Katherine Hepburn

Culture Warrior

Tomorrow, the Sacha Baron Cohen-starring, Larry Charles-directed The Dictator opens. Unlike the previous two docu-prank collaborations between Charles and Cohen, the humor of the fully staged Dictator doesn’t so much rely on the reactions of ‘real people’ to an idiosyncratic foreigner as it uses its fish-out-of-water arc to chronicle the pseudo-enlightened changes that its eponymous character experiences (this is all based on the film’s advertising – I have yet to see it). With its riches-to-rags narrative, The Dictator seems to be the newest iteration of a long tradition in Hollywood comedy: the story of the redeemable asshole. It’s rather appropriate that the teaser trailer for Anchorman 2 will be premiering in front of The Dictator.  Will Ferrell has made the redeemable asshole into something of an art form in his collaborations with Adam McKay. Ferrell’s often narcissistic, privileged, ignorant, and empathy-challenged creations should, by any measure of any other genre (audiences are far less tolerant of asshole protags in, say, dramedys) be reviled by audiences. But we ultimately find something redeemable, even lovable, in Ferrell’s jerks, even if this surface-level redemption overshadows the fact that they never quite achieve the level of self-awareness that would actually redeem one from assholedom. These are characters we would likely avoid in nearly any real-life circumstance, but yet we go see movies about them learning life lessons which add up to little more than common knowledge for the rest of us. The redeemable asshole is often a white male who is conniving, manipulative, entitled, […]

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Culture Warrior

Imagine what some of our most beloved romantic films would look like if they were made in the 21st century. Laura and Alec of David Lean’s Brief Encounter could have managed their secret meetups over text. Harry and Sally could have checked each others’ okcupid accounts before explaining every aspect of what they seek in a partner over a cross-country road trip. And Ilsa would never have had to get on that plane because, y’know, the war’s over. This is a fruitless endeavor, I know, but it brings one thing into light which poses both problems and opportunities for the contemporary romance film, specifically the romantic comedy: politics, economic conditions, shifting gender roles, and technological evolution means different kinds of relationships and, thus, different kinds of romantic movies. How can the 21st century romance film expect the wedding-bell-chiming happy ending to work in a society full of emerging adults who feel less and less of a need to get married? How can new romantic comedies account for the fact that today’s working professional must move constantly – putting all their human relationships at risk – in order to find a job that suits them without only making films about the uber-privileged? Will there ever be a mainstream romantic comedy featuring a non-monogomous or non-heteronormative protagonist? Several recent screen romances have attempted to tackle the changing nature of relationships – or, at least, the type of relationship typically depicted in the Hollywood romance.

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Criterion Files

The problem with cinephilia is that eventually one feels that they begin to run out of ‘essential’ films to see. The act of watching movies is continually a process of discovery, but as one continues to watch films not as a hobby but as a part of their life-blood, it becomes harder to find individual titles that are revelatory and profound, movies that shape an alter not only your conception of cinema, but art and life as well. The more you see, the fewer new experiences you have – not only because you may have traversed the corners of whatever canon you’ve chosen to cover, but because individual titles become objects of interest accentuating a larger understanding of the medium rather than individual exploits of incredible worth. To see a truly outstanding film, then, becomes an even more rare and valuable occurrence. David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1946) is simply one of those films that I’m surprised I hadn’t seen before, not because I have any pretensions toward having anything approaching a “comprehensive” knowledge of film, but because it’s a work of such profound perfection that it seems only natural that this movie would have been made in this precise way. It’s an audacious, incongruous film, exceptional and unmatched. It’s a devastating and beautiful film that I’m not surprised has survived time’s test, for its themes are as insightful and resonant as its storytelling is engrossing and affecting.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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