. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette, photo gallery, trailer]

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Gotham

There’s an age-old debate in the Batman mythos: Does Batman really stop crime? Or does the very presence of Batman, a man gallivanting around in bat ears and a cape, attract costumed criminals that wouldn’t have shown up in the first place, thus doing more harm than good? Gotham, Fox’s shiny new Batman prequel series, set in the grimy corruption of the Gotham City Police Department, throws all this good/evil Bat-debate in the trash. “Nope!” it proclaims, fancifully showing off a parade of before-they-were-villain villains, “Freaks were running around Gotham and committing meticulous theme-based crimes long before Batman ever started doing the same.” That’s already par for the course on Gotham, a prequel interested in a new take — a Batmanless take — on Batman. It will pursue that newness to any end, even if it means scrapping the subtlety and the blurred lines of good and evil that are present in just about every Batman story.

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The Boxtrolls

For a film about a group of trolls who spend their nights collecting trash (and turning it into treasure), the music should definitely be silly to fit with the goofy attitude of the boxtrolls themselves. But for a story about an orphan raised by said boxtrolls who needs to convince the world they are not something to be exterminated, the music also needs to create an emotional connection to these dirty, box wearing (but also pretty darn adorable) trolls. Composer Dario Marianelli rises to the challenge with his score for the upcoming film, The Boxtrolls, based on Alan Snow‘s novel “Here Be Monsters!” Snow’s story proves that just because someone may be called a monster (or a boxtroll), it does not mean they are not worthwhile or important, and Marianelli successfully compliments this story with a score that is fun, silly, adventurous, and has just the right amount of heart. This is Marianelli’s first time composing for an animated featured and the Italian composer does not shy away from his roots here, infusing The Boxtrolls‘ score with operatic singers and Italian instrumentation. Take a listen to our exclusive preview of The Boxtrolls soundtrack here:

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Stan Winston Nod in The Maze Runner

There are a lot of big questions left unanswered by The Maze Runner. But it’s the kind of movie where you can’t expect complete clarification and closure, because the continued mystery is what keeps audiences interested in returning for future episodes. I say episodes rather than sequels since that’s more like what they are. The Maze Runner ends with a cliffhanger, and for the sake of the story it’s a good thing the movie opened well over the weekend. In response, Fox announced yesterday that the adaptation to the second book in the series, “The Scorch Trials,” is already on track for a theatrical release one year from now, on September 18, 2015. While I don’t expect to learn everything I’m dying to know at that time — there’s at least one other sequel installment (“The Death Cure“) and a prequel (“The Kill Order“) that will fill all the gaps — I do hope to have a few things explained. Obviously, I could just read the books. But the point is that I’m approaching this story as a movie watcher, not someone who has to read every book turned into a movie. And even if I were, the movie versions should stand on their own. I look forward to a movie sequel as continuation of the movie I’ve seen, not a cross-media succession. As far as I can tell, The Maze Runner (like most adaptations) leaves out a number of things from the book anyway. So the mediums aren’t compatible. Therefore, we […]

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Astron-6

The Weekend Watch is an open thread where you can share what you’ve recently watched, offer suggestions on movies and TV shows we should check out (or warnings about stuff to avoid) and discover queue-filling goodies from other FSR readers. The comments section awaits. I’ll get the ball rolling with the movies/TV my eyeballs took in this weekend.

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Doctor Who Time Heist

One of the coolest things about the premise of Doctor Who is that it can dip into so many different genres. Sometimes, as in the case with this week’s episode, “Time Heist,” you get a mash-up of a few. Obviously we got a heist story here, and that was combined with the amnesiac thriller and the superhero team-up. Guest good guys Psi (Jonathan Bailey) and Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), who join up with the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) on their latest adventure, are respectively reminiscent specifically of Marvel mutants Cable and Rogue. And who wouldn’t want a heroine called The Impossible Girl in a group tasked with such a mission: impossible as robbing the most secure bank in the universe? So how did “Time Heist” wind up being one of the least exciting and imaginative episodes in years? The set-up was great, not necessarily the part where again we’re having a trip disrupt date night for Clara and Danny (Samuel Anderson) but the mysterious phone call and the sudden loss of memory and introduction of the new super-friends. Even the Karabraxos bank manager, Ms. Delphox (Keeley Hawes), has a delicious cartoonish villainy about her, all the way through the end in fact. There were some decent scenes, too, like the one where Delphox and her alien “Teller” wipe the brain of an accused customer and the guy’s skull collapses like a basketball that’s been popped. But that’s actually one of the many moments in this episode that are directed poorly by […]

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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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