Waltz with Bashir

Drafthouse Films

This weekend sees the release of The Congress, from visionary director Ari Folman. It’s the Israeli filmmaker’s first feature since his 2008 masterpiece, Waltz with Bashir, but unlike its predecessor, the new film is not a documentary. It’s in English, rather than Hebrew, and stars a handful of recognizable Hollywood actors. It is, to say the least, something of a departure. Yet it shares one very significant piece of DNA with the earlier film: it’s animated, under the leadership of the great Yoni Goodman. A masterpiece, after all, is not always the work of a single genius. Waltz with Bashir may have sprung from the mind of Folman, but the execution owes a great deal to Goodman’s ingenuity, particularly in the pioneering of Adobe Flash cutout animation. It looks like rotoscope, the tracing over live-action footage, but it’s not. This approach to design gave the film its rich style, vividly evocative of forgotten memories and blurred nightmares. Moreover, Goodman’s contribution was more than just the brilliant utilization of a technique. His stylistic vision is consistent across a number of his other accomplishments, though most of them aren’t on the grand scale of his collaborations with Folman. Let’s take a look at three examples, riveting cartoons with an almost eerie beauty.

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Robin Wright in The Congress

Stardom is a fundamentally contradictory experience for audiences. On the one hand, we can feel like we know a star intimately as a human being, despite the many roles that they play and despite the fact that they do not know us. We carry our past knowledge of the star onto each new project. And every time a star is captured by a camera, a brief record of them is made, in a moment solidified for a seeming eternity. Marlene Dietrich may be long deceased, but in revisiting any close-up fashioned from Josef von Sternberg’s films, she can feel as immediate to us as she was to the cameras eighty years ago. On the other hand, a star is always both more and less than a human being. Stars are the foundation for an industry of magazines, brand names readily available for peddling products, personalities to be mimicked, fashion icons to aspire to, and economic conditions for a film’s making and marketing. We can experience fleeting moments of intimacy with a star image, but the industry that makes stardom possible continually alienates us from a polished, selectively represented human being before us. It is through this dual capacity of stardom that stars continue to exist well after the physical lives of the people who embodied them. These inherent tensions between personhood and media are explored in great depth in Ari Folman’s new film The Congress, a film that uses the strange condition of stardom and the technological advancements of the current […]

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Culture Warrior

For the first time in recent memory, I’m going into Oscar Sunday having no idea who is likely to take home many of the major awards. I’m sure there are entire websites out there devoted to an accurate prediction of who and what will take home the gold on Sunday, but there seems something a bit different about this year. Of the nine films nominated, I don’t have a clear sense of what would be the top five had AMPAS not changed the number of entries in the top category. While The Artist may clearly have more of a chance than, say, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, there’s no grand battle between likely leads like there was between The King’s Speech and The Social Network last year. And I don’t think I’m alone in stating that this year’s uninspiring list of nominees seems to reflect a growing indifference against the ceremony itself. Sure, on Sunday, like I have every year since I was eleven years old, I’ll watch the entire ceremony from beginning to end. And, like every year since I was twenty-one years old, I’ll make fun of the pompous and excessive self-congratulatory nature of the proceedings. But while in most years I have had some skin in the game, besides the two nominations afforded to the excellent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the presence of the transcendentally excellent Pina in the Best Documentary Feature category, this year I didn’t even get a sense that the Academy was awarding […]

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Culture Warrior

I often find that, as a devotee to cinema and little else, I understand history through cinema. After all, cinema can take me to places I’ve never been and times I never lived with a particular sensory gestalt that’s simply not quite the same in other art forms. This is not to say that I make the mistake of substituting cinema for history, or treat cinema the same way I would treat a credible historical annal. But cinema, especially narrative fiction, has a fascinating capacity to represent subjective experiences and particular perspectives of history. By considering history through its cinematic representation, we may not become authorities of chronology, but rather understand emotions and experiences associated with lived events. Few movies claim to be comprehensive authorities of historical representation through cinema (and yes, selection, while problematic is essential for historical writing as well, but cinema simply provides yet another layer of artifice). Some films are canonized as such (anything from Saving Private Ryan to Ken Burns’s documentaries), but even as these are incomplete historiographies, they are in a sense “complete” biographies of thought, reflection, interpretation, and emotion.

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decade_foreignfilms

As part of our epic, two week long Decade in Review, master of the Foreign Objects Rob Hunter lays down his picks of the best foreign language films of the decade.

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culturewarrior-animated09

While 2009 may have been a weak year for movies overall, animated films shined in a way they haven’t in a very long time.

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bluray-header

Like Vanilla Ice, I’m back again with new smooth sounds for This Week in Blu-ray. Only a few days late this week, so it would appear as if things are improving.

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DVDs I Bought This Week!

Rob Hunter loves movies. He also loves selling his plasma. These two joys come together in the form of cash money payments that he receives every week and immediately uses to buy more DVDs.

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Waltz with Bashir

Waltz With Bashir opens on an animated, rain-soaked street to the sounds of growling. What follows is a real-life documentary and quest for answers.

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awdsmustsee-header

Are you an awards season junkie? Do you love to be able to sit there and look smart in front of your friends and family, most of whom only make it out to the movies once a year to see the latest Jim Carrey comedy, by being able to talk endlessly about all of the “important” movies of the year? If so, consider this your awards season to-do list.Fr

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