Hunger

Eli Wallach Transformation

The excellent Eli Wallach, whose career spanned over sixty years, passed away this week at the age of 98, and I’m consumed with thoughts of transformation. Of course, he lived and worked for so long that life was a transformation in and of itself. The man from The Godfather Part III is the same man who hilariously shuffled about with Cloris Leachman in New York, I Love You. But he was also a man that melted into his roles. It’s an amazing, yet eternally undervalued talent. We gush for the names who always, and will forever look like themselves – the Robert Redfords and George Clooneys — but the real magic comes from the character actors whose roles trump image, those who disappear, those who leave little to no taste of the real person behind the performance. Some need full masks and CGI to transform, but others need just a hint of makeup or sometimes (shockingly) nothing at all as they’re enveloped by their characters. Elite actors like Wallach allow us to simply enjoy the character and pretend, briefly, that they’re real.

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If you were talking about Steve McQueen five years ago, it was probably about Bullitt jumping over Nazi barricades on a motorcycle and stealing art from museums. Either that, or you were plugged into the museum scene and had an eye for experimental short films. While you were failing to stop Thomas Crown from pilfering priceless work, you were discovering a new Steve McQueen. The rest of us had to wait until 2008. In the past five years, the new McQueen has translated two decades of success within docent-tinged walls into indie film domination and, now, mainstream emergence without compromise. That’s a simmering, meteoric rise into a cultural place that few filmmakers ever go. The new McQueen was born a year after the old McQueen became Crown and Bullitt, but in a small amount of time, he’s solidified himself as a cinematic voice to take very, very seriously. In other words, if you’re talking about Steve McQueen today, there’s an odds on chance that you’re dissecting Shame or Hunger or 12 Years a Slave.

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This weekend, the exceptional 12 Years a Slave began its initial expansion into wider release. Currently, the Steve McQueen film is playing in 123 theaters around the country, so a lot of people are just getting the chance to enjoy its brilliant performances and to be horrified by its most powerful scenes. When they exit the cinema, while wiping the tears from their eyes and attempting to rid their throats of the lump that’s been lodged there for at least half an hour, audiences are going to be curious about who Lupita Nyong’o is and where they’ve seen Chiwetel Ejiofor before. They’ll also be interested to know that they’ve just watched a remake, of sorts. 12 Years a Slave still has a ways to go before it reaches the mainstream, Middle America mall crowds. But when it does end up on a few thousand screens and watched by millions more, this guide will be here to recommend past films from the makers and stars of the movie, as well as some other relevant titles worth checking out.

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Watching Hunger for the first time is not an experience that I’ll soon forget. British video artist-turned-director Steve McQueen imbued this vision of the 1981 IRA hunger strike with such a potent visceral sense, with such a rich and detailed tapestry of sound and image, that watching it is truly a corporeal endurance test of stark immediacy. McQueen’s approach didn’t require traditional methods of character identification and narrative pathos – he simply used the reality of shared flesh and blood to connect the viewer with the events depicted onscreen. The result of McQueen’s efforts carries a profoundly haunting, disturbing, and ultimately revealing insight into the politics of the body, told through a symphony of blood, shit, and urine. McQueen’s latest reportedly doesn’t pull its punches. I have yet to see Twelve Years a Slave, but it is hardly surprising that an artist whose life of work has been so invested in exploring the human body’s use as a device for subjugation, domination, and othering has created such an affecting vision of the horrors of American slavery and institutionalized racism. While Twelve Years a Slave is by most accounts McQueen’s most “accessible” work to date, he doesn’t seem to have lost the touch that made his museum-based work so unique during his quick rise in mainstream critical consensus. So here’s some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from not that Steve McQueen.

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These days you’re not a true thespian until you’ve gone AIDS skinny at least once for a role or, failing that, Stay Puft fat. Researching the many time actors have opted to change their bodies for a role, it became clear how many lists like this seem to pop up on the internet. Almost all these lists rate the change by how much was lost or gained. In an attempt to be different, I’ve decided not to judge this by a number but rather how much apparent pain they went though. It’s more fun that way, and sometimes it involves more than one movie. To give you an example of what I mean, check out the starting point:

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Criterion Files

Warning: some spoilers ahead. For a company known for its arthouse fare, The Criterion Collection is not short on great horror films. From early oddities like Haxan to silent classics like Vampyr to classic B-movies like Corridors of Blood to cult classics like House to newer visions like Antichrist to the just-released Rosemary’s Baby, The Criterion Collection can provide a unique encyclopedia of the development of the horror genre across nations and decades. But while the horror genre specializes in fear, tension, and disturbing visions, it doesn’t have a monopoly on any of these categories. Violent revenge films, psychosexual dramas, depictions of real-life political struggle, documentaries that capture terrible moments in history, and movies that depict the quick dismantling of social structures all employ devices and emotional effects similar to that of the horror film, most notably dread, disturbing imagery, shocking juxtapositions, and perhaps the major defining component of the horror film: the tense anticipation of a horrible event. Here are ten terrifying non-horror films from The Criterion Collection.

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Culture Warrior

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Young Adult, Shame, and The Descendants. 2011’s holiday movie season ended the year with a barrage of relatively conventional heroes. From Ethan Hunt saving the world from yet another MacGuffin to Sherlock Holmes solving an additional mystery to a cyberpunk and a journalist battling wealthy Swedish career-misogynist neo-Nazis, December was packed with varied iterations of good triumphing over its clearly delineated evil opposition. In contrast, the holiday season’s slate of smaller-scale filmmaking brought forth several protagonists who function in strict contrast to your conventional hero. These protagonists are (decidedly) so toxic, broken, unheroic, and even unlikeable that they can’t even be deemed antiheroes. These characters (to varying degrees of success) challenge the assumed connection that filmic convention makes between the “main character” and the “film itself” by presenting protagonists who don’t triumph over adversity, who don’t fight or win a “good” battle, and who frankly don’t warrant an act of rooting. These protagonists trip up an oft-unquestioned notion conditioned by cinematic tradition: that films should serve as a means of rooting for a clearly demarcated, pre-telegraphed, unassailable idea of goodness. These are three protagonists that we aren’t often asked to spend ninety minutes with.

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Material similar to Shame, to break it down immaturely, could easily falter into emotion porn. With a story about a self-loathing sex addict, overwrought drama is easy to give into, even with the slightest lack of subtlety. This could be one of those films where characters are emotionally tortured for the sake of torture, one that revels in its characters problems.  Co-writer and director Steve McQueen, who is surely aware of the dramatic trickiness of Shame, takes a more sensitive and observant approach. McQueen uses his distant and precise framing to create the atmosphere and world Brandon’s created, not to draw attention to himself as a filmmaker. This, among many other topics, is what I recently discussed with the press tour-exhausted filmmaker. Here’s what Steve McQueen had to say about internal writing, powerful expressions, capturing beautiful butterflies, and why films can be important:

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Michael Fassbender in Shame

Years from now, cinephiles and film fans will likely remember the stipulations that brought Steve McQueen’s Shame to regular, film-going audiences after running through film festivals like some men go through women. McQueen himself reportedly told prospective buyers two things – it had to stay uncut (thus guaranteeing that fearful NC-17 rating) and they would have to push lead actor Michael Fassbender for recognition come awards season. The film has stayed uncut, and Fassbender won’t need a back cover For Your Consideration ad for viewers to recognize that he’s turned in the most brave (and bare) performance of the year. McQueen and Fassbender have reteamed for their second feature with Shame (following 2008’s Hunger, a similarly wrenching film that established both men as talents to watch), and the film only cements their bond and shared aesthetic – one that film fans should be eternally anxious to see more of. Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, a handsome Manhattanite whose seemingly normal exterior shields his true self, one driven almost entirely by his out-of-control addiction to sex. McQueen approaches his subject in an almost clinical manner – using Sean Bobbitt‘s stunning cinematography to observe Brandon in his natural environment, as it were, a predator amongst prey. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more obvious (and more and more unsettling) that Brandon is not “safe” around any woman. He leers at women on the subway, gets a touch too close physically to his own kin, manhandles a perfect stranger in a bar […]

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Director Steve McQueen’s second collaboration with his Hunger star Michael Fassbender, Shame, has been getting almost universally effusive praise as it’s made its way through the recent festival circuit (Venice, Toronto). The film sees Fassbender as Gothamite Brandon, a sex addict who uses his very apparent addiction to keep emotions at arms’ length. Brandon’s tenuous lifestyle is thrown for a loop when his younger sister (Carey Mulligan), who is just as damaged as him (though perhaps in different ways), shows up to live with him. For all the chatter we’ve heard about the film (and, in particular, Fassbender’s very naked in every sense of the word performance), we’ve yet to see a trailer until today. The film itself is laced through with all manner of explicit and deviant sex acts, complete with plenty of nudity from its cast, but the first trailer for the film doesn’t capitalize on that aspect. Instead, it cuts together the different pieces of Brandon’s life, from his late night runs to his constantly leering eye, and it’s quite competent at showing a man whose multi-faceted appearance is really all in service to his carnal desires. Put on some protection (from the elements! for the running! obviously!) and check out the first (mostly SFW) trailer for Shame after the break.

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Steve McQueen is a proven visual artist and up and coming film director who I’m keeping my eye on very closely. So far he’s made two very challenging, and very rewarding films. The first was called Hunger, and it was about the famous 1981 IRA hunger strikes in a Northern Ireland prison. The second is a forthcoming feature called Shame, and it’s a very frank look at the life of a man who suffers from sexual compulsion. Both films are visually beautiful, experimental in their approach to filmmaking, and starring Michael Fassbender. I would highly recommend checking them out. It’s already been reported that McQueen’s next film will be a telling of the life of Solomon Northrup called 12 Years a Slave, and that Chiwetel Ejiofor will be starring. Northrup was a free man kidnapped from Washington in 1841 and forced into slavery for twelve years until he was rescued from a Louisiana plantation in 1853. The film will be based off his biography of the same name. The new information being reported about the film is that Fassbender has signed on to the cast as well, re-teaming him with McQueen for the third time. There isn’t any word on who Fassbender will be playing, but that doesn’t really matter. Any word of Fassbender and McQueen working together is big news in my book, no matter what the project. While McQueen is one of the directors who I’m very excited to watch develop over the next few years, Fassbender is […]

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Visual artist turned visual artist who directs feature films Steve McQueen turned a lot of heads with his 2008 feature debut Hunger. It was a visual experience chock full of beautiful photography, great performances, and experimental filmmaking. His second film Shame, which stars Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, and supposedly explores sexuality and human nature, is getting ready to debut in Toronto and Venice come their September film festivals. Before we even get a chance to take in that film, however, comes word of what McQueen plans to work on next.

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Culture Warrior

Themes of identity, difference, stigma, and othering are explicitly or implicitly present in much of the X-Men mythology, whether expressed through comics, television shows, or films. While I was never a devotee to the comics, as a fan of the 90s animated television series and (some of) the recent slate of Hollywood films (that have, as of this past weekend, effectively framed the continually dominant superhero blockbuster genre), I’ve always been fascinated by the series’ ability to take part in the language of social identity issues. Fantastic genres like horror and sci-fi have often provided an allegorical means of addressing social crises (vampire films as AIDS metaphor, zombie movie as conformist critique, or Dystopian sci-fi as technocratic critique, for example). The superhero genre has possessed a similar history in this capacity, even though it has thus far been mostly unrealized in the medium of film. As big entertainment, superhero films ranging from the first Spider-Man to the Iron Man films have bestowed narratives of exceptionalism and wish-fulfillment rather than shown any aspiration towards critique or insight. Perhaps The Dark Knight is most involved example of social critique thus far – a film that explores themes surrounding the personal toll on fighting terror and the overreaches of power that can result in the name of pursuing safety. What X-Men: First Class (almost) accomplishes is mining fully the allegorical territory made available by its fantastic premise in a way that few previous comic book films have.

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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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Culture Warrior

Today is the day of the midterm elections, a day which will mark the stark transition from functionaries on the center who can’t accomplish anything holding office to functionaries on the right who are too busy yelling in every direction to accomplish anything holding office. Under that grand political tradition whose unwavering slogan is “Losing = Tyranny,” much has been made from candidates on the far right (who will become mainstream right if elected or exponentially grating windbags if not) about staging an armed revolution if, y’know, that whole democracy thing doesn’t work out for them. Well, before the pasty and overweight turn off the Fox News echo chamber and actually embody the daunting degree at which human action can precede human thought by taking arms against an administration that has done nothing to challenge their 2nd Amendment rights, I’d like to use the history of cinema to illustrate what true revolt against actual political oppression looks like.

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For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by examining a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today. Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t make us starve to death in an Irish prison camp. Part 4 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Self-Sacrifice for an Ideal” with video artist Steve McQueen’s feature directorial debut, Hunger.

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This week The Criterion Collection unleashed a few films, but none as powerful as the 2008 import, Hunger. Hunger is the most recent IFC film to end up in Criterion’s careful hands.

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Rob Hunter loves movies. He also loves playing drums in a Genesis cover band. These two joys come together in the form of cash money payments that he receives every week and immediately uses to buy more DVDs. This week sees a couple fantastic films from Criterion, two surprisingly entertaining TV series, and more. Oh, and smegma.

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Some years at the cineplex are just better than others. Which years those are can always be debated, hence the reason why FSR writer Paul Sileo and FSR’s resident devil’s advocate Josh Radde sat on their collective asses to hash out whether or not 2009 was particularly strong or notably weak.

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In the last month of the past decade, we put our readership through the ringer. We unleashed list after list of our favorites of the decade and the year. And if you can suffer through one more round of awesomeness, it will all be over. For now.

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