Into the Abyss

Last night, at a special event in conjunction with the AFI FEST, the nominees for the 2013 Cinema Eye Honors were announced. And once again, the titles contending for the ten feature categories, all of which focus solely on nonfiction films (to make up for the Oscars’ minimal recognition), represent the year’s best in documentaries. As someone who professionally concentrates on docs elsewhere, I tend to feel kinda useless or redundant when Cinema Eye names its nominees, because now when someone asks me what’s great this year I can just point to their list of 31 features. Of course, some of these films are only up for specific honors, like those for original music score and graphic design, and may not be quite as necessary as the six up for the top award or the 10 nominated for the Audience Choice Prize (which sadly, for publicity-sake, lacks a Justin Bieber movie like last year). Also, I could name a bunch of exceptional docs that haven’t been recognized, such as This is Not a Film, The House I Live In, Under African Skies, Beware of Mr. Baker, Last Call at the Oasis, The Queen of Versailles, Girl Model (though its directors are up for Downeast) and The Invisible War. Still, I’m very excited that one of my top three nonfiction films of the year, The Imposter, is one of the most-nominated titles, while I’m even more ecstatic that the CEH could bring more attention to brilliant, lesser-known works like Only the […]

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This Week in DVD

Welcome back to This Week In DVD! This is actually the third anniversary of my stewardship of the column, and I want to thank all of you for stopping by each and every Tuesday to check out the week’s best and worst DVD releases. I’ve discovered countless fantastic films over the last three years, and I hope some of you can claim the same. Or even just one of you. This week’s releases include an utterly terrible biopic (with great makeup!) of Margaret Thatcher, Werner Herzog’s best documentary from 2011, a bland alien invasion flick set in Moscow, a powerful boys-in-prison drama from Norway and more! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Conversation Piece Burt Lancaster plays a retired American living in Rome whose quiet life is interrupted by a quartet of rude and rambunctious neighbors. They talk their way into renting his upstairs apartment, and over the course of the months that follow they worm their way into his life with interruptions, destruction, seduction and endless conversation. Luchino Visconti’s film is a beautifully shot tale of clashing ideals and intellects unafraid to mix political discussion with homoerotic undertones and black comedy with a sexy teenage seductress. Raro Video has done a fantastic job with the film’s first widescreen, English language release in the US, and while the link here is for their new Blu-ray transfer a DVD version is also available.

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The supplementary title for Werner Herzog’s new documentary about capital punishment is “A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life.” These clauses are placed in a perplexing order that seems, at first, to run in reverse. However, when viewing the film, it becomes abundantly clear why life is not necessarily a linear trajectory that ends in death, with all the mutual exclusivity implied in the assumed separation of these categories. Instead, Into the Abyss argues that death is something one perpetually lives with, especially the certain knowledge of impending death in the case of state-run execution or in the memory of death when one’s loved one has been murdered. The certainty and harsh reality of death not only plagues the prisoner and the victim’s kin, but also profoundly effects a large array of individuals involved directly or indirectly with every heinous crime and execution. The timing of the release of Into the Abyss is worth noting. In September, Troy Davis was executed in the face of massive public protest and significant lingering doubts as to the fairness of his trial. Many anti-death penalty advocates saw the case as a potentially fatal blow for state-run execution, as it illuminated flaws within the system which in turn troubled capital punishment’s logic of justice. A mere two months later, the Troy Davis case has been almost completely forgotten in the public sphere as the news cycle has turned its lenses to Occupy movements and the ongoing reality show known as GOP debates. The […]

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Last month the Oscar season officially kicked off, and this month we’ll be getting plenty more Oscar baiters and real contenders to add to the mix. We’ll get another Brett Ratner film, the 25th film of the decade from Clint Eastwood, another upbeat audience friendly film from Lars von Trier, and the most expected and clichéd, a Martin Scorsese “kids” film. A fairly promising month, right? I’ve already seen a few films coming out this month, and there’s plenty of good-to-great films to see, even one or two that didn’t make it on this list. Honorable Mentions: My Week with Marilyn (an extremely enjoyable film with a great performance by Kenneth Branagh), Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, and London Boulevard (a solid anti-cliché gangster film). But here are the names who made it all the way to the top ten:

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As it turns out, I’ve been slightly remiss when it comes to praising this year’s 25th edition of AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi. I’ve tossed off comments about how the festival gets better with every passing year, but in the wake of today’s announcement of the festival’s Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings, I’ve realized that I have not gone far enough. AFI FEST has not just gotten better this year, the festival has made a dramatic jump to top-tier status, rolling out titles that play like a cinephile’s Christmas list for 2011. Today’s lineup announcement is essentially a “best-of” list of this year’s festival favorites, including Michel Hazanavicius‘s The Artist, Steve McQueen‘s Shame, Oren Moverman‘s Rampart, Lynne Ramsay‘s We Need to Talk About Kevin, Roman Polanski‘s Carnage, Simon Curtis‘s My Week with Marilyn, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala, and Wim Wenders‘s Pina. AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. The best part? Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting October 27). After the break, check out the full list, including descriptions and showtimes, of the films to be featured as AFI FEST Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings.

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Last week the programmers for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival introduced the main course of this year’s festival lineup, fifty-three films from all over the world, big and small, about any number of subjects. The list was so impressive I ran out and booked a hotel room. So, now that I’m financially locked in to heading up to the city of David Cronenberg and that rapper who called himself SNOW, I’ll be following future announcements by the festival pretty closely. Today brought a big one. Adding to their initial lineup of films, TIFF has added a bunch of documentary works by fairly large documentary filmmakers and a bunch of genre works from fairly deranged genre filmmakers. First let’s take a look at some of the docs. Thom Powers is the lead programmer for documentaries, and about this year’s lineup he said, “I’m thrilled at the large number of veteran filmmakers who have brought us new works this year. The line-up contains a wide range of memorable characters – crusaders, convicts, artists, athletes, nude dancers, comic book fans, dog lovers and more. Not to mention the epic 15-hour Story of Film. These documentaries will have audiences discussing and debating for months to come.” I don’t think I’ll have time for that fifteen hour one, I’ve only got five days in the city, but the one about nude dancers is definitely on my docket.

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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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