Features

The Limits of Control

As many successful American filmmakers who get their start in independent filmmaking quickly find themselves comfortable in Hollywood studios, Jim Jarmusch feels like the anachronism that the economics of filmmaking rarely find room for but the culture of cinema certainly needs. After making the No Wave-era Permanent Vacation on the seemingly post-apocalyptic landscape of a crumbling late-70s New York, Jarmusch made waves at the then-young Sundance film festival with Stranger Than Paradise, a bare bones indie that exhibited the director’s penchant for deliberate pacing, wry humor, an insistent soundtrack and a canted examination of Americana. Jarmusch’s productions are few and far between, partly due to the fact that he is ever in want of funding and seeks final cut on all his films. The process may be difficult, but it’s worth it: thirty years after Paradise, Jarmusch crafted Only Lovers Left Alive (recently released on disc and digital), a film that surprised me as both a sideways look at high-cult consumption and one of the most genuinely romantic films of this year. It is, in short, well worth the seven years of frustration that it took to get the film made and into theaters. It’s hard to imagine the same film coming from a filmmaker willing to touch studio funding. And it’s an intoxicating glimpse of what could be if more independent filmmakers were as unimpressed by studio dollars as Jarmusch. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a Son of Lee Marvin.

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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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An iced coffee, a trumpeted rendition of a magical tune, and the man from the White Lodge. David Lynch has now transformed the ephemeral absurdity of the ice bucket challenge into physical absurdity. It’s enough to make you wonder why thousands of people have made videos of themselves being doused in freezing water. Think about how truly strange that is for a moment. Like we were all hypnotized, allowed by society to be socially bizarre for a good cause. The two funniest moments are when Lynch says, “I’m taking the challenge” so sweetly (we don’t even have to ask which challenge he’s talking about), and when he says, “The second bucket…” so casually after his mid-musical, caffeinated sloshing. Perfect comic timing. Of course, both laugh lines are due in large part to Lynch now being a fantastically adorable old man. Life just keeps staying weird. Source: The Film Stage

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Pirates of the Caribbean

As I tend to watch movies for a living, periodically I am faced with potential career choices that might be more lucrative for me. A stint aboard a space mining freighter for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation is a bit too futuristic for me, and I’ve missed the boat for enrolling in med school or law school. However, there seems to be one way to make money that doesn’t seem to take any formal schooling: treasure hunting. Of course, before I kiss my wife and kids good-bye and embark on a whirlwind global journey to get rich off of other people’s plundering, I had to look into this career choice a bit. I started by thinking: Where can I dig up a buried pirate’s treasure chest?

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Swimming With Sharks torture

Being a mentor is tough. You’re putting time into showing a kid the ropes, and what do you get out of it? According to the movies, maybe death. Or at least some non-lethal backstabbing will come about if you’re not lucky. It’s a wonder any of us bother to recruit interns, employees, apprentices, proteges and sidekicks when we know from watching a lot of movies that it’s not a good idea. We’re much better off just doing whatever work they’d have helped with alone and living a longer and more fruitful life. Never mind if we deserve the comeuppance. None of us believe we’re the bad guys, especially when we thought we were actually out for our disciple’s best interest. In the new movie The November Man, it’s Pierce Brosnan who winds up targeted by his former pupil, played by Luke Bracey. The two are spies, Brosnan now retired — until he’s pulled back in for “one more mission,” of course. And in this mission he’s up against a younger fellow to whom he taught everything he knows. Actually, he probably kept at least one thing close to his chest. That’s something else we learn from the movies, that it’s good to hold back from teaching your protege everything, because you’ll need a secret weapon in case he or she comes back to bite the hand that fed. Additionally, the movies teach us seemingly everything we need to know to avoid being betrayed. But if they’re smart, they’re also keeping one thing […]

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Gandhi Movie

Yesterday, Scott Beggs discussed how the subject of war permeated throughout Richard Attenborough’s career both in front of and behind the camera, noting how anti-war themes ran through the former Royal Air Force flier’s directing debut in Oh! What a Lovely War to his Best Director win for Gandhi and beyond. But there’s another important aspect of Attenborough’s unique career that informed this consistent theme of pacifism: the actor/director often gravitated toward stories of activists determined to change the world and its asymmetrical relations of power. Attenborough rarely put himself in the position of liberator, but recognized and used his position of Western privilege to render the speech of others heard. Attenborough was a genteel Englishman who seemed positively aristocratic in his presentation and demeanor – his appearance made him look the part of someone who might have been quite comfortable in the role of colonizer a century ago – but he used this assumed authority as a platform for making the voices of the wronged and exploited accessible to the ears of the powerful. His career and biography make him seem in many ways a walking contradiction: Attenborough held several honorary titles of the British Empire, from Commander of the Order of the British Empire to Knight Bachelor, yet his career behind the camera is best known for chronicling the just dissolution of that empire and depicting the tragic folly of imperialism.

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Lucky Bastard Movie 2014

You may have heard NC-17 called the “rating of death” for the way it kills a movie’s commercial success. Is this true? As a producer of one of the handful of NC-17 films ever made, Lucky Bastard, I can tell you it’s like the guys on Jackass finding out what happens when you get kicked in the nuts: Yes, it hurts like hell. Does the spectacle itself attract attention? Maybe—but you’ve still been kicked in the nuts. Lucky Bastard is a thriller about an adult website that pairs average Joes with porn stars (there really are such sites). When one troubled young man fails to perform, he is driven by shame and humiliation to enact bloody revenge on the porn crew. For us, this was a great micro-budget premise that let us comment upon America’s obsessions with sex, violence and “humiliation entertainment.”For artistic reasons, we wanted the movie to be as raunchy and disturbing as possible. Mission accomplished! But when it came time to find a distributor, everybody balked. Although there’s no actual sex in the movie, we were told no sales agent would represent the movie, no distributor would buy the movie, no theater would show the movie — no, no, no. “How come?” we asked one sales agent. “Because this is pornography,” she said. “No, it’s not,” we said. “There’s nothing here you wouldn’t see on Cinemax at 11PM. And we’ve got a great plan to market it through churches.” End of meeting. So we had a bright […]

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Back to the Future Biff Pleasure Palace

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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Love Is Strange

Love Is Strange is a movie about, well, love. It’s about the love shared by its central couple, George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow), but there’s more to it than that. It’s about all of its varieties and inflections, and the way that it’s expressed by husbands, nieces-in-law and friends. Beautifully lit spaces, subtly crafted dialogue and open, naturalistic performances from the whole cast help director Ira Sachs play with the manifestations of this title concept. The MPAA ratings board, meanwhile, didn’t pay attention to any of this. Love Is Strange was given an R rating. There’s no sex in the film, nor any notable violence. The reason this family drama wasn’t considered family-friendly was “language,” that ever-vague, often ironically meaningless word. What exactly does that mean? Sometimes it means too many “fucks,” or some similar breach of the arbitrary mathematics of swear-word policing. Here, though, it seems to be something else. An entire script in which the humanity of gay people is taken for granted may have been too linguistically salacious for the MPAA.

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Scream Factory

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. The Legend of Hell House The Belasco House had seen its fair share of tragedy and carnality even before the man who had it built disappeared, but the years since have seen a continuation of death and terror. It’s known as Hell House, the Mt. Everest of haunted houses, and now a team consisting of a scientist, his wife and two mediums is going in to prove once and for all whether or not ghosts and the afterlife exist. Two of them are going to find out first hand before the week is out. Richard Matheson’s novel (Hell House) was adapted to the screen way back in ’73, but it remains one of the best haunted house flicks out there. There are legitimate chills throughout, some PG-rated sexiness and a wonderfully intense performance from Roddy McDowall too. Even better, at least for someone like myself who favors grounded explanations, the script gives nods to both the supernatural and the scientific. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: interviews, trailer]

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Time Bandits

Charles Dickens once called procrastination the thief of time. Respectfully I must disagree with Ol’ Charlie, because clearly the Time Bandits are the real thieves of time.It’s right there in their name. Continuing on our journey across the temporal map of great sci-fi comedies, Cargill and I splashdown into a dark and wonderful Terry Gilliam film that’s supposedly for children. We will recount our favorite scenes, discuss the film’s turbulent production and completely change the way you hear the movie’s closing song. You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema). Download Episode #21 Directly

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Daniels in My Best Friends Sweating

Last night, amidst the butts and the FEMINISM and the important message from Miley Cyrus, the VMAs bestowed its latest award for Best Direction to DANIELS, aka Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, for helming the Lil Jon and DJ Snake music video for “Turn Down For What.” You didn’t miss that part of the show, because this category isn’t millennial-friendly enough for the telecast (nor was the one given to Oscar-nominated art director Anastasia Masaro), but somewhere in the night there were some Moonman statues given to a duo that might just be the franchise film directors of the future. In winning the award, Kwan and Scheinert follow in the footsteps of such notable directors as David Fincher (The Social Network), Spike Jonze (Her), Adam Yauch (Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!), Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror), Jake Scott (Welcome to the Rileys), Samuel Bayer (Nightmare on Elm Street), Steve Barron (the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine). Also among the past winners are Marc Webb and Francis Lawrence, directors of the Amazing Spider-Man and Hunger Games franchises, respectively. Most of those filmmakers were multi-nominees in the category at the VMAs, and a couple are multi-winners. This was only DANIELS’ first nomination for directing (they were previously nominated in the Best Editing category in 2011, for “Simple Math” by Manchester Orchestra), yet they’ve been making videos for years, for clients including Passion Pit, Tenacious D, The Shins and Chromeo. And they’ve directed a number of hilarious shorts and just recently were […]

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Humans Need Not Apply

Why Watch? If you’re feeling anxious about what the future holds, this short film from CGP Grey isn’t going to help. In Humans Need Not Apply, a horrible dystopian future present reigns over the landscape, forcing humans from their jobs as less-expensive robots become more available. If you’re certain that robots won’t be coming for your job, think again. This documentary has some startling statistics about how many fields they’re already in and will be in soon. Everyone from office workers to your neighborhood professional painter might be looking for a new gig. The caveat to all this (which the doc doesn’t go into) is that — while this revolution is wholly different from others — it will still have to abide by the basic rules of economics. Simply put, if everyone is out of work, no one will have any money to buy the products that companies need the robots to make. That’s both a chilling nightmare scenario and the safeguard against catastrophic damage as we transition to a new economy. Still, Humans Need Not Apply is  fascinating look at the future we’re currently living that recognizes both the wondrous potential for automation and the bedrock danger that it presents. Plus, if you’re Ray Kurzweil, this should put a big smile on your face.

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Richard Attenborough

This isn’t the story of a ship, but it starts with one. A month after the real-life Royal Navy resupplied Malta during Operation Pedestal, In Which We Serve hit theaters in the UK. It’s a WWII story made and released during WWII, featuring the sinking of the HMS Torrin as a symbol for the temporary loss that makes us all fight harder for the larger victory. A seafaring Alamo whose stalwart captain goes on to fire even larger guns from an even stouter ship at the destined-to-fail Nazis. This was Richard Attenborough‘s film debut as an actor. He played a yellow-gutted shell loader who abandons his post, leaving the men up top without one of their ammo sources. It’s a role hidden within a sea of other characters, but Attenborough — whose character doesn’t even have a name — gets a spotlit moment to twist his face in terror until ultimately breaking. The movie was nominated for Best Picture and Screenplay, but it’s not like his seconds-long turn as a coward made Attenborough a star overnight.

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Miley Cyrus

Marlon Brando was, quite possibly, the last celebrity we expected to be imitated on last night’s MTV Video Music Awards — to wit, this was a show that included an homage to that time that Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake wore matching denim outfits, so that’s the direction things were headed early on — but there it was, a callback to forty-one years ago, delivered care of Miley Cyrus. No, you’re not hallucinating. Cyrus picked up the Moon Man for Video of the Year for her “Wrecking Ball” (a song that I, somewhat begrudgingly, really like), but although she stood up when her name was announced, she ultimately pushed a tall young man to the stage to accept her award from a charmingly bewildered Jimmy Fallon, who was dressed as if he had been shaken out of a Miami Vice box set. Jesse identified himself as a homeless youth, and took the opportunity to talk about his plight in front of a somewhat baffled audience. (Cyrus took the opportunity to both cry on command and bring attention to an issue most people like to ignore, so she’s definitely working on the positive side here). It’s not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last.

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Radius-TWC

The definition of spoiler used to be pretty black-and-white. Back in the summer of 1980, was it a spoiler telling someone Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father? Without a doubt. How about telling someone Bruce Willis is actually a ghost in the 1999 film The Sixth Sense? Absolutely. Or what about in 2001 how Captain Leo Davidson discovers the Apes inexplicably took over the Earth in Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes? Nobody probably cared in that case, but the point stands. Lately, for some, the definition of “spoiler” has altered, mainly because people have been growing increasingly spoiler sensitive over the past few years. Some people actively seek out spoilers before they see a film or a television episode, but for others the mere mention of a relatively small plot detail can be enough to send them into a rage. The most recent film to dredge up new debate on the topic is The One I Love, a new sci-fi drama starring Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss. The two actors play a couple, Ethan and Sophie, who have been having some relationship issues. Their marriage counselor, played by Ted Danson, suggests a getaway. He tells them of a beautiful retreat that’s helped rekindle various other marriages. Ethan and Sophie agree to go. This all happens in the first 14 minutes. At the 15 minute mark, something strange happens. Some consider saying even that much to be a spoiler, let alone actually identifying what the strange thing is, but here’s the issue at hand: That “thing” is the set up of […]

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THE WIRE 3

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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Sin City 2

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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Doctor Who Deep Breath

Would a Doctor by any other face smell so sweet? Not if he’s wearing a tramp’s coat, apparently. With the first episode of Doctor Who‘s Series 8, Peter Capaldi is a jarring presence as the Twelfth Doctor, mainly to companion Clara “Impossible Girl” Oswald (Jenna Coleman) but also to an audience used to younger actors in the role since its reboot almost a decade ago. It’s not just because he’s older, though; the thick, sometimes hard to understand Scottish brogue is as rough as his new “attack-eyebrows” appear to be. And maybe it’s an odd appearance because we’ve seen Capaldi on the show prominently before. Does the Doctor acknowledge this deja vu? Has he seen this face before, as he says in the alley to that tramp, in the same place we have? Is it just a coincidence that Capaldi played Caecilius in the 2008 episode “The Fires of Pompeii” and this new episode, “Deep Breath,” debuted on the same date as that earlier one took place, only 1,935 years earlier? This is one of the many things we’ll have to wait to see as the series continues. I also look forward to seeing if the show can quickly get over Capaldi’s distinction and offer up some truly entertaining installments. “Deep Breath,” written by showrunner Steven Moffat and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ben Wheatley (Kill List; Sightseers), was not very interesting plot-wise. For one thing, there was the matter of Moffat bringing back the Clockwork Robots from “The Girl in the Fireplace,” […]

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Hare-um Scare-um Bugs Bunny

Tomorrow, August 24th, is the 75th birthday of Andy Panda. How are you going to celebrate? I am obviously kidding. No one cares about Andy Panda. He now sits in cartoon obscurity next to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Gabby Gator and Dapper Denver Dooley. Yet it is his 75th birthday and we should honor it somehow. The very first Andy Panda cartoon, aptly titled Life Begins for Andy Panda, premiered on August 24th, 1939. It was Hollywood’s greatest year, even if its cartoons may not have lived on with the vigor of its live action triumphs. That said, three other cartoons that also premiered during the month of August 1939 offer an entertaining snapshot of this particular chapter in the Golden Age of American Animation. This was something of a transitional moment, between what cartoon historian Piotr Borowiec calls the “Disney Realism” and “High Warner” styles. That sounds high-minded and obscure, but it’s just a fancy way of explaining the shift from Disney’s talking animals that obey most of the laws of physics to Tex Avery’s talking animals that don’t. The details are a bit more complicated, which is why it’s more fun and more informative to just watch the cartoons.

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