Features

iZombie TV

Rob Thomas. Solving crimes. Petite, blonde sass factory. Who eats brains. If it weren’t for that pesky little cerebrophagia bit at the end, you might think this was an announcement for the return of Veronica Mars to television. Or that the Veronica Mars movie ended with a crazy twist you hadn’t heard about. Which might be cool, actually. At any rate, it’s the return of Thomas to television. This time it’s with iZombie, the story of a medical student/petite, blonde sass factory named Olivia (Rose McIver) who also solves murders by eating the brains of the victims. It’s one more in a long line of a zombie genre craze that has refused to wither away, but there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful that this show will help twist the undead into some new creative spaces.

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Going Clear Movie

It’s not that I don’t like Alex Gibney. The Oscar-winner has done yeoman’s work exploring modern problems so large that we tend to ignore them instead of face them head-on. He digs into the dirt, especially American dirt, that we’d rather not see on our own hands, and he does it all without the bombastic agenda sales of Michael Moore. All good things. My problem is that I’m not particularly interested in Scientology. Those who believe praise it wholesale, opponents claim that it’s responsible for murder, but overall it seems like another bit of antique hokum polished up with a Hollywood shine. As soon as you demand payment for having faith, my ears turn off. But consider them back on. After reading Kate’s review of Gibney’s new doc, Going Clear, based on Lawrence Wright’s book, she hooked me by talking about how unsettling it is. Then, we got an email from a spokesperson for Scientology, that sealed the deal on my wanting to see the anti-Scientology movie.

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Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo for Selma

When it comes to the Oscar nominations, critics and moviegoers alike tend to focus on the negatives, but at least the outrage this year has been about a snub of genuine importance. Upon its rapturous reception by critics and audiences, Selma figured to be nominated in all the major categories, but it ultimately received only a pair of nods – for Best Picture and Best Original Song (John Legend’s beautiful “Glory”) – that have left its supporters furious and bewildered. Oscar pundits have cited an amalgam of reasons one of the best-reviewed movies of the year received just two arguably token nominations – from its late release-date to a poorly-run campaign by Paramount – but everyone also seems to agree that the suspicious fact-checking campaign that emerged around its release date took a serious toll. In case you missed it, an historian and a former presidential staffer took to the op-ed pages over Christmas to complain that the film painted an unfairly antagonistic portrait of President Lyndon Johnson, who, they argue, was in reality very supportive of the film’s titular march. One of them even suggested that “Selma was LBJ’s idea.” The Hollywood trades reported on the controversy the following Monday, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was the day Oscar ballots went out. It would take a major suspension of disbelief to see this as anything but a very effective smear campaign run by a rival studio.

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Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

In 1973, the production company Kelly-Jordan Enterprises sought to fund a group of relatively inexpensive features, one being a blaxploitation vampire film in an attempt to reproduce the success of the previous year’s Blacula. When playwright Bill Gunn was initially pitched the idea, he balked, but later grew intrigued by the potential for using vampirism as a metaphor for addiction. Gunn’s film, Ganja & Hess, bore a uniquely elegiac dream structure, with its hypnotic images, arthouse sensibility, and cyclical music cues resembling something worlds away from William Marshall’s broadly comic take on Dracula. Concerned with themes of desire, self-destruction, and the tensions between cultural history and assimilation, Gunn created an image of black vampirism that refused to be a novelty or gimmick, manifested in a style of filmmaking that rejected token categorization. Baffled, the production company didn’t know what to do with Gunn’s film despite its positive reception at Cannes. Kelly-Jordan sold Ganja & Hess to a smaller distributor who cut it by more than half an hour, advertised its sex scenes, and rescored/redubbed its audio track until finally releasing the film on the grindhouse circuit under the title Blood Couple. The original cut was restored twenty-five years later through a combination of prints, and with new restorations, upgrades, and repertory screenings since, Gunn’s film has slowly gained a reputation as a truly singular work of African American filmmaking. Spike Lee’s remake, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, is a manifest tribute to a still-underseen film – another important “upgrade” that serves […]

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Henri Short Film

More than a tribute to the sci-fi films of the 1970s and 1980s, this short film from Eli Sasich takes on a life of its own by blending a sleek design and DIY effects with an emotional story focused on the naivete of a mechanical heart. In HENRi, the well-trod concept of floating solo through the darkness of space is injected into a spaceship — a self-aware AI that doesn’t seem to be all that aware. Voiced by 2001‘s Keir Dullea (in a clever meta move), the ship goes through its tasks “There Will Come Soft Rains” style until he begins creating a humanoid body for himself. Like the best sci-fi, it features a sweet vulnerability within unbending metal — a spirit in the machine. It also looks cool. Some shots look like they were gift wrapped from The Frame Store, others appear to have been done in someone’s basement, and while that sounds like it could be a bad combination, the end result here works wonders specifically because of the underlying childhood nature to its star. By the time Margot Kidder shows up (no kidding), the bigthink questions are swirling around, surrounding every action. What does it mean to build yourself? What does it mean to emulate a mind? What does it mean to come to the end of who you are? What does it mean to evolve? HENRi captures these questions with seriousness, not severity, and it’s a beautifully rich short film for doing so.

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Miramax

In the grand finale of our “Debut Films” series, Cargill and I don our black suits, gather at the Junkfood Diner, and discuss the cultural and cinematic impact of Quentin Tarantino‘s explosive first feature, Reservoir Dogs. QT didn’t simply hit the ground running with a smart, engaging neo-noir, he also helped jump-start an indie film revolution. The episode also diverts temporarily into a discussion about jalapeno sausage crazy, which is both apropos to Tarantino dialogue and pursuant to the core values of this podcast. Alright ramblers, ramble on over and download this week’s show. And hey, if you’d like to nominate Junkfood Cinema for a Podcast Award, you can do so via this link.  (Maybe the People’s Choice and/or Movies/Films categories why not?) You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema). Download Episode #41 Directly

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Gotham Welcome Back Jim Gordon

Did anyone else get a massive hit of deja vu from last night’s Gotham? I couldn’t shake that black cat in the Matrix feeling through the entirety of “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon.” And upon closer examination, there’s a very basic reason why: “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” may appear to be a shiny new Gotham, but it’s really just a Frankenstein’s monster of used Gotham plotlines, stapled together around the new (well, semi-new,  he popped up briefly last week) inclusion of Det. Arnold Flass (Dash Mihok). Here’s what Gotham gave us last night, and why it was so deja vu-like.

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Girls Female Author

Normally Kate and Rob would be discussing the finer points of this blunt episode of Girls, but since they’re at Sundance, I have the privilege, and because I don’t want to ruin the format of their feature, I’m going to have a conversation about the episode despite being only one person. Hopefully it gets confusing. Fortunately, “Female Author” was ridiculously straightforward. Jessa and Adam bonded over the coffee machine at AA, Marnie and Desi struggle with creative success and romantic failure, Hannah becomes the truth-teller of her writing workshop and Shoshana goes through a completely unnecessary job interview. Overall, it felt like a filler episode, catching up with everyone in transition without showing any great action — granted, the show has dealt fairly casually even with the aftermath of large dramatic swings, too, but this episode felt especially like it was coasting. That’s not automatically a bad thing, especially for a show that doesn’t often catch its own breath, but let’s get to the conversation.

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Punisher Daredevil

This past weekend, I stepped into American Sniper prepared to enter a battleground of political ideologies. Here is a film that has been depicted as both pro- and anti-war, that has rallied conservatives and liberals to its cause and also attracted shots from each side. As a result, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was going to like American Sniper; any film that could polarize the two sides of an argument must be more politically ambiguous than its opponents—and supporters—would have you believe. So imagine my surprise when the film not only made part of its perspective on Chris Kyle explicitly clear but also tagged the majority of its scenes with a helpful visual reference. The Punisher, a vigilante from the Marvel universe who assassinates criminals, is everywhere in American Sniper.

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Warner Bros.

Through editorials and online chatter, we seem to be struggling to talk about American Sniper in a meaningful way, deciding instead to divide into Team A and Team B before launching empty words back and forth. It’s a political movie, yes, but it’s vitally important that we remain able to discuss political movies without succumbing to conversation-ending blather. This week, Geoff and I will discuss the great need for art to stay uninfected by the corrosive divisiveness that is modern political discourse. We’ll also dissect a handful of amazing, inspiring (and disheartening) movie speeches and answer a listener screenwriting question about what goes into a shooting script. You’ll want to wear a helmet for this one. You should follow the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis. Please review us on iTunes Download Episode #84 Directly Or subscribe through iTunes

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Sundance 2015

If you’re attending the Sundance Film Festival (or just paying attention to excellent coverage of the festival, much like you would find right here at Film School Rejects, cough cough), you’re most likely looking for new projects, people, and productions to get excited about. Sundance may (somewhat bizarrely, when you really think about it) take place in the dead of winter in a tiny town mostly dedicated to ski tourism, but that early jump on the festival year allows the fest to set the tone for the rest of the year. This is the place you come to when you want to see something new, and this year looks poised to deliver that, in spades. Sundance has often played home to the breakout roles of big stars (hello, Jennifer Lawrence), and although finding the next big talent is mostly a guessing game, fingers-crossing adventure, we’ve got some idea as to who just might emerge from ten days at Park City a bonafide star. Take a look:

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Beetlejuice Video Game

Most video game adaptations make some sort of sense. Like a game based on a kids’ movie, or a popular action franchise, or something like that. Hell, in the 1980s, they made pretty much anything into a video game just to see what stuck. But there are some movie-based video games that don’t make sense under any circumstance. Even ones from the anything-goes 80s. Trying to figure out how some of these went bizarrely from the big screen to console is like staring into the eye of madness. Someone, somewhere, said, “Yes, we should totally make a video game out of…”

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Public Enemies

Johnny Depp‘s latest movie, Mortdecai, is hitting theaters this weekend, and by all accounts it’s horrifically unenjoyable. Which you probably could have guessed. The trailer, the goggly-eyed posters and, hell, even the title with its superfluous T all pointed to self-parody without self-awareness. It shows Depp at his most rubbery, trying so damned hard to make a mustache wink that you could almost see him panting. That’s our consistent vision of the actor now, at least. A caricature who loves putting on funny hats or facial hair and acting absurd despite the silence coming from the crowd. In a way, that persona feels new, with every thinkpiece written about him tilting reverently toward a time in recent history when he wasn’t so desperate and cartoonish. When we loved him. When he was great. So I started wondering how long that’s actually been going on, which led me to question what his last truly great movie was. The process was a little discouraging.

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71

The best part of any film festival is the possibility of discovery, of finding not just a new film, but a new director or star or entire genre that you can love, champion, and talk about (perhaps a smidge too much) for months (or years) to come. That’s no different at Sundance, which consistently debuts an upwards of one hundred new films each year. As the calendar year’s first major film festival, Sundance has the honor of debuting a giant slice of the year’s cinematic pie — and last year’s festival just might have bowed the film that will ultimately go on to win Best Picture — but that doesn’t keep Sundance from recognizing other great films from previous festivals. In fact, the festival has an entire section dedicated to such films, Spotlight, which the fest describes as: “regardless of where these films have played throughout the world, the Spotlight program is a tribute to the cinema we love.” It should come as little surprise that the features that round out the Spotlight section include some of the year’s very best (still unreleased) festival titles. This year’s Spotlight section includes nine titles, five of which we’ve already seen and can recommend to you whole-heartedly (well, except for one, but that’s just Rob Hunter’s vicious critical mind speaking). Sundance might be about discovery, but if you’re looking for a sure thing, these are your best bets.

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Art by Derek Bacon

For anyone who has never attended, the Sundance Film Festival might live somewhere in the abstract realms of the yearly film calendar. In a calendar year, the average American moviegoer may only see 2-3 movies in a theater. Many of them might not be too concerned with a bunch of critics and bloggers who descend upon a ski town in Utah every January to consume 40+ movies in the span of 9 days, many of which will never make it to the local cineplex. If you’re not part of the film industry or don’t aspire to become part of the industry, why care about what movies are playing at Sundance? You should absolutely care. This list is out to prove that. Not because the most audacious blockbusters premiere at Sundance (they don’t) or because massive stars are all over Sundance (they usually reserve that for the red carpet at Cannes) or because all of the major Oscar bait will play there (that’s what the Toronto Film Festival is for). You should care because Sundance is where the careers of many of your favorite filmmakers were born. In going back over the 37 year history of the festival (which began as the Utah/US Film Festival in 1978), our editorial team couldn’t help but notice that so many great filmmakers have made their name in and around Park City, Utah. Many of them have made our list, which counts down the best that Sundance has delivered in its long and illustrious run […]

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Warner Bros.

When American Sniper was released in a few theaters in New York and L.A. last month, it seemed like no one gave it a second thought. Critics were mixed on it, and the mainstream media largely ignored it. Boy, a lot has changed. Now that the Clint Eastwood-directed Iraq War story has been nominated for six Oscars and is on its way being one of the top-grossing movies of the year, it is no longer a film to ignore. It has become a prize for Democrats and Republicans to fight over. Conservatives hail its success as a rebuke to a left-leaning Hollywood that has, in their view, rejected movies that are sympathetic to the military. Meanwhile, liberal commentators are doing their best to expose the film’s propagandistic intent, arguing the inherent pro-war message of an Iraq War film that doesn’t bother to question the reasons America invaded in the first place. So who’s right?

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American Sniper Fake Baby

Imagine that you’re making a movie, and the baby you’ve arranged to be on set for half the day has a fever. No problem, right? You have a backup baby (and producers who plan ahead). Only, your backup baby isn’t available either. You are babyless. What do you do? If you’re Clint Eastwood, you grab the closest piece of plastic you can find in the cabbage patch. American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall explained that they used the absurd baby doll because one infant was sick and the other didn’t show (prima donna), and while it’s appropriately being mocked, it also provides a great lesson about bad solutions to production day problems. This may be what a no-budget production has to deal with, but American Sniper is an Oscar nominee with a $60m budget. How could something like this get through? Most likely the American Sniper fake baby is the result of the Eastwood Laziness Problem that also often sees the first take as the only one worth shooting. Even so, it’s baffling that — in a universe where Marvel got all of the Avengers back together for shawarma and pick-up shots are the norm — a movie like this couldn’t have fixed this scene. Or, better yet, fixed it on the day. To be fair, not having the baby you expected is a problem, but there have got to be better solutions (even on-the-fly) than sending a PA to Toys ‘R’ Us on the double. How vital was it to see the baby […]

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Middle of Nowhere

Ava DuVernay does not possess a romantic view of filmmaking or the film industry. The former publicist admits to never having considered filmmaking as a career growing up and did not make her first short film “until” her early 30s. In the ten years since, she’s helmed a bevy of projects including impressive and underrated dramatic indie features like Middle of Nowhere and I Will Follow, documentaries on subjects ranging from hip-hop to Venus Williams, numerous shorts, and even an episode of Scandal. And as the director of the magnificent Selma, she’s reached a level of recognition that’s rarely permitted to women filmmakers of color, even despite the Academy’s embarrassing Best Director snub. Selma has created a platform of renewed attention toward DuVernay’s earlier narrative features, recently made available on disc and streaming. These films together paint the picture of a confident, incisive, and elegant filmmaking style never satisfied to reside in any prescribed box that so often relegates the work of African American filmmakers. Listening to and reading DuVernay speak in interviews, it’s clear that filmmaking was never an inevitable path. Thus, none of her films are a missed opportunity. She works from deep understanding and insight as to what films have done with her subjects of interest before, and thereby pursues complex, underrepresented perspectives and stories as a result, from the wife of a convict to the on-the-ground strategies of a Civil Rights leader. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from FSR’s […]

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Confusion Through Sand Short Film

With its violently kinetic camera moves and expressionistic suggestions of chaos, Confusion Through Sand is one of the best short films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a stab at traditional animation that feels anything but traditional. It also manages to capture the fog of war in a way that’s as beautiful as it is disarming. The story follows boots on the ground as they hunt an unseen target and become targets themselves, lost in a maze of squat buildings and a field of vision blurred by beige. Writer/director Danny Madden has crafted a walled-in experience marked by sharp, punctuated sound design and a dangerous environment we can’t entirely see. The short played at SXSW, won a few other festivals and is now playing on PBS. It’s a fantastic short film that deserves all the exposure it can get, and I was surprised to see Madden’s name because of how familiar it looked. After plugging into IMDB, I realized he’d also directed the inventive coming-of-age story Euphonia, which goes even crazier with sound design. So, Confusion Through Sand is an outstanding bit of experiential storytelling, but maybe the most exciting thing about it is the future facing the name behind it. The more work Madden can make, the better. Speaking of which, check out the video of how they made Confusion Through Sand to be even more impressed.

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Amazon Original Movies

Surprisingly not content to simply craft original material for the small (computer) screen, Amazon is now jumping into the cinematic fray. As our own Chris Campbell reported yesterday, the online retailer is expanding their programming options to include original films, which will play in both theaters and via their own streaming platform. The newly launched Amazon Original Movies will both produce and acquire new features, all expected to fall in the “indie” (bahahah) budget range of $5M to $25M each. Amazon Original Movies is expected to start production on their first batch of films this year — and with Sundance coming up in mere hours, we wouldn’t be surprised if the AOM crew showed up in Park City to do some acquiring of new films — and although we don’t yet know what sort of features to expect from the new mini-studio, we might be able to take a guess, at least based on some of the directors the company is already in bed with (hey, it’s a new world, let’s get a little scandalous).

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published: 01.29.2015
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