Features

BBC America

When we last saw the clones of Orphan Black (all played to individual perfection by Tatiana Maslany) they were in quite a bit of disarray. Cosima was coughing up blood and working with a known traitor (of secrets and hearts) in Delphine, Alison was feeling content in her false sense of security, Helena was presumed dead after taking a bullet to the chest, Rachel was feeling confident in her ability to control the escalating situation and Sarah was panicking after discovering her daughter and foster mother seemingly abducted into the night. The season two premiere picks up immediately with that last and most important story thread, and it does so with an urgency missing from too many shows these days. The episode moves at a frantic pace, only pausing for a breath and some laughs when Alison appears. Even better than the energy and balanced tone, the episode directly deals with some of the first season’s biggest weaknesses and plot discrepancies while adding new characters and levels of intrigue. Fair warning, this episode recap/review features spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the season two premiere yet bookmark us and come back later.

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Still from Ajami; Kino International

Throughout the month of April, Film School Rejects will be dedicating the bulk of our Sunday programming to a series we call “Movie Geek Self Improvement.” We’ve tasked our writers with finding ways to improve your life — from losing weight to restoring old VHS tape jackets — we want to help you get the most out of your pop culture obsessed existence. Want to sit around watching movies will simultaneously learning about cultures other than your own? Sorted by region – here’s a list of engaging films that you may not have seen. You can watch to gain a bit of insight about places from all over the world, while your butt gets sore from sitting on your couch at home.

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BBC America

Every TV show should be so lucky as to have their own Tatiana Maslany. The Canadian actress has been working steadily since 2003, mostly on television and the occasional blink-and-you’ll-miss-her film appearance, but she became a bit of a sensation last year with her lead role (roles?) in BBC America’s new series, Orphan Black. It helped that the show is entertaining, twisty and surprisingly funny, but the key to each and every episode is Maslany’s incredibly diverse and nuanced performances. That may be confusing if for some inexplicable reason you haven’t watched the show yet, but Maslany plays clones. Each one is unique in character and characteristics, in movement and expression, and she does masterful work bringing them each to individual life. Things get even more impressive when she plays one character impersonating another. And don’t even get me started on her frequently displayed derriere. Season two premieres tonight, and since I’ll be reviewing the episodes going forward I wanted to take a quick look back at the first season to bring everyone up to speed. I re-watched all ten episodes and was reminded of the show’s numerous strengths, its handful of weaknesses and the seemingly limitless power of Maslany.

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TRANSCENDENCE

In a misleading article on CNN.com this week, Americans were said to be “excited” and “upbeat” about the way technology will improve our lives in the future. The headline of the piece, though, claims it’s about Americans being “wary of futuristic science, tech.” The article reports the findings of a telephone survey that surprisingly wasn’t tied to the release of the movie Transcendence, which seems at first meant as a promotion of the real possibilities of artificial intelligence, mind uploading and nanotechnology. Misleading in its own way, the movie begins with optimism about advances in A.I. research and then by the end has shown us the dangers of a self-aware omniscient computer that can create super soldiers, controlled via wifi and repaired via tiny, quick-acting robots. Audiences don’t seem to be walking away from the movie actually wary of this futuristic science and tech, though, because it plays out so far from believable that at many moments viewers are straight-up laughing at the way both the plot and science progress on screen. But should the science of Transcendence be believed? And if so, should the movie have been more clear and genuine regarding the plausibility of what all occurs? 

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Young Frankenstein

If I were to say the words “parody movie” out loud, and you were somehow within earshot, you’d probably be upset with me (or at least a little bit peeved). Because parody movies are not hip right now. They’re not even close to being so, not when the biggest names in parody today are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (lovingly referred to as “a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture,” by the Austin Chronicle). And not when the newest parody film to hit theaters is A Haunted House 2, something that can almost assuredly be described as not very good. But parody is more than whatever’s churned out today. Parody is meant to cause great laughter, and to lampoon the overused and over-successful in film (preferably at the same time). And unlike some other flavors, horror movie spoofs are rooted in philosophy and intelligent thought. Might I point you towards Lord Shaftesbury (yes, that Lord Shaftesbury), who in his 1709 hit, “An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor,” provided this gem:

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Crunch Bird

Everybody loves birds. At least that’s what Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox were betting on with last weekend’s Rio 2, the sequel to 2011′s hit animated avian musical comedy. Yet the notices aren’t great – our own Neil Miller gave it a C in his review. I’m sure the film will make a whole bunch of money, especially in merchandising, but a lot of you bird fans are probably staying home. As Adam Bellotto explained in his article about creating a great “animated bird movie,” this is actually a genre. It has rules, or at least guidelines for how to prevent something dreadful like Free Birds. It shouldn’t surprise you, either. Cinema is the art of motion, and there are few acts more mystifying than flight. It sits just out of reach for most live action movies, as it’s a little hard to shoot in the air. Animators are the magicians best able to hone in on this fascinating, natural miracle. For proof, just look at the Oscar record. No animated short with the word “bird” in the title has ever lost the Best Animated Short Oscar, and five have won. Here are three of the best.

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Dune Movie

Anyone who knows David Lynch’s work is familiar with his penchant for messing with the audience. One only has to look at how he ended his popular series Twin Peaks, or pretty much any part of the mind-bending Eraserhead, to realize this. Even though in the early 1980s, Lynch had been courted as a potential director for some major films (including Return of the Jedi… wouldn’t you have liked to see the Ewoks in that version?), he had his big studio break with the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. While it was a commercial and critical failure, Dune also represents Lynch’s subversive filmmaking nature, more than some people even realize. At the time, Hollywood was looking for the next Star Wars, much like how they are furiously searching for the next Hunger Games now with films like Divergent and The Maze Runner. Dune had been in development since the early 1970s, and it finally got off the ground with Lynch at the helm. Lynch was a bold choice for the film, considering he was handed a massive potential franchise when he was known for more intimate and often obscure and surreal personal films. Ultimately, Lynch made a film that ensured a sequel was impossible, and that was a brilliant though almost career-ending move.

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Ray-Kurzweil-in-Transcendent-Man

I have not seen Transcendence, but the critical buzz is not good at all. Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, headlined by Johnny Depp playing a scientist specializing in AI, follows that scientist as he gets his brain uploaded into a computer and begins to leave his humanity behind. While it’s a thoroughly sci-fi concept, there are some who believe that such scenarios will in fact be possible one day — and that that day may be sooner than you think. The chief proselytizer of such ideas is Ray Kurzweil, one of the most famous futurists in the world. He’s made a fortune off of multiple patents, and he doesn’t like the idea that he’ll die someday. Which is fair enough, as most people harbor the same feeling. But unlike most people, he’s serious about beating death. He consumes over 200 pills a day to regulate his body, claiming to have beaten diabetes through this regimen. But that’s just a stalling tactic until science brings us to “the singularity.” Kurzweil has proposed “The Law of Accelerating Returns.” The rate of change in evolutionary systems, he argues, increases exponentially as time goes on. It took a billion years for single-celled organisms to develop from the elements, but “only” 10 million for more complex life forms to come about. In the past century, humankind has seen more technological progress than in most of our previous history. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Cannon Film Distributors

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. Our latest look at Top Shelf releases from smaller labels features two new Blu-rays from across the pond, and in addition to both being region B releases the two share a genre similarity too in that they’re both coming-of-age teen comedies. That said, they handle their themes quite a bit differently. First up is Gregory’s Girl which explores one gangly, Scottish teen’s efforts to woo the beautiful new girl at school. His friends are equally lost in a sea of hormones, but the film pursues it all with a light and innocent touch. Far, far away at the other end of the tonal spectrum is The Last American Virgin. It’s Porky’s-style comedy including crass behavior, nudity and sex, but it has zero interest in satisfying viewers with a typical happy ending. Keep reading for our look at the new import Blu-rays of Gregory’s Girl and The Last American Virgin.

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Metropolis Movie

Transcendence casts Johnny Depp as a brilliant scientist who plots out grand plans for The Singularity, only to become that omnipotent, sentient technological himself when an assassination attempt goes awry. While the new film is a look at what happens when technology becomes humanoid, it’s certainly not the first movie to ever do so. In fact, cinema has been toying with the idea of The Singularity — the point at which A.I. acquires beyond-genius-level intelligence — since the 1920s, even if it was never called that back then. The Singularity has been showing up in films for decades, ranging from talking, all-knowing computers who refuse to do what we say to robots who serve along humans without explicit direction or order. As such, there are some amazing examples of Retro Singularity, a primitive, Tomorrowland-esque version of the future that writers of the past may have not even known they were predicting. Think all the way back to Metropolis, the 1927 film that brought us Maria, the robot who was so lifelike she threw an entire city into flux with their insatiable lust. When Maria is built, she resembles her inspiration so closely that it tricks the citizens of Metropolis into believing she’s the original. She’s burned as a “witch” because of their confusion – she walks, talks and persuades just as well as any woman.

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Like Someone In Love

One of my favorite aspects of Abbas Kiarostami’s films is how thoroughly he realizes the world within and around his characters. You hear the “world of the film” used often to describe the visions of directors attendant to detail, but no other filmmaker manifests a world of the film at quite the intimate yet expansive scope that Kiarostami does. His films make the camera feel almost incidental, as if this is simply the character or the moment that Kiarostami decided to focus on amongst a great many incidents and possibilities happening around that character or that moment. The world of his films offers glimpses into the lives of supporting characters, any of whom could be the focus of a Kiarostami film all their own. Take his latest, Like Someone in Love, for example. At one point Akiko (Rin Tanakashi) has her cab driver circle a roundabout while she looks on at her grandmother at a transit stop, who obliviously waits for a family visit that will never occur. Kiarostami sticks with Akiko, but we carry that glimpse into the world of other possibilities that surround her life for the rest of the film. It takes incredible craftsmanship to make films feel as seamless, realist, and spontaneous as Kiarostami does. Last week, Kiarostami stopped by the Indiana University Cinema to discuss filmmaking with Richard Peña on the occasion of the Cinema’s retrospective of his career. So here is some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) shared by the internationally renowned director.

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Game of Thrones Frozen Mash-Up

With the grand tradition of wasting time on a Friday (your job’s not that important), and the grand tradition of blending two popular things together, it’s unsurprising that there are two Game of Thrones/Frozen mash-ups competing for pre-weekend internet dominance. It’s also surprising that we haven’t mashed up those two grand traditions more often. They seem made for one another. The question now is which Game of Thrones parody video will win the day. In this corner, we’ve got Daenerys, Jon Snow and (ahem) Mad King Joffrey belting out “Let It Go” as a means to assert their dominance over Westeros. In the other corner, we’ve got the Cast of Kings crew using new “Let It Go” lyrics to lovingly mock the show (and the amount of beards on it). Who’s parody sheen will reign supreme? Watch them both for yourself:

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Community Season 5 Finale

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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Nicole Kidman in Birth

It’s a little too early to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Birth, a movie where “10 years later” has significance, but I’d like to get started on paying commemorative tribute to Jonathan Glazer‘s 2004 masterpiece for a few reasons. Each of these reasons is actually a new movie with some relevance to Birth, and while that makes it sound like the earlier movie is something so ahead of its time that it fits better among the output of 2014, the pertinence is mostly a coincidence. The first reason/movie, however, is rather obvious. Glazer’s first feature since Birth is currently in theaters, and it couldn’t be any more worth the wait. Outside of both movies beginning with a kind of natal moment for a main character and the way they could be aesthetically connected, reverse-sequentially, through snow-filled settings, there’s little similarity between the movies. The new one, Under the Skin, is about an alien disguised as a human woman (Scarlett Johansson) who predatorily lures men into a trap. Birth is about a little boy (Cameron Bright) who claims to be the reincarnation of the husband of a wealthy widow (Nicole Kidman). Her family thinks it’s all a ruse, maybe to predatorily lure the woman into some sort of financial trap.

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Ill Kill Short Film

Why Watch? It’s not easy to pinpoint what makes this short film from Douglas Burgdorff so watchable. The music — breezy with a beat — helps. The imagery is often exotic and playful. It feels instantly inclusive. It also throws a lot at the wall in under two minutes. However, it might be the off-kilter editing that performs the real magic trick by allowing us to get comfortable before tipping over our seat. We start on the evocative image of a man in rubber boots walking down a path carrying a hand scythe. There’s a hint of a narrative taking hold before a few seconds of nature photography dominates for what feels like an eternity. Then silence. A jolt and another jolt and another jolt. Ill, Kill is not content to stay in one place. Like all experimental work, there’s a gut reaction to write it off, but there’s a genuine anchor beneath the poetry in this case. Shots of freedom and bliss are stopped short like a mental record scratch, replaced by solemnity, fog and darkness. In particular, a shot of a young black man standing purposefully in the middle of a field without the cheerful benefit of the music followed by a black bird trying futilely to escape a room whose balcony doors are just slightly open. Each new image informs the last and vice versa and so on. There’s meaning to be found in here somewhere, but even without it, Ill, Kill is a curious artifact put together with a broken […]

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Movies live orchestra

Would bringing live music back into theaters improve your experience of watching a film? Or would it feel like an old timey distraction? Eight-seven years ago, before movies were able to synchronize sound to the actual picture, having live musicians and orchestras perform as the film played was the norm. The Artist showed audiences how silent films relied on the music to convey the feelings and emotions of the actors on screen in lieu of dialogue. But as film (and the film industry) moved into 1927 – film technology began to advance and recorded dialogue and sound synchronization became the way of the future as theaters began swapping out orchestras for speakers. But should theaters bring live music back to the movie going experience? We say yes.

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20th Century Fox

This week is the 25th anniversary of Cameron Crowe‘s first feature, Say Anything, and while he went on to direct three more fantastic films (plus one good one and two stinkers) this one holds a special place in many of our hearts. It’s a rare honest look at teenagers in and out of love, is eminently quotable and features a high number of memorable and possibly iconic scenes. A quarter of a century later and the film is more beloved than ever. The anniversary has led to a handful of editorials on the movie — our own Kate Erbland even had the nerve to question whether Lloyd and Diane were still together 25 years later! The responses were varied and highly pessimistic, but the truth is clear in Lloyd’s persistence and optimism and in Diane’s joy and satisfaction. You only have to watch the movie to know that the two are still living it up in London. The commentary on the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray of Say Anything features something I’ve never seen (or heard) before, and that’s a twenty minute introduction set against a slide show of b&w set photos. Crowe, John Cusack and Ione Skye start things off strong with their recollections on what brought each of them to the film. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Say Anything.

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Found footage dance films

In news that sounds as if it was ripped straight out of some kind of Movie Mad Libs, Deadline is reporting that R&B singer John Legend has teamed up with rising screenwriter star John Swetnam to make the world’s first found footage dance film. The film will be titled Breaking Through and is described as “a documentary-style dance drama for the YouTube generation.” In addition to producing the film alongside Legend, Swetnam will also pen the feature and helm it, making it his feature directorial debut. As random as the news may sound, Swetnam’s still-growing resume is actually evidence of his interest in both subgenres – he’s got a pair of found-footage-heavy features in the can (Evidence, which was based on his short of the same name, along with the natural disaster found footage feature Into the Storm, which arrives in August) and a dance film with a beloved pedigree on the way (he wrote the fifth Step Up film, Step Up: All In, which will hit theaters in July). If anyone can make a found footage dance film, Swetnam sure sounds like the right guy, and he’s certainly got the heat on his name to make it happen. Also? It’s high time that found footage expanded out into other subgenres, and this new one (call it found FOOTage and then pretend I never said that) is just the next step in popcorn cinema progression.

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Joe-Berlinger-Crude

With Earth Day coming up next week, it’s the time of year to highlight documentaries dealing with our planet and its well-being. In other words, we’ve got environmentalism films to recommend. For our first list devoted to this theme, I’m interested specifically in the low points, the damage that’s been done to the earth, some of it ongoing and some of it remedied. These docs look at disasters like pollution, oil spills, changes to eco-systems and more. And they aren’t all necessarily issue films devoted to making a difference. Most are simply a look at what’s been done. All are necessary works to remind us, maybe affect us, but also to stimulate us in other ways, too. Below are 12 nonfiction features — a few of them Oscar nominees and a couple of them outright masterpieces — from Werner Herzog, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Noriaka Tsuchimoto, Joe Berlinger, Ken Burns and other great filmmakers who know how to create a feeling in us, whether or not they’re also communicating direct information about these disasters. Where known and available, I’ve noted how you can watch each one. Before the Mountain Was Moved Robert K. Sharpe‘s Oscar-nominated 1970 feature is about the effects of strip mining in West Virginia. The primary focus is on the people living in an area where private homes are being damaged by the mountain top removal process and their attempt to either sue the coal company or at least get them to stop being “bad strippers.” It’s […]

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is a week of cinematic imagination. Tuesday brought the arrival of Ben Stiller’s journeying remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and this Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since Joel and Clementine raced through his mind trying to hide in memories and avoid permanent erasure. While that film strove to take something from the memory, there are countless films that strive to add to it, relishing in the many ways the imagination manifests, from a little girl’s fantastical journey into strength, to one man’s struggle to break out of a dream. Sadly, Figment isn’t taking us on this journey, but the imaginative movies that follow show the possibilities of the mind – as a childish pursuit, an adult coping mechanism, and a wonderfully idiosyncratic way of life.

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