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Dumbo Drunk

Walt Disney Productions

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.

Before you get the idea that I skipped out on watching a bunch of Disney movies as a kid, I’d like to point out that I’ve seen most of them, but not all. (How many of you can honestly say you’ve seen The Black Cauldron?) I grew up with three brothers, so I especially missed out on the princess themed ones, i.e., Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Disney also had that silly policy back in the 80’s and 90’s where their home videos were only put out in limited releases, which they still do, but I don’t think it’s nearly to the same degree, especially not with piracy as popular as it is. (And, again, keep in mind that video tapes were incredibly expensive for the first several years of their existence.)

So yeah, I totally missed DumboBut I bet I can tell you something right now that would surprise you even if you saw it dozens of times as a kid: Dumbo is only 60 minutes long. It’s pretty much exactly a full hour, no more, no less. Apparently, this was a calculated move on Walt Disney’s part. Fantasia cost the studio so much money that they took no chances with Dumbo. They went with a simple, heartwarming story, slightly less fancy animation and art (though still just as good, if not better, than any animation produced today), and a short runtime to save on money. Less film to animate is less money spent, after all.

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This Is Where I Leave You

Warner Bros.

Editor’s note: This review was originally published on September 7, 2014 as part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

We know Judd Altman. He’s the guy in the movie that looks and acts like he has it all figured out, but who’s about to find out – quite suddenly, in fact, and by way of some sort of dramatic event that would never happen quite that way in real life – that nothing is actually as it seems. We know Judd Altman. We’ve seen Judd Altman plenty of times before. But is there anything new to this particular Judd Altman?

Based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel of the same name, Shawn Levy’s This Is Where I Leave You explores what happens to Judd (Jason Bateman) after the rug is pulled, spectacularly and swiftly, out from underneath him. But Levy’s overstuffed and unfocused feature is unable to give Judd the attention he deserves – or, at least the attention necessary to really engage us in his plight – and is instead stuck telling stories about all the Altmans as they handle tragedy (big and small) together. When we first meet Judd, he’s just about to discover that his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) is cheating on him with his sleazeball boss, and has been for quite some time. Wade Beaufort (Dax Shepard) is a shock jock deejay (his show, which is also technically Judd’s show, is called “Man Up,” and it involves him yelling a lot about what things men should do, which apparently means being incredibly obnoxious), and is quite easily the worst possible person that Quinn could engage in a little extramarital action with. But things are about to get worse for Judd, even as they get (moderately) better for the audience.

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Tusk Movie

A24

Editor’s note: This review was originally published on September 9, 2014 as part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

In 2011, Kevin Smith took to the Sundance stage after the premiere of his then-latest film, the horror-cum-satire-cum-action movie, Red State. The film, in conjunction with a 33-minute rant about Hollywood and the death of the indie film world, led many to declare that Smith had totally lost his mind. Deadline called in “an implosion,” and Business Insider said it was time to put the director “on Hollywood crazy watch.”

With all due respect to those reputable publications, after watching Tusk in Toronto earlier this week, one thing is absolutely clear: until you see this movie, you have no idea how crazy he’s capable of being.

Where to even begin with this thing? Tusk started life on Smith’s weekly podcast, sparked by the discussion of a lodging ad of a most peculiar kind. An old man is offering a room in his mansion, rent free, on the condition that his tenant, for a few hours a day, dress up and act like a walrus. Fascinated by the listing, Smith remarks, between giggles, that the ad sounds like the premise for an old-school Hammer horror film; the tale of a deranged old loner constructing a flippered companion out of human skin. “The Human Centipede…only cuddlier.”

So here we are, some fifteen months later, and the movie actually exists; the product of a filmmaker to whom no one apparently says no. A hodgepodge of different horror B-movies, Tusk is messy, indulgent, tonally spastic, meandering, ludicrous and entirely grotesque. It plays by nobody’s rules, and follows no road map other than the twisted, rambling, pot-addled mind of its creator. There is nothing else like it, probably for good reason. And for every single one of its baffling 102 minutes, it holds you in its blubbery grasp.

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Zero Theorem Poster

Amplify

It’s virtually impossible to recognize Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem as anything but a spiritual sequel to Brazil. It’s a similar story of a corporate cog lamenting his status in an insane (and insanely large) world that makes him feel powerless, but it takes place in the universe next door where the Marx Brothers didn’t invent the bureaucracy. Christopher Waltz plays a man desperately waiting for a phone call that will explain his purpose. He kills his time by obsessively trying to slam math blocks into an impossible equation for a paycheck.

It’s a somber absurdity, which is why this new poster represents the film beautifully. The stoicism, the closed eyes, the deconstruction. Not only is it striking, it looks like the back of his mind turns to stardust just off the edge of the page — a fitting representation of the movie’s larger-than-the-universe sentiment that plays out in a cramped church nave.

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Magnet

Magnet

The idea behind the original ABCs of Death anthology film was a good (and risky) one — 26 directors, each given a letter of the alphabet as inspiration for a short film involving death — but the execution was severely lacking. The actively bad ones far outweighed the good and mediocre combined resulting in a painful slog of a film with minimal highlights. The announcement of a sequel was met with understandable trepidation by many who still can’t shake the memories of the first film’s overabundance of juvenile humor and unchecked talent, but happily ABCs of Death 2 is an entertaining and frequently engaging collection of ideas and imagery.

And it’s 100% free of farts.

It seems immediately clear that the filmmakers, while still given freedom in regard to their finished shorts, were also given a guiding hand sorely missing from the scattershot first film. There are ideas at play here beyond simple gags or special effects shots, and while most remain contained one-offs, many others use their time to comment on social ills or highlight the art and craft of filmmaking. The shorts still feature some laughs along the way, but it’s a recognizably more somber and serious collection than its predecessor.

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Film scores

KCET

Film series are a great way to tell a story that cannot be contained to a single film. Successful films usually end up getting sequels, but series are stories intended to be digested over the course of several films. The cast will (usually) stay the same throughout a series, but there is another important element that should remain consistent to help link each film to the next – the music.

While it is not a requirement to stick with a single composer throughout a series (and sometimes you have no choice but to change things up due to schedules and prior commitments), having a singular musical voice working on a film series helps keep a consistent feeling from film to film. Most film series have kept the same composer throughout the series, and the few that have changed composers from film to film had it fit the story or ultimately ended up returning to the original composer.

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Smosh.com

Smosh.com

Prepare to feel very, very old. Lionsgate has picked up the rights to The Smosh Movie, and will be distributing it around the globe, per Variety.

Smosh, of course, is the smash YouTube sensation with a viewer base of more than 30 million people. It’s official: if you don’t know what Smosh is, you’re no longer “hip,” “in,” or “with it.” Just another old-timer mashing the screen of a smartphone he doesn’t really need in the first place.

Here’s a quick Smosh history, just in case. Smosh is two people: Ian Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla. In 2002, the two guys began posting silly Flash animation videos online. In 2005, they upgraded to silly Youtube videos. Then, they lip-synced the Pokemon theme song (note: the actual video is no longer on Smosh, so here it is on someone else’s channel).

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Channing Tatum Magic Mike Flexing

Warner Bros.

Though Channing Tatum has made a great home for himself staying in school way past his age limit, he’s lined up a very compelling project to produce and utilize as a potential starring vehicle as someone who left college behind long ago and found his genius in an arguably unorthodox way. Struck by Genius is the true story of Jason Padgett (based on his memoir of the same name), a hard-partying dude who suffered a serious, traumatic brain injury at the age of 31 after getting brutally mugged.

The violent incident isn’t even the whole story here; it’s the fact that Padgett’s brain injuries led to him becoming the first documented case of acquired savant syndrome — with the added result of extreme mathematical synesthesia as part of the package. Effectively, after being brutalized, the shift in Padgett’s brain turned him into a mathematical genius who could see geometric shapes and mathematical formulas everywhere he looked. What’s your excuse for struggling through 10th grade Algebra?

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Gwyneth-Paltrow-and-Luke-Wilson-in-The-Royal-Tenenbaums

Touchstone Pictures

Whether you’re home for the holidays or sitting shiva after the loss of a loved one, family get-togethers can be rough. Never mind if yours is a “dysfunctional” clan or not. Aren’t they all, anyway? It may be relative, but we all have our family dramas and difficult times when reunited with our most direct relatives. If not, you’re a lucky one, except when it comes to trying to relate to a lot of movies. The rest of us like to see stuff like This Is Where I Leave You for both the identification and the exaggeration, the former allowing us to laugh at ourselves, the latter hopefully leading to an understanding that everything could be worse.

Movies about family get-togethers can also be a source of learning. We already relate to the basic experiences, but how much do we connect with the specifics of how the characters survive those events? A bunch of these movies feature complete parallels as far archetypes and plot and jokes, so it would seem they’d be universal. And a lot of the times everyone turns out just fine in the end. So, for your next get-together, perhaps this fall for Thanksgiving or next summer for a road trip or full-on reunion, consider the following steps, each one applicable in the movies and, of course, therefore in real life. 

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Batmobile in Batman vs Superman

Warner Bros./Clay Enos

The movies of director Zack Snyder are about as polarizing as any studio filmmaker’s, so when he tweeted out a picture of the new Batmobile from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we can assume he was prepared for some criticism. Fans complained about a particular aspect of the vehicle that does not conform to the version seen in the comics: the guns. This new Batmobile is front-loaded with weapons that would not look out of place in an American military vehicle.

It’s a concerning decision, especially since Batman’s code of ethics precludes him from intentionally killing people. But the real problem is that it shows how little Snyder has learned from the mistakes of Man of Steel. We all remember the outcry from fans when Snyder had Superman kill General Zod in that movie’s climax, and it appears that Snyder is doubling down on the violence, despite that criticism.

But it is unfair to lay all this at Snyder’s feet. There has been an increasing militarization of our superheroes afoot for decades, and Snyder is only continuing that tradition. In the Marvel world, superheroes perpetually exist in a military milieu. Tony Stark is a reformed defense contractor, while The Avengers was essentially about a Special Forces unit that prevented another 9/11.

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Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

Do you remember a time, a simpler time, when Ghostbusters was just a movie about some innovative guys who decked out a former firehouse to house New York City’s unruly spirits, a scientist who was simultaneously attempting to woo a woman and also figure out how to get an ancient Sumerian god to stop possessing her and her refrigerator, and a beloved childhood figure stomping through the streets of New York City to wreak havoc and commit some casual murder? Dan Aykroyd sure does.

But the difference between the rest of us and Aykroyd is that while Ghostbusters II was a beautiful triumph of a sequel that deals with the very real and sensible repercussions of what happens when heroes have to face the consequences of their city-destroying attempts to help the public (and when painting-dwelling spirits want to steal a baby), and the love for the franchise has never truly died — it’s just stuck in a proton pack somewhere — the great majority have realized there’s a point at which you leave perfection to perfection.

Aykroyd, one of the biggest proponents of a third Ghostbusters movie, that one that never seems to actually be happening, spoke in London at an event promoting his vodka brand, where the conversation turned to Ghostbusters. The third movie is just the tip of the iceberg; Aykroyd, who wrote the first two films alongside the late, great Harold Ramis and will be penning the third as well, wants to see an entire Ghostbusters universe a la the Marvel machine.

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Eraserhead

Libra Films

I love looking at filmmakers’ early work. Sure, it might be juvenile or lacking the grace of experience, but it’s also the artistic eye before fame, celebrity personas or narrowly honed visions. It’s the work they made before output was partially (if not totally) influenced by investors, studios and critics. First films can be like cinematic diaries of the directors’ vision – like David Lynch’s iconic Eraserhead, which is now on Criterion Blu-ray with almost all of his short films – or whiffs of artistry before the mainstream.

Some, sadly, are still out of reach to the Internet masses, though they’d be fascinating first glimpses at cinematic themes and techniques. Long before 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen debuted with a revealing video installation, Bear, which only makes the rounds at live events. Kathryn Bigelowplays down” her first film from 1978, The Set-Up, where Gary Busey and another guy fight each other as semioticians deconstruct the images – a film that certainly speaks to her future work, but hasn’t been released for modern audiences. And though someone who thinks they’re clever put up a slave scene on YouTube, insisting it was Spike Lee’s first film, his debut – the Super 8 film Last Hustle in Brooklyn – is actually about “Black people and Puerto Rican people looting and dancing.”

Those three might remain out of reach, but here eight filmmakers’ early visions that speak to humor, darkness, unexpected twists, and for one – an artistry before an obsession with Star Wars.

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George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight

Universal Pictures

Out of Sight is the film George Clooney is the most proud of, and for good reason. Beyond being just an all around fantastic movie, it showed how much charm and range Clooney has as an actor. In fact, director David O. Russell was originally opposed to casting him in Three Kings, but after Clooney pleaded with him to watch Out of Sight, Russell’s mind was changed. Not only did it help land him that role, it led to a series of great collaborations with director Steven Soderbergh. Since the 1998 Elmore Leonard adaptation, the two have paired up five times, and that’s not including the pictures they’ve produced together.

Sadly they haven’t collaborated in years, but plenty of the talent involved in Out of Sight have continued to produce excellent work. Soderbergh is killing it on television with The Knick, George Clooney is still George Clooney, and screenwriter Scott Frank has gone on to direct two exceptional crime films. Seven years after his fantastic directorial debut, The Lookout, Frank returns behind the camera with this week’s A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Before jumping into what we learned from the commentary for Out of Sight, here’s a fun little anecdote: Scott Frank took on this adaptation purely as a job. He couldn’t have asked for a better work-for-hire gig, because it landed him an Oscar nomination and a movie that’s stood the test of time.

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