Latest Features

New to Streaming: ‘The Guest,’ ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones,’ ‘Borgman,’ ‘The Dog,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, December 19, 2014 at 2:30 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.

A Walk Among the Tombstones (Scott Frank)

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Indicated by the proliferation of his action-oriented films in the last half-decade, simply uttering the name Liam Neeson spurs the specific notion of a certain sort of slick, B-movie thriller. Considering the box-office he can bring in, it’s no surprise that even with the loosest connection to a Taken-esque plot, his features in the genre are marketed as bullet-riddled blow-outs. While his latest film, A Walk Among the Tombstones, may contain impassioned phone calls, kidnappings, and even open with all-out warfare, it is distinctly of its own world: a brooding, sharp and skillfully crafted, character-focused detective story. – Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu)

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It took Cristian Mungiu over five years to release a feature-length follow-up to his Palme d’Or winning masterpiece, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. That film, along with The Death of Mr. Lazerescu before it, launched the Romanian New Wave to international acclaim and recognition, and although the movement is not quite as overtly political as it once was, Beyond the Hills is evidence that social responsibility is still among the top Mungiu’s list of priorities, but the intelligence and emotions of the characters are just as prevalent. Beyond the Hills establishes itself as a more humanistic counterpoint to the concentrated and agenda-driven politics of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; if that film is Mungiu’s Bicycle Thieves, then this one is his Umberto D. – Forrest C. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam)

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When placed amongst perhaps more “serious” work, it’s easy to see why Alex van Warmerdam‘s latest Dutch production, Borgman, might have got lost in the Cannes shuffle last year. Now arriving in theaters this month, there’s no reason one of the most entertaining and bizarre foreign exports of the year should be avoided. Following a mysterious, otherworldly figure invading a bourgeois family, much of the joy lies in the unexpected. Even if one doesn’t walk away with all the answers (and I don’t believe Warmerdam wants you to), you’ll be glad you took the journey. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

The Captive (Atom Egoyan)

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Aggressively stupid when it’s not downright illogical, it is hard to imagine a film less deserving for a competition slot at this year’s Cannes Film Festival than Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, a subpar Law & Order episode at best. It’s not that Egoyan shows little flair for the film’s ominous locales in snowy Canada; it’s that it takes its thematic heft — addressing issues of pedophilia, vigilantism, victimization, and the Age of the Internet — as profoundly unique when they’re actually blurry ideas within a muddled plot. Egoyan has some cleverness going on — mostly when it’s not exactly clear what’s going on for a while — but it resolves itself to be resolutely generic and silly. – Peter L. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Dog (Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren)

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The Dog is a lively, epic documentary biography of John Wojtowicz, an anti-hero of sorts in New York’s gay rights movement. A later episode in his life would be immortalized in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon and while that remains a masterpiece, The Dog, shot with Wojtowicz from 2002 till his death in 2006 is a complete biography, going beyond Lumet’s film and Pierre Huyghe’s 1999 installation The Third Memory. That project featured, like The Dog, a direct address by Wojitowicz walking us through the details that Hollywood, well, made more “Hollywood” in Dog Day. – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

The Equalizer (Antoine Fuqua)

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It doesn’t really matter whether or not you recall the old CBS TV show on which Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer is based, because there’s very little similarity outside of the title and a tough-as-nails hero who will bust heads standing up for the downtrodden ‘little guy.’ In truth, this latest entry in the Denzel Washington grizzled-warrior sweepstakes still feels like reheated leftovers, drawing less from the Ed Woodward-starring series and more from every recent action endeavor released in the last ten-to-fifteen years. In a surprisingly silly turn, the finale resembles a twisted, adult oriented version of Home Alone, as Washington faces off with an army of Russian mobsters in the Home Depot-style DIY store where he works. – Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

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The Best Cinematography of 2014

Written by TFS Staff, December 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm 

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“A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist — moving an audience through a movie [...] making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark,” said the late, great Gordon Willis. As we continue our year-end coverage, one aspect of 2014 we must highlight is among the most vital to the medium: cinematography. From talented newcomers to seasoned professionals, we’ve rounded up the 21 cinematographers (across 24 films) that have impressed us most this year. Check out our rundown below and let us know your favorite work amongst the field in the comments.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Lyle Vincent)

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In one of our much-deserved selections for best directorial debuts of 2014, newcomer Ana Lily Amirpour creates a vivid, treacherous landscape for an Iranian vampire “western,” aided greatly by the stark cinematography from Lyle Vincent. With patient, calculated photography — black-and-white images, no less — we’re immediately sucked into dangers lurking around every corner. Add in one the year’s great tension-filled long takes as we follow an intimate, music-backed encounter between our leads, and it’s among the most distinct films of the year. – Jordan R.

The Better Angels (Matthew J. Lloyd)

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We technically didn’t get a new Terrence Malick film this year (only a preview), but the next best thing arrived in the form of A.J. Edwards‘ debut, The Better Angels. The Tree of Life director is on producing duties here, and his style is beautifully evoked throughout the story of a young Abraham LincolnMatthew J. Lloyd is channeling Emmanuel Lubezki‘s work to capture the harsh, albeit beautiful nature of the Midwest setting with his roaming camera, one which often pushes us towards something otherworldly. – Jordan R.

Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)

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Emmanuel Lubezki’s work in Birdman may be the most-discussed piece of cinematography from 2014. Beyond its impressive technical aspects, having been constructed to look mostly like one take, Lubezki’s tricky cinematography succeeds in two key ways. First, it rarely feels like a gimmick. The camera traps us in a chaotic and claustrophobic environment as flamboyant actors and temptresses chip away at the protagonist’s delicate sanity and artistic creation. This style of filmmaking, which has made its mark on films as different as Russian Ark and Rope, can be demanding of its actors, and Birdman’s ensemble rises to the challenge with key members turning in dynamic performances that match the energy of the camera’s movements. Second, Lubezki’s eye polishes off the film’s rough edges. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu jumbles philosophical ideas and media critiques during Birdman’s runtime; they don’t all land, but it’s Lubezki’s artisanship that keeps Birdman literally gliding from one idea to the next and never giving pause to hone in on any one particular shortcoming of the script. The film stands as one more towering achievement for this immensely talented cinematographer. - Zade C.

Enemy (Nicolas Bolduc)

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The Toronto on display in Enemy is a hostile, uncertain place filled with imposing structures of unnerving symmetry dotted amid vast planes of nothingness. It also happens to harbor one man’s exact double, a man in possession of his every physical attribute yet devoid of his wilting nature. It is no surprise, then, that this story, with its bizarre setting and twisted narrative, should be shot to look like it is filmed on an arid, alien world. Nicolas Bolduc creates an other-worldliness through his lens, conjuring a nicotine-and-parchment aesthetic that makes every onscreen event all the more threatening and odd. There’s a haze in the air that blurs the edges of reality and even seeps into the interiors. In a movie rich with so much menace and symbolic density, Bolduc’s photography manages to enhance, underline, and sometimes outshine it all. – Brian R.

Godzilla (Seamus McGarvey)

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So few images in the current blockbuster climate leave an impression. What “spectacle” we’re given is often presented in dully lit medium shots, and wonder is so scarce that the experience of watching another X-Men film is genuinely disheartening. I haven’t seen Godzilla since its May release, yet can still recall individual images from almost any scene — even the exposition dumps — because of the evident care poured into them. How strange that Seamus McGarvey worked on the expressionless Avengers before this, a visually varied (both in terms of palette and “mere” shooting styles) effort that can overcome the occasional script lull with something as essential as an eye-catching (but non-ostentatious) camera angle. If he isn’t exactly on par with a Spielberg-era Jaws, Gareth Evans should at least take pride in having mounted a monster film that can be considered a descendant without embarrassing itself. – Nick N.

Gone Girl (Jeff Cronenweth)

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The Fincher-Cronenweth collaborations are as immediately recognizable as anything in current mainstream cinema, but these films aren’t immediately, clearly identical. While Gone Girl manages to be as clean, steely, and precise as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, its vision of mediocre American suburbia, so key to this entire effort, becomes evident on every cinematographic level — whether it’s the lighting of a Recession-era home or the atmosphere of dirty motel rooms, no stone is left unturned (or saved from a nice pissing-upon, for that matter). Months after the fact, this film’s most lasting impression is hardly where that girl’s gone. More troubling is the recurring vision of walls closing in on an environment we’re silly enough to consider safe. - Nick N.

Goodbye to Language 3D (Fabrice Aragno)

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The director’s most technically innovative film raises many utterances of “how did they do that,” not least of which is wondering what relationship Jean-Luc Godard and Fabrice Aragno established to achieve some of the most amazing 3D images. Interviews with the latter shed some light on this process, but you almost don’t want to know — thinking back on the experience, it’s evident how much I’d prefer to just let the images (literally) come towards me and leave worrying about it all for a later date. If it were just for those two shots — if you’ve seen it, you know of what I speak — this would deserve to be here. But it’s 70 minutes of formal exertion like nothing that’s come before, and is one of the few titles that earns a spot entirely uncontested. – Nick N.

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The Film Stage’s Holiday Gift Guide

Written by TFS Staff, December 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm 

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The holidays are in full swing, and this Christmas brings a good slate of options for cinephiles. We’ve compiled the best Blu-ray sets, books, albums, games, and more that are tailored to our tastes here at The Film Stage, and which we hope our readers will enjoy giving (or treating themselves to). To kick things off, we have stunning new books from acclaimed authors Karina Longworth and Anne Helen Petersen, deconstructions of icons Robert De Niro and John Wayne, a fascinating study of the power and cultural impact of Star Wars, and a gorgeous text presented by the great U.K. film magazine Little White Lies. Check out everything below and, to pick them up, simply click the titles.

Books

What I Love About Movies (Edited by David Jenkins and Adam Woodward)

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It is fitting that the first book presented by the immaculately designed Little White Lies is a visually striking, thematically wondrous treat. What I Love About Movies compiles answers to the question “What do you love about movies?” from various actors and filmmakers, along with enjoyably brief biographies and stunning illustrations. One is hard-pressed to pick a favorite response when so many are so unique, a natural result of everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to Kristen Stewart being represented. But it is the great Terence Davies whose response most resonates: “I love their magic. In a crowded room, in the dark, you watch something collectively but you think the secrets are being told only to you. That’s magic.” – Chris S.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe (Chris Taylor)

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Mashable editor Chris Taylor does something quite special in How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, his analysis of the creation and legacy of George Lucas’s space fantasy: through new interviews and cogent commentary, he brings fresh insight to what makes the Skywalker saga so compelling. But what I found most interesting is his account of the much-despised prequel trilogy and the process that led to J.J. Abrams’s Episode VII. From fun gossip (Taylor writes that Natalie Portman was notoriously prickly on set, reducing then 12-year-old Phantom Menace co-star Keira Knightley to tears) to an astute examination of Anakin’s jumbled turn to the Dark Side (“In the end, the fall took place in fewer than 10 confusing minutes”), this is a smart, wildly enjoyable must-read. - Chris S.

Hollywood Frame by Frame (Karina Longworth)

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I’m not sure there is a stronger writer on film than Karina Longworth, whose explorations of Al Pacino and Meryl Streep are among the smartest cinematic studies of recent years. Her latest effort, Hollywood Frame by Frame, is subtitled “The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997,” and that is a wonderful description. These stills, from films as diverse as Raintree County and The Crow, “document both the creation of, as Alois M. Müller put it, the ‘monumental façade,’ and the slippage of that façade.” That “slippage” is catnip to film fans, and Longworth’s book demonstrates why. - Chris S.

De Niro: A Life (Shawn Levy)

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The 2000′s are perhaps not the best time in which to look closely at the life and career of Robert De Niro. Biographer Shawn Levy recognizes this, referring to the actor’s awful 2013, a year of indignities like The Big Wedding and Killing Season, as “the single busiest year in [De Niro’s] acting career, and a rather appalling one — six films in theaters from April to December, almost none of them worth leaving the house for.” This candor makes De Niro: A Life a worthy read. Stories of the actor’s father, himself an artist, and De Niro’s Stella Adler days are, of course, fascinating, but Levy also insightfully probes his work in films like Cape Fear and Midnight Run. It’s a long (nearly 600-page), endlessly readable reminder of why the actor is so important, and why his recent output is so often disheartening. - Chris S.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood (Anne Helen Petersen)

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In Scandals of Classic Hollywood, Anne Helen Petersen brings new life to oft-told Hollywood legend. Yes, we’ve been down this road before — the troubled life of Judy Garland, the seductive power of Valentino, the sad story of Montgomery Clift — but Petersen’s bracing blend of commentary and history is well worth revisiting. Consider these words on Marlon Brando: “[H]e was like Rousseau’s natural man, a child of nature who simply followed his whimsy … But he wasn’t pure id either — he loathed that other presumed he was like Stanley Kowalski in real life. The real Brando was the antithesis of Kowalski: ‘I despise that type of human being.’” - Chris S.

American Titan: Searching for John Wayne (Marc Eliot)

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It is easy, decades after his death, to downplay the significance of John Wayne. But Marc Eliot’s biography American Titan: Searching for John Wayne does a fine job of explaining what makes the Duke remain so endlessly appealing for so many. The personal and professional highs and lows are well represented, of course, but I most enjoyed the account of Wayne’s long quest to make The Alamo, and the involvement of John Ford. The director of some of Wayne’s greatest films invested money in the project and was on set and “ready for the first setup, a presence that confused everybody and upset Wayne, who felt that Ford was trying to take over and turn The Alamo into a John Ford film, signed by Wayne but fooling no one.” As Eliot writes, exactly how much of the final product Ford directed is unknown, adding another level of mystery to an already complex career. - Chris S.

Approaching the End (Peter Labuza)

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For all the limitless possibilities cinema affords us, there are still certain elements I’d never consider compatible. Although apocalyptic films and noir would be fairly high on my own list, Peter Labuza — full disclosure: a valued contributor to this site and personal friend — makes thoughtful arguments for the strange unity of those genres in Approaching the End, a medium-sized study that, among its several virtues (including confident prose and the mixing of popular titles with lesser-known examples), should encourage readers to more fully consider how they perceive cinematic narrative. For being at once accessible in its execution and intricate in its arguments, Labuza’s text will only rise in academic currency as the years go by. – Nick N.

Asghar Farhadi: Life and Cinema (Tina Hassannia)

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It’s quickly become obvious that Asghar Farhadi is one of our great cinematic storytellers, and yet, for all the reviews and interviews that have been made available in recent years, no one (or no one that I can find evidence of) has done a truly extensive investigation. Fans of the great writer-director will thus be thankful for the efforts of Tina Hassannia, whose extensive experience with Iranian film and insightful eye have brought us Asghar Farhadi: Life and Cinema. She begins by interviewing the main subject for some 25 pages — all the better that this book’s print isn’t exactly huge — before transitioning into a film-by-film breakdown that gives each of his six titles (especially the rare Dancing in the Dust and Beautiful City) what’s likely their longest available studies. It’d be a great buy if you’ve only seen A Separation and The Past, but with both the quality of effort and Farhadi’s ever-burgeoning status kept in mind — his 2009 masterpiece About Elly will finally hit U.S. shores in April; we can hope the others are on their way to some similar treatment — Life and Cinema‘s rewards extend far beyond the final page. – Nick N.

The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion (Jason Bailey)

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If it sometimes (often, always) feels like there are no new things one can say about Woody Allen’s work, consider The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion a pleasant surprise. Jason Bailey — author of last year’s excellent Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece — starts at the beginning and ends pretty close to our current day (only Magic in the Moonlight couldn’t make the cut), in-between his honest, not-always-complimentary essays providing features on the helmer’s influences, imitators, expectation-defying turns, and side projects. Complemented by a clean design and fine set of photos, ranging from production stills to rare shots (have you ever seen him field a grounder?), this is a book that any fan’s coffee table would be worse without. - Nick N.

Consumed (David Cronenberg)

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It was a busy fall for director David Cronenberg, whose latest film, the deliciously acidic Maps to the Stars, screened at September’s Toronto International Film Festival. But as interesting as the already underrated Maps is, Cronenberg’s debut novel, Consumed — a strange, hypnotic story of two photojournalists exploring a web of murder and cannibalism — often feels like a calculated return to the Fly and Videodrome director’s early work. Nick Newman nailed it in a September piece for us, writing that “the book is about as pleasurable as it is breezy, thanks mostly to its easily processed prose … and, some major structural issues notwithstanding, a decent yarn practically engineered to earn the title of ‘page-turner.’”  - Chris S.

The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System (Anne Thompson)

In The $11 Billion YearThompson on Hollywood editor-in-chief Anne Thompson attempts to present “a slice of what happened during a watershed year [2012] for the Hollywood movie industry.” It is not, Thompson writes, “the whole story, but it’s a mosaic of what went on, and why, and of where things are heading.” Any year with offerings as diverse as Les Misérables, Django Unchained, The Avengers, Silver Linings Playbook, and Life of Pi is worth this level of analysis, and while it is difficult at book’s end to determine exactly what 2012 added up to, this is not for lack of trying on Thompson’s part. In this nod to William Goldman’s influential Broadway study Season, Thompson includes almost every moment of zeitgeist-impacting relevance, from Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Sundance debut to Argo’s success at Telluride and Zero Dark Thirty’s still-controversial response. And, befitting her insider status, Thompson even includes things such as this Oscar party tidbit about Ben Affleck: “Affleck goes into the men’s room and shaves off the beard he wore, superstitiously, throughout the season. He doesn’t need it anymore.” - Chris S.

A Companion to Michael Haneke (Edited by Roy Grundmann)

It was only a matter of time before publisher Wiley Blackwell’s “Companions to Film Directors” series made room for the downbeat Austrian master Michael Haneke, and indeed, a hardcover book devoted to his work was released in 2010. That mighty tome has finally been released in paperback form, with a new preface from editor Roy Grundmann that briefly tackles Haneke’s latest triumph, Amour. If there is any flaw with the dense (it comes in at slightly more than 600 pages) essay collection, it is the non-inclusion of Amour outside of that preface. But what is here is profoundly involving, even though there is also little text devoted to The White Ribbon. Charles Warren’s “The Unknown Piano Teacher” is especially fascinating, as is the Caché-centric “Multicultural Encounceters in Haneke’s French-Language Cinema,” by Alex Lykidis. The final section in the book, titled “Michael Haneke Speaks” even includes a wonderful piece by Haneke himself, a translated look at Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar. - Chris S.

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Sixth Edition (David Thomson)

Before one starts paging through the latest edition of David Thomson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, it is intriguing to consider the years in which previous editions were released: “Copyright © 1975, 1980, 1994, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2014.” Think about that for a moment. The author has been compiling, revising, and rethinking this text for nearly 40 years now. In his introduction, Thomson elucidates on how the book began, and how it has changed over four decades:

“I was offering an interpretation of film history, and it has been a great upheaval in renewing the book because so much has changed since 1975. This book was written first without a computer, databases, or the resources of video. It grew out of lists made in the library of the British Film Institute. … If I were starting this book now (and that would be as far-fetched a publishing venture as it was in 1975), I think it would have to include the inventors and creators of the Internet. But I don’t know enough to pursue them; and perhaps I am running out of the energy. I hope not.”

If this latest edition is any indication, no, Thomson is not running out of energy. In fact, he has smartly broadened the scope to include more television: “This sixth edition admires people like Bryan Cranston and Elisabeth Moss (from Top of the Lake), in the spirit that reckons many of the best movies are made for what we still call ‘the small screen.’” It’s interesting to ponder what mediums may find their way into editions seven and eight. - Chris S.

Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks (Brad Dukes)

twin_peaksWith a Blu-ray release of the complete series and deleted scenes from the originally maligned, now-championed Fire Walk with Me, Twin Peaks fever has once again gripped the media. It is an ideal time, then, for Brad Dukes’ stunningly comprehensive Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks. The gang is (almost) all here, with Kyle MacLachlan, Sherilyn Fenn, Mark Frost, and Ray Wise all speaking up There’s no Lynch, but there are so many treasures here that it’s hard to be disappointed. Reflections is a 300-page-plus overview of the entire series, featuring entertaining and insightful new interviews. That makes for one of the most notable film (well, okay, TV and film) books of 2014. - Chris S.

Anatomy of An Actor: Robert De Niro (Glenn Kenny)

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Cahiers du Cinéma‘s Anatomy of an Actor series has already given us wonderful books about screen icons like Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. The latest two, studies of Robert De Niro and Tom Cruise, are no less enlightening. The great critic Glenn Kenny analyzes 10 of De Niro’s most interesting roles, and while he hits on the biggies — Johnny Boy, Vito Corleone, Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta, Rupert Pupkin — he also includes Midnight Run’s Jack Walsh and, most pleasingly, Jack Mabry, De Niro’s character in 2010’s underrated Stone. Kenny sees the latter as one of the actor’s most compelling characters: “Despite its mixed reception critically and the fact that it came and went from theaters practically unnoticed, Stone is a major De Niro performance in what’s possibly a major film.” Such insights make Kenny’s the finest book on De Niro to date. - Chris S.

Anatomy of an Actor: Tom Cruise (Amy Nicholson)

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Meanwhile, LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholsons Anatomy of an Actor: Tom Cruise has already garnered media coverage for its astute analysis of the actor’s strange, often unfairly criticized post-Pat Kingsley career. “Miscalculating this new [TMZ era] fan fixation on ‘real’ lives, Cruise finally decided to open up to the press — way up,” Nicholson writes. Oprah, Brooke Shields, and much mockery followed, but some redemption came with Cruise’s role as Les Grossman in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Nicholson smartly sees this performance as one of the keys in Cruise’s career, every bit as compelling as Ron Kovic or the vampire Lestat. But she also devotes significant time to Eyes Wide Shut, finding that even though his work as Dr. Bill Harford is surely “artificial, distant, and unrelatable,” it satisfied the one individual who mattered: Stanley Kubrick. “What feels flat to the audience must have felt correct to the director,” Nicholson writes. She sees a grace to Cruise’s devotion to “his master,” the great Kubrick, and finds it essential to his growth as something beyond the “popcorn king.” Finally, Cruise the actor has been given the respect he deserves. - Chris S.

Ayoade on Ayoade (Richard Ayoade)

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In this book Richard Ayoade – actor, writer, director, and amateur dentist – reflects on his cinematic legacy as only he can: in conversation with himself. Over ten brilliantly insightful and often erotic interviews, Ayoade examines himself fully and without mercy, leading a breathless investigation into this once-in-a-generation visionary. Only Ayoade can appreciate Ayoade’s unique methodology. Only Ayoade can recognise Ayoade’s talent. Only Ayoade can withstand Ayoade’s peculiar scent. Only Ayoade can truly get inside Ayoade. They have called their book Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey. Take the journey, and your life will never be the same again. Ayoade on Ayoade captures the director in his own words: pompous, vain, angry and very, very funny.

The Science of Interstellar (Kip Thorne)

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Interstellar, from acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, takes us on a fantastic voyage far beyond our solar system. Yet in The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne, the physicist who assisted Nolan on the scientific aspects of Interstellar, shows us that the movie’s jaw-dropping events and stunning, never-before-attempted visuals are grounded in real science. Thorne shares his experiences working as the science adviser on the film and then moves on to the science itself. In chapters on wormholes, black holes, interstellar travel, and much more, Thorne’s scientific insights—many of them triggered during the actual scripting and shooting of Interstellar—describe the physical laws that govern our universe and the truly astounding phenomena that those laws make possible.

Inherent Vice: A Novel (Thomas Pynchon)

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Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon. In the New York Times bestseller Inherent Vice, private eye Doc Sportello surfaces, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era.In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre that is at once exciting and accessible, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there. It’s been a while since Doc Sportello has seen his ex- girlfriend. Suddenly she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that “love” is another of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” except that this one usually leads to trouble. Undeniably one of the most influential writers at work today, Pynchon has penned another unforgettable book.

The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Matt Zoller Seitz)

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This one is technically a pre-order, as it doesn’t arrive until February, but we’d be remiss not to note: “Wes Anderson’s eighth feature film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is the fullest expression to date of Anderson’s varied thematic and stylistic idiosyncrasies and influences—a meticulously crafted, visually resplendent matryoshka-doll caper set primarily in an alternate-history version of 1930s Europe. This supplementary, one-volume companion to The Wes Anderson Collection is the only book to take readers behind the scenes of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with in-depth interviews between Anderson and cultural critic and New York Times bestselling author Matt Zoller Seitz. Anderson shares the story behind the film’s conception, the wide variety of sources that inspired it—from author Stefan Zweig to filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch to photochrom landscapes from turn-of-the-century Middle Europe—personal anecdotes about the making of the film, and other reflections on his filmmaking process. These interviews are accompanied by behind-the-scenes photos, ephemera, and artwork, as well as exclusive critical essays by Ali Arikan, Steven Boone, David Bordwell, Olivia Collette, and Christopher Laverty; interviews with costume designer Milena Canonero, composer Alexandre Desplat, lead actor Ralph Fiennes, production designer Adam Stockhausen, and cinematographer Robert Yeoman; and an introduction by playwright Anne Washburn.” – Jordan R.

The Babadook Pop-up Book

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If you want to scar your children for life, the perfect holiday gift has arrived. For those that have seen this year’s The Babadook, the tactile, endlessly frightening pop-up book that haunts our protagonists is certainly stuck in your memory — and now you can bring it home. After getting enough pre-orders, it’s going into production, and those behind it say that each “will have a beautiful red fabric hardback cover. And each pop-up image will be printed on beautiful quality paper, hand glued and made to the highest standards. Just like the book in the film.” – Jordan R.

Noah (Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, and Niko Henrichon)

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From acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) and artist Niko Henrichon (Pride of Baghdad), Noah is a fresh take on the biblical epic for the 21st Century. A fantastical world is about to be destroyed and one man is chosen to start a new one. As wicked forces try to take his Ark, Noah must hold his family together while they watch the annihilation of all they know. Intermixing fantasy and sci-fi with Genesis, Noah both reinvents the elements of the Flood story everyone knows and simultaneously takes the reader beyond them and into the unexpected.

Criterion Designs

criterion designs

A lavishly illustrated coffee-table book celebrating thirty years of artwork from the Criterion Collection. The most exciting names in design and illustration today apply their talents to some of the most important and influential films of all time. This volume gathers highlights from designs commissioned by the Criterion Collection, featuring covers, supplemental art, and never-before-seen sketches and concept art plus a gallery of every Criterion cover since the collection’s first laserdisc in 1984. From avant-garde experiments to big-budget blockbusters, cult favorites to the towering classics of world cinema, the depth and breadth of what film can be is on display in these striking images. Whether painstakingly faithful re-creations or bold reimaginings, the diverse designs collected here offer new ways for cinephiles and design aficionados alike to engage with the world’s greatest filmmakers .

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Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: Mel Brooks, ‘Tootsie,’ ‘Magic in the Moonlight,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, December 16, 2014 at 2:31 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. 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.

Tootsie (Sydney Pollack)

tootsie

In Tootsie, Michael Dorsey lands the role of a lifetime—as did the actor playing him, Dustin Hoffman. This multilayered comedy from Sydney Pollack follows the elaborate deception of a down-on-his-luck New York actor who poses as a woman to get a soap opera gig; while “Dorothy Michaels” skyrockets to fame, Michael finds himself learning to be a better man. Given support by a stellar cast that includes Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Teri Garr, George Gaynes, Bill Murray, and, in a breakthrough performance, Jessica Lange, Tootsie is a funny, cutting, and poignant film from an American moment defined by shifting social and sexual identities. – Criterion.com


Also Available This Week

Magic in the Moonlight (review)
The Maze Runner (review)
The Skeleton Twins (review)
This Is Where I Leave You (review)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (review)

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

21 Jump Street (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Alien Anthology (Blu-ray) – $24.96

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.74

Atonement (Blu-ray) – $7.55

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $6.51

Black Swan (Blu-ray) - $9.49

Bronson (Blu-ray) – $10.91

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

Captain Phillips (Blu-ray) – $11.99

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Cloud Atlas (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Do the Right Thing (Blu-ray) – $7.00

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Blu-ray) – $10.49

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.00

Gattaca (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.54

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $7.00

Gravity (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Great Gatsby (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $6.96

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Inside Llewyn Davis (Blu-ray) – $9.99

In the Loop (Blu-ray) – $8.85

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $7.93

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.49

MacGruber (Blu-ray) – $6.62

The Mel Brooks Collection (Blu-ray) – $22.99

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $4.87

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $9.29

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Only God Forgives (Blu-ray) – $10.99

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $7.56

Prisoners (Blu-ray) – $7.30

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Titanic (Blu-ray) – $9.85

The Shining (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Sorcerer (Blu-ray) – $12.96

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $7.88

A Serious Man (Blu-ray) – $8.25

Seven (Blu-ray) – $6.99

sex, lies, and videotape (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Snowpiercer (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Social Network (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Synecdoche, New York (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Taxi Driver (Blu-ray) – $9.99

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $8.69

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $7.99

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.99

True Detective: Season 1 (Blu-ray) – $24.99

Valhalla Rising (Blu-ray) – $10.79

Vanilla Sky (Blu-ray pre-order) – $8.53

Volver (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Waltz With Bashir (Blu-ray) – $10.81

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.91

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Zodiac (Blu-ray) – $6.99

What are you picking up this week?

The Best Breakthrough Performances of 2014

Written by TFS Staff, December 16, 2014 at 12:30 pm 

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After discussing the year’s breakthrough directors, it’s time to traverse to the other side of the camera. Whether it’s their very first performances or a talent who’ve been seen in a variety of features yet, for whatever reason, hadn’t been allowed to command the screen, this year’s breakthrough actors are an eclectic group. Ranging from some of the highest-grossing features of the year to minuscule independent dramas to projects that have yet to be officially released, check out our rundown of nearly 20 breakthrough actors that left the biggest impression on us in 2014.

Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne (We Are the Best!)

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We’ll bend the rules a bit for our first selection by honoring the most spirited and charming trio of actresses to grace the screen this year. Newcomers Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, and Liv LeMoyne bring a remarkable amount of energy and honesty to Lukas Moodysson‘s Swedish-Danish drama about the formation of a punk-rock band in early 1980′s Stockholm. While a certain feature mentioned below might capture more of the coming-of-age experience, We Are the Best! provides perhaps the most life-affirming snapshot of this year. – Jordan R.

Macon Blair (Blue Ruin)

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There’s a specific kind of cinematic fantasy that lends powerful emotion catharsis to action films: the average man taking competent, violent justice into his own hands. If Liam Neeson is the current reigning king of this fantasy, then Macon Blair in Blue Ruin can be considered the real-world equivalent. Blair, in a wonderfully calibrated performance, showcases grim determination tempered with understandable incompetence. It is easy in a film like this to be either viciously efficient or bumblingly incompetent, but Blair pulls a greater trick — steely determination mixed with real human weakness. - Brian R.

Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood)

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It isn’t really much of a performance at first — the first stretch of screentime is mostly devoted to observation or providing pathways for others (a mother, a father, and, yes, an alcoholic stepdad) — and that’s what makes the final result all the more surprising. As Boyhood extends into its third hour, a large part of why Ellar Coltrane’s presence becomes so strongly pronounced is because the curiosity about how he’s developed as an actor — as well as how Mason Jr. has progressed as a person — is never not present and never not paid-off. It’s so obviously one of the most unique situations any actor has ever been put in that you might forget how much his input helped justify the significant reach of Linklater’s experiment. - Nick N.

Elyes Gabel (A Most Violent Year)

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While Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain may feel like they are participating in The Godfather cosplay, A Most Violent Year‘s most believable supporting character is easily Elyes Gabel‘s Julian. The actor, briefly seen in World War Z and Interstellar, is given more to do here (even if his storyline is a bit short-shrifted) as he must deal with the direct impact of the criminal underbelly in the heating oil business. After being given some of the film’s most crucial, gripping scenes, we hope it won’t be long until Gabel takes the lead. – Jordan R.

Carla Juri (Wetlands)

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Wetlands is one of the grossest gross-out comedies I’ve ever seen. Sure, I’ve been grossed out in a theater before, but here’s a flick that would make John Waters proud as he’s sick to his stomach (and that’s just after the opening-title sequence). Carla Juri stars as Helen, and she’s up for the challenge as an 18-year-old girl with an unfortunate case of hemorrhoids and a taste for sexual experimentation that thankfully did not inspire a pizza special at your neighborhood dine-in theatre. Juli is up for the challenge of whatever director David Wnendt throws at her, playing along and fearlessly crafting a complex performance. For playing it straight, the film emerges as an engaging, sympathetic, and very intimate portrait of a young women with a punk attitude and poor hygiene. – John F.

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New to Streaming: ‘Boyhood,’ ‘The Trip to Italy,’ ‘Calvary,’ ‘Kingdom of Dreams,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, December 12, 2014 at 1:35 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.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Adam McKay)

Yes, the rumors are true; the legend of Ron Burgundy continues, and if it’s not an unexpected journey, it not so unexpectedly utilizes some Journey songs along the road to victory. There’s certainly plenty of epic 80’s pop-rock to both commemorate and eulogize this titular titan of TV news and the era he and his cronies represent. In many ways, Adam McKay’s long-coming sequel is just as absurd, corny and pleasingly durable as any of the familiar tunes it drags back up on stage. Will Ferrell steps back into the character in a way that suggests possession more than habitation, and he and McKay return to their creation with a sense of affection that makes all the difference. – Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix, Amazon Prime

Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

boyhood

Exactly one year after completing his accomplished Before trilogy at Sundance, writer-director Richard Linklater returned with Boyhood, a film 12 years in the making and worth every minute of the wait. Shot one week at a time over the course of a decade or so, Linklater explores the formative years of a young man named Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane. Born into separated parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke (doing some of the best work in their careers), Mason represents some part of a childhood all of us have known. This is a film of many small moments, all added together to make something quite wonderful. - Dan M (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

Calvary opens hard on Father James (Brendan Gleeson) sitting in his confessional, listening to his parishioners’ sins. In comes a scarily calm voice from the other side of the confessional, telling Father James he’s going to be killed in a week’s time in retribution for terrible sins committed by a terrible priest. It’s a memorable way to open a film, and Gleeson does well in wearing the threat on his face throughout the picture. A kindly priest with a long history of sin, Calvary is, in its best moments, a highlight reel of how impressive an actor Brendan Gleeson is and has been. The script and direction come from John Michael McDonagh, who found considerable Sundance success with the far broader, cop-out-of-water comedy The Guard. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Get On Up (Tate Taylor)

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Biopics, especially musical biopics, are both an easy sell and a tough nut to crack. Like the most resilient of sub-genres, the formula is so tried and true that to stray from it is to avoid what is obvious. You have a storied, genius artist whose beginnings are (and have been constructed to be) the stuff Americana is built on: a poor child from a fractured family with God-given greatness. Through tragedy comes legend, and from fame comes tragedy all over again. And yet, at the end there is much to celebrate. And while Get On Up does not hide from the tropes of all of the relatively genial musical biopics that have come before, director Tate Taylor does his damnedest to find the flavor (or the funk) in the tale of musician James Brown, played winningly by Chadwick Boseman. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Good Lie (Philippe Falardeau)

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Directed by Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar) with the sense of intimacy required for the material, The Good Lie is a fine film on its own. Its harrowing first act is rewarded by a feel-good third act, while its second act explores the bureaucratic, political and cultural entanglement felt by Sudanese refugees entering the US pre-9/11 as they adapt to live in Kansas City. What elevates the material and performances into something exceptional is the four young cast members at its core have been directly affected by the Sudanese Civil War, including two who previously served as child soldiers. – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt)

its_such_a_beautiful_day

If one recently tuned into The Simpsons then they were privy to the beautifully bizarre introduction provided by animator Don Hertzfeldt. In the works for a number of years, the the latest film from the Oscar-nominated artist, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, is now available to stream. The final part of a trilogy, this one looks at Bill, who “struggles to put together his shattered psyche.” – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Netflix

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The Best Directorial Debuts of 2014

Written by TFS Staff, December 11, 2014 at 1:00 pm 

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While we discuss a breadth of films each year, few things give us more pleasure than the arrival of bold, new voices. It’s why we venture to festivals and pore over a variety of different features bringing to light emerging talent. This year was an especially notable time for new directors making their stamp, and we’re highlighting the fifteen 2014 debuts that most impressed us.

This shouldn’t discount the breakthrough directors behind such films as Blue Ruin, Starred Up, Frank, LockeWhiplash, and more, but considering that they all have at least two features under their belts, we’re strictly focusing on first-timers here. Below, once can check out a list spanning a variety different genres and distribution, from barely a theatrical release to a wide bow, and take note over the coming years as these helmers (hopefully) ascend.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)

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Exuding a sly sense of style and cool, the Iranian vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the striking debut of writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour. From the outset, with one of our main characters, Arash (Arash Marandi), all but calling himself James Dean, I was enraptured. A hipster mentality permeates the fictional Bad City setting, where bodies are simply dumped into a ravine full of other bodies and there’s the mysterious presence of a skateboarding, vinyl-loving female vampire that isn’t afraid to feed. While the film takes its time to fully unwind, I was not yet ready to leave this world when the credits rolled. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to enter Amirpour’s universe once again. – Bill G.

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)

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Kids and the irrational ideas their young minds conjure are always fertile ground for the horror genre, but director Jennifer Kent goes one step further in The Babadook and makes superstitious, delusional fear a family affair. Very few films can walk the tightrope between supernatural dark fantasy and heart-breaking realism, but The Babadook excels when it focuses on the relationship between a beleaguered single mother (Essie Davis) and her troubled young son (Noah Wiseman), who find a bogeyman lurking in their home. Both Davis and Wiseman give bold and entirely fearless performances that occasionally push into material so harrowing that the parent inside me was constantly cringing and on the edge of his seat. Even when it refuses to relent in the normal fashion, Kent’s debut plays for far more than shock value. She understands like few do that terror is most keenly felt when placed in close proximity to love. – Nathan B.

The Better Angels (A.J. Edwards)

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Some directors emerge onto the scene with little prior experience in the industry; that’s certainly not the case for A.J. Edwards. He’d cut his teeth in Terrence Malick’s editing rooms, and the reticent director’s influence is clearly felt in every frame of Edwards’ debut, which tells the story of the early life of Abraham Lincoln. The bookends and a few references are just about the only thing indicating the future importance of our lead, and The Better Angels is determined to make this a more universal coming-of-age story. It’s constructed with the cinema-as-memory approach that Malick has perfected in his later films. While so many others attempt to replicate the style, Edwards is the first filmmaker to effectively summon this technique and make it his own. – Jordan R.

Coherence (James Ward Byrkit)

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Employing a shoe-string budget over the course of a five-night shoot, the largely improvised Coherence could have easily fallen into the pit of well-meaning, easily forgotten independent dramas that struggle to acquire distribution. However, writer-director James Ward Byrkit had enough confidence in his intriguing sci-fi tale — one that follows a dinner party interrupted by the bending of reality — that he forged ahead with little resource and ended up crafting the year’s genre entry you’ll eventually be upset you missed. Those who did get on its wave-length witnessed a character-focused puzzle that, like the best in the genre, will have you questioning what you’d do in the same situation. – Jordan R.

Dear White People (Justin Simien)

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One great aspect of the Sundance Film Festival is the occasional discovery of potential new and important voices in American cinema. Dear White People, the debut feature film from writer-director Justin Simien, heralded just that this year, like a few others on this list. Set in a fictitious Ivy League university, it skewers the preconceptions of race in the modern era and how both sides of the coin can negatively reinforce stereotypes. Its main strength lies in razor-sharp dialogue brimming with the sort of quick-fire humor that would make Kevin Smith smile. Simien is a natural at creating flowing conversations that punch with intelligence, wit, and entertainment. – Raffi A.

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10 Wide Releases in 2014 That Exceeded Expectations

Written by TFS Staff, December 9, 2014 at 4:36 pm 

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Despite the output of hundreds of features per year, Hollywood’s slate of wide releases can often feel like a barren wasteland of retreaded material. While much of our year-end coverage will be focusing on the overlooked gems, today we’re kicking things off with the few wide releases that surprised us in these past twelve months.

To note, the below ten features are strictly films that received a wide release on their opening weekend and not ones that eventually expanded with a roll-out. For the most part, they also arrived with virtually little-to-no anticipation around these parts for various reasons (i.e. wide releases like Nightcrawler didn’t qualify), yet managed to be among our favorites of the year. Check out our selections below and let us know what exceeded your expectations most in 2014.

Beyond the Lights (Gina Prince-Bythewood)

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Beyond the Lights delights in being exactly what it is — which, unfortunately, is something most will dismiss as standard date-night fare without casting a second glance. Yes, at one level, it is a very good, albeit predictable film perfect for couples looking for something both heartening but intelligent. At another, it delivers to us one of the most compelling and endearing female characters we’ve seen this year, and it turns out she’s hiding right there, beneath the girl everyone has been looking at all along. This is another minor gem in Prince-Bythewood’s directorial crown. - Nathan B.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)

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Matt Reeves’ contribution to the Apes mythos, this franchise’s eighth installment and the second of (hopefully) multiple parts in a reboot continuity, wasn’t much of a huge surprise for fans — yours truly include. As a viewer who’s often deflated and depressed by the stop-start, no-expenses-spared mold of blockbuster cinema, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows the ability to reach just a little bit higher, putting some brains and heart inside the ones and zeroes without giving the impression that its creative minds are straining too much. Reeves directs both Dawn’s grandiose action and terse exchanges with an eye for tight composition and crisp cutting, all while mixing an unabashed scorn of America’s sick weapons fetishism that maintains Apes’ standing as one of the last true sci-fi stories told on a grand scale. And then there’s the horse-riding, machine-gun-double-fisting primate. – Nick N.

Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)

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Look, there’s Tom Cruise running away from explosions on screen again! And in a film directed by Doug Liman? Did we travel back in time ten years to when this all might have looked appealing? Well, it turns out this time-travel-related burn is apt, because the hook here is that every time Cruise’s character dies, he awakens to run the whole day over again, giving his cowardly press corps officer a chance to turn into the battle-hardened grunt we all expect him to be. Clever-yet-maybe-incomprehensible time travel gimmick aside, this film reminds us why we love Cruise as an action star, and also gives us a chance to see a lighter side of his onscreen persona. Mixing killer action with deft editing and dark humor, Edge of Tomorrow will no doubt end up alongside another selection below as a film I have no compunction about putting on to blow off some steam with friends. And yes, that is a high compliment. – Brian R.

Fury (David Ayer)

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Due to its relatively high-profile cast and prime fall release date, many seemed to place their anticipation with Fury in terms of awards-season hopes and all the other nonsense that comes with it. Gratefully, David Ayer‘s World War II drama skirted sentimentality and delivered a gripping account of the brutality of conflict. While its third act may veer into somewhat preposterous territory on both an action and character side, what came before was visceral and fittingly subdued — the former of which I expected from Ayer, but certainly not the latter. – Jordan R.

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)

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Marvel’s previous superhero incarnations might have reminded audiences of the characters they grew up reading, but Guardians of the Galaxy goes one step further and captures the giddy exuberance of reading your first comic book. Although there may have been a marginal risk in betting on this eclectic team of misfits, Guardianssecret weapon turns out to be its characters — Rocket the Raccoon, Groot, Gamora, Drax and Starlord pull away from the space-opera trappings to become individuals we care about and root for. Built on a far-flung, visually opulent intergalactic canvas, Galaxy exceeds the aims of other Marvel enterprises precisely because it’s willing to swing for the fences on an imaginative level. Sure, there may be convolutions in the story, and the villain may be cut from the usual cloth, but this galaxy belongs to its marvelous guardians, which includes helmer James Gunn. Who knew the director of Slither had this one in him? – Nathan B.

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Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Safe,’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ ‘Frank,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, December 9, 2014 at 2:44 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. 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.

Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)

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There’s no definitive path on the unwieldy journey that is the creative process. We’ve seen countless films tackle various approaches in an attempt to find an answer, but it’s never quite been done in the vein of Lenny Abrahamson‘s peculiar, occasionally aimless, and ultimately resonant Frank. While the initial draw is perhaps Michael Fassbender in the role of our strange title character, loosely based on the late Chris Sievey, our focal point is that of Jon (Domnhall Gleeson), whom we meet as an aspiring musician who can’t seem to conjure any worthwhile lyrics. - Jordan R. (full review)

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)

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The opening scene of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is decidedly Earth-bound; a young boy sits in the waiting room of a late 90’s hospital, listening to 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love.” A few emotional moments later—after the whole world has changed for the lad—he runs outside and is caught in the blinding spotlight of a gargantuan spacecraft that hovers above him, breaking the calm of an otherwise silent summer night. It’s an image more fitting of an old pulp magazine or Golden Age sci-fi novel than a modern comic book, and it’s an inviting peek into the headspace of James Gunn’s take on the wilder side of the Marvel Universe. – Nathan B. (full review)

Safe (Todd Haynes)

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Todd Haynes‘ long-out-of-print Safe is no longer relegated to any sort of “rare” status, and that, I think, is enough reason to laud Criterion’s latest efforts. Dig into the disc a bit more, though, and you’ll find that this (unsurprisingly, given the company’s pedigree) is a nice compendium for the writer-director’s admirers: a never-before-released short film, a conversation between he and Julianne Moore, and a new commentary track. Ooh, Heaven is a place on Earth. – Nick N.

Also Available This Week

Calvary (review)
I Origins (review)
The Night Porter
The Strange Color Of Your Body’s Tears (review)

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

21 Jump Street (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Alien Anthology (Blu-ray) – $24.96

The American (Blu-ray) – $7.29

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.74

Animal Kingdom (Blu-ray) – $7.08

Atonement (Blu-ray) – $7.55

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Black Swan (Blu-ray) - $9.49

Bronson (Blu-ray) – $10.91

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

Captain Phillips (Blu-ray) – $11.99

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Cloud Atlas (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Do the Right Thing (Blu-ray) – $7.00

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Blu-ray) – $10.49

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Gattaca (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.54

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Gravity (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Great Gatsby (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Inside Llewyn Davis (Blu-ray) – $9.99

In the Loop (Blu-ray) – $9.19

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $7.70

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $8.69

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.49

MacGruber (Blu-ray) – $6.85

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $4.87

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $9.29

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Only God Forgives (Blu-ray) – $10.29

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $7.56

Prisoners (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Titanic (Blu-ray) – $10.29

The Shining (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Skyfall (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Sorcerer (Blu-ray) – $12.96

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $7.88

A Serious Man (Blu-ray) – $8.25

Seven (Blu-ray) – $6.99

sex, lies, and videotape (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $5.99

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $5.94

Snowpiercer (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Social Network (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Synecdoche, New York (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Taxi Driver (Blu-ray) – $9.99

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $8.69

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $7.99

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.96

True Detective: Season 1 (Blu-ray) – $29.99

Valhalla Rising (Blu-ray) – $11.47

Vanilla Sky (Blu-ray pre-order) – $8.54

Volver (Blu-ray) – $6.09

Waltz With Bashir (Blu-ray) – $7.31

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.91

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Zodiac (Blu-ray) – $6.99

What are you picking up this week?

New to Streaming: ‘Thief,’ ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin,’ ‘The Skeleton Twins,’ ‘Magic in the Moonlight,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, December 5, 2014 at 2:00 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.

Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)

Aside from a couple of films he made about a certain crime family, Francis Ford Coppola‘s crowning achievement is his extraordinary look at the Vietnam War with Apocalypse Now. Following Ben Willard’s (Martin Sheen) journey to track down a presumably insane Colonel named Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), it’s a towering work due to not only it’s epic scale, but its deep exploration into the darkest recesses of one’s soul. Arriving on Netflix this week in both its original form and the Redux version — which adds about 50 minutes — we recommend giving the first version a spin before you head to the divisive additional cut. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Netflix (or the Redux version here)

Dying of the Light (Paul Schrader)

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Getting a great turn from Nicolas Cage — a disturbingly physical performer who can go from 0 to 10 in the blink of an eye — requires the considerate crafting of an emotional logic. Cage has worked with many great directors (Scorsese, the Coens, David Lynch) and many not-so-greats, which has led to an extremely varied judgement of his career. Though he has certainly been meme’d for big, showy moments in films (especially those of ill-regard), the fact is that it takes a certain process and energy in any individual scene for Cage to arrive at that point. There’s a rhythmic method to Cage’s madness, and that ability to show how and why he reaches such forceful and manic moments can be the difference between believing in and scoffing at them. This is to say there’s likely a truly great Cage performance in Dying of the Light, a CIA thriller written and directed by Paul Schrader, but it’s not one shown on screen. – Peter L. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Hundred-Foot Journey (Lasse Hallström)

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With Chocolat and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen under his belt, The Hundred-Foot Journey isn’t anything approaching new territory for director Lasse Hallström. But if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? Honestly, if he can continue making feel-good tales like this—bona fide crowd-pleasers—we should all be happy since it keeps him busy and away from the allure of helming a hat trick of Nicholas Sparks adaptations. There may be no surprises in this cinematic version of a novel Oprah Winfrey selected as part of her 2010 summer reads (she produces the film, too), but sometimes that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. It gets a little shaky during the third act turning into culinary sci-fi horror, but it pairs nicely with Chef to make this a summer of food. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

I Origins (Mike Cahill)

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The follow-up to his previous Sundance entry Another Earth, Mike Cahill‘s I Origins similarly mixes together sci-fi elements based loosely in real science with somewhat-clichéd romantic threads. The narrative’s thematic crux focuses on the age-old debate of faith versus science. How can we acknowledge that a divine presence exists without empirical evidence or blind faith? To a scientist, this is even more of a fundamental question. Much of their lives are devoted to discovering relevant data points, all in the hopes of better understanding the nature of the universe. While these are grand concepts that have been studied and debated for centuries, the incarnation of this debate within the film’s larger fabric feels stripped of any insightful conclusions, instead focusing on deceptive ploys to lure the audience into some false sense of pathos. – Raffi A. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen)

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Magic in the Moonlight’s pending release has granted marketing types an opportunity to note Woody Allen’s supposed penchant for magic. For this to be the hobby of someone we don’t know is one thing; for it to supposedly be a passion of someone whose decades-spanning career has essentially been built upon exposing his neuroses and desires is far more intriguing. Notwithstanding some obvious exceptions — The Purple Rose of Cairo, Scoop, Midnight in Paris, and one of his greatest works, the 1989 featurette Oedipus Wrecks — Allen’s oeuvre is a bit cleaner than this might suggest, more often leaning toward the rational way of assessing life’s various aberrations. (Or, at least, how his damaged characters might dare to define “rational.”) If we’re then to consider both the consistency of his worldview and the way that worldview has, time and time again, been channeled through the helmer’s now-perfunctory onscreen surrogate, there aren’t numerous ways his scripting of the romance between a stand-in skeptic and a supposed medium might turn. – Nick N. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Maze Runner (Wes Ball)

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The low, grumbling whine of the elevator creaking to life is the first sound to permeate the darkness that begins The Maze Runner. When Thomas wakes up, he’s in unfamiliar surroundings, trapped within a caged confine and lacking any memories of who he was prior to this moment. When daylight finally breaks in, he’s being hauled out into the light, surrounded by young men of similar age, all of them standing in an idyllic pastorale called The Glade. On all sides are the towering, monolithic walls of the Maze, a labyrinth that cuts them off from any other form of civilization. This is the terse but effective set-up for what ends up being a strong new contender in the young adult dystopia genre, a sturdy and thrilling drama that diminishes early turgid world-building in favor of a ‘boy’s own’ adventure atmosphere. – Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Panic Room (David Fincher)

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Much of the recent discussion surrounding David Fincher rightfully has to do with his adaptation of Gillian Flynn‘s Gone Girl, recently crowned his biggest worldwide hit. However, his Fight Club follow-up, the contained thriller Panic Room, has recently become available on Netflix to stream. Following a mother (Jodie Foster) and daughter (Kristen Stewart), it’s perhaps Fincher’s finest example of a straight-up thriller, aided by his extreme technical precision. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Netflix

The One I Love (Charlie McDowell)

The driving force behind the very clever two-handed chamber piece The One I Love is communication. How we talk to those we love and those that love us. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play Ethan and Sophie, a married couple at a crossroads. When we meet them, they’re engaging in some silly-looking couples therapy with a very aloof Ted Danson. At the end of one of their sessions, the good doctor recommends that the couple take a retreat to a nearby cottage for the weekend and “reset the reset button.” – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

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