Features

Rocky

Ashe never got to see a ton of modern classics from his youth, so we’re making him watch them all as a nostalgia-less adult. Check out the inaugural article for more info. To be fair, I have seen a Rocky movie, just not the original. I, like many human adults, have seen Rocky IV, because I’m pretty sure it was part of the school curriculum back during the Cold War. In it, Rocky’s already a beloved hero, he and Apollo are friends, Adrian is his devoted wife, and Paulie is… Paulie. Rocky trains hard and beats Russia and wins their filthy communist love. It’s not exactly high cinema, but it was a staple of 80’s film.

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the purge

Waking up in today’s world has become more and more depressing. Even before I roll out of bed, I will usually grab my phone and settle into a morning routine of checking email and social media. Unfortunately, the latter has become less about socially interacting and more about sharing awful stories of the human condition. Before I manage to brush my teeth, I’m bombarded with news stories and links about terrible things that people do to each other. My Facebook feed is quickly becoming a giant international police blotter. With all the injustices in the world going on, it makes me wonder if there’s something we could do about it. I recently re-watched The Purge and also saw its sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, this past summer. Aside from there being 12 hours of hell to deal with once a year, the series’ titular event — an annual night of anything goes — seemed to be working for the people in the movies. That got me thinking: with crime seemingly spiraling out of control, would a real-life Purge really work?

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Denzel Washington in The Equalizer

Denzel Washington has never done a sequel. That has to be extremely rare for an actor of his caliber, especially one who does his share of popular action movies. But the projects he chooses, even those of a genre prone to franchises, tend not to lend themselves to sequels. Maybe there could be an Unstoppable 2 or a Deja Vu All Over Again or another tale involving one of his many detective characters, but there’s apparently been no interest. Inside Man was supposed to spawn a follow-up, but that was canceled. Now we’re about to find out if Washington’s latest hit, The Equalizer, will give him his first movie series. The Equalizer 2 has actually been in development for a while, but so far the actor hasn’t signed on. The sequel likely won’t go forward without him, so let’s just assume he will be on board in order to imagine what’s next for Robert McCall. As far as I can tell, by the end of the first movie, McCall seems to have killed everybody who has anything do with the Russian mafia and their prostitution trade. Probably not, but let’s suppose that’s the case. We don’t need a sequel that has anything to do with that storyline. No additional Russian criminals going after McCall as revenge, no loose ends, no more bad guys up the ladder of business with a link to the one teen prostitute who he decided to care about. The Equalizer is based on a TV series where every week […]

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Blade Runner

Some movies, no matter how old they are, never age a day. Their situations and themes remain as relevant now as when they were first released. Watching them today, they reflect and comment on our present in ways they couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Every month we’re going to pick a movie from the past that does just that, and explore what it has to say about the here and now. Blade Runner is 1980s cinema in all its glory: moody sci-fi, shoulder pads, the hairstyles, the synth score. But none of those things—rightfully—have ever held the 30-year-old film back from remaining a classic. It’s still a beautifully designed neo-noir, as entrancing visually as it is narratively. Like much of Philip K. Dick’s work (even if it is loosely adapted here), Blade Runner is also becoming increasingly more relevant—especially technologically—practically every passing minute. Here’s five ways it’s 2019 world is synching with our 2014 one.

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XYZ Films

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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Laika Studios

Laika is an animation studio in the ascendant. Both Coraline and ParaNorman, their first two features, were financially successful Oscar nominees. It would be shocking if The Boxtrolls didn’t follow suit, on both counts. The intricate detail of their animation is often witty, warm and breathtaking all in the same moment. No frame is left empty or drab, no opportunity for creativity left behind. That all of this is done using 3D stop-motion makes it seem all the more artful. This is not to say that what Pixar does on computers is any less creative than what Laika does with physical sets and models, but there is certainly a difference in the way the audience relates to the work. Pixar mimics the real world in many cases, focusing on the exact rendering of Princess Merida’s hair in Brave rather than venturing into abstraction. Laika creates universes that enchant through their artifice, rather than in spite of it. Besides, it wouldn’t be too controversial a position to state that all three of Laika’s films are better than all of the last three Pixar features. All of that said, take a second and imagine what a Laika film would be like if it were made using computer animation instead of stop-motion. At one point they were planning on a CG feature called Jack & Ben’s Animated Adventure but it was dropped in 2008 in the context of a major layoff of the company’s employees. When they were founded, all the way back in 2005, it wasn’t clear that stop-motion would become the primary product. At that point […]

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Danny Pink in Doctor Who the Caretaker

Doctor Who has always been a writer’s show. The opening credit emphasizing the author of each episode is our constant reminder, but we still might take that for granted. There are a lot of names who’ve written adventures for the Doctor and his companions, and they’re not most of them household names, nor are all of them consistent in their quality or genre. The two most recent episodes, however, need to have their authors acknowledged for different reasons. Last week, it had to be said that Steve Thompson is always boring. This week, with “The Caretaker,” Gareth Roberts has to be recognized as being a wonderfully clever yet down-to-earth voice who has been greatly missed for the past few years. Maybe it’s because he’s been writing Doctor Who stories, originally in novel form, since the early 1990s, but he just seems to get it. There is a lot going on in “The Caretaker,” but this isn’t immediately apparent. Well, there’s a good deal of plot, what with the whole triangular rom-com situation going on between Clara (Jenna Coleman), Danny (Samuel Anderson) and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) while also there’s a threat to the planet occurring coincidentally near and then in the school where the former two work. But this is not a plot-centric episode. Even the relationship stuff is just a vehicle for deeper levels, giving us more to chew on regarding the Doctor and Danny than the Doctor and Clara. Actually, no, strike that, because the very end of the episode is very important, […]

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arnold-schwarzenegger-commando

If you’re never seen the TV series of The Equalizer, the movie probably won’t inspire you to seek it out. Well, maybe for some of the before-they-were-stars guest appearances, including Steve Buscemi (a clip of that one was recently seen in The Wolf of Wall Street) and Melissa Leo, who is now in the movie adaptation. And maybe the episode where Adam Ant plays the villain. For the premise itself, though, it’s not that tight of a link. The show and its theatrical successor aren’t especially distinct, and there are as or more relevant movies that just don’t share the name so aren’t as obvious necessary predecessors. Fortunately, here’s another installment of our column where we recommend movies to go back and watch after seeing a lesser new release. Not that all the selected titles are truly better movies, but of course that’s all subjective. What’s important is that they’re either somehow related or are necessary classics or both. This week, we have a couple of movies for which The Equalizer feels like a sequel (is this where I get to make a “Sequalizer” joke?), a few that are thematically similar or feature notable parallels, a few that are sort of referenced in the new movie and as always some that are earlier works of talent involved in the current release. The following list alludes to plot points in The Equalizer and therefore may include spoilers. Read on after you’ve seen the new movie or just don’t care.

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Sabine Films

This is another Doc Option that requires a “yes I’m serious” disclaimer. How, you may ask, can a documentary about a WWII-era social program that rescued Jewish children from Nazi Germany possibly be compared to a whimsical stop-motion animated film about cute trolls that wear boxes? All shall be explained! The Boxtrolls is a delightful romp, and in addition to engaging any child who sees it, the movie will gently introduce them to certain darker truths about the world. Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport can then help them understand those truths as they apply to real life. The story of The Boxtrolls focuses on the struggle of the eponymous race of creatures to survive while human exterminators are trying to hunt them all down. These villains use propaganda to demonize the boxtrolls so that the common people solicit their efforts. They round up the boxtrolls and put them to heavy labor in a factory. And their ultimate goal is to destroy all the boxtrolls en masse. The movie is, essentially, a beat-for-beat primer on how pogroms against minorities are born and enacted, even if that isn’t evident to any kid who doesn’t know their historical context. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Ben Affleck in Gone Girl

Doesn’t it feel like we just finished up covering the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest? Well, it should, because we did, but that’s festival season for you, and now we’ve got a whole other festival (in a whole other city) to get to work on. This year’s New York Film Festival (the fifty-second!) kicks off later tonight with the world premiere of David Fincher‘s Gone Girl (side note: we cannot wait), followed by a hefty number of hyped and highly anticipated features. This year’s festival boasts a solid mix of festival favorites — Whiplash! Pasolini! – and some brand new stuff that’s yet to rock audiences — Inherent Vice! CitizenFour! – all combining into one hell of a fun slate that should quite easily send its attendees into Oscar time feeling quite prepared. Festival season is here, and here’s what we can’t wait to see at this year’s NYFF.

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Warner Bros.

“It wasn’t as good as the book.” That old refrain comes up with just about any film adaptation, and for good reason. (You know, because it’s usually true.) Books have all the time in the world to tell their story. 200 pages? A bit short, but no biggie. 1,200 pages? Okay, George R. R. Martin, but only because we like Tyrion so dang much. Books aren’t a visual medium and can use your imagination how they see fit. Books don’t have a budget. Books can easily get a character’s internal perspective. But sometimes the unlikely happens and the film is just as good as the book. And sometimes a miracle happens and it’s even better.

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Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM

Trolls aren’t real, despite what some road signs in Norway might lead you to believe. They are mythological creatures in the stories of Norse folklore and fairy tales (such as “Three Billy Goats Gruff”) and stage plays featuring orchestral scores that are overused in movies, especially documentaries (“Peer Gynt”). Some of their origin comes through the telling of tall tales to explain geological formations around Scandinavia. Traditionally they’re gargantuan monsters who could be turned into mountains when exposed to sunlight. Other times they might be more human-size, because as with a lot of ancient, orally forwarded narratives, those of the trolls have changed organically over centuries. They could be any size, really, but one common trait they’ve all shared is that they’re ugly. In the movies, in particular, they’re a varied beast. Unlike easily defined mythological beings such as fairies and dwarves and vampires and dragons, trolls are often mistaken or deemed interchangeable with anything from ogres to goblins to giants and more. Movies and television perpetuate the idea of variety when it comes to these creatures, expanding their categorization far beyond their already broad definition. The latest to give another interpretation is The Boxtrolls, in which the title monsters are a sub-species of troll who are smaller than humans and work in tunnels and live in cardboard boxes. Thanks to adaptations of comic books based on Norse mythology and translations of classic fantasy novels and horror movies with inaccurate titles, there are tons of different looks to trolls on the big screen. Below […]

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Secretary

This past Sunday, Leonard Cohen, the poet and singer songwriter with the beautiful baritone voice sandpapered by time, “about 500 tons of whiskey, and millions of cigarettes,” turned 80. A day later, he released his thirteenth studio album (Popular Problems), 47 years after his first. Nearly half a century since he sung about Suzanne, Cohen’s career has been beautifully long, spanning vastly different worlds, and evolving through the years without being felled by the indecipherable mumbles of his contemporary, Bob Dylan. His poetic lyrics ruminate on everything from love and passion to religion and politics, sold through the man in the suit and fedora, but extending far beyond his shadow’s reach, especially in the realms of cinema. Where other artists enjoy surges and disappearances, their music only returned to when the passage of time makes then wildly affordable, Cohen’s presence in film has been almost constant, spanning everything from silent foreign films to bloody Hollywood blockbusters. It’s music and sentiments that might seem straightforward superficially, yet have an uncanny knack of seamlessly sliding into any scenario it faces, regardless of the format or generation. What follows are eight of the best uses of his work in film – one for every decade of his poetic life. (And let us never speak of sex scenes inside of owl ships.)

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Coraline

Stop-motion animation is a dying art of cinema. Fortunately, the good folks at Laika have been keeping the artistry alive for years. The Boxtrolls is their latest selection to come to theaters, but the process started with Coraline in 2009 and then ParaNorman in 2012. While these movies have not been a mega-money-makers that we see with the Pixar and DreamWorks films, Laika’s films have made enough money to justify making more of the movies, and that’s a great thing for cinema. Coraline, based on Neil Gaiman’s visionary book, started the Laika ball rolling, and at the helm was The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick. For the 2009 Blu-ray and DVD release of the film, Selick sat down to talk over the film and give some personal insight. Composer Bruno Coulais is also listed as one of the commentators, and he does show up over the final credits to talk about the music, but almost the entirety of the film features Selick’s commentary. This is where pretty much all the relevant information comes from.

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The Zero Theorem

Warning: This article is best read after having seen all the films in the title. Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem is widely considered both an extension and revisitation of the dystopian themes the director so spectacularly explored in Brazil. Gilliam’s newest has even been categorized as a third part of a trilogy of dystopian science fiction satires – or, in Gilliam’s words, “Orwellian triptych” – following Brazil and 12 Monkeys. While Gilliam in interviews resists notions of a planned trilogy portraying future systems of control over almost thirty years, the Orwellian triptych carries remarkable similarities beyond these films’ driving conceits and Gilliam’s signature wide angles. The films of this trilogy portray individuals attempting to find truth and meaning beyond the dehumanizing systems in which they live, yet each protagonist is overcome by a sort-of predetermined fate and ultimately victimized by the alienating forces of technology. But the films of this trilogy are as notable for their stark differences as they are their similarities, and The Zero Theorem finds Gilliam fashioning his most discomfitingly ambiguous funhouse mirror of our present future yet.

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Vince Vaughn

The latest news in the wacky world of True Detective may not have come to us care of the Colin Farrell Gazette (the paper of record, duh), but it’s still official enough to send fans (and foes) of the HBO series into a major tizzy. Everyone, calm down. Let’s talk about this. HBO (via ComingSoon) has announced that, yes, Farrell is on board to star in the series’ second season, as is Vince Vaughn, who has long been rumored to take on one of four leading roles in the next installment of the deep, dark detective drama. The breaking of this news has apparently sent literally thousands of Twitter users into a downward spiral of guilt, blame and fear (at least, by our count) — which is weird, because the series hasn’t even completed half of its casting. Put the towels down, guys, let’s not throw them in just yet.

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William Greaves

If there are two words that describe public appreciation of William Greaves, they would be “belated” and “lacking.” The film Greaves is best known for, 1971’s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, didn’t see an official theatrical release until thirty years after its completion (thanks in part to the support of Steve Buscemi and Steven Soderbergh). When Greaves passed away last month at the age of 87, he left behind an amazing body of work, having produced and directed dozens of documentaries. Yet even amongst this country’s underrepresented class of African American filmmakers, Greaves’ contributions remain overlooked. It is no exaggeration to say that media gatekeepers have been wary of Greaves’ work. Greaves decided at an early age not to be relegated by Hollywood’s single-minded understanding of blackness and the lack of creative opportunities it permits for persons of color. Greaves used these limitations as the lifeblood of his work, challenging political, institutional, and aesthetic boundaries. One look at Symbiopsychotaxiplasm explains, but does not justify, its delayed release: this is the work of his filmmaker ahead of his time, and one with no patience for conventional approaches to filmmaking. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from an essential American filmmaker.

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Neil Armstrong Portrayed in Transformers 3

Among the criticisms I’ve seen of Gotham, the new Fox series set in a pre-Batman Gotham City, is that it opens with an event we’ve already seen too many times on TV and in movies — the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, complete with pearls flying about in slow motion. But it’s an iconic scene, isn’t it? That starting point to the origin of the Caped Crusader is almost as much a part of pop culture as the Apollo 11 Moon landing. And the latter has been been replicated on screen a lot more times. I guess the fictional event could be reworked, though, even if it might upset some fans. The Moon landing, though it’s often shown to be a hoax of some kind or another, is for the most part an unchangeable scene. That’s why it’s more remarkable that nobody seems to get tired of it. “They could make a thousand movies about the Apollo space missions and I would be right there on opening night for every single one of them,” wrote FSR publisher Neil Miller more than six years ago, when a Neil Armstrong biopic was announced at Universal with Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy) scripting the film based on James R. Hansen’s book “First Man.” Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the project has resurfaced at the studio with Whiplash filmmaker Damien Chazelle likely to helm from an adapted screenplay by Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate). In the time between our first hearing about the biopic and now, Armstrong […]

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MondoCon_logo

If you’re putting on a film festival in Austin, Texas, you can’t just be a film festival. In order to capture the attention of the tech-friendly, music-loving, attention deficit-inflicted audiences of Central Texas’ cultural oasis, you have to be more than a one-trick pony. Take, for example, South by Southwest. It’s film, music and interactive conferences that could all exist on a large scale by themselves. Even Austin Film Festival, the most specifically named of all yearly events, is known for being both a film festival and a screenwriting conference. This is something Fantastic Fest has known for a while. Beginning as simply a great genre film festival, the Alamo Drafthouse’s signature yearly event has slowly but surely expanded to meet the needs of a diverse audience. A few years back they launched Fantastic Arcade, an excellent diversion for filmgoers and a must-see for fans of the independent gaming arena. This year, Fantastic Fest expanded even further, spinning off Drafthouse’s popular boutique art division to create MondoCon: a celebration of art direction, movie posters and cult favorites. And while it may be the third leg of Fantastic Fest’s ever-growing empire, it certainly held its own. It also got us drunk.

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Banksy-in-Exit-Through-the-Gift-Shop

Documentary cinema has a lot of stories about the art world. It’s not surprising, really. Readings or lectures about art can be tedious to the average viewer, and fiction film often has trouble jazzing up the subject, but the standard model of doc filmmaking is ideal for conveying facts and concepts while keeping the audience engaged. Still, such films usually struggle to attract an audience, and it’s not hard to figure out why — art is usually seen as a stodgy field, fit only for snobs. And given how deep the ties run between fine art and the whims of the upper class, this is not an entirely unreasonable stereotype. This makes it particularly funny when someone comes along to upset the fruit cart. Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman‘s new film, Art and Craft, demonstrates what happened when museums discovered one forger who only donated and never sold his fakes. In that spirit of rabble-rousing, here are a few more that come in a similar vein. These are films that refuse to play by the art world’s rules. In one way or another (and sometimes unintentionally!), they lay bare the eccentricities and hypocrisies that fuel this sheltered sphere of rich collectors and stodgy institutions. F for Fake (1974) One of Orson Welles‘s last projects, this freewheeling cinematic essay starts as an interrogation of famed forger Elmyr de Hory‘s career before spiraling off into various explorations of the nature of art and authenticity. Welles is keeping company with a host of other “fakers,” mainly his fellow actors […]

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