identity

Criterion Files

Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula. Island of Lost Souls. The Most Dangerous Game. The Night of the Hunter. The Blob. For a company perhaps best known for releasing pristine editions of international arthouse classics, The Criterion Collection certainly has a healthy amount of cult films in its repertoire. Cult cinema is often a difficult beast to recognize, for such films avoid the roads best travelled in their journey towards recognition and renown. Unlike seminal films in the collection including The 400 Blows, 8 ½, or Rashomon, cult films aren’t typically met with immediate cultural or institutional recognition upon release, aren’t made by internationally-recognized talent, and don’t always have an immediately traceable history of influence. That is, however, what makes cult films so interesting and so valuable: they emerge without expectation or pretense and signal the most populist and anti-elite means by which a film can gain recognition, pointing to the fact that there are always valuable films potentially overlooked between the pages of history. Herk Harvey’s low-budget drive through horror masterpiece Carnival of Souls (1962), like many cult films, emerged into the top tier of film culture in some of the unlikeliest of ways. Harvey was an industrial and educational filmmaker; the $33,000 Carnival was his only feature work. The film had ten minutes lobbed off of it for its drivethru run to fit more screenings, and was largely a non-event when it first graced American screens. Carnival’s success is owed mostly to genre film festivals, late-night television […]

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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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This Week in DVD

It’s a light week on the DVD front but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing good being released today. One of our festival favorites (A Somewhat Gentle Man) from last year’s Fantastic Fest is finally getting a release, and it’s well worth a blind buy for fans of strong acting, humorous Fargo-esque stories, and Stellan Skarsgard. The somewhat maligned Green Hornet is also hitting shelves, and if you missed it in theaters it’s worth a rental as a lightweight but fun action romp. But they’re not all winners this week… Ron Howard’s tone-deaf comedy(?) The Dilemma comes out too. Identity This new series from the UK follows a specialized police unit in London that handles cases involving identity thieves and their unhappy (or occasionally dead) victims. Once again the UK comes through with another cop/criminal series that manages to be both entertaining and interesting as well as featuring an engaging, charismatic, and extremely troubled lead. Aidan Gillen’s DI John Bloom is an “ends justify the means” kind of cop (the best kind), and his past life working undercover with the Turkish mob offers an equally fascinating side storyline. Great stuff.

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The twist ending is a difficult thing to perfect. Attempting such an ending runs many risks. For one, if the twist occurs with the natural trajectory of the story, the impact of the twist can be lessened for the spectator if they accurately guess it along the way. Perhaps more commonly, twist endings simply don’t work most of the time – more often than not, they come across as cheap, insincere attempts at making the spectator think they have experienced a more intelligent film than they actually have…

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