Latest Features

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Breaking the Waves,’ ‘Double Indemnity,’ ‘Touch of Evil,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, April 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm 

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. If we were provided screener copies, we’ll have our own write-up, but if that’s not the case, one can find official descriptions from the distributors. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best 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.

Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier)

What remains Lars von Trier‘s best film is, somewhat unsurprisingly, also his most emotionally grueling, a work that strikes its emotional center with such force because it never feels like anything other than straight documentation. (Take thatDancer in the Dark!) For as miserable as the experience will prove, what some will take / have taken as misery porn is really a journey that, despite all else, concludes with a spiritual awakening worthy of Dreyer. Pair it with Nymphomaniac if you’re looking for a great six hours of cinema. - Nick N.

Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)

Nearly 70 years after its premiere, Billy Wilder‘s classic noir masterpiece Double Indemnity is coming to Blu-ray for the first time. Led by Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, this twisty, perfectly-scripted tale is perhaps the definitive entry in the genre. Fans should be delighted to hear a wealth of extras are included in the release, including commentary from Lem Dobbs and more, as well the 1973 remake, and a documentary on the genre. – Jordan R.

Touch of Evil (Orson Welles)

Also getting its first Blu-ray release through Universal Studios Home Entertainment is another classic noir, Orson WellesTouch of Evil. Led by Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh, the release includes three different versions, the 1958 original, the preview version rediscovered in 1976, and a new cut from 1998 that was culled together from Welles’ own notes. Also on the release is two behind-the-scenes documentaries and four feature commentaries. – Jordan R.

Rent

Recommended Deals of the Weeks

(Note: new additions are in red)

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Adventureland (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Anchorman (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Anchorman 2 (Blu-ray) – $12.99

Almost Famous (Blu-ray) - $9.96

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $7.57

Before Midnight (Blu-ray) – $14.49

Blue is the Warmest Color (Criterion Blu-ray) – $16.99

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

Caddyshack (Blu-ray) - $7.88

Capote (Blu-ray) – $9.98

City of God (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Collateral (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Cool Hand Luke (Blu-ray) - $7.58

Dark City (Blu-ray) - $7.98

The Departed (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Frozen (Blu-ray) – $13.00

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Gravity (Blu-ray) – $12.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Halloween (Blu-ray) - $9.50

Heat (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Inside Llewyn Davis (Blu-ray) – $14.99

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Looper (Blu-ray) - $9.99

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Passion (Blu-ray) – $11.48

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Once Upon a Time in the West (Blu-ray) - $8.59

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.80

Raging Bull (Blu-ray) – $8.69

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.49

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

The Sting (Blu-ray) – $9.64

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) - $7.86

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $14.99

The Town (Blu-ray) - $9.96

Tropic Thunder (Blu-ray) – $8.76

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) - $8.98

Vacation (Blu-ray) – $8.99

The World’s End (Blu-ray) – $14.99

What are you picking up this week?

New to Streaming: ‘Joe,’ ‘Bastards,’ ‘Touch of Sin,’ ‘Hateship Loveship,’ ‘Afflicted,’ ‘Milius,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, April 11, 2014 at 2:45 pm 

With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we believe it’s our duty to highlight the recent, recommended 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, and shoot over suggestions to @TheFilmStage

Afflicted (Clif Prowse, Derek Lee)

Like most film festivals, Fantastic Fest is about finding original, exciting voices and Afflictedproves that first-time feature filmmakers Derek Lee and Clif Prowse are a duo to watch for. To take the handheld genre and some creature mythology and push it forward is fun to witness, especially for a work that simply doesn’t feel like a freshman effort. Showing a surprising understanding of what makes a film like this work, the duo gets us to care for our characters before dragging them through hell and back. Additionally, the use of practical effects helps sell the chaos even more, particularly with a low budget. – Bill G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play

Bastards (Claire Denis)

While out at sea, supertanker captain Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) receives an urgent call from his sister, Sandra (Julie Bataille), that beckons him to return to Paris immediately. Sandra’s husband had committed suicide while her daughter, Justine (Lola Créton), has been traumatized by a brutal rape. Determined to bring those responsible for such a heinous crime to justice, Marco embarks on an personal investigation to avenge his niece. When Sandra points the finger of blame on a wealthy businessman, Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor) — who eerily and, perhaps intentionally, bears a distinct resemblance to Dominique Strauss-Kahn – he begins observing Laporte as a means of uncovering clues as to what happened. Marco sells off all his worldly possessions and moves into a posh apartment complex where Laporte’s mistress and son are living; the deeper Marco finds himself in this seedy underground playground of the uber elite, the muddier the waters of truth become. – Raffi A. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Beyond Outrage (Takeshi Kitano)

If you like your imported thrillers of the violent, crazy variety, then you’ve probably already taken a liking to Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano. After debuting Outrage back in 2010, he’s returned for the follow-up, Beyond Outrage, tracking the police’s full-scale crackdown on organized crime and a yakuza battle that follows. With a mix of inventive killings, bloodshed, gunshots and a few laughs, it’s now streaming on Netflix Instant. - Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Netflix

The Dirties (Matthew Johnson)

If the found-footage concept relies on the belief that hand-held images will instantly signal reality, then it’s refreshing that The Dirties has the intelligence to directly pit verisimilitude against fantasy and subjectivity’s place within it. But as for the subject of the found-footage, we find two best friends, but more definitively. high-school outcasts and film buffs, Matt and Owen (the former played by the director Matt Johnson). They decide to document (with the help of an unseen cameraman) the making of their magnum opus, The Dirties, which sees them getting revenge against the school bullies. Their cast and crew consist virtually of themselves and a few accidental participants from their school and outside; itself mirroring the actual film’s use of real people. Though after their disastrous in-class screening, only making them the objects of even further scorn, it’s back to the drawing board as a far more real and deadly project is devised by Matt. – Ethan V.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Hateship Loveship (Liza Johnson)

There is something appealingly ambiguous about the story at the heart of Hateship Loveship. It goes through the paces and hangs itself on the narrative framework of a romantic drama, and yet it leaves behind all of the various neat bows and long-winded speeches usually associated with the genre. It explores the kind of impossible situation you think you’d only find in a film, but allows the inherent flaws and brokenness of humanity to live and breath. This makes it a hard film toexamine or convene a solid opinion on, but it also makes it one well worth seeing. – Brian R. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play

See more titles that are new to streaming this week >>

The Archive: Deleted ‘King of Comedy’ Scenes, Welles On TV, On the Set With Hitchcock, Fellini, Resnais, Godard, Lean & More

Written by TFS Staff, April 9, 2014 at 4:00 pm 

The Archive is a collection of cinephile-friendly findings around the web, including rare or never-before-seen photos, interviews, footage or any other bits related to classic or independent cinema. If you have any suggestions, feel free to tweet to @TheFilmStage. Check out the rundown below.

Above, Grace Kelly signs a miniature version of Jimmy Stewart‘s leg cast while filming Rear Window.

Watch a rare promo reel from Dr. Strangelove, featuring narration from Stanley Kubrick. [Cinephilia & Beyond]

Alfred Hitchcock on the set of The Birds.

Watch Joachim Trier discuss his inspirations and filmmaking advice.

Watch 26 John Wayne western classics for free via Open Culture.

Watch Ken Jacobs‘ 1986 short Perfect Film, dissecting the assassination of Malcolm X. [The Seventh Art]

See what Hollywood looked like 70 years ago in a short film from the 1940′s.

Raoul Coutard filming Jean-Luc Godard‘s Breathless.

See more from The Archive >>

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘A Touch of Sin,’ ‘Before Midnight,’ ‘Collateral,’ ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ & More

Written by TFS Staff, April 8, 2014 at 3:00 pm 

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. If we were provided screener copies, we’ll have our own write-up, but if that’s not the case, one can find official descriptions from the distributors. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best 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.

Note: The 400 Blows and The Night of the Hunter are both getting the Dual-Format upgrade on The Criterion Collection this week and are must-owns.

A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)

Jia Zhangke’s films often depict an easy overlap between politics and pop culture, whether it be the entertainers of Platform or The World, or the seeming overabundance of accessibility in Unknown Pleasures. This certainly holds true for A Touch of Sin, which — while loosely based on four real stories of violence fuelled by capitalism in contemporary China — plays with the tropes of past popular cinema as many characters come to embody modern Wuxia knights, the brandishing of Zhao Tao’s knife easily recalling the heightened sword strokes of King Hu. But as a public opera of one these classic Wuxia stories directly poses at the end, “Do you understand your sin?” As easy as it may sometimes prove to cheer on these acts of violence, every one comes with their own set of repercussions. - Ethan V.

Sabrina (Billy Wilder)

While I wouldn’t count it among the upper echelon of Billy Wilder‘s films, Sabrina is proof that he can make a light romantic comedy spark with the talents of Humphrey Bogard, Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. Hitting Blu-ray for the first time today with a handful of extras, it’s certainly one to pick up if you haven’t seen. The official synopsis reads, “Bogie and Holden are the mega-rich Larrabee brothers of Long Island. Bogie’s all work, Holden’s all playboy. But when Sabrina (Hepburn), daughter of the family’s chauffeur, returns from Paris all grown up and glamorous, the stage is set for some family fireworks as the brothers fall under the spell of Sabrina’s delightful charms.” - Jordan R.

Rent

Recommended Deals of the Weeks

(Note: new additions are in red)

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Adventureland (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Almost Famous (Blu-ray) - $9.96

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $7.57

Before Midnight (Blu-ray) – $14.49

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

Caddyshack (Blu-ray) - $7.88

Capote (Blu-ray) – $9.98

City of God (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Collateral (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Cool Hand Luke (Blu-ray) - $7.88

Dark City (Blu-ray) - $7.98

The Departed (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) $7.50

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Gravity (Blu-ray) – $14.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Halloween (Blu-ray) - $9.50

Heat (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Inside Llewyn Davis (Blu-ray) – $14.99

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Looper (Blu-ray) - $9.99

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Once Upon a Time in the West (Blu-ray) - $8.99

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.80

Raging Bull (Blu-ray) – $8.46

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) - $7.86

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $14.99

The Town (Blu-ray) - $9.96

Tropic Thunder (Blu-ray) – $8.76

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) - $8.98

Vacation (Blu-ray) – $8.99

The World’s End (Blu-ray) – $14.99

What are you picking up this week?

And Weird On Top: Revisiting David Lynch’s ‘Wild at Heart’

Written by Ethan Vestby, April 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm 

It’s easy to divide David Lynch’s career into sections of surprising commercial accessibility and complete mainstream alienation — the cultural breakthrough of Twin Peaks being the best representation of the former, the borderline solipsistic experimentation of Inland Empire standing in for the latter. This notwithstanding, to place his 1990 feature, Wild at Heart — a highly abrasive, yet emotionally sincere road movie — within the Lynch filmography reveals less about mainstream acceptance and something more concrete about an ideology.

Based on Barry Gifford’s novel of the same name, Wild at Heart traces a somewhat familiar two-young-lovers-on-the-run narrative. This iteration concerns Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern), the both of whom flee from her mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd), who’d already before placed a hit on him that ended in a murderous self-defense which briefly placed him in jail. A failed attempt won’t stop Marietta, who hires her hangdog boyfriend, P.I. Johnny Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton), to track them down, while also pegging the far-more-nefarious criminal mastermind Marcellus Santos (J.E. Freeman) for a second attempt on Sailor’s life.

As Wild at Heart’s narrative very blatantly bears the mark of a number of prior noir tales, it’s important to remember that David Lynch has never hid from pop culture, often to the point of making his characters blatantly interact with it — from Frank Booth crying at a lip-synched performance of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” to the characters of Twin Peaks doing the same for any time Julee Cruise showed up at the The Road House. A character’s specific relationship to it is most thoroughly articulated in the 1990 picture, with Sailor, Lula, and all their surrounding freakshows constantly imitating or projecting their idols, with the two dominant motifs being Elvis Presley and The Wizard of Oz — two items of popular culture that every American citizen is familiar with.

In turn, Wild at Heart finds itself primarily concerned with the construction of personal mythologies, perhaps the chief example being Sailor and his trademark snakeskin jacket, its donning in spaces both private and public accompanied by a monologue about how it represents his belief in individuality and personal freedom. (Even Lula chidingly mentions that she’s heard this about a million times already.) Of course, integral to these personal mythologies is the act of storytelling: Sailor and Lula provide backstory upon backstory about their troubled pasts that all naturally explain why these two damaged outcasts are perfect for each other. The film’s editing patterns make images from their stories (flaming homes, crying faces) bleed in and out when nobody is making so much as the slightest reference to them, giving the overriding feeling that their future will likely end up the same as their past.

It’s not so much a film of unreliable narrators, though, being that it always seems to believe entirely in its characters’ convictions. While reviews by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Roger Ebert took both them and the tone as wholly insincere, Lynch obviously loves his performers and their world too much to truly mock. There’s a definite joy he takes in Cage and Dern’s physical performances, as with a match-cut of Lula’s legs thrusting up and down on their motel bed to her actual dance with Sailor in a club.

This very sequence leads to his performance of Elvis’s “Love Me,” which manages to leave all other visitors of this distinctly late-’80s club rapt. That the members of the metal band in the background would support Sailor in his impromptu number may actually be the strangest sequence in a film already containing a cameo by Crispin Glover as an estranged, Christmas-obsessed cousin who puts cockroaches in his underwear. It suggests, in that instant, that the universe of the film is one solely created by its two leads, but Lynch, at one point countering that, distinctly plays God: Sailor and Lula pull over in the middle of nowhere to do a variety of wild, kung-fu-like gyrations to their favorite metal tune, only for a crane shot to pull away from them and reveal the landscape, at which point the soundtrack transitions to regular Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti’s typically dreamy score.

The film’s clash isn’t just in music, but also narrative: while Sailor and Lula’s story is a relatively simple road-movie tale, Marietta’s is that of convoluted noir with multiple hit men and their grotesque worlds of disguises and whorehouses. While certainly familiar territory considering the vast ensemble and equal convolution of Twin Peaks, it’s still, perhaps, the closest Lynch has ever come to Fritz Lang or Louis Feuillade, with multiple criminal networks the motives of which seem to extend far beyond placing a hit on some young troublemaker — this, all to the point that the special edition DVD released in 2004 came with an outline of every character and their supposed motivation or connection to the primary couple. Of course, Lynch’s work is no stranger to such business: Mulholland Drive’s DVD was famously accompanied by the “10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller” insert, and Dune’s theatrical release notoriously came with a sheet explaining every term from Frank Herbert’s convoluted mythology.

Beyond the comparably dense narrative, however, placing Wild at Heart in the Twin Peaks mindset only reveals similar strategies in handling characters. Lula and Marietta (played by real life mother and daughter Diane Ladd and Laura Dern) instantly brings to mind the troubled parent-daughter relationship in series prequel Fire Walk With Me. (Lula envisioning Marietta as a wicked witch flying on her broom, mapping the mother’s face onto a monster, is not at all unlike Leland Palmer and the demonic Killer BOB.) In fact, Twin Peaks and The Wizard of Oz even have similar divisions of good and evil — the lodges for the former, the witches for the latter.

As much as Wild at Heart makes its pop-culture text apparent, it, like Fire Walk With Me, is just as much a film about dread. Sailor and Lula verbalize their worries about bad omens and hexes placed on them throughout the second half, in one case after witnessing the aftermath of a teenage car accident — as if, within their notions of themselves and their story, there lies a natural end, in some sense potentially a comeuppance for their misdeeds. Their car radio even spells doom at one point, with talk radio reporting stories of murder and necrophilia while Lula searches in desperation for some actual music, which had been absent at no previous point in their journey. By the time the film reaches its climactic bank heist, Lynch cross-cuts between the two in their separate places, essentially forming a psychic link as they reach a simultaneous awareness that the bank heist Sailor agreed to (out of desperation) is going to go wrong.

For all reasons, Sailor and Lula likely should’ve died in the heat of passion (or stupidity), yet like how Tony Scott altered the ending of another early-’90s couple on the run film, True Romance, so that the young lovers who writer Quentin Tarantino wanted to kill could actually live, it finds a far more optimistic resolution. While Gifford’s original ending had them living but breaking up — if anything, a more devastating conclusion for these two — Lynch didn’t see that as befitting the characters he clearly loved so much. This would seem suspect, being that Blue Velvet quickly subverted its “love conquers all” ending with a reminder of the evil still left underneath small-town America — but, in this film, a landscape that had always been more ostensibly sinister and death-ridden (or, in Lula’s own words, “wild at heart and weird on top”) at least rewards its couple with another moment in which they seemingly make the entire world stop. Of course, it’s all for a second Elvis song.

Wild at Heart is now available on Blu-ray.

New to Streaming: ‘Breaking the Waves,’ ‘The Graduate,’ ‘Ali,’ ‘Close Encounters,’ ‘Zatoichi,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, April 4, 2014 at 2:30 pm 

With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we believe it’s our duty to highlight the recent, recommended 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, and shoot over suggestions to @TheFilmStage

Ali (Michael Mann)

More than a decade after its release, people have finally started seeing Michael Mann‘s “biopic” for what it really is: much less the bullet-point-hitting genre standard and more a story of ascendancy as paralleled in both the public and private eye, examining where these two seemingly disparate experiences might converge. The typical Mann qualities persist — a powerful score, beautiful cinematography, sequences that help one understand the power of cinema as much as ever — but his dive back into historical issues has not lost its, well, punch, and shows many a race-centered drama just how the game is supposed to be played. Oh, and did I mention that its opening sequence is one of the best we have? - Nick N.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier)

What remains Lars von Trier‘s best film is, somewhat unsurprisingly, also his most emotionally grueling, a work that strikes its emotional center with such force because it never feels like anything other than straight documentation. (Take thatDancer in the Dark!) For as miserable as the experience will prove, what some will take / have taken as misery porn is really a journey that, despite all else, concludes with a spiritual awakening worthy of Dreyer. Pair it with Nymphomaniac if you’re looking for a great six hours of cinema. – Nick N.

Where to Stream: iTunes

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg)

The best sci-fi film of 1977 does not cease to amaze 37 years on, in some part because its finer intricacies are forgotten amidst the pervasiveness of a five-tone theme and images of Devil’s Tower. Being less the thrillride of Jaws and more immediately touching than Raiders of the Lost ArkClose Encounters is Spielberg‘s first great film about discovery and placing oneself into the fabric of human history — just not the best fable about fatherhood, either. – Nick N.

Where to Stream: Netflix

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel)

A true story of a man overcoming insurmountable odds, this biographical drama could very easily be received by the viewer as a horror movie. Elle editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby suffers a stroke and is completely paralyzed. He is unable to speak or move any muscle in his body — any muscle except for his left eye lid, that is. Imprisoned inside his own body, like being trapped underwater in an old metal diving suit, he must learn to communicate through eye blinks to his therapist. Over a period of 14 months Bauby communicated a memoir of his life struggles, letter by letter, via blinking his left eye to his therapist and publisher’s assistant who transcribed each letter for him. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an incredibly intriguing, and terrifying, true story of keeping your sanity and continuing to live with “locked-in syndrome.” – Addam H.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Frankenstein’s Army (Richard Raaphorst)

Frankenstein’s Army is a B-movie in every sense of the word. Not without laughs, moments of blood, gore and primitive surgery as its name suggests, the film unfortunately takes on a found-footage approach that doesn’t always work. We are introduced to Sergei (Joshua Sasse), a young filmmaker from the Soviet National Film School who shoots with what looks like a bolex (the camera even has a hand crank). It’s so high quality that it looks like footage shot on a DSLR or Red One and manipulated in after effects with “grain.” His sound is excellent too, and he’s certainly lucky to have nice lighting, even the in the creepiest of settings. – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

The Graduate (Mike Nichols)

A year after his debut, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Mike Nichols delivered this coming-of-age drama that was, well, one for the ages. Dropped into the fishbowl that is Benjamin Braddock’s (Dustin Hoffman, in his break-out performance) world, The Graduate is a flawlessly directed masterpiece that I’ve returned to again and again. With a haunting finale, if you have yet to seek it out, it’s now streaming on Netflix and, if you couldn’t tell, it’s a must-see. - Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Netflix

See more titles new to streaming >>

5 Things We Learned From Scarlett Johansson On Shooting ‘Under the Skin’

Written by Zade Constantine, April 3, 2014 at 12:30 pm 

“With her emotionless eyes and the way she carries her body effectively distinguishes Scarlett Johansson’s character from any earthly being, featuring a commanding performance that doesn’t need any additional help from a special effects crew,” I remarked in my review of Jonathan Glazer‘s stunning Under the Skin. “Johansson utilizes every inch of her skin and every limb in her body to create something unlike what any of her female contemporaries have dared attempted on screen.”

Ahead of a release this Friday, we got a chance to learn from her process during a recent NYC press conference for the film, in which she plays an otherworldly seductress, roaming the Scottish countryside looking for men to pick up. Under the Skin boasts hypnotic visuals and a heady sci-fi concept, marking the return of Glazer after a ten-year absence, following a pair of features in the early 2000′s — the Ben Kingsley-led Sexy Beast and the atmospheric Birth starring Nicole Kidman. His latest outing promises to be as divisive and striking as those works and one can read below regarding what we learned from the talented actress, as well as watch a 20-minute interview with Glazer.

Liberation From Human Empathy

Though it’s best to go into Under the Skin knowing as little as possible, Johansson plays a character devoid of any emotions. She described that challenge, saying, “Any kind of empathy she would have or sympathy…those emotions are totally irrelevant to her.” A major departure from some of her most noted roles of late, such as her work as the electrifying, Jersey-born Barbara in Don Jon, or the ferocious Natasha Romanoff of Marvel’s films, for Under the Skin Johansson says, “It was really important to wash myself of any of those human emotions whether it was empathy or fear. I had to be liberated from them.”

Glazer’s Unique, Real-Life Approach, and If Johansson Was Ever Discovered

Under the Skin‘s production may have been one of the most risky undertakings for any theatrical release this year. Glazer concealed cameras, placed Johansson in a gaudy wig, and captured her interactions as she attempted to seduce and pick up real people off the streets, as evidenced in a recent featurette (seen below). Johansson elaborated on these stunning interactions saying, “It was terrifying especially because the same kind of rules that apply between two actors didn’t apply between us.”

The production would arrive at busy locations like malls or clubs and hide allowing for what Johansson calls “20 minutes of free time to explore” and to secure the candid footage Glazer wanted. The geographic make-up of these locations also helped preserve the masquerade Glazer and Johansson were carrying out. Johansson explains that Scotland’s “raw and otherworldly beauty” allowed the production to remain mostly anonymous. Johansson was surprised, as we were, that she was never recognized. The closest she was to being found out came when a man alongside the road asked her if she was an actress. Johansson asked why he would ask such a thing? His reply, “Because you’re f*cking gorgeous.”

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The Character’s Revealing Journey

The film contains ample nudity and blends eroticism with dread; Johansson was candid about this aspect in the production, explaining, “You have to look at the nudity and you assume it’s going to be a screenshot for someone. So you have to weigh the value of the risk you’re taking.” In the film, Johansson’s character uses her body, the allure of the human form, to lure men to a grisly fate. “Is this an important part of this character’s journey to self discovery? What’s the gain?,” Johansson asked of herself before committing to the film’s most revealing moments.

The Parallels Between Her and Under the Skin

Johansson’s performance in Spike Jonze‘s Oscar-winning Her was celebrated for succeeding amidst the challenges the role presented, replacing Samantha Morton after filming had completed and never appearing in a physical form. The actress finds a parallel between the OS voice and her latest role, saying, “Both characters share an appetite for self discovery and a drive to experience everything,” though neither character is human.

Glazer’s Significant Deviation From the Source Material

Johansson spoke fondly of her director, saying, “With everything he does there’s so much thought that goes in,” While this is only the third feature film from Glazer, he has earned a following of fans in both the film and music, having a strong visual sensibility, evident in the videos he’s directed for mega-bands Blur and Radiohead, which lends to the stunning imagery in Under the Skin. Glazer’s film is also a loose adaptation of the Michel Faber novel of the same name. The novel appears to have been a very early jumping off point for Glazer, as Johansson recalls that the script was only “the skeleton of something.” She added, “I didn’t even know what it was going to be,” and it was up to Glazer to discover the narrative out of the daunting amount of footage. Watch a 20-minute interview with him below, detailing that process:

Under the Skin hits limited release on Friday, April 4th.

10 Films to See In April

Written by Jordan Raup, April 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm 

In previous years, April might have signaled the calm before the blockbuster storm, but Hollywood has expanded their definition of the season. While limited releases (with some available everywhere on VOD) are the most promising films this month, Marvel will release their latest tentpole and a Christopher Nolan protege gets his first chance at directing. Check out our rundown of what films to see below and let us know what you’re most looking forward to this month.

Matinees to See: The Unknown Known (4/2), Afflicted (4/4), Alan Partridge: The Movie (4/4), Draft Day (4/11), Hateship Loveship (4/11), Oculus (4/11), The Railway Man (4/11), Fading Gigolo (4/18), Godzilla: The Japanese Original (4/18), Young and Beautiful (4/25)

10. Dom Hemingway (Richard Shepard; April 4th)

Synopsis: After spending 12 years in prison for keeping his mouth shut, notorious safe-cracker Dom Hemingway is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he’s owed.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: While he’s been fairly upright and proper in recent films such as Anna Karenina, The Grand Budapest Hotel and even Side Effects to an extent, Jude Law goes delightfully off the rails in this recommended dark comedy. “He’s out of shape, incapable of humility or remorse, wildly unpredictable, and, frankly, one of the most interesting characters at the Toronto International Film Festival this year,” we said in our review from the film’s premiere.

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; April 4th)

Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: While this film will certainly make more at the box-office than all of the others combined, Marvel actually has a creative reason to be proud of this sequel, as our review indicates it’s among the best of their output. As someone who believes its predecessor was the most accomplished superhero film to date from the studio, I’m looking forward to seeing them switch up the formula a bit. We said, “even the opening fight scene here could be out of Metal Gear Solid, with its covert operation and Cap’s brute force mixed with delicate finesse,” and if “we’re to grade them as cogs in an elaborate machine, The Winter Soldier is as important a link as we’ve seen yet.”

8. Transcendence (Wally Pfister; April 18th)

Synopsis: A terminally ill scientist downloads his mind into a computer. This grants him power beyond his wildest dreams, and soon he becomes unstoppable.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: While Christopher Nolan will deliver Interstellar at the end of the year, here’s hoping his longtime cinematographer’s directorial debut is a worthy appetizer. The previews for Wally Pfister‘s Transcendence thus far have painted a cyber thriller that seems more in line with something from the ’90′s, but perhaps that won’t be a bad thing in the glut of retreaded material that will follow this summer. With a remarkable cast and what’s sure to be strong visuals, hopefully Pfister found a story worth telling.

7. Locke (Steven Knight; April 25th)

Synopsis: A single phone call causes the life of a successful construction manager to unravel during his drive home.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: Since breaking out in Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Bronson, Tom Hardy has mostly been relegated to supporting roles, whether it be major films like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises or the stellar Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but this year he finally returns to take the lead in Locke. Coming from Eastern Promises writer Steven Knight, the real-time thriller has been awarded acclaim since its debut on the fall festival and will now drive into limited release at the end of the month.

6. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier; April 25th)

Synopsis: A mysterious outsider’s quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

Trailer

Why You Should See It: One of the more impressive independent thrillers I’ve recently seen, we said in our review, “92 minutes of taut physical activity, morbid humor, and gruesome violence, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is one of the year’s leanest and most impressive killing machines. Saulnier begins his film with quiet, character-building chapters, but once he sets his resourceful, pleasingly narrow plot in motion, Blue Ruin becomes nothing more than a series of sharp, vicious set-pieces founded on Nash Edgerton-like bursts of violence. The film is a good example of the kind of genre treat that gets points for disposable ambition: Saulnier’s technique is so controlled, and his sequence staging so clever, that nothing else really matters.”

The top 5 films to watch in April >>

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Once,’ ‘The Kings of Summer,’ ‘Close Encounters’ & More

Written by TFS Staff, April 1, 2014 at 2:30 pm 

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. If we were provided screener copies, we’ll have our own write-up, but if that’s not the case, one can find official descriptions from the distributors. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best 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.

Once (John Carney)

As John Carney prepares for the release of his next music-related drama, Fox Searchlight are releasing his break-out hit Once for the first time ever on U.S. Blu-ray today. Considering it’s a light week for releases, if you have yet to watch the touching, vigorous love story, be sure to see this one out. This release of the Oscar-winning film also includes two sets of commentary with Carney as well as Glen Hansard and Markéta Irgolová, a making of documentary, and more. - Jordan R.

Rent

Recommended Deals of the Weeks

(Note: new additions are in red)

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Adventureland (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Almost Famous (Blu-ray) - $9.96

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $7.57

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

Caddyshack (Blu-ray) - $7.88

Capote (Blu-ray) – $9.98

City of God (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Cool Hand Luke (Blu-ray) - $9.49

Dark City (Blu-ray) - $7.98

The Departed (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) $7.50

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Halloween (Blu-ray) - $9.50

Heat (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $9.59

The Kings of Summer (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Looper (Blu-ray) - $9.99

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Blu-ray) – $7.49

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Once Upon a Time in the West (Blu-ray) - $8.99

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.78

Raging Bull (Blu-ray) – $8.15

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) - $7.86

The Town (Blu-ray) - $9.96

Tropic Thunder (Blu-ray) – $8.76

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) - $8.98

Vacation (Blu-ray) – $7.99

What are you picking up this week?

Posterized April 2014: ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’, ‘Under the Skin’, ‘Transcendence’ & More

Written by Jared Mobarak, April 1, 2014 at 12:30 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.


April has a lot of movies coming out stateside and so many have decided to sell themselves on their star. Dom Hemingway (limited April 2), Alan Partridge (limited April 4), and Draft Day (April 11) simply put the face front and center. Joe (limited April 11), Only Lovers Left Alive (limited April 11), and The Other Woman (April 25) throw a few characters together to stare back at you and beg for money. And one word can describe them all: boring.

I’m not saying the posters that follow are necessarily better, the definition of good, or even worth looking at, but at least they all have a story, intrigue, or excitement about them. What’s the point of having designers if you just want faces? At least floating head sheets need Photoshop skills to meld it together; the above just a camera and a font. Kevin Costner‘s face isn’t going to stand out from the crowd when every other poster is another familiar celebrity shilling for the studio.

Parody and integration

Yes, I know Marlon Wayans is doing just that with his posters series for A Haunted House 2 (April 18), but he has fun with it. Not the kind of fun I necessarily enjoy having, but that Scary Movie kind where a big grin goes a long way with the masses. A spoof film marketed with spoof posters? You can’t go wrong.

Ignition Print did it with Madea’s Big Happy Family for whatever reason popped in their head to think parodying Oscar contenders would be a viable way to promote a cross-dressing comedy, and here we are. The idea actually makes sense with Wayans’ newest enterprise and kudos to Concept Arts for taking a couple popular horror flicks and paying homage. The tagline catchphrases are crude and stupid for the most part, but I do enjoy “Based on true events that never actually happened”. For some reason that tickles my fancy.

I’m not sure if Cuban Fury (limited April 11) has more than this Flashdance joke (I haven’t found any), but I hope they did. When you have a guy like Nick Frost willing to put himself in these comedic situations without shame, you should go big. Because honestly, the poster with Rashida Jones separating him and Chris O’Dowd is as lame as the ones I mentioned in my opening paragraph. We know those three are in the movie, thanks for the obvious.

At least the main sheet with Frost and his dancing partner posing against a white background has his goofy idea of “determined” forcing us to stare into his crazy eyes. But I guess that has more to do with his ability to earn a laugh than the designer’s work. I know nothing about the film, am clueless to the Cuban connection considering the Brits at the lead are far from that nationality, but you know it will probably be at the very least a good time after checking out the artwork. And that’s a success.

I’d like to say the same about Concept Art’s Transcendence (April 17) advert, but there is something about this film that irks me. The trailer is convoluted at best with a ton of star power and a sprawling plot of futuristic computer tech and this teaser does little to pique interest either. I appreciate the fact they didn’t put Johnny Depp‘s mug front and center (although you can see they did with the next one), but it’s almost too abstract and mysterious to care.

Yes, it seems to concern a hybridization of organic tissue and silicon (but not in the Baywatch definition of the pairing) and we get that with the nicely glowing blue microchips against black silhouette. All those empty panels/floors/balconies/glass panes/ what? unfortunately only make me think of some sort of warp speed motion to the center thanks to its perspective. As a result I conjure memories of The Matrix, place pods of sleeping people on each, and imagine Depp’s Neo 2.0 is waking up to the injustice. I hate to say it but I need more.

So, the classic example of minimalism for this section lies with Hateship Loveship (limited April 11). Not only does the floral wallpaper fit perfectly with Kristen Wiig‘s dress (just a hair of difference in hue and pattern to not be Zach Braff in Garden State), but the color palette of the text also matches to keep everything homogenized. Some of the words really make you look close to catch them while others use the same color in a heavier saturation to grab attention. Just like the quote from The Hollywood Reporter heaping praise on Wiig says: it’s a beautifully restrained design.

America likes its Captains in masks

When you look at what BLT Communications, LLC did for Captain America: The First Avenger, I’m not really certain what was behind their decision to cover star Chris Evans’ face for The Winter Soldier (April 4). Yeah they cropped his head a bit and focused more on the old school uniform and scuffed up metal shield, but it’s still Evans giving us his best look of severity.

Maybe it’s because I don’t know the comic—maybe BLT thinks Britain doesn’t either—but do fans really get excited by that helmet/mask with an “A”? They obviously had some kind of thought process to make them give UK audiences Evans while Americans settle with a wannabe Batman scowl, I’m simply in the dark. They also allow Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson to be bigger across the pond too, but that’s probably some stipulation in Chris’ stateside contract.

Either way, neither version is that great. BLT loses the interesting, dramatic crop from the first film and settles with a profile of sadness. And then you have the main sheet with every character in it proving to be as drab as you’d expect. Thankfully we at least get the teaser shield in glorious shadow with authentic wear and tear to show that this isn’t your grandfather’s superhero who saves the day with little trouble. Captain America isn’t invincible and he is going to get beat up.

My favorite, though, (no, not Paolo Rivera‘s version that tries to be retro and G.I. Joe-esque but only ends up being a contemporized variation on the theme that’s off-centered placement distracts the heck out of me) is the IMAX sheet. I love the blacks and reds, the abstract placement of objects/actors cropped and segmented as the shapes they cut through see fit, and the comic book shading that’s more painterly than photo-realistic. This thing could be a special edition cover for one of the books and it proves to be a nice collectible for those heading out at Midnight the day before release.

See more of this month’s Posterized >>

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