Film

Friday, March 21, 2014

What Muppets Most Wanted Does Right—And Divergent Does Wrong

Posted By on Fri, Mar 21, 2014 at 10:25 AM

muppets most wanted movie
As much as I love the Muppets in general and the Jason Segel-led relaunch The Muppets in particular, that 2011 film nonetheless set up a number of potential mistakes for any immediate followups: mistaking Jim Henson's creations for sentimental 80s nostalgia items; remaking other Henson projects the way The Muppets kinda-sorta redid The Muppet Movie; or over-relying on adorable humans like Segel and Amy Adams. Muppets Most Wanted skips past these pitfalls with near-miraculous aplomb; in its sweet, kid-friendly way, it's fall-down hilarious.

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The Greatest Movies Never Made

Posted By on Fri, Mar 21, 2014 at 9:45 AM

alejandro jodorwsky dune documentary
The unmade film is a Messiah delayed in coming. Its promises of grace persist; paradisiacal new worlds would've been shown to us—if only we had been less venal, less obsessed with revenue! But the movies are an earthly business; after enough signs of visionary madness, funding gets withdrawn. Meanwhile, studio orthodoxies continue unopposed. Bits of the unmade film’s footage get lost, or screen in bowdlerized forms at festivals, or are hoarded by true believers like the tatters of a holy text. Orson Welles dies. Kubrick dies. And David Lynch makes Dune.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , , , , , and on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

the bowery raoul walsh wallace beery
The Bowery (1933)
Directed by Raoul Walsh
This is a nostalgic mythologizing of the Lower East Side in the bad old days when it was dangerous and exciting—the 1890s. Daredevil Steve Brodie’s disputed leap off the newly constructed Brooklyn Bridge is one climax of the rivalry between fleshy saloon-keeper Wallace Beery and sharpish George Raft (as Brodie), which breaks out all along the titular seedy strip in roughhouse vignettes involving bareknuckle brawls, chorus girls, and many exploding cigars (plus very dated ethnic backslapping. Be prepared!). Against such high spirits, how can shared love interest Fay Wray hope to compete? Walsh, the original vulgar auteur, keeps things “poifectly” broad. Mark Asch (Mar 25 at BAM, part of its Scorsese/Walsh series)

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Friday, March 14, 2014

If TV's So Great, Why Are So Many TV Stars Making Movies?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 12:26 PM

veronica mars movie kristen bell
The sever-crashing mania for HBO's True Detective, starring recent Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, probably serves as one more notch in the belt for the TV-is-the-new-movies crowd. But despite the number of talented actors and stars that HBO, Showtime, FX, and even major networks have been able to attract, making a movie still holds some obvious appeal, however diminished. For Veronica Mars, appearing on movie screens this weekend, just short of seven years after the TV show of the same name ended appropriately but abruptly, a big-screen revival represents two distinct but intertwined thrills: a chance for two more hours with characters a small-but-passionate segment of TV-watchers have been desperate to revisit; and a chance for that limited time (about the length of three TV episodes, minus credits) to unspool on a giant screen, in the dark, with a low budget that is nonetheless many times more than any given three episodes of the TV series.

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"Together We Fill Gaps": Rocky the Movie vs. Rocky the Musical

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 10:46 AM

rocky broadway
After what could be reduced to a dull montage of couch potato-ing, what movie fan hasn’t succumbed to unabashed corniness and cheered for Rocky Balboa, that consummate underdog, that poet of the heart and body if not the brain? Unabashedly rah-rah, it isn’t surprising that the Rocky series, in contrast to other cash-in franchises, has retained a not-insignificant amount of cultural currency, cited whenever training montages or the end of the Cold War come up. But, for a moment, set aside the iconography: the museum steps, sides of beef and raw eggs, “Eye of the Tiger,” and the rest. Its reputation long diluted by inferior sequels and the unfulfilled potential of Sylvester Stallone’s subsequent career, it’s easy to forget that the original film is a masterpiece. Now here's Rocky: The Musical to remind us.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , and on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 9:00 AM

art garfunkel having sex bad timing nicolas roeg 1980 movie
Bad Timing (1980)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
This elliptical erotic thriller retraces the ins-and-outs of a tumultuous affair between an American psychology professor (Art Garfunkel—yes, that Art Garfunkel) and his younger lover (a wound-up and wild Theresa Russell). Shot in Vienna, Roeg’s 'Scope compositions are grand and lurid, and they exhibit his usual eye for squirm-inducing details. Russell was essentially made to star in erotic thrillers, but Garfunkel is also great, brooding like there’s no tomorrow. A baby-faced Harvey Keitel plays the detective trying to get to the bottom of things—and he's the receiving end of one of the best put-downs in cinema history: “People ring you. They telephone me.” Zach Clark (March 15, 18 at MoMA, part of its Vienna Unveiled series)

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman and Animation's Box-Office Domination

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 10:30 AM

mr. peabody and sherman movie rocky and bullwinkle spinoff
Mainstream animation fans have been riding such a high these past few months that they can probably completely overlook the likes of Free Birds and The Nut Job, which are merely disturbing proof that any upstart studio can crank out chintzy-looking computer animation and get recognizable stars to provide the voices. While these movies have been doing well enough, they've been overwhelmed by the roars of approval for Disney Animation's Frozen—which has become Disney's biggest non-Pixar hit in years (and in actual dollars, their flat-out biggest cartoon hit ever) and won the company their first non-Pixar Oscar for feature animation—and the even less likely mega-success of The Lego Movie, from often animation-challenged Warner Brothers and, more important, Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Brooklyn Oscar Winners of 2014

Posted By on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Robert Bobby Lopez Kristin Anderson-Lopez Frozen Let it Go Oscar win Brooklyn
You can usually find Brooklyn's Oscar nominees among the directors of the short films. But as the borough's cultural stock continues to rise, this year, the locals competing for statues were found in more high-profile categories—and a few of them even won! Brooklyn's biggest victory of the night was the Best Supporting Actress award, which went to Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave. The actress, who delivered perhaps the most respected acceptance speech of the ceremony, moved to our borough within days of finishing shooting of the movie that would make her a star, the New York Post reported last year, "because she has more of a professional and social network here. These days, she spends time with pals at spots like Fort Greene’s Madiba, her favorite restaurant to get fries. She also recently started a book club."

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The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , and on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 8:30 AM

I Confess movie hitchcock montgomery clift
I Confess (1953)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock sets his prototypical “wrong man” plot, a contraption designed to induce panic and shame, within his childhood faith, Roman Catholicism, and laces it with the guilt of sinful thoughts. Montgomery Clift, trim-waisted in his cassock, is a priest whose penitent confesses to murder, and then himself becomes suspected of a crime he had reason to desire. Hitch frames Quebec City’s suitably medieval religious architecture with the same supplicatory low-angle shots he uses for close-ups, building an atmosphere of fear and trembling. Clift, his face haunted with shadows, is very believable as a self steeled to living with a secret. Mark Asch (Mar 5 at Film Forum, part of its The Complete Hitchcock series)

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Monday, March 3, 2014

What is Hollywood Escaping?: Classism at the Oscars

Posted By on Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 10:17 AM

oscars pizza ellen brad pitt
  • Oh, you poor people must be so hungry!
Hollywood studios make two kinds of movies: those that offer escape and those with an inescapable message. Rarely is this dichotomy so neatly represented by the two frontrunners for the Academy Award for Best Picture: the dopey but spectacularly space-glittery Gravity and the solemn 12 Years a Slave, wagging its finger sternly at slavery. Host Ellen DeGeneres joked in her monologue that the room would prove itself racist if the producers of any movie but 12 Years took home statues, and dutifully the Academy voters bestowed Brad Pitt, Steve McQueen and some other people in the background with Oscars before ABC syndicates switched to your local nightly news. It was a victory for prestige-picture storytelling, for middlebrow movies with a social conscious. But, despite winners Jared Leto (!) and Lupita Nyong'o speaking directly to troubled audiences in Ukraine, Venezuela, Africa, and elsewhere, the telecast—as usual—was about escapism, which explains why Gravity walked away with seven awards, sweeping the technical side: Director, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, etc.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Non-Stop: Also the Name of Liam Neeson's Career?

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 12:08 PM

non-stop movie liam neeson jaume collett-sera airplane
At 61, Liam Neeson has become such a force at the box office that only an off-brand Jesus dares to mess with him. The only wide release facing the aging actor's latest actioner Non-Stop this weekend is Son of God—which, I was stunned to learn, has actually been pieced together from the History Channel's Bible miniseries, incorporating some new footage into a tedious-looking retelling of Christ's life. Neeson's resurrection may not be quite that impressive, but it's certainly unusual to see an actor go from serious biopic mainstay and old-man-mentor roles to all-out action hero—and that's exactly what happened when Neeson's Taken finally got a US release in 2009.

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A Guide to Filling Out Your Oscar Ballot: Predictions in Every Category

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM

oscars academy awards statues
As usual, I'm here to predict the winners in every single Oscar category; say who I'd vote for, were I to find myself inhabiting the body of an Academy member, Malkovich-style; and complain about films and performances that were overlooked by this weird group of old people, showbiz lifers, and disgruntled key grips (I'd like to assume). I don't mean to validate the supposed significance of the Academy Awards, but it's undeniably prestigious from an industry point of view and—perhaps not coincidentally—tends to air at a time of year when it's more fun to look back on the previous movie year (even if it ended two months ago) than to go out and see, you know, 3 Days to Kill or something. So play no heed to that theater critic who recently sniffed about the low quality of the 2013 films he's bothered to sample and how film critics must be a bunch of Twittering groupthinking numbskulls; instead, review 2013's excellent slate of movies—some of which were even nominated for awards—one last time as a palate-cleanser before Wes Anderson, Lars von Trier, David Gordon Green, Jim Jarmusch, the Muppets, and Captain America show up to rescue your spring.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , , , , , and on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 8:00 AM

bucket of blood roger corman movie 1959 dick miller
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Directed by Roger Corman
This 66-minute Beatnik lampoon and slice of Grand Guignol, as is usually the case with films produced under Corman's aegis, sneakily advances some ideas about the tension between artistic expression and commerce. Outsider Walter (Dick Miller), a janitor and hack sculptor who works at a hip-and-happenin’ café, is stifled in his creative work but accidentally finds a niche for himself in the underground art market by plaster-casting corpses. Corman is as ungenerous to his talentless protagonist as he is to the poseurs who populate Walter’s milieu, but the sentiments rumbling beneath the surface of this threadbare schlock touch on some pretty serious questions—namely, how to make a living making art? Dan Sullivan (Feb 27 at Spectacle, part of its Fact vs. Fiction in Beat Cinema series)

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Moviefone Will Cancel Its Phone Service

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 11:59 AM

moviefone kramer seinfeld
  • "Why don't you just tell me the name of the movie you selected?"
In the near future, a call to 777-FILM won't result in the familiar greeting of, "Hel-lo! And welcome to Moviefone!" The company announced that it will soon cancel its phone service, which has spread showtime information to callers from big cities for the last 25 years, and focus on its app and website, the Times reports. The move highlights how much America's movie-watching habits have changed so quickly: Blockbuster announced late last year that it would close the last of its few remaining brick-and-mortar locations, and today's big business story is about a deal between Netflix and Comcast about how the two will distribute data. ("That the technical, arcane details of how streaming videos arrive on a customer’s screen are the focus of corporate announcements and media coverage speaks to the outsize importance of Comcast and Netflix in how Americans now watch movies and television," the Times reports.)

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Friday, February 21, 2014

The Auteurism Spectrum, From Vulgar to Respectable

Posted By on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 9:15 AM

wind rises hayao miyazaki jiro horikoshi
Three undeniable auteurs have movies out this weekend. The one of most concern to film buffs is animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki, whose The Wind Rises gets a proper (if limited) release following a one-week awards-qualifying run in late 2013. (The qualifying worked: it's up for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.) Miyazaki claimed at some point that Rises would be his last movie, and if it's not exactly a culmination of his past films (of which I've only seen some), it's a convincing finale in the way it engages with a man's life work.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , , , , , and on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

beneath the valley of the ultra vixens russ meyer
Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
Directed by Russ Meyer
After two big studio pictures (cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and total flop The Seven Minutes), Meyer returned to his independent roots, producing a series of dirty pictures that have more in common with Frank Tashlin and Tex Avery than the wave of hardcore pornography then-engulfing the exploitation industry. This is a non-stop montage of sight gags and sexual deviancy, played out in Meyer’s exuberant, meticulous images and breakneck-speed editing. Yes, there’s kind of a plot in there, too. But who cares? This is Meyer at his most potent—frenetic, kinetic, and, in the film’s words, “hotter than a Mexican’s lunch.” Zach Clark (Feb 21-23 at Anthology, part of its Russ Meyer And Roger Ebert series)

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Friday, February 14, 2014

There Are Three New 80s Movie Remakes In Theaters This Weekend

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 9:15 AM

robocop remake 2014 people need jobs not robots
Happy Valentine's Day! Hollywood got you not one but three different 80s remakes in a single weekend, like they were programming a festival or something. The most recognizable is probably Robocop, because the 1987 Paul Verhoeven original is, to quote movie-geek scripture, a masterwork of satirical sci-fi, and because it was also marketed to children and spawned two sans-Verhoeven sequels. Its true follow-ups are the other two Verhoeven sci-fi pictures: Total Recall and Starship Troopers. Recall already got a toothless remake back in 2012; a redo of Starship Troopers (based more on the book, blah blah blah) has been in the works for years. Right now, we have to contend not just with a new Robocop but the idea that it might not be so bad; our own Steve Macfarlane devil's-advocates that maybe Verhoeven's movie isn't so great in the first place.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Matthew Barney's Epic of Excrement and Divinity

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 4:03 PM

river of fundament matthew barney
In isolation, River of Fundament, Matthew Barney’s mythopoeic epic of death and rebirth, excrement and divinity, cars and men, is a towering morass of ideas, symbols, and anuses. Given enough rope, as Barney amply furnishes, the film might convincingly be seen as a spectacular auto-execution, like that of Gary Gilmore, whose life and later death-by-firing-squad Barney welded into his Cremaster Cycle. To its detractors, the Cremaster Cycle was what its title, referring to the muscle that lifts and lowers the testicles, suggested—a masturbatory mess. River of Fundament (at BAM through February 16) could likewise be dismissed as a stream of shit.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , and on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 9:30 AM

hyenas djilbril diop mambety senegal
Hyenas (1992)
Directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty
A middle-aged woman named Linguère Ramatou (Ami Diakhate) returns to her Senegalese hometown, Colobane, after 30 years. At age 16 she was impregnated by a shopkeeper who left her for a wealthy woman and banished into disgrace; now she herself is “richer than the World Bank” (as a townsperson declares) and offering 100,000 million to Colobane’s impoverished people in exchange for the death of Dramaan Drameh (Mansour Diaf), her apologetic former partner. The great Mambéty’s second feature film (adapted from Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play The Visit, and screening in 35mm) joins his earlier film Touki Bouki (1973) in showing the ongoing damage of neocolonialism through a parable about what people will do for money. Several of Colobane’s residents stand in a line after Ramatou makes her offer, thrilled with the prospect of receiving new refrigerators, washing machines, and televisions. In other scenes, Ramatou sits pensively overlooking her youth’s waters, her pained eyes suggesting that to buy the town she has sold her heart. Aaron Cutler (Feb 12 at BAM, part of its Vengeance is Hers)

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Is It Ever Ok to Walk Out of a Movie?

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 12:45 PM

the critic jay sherman it stinks tv show
I can't remember ever walking out of a movie, press screening or otherwise, but I have the luxury of not seeing that many. Granted, as someone who edits a film section (among other things) and also writes about movies, I see a lot more than a lot of people, at least new ones, the kind not on basic cable: I review a movie a week, try to see something I didn't in the theater, maybe catch up with another on DVD or Netflix. I get to choose what I want to see, based on who's in it or behind it, what I've read about it by other critics, or even just its plot description or who distributed it. Many working critics aren't so lucky.

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