Features

Oculus-Tims

Normally I would wait until the end of the year to start the For Your Consideration posts, but the campaign for Oculus could use the extra time. The challenge isn’t so much the fact that horror movies are rarely recognized by the Academy and other major awards groups as it is that imperfect horror movies don’t stand much of a chance at all. Oculus is really good, enough to make me recommend it, and I’m known for being very, very picky with the genre, but it’s no Psycho or The Exorcist. It doesn’t deserve a Best Picture nod, nor one for Best Director. It’s not outstanding enough in any categories, really, except for editing. And many other critics are noting this quality, albeit not so much with kudos in mind, so let me be the first to recommend it be nominated for the Oscar. Even this far in advance, I’m doubting the likelihood of rallying enough support for this cause. Even if I could, it probably wouldn’t matter anyway. This isn’t the sort of film that the Academy honors. If it were, it’d still have to have some other things going for it. Better writing, noteworthy performances, a director with more prestige, these would all help it but they’re just not there. It won’t have the box office success to lift its notoriety, either. It’s pretty rare these days for any movie to be nominated for Best Editing without being represented in some other top tier categories, and usually Best […]

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Batman: Strange Days

Why Watch? Bruce Timm is one of those people who gets Batman. He’s got a marrow-deep understanding of who the character is, what he’s capable of, and what he evokes. Of course he’s also worked extensively with Batman for two decades. Since this year marks the 75th anniversary of the shadowy hero, Timm has animated a Casablanca-evoking short film that trades on horror classics (Mad Scientist, Monstrous Henchman, Kidnapped Damsel) while turning Batman into Sky Captain with 20% of the pastiche. The details are all important in this swift adventure. The fighting, the determination, the fear. Batman: Strange Days at once feels like it could play after a WWII newsreel and like it belongs firmly in the present. It’s also a nice reminder of why Bruce Wayne’s hometown is called Gotham. Now how about a new short starring Freakazoid? The people demand it. For now, enjoy this new/old Batman adventure.

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Draft Day Movie

Anyone who follows sports knows that being a fan of the Cleveland Browns can be a heartbreaking endeavor. Of all the teams in the NFL, the Browns seem to pull the short straw the most. They have never been to the Super Bowl, let alone won the big game. (Of course, any good Browns fan will tell you that they won plenty of national championships in the 50s and 60s before the creation of the Super Bowl, but that only makes it sting a little less.) Sure, three other teams share this distinction with the Cleveland Browns, but two of them were recent expansion teams (the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans). The other is the Detroit Lions, and that city gets more bad press than Cleveland. (Sorry, Detroit.) Having a go at Cleveland teams and their often unfortunate records has become a bit of a tradition in Hollywood. Back in 1989, the film Major League poked some fun at the then-terrible Cleveland Indians, seeing the team fictionally win the pennant. Now, cinema history seems to be repeating itself with the film Draft Day, in which Kevin Costner plays the general manager who tries to wheel and deal a winning team during the NFL draft. Though it may be a bit more Moneyball than Major League for football, Draft Day is striking a chord with Cleveland fans. As one die-hard Browns fan said to me at my press screening for the film, “Yeah, it’s fictional, but this may be the […]

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Twin Peaks

April 8th marked the 24th anniversary of Twin Peaks’ premiere. But as any good fan knows, this means it’s also been 25 years since Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) first visited the Black Lodge on March 26, 1989, when Sheryl Lee’s Laura Palmer whispered in his ear: “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” For fans, it’s been a whirlwind of cherry pies and snapping fingers, but the anniversary is also a reminder of just how far David Lynch and Mark Frost’s influential show stretched. This wasn’t a little cult affair seen and quoted by few. Glimpses of the show can be seen far and wide in homages, parodies, and vague references from stage to screen, from adult comedy to children’s programming. By this point, just about everyone has seen at least a little Twin Peaks through one of media’s many references, and here are some of the best.

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The Three Caballeros

It’s the weekend of Rio 2. Of bright colors and latin pop and Bruno Mars deciding he can act. And birds — big birds, small birds, bright birds, scheming Jermaine Clement birds. Rio 2 is the latest in a long tradition of bird-themed animated films; a tradition that dates back all the way to Disney’s early shorts like Chicken Little and The Ugly Duckling, and the feature-length The Three Caballeros. Then, sixty years of almost nothing. Once the digital age brought about a slew of new animated features, birds returned en masse. Our new heroes sported ruffled feathers and powerful wingspans. They also choked our cinemas to death with so many forgettable animated bird flicks. Surf’s Up, Happy Feet, Valiant, Free Birds and so forth. The future is dotted with more of the same with Storks, Angry Birds and The Penguins of Madagascar all planning to invade theaters in the next year or two. Now, this whole idea — that the “animated bird movie” is actually a thing, and a thing worth discussing, at that — may seem weirdly specific and potentially insane. It sort of is. But it works, and there’s actually a way to properly dissect a bird-centric cartoon. You quarter it into four distinct pieces; four categories that can be used to identify and analyze any animated bird flick. Categories that, when fulfilled, ensure the movie in question is a Chicken Run and not a Free Birds.

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Summer Movie Season

Take a moment and pull out you day planner (old school) or fire up your iCal (or similar) or even yank your monthly calendar down from the wall (watch the pushpins), and refer to the months of May through August, 2016. How do they look? Free? Probably. They shouldn’t be, at least if Hollywood has any bearing on your scheduling choices. The 2014 summer movie season – which now, apparently, starts in May – hasn’t even kicked off yet, but Hollywood is already looking ahead two years to the bounty of (hopeful) riches that will await movie fans in 2016. From superheroes to, well, more superheroes to long-awaited sequels to even something for the kiddos, the 2016 summer movie season looks like it’s going to have it all. And now it’s going to have the first of a planned six-part series about the adventures of King Arthur, because why the hell not?

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Elway 30 for 30

The Super Bowl is already an all-but-official American holiday, and it looks like the NFL Draft Day is on its way to becoming one as well. At this rate, important dates for football will supplant the existing holidays, and the sport will be firmly entrenched as our new civil religion. The Draft is like that agonizing time in PE when the team captains take turns choosing their players from the class, but mutated and engorged a thousand times over. At least, that’s the understanding a football layman like myself has of it. I don’t know how crucial it is that a piece of entertainment about the Draft ensure that such a layman can understand it. Enough people understand football that a movie or book can probably take for granted that the audience knows the rules and history of the game going in. But Draft Day is unlikely to appeal to even the most dedicated scholars of football. Directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Kevin Costner, the film’s release is timed to be in close proximity to this year’s real-life NFL Draft. It’s a pity, then, that the movie features so little of what one could reasonably expect from a story about the Draft, namely the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes as different teams try to get the best picks they can. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Varsity Blues Billy Bob

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High Fidelity Movie

Through music and misery, we ask the big questions this week. Specifically, Neil Miller and Geoff get philosophical over High Fidelity and debate whether we’re truly defined by what we like (as opposed to what we’re like) when it comes to relationships. Plus, Geoff describes a few ways to get into the TV show-writing business (and a few ways not to). And on our main stage, the stellar Stephen Frears joins us to talk about Philomena and capriciousness, and to offer perhaps the single most important piece of filmmaking advice the show has ever heard. You should follow Neil (@rejects), the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis. Please review us on iTunes Download Episode #55 Directly Or subscribe Through iTunes

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Mirror Trick in Poltergeist 3

“Carol Anne! Carol Anne! Bruce! Bruce! Patricia! Patricia! Carol Anne! Bruce!” One of the funniest episodes of Siskel & Ebert features their dialogue-mocking review of Poltergeist III, which is one of my all-time biggest guilty pleasures. I love the way Gene chimes in when Roger says he hopes the residents of the John Hancock Center got free tickets (“I hope they didn’t.”). It’s a silly take on a ridiculous movie, the second sequel to what I believe to be one of the greatest horror films ever made. My esteem for the first Poltergeist is not why I’ve always had a soft spot for Poltergeist III. I hated Poltergeist II: The Other Side as a kid, yet I latched onto the next installment with immense fascination and fear. Partly it was the state-of-the-art skyscraper setting, which my 11-year-old self believed to be an inspired choice (the 13-year-old me would go on to accept Gremlins 2: The New Batch as a better use of such a location). Mostly, though, it’s always been the creepy mirror tricks that make me an unapologetic fan. The magic of the looking glass and reflections in general have been of interest to storytellers for millennia, especially for the way they provoke an idea of another, near-identical universe visible and approachable through a kind of window or portal. Sometimes there’s wonder to the idea, as in Lewis Carroll’s stories of Alice, but more often it seems to be the stuff of horror, especially on the big screen. Yet another scary movie […]

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Roosevelt Harris in The Great Invisible

In addition to its normal slate of invited and in-competition docs, as well as a tribute to the work of Steve James, this year the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival invited filmmaker Lucy Walker to curate a thematic program of her choosing. Walker built her sidebar around memorable characters, and how they both enrich and sometimes problematize documentary storytelling. It was a choice that resonated not only in the films she chose, such as the Robert Evans doc The Kid Stays in the Picture and Marcel Ophüls’s Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, and her own 2002 effort Devil’s Playground, but also in the new docs screening throughout the weekend. Many of my favorites from the fest were those that fit well with Walker’s program, as you can see below. From topical and historical stories that are most effective when focused on individual subjects to strictly character-driven narratives, the following five titles represent the best of what the 2014 Full Frame had to offer as well as some of the best docs of the year so far. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Helium Harvey

Why Watch? In this adventurous short from Daniel Savage (who wrote, directed and animated), a young boy swallows an entire balloonful of helium and finds himself riding the wind to lands distant and sights astounding. The animation style is dynamic and rich, layering 1950s-style travel poster scenery with a happy-mouthed mascot. On the story front, it’s a one-two punch where the kid makes a bold decision (that any of us could have or might still) and ends up spanning a globe. It’s like batting at a pinata and finding yourself on Mars. Joyous, youthfully dangerous and diminutively epic, Helium Harvey is gorgeous fun with a sweet resolution.

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The Goonies

Whether you saw it in the theaters in the 80s, or watching it dozens of times while it played on HBO in the 90s, The Goonies has become an essential part of the childhood movie diet. That’s pretty impressive for a film that includes that many pre-teen curse words, sexual references and dangerous situations. Billed as a collaboration between producer Steven Spielberg and director Richard Donner, it was one of the few hits from the 80s that didn’t get an immediate sequel. Whether you’re still waiting around for that sequel – and whether you think that sequel is a good idea or not – you can still enjoy The Goonies in a variety of home video formats. Back when the DVD was released in the 2001, the cast reunited with Richard Donner to provide a commentary track that has been preserved on subsequent Blu-ray releases. Even though the commentary track is almost as old now as the movie was when the commentary was recorded, it still has some fun insight into the film, including the mysterious message that Sean Astin wanted to share with Cyndi Lauper.

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Agents of SHIELD Turn Turn Turn

Using an iPhone for the first time required twenty minutes that felt like a full day of setting up, retrieving and resetting passwords in order to order a pizza. Downloading Angry Birds, not to mention calling anyone, meant connecting one device to four others. There are benefits  to that interconnectivity. No doubt. It’s also about stickiness — once someone is plugged into more than one product or service, it makes it a lot harder for them to change horses. That’s why your bank forces you to have a savings account and debit card in order to get a checking account. In the midst of praising Marvel for creating an expansive movie universe that weaves small details into itself and has now injected latex into a weekly television presence, the potential negatives of its interconnectivity have flown under the radar. All the positives are still there — it creates a great sense of community, rewards fans for being invested and is responsible for 1000% more people using the phrase “easter egg” — but the stickiness of it also threatens non-obsessive viewers with gaps in plot understanding. That’s why seeing the headline “How Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Now Setting Up Avengers: Age of Ultron” gave me flashbacks to screwing up my iPhone registration.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

“Apes on Horses! Apes on Horses!” exclaims a giddy title from Badass Digest‘s Devin Faraci in an article about new Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photos being released into the wild. As he continues in his assessment of these new stills from the Fox marketing team, he calls out the fact that early footage never quite sold this new apes film, but these stills do. Their greatest achievement: a sense of realism not yet seen in any of the numerous attempts to bring the Planet of the Apes world to life. Even as impressive as Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was in 2011, there was still a bit of an uncanny valley gap with Caesar (played in motion capture by Andy Serkis). The most impressive CGI ape in that movie was the most exotic, an orangutan that didn’t quite get a lot of screentime. Most of the effort went into creating Caesar (and the film’s climactic battle on the Golden Gate bridge), and even he still had a bit of shine. This time though, the wizards of WETA  have absolutely created a photoreal group of apes that have increasingly human characteristics. Such as intricate facial expressions, emotional response and yes, the ability to ride horses and fire guns. It’s even more impressive a feat when you consider how far the craft of visual effects has come since the first Planet of the Apes film was released in 1968. It’s a history I’d like to explore for a moment in photos.

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Cinedigm

By many accounts, Brie Larson “broke out” last year with her startling turn in the exquisitely made Short Term 12. Larson earned plenty of kudos for her role as the group home worker with secrets of her own (yes, that sort of “secrets of her own” thing might sound run-of-the-mill, but the film is very authentic and Larson’s work in it is achingly genuine), including a Spirit Awards nomination, but it did seem like a snub (or, perhaps more accurately, a damn shame) that she wasn’t recognized by more glitzy awards (hi, Academy Awards). Larson certainly seems poised to have an even bigger break out – the kind that comes with more high profile awards and even some household name recognition – and it looks like she just might have found the role that will push her over the edge. Deadline reports that Larson has signed on to star in Lenny Abrahamson’s indie adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s “Room,” a 2010 bestseller that was at least partially inspired by the wrenching true-life Fitzl case, a stunning story that was uncovered in 2008. If you are so lucky to not remember the story, Josef Fritzl was arrested after his crimes – namely, imprisoning his own daughter Elisabeth for twenty-four years, abusing and raping her, and eventually fathering seven children with her – and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment after a four-day trial. It is a story that is undoubtedly chilling and about eighty different shades of heartbreaking.

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Back to the Future 2 Glasses

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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Shaun of the Dead Romance

On the 10th anniversary of Shaun of the Dead opening in UK theaters, let’s talk about love. Not just the love we have for Edgar Wright‘s 2004 zom-rom-com but the love that is explored in the rom-com side of that genre-splicing equation. Forget the zed word. Pretend there’s no zombies in the movie at all. They drive the plot but they’re not really relevant to the story, which is of a relationship on the rocks and the obstacles in its way of succeeding. The zombie element only exacerbates (a word I genuinely learned from this movie) the situation, heightening the tension and increasing the difficulty level while also providing a mechanism through which the main characters are able to more easily get over their relationship hurdles. I use the term “difficulty level” because, in a way, Shaun of the Dead is like a romance video game where different bosses have to be defeated in order for Shaun (Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the script with Wright) to win back his princess, Liz (Kate Ashfield). Wright would, of course, later do the same thing very literally in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and here not all the “bosses” are in fact adversarial obstacles, at least not before they’re turned into undead monsters. The two most advanced stages of the game, for instance, involve Shaun’s mum and best mate. And if you’re a grown man in a serious relationship, maybe even marriage, you should identify with just how tough those stages are […]

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The Snowman Short Film

Why Watch? An adorable snowman loses his nose, a group of mischievous (or hungry) rabbits decide they want to eat it, and a clumsy race over a frozen lake ensues. Naturally, silent film slapstick is involved. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s essentially the same thing Frozen did with its teaser trailer (plus a reindeer and minus the rabbits), and that’s why Kelly Wilson and Neil Wrischnik, the filmmakers behind The Snowman, are suing Disney. It’s a keen, sweet little short. Pleasant for all ages with simple animation and a sharp comic sense of raising the stakes that works to make the battle for a snowman’s nose smile-inducing. Also, the rabbits are fat, leading me to believe that they’ve been successful at de-nosing other snowmen before this. There’s obviously the curiosity of the suit, and Slate goes down the icy rabbit hole quite a ways on that, but you can see the short for yourself by clicking through the embed below.

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Three Days of the Condor

The glut of American superhero films that continue to dominate the US box office have proven time and again to provide a rich and repeated diagnoses of post-9/11 American power. Whether showing an empowered Spider-Man triumphantly swinging between NYC buildings, depicting Bruce Wayne going all Patriot Act to save Gotham from being subsumed in terror, witnessing Iron Man privatize the defense industry, or simply blowing up iconic buildings ad nauseum, these films have served – sometimes with surprising depth – as startling funhouse mirrors for 21st century values, sentiment, and fears as they bear upon the politics and iconography of armed defense and homeland security. But no other film in this endless cycle of cinematic behemoths has explored with such clarity and precision the larger paranoia-industrial complex as Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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

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