Like Ficarra and Requa’s 2011 comedy Crazy Stupid Love, Focus begins promisingly and bops along enjoyably for a while, only to run out of steam…
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
Ten underrated female performances from 2014 worthy of Oscar consideration.
A piece on the first wave of critics groups awards and some predictions for SAG and the Golden Globe nominees.
"The San Francisco Bay Guardian" shuts down; Gabriel García Márquez chats with Akira Kurosawa; Kim Dickens on Fincher's "woman problem"; Comedy club charges per laugh; R.I.P. Elizabeth Peña.
Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel Peace Prize; 10 greatest vampire movies; Shonda Rhimes interview; Christianity Today hates "Left Behind"; Genius of nudity in "Gone Girl."
A review of Showtime's new drama "The Affair," starring Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson.
Pressure on female celebrities; Misogyny on "MasterChef"; Shut up Kevin Smith; Debunking myths of black education; Reflections on "The King of Comedy."
Sheila writes: Steven Soderbergh may be retired from movies, but he continues to be a very busy man, primarily with his Cinemax show "The Knick." But in the last couple of weeks, he also launched a conversation-starter on his own site, about the issue of "staging" scenes in film. Soderbergh writes that staging "(roughly defined) refers to how all the various elements of a given scene or piece are aligned, arranged, and coordinated." To show what he means, Soderbergh took a film with a high level of visual staging, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," stripped its sound, made it black-and-white, and overlaid the whole thing with the Trent Reznor/Atticus Finch synethized scores for David Fincher films. The result is a fascinating experiment in visual style. Soderbergh writes, "I operate under the theory a movie should work with the sound off." You can watch Soderbergh's "Raiders" experiment at his site.
This is a dispatch about the first weekend of NYFF 2014, including Green's "La Sapienza" and Fincher's "Gone Girl".
The right kind of 90s nostalgia; Cynthia Rothrock: Expendabelle; Favorite Fincher moments; Ten underrated 2014 performances; Chatting with Whit Stillman.
A review of "Extant" and "Hemlock Grove."
Writer Brian Tallerico responds to our Movie Love Questionnaire.
The first in a monthly series of video essays about unloved films, Scout Tafoya's video essay is an appreciation of "Alien 3," the debut feature by David Fincher.
Glenn Kenny highlights the picks of Blu-ray releases for the month of November
The biggest taboo in American cinema may be the direct-to-video (DTV) market. Director John Hyams was dropped by his agent after making the DTV "Universal Soldier: Regeneration." Fellow director Isaac Florentine has said "I discovered that being a straight to DVD director is…worse than saying you have malaria." To some extent, one can understand why DTV films have such a bad reputation: just watch the SyFy channel on Saturday night, or Cinemax at 2 am any night. Yet there's a certain freedom in making genre films without the budget to use extravagant CGI effects, and Hyams and Florentine have put it to good use. Over the past few years, a handful of critics, like ex-con Steven-Seagal-expert Vern and RogerEbert.com contributor Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, have championed their work. As the concept of vulgar auteurism has become a hot topic among the cinephile blogopshere recently, something's gotten lost in all the debate about whether Michael Bay and Tony Scott should be taken seriously. At heart, what seems worthwhile to me about vulgar auteurism is its championing of the best DTV genre films. Most 1950s intellectuals would have been horrified by the notion of taking Edgar G. Ulmer's "Detour" or Sam Fuller's "The Steel Helmet" seriously, and today they're considered essential. Isaac Florentine's "Undisputed III: Redemption" (2010) suffers from a surface cheesiness that manifests itself in several ways. The most obvious is the fact that the cast seems to have been assembled as much for its fighting ability as its acting talent. However, that turns out to be a strength in the end. Vin Diesel, pumped-up muscles and all, is no longer so convincing as a tough guy. Scott Adkins, who has teamed up with Florentine six times, is thoroughly believable as a man who's spent years in jail, and the rest of the actors who play prisoners look equally rough. Adkins plays Boyka, a Russian boxer forced to compete in a contest where eight prisoners fight each other for the amusement of depraved gamblers and jailers; the winner supposedly gets his freedom.The Smashing Machine," about boxer Mark Karr, seems relevant here.) I'm not sure where the film was shot, but one can practically smell the odor of industrial decay. Cinematographer Peter Hyams, the director's father and an accomplished director in his own right, livens up the film, particularly its fight scenes, with an array of blue, red, gray and gold filters. Rarely does "Regeneration" look naturalistic—it creates its own world, with a distinctive and unique feel. Like Florentine, Hyams avoids CGI, apart from blood-splatter effects."Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning" brings back van Damme, Lundgren and Arlovski, and introduces Scott Adkins to the "Universal Soldier" world, yet it feels very different from "Regeneration". It begins with the murder of John's (Adkins) wife and daughter by a group of thugs led by Luc. He falls into a coma and wakes up after nine months, but he seems to be suffering from mental problems. "Day of Reckoning" shows off Hyams' cinephilia, drawing first-person camerawork from Gaspar Noe's "Enter the Void," ominous walks down corridors from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and a boat trip down a swamp from Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." It's slightly less stylized than "Regeneration"; shot in Baton Rouge, its images sometimes resemble the real world, but that only makes John's psychological collapse more disturbing. Dozens of sci-fi films have drawn from Philip K. Dick's novels over the past thirty years; "Day of Reckoning" is one of the few to get his sense that everyday life could turn into a hallucination at any moment."Day of Reckoning" relies on the notion of living and dealing with implanted memories for its emotional charge. But what is cinema if not the art of implanting false memories? The film's DVD box features two separate quotes touting its brutal nature, and it is indeed startlingly violent. (Hyams himself describes the NC-17 cut as an endurance test.) Yet there's more to the violence than meets the eye. In an interview with Sara Freeman for the website MUBI, Hyams shows that he's thought seriously about the ethics of depicting bloodshed. "Day of Reckoning" takes place in a world where life is spectacularly cheap due to the proliferation of clones. This technology allows it to bring back a character who died in "Regeneration." Its ending shows a man dying and immediately being replaced by his clone. Both in its treatment of violence and the theme of memory, "Day of Reckoning" evokes the visceral power of good fiction and its ultimate artificiality. It's not cynical: its final scenes affirm the force of emotion, even if separated from real life.Hyams, Reine and Florentine's work seems at once part of a Hollywood tradition—their fight scenes look like Raoul Walsh or Allan Dwan compared to the chaotic blur of mega-budgeted blockbusters like "World War Z"—and hyper-modern. Beyond the genre tropes, they capture the physical and psychological pressures of the world we're living in. Florentine and Reine's films are less ambitious, but "Undisputed 3: Redemption" and "12 Rounds 2: Reloaded" evoke the same kind of weight as Hyams' "Universal Soldier" films. They may be working in the DTV ghetto—technically, "Day of Reckoning" played for one week in a New York theater last year—but they're describing the same world as a more prestigious filmmaker like Olivier Assayas. (Without making a big deal of it, Florentine uses casts drawn from all over the world.) I can't say that I've been impressed by the entire vulgar auteurist canon, but in the DTV arena, its critics have made some real discoveries.
You see it happen more and more often these days: a movie pauses to address a potential plot hole, then explains it away with clunky dialogue or ignores it and moves on. The movies are trying to plug leaks in a boat before the whole thing sinks—never quite repairing it, but doing just enough to get by.
Oh my. Here we go again with all the deathiness. Movie criticism keeps dying deader and deader. Film itself has keeled over and given up the ghost. Cinema ist kaput, and at the end of last month "movie culture" was pronounced almost as deceased as John Cleese's parrot. Ex-parrot, I mean. Then the movie "Looper" came out, posing questions like: "What if you could go back in time? Would you kill cinema?" Or something like that.
People, this dying has gotta stop.
Everything reminds me of movies. And movies remind me of everything. My life has been divided into roughly three states of consciousness: the time I've spent awake; the time I've spent asleep (and dreaming); the time I've spent in-between, in the dark, inhabiting movie-worlds. They're all essential, holistic components of what you might call my Total Life Experience. And I find that in some respects they all run together, aspects of one seeping into another: images, patterns, metaphors... So, when I read this re-evaluation of the new Apple iPhone 5 -- the feel of the thing -- it struck me as also being about a quality of certain movies that we don't discuss very often.
Rian Johnson's hyperviolent "Looper" (2102) is the smartest movie I have seen in a long time. It has that fearless edge of an independent film, throwing out all the stops. Its masterful plot carefully hides its foreshadows as elements of its constructed universe. It is a science fiction movie with rudiments of mystery, thriller, horror, comedy and even eschatology. So many characters, young and old, were loaded with charisma, sometimes unexpectedly. My fellow critic Nick Allen was correct when he told me not to watch any trailers (too late) and not to let anyone tell me about this movie. Because of its hyperkinetic, volatile unpredictability, I cannot help but to call this movie "crazy." After watching it, you might have to go look at snails for a few hours to calm down. More than that, this movie is clearly one of the best of the year.
OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.
I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.
It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.
The visceral impact that Ridley Scott's "Alien" had in 1979 can never quite be recaptured, partly because so many movies have adapted elements of its premise, design and effects over the last three decades -- from John Carpenter's remake of "The Thing" (1982) to David Cronenberg's remake of "The Fly" (1986) to "Species" (1998) and "Splice" (2009). No movie had ever looked like this. And it still works tremendously -- but let me tell you, in 1979 a major studio science-fiction/horror film that hinted darkly of interspecies rape and impregnation was unspeakably disturbing. (It got under my skin and has stayed there. We have a symbiotic relationship, this burrowing movie parasite and I. We nourish each other. I don't think Ridley Scott has even come close to birthing as subversive and compelling a creation since.)
The thing is, the filmmakers actually took out the grisly details involving just what that H.R. Giger " xenomorph" did to and with human bodies (the sequels got more graphic), but in some ways that made the horror all the more unsettling. You knew, but you didn't know. It wasn't explicitly articulated. Dallas (Tom Skerrit) just disappears from the movie. The deleted "cocoon" scene (with the haunting moan, "Kill me...") appeared later on a LaserDisc version of the film, and then was incorporated into the 2003 theatrical re-release for the first time. The deleted footage:
With films like "Zodiac" (2007) David Fincher has become Hollywood's serial-killer specialist and yet his entries from that genre seem to have more in common with "The Insider" than with "Psycho" or "The Silence of the Lambs" He shows a great fascination with the details surrounding each case, than with their heroes and villains. His approach is usually just as meticulous when inspired by fictional works ("Seven", "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") as by real-life events. Perhaps it is Oliver Stone's "JFK" that this film most resembles; obsession is at both their cores.
As far as I'm concerned, that's the sub-head of the year -- for the first section of Greg Ferrara's perfectly observed (and, for me, exhilaratingly cathartic) Cinema Styles blog post, Five Years, Five Peeves, Five Reasons to Go On. It's so sharp (and not just when I happen to share his point of view) and funny that I feel like offering an annotated response. You should read the whole thing (I couldn't even get past the first item without stopping to leave an enthusiastic comment), but I will refrain... sort of. There's a lot to consider here. Lemme just hit some of the highlights:
I have a problem with a lot of modern cinema. I don't like the way most of it looks, I don't like the way it's edited (too choppy and frenetic) and I don't like the way it's acted (so painfully naturalistic that a wide range of performances are thoroughly interchangeable). And I have that feeling with a frighteningly high percentage of modern movies. But mostly, I have a problem with the way the movies look. And when I say I have a problem, I mean even with movies I like. We all know I don't like CGI very much (I even do a series on special effects before CGI took over) and this is a big problem because it's now everywhere, in practically all movies. Take "Hugo," directed by Martin Scorsese. I use this movie as an example because it was a movie I liked and thus, I can assure you it is not me reacting to a movie I hate or using it as an excuse to hate the movie. No, I liked "Hugo" but I hated most of the look of it.
For months, even before it was released, I found myself feeling a strange reluctance to see "Hugo." I still haven't seen it, but I plan to do so in the next week or so -- though I'm surprised to find that I am not looking forward to the latest Martin Scorsese Picture. Why? I hadn't quite put my finger on it until I read Greg's piece. It's because I hate the frothy, cotton-candy look of the stills I've seen. I compared the look of "Avatar" to Thomas Kinkade and Thai restaurant fiber-optic flower lamps (remember Michael Atkinson's priceless protest: "What, am I a forest animal, unthinkingly hypnotized by shiny objects?").