Latest Features

The Dream is Real: Revisiting Brian De Palma and Tom Cruise’s ‘Mission: Impossible’

Written by Ethan Vestby, July 30, 2015 at 2:42 pm 

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With the endless citations of Hitchcock’s “cattle” and Bresson’s “models,” there’s become more and more awareness of the troublesome tendency (one could even call crisis) within both criticism and cinephilia to overlook actors, especially so within the framework of a “formalist” director’s work. It’s as if there’s a lack of understanding of the simple and blatantly obvious fact that performance is a part of mise-en-scène, and that the expressive way an actor can move or speak is just as effective as any tricks of the trade.

Yet a difficult question arises when looking at how a movie star in particular fits within a director’s scheme. While some just point to them as necessary tools in funding an auteur’s passion project and move on from there, in the case of what are ostensibly star vehicles, simply ignoring their established personality is something of a fool’s errand. Thus, when bringing up the one and only Tom Cruise — who, in his multi-hyphenate position as actor and producer, we realistically have to admit implicates a degree of creative control — it becomes an unavoidable proposition.    

To distil Cruise’s star-making breakthrough in the 1980s to two images (which in both cases obviously feature him donning killer shades), we think of him sliding down the hall in his undies to “Old Time Rock and Roll” in Risky Business or speeding on a motorcycle to “Danger Zone” in Top Gun. Cocky, pretty, and always impeccably dressed, Cruise in many ways acted as a response to the movie-stars of the ’80s: a boy-ish action hero standing in contrast to the physically imposing Schwarzenegger and Stallone, and a skilled, charismatic — if not chameleon-like — dramatic actor whose presence is reminiscent of method stalwarts De Niro and Hoffman. He was essentially perfect for the post-New Hollywood system, which had space for both the Bruckheimer / Simpson blockbuster and the comparatively more “adult,” talky legal thriller.

Continuing into the ’90s with a string of commercial and critical successes (A Few Good Men, The Firm, Interview With the Vampire) and the odd flop (you can’t remember Ron Howard’s 70mm period epic Far and Away for a reason), Cruise had cemented himself as the biggest movie-star in the world. His very own franchise was the logical next step. Enter Mission: Impossible.

For someone to shepherd his inevitable box-office juggernaut, instead of a Stephen Hopkins or Roger Spottiswoode to steamroll over, Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, picked Brian De Palma, who, despite having before balanced for-hire work (Scarface, The Untouchables), had never quite played in the blockbuster realm of his friends Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. A hard-R filmmaker, De Palma ran into his fair share of controversy throughout the ’80s and ’90s from critics and activists alike, thanks to his various “contemporary” updates of Alfred Hitchcock that reconfigured images from the master’s filmography into the realm of grisly slashers and erotic thrillers.

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For not just trafficking in the de-sexualized PG-13 rating (the very first of his career) but also having the pressure of a tie-in N64 game, U2 song on the soundtrack, and likely soda / potato chip / fast food promotion of some sorts, the easy narrative would be to say the subversive artist of Hi, Mom! took a necessary paycheck gig coddling a star’s ego to bide time until his next passion project. Yet one locates in Mission: Impossible not a tension or subservience between director and star, but rather a synchronicity. Rather than subvert Cruise’s movie-star image, De Palma’s typically intense formalism situates him in his natural habitat.

De Palma is fully aware that Cruise is too big a star to really disappear into a role. He may don a latex face for portions of the film, but he never disguises his iconic voice. Simply put, Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise: a perfectly poised image (some may say cipher) pirouetting around other perfect images of architecturally stunning European locales or fortress-like CIA headquarters.

In Cruise having his own James Bond, the film had to jettison the ensemble-based narrative of the original Mission: Impossible television series, leaving only one carry-over from the original: mentor / team leader Jim Phelps, who’s killed off early, anyway. While the Phelps / Hunt dynamic is only briefly established and not really imbued with heavy psychological or emotional weight, its place in the narrative represents a key De Palma theme: the man who fails to save someone. The difference is that this typically hinges on a romantic or sexual angle: John Travolta holding the bloody body of Nancy Allen at the climactic Fourth of July celebration in Blow-Out; Michael J. Fox haunted by reminders of the young Vietnamese girl he was bullied out of protecting from rape and eventual murder in Casualties of War; or, in Body Double, milquetoast Craig Wasson spiraling into the porno underbelly of Los Angeles to avenge the brutal killing of the beautiful neighbor he peeped on.

Hunt witnesses Phelps’ death on his watch-screen (a spy gadget reconfigured into a De Palma-esque tool of surveillance) and is then later paid a visit in an expressionistic dream sequence — one made bizarre by its canted angles, but even moreso through the exaggerated acting of Jon Voight as a ghost. Yet both instances point to a kind of unreliability affirmed by the later reveal of Phelps as a mole. The presence of a fake image ready to be reconfigured makes it most comparable to Body Double, another film that sees itself changing locations, introducing new characters, and shunning a typical dramatic coherence for the modern cinema of attractions. Who can forget the narrative grinding to a halt for a Frankie Goes to Hollywood music video?

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The difference being that whereas Body Double is a film about Hollywood, Mission: Impossible simply is Hollywood. Although they both take place within a liquid-like world and adhere to a dream logic, the megastar can easily navigate it while the not-quite-in-on-the-joke Craig Wasson gets hopelessly lost. While De Palma still manages to undercut Body Double’s snark with a somewhat melancholic tone, Mission: Impossible is free of anything resembling excess drama. The film may set itself up as something of a revenge picture — Hunt wants to clear his name, and both he and Phelps’ wife also have the intention of getting even with those responsible for the death — but he also remains the life of the party throughout (and in many instances at the expense of the hapless Jean Reno). It’s refreshing, especially compared to how J.J. Abrams’ mostly decent third installment stumbled in the literalness of its romantic subplot, something a melodramatic maximalist like John Woo could at least pull off through sheer force in his sequel.

The film certainly hasn’t been considered an example of streamlined storytelling, its impenetrable plot becoming the stuff of notoriety. (For one of many examples see a joke made at its expense in a Billy Crystal-digitally-added-into-Jerry Maguire Oscar spoof.) Yet, if to again use De Palma’s film as a cudgel with which to whack contemporary blockbusters, the film feels liberated of the exposition and origin stories that clog up so many franchise affairs. The audience confusion arose from the fact that the film doesn’t hesitate to have every plot line collapse and swallow each other whole. It gives into a pure pop filmmaking desire for where the director wants to stick the camera and how the star will look best in it.

From the cold open, throwing us in the middle of a mission, we get a sense of the professionals to which this is all old hat (masks are just part of the job, etc.), as well as the film’s most important motion, in that it doesn’t conclude with an action beat (like the Bond openings), but rather the disassembling of a film set. Besides just the “film about filmmaking” analogy, what Mission: Impossible finds just as (if not more) important than a stunt is the plasticity of a situation and its location.

“Plasticity” is an especially interesting term when looking at the franchise as a whole and what it means to Cruise. No matter how much his popularity has been declining for a decade now, we can still count on plane-hanging, motorcycle-jumping Ethan Hunt to inevitably keep returning. The business may be changing and the films may be transforming, but Cruise seems stuck in time to a character that, while admittedly not his most outwardly interesting, remains his shaky stardom’s only sure thing. If he’s ultimately remembered as Ethan Hunt, he can at least thank Brian De Palma for not stranding him in anonymous gunfights, but capturing the elegant way his body moved when lowered down that rope.

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‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ Hits Criterion: The Boundary-Pushing Gay Romances of 1985

Written by Daniel Walber, July 22, 2015 at 12:30 pm 

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Johnny licks Omar’s neck. He’s got some blue paint on his face from decorating the front of the launderette. The two men stand in front of the building, which Omar manages. Johnny’s friends, a batch of rabidly racist skinheads, stand awkwardly nearby. Yet Johnny doesn’t care. The chemistry between the two seems to be guarded by a blissful force field, magically keeping the bitter cold of Thatcherite antisociety at bay. In its place there are only frisky smiles.

There may be nothing more plainly erotic in all of ’80s cinema than this moment, one of the subtle crowning achievements of recent Criterion Collection addition My Beautiful Laundrette. Johnny is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, making his first starring role in a feature film and perhaps at his most beautiful. Omar is played by Gordon Warnecke, making his film debut. Directed by Stephen Frears with a script by Hanif Kureishi, it’s one of the classics of British independent cinema in the wake of Thatcher.

Narratively, of course, Johnny and Omar don’t necessarily have it so easy. Omar is managing the launderette on behalf of his wealthy uncle, Nasser (Saeed Jeffrey), who is determined to educate his nephew in the ways of business and then marry him off to his daughter, Tania (Rita Wolf). Omar’s father (Roshan Seth) is an alcoholic whose greatest disappointment was witnessing a group of Omar’s old grade-school friends, including Johnny, march in a National Front demonstration, chanting along with its racist, anti-immigrant slogans.

my_beautiful_laundretteThe film begins years after this political shock, which ended Omar and Johnny’s friendship. The two meet once again in a dark underpass somewhere in South London, Omar recognizing Johnny amongst the skinheads that have attacked his cousin Selim’s car. Omar is caught in the midst of a violent clash that’s symptomatic of a tortured Britain. Yet he comes across as blissfully ignorant of the tension and walks over to Johnny with a big grin on his face. Their friendship seems instantly rekindled, and, a few scenes later, they share the film’s first kiss. Despite the national mood, all this feels about as tortured as a bright spring day.

Such an assertion of gay romance would hardly seem revolutionary today, of course, following decades of groundbreaking queer cinema both artistically and financially successful. But this was 1985, years before the cultural breakthroughs of the 1990s and the legal victories of the 21st century. Homosexuality in the United Kingdom had only been completely decriminalized in 1982. More than half of the United States still had sodomy laws on the books. And this is all in the terrible context of the AIDS epidemic, which had begun to intensify. Rock Hudson’s illness became public on June 21st, 1985, and he died on October 2nd. Both the Thatcher and Reagan administrations would double down on their decision to ignore the problem.

Yet in spite of such dire circumstances and the political frustrations of a conservative decade on both sides of the Atlantic, a handful of warm and inspiring gay romances arrived in short succession. My Beautiful Laundrette had its premiere on August 18th at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, later opening in the U.K. on November 16, 1985 and the U.S. on March 7th, 1986. Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts opened in New York on that very same day, after a premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival the previous September.

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Deitch’s adaptation of Jane Rule’s famed lesbian novel is a perfect twin film for Frears’s meditation on contemporary British prejudices regarding class and race, even though its synopsis has more in common with George Cukor’s The Women. The setting is 1959. Vivian Bell, played with tremendous grace by Canadian actress Helen Shaver, is an English professor from New York City who has come to Reno for an easy divorce. She stays at a ranch whose sole clientele are women in need of establishing Nevada residency in order to get rid of their husbands. She meets Cay (Patricia Charbonneau), the adopted daughter of the ranch’s owner. They fall in love.

The two women are more anxious than Omar and Johnny, but, given the time period, it would seem especially dishonest to forego trepidation altogether. Yet even in this earlier time, Cay refuses to let the outside world keep her in hiding. Despite being 15 years younger Vivian, she guides her new lover through the revelation of her sexuality. Their most memorably erotic moment is much more explicit than a lick on the neck. The scene, in the modest accommodations of a Reno hotel room, is a music-less oasis of smooth gestures and unpretentious moans.

Yet beyond the similarly erotic character, My Beautiful Laundrette and Desert Hearts share a vision of queer love that can thrive outside the normative boundaries of American and British society. This emerges most clearly if a third film from 1985, Derek Jarman’s The Angelic Conversation, is used as a thematic road map. It’s an experimental blend of Super 8mm and video images, mystical and adoring scenes of beautiful men wandering the caves and coves of the mind accompanied by a soundtrack from Coil. Instead of dialogue, the only words heard are a number of Shakespeare’s sonnets read by Judi Dench.

The film begins with Sonnet 57. “Being your slave, what should I do but tend / Upon the hours and times of your desire?” The message is one of romance as separation from society, the choice to devote one’s life to one’s lover and thus dispense with all the rest. The queer love of Jarman’s young men floating across the screen isolates them. Sonnet 148 says it perhaps with the most clarity. “O me! What eyes hath love put in my head / Which have no correspondence with true sight!…If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote / What means the world to say it is not so?” It does not matter how others see, even if they see these lovers as abnormal outcasts. The vision of the queer and lovelorn is new sight, a perception apart.

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This conjuring of new sight weaves through the three films in a number of ways. The Angelic Conversation features Paul Reynolds in a pool of water, shirtless and lit by a warm glow. Vivian and Cay first kiss after running through a sudden torrential downpour, on the shore of an unnamed lake. Johnny and Omar splash each other in the back room of the laundromat. My Beautiful Laundrette also shares with The Angelic Conversation a fondness for unusual light, the blue neon of the launderette’s sign as much a beacon of strange magic in the South London landscape as the torches that brightly shine in Jarman’s dark caves, flickering on film.

These images of light and water suggest purity, despite religious connotations of the word that are frequently used to condemn queer love. The launderette is a place of cleanliness, the caves of The Angelic Conversation a locale of deep and organic earth, and the Nevada desert of Desert Hearts a landscape of tremendous natural wonder. Taken together, they are almost alchemical, a trilogy of elemental concoctions that naturalize and sanctify queer affection.

And then there’s all of the smiling. Omar’s full, beaming grin is part and parcel of his overwhelming optimism, even as he boldly displays intimate affection for Johnny in front of his inevitably disapproving family. “Eyelash,” he says, as he reaches up and brushes Johnny’s cheek while his uncle looks on, not a care in the world. Johnny, on the other hand, has an irrepressible smirk. It’s naughtier and perhaps more worldly than Omar’s, but equally gleaming with a love that has little interest in letting the world intrude. The same resilient joy shines out from Desert Hearts, particularly its final act. Cay essentially teaches Vivian how to smile, winning her over with a smirk that isn’t far from Johnny’s.

Jarman was especially fond of the smile. In one of his memoirs he refers to what he calls an “archaic smile,” a lingering “romance in the camera” that he saw in his own work, as well as that of Pier Paolo Pasolini. The Angelic Conversation is like a masterclass on this one effect, with its time-traveling images, gushing Shakespearean romance and beautiful men in the water. Yet while My Beautiful Laundrette and Desert Hearts don’t smile in quite the same way, they share the symbol.

It is an instantly recognizable proof of visceral happiness, often in close-up. The choice on the part of the filmmakers to feature smiling so prominently — as well as laughter and joy in general — is a radical act. To write a script in which gay love gets a happy ending, let alone executing it with such an insistent visual leitmotif of irrepressible joy, was bold enough in 1985.

That said, the groundbreaking character of these movies may not be obvious in today’s context. Both the U.S. and the U.K. recognize same-sex marriages (with the lingering exception of Northern Ireland). Gay relationships have been normalized by the culture and legalized by the government. A pleasant gay love story can seem like just another pleasant gay love story. For context, then, it may help to jump back to one last film from the era — one with a much bleaker picture of gay love.

kiss_of_the_spider_womanIf the term “gay love” even really applies, that is. Kiss of the Spider Woman is director Héctor Babenco’s adaptation of the Manuel Puig novel of the same name. William Hurt won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance just a few weeks after Desert Hearts and My Beautiful Laundrette arrived in New York City cinemas. Hurt plays a gay man in prison somewhere in South America for corruption of a minor. His cell mate, a heretofore heterosexual revolutionary played by Raúl Júlia, is a political prisoner of the dictatorship. They become friends and eventually lovers, though only for one night.

The sex is brief and hidden by darkness. Babenco shows nothing, only allowing some intimate and awkward dialog to play over the black screen. Moreover, their motivation is hardly clear. It feels as if each man is doing it out of pity for the other, each beaten down by the oppression of the prison and the state. Their connection is one of convenience and necessity, their consummation more narratively inevitable than credibly romantic. Then they both die horribly.

And so the other three films are like one of Jarman’s flaming torches in the dank political and social cave of the 1980s. Frears and Deitch cast their gay love stories in a positive light, neutralizing any source of disapproval. Their smile is invulnerable. Years before the great victories of marriage equality, they stand tall with a defiant grin and a proposal for a way of life outside of legally recognized relationships.

Marriage does exist in Desert Hearts and My Beautiful Laundrette, but its protagonists don’t seem particularly upset that they can’t access it. Nasser seems most happy with his mistress of many years, but their relationship is doomed in a way that Omar and Johnny’s is not. Cay’s friend, Silver, gets married and stays in Reno, while Cay and Vivian hop on a train and head out of town. Neither giddy straight newlyweds nor those frustrated by the enclosure of unhappy marriage are a model for these characters. The glimmering faces of The Angelic Conversation, meanwhile, seem to exist in no discernable location or time period.

And in this in-between reigns love, an elemental and buoyant queer romance that beams forth from the screen despite any and all obstacles from heteronormative society. Jarman, Frears, and Deitch were not likely addressing the gay adoption of marriage, given that it likely seemed politically inconceivable. Yet in its place they created beautiful alternate pathways that continue to shine even though they may not seem necessary anymore. Perhaps, now that marriage equality has been achieved, this unlikely trilogy can serve as renewed inspiration for a dynamic and independent approach to love.

My Beautiful Laundrette is now available through The Criterion Collection.

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Jauja,’ ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ ‘My Beautiful Laundrette,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 21, 2015 at 12:56 pm 

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Every week we dive into the cream of the crop when it comes to home releases, including Blu-ray and DVDs, as well as recommended deals of the week. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best (or most interesting) films one can take home. Note that if you’re looking to support the site, every purchase you make through the links below helps us and is greatly appreciated.

Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)

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With a multitude of long takes set across rapturous vistas as Viggo Mortensen journeys through 19th-century Patagonia, Lisandro Alonso‘s Jauja is a wholly beautiful, occasionally perplexing tale — as if Andrei Tarkovsky tried his hand at a western. When Mortensen’s character treads deeper into the wilderness, time itself becomes distorted, concluding with something that will surely lead to extensive conversations. Jauja is simply one of this year’s must-see films. – Jordan R.

My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears)

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Johnny licks Omar’s neck. He’s got some blue paint on his face from decorating the front of the launderette. The two men stand in front of the building, which Omar manages. Johnny’s friends, a batch of rabidly racist skinheads, stand awkwardly nearby. Yet Johnny doesn’t care. The chemistry between the two seems to be guarded by a blissful force field, magically keeping the bitter cold of Thatcherite antisociety at bay. In its place there are only frisky smiles. There may be nothing more plainly erotic in the whole cinema of the 1980s than this moment, one of the subtle crowning achievements of My Beautiful Laundrette, now a member of the Criterion Collection. – Daniel W.

What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi)

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As of late, there seems to be no sub-genre more worn out in Hollywood than that of the vampire. Thankfully, a pair of New Zealand’s finest comedic talents are here to breath new life into the blood-sucking mythology with the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. Sporting a Real World-esque approach, we’re introduced to our main quartet, made up of Viago, the tidy 879-year-old vampire that’s the ringleader of the group (Taika Waititi, also co-director); Vladislav, a suave, once-feared 862-year-old vampire (Jemaine Clement, co-director as well); Deacon, a 183-year-old vampire with no work ethic (Jonathan Brugh); and Peter, the decrepit, 8,000 year-old (Ben Fransham). – Jordan R. (full review)

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

Top DealAll titles on The Criterion Collection are now 50% off through July 27th at Barnes & Noble(See our 10 recommendations.)

12 Years a Slave (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Adaptation (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Most Wanted Man (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Most Violent Year (Blu-ray) – $12.99

The American (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Amelie (Blu-ray) – $5.98

Anna Karenina (Blu-ray) – $12.22

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Blu-ray) – $9.69

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $10.55

Black Swan (Blu-ray) – $6.76

Brokeback Mountain (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Brothers Bloom (Blu-ray) – $8.01

The Cabin in the Woods (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.95

Captain Phillips (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Children of Men (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Cloverfield (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Collateral (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Contempt (Blu-ray) – $11.99

The Counselor (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Deer Hunter (Blu-ray) – $10.73

The Descendants (Blu-ray) – $7.40

Drive (Blu-ray) – $7.77

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.25

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $7.50

The Graduate (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $9.48

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $7.64

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.66

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Interstellar (Blu-ray) – $10.00

It Follows (Blu-ray) – $12.90

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $8.33

John Wick (Blu-ray) – $11.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (Blu-ray) – $12.99

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $9.18

The Lady From Shanghai (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.71

Magic Mike (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Blu-ray) – $6.48

Margaret (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Michael Clayton (Blu-ray) – $9.68

Never Let Me Go (Blu-ray) – $6.53

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $4.96

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $7.49

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $5.88

Pariah (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $6.50

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $9.10

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $8.72

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $6.50

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.01

Seven Psychopaths (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Shame (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $6.14

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) – $9.92

Synecdoche, NY (Blu-ray) – $6.57

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Tree of Life (Blu-ray) – $6.99

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $7.99

True Grit (Blu-ray) – $8.80

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.99

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Where the Wild Things Are (Blu-ray) – $6.91

Whiplash (Blu-ray) – $14.99

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

Ranking the Films of Woody Allen: From ‘Tiger Lily’ to ‘Irrational Man’

Written by Jordan Raup, July 20, 2015 at 3:30 pm 

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From his go-to white-on-black Windsor typeface (in use since 1977) onward, there’s a particular solace to be found in entering the latest film from Woody Allen. Here is a filmmaker who, year after year (and for nearly 50), churns out (mostly) quality work. In honor of his latest, the Joaquin Phoenix-led drama Irrational Man, I’ve updated a feature from a few years ago in which I combed through his entire filmography, revisiting classics and going through a handful of features I’d previously never encountered.

While the list ranges from my least- to most-preferred films, one owes it to themselves to seek out any entry from the director you may have missed. As you can see in my first pick, it’s remarkable that, after nearly half-a-century in the business, his complete filmography is still something to be admired. Discounting his team-up with Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola in 1989’s New York Stories, his 1994 TV movie Don’t Drink the Water, and the featurette Men of Crisis, you can see, below, our rundown of Allen’s entire body of directorial work and let us know your favorites in the comments.

45. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

I stand by the statement that Woody Allen is yet to have a flat-out terrible entry into his filmography, but this fairly recent feature comes frighteningly close. Recycling themes of infidelity and chasing youthful desires would have been all well and good if done effectively, but with the drama coming off mostly inert and merely a few jokes landing, it only goes uphill from here.

44. Whatever Works (2009)

On the outset, Larry David and Woody Allen are a match made in heaven — unfortunately, the Curb Your Enthusiasm star led one of Allen’s most grating features. While many of the helmer’s works remain timeless, returning to this script crafted in the 1970’s resulted in a cynical, dubiously plotted exercise. What a shame that the late, great Harry Savides expended his time to participate in the production.

43. Scoop (2006)

With actors as charming as Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johannson, it’s a shame that Scoop remains one of Woody Allen’s lesser works, even with its generally amusing tone. Predictable from the outset, the comedy rarely works, despite some entertaining farcical situations. It was produced between two excellent Johannson-led features (Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona); you’re better off checking out either of those instead.

42. September (1987)

Infamous for being the one film that, after editing an original incarnation, Woody Allen re-wrote, re-cast and re-shot, it’s easy to see why this one should have stayed on the shelf. Tedious and dour (while reaching few valuable insights), the drama surrounding a family on a weekend getaway is perhaps worth seeing for solid performances from the cast, but it goes down as one of Allen’s few major missteps.

41. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

Relationships that don’t relay convincingly are coupled with a batch of one-liner duds, making The Curse of the Jade Scorpion easily among Woody Allen’s lesser works. This period piece — following a hypnotist-induced jewel heist and romantic relationships within an insurance agency — has little spark, and the lack of chemistry between our leads makes for a slightly enjoyable, but tepid experience.

40. What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

Woody Allen‘s directorial debut is an occasionally fun experiment that perhaps would have been better-served in short form. Dubbing over the Japanese spy the thriller International Secret Police: Key of Keys with his own dialogue, audiences were introduced to Allen’s quick-witted style — and, while it’s a clear stepping stone, in today’s age this would be nothing more than a YouTube exercise.

39. To Rome With Love (2012)

Like a few other films from the director, this is a prime example of actors, seemingly suited for his style, giving effort with diminished returns. Jesse Eisenberg juggling his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and her best friend (Ellen Page) should have made for a trio that knocks it out of the park, but Alec Baldwin‘s all-knowing insertions make for a gimmick that quickly wears thin. Add in three other stories that range from forgettable (Roberto Benigni) to one-note (Penelope Cruz), and this marks a disappointment in-between two quality projects.

38. Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

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Despite gorgeous cinematography from Darius Khondji, Magic in the Moonlight is one of the director’s more lifeless and one-note offerings. With little chemistry between Colin Firth and Emma Stone — each charming enough in their own regard — we’re left with some faint interest as to the veracity of the mysticism at its center. When all is said and done, its all-too-safe ending registers as a dull disappointment — albeit one that comes to fit with the preceding events.

37. Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Woody Allen has always had a knack for the unexpected, and, although Melinda and Melinda centers on a story we’ve seen before, it’s never been told quite like this, nor with a supporting cast of this kind. Bringing along comedic actors Will Ferrell and Steve Carell doesn’t translate to the draw it should be, but with Allen showing us both the tragic and comedic in one feature, it manages to wrap up much of what’s he’s previously explored — unfortunately, to much more effective lengths.

36. Shadows and Fog (1991)

A loving shout-out to the films of German Expressionism, Shadows and Fog, though a starkly beautiful mystery, runs out of steam too quickly. Woody Allen‘s best homages have always borrowed from the auteurs that came before him, but add his unique stamp and create something entirely new. Unfortunately, the story is a replica with little soul that loses cohesion and forward momentum by about the half-way mark.

35. Small Time Crooks (2000)

Beginning as a mild-mannered, straight-up heist film, Woody Allen‘s first film of the new millennium injects a fairly hilarious twist that sees our story head in an unexpected direction. Like many other titles listed here, one must credit the director for going all the way with his concept; a shame that the results add up to one of his more forgettable entries.

34. Hollywood Ending (2002)

Woody Allen has often dissected the very craft of movie-making and, while slight, this is a comedy that takes one gag and successfully runs with it to the end. Playing a director that goes blind at the start of his next production, Hollywood Ending entertains by successfully poking fun at how easily one could potentially pull off such a feat.

33. Anything Else (2003)

As a clear response to the American Pie franchise, Jason Biggs was looking to prove himself in more dramatic territory with this Woody Allen feature. Results are not nearly as bad as its reputation would suggest, though Anything Else is a mixed effort; Biggs actually proving himself a worthy protege (opposite a fine performance from Christina Ricci), none of which can entirely eclipse a fairly dull plot simply rehashed from a few of Allen’s better efforts.

32. Irrational Man (2015)

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To the unsuspecting viewer, Woody Allen‘s latest feature may seem like another dabble in a May–December romance, but this soon reveals itself to be something altogether different. Although its fairly useless voice-over is little more than padding for the breezy farce, it’s perhaps most interesting to see the ways in which Joaquin Phoenix subverts a usual Woody Allen type. While some of his leading men as of late have wrangled the witticisms with speedy verve, Phoenix’s deliberate parsing makes for one of Allen’s more compelling figures, particularly as more sinister themes rise to the surface.

31. Cassandra’s Dream (2007)

One of Woody Allen’s more overlooked entries (and a financial disappointment, to say the least), Cassandra’s Dream mostly clicks, thanks to Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell — two performers who know this genre well. While the stakes in most of his other films tend to rise and fall based on romantic relationships, this crime entry ups the ante to make for a convincing tragedy.

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New to Streaming: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria,’ ‘Far From the Madding Crowd,’ ‘The Salt of the Earth,’ ‘Tig,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm 

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With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the titles that have recently hit the interwebs. Every week, one will be able to see the cream of the crop (or perhaps some simply interesting picks) of streaming titles (new and old) across platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and more (note: U.S. only). Check out our rundown for this week’s selections below.

Alleluia (Fabrice Du Welz)

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Fantastic Fest is where you come to see the weird and Alleluia has that quotient in abundance. The film, which comes as the second part of a soul-crushing trilogy by director Fabrice Du Welz, follows what happens when passion and violence mingle to disastrous results. Gloria (Lola Dueñas) is lonely and saddled with an unsatisfying life when she meets the charming Michel (Laurent Lucas) online, who turns out to be a swindler. But her interest in him lingers and she convinces him that she is meant to be with her. The danger, though, is that she’s extremely jealous. What follows is a delve into what it means to know that someone cares for you and understands you, yet is a destructive force in your life. Could either of these people ever have soul mates? Likely not. But it doesn’t keep them apart. – Bill G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Ardor (Paolo Fendrik)

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If you combine Blue Ruin’s lack of a clearly discernible story and exercise in genre with Jauja’s teases of magical realism and self-consciously mythic narrative, you will get something close to Ardor, Argentine director Pablo Fendrik’s Gael García Bernal-led western. The actor plays Kaí, an Amazan shaman who watches his tobacco-farming friend get killed and his partner, Jara (Lautaro Vilo), get shot, then sets out for revenge and the recovery the farmer’s daughter, Vania (Alice Braga). The narrative impetus behind the attack on Kaí’s camp is bare — Vania’s father doesn’t want to sell his land to deforesters — and perhaps gives it colonialist undertones similar to those in Jauja, albeit without the homage to The Searchers or self-conscious pictorialism and influence of landscape painting. – Forrest C. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Clouds of Sils Maria and Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas)

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Movies about making movies often get a bad rap; there’s just a presumed pretentiousness that goes along with watching filmmakers and actors defending their craft. So when it turns out that Clouds of Sils Maria is actually a beautifully directed and acted defense of the timelessness and universal value of storytelling in all forms, what could have been a European Birdman actually becomes something so much more. – Brian R.

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google (Clouds of Sils Maria) and Amazon Prime (Irma Vep)

Creep (Patrick Brice)

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Blumhouse Productions has become a horror powerhouse with its many popular and expansive titles, ranging from the ever-growing Paranormal Activity series to the endless sequel potential of the dystopian thriller The Purge. Fortunately, the company’s ambitions lie beyond becoming a tireless franchise machine, as evidenced by Creep, a minor curiosity that melds Blumhouse’s penchant for found footage with a free-wheeling indie spirit. – Amanda W. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (Spike Lee)

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One cannot take lightly the implications of a candid filmmaker opening his latest picture with the words “An Official Spike Lee Joint.” Before we can even imagine what’s to come, his third endeavor in as many years — yet only the second of two joints and, indeed, successor to “A Spike Lee Film” that was publicly encapsulated by its credited maker with the words “tough business” — thus immediately establishes itself as a push against any and all who’d care to silence his voice. A quick introductory scene practically elides over the last title’s existence wholesale, bringing us back to the church of Red Hook Summer’s since-deceased Bishop Enoch — less for the sake of delineating proper continuity between works and more, it seems, for the sake of situating and making comfortable those who are about to be offset and discomfited. As, over mere minutes, the scope rapidly expands and the voice in command only grows louder, soon made into the equivalent of a madhouse blare, his push is now in defiance of many a crucial thing: total coherence, absolute logic, formal consistency, moral decency, and good taste. – Nick N. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg)

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Following his piercing, bleak drama The Hunt, director Thomas Vinterberg is clearly having a great deal of perhaps needed fun with his follow-up, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy‘s classic novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. The preeminent kind of period piece, the late 19th century tale arrives with a heightened sense of self-awareness on what makes this genre tick. With sun-kissed cinematography, a swelling score, and back-and-forth romantic yearnings, this is a drama, despite feeling rushed in sections, intent on providing satisfaction above all else. – Jordan R. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Continue >>

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Ex Machina,’ ‘It Follows,’ ‘Hiroshima mon amour,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 14, 2015 at 1:15 pm 

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Every week we dive into the cream of the crop when it comes to home releases, including Blu-ray and DVDs, as well as recommended deals of the week. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best (or most interesting) films one can take home. Note that if you’re looking to support the site, every purchase you make through the links below helps us and is greatly appreciated.

Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

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Artificial intelligence is the anointed “next big thing” of our time, and so it makes sense that film would seek to address it. But whereas something like Avengers: Age of Ultron treats artificial intelligence as a way to create an “inhuman” force for evil, Ex Machina decides to use the creation of consciousness as a means of reflecting our own base humanity back at us. Smart, sleek, and spare, Ex Machina functions as a dagger elegantly carving out our own heart to show it back to us. – Brian R.

Gangs of Wasseypur (Anurag Kashyap)

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Director Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur is a five-hour, two-part, wildly blood-drenched saga. A densely plotted multigenerational gangster epic, Gangs is a stunning achievement, whether taken collectively or individually. Over the course of these five hours, we experience prison escapes, drug-addled sibling rivalries, revenge killings, tense life-or-death meetings, a Sonny-at-the-tollbooth-style esque massacre, lying politicians, “money and debauchery,” and a dash of Bollywood, with a unique use of music and lyrics to comment on the action (“This barter of bloody blows will make you cry”). Director Kashyap has succeeded in creating a gangster drama that feels fresh and realistic – no easy feat. Yes, it is unwieldy, and Part 2 lacks the visceral impact of Part 1, but there’s no doubt that Gangs of Wasseypur is an exhilarating creation and not-to-be-missed cinematic event. – Christopher S.

Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais)

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If what I’m about to say has already become a cliché, it’s only because the sentiment is so widely held. As it were: Alain Resnais died last year, yes, but many of the films remain masterpieces and the legacy is, without a doubt, as strong as ever. Such is the case with his first, Hiroshima mon amour, which screened at the New York Film Festival in a restored format last year and is now arriving on Criterion Blu-ray. – Nick N.

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

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Horror is a genre that gets passed over a lot in these kinds of lists. You can probably blame the cheap jump scare and loud noises productions that have dominated the field lately. So horror buffs and film fans of all stripes should be thrilled to see It Follows. Lovingly crafted with an emphasis on spatial relationships and slow burn tension, this is a film to remind the masses why horror is one of the most purely cinematic genres. – Brian R.

The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado)

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At one point early in Wim Wenders‘ new documentary, The Salt of the Earth, the co-director details his deeply emotional connection to photographer Sebastiao Salgado. Years before the two ever met, Wenders happened across a couple of Salgado’s photographs in a Los Angeles art gallery that immediately enthralled him. One of these was a remarkable image of the Brazilian gold mines of Serra Pelada, the other a portrait-like image of a woman weathered by years of a life most will never know. – Brian P. (full review)

Also Arriving This Week

The Black Stallion
Here is Your Life
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (review)
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Rogue Cut)

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

Top DealAll titles on The Criterion Collection are now 50% off through July 27th at Barnes & Noble(See our 10 recommendations.)

12 Years a Slave (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Adaptation (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Most Wanted Man (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Most Violent Year (Blu-ray) – $12.99

The American (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Amelie (Blu-ray) – $5.98

Anna Karenina (Blu-ray) – $12.22

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Blu-ray) – $9.69

Baraka (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $10.55

Black Swan (Blu-ray) – $6.75

The Brothers Bloom (Blu-ray) – $8.01

The Cabin in the Woods (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.96

Captain Phillips (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Children of Men (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Cloverfield (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Collateral (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Contempt (Blu-ray) – $11.75

The Counselor (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Deer Hunter (Blu-ray) – $10.73

The Descendants (Blu-ray) – $7.40

Drive (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.25

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $7.50

The Graduate (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $7.64

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.66

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $8.13

John Wick (Blu-ray) – $12.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (Blu-ray) – $5.00

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $9.18

The Lady From Shanghai (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.71

Magic Mike (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Blu-ray) – $6.48

Margaret (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Michael Clayton (Blu-ray) – $9.68

Never Let Me Go (Blu-ray) – $6.50

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $4.96

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $7.49

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $5.88

Pariah (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $6.50

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $9.10

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $6.70

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.01

Seven Psychopaths (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Shame (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $6.97

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $6.14

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) – $9.92

Synecdoche, NY (Blu-ray) – $6.59

Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection (Blu-ray) – $57.99

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Tree of Life (Blu-ray) – $6.99

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $7.99

True Grit (Blu-ray) – $8.80

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.47

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Where the Wild Things Are (Blu-ray) – $6.91

Whiplash (Blu-ray) – $14.99

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

New to Streaming: ‘True Story,’ ‘The Wolfpack,’ ‘Faults,’ ‘10,000 KM,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 10, 2015 at 3:23 pm 

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With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the titles that have recently hit the interwebs. Every week, one will be able to see the cream of the crop (or perhaps some simply interesting picks) of streaming titles (new and old) across platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and more (note: U.S. only). Check out our rundown for this week’s selections below.

10,000 KM (Carlos Marques-Marcet)

10000KM

“All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” Jean-Luc Godard once said during the French New Wave. It’s safe to say that 10,000 KM director Carlos Marques-Marcet understands that sentiment — only in this case he needed a laptop and a girl. (That girl’s ridiculously charming partner doesn’t hurt the equation either). 10,000 KM doesn’t waste any time cutting to the chase, opening up with a lengthy and provocative sex scene that is as intimate as the day is long. – Chelsey G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes

Faults (Riley Stearns)

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With Sound of My Voice, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Master, and more, filmmakers’ fascination with cults seems to have hit a surge as of late, particularly exploring what it does to people’s psyche and the way that it, in turn, affects the people around them. Not everyone who joins a cult is without family or friends, so what happens when the family you willingly left behind drags you back into their lives? Written and directed by Riley Stearns (who is making his feature film debut at SXSW), Faults follows Ansel (Leland Orser), a cult deprogrammer who is down on his luck. – Bill G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Merchants of Doubt (Robert Kenner)

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Climate change deniers say a lot of ridiculous things, but there’s one specific straw man argument they frequently fall back on that is so insulting in its ridiculousness, it’s unfathomable that anyone could buy into it. Even more upsetting than the crowds of people who burst into applause at the utterance of such statements is the confidence with which politicians and pundits relay such nonsense. The argument goes something like this: “It’s cold where I am, at this moment, so how can the temperature be rising?” Averages, apparently, are a mathematical fabrication. – Brian P. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Serena (Susanne Bier)

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Academy Award-winning director Susanne Bier isn’t without her misfires, especially when it comes to her American films. The Things We Lost in the Fire is a dry drama saved by Benicio del Toro’s performance, but when it comes to her latest American picture, Serena, it’s an impossible mission for her two stars to make this long-in-development adaptation anything more than a stiff, awkward, and one-note period piece. – Jack G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Strangerland (Kim Farrant)

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It’s not easy to watch a family disintegrate before your eyes. Kim Farrant’s directorial debut, the Aussie drama Strangerland, follows Catherine Parker (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) as they fight together to hold on to their family and their sanity the wake of their children’s disappearance on the eve of a devastating dust storm. – Heath J. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

True Story (Rupert Goold)

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Each building up their dramatic profiles as of late, Jonah Hill and James Franco take the next obvious step: teaming up for about as dark a story as Hollywood could make — at least on the outset. True Story follows Michael Finkel (Hill), a New York Times author with ten cover stories to his name, only to get fired after falsifying one of his articles. With his name tarnished, he moves out of the city to live off of his wife’s (Felicity Jones) income at her university job in a cold, desolate Montana. After a string of failed attempts to pitch articles to various publications, one day he receives a strange phone call alerting him that his identity was stolen by a murderer on the run. – Jordan R. (full review)

Where to Stream: AmazonGoogle

The Water Diviner (Russell Crowe)

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With his directorial debut The Water Diviner, Russell Crowe already aligns himself with the Ben Affleck ideology of acting-directing. The ideas are the same here as with Affleck’s The Town, or parts of his preceding, Academy-dazzling Argo: when directing, shuffle around between a moral dilemma, comic relief, precise historical context, and broad melodrama. When acting, embrace the roots of your on-screen machismo, while even redeeming the accent you’ve left behind for numerous Hollywood productions. – Nick A. full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle)

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Growing up one can often feel sheltered from the outside world, whether its through parental restrictions, lack of a social life, or the location of one’s upbringing. The Wolfpack, a captivating new documentary from director Crystal Moselle shot over five years, captures an environment in which that idea is taken to the outright extreme. Raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, or rather a single apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the six Angulo brothers (and one sister) live an exceedingly sheltered life. Since they were born, they’ve only left their home for at most nine times a year, and in some years, never. To keep busy, they have a collection of thousands of films in which they repeatedly watch TV, transcribing them frame by frame and creating lavish scripts that they will then extravagantly (and frugally) bring to life in their own creative way. – Jordan R. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Woman in Gold (Simon Curtis)

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With all the markings (and trappings) of his usual tastes, Woman in Gold is a minor entry into the canon of Harvey Weinstein auteur theory, a film that has particularly strong moments undercut by uneven character development as the story loses focus. Telling a very personal (and true) story of Maria Altmann (played in her senior years by Helen Mirren), she seeks the return of five paintings by Austrian master Gustav Klimt from their current home, the Austrian-controlled Belvedere Gallery. Taken by the Nazis during the invasion of Vienna, Klimt’s opulent The Woman in Gold is a portrait of Altmann’s aunt, Adele Blosh-Bauer. – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Wild Canaries (Lawrence Michael Levine)

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A touch of Vertigo, but with a comedic twist, Wild Canaries follows amateur sleuths that have too much time on their hands and end up in over their heads. Written, directed, and starring Lawrence Michael Levine, Canaries is a screwball comedy with a murder mystery at its core. While the central mystery isn’t airtight, it manages to intrigue one along the way. There are only a core group of players involved, which limits the possibilities less they pull a Scooby Doo and reveal the murderer to be the guy we saw for just a brief moment — instead we get multiple suspects and much hilarity in the process. – Bill G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Also New to Streaming

Netflix

Monsters: Dark Continent (review)

HBO Go

7 Days in Hell

Hulu

The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists
The Times of Harvey Milk

Fandor

Under the Roofs of Paris
La Vie de Boheme
Paris Nous Appartient
Last Metro
Vivre Sa Vie
Cleo From 5 to 7
Children of Paradise
The Red Balloon
Chronicle of Summer
Place de la Republique
Faces
Shadows
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

What are you streaming this weekend?

Discover more titles that are now available to stream.

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Slow West,’ Criterion Sale, ‘The Killers,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 7, 2015 at 12:55 pm 

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Every week we dive into the cream of the crop when it comes to home releases, including Blu-ray and DVDs, as well as recommended deals of the week. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best (or most interesting) films one can take home. Note that if you’re looking to support the site, every purchase you make through the links below helps us and is greatly appreciated.

The Killers (Robert Siodmak and Don Siegel)

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Ernest Hemingway’s simple but gripping short tale “The Killers” is a model of economical storytelling. Two directors adapted it into unforgettably virile features: Robert Siodmak, in a 1946 film that helped define the noir style and launch the acting careers of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner; and Don Siegel, in a brutal 1964 version, starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and John Cassavetes, that was intended for television but deemed too violent for home audiences and released theatrically instead. The first is poetic and shadowy, the second direct and harsh as daylight, but both get at the heart of Hemingway’s existential classic. – Criterion.com

Slow West (John Maclean)

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The western has a setting and tropes and characters so indelible to the American consciousness that the genre could easily be seen as an outgrowth of fairy tales. Slow West takes this idea and runs with it, creating a playful and elegiac story of love and loss and redemption. Directed with affection and care, acted with suitable whimsy and wit, Slow West is the film that finally elevates the western to its appointed destiny. – Brian R.

Also Arriving This Week

The Cell
Kill Me Three Times (review)
Maggie (review)
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (review)
Woman in Gold (review)

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

Top DealAll titles on The Criterion Collection are now 50% off through July 27th at Barnes & Noble(See our 10 recommendations.)

12 Years a Slave (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Adaptation (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Most Wanted Man (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Most Violent Year (Blu-ray) – $12.99

The American (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Amelie (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Anna Karenina (Blu-ray) – $12.05

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Blu-ray) – $9.29

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $9.10

Black Swan (Blu-ray) – $6.75

The Brothers Bloom (Blu-ray) – $8.01

The Cabin in the Woods (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.96

Captain Phillips (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Children of Men (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Cloverfield (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Collateral (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Contempt (Blu-ray) – $11.75

The Counselor (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Deer Hunter (Blu-ray) – $10.73

The Descendants (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Drive (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $7.92

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $7.50

The Graduate (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $8.57

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $7.64

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Illusionist (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $8.10

Jaws (Blu-ray) – $10.99

John Wick (Blu-ray) – $12.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (Blu-ray) – $5.00

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $8.17

The Lady From Shanghai (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.72

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.71

Magic Mike (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Blu-ray) – $6.64

Margaret (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Michael Clayton (Blu-ray) – $9.69

Never Let Me Go (Blu-ray) – $6.50

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $5.88

Pariah (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $9.10

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $6.70

Seven (Blu-ray) – $6.88

Seven Psychopaths (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Shame (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $6.86

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $6.14

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) – $9.92

Synecdoche, NY (Blu-ray) – $6.59

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Tree of Life (Blu-ray) – $6.99

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $7.99

True Grit (Blu-ray) – $8.80

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.47

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Where the Wild Things Are (Blu-ray) – $6.91

Whiplash (Blu-ray) – $14.99

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

New to Streaming: ‘It Follows,’ ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ ‘Rocky,’ ‘John Wick,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 3, 2015 at 9:00 am 

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With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the titles that have recently hit the interwebs. Every week, one will be able to see the cream of the crop (or perhaps some simply interesting picks) of streaming titles (new and old) across platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and more (note: U.S. only). Check out our rundown for this week’s selections below.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick)

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For its stature as that rare political comedy which never truly loses relevance, it’s just a little hard to believe that Dr. Strangelove has recently turned 50. It should go without saying that the finest, most-fitting way to celebrate one of Stanley Kubrick‘s first great films — probably the third or fourth, depending on who you ask — is just watching the thing, which you can now do so on Amazon Prime, but those who want a story of how this classic was first brought together should have one more viewing option set up. Check out a behind-the-scenes documentary on it here. – Nick N.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

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Horror is a genre that gets passed over a lot in these kinds of lists. You can probably blame the cheap jump scare and loud noises productions that have dominated the field lately. So horror buffs and film fans of all stripes should be thrilled to see It Follows. Lovingly crafted with an emphasis on spatial relationships and slow burn tension, this is a film to remind the masses why horror is one of the most purely cinematic genres. – Brian R.

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Hard to Be a God (Aleksei German)

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Yes, while perhaps a form of punishment cinema (trust me, search “Hard to Be a God… more like Hard to Sit Through” on Twitter), what separates this film is a certain openness, the ability to drift in and out of its hellish landscape of various synonyms for muck — shit, grime, etc. While the occasionally awkward fades to black are likely a result of the director’s death before completion, it only makes the experience feel more tangential, which, in this case, is very much a good thing. – Ethan V.

Where to Stream: Netflix, Fandor

John Wick (David Leitch and Chad Stahelski)

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John Wick is a refreshingly streamlined action movie. There’s not an ounce of fat in David Leitch and Chad Stahelski‘s film, and Derek Kolstad‘s script gets right everything so many revenge pictures get wrong. The familial scenes in the Taken movies, for example, are an afterthought — crap you have to trudge through to get to the shootouts. Actual time and care was put into the set-up of John Wick. When Wick’s dog dies, it’s an earned moment for the character and the film. It’s a strangely heartfelt movie, and far more sincere than most pieces of Oscar bait. What follows that effective set-up is a wildly entertaining action movie, filled with a variety of set pieces, fun kills, style, and a world that begs for a sequel. – Jack G.

Where to Stream: HBO Go

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Posterized July 2015: ‘Southpaw,’ ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ ‘Tangerine,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, July 2, 2015 at 2:00 pm 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.


Are you ready to spend all your money this summer? Hollywood sure hopes you are because they’ve stocked piled a ton of big name franchises to be released the next 30 days. I’m talking the T-800, Mike, Marvel, Wally World, and Adam Sandler.

A couple of those look good, two have promise with checked expectations, and one looks so bad that the only laugh in the trailer came from Chris Hemsworth having absolutely no shame. While their posters will be littering multiplexes until Fall, however, don’t forget about the little guys too. Yes, I mean independent selections from the likes of Woody Allen, Tarsem Singh, and Asif Kapadia.

Those little yellow dudes appear to be worth your attention too …


What a tease

When you get to the fifth film of a franchise, no one expects much. It will probably be redundant, watered down, or so crazy you wonder how it even connects (my favorites are when a script with no relation to the series gets retrofitted to become one). Terminator Genisys (July 1) is none of these things—well it is pretty crazy and convoluted, but it works. Maybe Concept Arts hoped to drum up some interest out of those ready to dismiss it sight unseen because their teaser is a pretty effective visual pun.

There’s no more iconic image from the series than the T-800 skull, but we’ve never seen it like this. Made into an “hourglass” to align with the tag “Time is the Ultimate Weapon,” this face of horror is disintegrating into the sand counting us down to extinction. And if you’ve seen the film already, you could say it’s also possibly a spoiler for the construction of the latest Terminator model.

It definitely piques our intrigue more than old Arnold Schwarzenegger shrouded in shadow. Despite this, even that one is better than what BLT Communications, Inc. did with their twist spoiling series of fiery characters. John Connor is a machine now and the marketing team thought it would be cool to tell us weeks before opening day? Is someone getting fired over this?

Sadly BLT’s best with Emilia Clarke angled into the page’s corner is even forgettable. Maybe that’s just because the first thing I thought when looking at it was the firm’s own poster for Transformers: Age of Extinction.

WORKS ADV joins Concept Arts with a great teaser for Vacation (July 29). It too utilizes the most iconic graphic from the franchise—a vintage logo for every family’s favorite theme park Wally World. The play on Superman is appropriate too since we can assume Ed Helms‘ Rusty is going to follow in his hapless father’s footsteps to “save the day”. I could do without the obviously fake lens flare though.

The firm’s zoom out to show the rest of the family battered and dirty a la Alexander and the Really Long Name is much less effective. Slanted text worked on the teaser because it was a block angled to rest in the bottom right corner. This one has the tag at bottom left angling down off the page as though we should continue following it to the floor and forget the poster altogether.

The second entry on Route 66 with a flaming car is better if only because it makes sense as a scene. The actors were probably placed atop the road in post, but it’s not like they have a JC Penny backdrop behind them like the other.

BLT does redeem itself for their boring Genisys sheets on Pixels (July 24). Conceptually they only had to watch the brilliant short film the feature is based upon to hatch these scenes, but they stick to the conceit and nicely keep Sandler and crew off-screen.

Pac-Man and Caterpillar are my faves with Donkey Kong coming up second. The scale of Space Invaders seems off and I’ll be honest in my not knowing what is above Sydney, Australia. Regardless, the glowing, not quite static pixel boxes making up each character is simply a cool effect. If only the property could have found its way to the big screen sans the buffoonery. Columbia Pictures would be smart to never put a real person on any of their advertisements for what I still hope will be an enjoyable movie.

As for BLT’s Ant-Man (July 17) tease: it’s cute if also wholly on-the-nose. I wonder how it would have played if the title was absent and all we had was tiny Paul Rudd and the date. Make people work for their information. If you do it correctly they will.

This is Marvel, though, and there’s no way that would ever happen. Too much money is involved and it also appears Disney is VERY worried about this installment into their comic book universe. They’ve release a ton of footage from the film, they’re blanketing their coverage with Avengers references, and all their other posters are extremely cartoonish—a departure from every other franchise thus far introduced.

Just look at Art Machine, A Trailer Park Company‘s sheet with the titular hero riding an ant while bullets whizz by. It’s Honey I Shrunk the Kids caliber hokey and it looks faker despite a twenty-five year gap in photo manipulation technology. BLT’s full sheet is amateur hour with every actor in the movie fading into nothingness and the big blurry people flicking tiny adversaries off themselves is aimed at ten-year olds. Right? Half those foreground arms are nowhere near plausibly attached to the person showcased.

It’s disappointing when the best posters of this campaign are the ones riding Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man’s coattails.


In your face

You have to give Concept Arts credit for their Magic Mike XXL (July 1) teaser. This sequel is supposed to be even more fun and comedic than the first so why not follow suit with puns while blatantly putting the requisite abs on display? Channing Tatum doesn’t mind in the slightest as proven by his many surprise appearances at screenings to bump and grind on “lucky” ladies in the audience. He and his movie are most assuredly coming.

I also like the font work with its stenciled, boldly angled lettering cutting into the page. Chiseled text against chiseled bods? Perhaps. The brushed gold is a nice touch too, especially juxtaposed with the monochrome actors living it up in the rest of the white void. The combo platter is lacking with so many plopped in at once, but the individual character sheets deliver some nice compositions. I like that they aren’t afraid to play with the canvas.

With Wonderland‘s Amy (limited July 3) it’s all about the name. This is a smart maneuver because it’s tough to know what to expect by something so widely used. Place it atop tattoos with that upper lip stud above, however, and it’s hard not to know who the owner of this “Amy” is. Take the bottom stills off of Creative Partnership‘s Senna (also directed by Kapadia) and you have a similar technique.

It’s just more intriguing than its counterpart with Amy Winehouse seen in full and the title pushed to the side. The effect is gone and in fact the word “Amy” almost disappears completely, taking on the role of caption rather than focal point. At this point you might as well take it off completely and let the image of Winehouse speak for itself. There’s your tease: her face and tattoos with nothing but a date at the bottom.

And while the tag is more on-the-nose than Ant-Man‘s cuteness—”The Girl Behind the Name” is a perfect description of what the poster projects. Here’s a gorgeously cropped image showcasing personal identity via artwork above looks that literally has a name placed on top of it. The translucency only enhances the device by telling us neither name or image is more important than the other.

I’m torn on Gravillis Inc.‘s Southpaw (July 24). It’s definitely in your face and brutal with a jacked up Jake Gyllenhaal that has been making the rounds on the internet for months to show what he’s done to prepare for this role—a rough depiction with grit and guts that ultimately loses both. It’s surprising to see how polished and mainstream the firm went with a photo that could have easily impacted audiences without the gloss.

First mistake is the fake distress around the edges—I get you don’t want to cover your meal ticket with blemishes, but it’s hard to believe whatever “ruined” this image avoided the actor completely. Second is the coloring. I see this really popping in a high contrast black and white as opposed to the over-saturated richness of an HBO Boxing poster. Third—and this is a design no-no that was ingrained in my head during school—is the title being rotated 90-degrees the wrong way. It’s easier for American eyes to read sideways text from bottom to top as it retains our left to right conditioning. Top to bottom confuses our eyes and we have to rotate the page backwards for it to be correct. Maybe this disorientation was intentional to represent the impaired sight Jake must have.

I barely like the alternate sheet of Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams caught in a lovers’ embrace more. The coloring is subdued and the pockmarks are gone, but sadly most of the text is way too big and the whole too straightforward to earn my attention.

One poster I do love this month is Samba (NY/LA July 24). I was very bored with Le Cercle Noir‘s French faces adverts on display for its TIFF bow and it seems so was cold open. The latter firm takes what the international version did and makes it more international for lack of a better term. The color change, the hand-written scrawls, and the painterly aesthetic—it’s night and day. I see this sheet multiplied one hundred-fold on the side of an urban wall.

There’s a playfulness involved now that shine through the film. I adored it when I saw it and tonally it needs something looser like this to get people excited.

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