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Medium Cool

Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool is a film whose immediacy and docu-realism was all too fitting for an America that could, for the first time, see its wars on television. Shot during the protests and riots that accompanied the Democratic National Convention in August 1968, Wexler’s film seamlessly mixed narrative storytelling and documentary – Medium Cool is a Hollywood-made document of America in ’68 if there ever was one, a stunning portrait of the chaotic state of politics and its relationship to media in one of the most tumultuous years in American (or, perhaps, world) history. But Criterion’s long-anticipated release of Medium Cool isn’t the only A/V flashback to ’68 occurring this summer. Olivier Assays’s Something in the Air reflects on the student protests surrounding the similarly turbulent demonstrations in France in May of that year, while Season 6 of Mad Men has just entered the sweltering summer that will climax in the events in Chicago that August. Maybe it’s Congress’s seemingly eternal bottleneck, or the government’s paranoia-inducing surveillance of the press, or a general aura of well-justified cynicism, but the simultaneously dark and potentially revolutionary years of ’68 seem to demand contemporary reflection, even if it only results in pop culture nostalgia. That said, here’s The Criterion Collection’s archive of films that captured the spirit of the revolutionary times of the ‘60s around the world, all fitting comrades of the brilliant Medium Cool.

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Why Watch? It’s weirdness wrapped up in the grainy elegance of the 1980s. This isn’t the surrealist Monkees film of the same name, but it might induce the same WTF reaction. In Benjamin Wong‘s odd short, a young man (Don Chao) is passed over for yet another job promotion because he’s got something strange on top of his neck. After the humiliation, how far will he go to be liked, fit in, and snag the job? What does it cost? Just 3 minutes of your time. Trust us. You have time for more short films.

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Criterion Files

Bob Rafelson’s highly underrated The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) works as something of an unofficial sequel to his beloved previous film and the rightful centerpiece of the BBS Story, Five Easy Pieces (1970). After the “farcidelia” of Head, Rafelson’s second film could not be further from its opposite in tone, aesthetics, and overall relation to the counterculture, whose narrative absence is used to great effect in the latter film. It wasn’t until Rafelson’s third film as director that his identity as a filmmaker started to solidify through his continued exploration of themes shared between films. Like many filmmakers of the New Hollywood generation, Rafleson possessed symptoms of the self-conscious auteur, but the similarities between Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens go far beyond surface connections that denote a consistent cinematic personality behind the camera in terms of themes and style, but instead point to a rare kind of filmmaker altogether during New Hollywood or any era.

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Criterion Files

As I argued in my introduction to our coverage of the BBS box set, this major Criterion release both celebrates New Hollywood and complicates the master narrative informing the way in which the era is typically remembered. Alongside classics of the era like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show, the set also includes films that were received badly or misunderstood in their time like Head and The King of Marvin Gardens which can now be reassessed with the benefit of hindsight. But perhaps the most interesting juxtaposition to the canonized works of New Hollywood here is the presence of the absolutely obscure, the completely forgotten, the movies that up until now were lost in time and memory. This set marks the first time Jack Nicholson’s Drive, He Said (1970) and Henry Jaglom’s A Safe Place (1971) have been released in any home video format. These films are, in a sense, correlated with New Hollywood because of their themes, narratives, characters, and their temporal and economic contexts, but unlike the three heavy-hitters in this set, watching them now is, by comparison, to see a film with a forty-year-old blank slate – a unique and rare experience when one contrasts watching these films to, say, Easy Rider, a movie inseparable from an ongoing and reiterated forty-year-long conversation about what it meant then and means today. Separately, these are interesting films on their own, but together, Drive, He Said and A Safe Place point to the fact that there’s […]

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Criterion Files

For the rest of the summer, Adam and Landon will be focusing on films included in the Criterion Collection released by the legendary BBS Production Company whose anti-establishment films rocked the world of Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So dust of your old LPs, set out on the highway, and embrace your countercultural sensibilities with one of the most eccentric and essential stories of New Hollywood. When rummaging through the Criterion Collection’s available box sets, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the serious and traditional role that authorship has played in forming both the Collection and its reputation. Whether it’s five films by John Cassavetes, Sergei Eisenstein’s sound years, or Truffaut’s cinematic adventures of Antoine Doinel, the Collection places the director as the primary author of the text, just as they do when ascribing possession to individual titles (“Orson Welles’s F for Fake,” for instance). Then came the BBS set, which frames authorship to a group of films not because of the signatures of the directors who made each individual title, but as a group effort through the umbrella of a production company. BBS may refer specifically to Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner, but the talent pool that determined the artistic output of this company was hardly exclusive to them, incorporating the then-young talents of Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, and Henry Jaglom. None of these figures solely inhabited clear and exclusive occupational signposts like “writer,” “director,” “producer,” or “actor,” but a combined contributions to […]

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Upon discussion and deliberation between Landon Palmer and Adam Charles (the two primary authors of the Criterion Files column) it was decided that due to the column’s state of near infancy and a small number of articles to choose from they would not reflect upon each other’s incisive works throughout the year of what was considered, or what they felt to be, the articles each were either most impressed by from the other, or considered the most indicative of what the column represents – and instead opted to choose 10 releases of the Criterion company in 2010 they felt most noteworthy of attention.

Delving into each other’s works even if the output was extended to 26 articles each over the course of a full year to choose the favorites from would actually prove to be a much simpler task than what was done for this year’s Year in Review. Trying to narrow down a list of the most significant Criterion Collection releases of any given year to a list of 10 is like…well, trying to list the 10 best of anything of which everything deserves attention. So, take these not as a slight against any of the other releases by any means (please, see every film they include in the library because they’ve selected it for a reason), these just happen to be a consolidation of releases Landon and Adam considered either significant for the availability on home video, marked a trend of the company’s direction of material to include in the library, personal affections, or were simply just incredible works in presentation of the picture previously not able to be experienced from prior releases.

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Imagine for a second that Disney grew weary of raking in piles of cash from the Jonas Brothers. Imagine that, instead of merely cutting them loose (and leaving them to their own disastrous devices, ala Ms. Lohan), Disney went a more subversive route. Imagine Disney casting them in a surrealistic, experimental patchwork of a film that lampooned the vapidity of pop culture and consumerism – and left both the Jonases and their fans feeling totally mindfucked. That’s essentially what happened when Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner – creators of The Monkees – released a film called Head…

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Tired of the same old 420 list? Intrigued by how we put The Big Lebowski on both lists? Read on as soon as your interest in that squirrel dies down again!

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A rain drenched city of sin sets the stage for a serial killer with a message and the two cops tasked with stopping him.

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31 Days of Horror Header

Really good horror comedies are notoriously rare, but this one works because it’s balls to the wall nuttiness.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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