Features

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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Adam Sandler in Men Women and Children

It’s an understood rule of comedic actors that they can all do drama, as well. Comedy is harder, of course. But then not every comedic actor is truly an actor. Not every comedic performance is about more than good line readings and having the necessary timing to tell a joke. Stand-up comedians often get starring gigs on sitcoms, but that doesn’t mean they’ll wind up with an Oscar nomination someday. (Sorry, Sinbad.) Those who do end up with Academy recognition are those who were always set to shine on the big screen and wound up on TV as a short little detour along the way. Jennifer Lawrence, for example. And Tom Hanks. And Leonardo DiCaprio. But there are also former TV comedy stars who do great work in dramatic movies and never garner Oscar attention, and then they have to go back and do a Dumb and Dumber sequel. There is hope and buzz for quite a few former sitcom stars this fall. They could join the likes of Helen Hunt, George Clooney, Sally Field, Melissa McCarthy, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Mo’Nique, Sandra Bullock, Marisa Tomei, Will Smith, Diahann Carroll, Woody Harrelson, John Travolta, Judd Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Patty Duke, Pat Morita, Kate Winslet, Billy Bob Thornton, Jamie Foxx and Robin Williams. I’m sure I’m forgetting some others (and not even thinking of all the variety TV players like George Burns, Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Cher and Goldie Hawn). Or they could be the next Jim Carrey. Check out […]

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L4st Short Film

Why Watch? This short film proves that at least one filmmaking collective in Finland is obsessed with the fungus-murdering “The Last of Us.” Mikko Löppönen and company have created a slick action set piece that earns its haunting atmosphere with navel gazing music and uncomfortably long shots of a decrepit location. L4ST barely has any dialogue, and it doesn’t exactly need what it has. It’s a brief anxiety attack, shot in a way that forces you to try to look around corners even though you have no control over the scene. That echo of video game views helps sell the survival, but the short’s greatest strengths are the choreography and execution of its fight scenes. Quick, sharp and simple, they mirror the ferocity necessary to survive in a world with few supplies and many dangers. Someone give these people a bigger budget.

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Edge of Tomorrow BTS

As you all know, Edge of Tomorrow is the story of a man facing a grueling mid-life crisis who can only save himself by escaping a workday grind where every day poses the exact same set of existential irritations and wide-mouthed aliens who want to blow him into tiny bits. We’ve all been there. The movie required a lot of projectiles and explosions for Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt to run away from (or to), and this B-roll footage (via ScreenSlam) shows the pair doing their own stunts while practical fireballs blaze in the background. It’s tough to say whether Edge of Tomorrow had more practical special effects than other big action flicks (I once saw a car thrown at another car while driving near the Transformers set), but it definitely feels like it. The kind of explosions and stunts they’re pulling off without CGI are really fantastic. The body-flinging segment at 3:00 is genuinely startling, and I’m waiting for someone to explain how they safely shot rockets (missiles?) above the heads of dozens of extras and movie stars. That’s the kind of phone call Ned Ryerson waits his whole life for. Questions aside, this video is damned impressive, and it makes me want to see Cruise and Blunt star in a Zhang Yimou movie as soon as possible.

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Focus Features

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival boasted dozens upon dozens of films to sate the cinema-hungry masses, and we’re willing to bet that we saw…well, at least a hearty fraction of them. The festival has just wrapped up, and as we all attempt to recover from ten-plus days of universally excellent film-going, it only seems appropriate to revisit our favorite films of the festival. These are the titles that stuck with us, the ones we recommended to anyone who would listen, the ones we couldn’t quite shake, a big mix of the funny and the fantastic, the sad and the silly, the wild and the weird. Are these the best films of TIFF? We certainly think so.

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Radius / TWC

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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Raiders of the Lost Ark Story

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 Orson Pink

What a clever girl, this episode was! Part of me should be disappointed that “Listen” wasn’t strictly the creepy installment that was promised in the preview and the first act (I revealed my excitement in last week’s recap). But in the end I am too impressed with the unexpected turns of its plot to complain. We began with an introduction teasing a new villain along the same lines as the Weeping Angels and The Silence. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is wandering about the TARDIS talking to himself about the possibility that none of us is ever truly alone, that the fear of something under the bed or right behind us comes with good reason. Whatever might be there is always hidden, as the best baddies in the Doctor Who universe are — they come at us when we aren’t looking, or we forget about them when we’re not looking, or in this case they’re always there when we don’t see them. But the creepiness quickly subsides for some rom-com-ness with Clara (Jenna Coleman) and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) — or should I say Rupert Pink — which reminded me of how, two episodes ago, in “Into the Dalek,” the flow of the action was similarly interrupted by some cuteness between that budding couple. The show just can’t wait to get back to them any chance it can. Here they have some awkward get-to-know-you and a sudden walk-out from Clara, who gets home and finds her time-traveling pal in her bedroom amazed by her […]

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