The Fisher King

Columbia Pictures

Back in the 1990s, Terry Gilliam provided a commentary track for The Fisher King, which has since gone out of print. Now, thanks to the magic of YouTube and MP3s and internet tubes, it’s possible to listen to this commentary track even if the disc itself is hard to come by. Not only does this commentary give an intimate look into one of Gilliam’s best, it also lives on in cyberspace to allow film nerds like us to learn more about the production.

Due to differences in running time, you can’t simply synch all versions of the video with Gilliam’s commentary. For example, the Netflix version of The Fisher King runs 131 minutes instead of the unaltered 137-minute disc and theatrical presentation. Still, with the background soundtrack intact, you have a pretty good idea of where he is in his own timeline.

Inside Out


Before we even laid eyes on Riley, the eleven-year-old animated star of Pixar’s Inside Out, we knew that she would be like us. At least, we knew that she would be more like us than some of the other stars of Pixar’s most beloved features, which tend to run towards the make-believe (monsters, talking toys), the fantastic (superheroes, talented vermin) and the slightly terrifying (cars). Pixar’s films aren’t typically concerned with stories centered on actual humans, even as they are packed with human emotions and experiences using charming surrogates (bugs, robots, fish), and the concept of Inside Out – a film that is entirely about the human condition, literally from the inside out — was a big, welcome change.

The creative decision to cast a tween girl — a regular tween girl — as the star was also a major step forward for the animation house. Pixar films may not ascribe to the same “Princess” mentality of Disney’s animated outings (every girl is a princess, even if she’s not, and they all look eerily similar), but they tend to rely more heavily on male heroes (and, no, we’re not discounting Monsters, Inc.‘s Boo or Brave‘s Merida, but of fourteen Pixar films, thirteen of them are principally focused on their male leads, with women playing second fiddle in every film but Brave). Even better, the team at Pixar has spent a lot of their own marketing time pumping Inside Out up as being an important departure for them.

Even the film’s official synopsis drives home both Riley’s relatability and her importance in the Pixar world (bold notations our own):

Simpsons The Shinning


There’s another five days left in FXX’s great rerunning of every episode of The Simpsons in recorded history. Now, we don’t want to distract you — there’s still at least 100 hours to go, and shifting your eyes away from the TV for any reason could ruin that perfect butt-shaped indent that’s this close to being a permanent part of the couch — but just in case you need a break (a break that still involves The Simpsons, of course, we’re not monsters), here’s a momentary distraction.

We all know the myriad of reasons why The Simpsons remains so popular. Revolutionize this, landmark that, longest-running yadda yadda yadda and so forth. But an exemplary trait of The Simpsons that tends to get short shrift (or shorter shrift, anyway), is its relationship with cinema.

The Simpsons overflows with a love for film. Little homages to the classics. Grand spoofings of whatever’s current. Whole episodes based around Cape Fear or Mary Poppins. Throwaway puns on movie theater marquees. Story. Music. Cinematography. All will be parodied by this crudely-drawn family with wildly inaccurate skin color and haircuts that extend out of their face-skin.



When it comes to independent films and major releases, animation is fairly underutilized medium. There are exceptions, but for the most part, it’s generally used for kid-centric stories or to paint a lush, if slightly more adult, world. That’s why movies like A Scanner Darkly and The Congress are so special. They use animation for drama and to express ideas that go beyond a few pretty shots. Both films shouldn’t be compared past that point, but they are both emotional, visual, and mental exercises — rides that you either go along with from the start or don’t.

If director Ari Folman‘s The Congress grabs you from its first frame, then expect a rich science-fiction film packed with commentary, ideas, laughs, tears, and beauty. 

Speaking of beauty, Robin Wright (played conveniently by Robin Wright) has lost it, at least according to some slimy agist studio executive we meet working at Miramount. She’s now 44 years old. That usually means for actresses their careers are winding down, but after years of “bad” choices and choosing family over work, Robin isn’t the big deal that she once was. The offers aren’t coming in, at least not the offers she’s interested in — she wouldn’t ever dare to take part in a science-fiction film.



Ordell (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) have planned the perfect kidnapping. Their target is Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), wife to a sketchy businessman named Frank (Tim Robbins) who’s hiding a fortune in a secret bank account. The plan is simple. Kidnap Mickey, tell Frank to pay the ransom if he ever wants to see his wife again and then retire in style.

But they never considered the possibility that Frank might not want his wife back.

Chronology is a funny thing. The inclination will be (and has been if you check the IMDB page) to label Life of Crime a straight-up rip-off of 1986′s Ruthless People. In actuality though this is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard‘s 1978 novel, The Switch. Keep moving backward and you’ll find that all of these incarnations share an inspiration in O. Henry’s 1907 short story, “The Ransom of Red Chief.” The problem for this film then is how to stand apart from the crowd, and unfortunately, it’s a problem the film never really solves.

Stormtrooper Hits Head


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Fantastic Fest may be a festival focused on off-the-radar genre films from here and abroad, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for recognizable Hollywood faces. They’ve just announced their second wave of titles playing this year, and while it’s heavy on unfamiliar foreign titles there are a few heavy hitters in there too.

One of last year’s highlights was the presence of Keanu Reeves who there with his directorial debut, the surprisingly fun Man of Tai Chi, but also took time out to participate in the Fantastic Debates. He’s returning again this year, and while he didn’t direct John Wick it promises to be a rollicking action flick all the same thanks to Reeves’ clear love of the genre and the co-directors vast experience in the stunt game. Jake Gyllenhaal won’t be making an appearance, but his fantastically dark-looking new film, Nightcrawler, will be closing the fest.

Other known talents include the latest from high-kicker Marko Zaror in Redeemer, Takashi Miike’s return to horror with Over Your Dead Body, Astron-6′s giallo-inspired thriller The Editor, Sion Sono’s hip-hop musical Tokyo Tribe, a documentary about the cinematic glory days of Cannon Films and one of my favorite films from this year’s Sundance fest, Eskil Vogt’s Blind.

Keep reading to see the whole announcement and entire second wave of films playing this year’s Fantastic Fest.

Laura 1944

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation

Here’s a remake idea that won’t have you doing a spit-take and attempting to burn Hollywood down to its sinful ashes: Otto Preminger‘s Laura.

Yes, the film is an unabashed classic, one of those films noir that’s been vaulted up to mythical, God-like status amongst those who still watch movies from before 1970. The 1944 film follows a detective, Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), investigating the murder of the rich, gorgeous and all-around enchanting Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), who was blown away by an unfortunate shotgun blast to the face. Our dashing detective sinks himself into the case, but as he does he starts to fall madly in love with the deceased dame. Which would be fine (who among us hasn’t developed a little crush on a murder victim now and then?), except the case starts to turn in a seriously weird direction, leaving McPherson the only one to sort out its loop-de-looping plot twists and save the day.

Laura stands perfectly fine on its own, and the world would also be just fine if everyone left the film alone on its pedestal of greatness and didn’t try to match it (unlike that Kickboxer remake, a necessary sacrifice to the elder gods, lest they rain hellfire upon us). But in this case, we’ll allow it. Here’s why: The Hollywood Reporter has James Ellroy re-adapting the story for the screen. Ellroy is one of the biggest crime fiction writers alive, with a self-described style that’s “declarative and ugly and right there, punching you in the nards.” He wrote “The Black Dahlia.” He wrote “L.A. Confidential.” And even if the former kind of sucked in film form, that doesn’t make his writing any less special (or that you shouldn’t keep a close eye on your nards while reading it).

Medium Cool tank


What if in the midst of the Ferguson protests, literally on the scene with actors intertwined with real demonstrators, someone was filming a fictional drama with a romantic plot? That would seem disrespectful, I’m sure, if only because those events have been centered around the death of an individual. It might be different if there was a Hollywood production filming in the middle of something less personal, like the Occupy Wall Street protests, as Warner Bros. had reportedly been considering doing for parts of The Dark Knight Rises. That didn’t happen, and maybe it never was supposed to, because that sounds like a logistical nightmare as far as release forms and such are concerned. Plus, in retrospect, it would have been an unfortunate cameo for the 99% given that the movie’s superhero comes off as anti-OWS, even if Christopher Nolan doesn’t mean to be critical of the movement.

In spite of where the technology is at today, having a fictional film use real events as not only a backdrop but as onscreen background material is probably not possible. Sure, there’s better capability now of involving high-quality stealth cameras in something like a protest march or battlefield or other bit of history in the making, but the legalities have to be too much of a headache to deal with. We can navigate more easily through the crowds, but not through the paperwork. That is one of the reasons Haskell Wexler‘s Medium Cool, which Paramount Pictures released 45 years ago on this date, is so extremely cool. It’s maybe the most one-of-a-kind film ever made, never able to be replicated let alone remade, because it sets a scripted story during the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago (46 years ago this week) and actually came away as both a document of those events and also a part of them.



Though Jamie Dornan will soon be seen taking care of business and (literally) cracking the whip as a young entrepreneur with an exceptionally active social life over at Fifty Shades of Grey, he’s signed up for a bit of a fictional career change as he joins the cast of Alexandre Aja‘s The Ninth Life of Louis Drax.

The film, an adaptation of a best-selling novel by Liz Jensen, follows a nine-year-old boy named Louis Drax who is a little different than the other kids. Brilliant, but perceived as weird, Louis always seems to have something terrible happen to him — and his ninth birthday is no different. He suffers a massive fall that nearly takes his life, and there are no details to shed light on how or why the incident occurred. Dornan steps in as Dr. Allan Pascal, a physician who is drawn to Drax’s peculiar case.

Dust Short Film

Catherine Bailey Ltd.

Why Watch? A disheveled man follows a little girl and her mother as they walk down the street, he breaks into their home, and soon he’s writhing around in the little girls’ bed. This man is Alan Rickman, in case you weren’t already completely creeped out.

In the short film Dust from Ben Ockrent and Jake Russell, the concept of what millions of people knowingly allow into their child’s bedroom is explored with an unnerving sense of simplicity. It’s almost pure atmosphere, punctuated only by a singular goal that maintains mystery simply because we may refuse to believe that we’re about to see what the film is promising to show us.

It’s all body language and intent, which makes Rickman perfect casting not only because his ease of appearing terrifying, but also because he’s committed to even small roles like this one.

Granted, it’s also a short film created solely to deliver a final moment, but Ockrent and Russell use a street-level, naturalistic shooting style that surrounds us with one, powerful emotion: dread. So remember, the next time you hear a weird thump in your house, it could be Alan Rickman snorting drugs in your daughter’s bedroom.

The Limits of Control

Focus Features

As many successful American filmmakers who get their start in independent filmmaking quickly find themselves comfortable in Hollywood studios, Jim Jarmusch feels like the anachronism that the economics of filmmaking rarely find room for but the culture of cinema certainly needs. After making the No Wave-era Permanent Vacation on the seemingly post-apocalyptic landscape of a crumbling late-70s New York, Jarmusch made waves at the then-young Sundance film festival with Stranger Than Paradise, a bare bones indie that exhibited the director’s penchant for deliberate pacing, wry humor, an insistent soundtrack and a canted examination of Americana.

Jarmusch’s productions are few and far between, partly due to the fact that he is ever in want of funding and seeks final cut on all his films. The process may be difficult, but it’s worth it: thirty years after Paradise, Jarmusch crafted Only Lovers Left Alive (recently released on disc and digital), a film that surprised me as both a sideways look at high-cult consumption and one of the most genuinely romantic films of this year. It is, in short, well worth the seven years of frustration that it took to get the film made and into theaters. It’s hard to imagine the same film coming from a filmmaker willing to touch studio funding. And it’s an intoxicating glimpse of what could be if more independent filmmakers were as unimpressed by studio dollars as Jarmusch.

So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a Son of Lee Marvin.

Spider-Man 3

Columbia Pictures

If you’ve been on the internet for more than a few minutes, then you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of the movies that everyone hates. They’re movies that are legendary in their awfulness, ruined people’s childhoods, whatever.

And then those movies get sequels and people go bananas wondering who’s greenlighting these things.

The answer, of course, is the same people complaining loudest about them. They’re doing it with their wallets.

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