Features

Chaz and Roger in Life Itself

We’re halfway through the year, which means there are still a few months left before any movies start looking like Best Picture contenders. But it also means that we’ve already heard about most of the nominees for Best Documentary Feature of 2014. Those nominees won’t be announced until January 15th. The shortlist won’t even arrive until November or December. Yet at this point in the year, with most of the relevant film festivals out of the way, there are titles that are easily seen as frontrunners. One of these, though, is racing way ahead of the competition. According to many in the doc community, a particular film opening this Friday is a definite lock for the Oscar: the Roger Ebert profile Life Itself. It is indeed really great, surely one of the best works of nonfiction this year (see my five star review at Nonfics), but that’s not the only reason it has the race won already. It’s not really the main reason, either. Those I’ve heard from on this matter state the primary factor as being its appeal and connection to the Academy voters. “Every member who received a good review from Roger is going to pick Life Itself,” said Adam Benzine of Realscreen. I don’t know if that’s the safest bet, but there is the fact that Ebert was a huge supporter of documentary filmmakers, including some influential figures in the documentary branch of the Academy. Life Itself features a couple of them, as well as Martin Scorsese, who […]

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Under Siege

This week, Cargill and I are walking on, walking on broken glass. That is to say we are treading dangerously over the broken shards of Die Hard ripoffs. John McClane not only made trouble for Hans Gruber, he distinctly altered the course of action cinema for years to follow. Brian gives his Slop 10 of “Die Hardlies” while Cargill…well…grimaces mostly. You may or may not believe which films make the cut. You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema). Download Episode #17 Directly

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The Rover Movie

The Rover opens with a man at the end of his rope. Eric (Guy Pearce) has nothing. Except for his car. Naturally, when Eric steps out of his vehicle to grab a drink, it’s stolen by a group of bandits, and for the first time in a while, Eric has a purpose: get his car back. It’s deliberate in its simplistic structure, but sweating from point A to point B is only the surface of director David Michôd‘s layered second feature film. It’s a lean movie compared to Michôd’s directorial debut Animal Kingdom, and that was by design. “I wanted to make something much more elemental and an intensely intimate about a small number of characters in vast and empty landscape,” Michôd tells us, reflecting on The Rover‘s stiflingly hot environments while sitting in the air conditioned meeting room of the Four Seasons Hotel. “I love the idea of making a movie that would work in a similar tonal world as Animal Kingdom, but be of a different form.” But Animal Kingdom and The Rover are kindred spirits in more ways than tone. Both films focus on introverts facing an internal struggle within the framework of the more obvious, more aggressive external threat. However, this time around Michôd’s lead is far less passive, stopping at nothing until he retrieves his property. At the center of this “dark fable that plays by slightly different rules,” Eric roams through a quasi-post-apocalyptic Australian desert. Who Eric was before the economic collapse is mostly a mystery, but the man in his mid-40s was never an enigma to Michôd. “He’s old enough to remember […]

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Sarah Polley in

A big new chunk of movies gets added to Netflix every month—which is awesome—but with the constant glut of new content, how are you supposed to know which movies are worth your time and which are just going to force you to hit stop after twenty minutes? This column will give you a place to start. I had to hit stop on a lot of bad movies in order to get this list together, so you owe me. Without further ado, here are 18 good movies to stream that were recently added to Netflix’s Watch-It-Right-This-Second service and should keep you entertained from start to finish. As always, click on the films’ titles in order to be taken to their Netflix page, where you can add them to your My List. Pick of the Month: Stories We Tell (2012) Stories We Tell is a documentary from director Sarah Polley that’s largely about Sarah Polley. Or, it’s about her origins, at least. Okay, a lot of it is about her mom, and how it came to be that Polley’s parentage became a point of contention among her older siblings. Is her dad really her dad, or might it have been this other guy? What kind of a life did her mother lead for this to even be a question? How does Polley herself feel about the ambiguity, and how would her relationship with her father change if she found out they weren’t biologically linked? This movie attacks the situation from a lot of angles, […]

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discs OPERATION PETTICOAT

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Operation Petticoat The USS Sea Tiger has seen better days as a Navy sub during World War II, but it hasn’t seen any action. Commander Sherman (Cary Grant) would like the chance to rectify that before the boat is sent to a watery grave, and with the help of a shifty junior officer (Tony Curtis) he sets out to give the Sea Tiger one last shot at glory. Who knew it would come with an assist from five Army nurses in need of a lift? This 1959 comedy classic has been on my list of shame for far too long so it was great to not only finally see it but also to discover just how fantastic it truly is. Grant is as charming as ever here playing a wonderful combination of suave and frazzled as he deals with one catastrophe after another, and the whole supporting cast reciprocates with energetic performances and top notch comic timing and delivery. It’s a subtler comedy than director Blake Edwards would go on to make, but it’s also one of his best. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

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Memento Movie

We can learn a lot from the movies. Of course, sometimes what we learn has no basis in reality. For example, lawyers should not take their cross-examination techniques from Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, and doctors shouldn’t be too quick to use a defibrillator as demonstrated in… well… pretty much every medical drama ever made. Certain real-life afflictions make excellent plot points in movies and television, and one of the biggest cliches that’s still used today is amnesia. Whether it’s Jason Bourne trying to get a hold of his past or a poor widower chasing down a man named John G., amnesia makes for a compelling story where we get to learn alongside a person who already knows the thing that they don’t know. But is movie amnesia realistic, or is it total crap?

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Mark Wahlberg in Age of Extinction

Nobody was waiting to see how Transformers: Age of Extinction performed before deciding to do a fifth movie. Paramount knew it would wind up with the best opening of 2014, even if they had to allegedly lie about just how much it earned. The studio had previously announced Transformers 5 would arrive in 2016, and although that too might be a lie, the point is that it will be made. The question is, what more is there to do with the franchise? Could Chicago take a third beating? Will Mark Wahlberg return, and will his character, Cade Yeager, be able to continue being humorously amazed at finding Transformers and infinite-ammo space guns and other alien technology he wants to hypocritically steal and patent for himself? We aren’t even certain that Michael Bay is returning, though it is likely he’ll be back at the helm, more so if Paramount lets him do another “small” movie, a la Pain & Gain, beforehand. The problem for the studio would be that allowing Bay the passion project definitely means they’d be off track for an opening two years from now. If only there was a way for both sides to get what they want. Well, I think I have a solution for that compromise: Bay should make Transformers 5 his “small” movie.

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The Nest Short Film

Why Watch? Typically we think of David Cronenberg‘s movies as grotesquely challenging our relationship to our own bodies. Mention his name, and the expectations are chest vaginas and goopy ears falling off their owners — regardless of his clearly displayed versatility and drama mastery. That’s a major reason why I love his new short film The Nest. Without any makeup fx or visceral transformations, he manages a discomfiting atmosphere that uses suggestion and unknowns to poison our imaginations. With disarming minimalism, the movie focuses on a young woman who wants to get her left breast removed because insects are living in it. So, yeah, that’s a Cronenbergian synopsis right there. It’s constructed as an unflinching POV shot of the young woman, resting entirely on and proving wholly the powerful presence of Evelyne Brochu (who some will recognize from Orphan Black). Simply put, this is a dull film without her intensity and calm insanity (similar to another of Cronenberg’s modern shorts). She sells a delusion to the point that we’re left questioning whether her garage-set surgical consult is actually the right course of action for a human wasp’s nest. Or maybe the doctor (voiced coolly by Cronenberg) is a mad opportunist taking advantage of mental illness. Or maybe a dozen other things. We’re left pondering a lot of possibilities, but it seems clear that no matter the reality, what’s going to happen next will be terrible.

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Do the Right Thing

“Heroes, as far as I could then see, were white, and not merely because of the movies but because of the land in which I lived, of which movies were simply a reflection: I despised and feared those heroes because they did take vengeance into their own hands. They thought that vengeance was theirs to take. This difficult coin did not cease to spin. It had neither heads not tails: for what white people took into their hands could scarcely be called vengeance, it was something less and something more.” In his autobiographical essay on movies and American racism, “The Devil Finds Work,” James Baldwin discusses at length the absence of black subjectivity and the prominence of white heroism in the milieu of classical Hollywood in which he came of age. At one point in the essay, Baldwin states that he has seen no black persons that he knows in the movies. He does not mean that he has never seen black faces onscreen, but rather that he has never seen a black protagonist whose experiences honestly reflect his position, neither the “debasement” of Stephin Fetchit nor Sidney Poitier’s role in The Heat of the Night, the latter of which Baldwin refers to as conveying, yet refusing to confront, “the anguish of people trapped in a legend.” That legend forbade black characters from achieving anything resembling the vengeance that white characters so regularly found on American screens. While published thirteen years before the movie’s release, Baldwin’s reflections on American cinema are essential […]

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The Leftovers

There shouldn’t be any question that HBO’s latest much-watch series, the Damon Lindelof- and Tom Perrotta-created The Leftovers, is a feel-good affair, but let’s clarify things, just for good measure: this is not a feel-good affair. Based on Perrotta’s novel of the same name, the series (which premiered last night on the cable channel) picks up three years after two percent of the world’s population went – poof – up in totally metaphorical smoke. Two percent of the world, just gone, vanished, vamoosed, missing, possibly raptured (though the first episode of the series does, quite memorably, include a talking head news program that features a host that refuses to acknowledge the possibility that this was “the Rapture” or in any way a religious act), leaving behind the vast majority of the human population, all damaged in their own way. No, really damaged. The whole thing is black as night – The Leftovers isn’t witty like Election or biting like Little Children, Perrotta’s best known big screen adaptions – but it’s moving and unnerving in its own way. The show is mostly without levity or humor, and is often so self-serious as to feel a smidge too heavy-handed (mainly thanks to an overwrought and occasionally awkward score and a series of smash cuts that grate), but it’s still entertaining and very watchable – though binge watching seems particularly ill-advised. In fact, The Leftovers is a show that’s designed to not appeal to the binging masses, if only because it’s too damn […]

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summermovieprediction_week10

Welcome to week ten of our 2014 Summer Box-Office Challenge! Think of it as a summer-long contest for movie-lovers — you’ll make predictions and guesses as to which summer movies will rule the box-office each week, we award points and at the end of the contest the three top point-earners will each win a Blu-ray/DVD prize pack! First place will win ten (10) Blu-ray/DVD titles released throughout the coming summer, second place wins five (5) and third place wins two (2). We’ll have bonus questions each week as well to help bolster your point totals and keep you in the running. This week’s results were a forgone conclusion in the general sense, but the specifics are still up for debate. The studio itself is pegging Transformers: Age of Extinction at $100 million for this past weekend, but we shouldn’t be surprised if the actuals see that number drop some by this afternoon. We have a couple players who will would earn the “within a million” bonus if it holds up, so for that reason the top five players won’t be updated until later today. As for the actual bonus question — well, that will also have to wait for the actuals as Nothing Bad Can Happen isn’t even appearing on Box Office Mojo’s weekend estimates yet. [UPDATE: The actuals are in, and Transformers 4 made... $100m. The answer to the bonus question is "lower" as Nothing Bad Can Happen only opened to a $700 per theater average. Here are the current top five players.]

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Seinfeld 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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Olive 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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Rounders Oreos

In less than 300 days, writer/producer/director Brian Koppelman has delivered 300 screenwriting lessons, 6 seconds at a time. That’s a half hour of Vines that act as miniature cattle prods for anyone looking to have the creative section of their brain lit up. To celebrate the achievement, Brian joins me to explain what a beloved cookie has to do with the writing process, to describe the methods he uses to get unstuck, and to challenge a conventional way of thinking about “breaking into the business.” You should follow Brian (@briankoppelman), the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis. Please review us on iTunes Download Episode #64 Directly Or subscribe Through iTunes

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Madame Tutli Putli Short Film

The big movie this weekend is Snowpiercer! Okay, so it isn’t. The big movie this weekend is Transformers: Age of Extinction. However, you can’t watch the bulk of the old cartoons for free online, and what’s available is, frankly, terrible. The web series that Hasbro put out to accompany this recent batch of features, Cyber Missions, is staggeringly dull. Don’t waste your time. If you have Netflix streaming do yourself a favor and watch some of the original 1984-1987 series, particularly a bizarre Season 2 episode called “Auto-Bop” in which the Decepticons take over a New York City nightclub. Thank me later. But back to Snowpiercer! I don’t think it would be too much of an exaggeration to say that the cinema owes an awful lot to the locomotive. Trains look great on screen, particularly in the least hospitable climates. David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago each feature stunning sequences that involve the proverbial Iron Horse. The train is perhaps the defining metaphor of and for the 20th century. Just look to the Estonian stop-motion short featured in my Annecy Film Festival round-up, Ülo Pikkov’s haunting Body Memory. Snowpiercer appears to be no different, a high-speed allegory flying through the desolate snowy wastelands of the post-apocalyptic future.

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Curse of the Golden Flowers at Wulong

Whether or not you have any desire to see Transformers: Age of Extinction, this week’s list of recommended movies is worth a look. I’ve even tried to avoid spoiler-y relevance for once, although I guess that doesn’t matter if you have no interest in the movie at all. Consider this a mere checklist of titles to catch up with after or instead of seeing the fourth Transformers. As usual, most of them are linked to something or someone in the new release in question, mainly for a better, earlier reference point for scenarios and tropes and themes. None of them require your viewing of Age of Extinction to appreciate them overall, though. Before I get to the movies, I’d like to note some non-movie recommendations. One is the HBO comedy series Silicon Valley, unless you’re some person without a sense of humor who is glad actor T.J. Miller only has a little bit of screen time in the new Transformers. Another is any match featuring Olympic gold medalist turned professional boxer Zou Shiming, who plays an extra in an elevator who just happens to know martial arts (because Hollywood thinks all Chinese people do). Many can be found on YouTube. There’s also Transformers: The Premake, a video essay that I guess could count as a movie. I already wrote plenty about that recently.

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Stonewall Uprising

Once again, Happy Pride Month! Last week we featured a list of the 10 Best Documentary Portraits of LGBT Culture, films that celebrate the lives and loves of their diverse subjects. Today’s list is entitled “The Best Documentaries About LGBT History.” What’s the difference? The distinction is, in a word, politics. Obviously when dealing with something like LGBT civil rights, culture and politics are often very closely connected. Yet the following 10 films are more consciously political, narratives of the struggle for freedom and equality over the course of history. It might be a misnomer to call all of them “activist” documentaries, and the “issue film” moniker seems reductive. Therefore, we’ll call them history films, built from a century-long struggle against discrimination. They feature the earliest days of the Gay Liberation movement in the United States, the fight to respond to the AIDS epidemic, and the international scope of the pursuit LGBT civil rights around the world today. 10. Fig Trees (2009) Fig Trees is an experimental, musical portrait of the work of two AIDS activists. Zackie Achmat works with the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, Tim McCaskell with AIDS Action Now! in Canada. The film has a broad, international scope from the very beginning. Yet director John Greyson pushes the boundaries even further, placing his work in dialogue with Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson‘s opera Four Saints in Three Acts. The complexity of its images deepen the power of its message, enriching rather than confusing. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Bluebird film

A few days ago, I happened to walk past a small school bus in Manhattan. It was parked on a quiet, shady street, in front of a brick-built public school. On its back window, a small sign declared “THIS BUS HAS BEEN CHECKED FOR SLEEPING CHILDREN.” If you know anything about Lance Edmands‘ debut film, Bluebird, you’ll understand why this kind of sign (and the kind of practice it’s meant to encourage) is so necessary. You might also find yourself getting sniffly while looking at a random school bus in the middle of the day, but that’s something for later. Edmands’ film is set in snowy and desolate northern Maine, where a small town is rocked by the revelation that one of its beloved school bus drivers didn’t check her bus after a morning run, and all the horrifying consequences that follow from that. The drama of the film relies on the interconnectedness of its many characters, along with some stunning scenery and big moral questions that drive its narrative ever onward. The film has a stellar cast to recommend it, including Amy Morton, Louise Krause, Emily Meade, Adam Driver, Margo Martindale and John Slattery. It’s a stunner of a debut, and now it needs your help to get distributed (presumably to a theater near you, where you can cry about it in the dark). Edmands has just launched a Kickstarter for the film, aimed at helping distribute a film that has already played to plenty of enthusiastic film festival crowds.

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Megan Fox Transformers 2

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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Inside Deep Throat Still

On June 26, 1974, the first product with a UPC barcode was scanned at a Marsh Supermarkets store in Troy, Ohio. The randomly selected item from a cart filled with varied scannable goods was a 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum, and that’s of enough historical significance that the pack is now in the Smithsonian. But that’s not the only part of the story of the retail game changer that’s interesting. The path to the barcode revolution was long, and it involved scientists and grocery executives and some inspiration from the movies. And yet so few films have been inspired by the UPC technology for anything more than barcode tattoos on heads, necks and arms in sci-fi dystopias. Typically those markings are for keeping track of people, but in a classic bit from Mike Leigh’s Naked, David Thewlis’s character goes on about how in the future we’ll have barcodes on our hand or forehead instead of paper and plastic currency, to pay for items that also have “the ubiquitous barcode that you’ll find on every bog roll and packet of johnnies and every poxy pork pie.” Read ahead to learn about how the advent of the sound cinema and the rise of the porn film — with the notorious Deep Throat — figured into the development of the Universal Product Code as well as its legacy in the form of an Errol Morris short, a Jude Law feature, a Star Trek reboot and one of the most clever interactive online movie projects in recent years.

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