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Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Twin Peaks,’ Herzog, ‘Noah,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 29, 2014 at 2:40 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.

Herzog: The Collection

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To help tide over the wait until Queen of the Desert, two extensive Werner Herzog collections are arriving this summer and the U.S.-friendly has dropped today. While we recently highlighted the differences between both sets, one can’t really go wrong with either. Shout! Factory’s also includes some of his best works (Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu The Vampyre, and Stroszek, to name a few) along with commentaries, a pair of documentaries, and much more. – Jordan R.

Noah (Darren Aronofsky)

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Noah isn’t perfect, but in its flawed, trembling beauty it’s more interesting than much of Hollywood’s recent tentpole output. For the faithful, it’s a serious exploration of a Biblical chapter they likely know by heart, giving opportunity to see its intricacies from a different angle. For all others, it’s a worthwhile example of imaginative, assured filmmaking that takes risks and rides the waves of its own conviction over the rough, damp spots. – Nathan B. (full review)

Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery (David Lynch)

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Twin Peaks is dead; long will Twin Peaks thrive. Despite being a short-lived, early-90s cult item — the exact and total opposite of what typically receives this lavish treatment – David Lynch and Mark Frost‘s series is, now, essentially as popular as ever. There may have never been a better time for this Blu-ray release, but how long fans have waited for its crown jewel: 90 minutes of deleted scenes from Lynch’s increasingly appreciated prequel / sequel feature, Fire Walk With Me, which also arrives for the first time on Blu-ray. There is, too, one of the great TV shows remastered for high definition, and a treasure trove of special features — including the closest we’ll probably get to series closure. (There are also supercuts of every time trees, owls, pies, donuts, and a few other visual staples. This was overseen by Lynch, after all.) The TV release of 2014? Very likely. – Nick N.

Rent:

the_big_chill  it_felt_like_love marty_1

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

Adventureland (Blu-ray) – $6.25

The Adventures of Tintin (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.94

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray) – $10.49

The Big Lebowski (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Bronson (Blu-ray) – $9.49

The Cabin in the Woods (Blu-ray) - $7.90

Casino (Blu-ray) – $9.68

City of God (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Counselor (Director’s Cut Blu-ray) – $9.99

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $9.04

Gone Baby Gone (Blu-ray) – $6.00

The Great Gatsby (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Hanna (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Heat (Blu-ray) – $8.48

High Plains Drifter (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.09

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Inside Llewyn Davis (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Jaws (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $9.67

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $9.68

The Master (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Nebraska (Blu-ray) – $9.96

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Not Fade Away (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Pain & Gain (Blu-ray) – $8.39

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.00

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $12.74

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Blu-ray) – $12.49

True Grit (Blu-ray) – $9.47

The Wolf of Wall Street (Blu-ray) – $11.99

The Wolverine (Blu-ray) – $9.99

World War Z (Blu-ray) – $10.18

What are you picking up this week?

‘Scanners’ Hits Criterion: David Cronenberg’s Ascension From the Body to the Mind

Written by Ethan Vestby, July 23, 2014 at 2:30 pm 

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In the case of evaluating David Cronenberg, — or at least forming the sort of career narrative seemingly essential to auteurist analysis — it’s inevitable to propose something of a rupture within his oeuvre: the very evident graduation from grindhouse to arthouse, and, with it, an ascension from body to mind.

What dictated these labels on his earlier period was a fixation on physical transformation / harm, so pronounced that it created its own horror subgenre. While on the other hand, there are the “prestige” films, a number of literary and stage adaptations which, even amidst their own embrace of the bizarre and grotesque (this man brought William S. Burroughs to the screen, after all), began a gradual shift towards more blatantly intellectual surfaces.

It, in particular, reached a new height in his last two films, Cosmopolis and A Dangerous Method, which relied less on the force of blood, guts, and literal monsters than off-putting shot-reverse-shot patterns and the reverberation of words and gestures. Posing Scanners as something of a median between the two may thus seem odd, considering that, of all his early horror films, it’s the one least-considered for any kind of subtext, instead immortalized through its number of still-impressive gore effects. Yet the film, in both its virtues and flaws, shows Cronenberg’s themes reaching in new directions.

One of the consistencies evidenced in Scanners is its Canadian setting. Cronenberg’s aforementioned prestige ascension often took him from Canada to exotic locales such as China, Austria, and England; in comparison, his earlier work made a point of emphasizing the urban or suburban malaise of a dreary Canadian winter, which acted as some partial indicator of the ensuing chaos. Just as iconic as Scanners’ exploding head (in his oeuvre, at least) is the image of The Brood’s three monstrous children in those one-piece snowsuits every Canadian kid has to wear for four months of the year.

This familiarity extends to Scanners, seeing as it begins in the food court of a seemingly mundane Montreal shopping mall. If the picture isn’t quick to establish its stakes, a (somewhat limited) scope is still made clear. Taking place amongst a variety of urban and suburban spaces replete with French store signs, parking lots, home hospital offices, labs, and other rigidly bland forms of architecture, it would (initially) be easy to think of Scanners as a social-realist Canadian drama rather than something closer to the video nasty mold.

Of course, shifting a genre’s typical locations has always been a part of Cronenberg and many of his other contemporaries’ plan, being that, before his rise in the ’70s, horror was predominantly gothic or fantastic, taking place in castles or faraway planets. Scanners embraces another genre, though: the corporate thriller (almost an oxymoron of a label). The film, while using non-exotic locales for its many set-pieces, isn’t populated with the rather ordinary people of Cronenberg’s earlier films.

Instead of the middle-class citizens going through their everyday lives, it sees two corporate entities, the security company ConSec and the chemical-producing BioCarbon, wrestle for control. Fighting for the respective sides are Vale and Revok, who, as two of the titular Scanners, possess the ability of telekinesis — the dangerous height of which is established very early with the film’s aforementioned combusting head sequence — and, as weaponized men, represent a binary between man and technology. At one point in the film, the living and non-living forms even make a trade: Vale absorbs ConSec data through a payphone, and, in turn, provides the extremely Cronenberg-ian image of a bleeding phone.

This concept naturally leads to a certain desexualization, though ConSec, being represented onscreen by a small corporate board of old white guys, is already inherently stuffy — which it’s quick to mock. Cronenberg, who always likes to remind people that all his movies are actually quite funny, certainly gets a kick out of a certain kind of male panic, often having to do with image and control. In their words, Revok’s early act of terror results in “six corpses and a substantial loss in credibility for our organization.”

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A number of his films presented the male psyche under attack, while the female’s manifested to murderous, monstrous heights — as has been seen in The Brood and Rabid, while, later, mostly removed of genre in A Dangerous Method. The two early films inspired one of Cronenberg’s biggest critics, Robin Wood, to state that he was rather regressive in his sexual politics, essentially presenting a fear of the woman as a dominant force. Though Scanners differentiates itself with a removal of female characters (for the most part) and situating squarely within the male mindset, the film’s flaws become evident in what it only hints at. This doesn’t just contain the thoughts read by Vale — which, more often than not, are simply presented as an assaulting blur — but also the female relation to all these male espionage hijinks.

A particular sign of what could’ve been is seen when the film’s rather perfunctory female Scanner, Kim, distracts a ConSec security guard by forcing him to see a vision of his mother in her place, which subsequently inspires him to have a nervous breakdown. Yet that’s the only onscreen mother, even with the reveal regarding the Scanners’ origins: the result of pregnant women being experimented on with BioCarbon’s chief drug product. This, if anything, insinuates the parent role as truly belonging to a corporate body — only another form of the mechanized man.

Seeing what’s missing is easy because, in Cronenberg’s next (and possibly best) film, Videodrome, he linked the body and mechanization while acknowledging sexual connotations by foregrounding it against perverted television programming of the early ’80s. In that case, male desire and its consequences were at their clearest.

While it’s perhaps too large an excuse to say Scanners arrives as a victim of its genre requirements, not having the time for sex and thought amidst shotgun blasts and car chases, a grotesque climax at least serves as the most satisfying marriage of its macho text and audience appeal: two men flaunting their powers — and, in turn, the film’s special effects — in the bloody psychic showdown to end all bloody psychic showdowns. Yet it cuts before the conclusion, which may have just been due to a budgetary restriction, but actually hits the perfect note, robbing audiences the final chance of getting off on what they’d wanted this whole time.

It naturally concludes with a fusion of the two different male forms: the soul of the biggest cipher of a lead in Cronenberg’s filmography now placed inside the body of one of its most memorable villains. To deem a victor in the battle — not between corporations, but rather special effects and intellect — it’s thus better to accept Scanners as this merged man, even though one hopes for a little more of the devilish, conniving Revok than the controlled, straight-arrow Vale.

Scanners is now available on The Criterion Collection.

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: Jacques Demy, ‘Blue Ruin,’ ‘The Wind Will Carry Us,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 22, 2014 at 3:19 pm 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

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.

Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier)

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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. - Danny K.

The Essential Jacques Demy

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Although the summer line-up has been slightly better than expected, if you’re feeling worn out by Hollywood’s offerings, it’s best to curl up with this incredible Jacques Demy set from The Criterion Collection. Featuring Lola, Bay of Angels, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Donkey Skin, and Une chambre en ville, there’s also a handful of documentaries, short films and interviews that will have you immersed into the delightful world of one of cinema’s greatest directors. – Jordan R.

The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami)

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For having premiered at the end of 1999 and receiving its U.S. distribution in 2000, The Wind Will Carry Us can be considered one of the finest films from both this century and the last. While it’s fitting that Abbas Kiarostami‘s masterpiece (few three-word combinations are as redundant) should stand at various nexus points — between new and old (this being his final feature shot on celluloid), traditional and radical (this being his final work before venturing on a years-long experimental journey; shades of what was to come are evident here), city and country (its themes concerning oppositions are always clear, if never didactic) — what we have, here, is one of his more singular works. Cohen Media Group do the Lord’s work with a Blu-ray restoration; better yet that their disc includes a conversation between Kiarostami and Richard Peña, in addition to a new essay by Peter Tonguette and audio commentary with Jonathan Rosenbaum & Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa. If you’ve yet to experience The Wind Will Carry Us, your best opportunity is no more than a few clicks away. – Nick N.

Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder)

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He mastered many genres, but one of Billy Wilder‘s highlights is this 1957 courtroom drama. Witness for the Prosecution follows a murder trial in which, as the final voice-over will tell you, is best to go in knowing as little as possible. Featuring a trio of great performances from Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton, it’s now available for the first time on Blu-ray. While the special features are a bit weak — the only notable one being a 6.5-minute video of Wilder discussing the project — it’s worth picking up, particularly if you have yet to see this classic. – Jordan R.

Rent:

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Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

Adventureland (Blu-ray) – $5.00

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.94

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray) – $10.49

The Big Lebowski (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Bronson (Blu-ray) – $9.49

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

Casino (Blu-ray) – $9.68

City of God (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Counselor (Director’s Cut Blu-ray) – $9.99

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Gone Baby Gone (Blu-ray) – $6.00

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Hanna (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Heat (Blu-ray) – $8.48

High Plains Drifter (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $9.88

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $9.68

The Master (Blu-ray) – $10.74

Nebraska (Blu-ray) – $9.96

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $4.70

Not Fade Away (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Pain & Gain (Blu-ray) – $8.39

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $12.74

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Blu-ray) – $12.49

The Wolf of Wall Street (Blu-ray) – $11.74

The Wolverine (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

Robert Bresson’s ‘Pickpocket’ Hits Criterion: An Early Example of the Art House Crime Film

Written by Peter Labuza, July 21, 2014 at 3:44 pm 

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Writing about the films of Robert Bresson usually begins by informing reader that his films must be discussed through a trance of hushed tones and quiet veneration. There is no room for rushed judgement or quick-witted observations; Bresson makes Serious Art, as opposed to Hollywood directors who do not. There are the key phrases to use — what B. Kite calls part of The Critical Dictionary of Received Ideas (“ascetic, austere, severe, demanding, slow, transcendent, Jansenist, minimalist”) — though how these relate to what’s on screen is often left unexplored. Most importantly, one must fully concede themselves to the films, giving into the Power of the Holy Spirit instead of analyzing or critically exploring them, and especially not simply enjoying them.

So in revisiting Pickpocket, now out through Criterion Blu-ray, I found it more interesting as a genre picture than reverently accepting it in the category of Transcendental Style In Film. There is much to consider when examining Bresson’s form, but I find it has less in common with the contemporary art house that has adapted his influential techniques (often just “model”acting) and more similarities with the Pre-Code films at Warner Brothers. This is not just because Pickpocket is, in some ways, a gangster film, but because the way Bresson tells his stories visually — through glances, visual details, and, most essentially, editing — is less an ascetic tendency than one of economy, the same kind we recognize in Mervyn LeRoy or Allan Dwan.

The opening scene of Pickpocket illustrates Bresson’s economic style, as Michel — a wannabe Dostoevskian supermensch making his way through every coat in Paris — stalks an old woman at a racetrack. Bresson simply cuts between two shots: Michel joining the spectators in looking at the racetrack (the horses are never seen — sound design does the trick) and Michel’s hand slowly reaching into the purse. Bresson communicates the action through what David Bordwell calls constructive editing (illustrated in a later scene here): the two spatial areas are connected through lead Martin LaSalle brief glances down, thus matching his hands to his body and the entire action of pickpocketing. Two shots cutting back and forth are all Bresson needs, and dutifully illustrate something many slow-cinema artists have abandoned.

It’s this kind of marvelous precision that is often lost in discussions of Bresson. Pickpocket is a film made from material gestures, not that far from what is experienced during a Buster Keaton stunt — using artificial means and making action feel physical, and if you can do so with minimum effort, the better. Keaton may have relied widescreen and unbroken takes for his stunts, there is a line in James Agee’s iconic piece that jumps out in terms of thinking about Bresson: “In a way his pictures are like a transcendent juggling act in which it seems that the whole universe is in exquisite flying motion and the one point of repose is the juggler’s effortless, uninterested face.” For as much as Bresson turns LaSalle into a stone-faced model, the rest of his universe is chaos: busy streets crammed with people (Michel dashes onto a last-minute trolley at one point), amusement rides spinning in the background, and the police captain who can’t take that smirk off his face. In the same way Keaton wants to control the universe, so does Michel (and quite literally, when it comes to his philosophy).

There is, too, a narrative impulse to Pickpocket that certainly seems more economic than contemporary art-house cinema’s three-hour-plus running times — the journey is over in 75 minutes flat. For all of Bresson’s cinematic philosophy (and Bresson was one of the greatest proprietors of ruminating about cinema), Pickpocket never shies from purely “cinematic” pleasures in conveying its narrative. The film’s montages — reminiscent of those in LeRoy’s I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang or Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties — effectively pass time through a series of dissolves, such as the training montage of Michel repeating the same series of hand gestures more quickly and effectively with each passing shot. Some of Bresson’s sequences even use one of the simplest narrative tricks in the book — the withholding and revealing of information. There’s a moment where Michel abandons his friends to chase down a watch that’s still dangling from a person’s wrist; Bresson then cuts to Michel arriving home, his clothes tattered and a cut on his face. In voiceover, he notes that he fell, though the circumstances of his fall are unknown. Jacques arrives to question him about where he went off to, and the two duel their way through their dialogue, Michel avoiding the truth at any cost. It is only after Jacques gives up and leaves when Michel finally reveals that yes, he did get that watch after all, which Bresson completes with a cue of the orchestral score to join the narrative surprise. This is the kind of narrative event we come to expect in Hitchcock, but one that has been erased from our thoughts on Bresson.

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What, then, is the difference between being ascetic and being economic? Is it simply that one condones “notes of serious inquiry” while the other one represents “Hollywood”? When watching Pickpocket, it is easy to ascribe many things onto the film — the possible Freudian and homosexual tendencies, the heavy Catholic guilt, and Bresson’s critiques of French society (more prominent in The Devil, Probably and L’Argent). Lost in these readings is a simple description of what happens in the film. There’s the moment where Michel lies to the police captain, who catches that lie by simply tracing the dust off his book jacket. There’s a shot where Bresson’s camera glides down with an undercover cop’s hand at the racetrack, ending with a perfectly timed click sound as money drops and other viewers begin to move. And, of course, the great ballet of three pickpocketers working their way through a train station. Why not place it alongside the finale of An American in Paris or the tea-house shootout in Hard Boiled? They all come from the same craft of moving characters around from A to B in rhythmic action, connecting every physical detail and making sure they have a necessary consequence in the following edit (Johnnie To restaged it, after all, for the finale of Sparrow).

Bresson is many things — if he was one thing, he probably wouldn’t be considered a great filmmaker — and it’s easy to trace his films as unflinching portraits of solitude. A healthy, worthwhile debate over the final moments of Pickpocket — as Michel and Jeanne’s eyes meet, the recognition of personhood that has become a recurring moment repeated in almost every Dardenne brothers film — will probably require a more elevated approach to understanding the director’s goals. Too often, however, the focus on Bresson concerns what he is not doing instead of what he is doing: creating action, seeing how things actually move in the world and focusing intently and exclusively on those gestures. Kent Jones quotes Chandler in his own piece on Bresson: “My theory was that the readers just thought they cared about nothing but the action. The things they remembered, that haunted them, [were] not, for example, that a man got killed but that in the moment of his death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk and it kept slipping away from him.”Because of its genre, Pickpocket is certainly the closest Bresson comes to the hard-boiled writer, but it’s through his cinematic technique — the way things are physically felt by the camera in his films — that we can then begin to contemplate what may lie beyond it.

Pickpocket is now available on Criterion Blu-ray.

New to Streaming: ‘The Immigrant,’ ‘Noah,’ ‘Manhunter,’ ‘The Congress,’ ‘The Master,’ and More

Written by Jordan Raup, July 18, 2014 at 2:27 pm 

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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

A Brony Tale (Brent Hodge)

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Like many, I learn about my subcultures from The Howard Stern Show, which had sent a correspondent to cover this year’s BronyCon, an annual fan convention for followers of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. We learn the followers skew male and heterosexual with a median age of 21, although Bronies exist everywhere and may, in fact, include your next-door neighbor. A Brony Tale, a new documentary, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, attempts to unpack this subculture through the lens of filmmaker Brent Hodge’s friend Ashleigh Ball. A voice actress and musician, Ball is a star in this community as she gives life to essential characters on the show, including Applejack and Rainbow Dash, who is responsible for a common catch phrase in the community after she tells a fellow pony to make something “20% cooler.” - John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Congress (Ari Folman)

Trippy, bizarre, surreal and hallucinatory are all excellent adjectives with which to describe Ari Folman‘s The Congress. Adapted from a novel by legendary sci-fi author Stanislaw Lem (Solaris), the film is a hybrid of live-action and mind-bending psychedelic animation; as this is the filmmaker’s follow-up to Waltz with Bashir, those familiar with that title know that Folman is far from a traditional filmmaker. Delightfully surreal and spectacular in its scope, The Congress is a strong testament to the originality and talent behind Folman’s vision of where cinema can take us in the years to come. – Raffi A. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Downloaded (Alex Winter)

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Can you believe Napster existed at full capacity for only one year? One year! As the men—nay, boys—behind the peer-to-peer music-sharing phenomenon tell it, the program was perfected by December 1999 and unplugged February 12, 2001 thanks to an injunction by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). While launching in May 1999 and eventually limping to bankruptcy June 3, 2002 after ill-fated attempts to eradicate its copyright infringement issues, the disruptive force that changed the face of the internet was a newborn when it made its deafening noise. Us little people easily transitioned to Limewire and Gnutella before Bit-Torrent took over, so it was easy to forget. In reality, though, every active social media site today owes a debt of gratitude to the community Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker created. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

The Immigrant (James Gray)

Set in 1921 New York, The Immigrant is writer-director James Gray‘s sprawling tale of an American dream gone awry. Immaculate production design and stunning cinematography byDarius Khondji evoke the era-appropriate atmosphere in a manner not at all dissimilar fromGordon Willis‘ design of The Godfather Part II. The final effect is a film laden with nostalgia that feels ripped right from the past, making way for its own unique examination of a transformative period in American history. Known for his character-rich stories, Gray weaves a compelling yarn of two Polish sisters who encounter unforeseen complications when trying to immigrate at Ellis island: a parable about what makes the United States a complex paradox of capitalist dreams and hopes held both by everyday citizens and those aspiring to become one. - Raffi A. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Manhunter (Michael Mann)

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No Michael Mann film fits into its genre. There are crime pictures (Heat, Miami Vice), thrillers (The Insider, Collateral), a biopic (Ali), a horror film (The Keep), and historical epics (The Last of the Mohicans, Public Enemies) — all molds we can imagine, but none Mann seems interested in conforming to. Manhunter, a crime-thriller with direct horror overtones — the lattermost thanks to Thomas Harris‘s Red Dragon, upon which it’s based — eschews conventions, bringing forth the psychology of its characters through both sound and image. (For reference, look at this video essay from 2009.) What starts as an unsettling portrait eventually blossoms into an inescapable nightmare, but it’s the kind you’ll want to revisit again and again. Thanks to Netflix, that’s now possible. - Nick N.

Where to Stream: Netflix

The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

In Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays one of the most unique alcoholics I’ve ever seen in a movie. What Aaron Johnson did to pot in Oliver Stone‘s Savages, Phoenix does here to liquid poison — and yes, I do quite literally mean poison. Paint thinner is but one of the sordid ingredients he uses to concoct his immediate-fix potions, which are usually created in some rusty, holed-up room, where everything he needs — dirty beakers, medicinal substances, forgotten flasks — are at his convenient disposal. – Danny K. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Noah (Darren Aronofsky)

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Growing up a wee Baptist lad, the biblical account of Noah and his ark always seemed to me an unlikely candidate for cuddly Sunday School lessons. Nonetheless, the popular image of Genesis’ righteous pillar of faith who garnered God’s favor when all around were deluged in the Almighty’s justice has always been one of chipper, storybook fantasy; a white-bearded Wilford Brimley-esque patriarch piling his nuclear family on a big, gaudy boat that’s essentially a floating zoo. It’s telling that the scene most kitschy art pieces tend to focus on is the white dove hovering above the ark as Noah smiles into breaking storm clouds. It’s not very often that you see a needlepoint sweater depicting the sanctioned, mass drowning of all humanity. - Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Particle Fever (Mark Levinson)

Science! You either see it as the backbone to understanding or you don’t, and everyone who doesn’t, may want to avoid Mark Levinson‘s Particle Fever because it’s first and foremost a document about the subject’s cool factor and importance. If you’re a creationist and everything you hold true about our origin comes from a book written centuries ago by multiple people who potentially had a simultaneous psychotic break to hear voices, all sense of wonder and discovery is nonexistent in the present. What point is there to search for answers when you know death brings salvation? Only in Paradise can you discover something new and real. For scientists, however, the rush of adrenaline uncovering a truth never before seen by humanity is as crucial an experience as a Catholic meeting God. They’re finding miracles. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Teenage (Matt Wolf)

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Matt Wolf’s Teenage is an awfully bland telling of an interesting story. Combining media, including archival materials with some newly shot footage, it traces the development of the adolescent. Early on it claims that “adolescence is the new birth,” a post-war, post-Industrial Revolution phenomenon with the improvement of child labor laws. Based on the book by John Savage, part of the problem is the narration. Found footage documentary is a powerful genre, with admirable essay films employing the technique, notably by two British masters. Julian Temple‘s London: The Modern Babylon was a rare overlooked gem from the Toronto International Film Festival last year and Terence Davies has also used this technique to unpack truths about his life, sexuality, and location. – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes

Discover more titles that are now available to stream.

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Under the Skin,’ ‘Pickpocket,’ ‘Scanners,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 15, 2014 at 4:00 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.

Pickpocket (Robert Bresson)

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Receiving Criterion’s Dual Format upgrade today is the Bresson classic Pickpocket. Easily amongst my favorite features from the director, this deceivingly simple, emotionally striking tale of a criminal in Paris is perhaps Bresson at his most effective, crafting some of the most thrilling sequences in his career. Featuring an introduction by Paul Schrader (which one can see part of here), a documentary on the actors, film scholar James Quandt‘s feature-length commentary, and much more, it’s an essential title from Criterion. – Jordan R.

Scanners (David Cronenberg)

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This is not the first Cronenberg film you’d expect to join Criterion’s ranks — its less-prescient than Videodrome, lacks the high-society focus of Dead Ringers, and certainly has fewer literary connections than Naked Lunch – but Scanners deserves a quality Blu-ray release all the same. The writer-director’s conspiracy-driven, head-exploding thriller has aged awfully well, the now-antiquated patience in its pacing and composition lulling us into a relaxed state — or as relaxed as a film of this sort can actually leave us — before its spectacular climax. As usual, a fine audio-video upgrade is complemented by numerous special features, the most significant of which may be an HD upgrade of Cronenberg’s difficult-but-fascinating feature debut, Stereo. – Nick N.

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

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Featuring one of Scarlett Johansson‘s most commanding performances in years, Jonathan Glazer‘s sci-fi drama Under the Skin makes its way to Blu-ray this week. While I don’t consider it the flat-out masterpiece some have been heralding, its lead performance and assertive visual and aural landscape is well worth seeking out, with those aspects holding up on the Blu-ray. As for special features, there’s no feature-length commentary to be had, but a 43-minute behind-the-scenes documentary is of interest. Going through various aspects of production (casting, VFX, score, script, technical approach, etc.), one of the most intriguing sections deals with the poster surprisingly fast poster design, resulting in one of the best one-sheets of the year. – Jordan R.

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

Adventureland (Blu-ray) – $5.00

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.94

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray) – $10.49

The Big Lebowski (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Bronson (Blu-ray) – $9.49

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

Casino (Blu-ray) – $9.68

City of God (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) – $7.50

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

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Gone Baby Gone (Blu-ray) – $6.00

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Hanna (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Heat (Blu-ray) – $6.88

High Plains Drifter (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.00

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $9.88

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $9.68

The Master (Blu-ray) – $9.92

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Nebraska (Blu-ray) – $9.96

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

Not Fade Away (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Pain & Gain (Blu-ray) – $8.39

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

The Steve McQueen Collection (Blu-ray) – $19.99

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Blu-ray) – $12.49

The Wolf of Wall Street (Blu-ray) – $11.99

The Wolverine (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

New to Streaming: ‘Snowpiercer,’ ‘Dom Hemingway,’ ‘The Lunchbox,’ ‘Maidentrip,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 11, 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 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

Alan Partridge (Declan Lowney)

He may be getting attention for his acclaimed drama Philomena, as well as his entertaining sequel The Trip to Italy, but Steve Coogan also recently returned to perhaps his most iconic role, the fictional talk show host Alan Partridge. The new feature-length film was released in the U.K. last year and now it’s available on Netflix after a theatrical release. The project, coming from television director Declan Lowney (Little BritainFather Ted), follows hostage crisis of a disgruntled employee (Colm Meaney). Showing at NYFF, I actually got the chance to check it out last fall, and as my first introduction to the character, it was quite an entertaining time. – Jordan R. 

Where to Stream: Netflix

Black Rock (Katie Aselton)

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There’s so much promising talent behind the new thriller Black Rock, that it’s initially disappointing when director Katie Aselton and scribe Mark Duplass reveal their movie to be nothing more than a generic, women-in-peril scenario. The desolate, isolated Maine island the female protagonists find themselves on becomes a kind of stand-in for the ghettoized sub-genre of survival horror, and as they fight or flee the homicidal war veterans who pursue them, these gals seem to be struggling against decades of misogynistic clichés. – Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Bottled Up (Enid Zentelis)

Bottled Up, the second feature from writer/director Enid Zentelis, is a noble piece of independent filmmaking, determined to explore oft-examined dramatic situations from a new perspective. The situations on display here, at their most basic, are drug addiction and environmentalism. Fay (Melissa Leo) is a quiet small business owner living in a quiet town in the Hudson River Valley, burdened with a pill-addicted daughter named Sylvie (the superb Marin Ireland) and a relatively uninteresting life. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Dom Hemingway (Richard Shepard)

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After finding a glut of recent work in television, it’s good to see writer-director Richard Shepard back in theaters with Dom Hemingway. As a big fan of both The Matador and The Hunting Party — despite the somewhat “mainstream” stories to which those films are tethered, their humor is undeniably infectious — to learn that his latest work centered on an extremely short-tempered, alcoholic safecracker just out of prison, all with a vain ego, got me excited. Was he going for broke? Shepherd does that, to a point — every so often to an even greater extent — but while such insanity helps make unique, memorably drawn characters pop off the screen with irreverent hilarity, the story they inhabit needs a bit more depth to captivate beyond the reach of their tomfoolery. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Homefront (Gary Fleder)

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For a certain type of moviegoer, the on-paper credentials of Homefront are undeniably encouraging: written by Sylvester Stallone (whose initial intentions here were to adapt Chuck Logan’s novel into a final Rambo entry), and co-starring Jason Statham and James Franco (as, respectively, an ex-DEA agent and a trailer-trash meth dealer), the film has all the makings of an agreeably ridiculous revenge thriller made on the margins of the industry. (The anticipation wasn’t unlike that of the De Niro-Travolta vehicle Killing Season, from earlier this year.) ThatHomefront turns out to be a “bad” movie is one thing; that it’s actually a grim, unpleasant, relatively humorless product is altogether more surprising, and more disappointing. The chances of a movie like this working are astronomically higher if it projects an awareness of its bargain-bin stupidity, or at least just a basic sense of humor, but both Stallone’s dour script and director Gary Fleder’s disposable handling of the material only offers such pleasures in fleeting, all-too-rare doses. - Danny K. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra)

After recently dipping his toes into the Hollywood system with The Amazing Spider-Man and Life of PiIrrfan Khan has returned to his native land for a new drama, The Lunchbox. Initially premiering at Cannes Film Festival last year, Ritesh Batra’s debut film stopped by Sundance earlier this year along with a theatrical release. A sentimental, but seemingly well-crafted story of married woman looking for a connection and finds it through her cooking skills, it looks like one to watch. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Maidentrip (Jillian Schlesinger)

If one couldn’t buy into the harrowing one-man adventure at sea with All is Lost, perhaps a true tale will be up your alley. At the age of 14, after much struggle with the government, Laura Dekker, became the youngest person to trek around the globe in her sailboat. She thankfully brought a camera with her and the result is Maidentrip, a documentary which is now available to stream on Netflix. - Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper)

After directing Jeff Bridges to a Best Actor Oscar with 2009’s safe, humble, crowd-pleasingCrazy Heart, it’s admirable for writer-director Scott Cooper to turn around and make something as deathly bleak as Out of the Furnace for his sophomore outing. The movie wanders through its various storylines, ensemble players, and small-town details without a care for conventional structure or logline-friendly narrative developments — neither watching the trailer nor browsing the one-sentence IMDb synopsis will really give you a legitimate idea of how Out of the Furnacemoves and breathes, or where Cooper’s script (heavily reworked from a highly-touted Brad Ingelsby spec) is planning to take its characters. If this resolve, along with some unexpectedly elaborate direction, represents what’s laudable about Out of the Furnace, the weaknesses of the resulting film are almost entirely the result of a wall-to-wall sense of nastiness and faux-gritty miserablism. – Danny K. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)

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The long stateside wait for Bong Joon-ho‘s Snowpiercer has imbued it with an air of mystery and anticipation that often works against ambitious niche cinema. With the final result, however — a bold and brutally perceptive sci-fi actioner that has some of the same visceral insistence found in Blade Runner and Brazil — anticipation gives way to intoxication. Telling the story of all remaining humanity enclosed on an impossibly long train, barreling through an Earth trapped in an Ice Age, Bong gives us dystopic vision in the form of an uncompromising action roller-coaster. So fastidious is Snowpiercer in its world-building that we even know the specifics of that devastated arctic landscape which sits beyond the train window — as well as the surprising contents of each car — as the down-trodden tail residents fight their way to the front, towards the ominous Sacred Engine. One of the most emotionally exhausting and satisfying films of the year thus far, Snowpiercer also offers a treat with its very distinctive cast, led by a Chris Evans performance that redefines the actor’s talents and makes us consider them anew. - Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Discover more titles that are now available to stream.

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune,’ ‘Nymphomaniac,’ ‘Bronson,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 8, 2014 at 4:18 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.

I Vinti (Michelangelo Antonioni)

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Fans of Michelangelo Antonioni – an especially presumptuous part of me would like to think that simply constitutes “fans of cinema” — should consider this Blu-ray treatment of I Vinti one of the year’s most important releases. In addition to a high-definition look at his less-than-widely-available picture, the disc offers a treasure trove of features: an extended portion largely unseen since the 1953 Venice Film Festival; his rare short Tentato Suicidio; interviews with cast and crew; and a well-adorned booklet containing an informative essay from Italian cinema scholar Stefania Parigi. This is one to celebrate. - Nick N.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich)

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The what if’s are astounding in Frank Pavich’s hilarious and fascinating Jodorowsky’s Dune, existing at the intersection of art history and an alternative history of what might have been. Concept art from what would have proven a visually stunning telling of Dune by cinema’s master of the absurd, Alejandro Jodorowsky, would go on to influence the production design of sci-fi classics Star Wars and Alien. An essential film for sci-fi geeks and film lovers, Pavich has crafted a generous peek behind the curtain, combining present-day interviews — including with Jodorowsky‘s friend, Nicolas Winding Refn – with archival materials and visual renderings. Jodorowsky, known for his psychedelic mix of the sacred and the profane, was ultimately deemed too risky for the studios, and, like many ambitious passion projects, it fell apart in pre-production. - John F.

Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier)

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Once the dust has settled, the posturing ceased, and both parts made readily available, those who appreciated Nymphomaniac on an initial go-round can more fully see it as one of Lars von Trier’s great achievements. A breezy four hours might feel to contain the world entire — from Bach to Bond to parallel parking to… well — but it never strays from the writer-director’s well-worn tortured-woman narratives, proving how much ecstasy he can truly harness when at the peak of his powers. It feels like it’s been too long since we received something truly essential from his end — this is at least the man’s best film since Dogville, though I, for comparison’s sake, might be inclined to go back as far as Breaking the Waves — but, no matter where he goes next, there will always be Joe’s sexual odyssey. And Rammstein. - Nick N.

Rent

le_weekend  maidentrip  the_raid_2

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

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

Adventureland (Blu-ray) – $5.00

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.94

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray) – $10.49

The Big Lebowski (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Bronson (Blu-ray) – $9.49

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

Casino (Blu-ray) – $10.28

City of God (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Counselor (Unrated Director’s Cut Blu-ray) – $9.99

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) – $7.50

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

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Gone Baby Gone (Blu-ray) – $6.00

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Hanna (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Heat (Blu-ray) – $6.88

High Plains Drifter (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.00

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $9.88

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $9.24

The Master (Blu-ray) – $9.92

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Blu-ray) – $7.49

Nebraska (Blu-ray) – $9.96

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

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Pain & Gain (Blu-ray) – $8.17

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Blu-ray) – $12.49

The Wolf of Wall Street (Blu-ray) – $11.99

The Wolverine (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

New to Streaming: ‘Life Itself,’ ‘City of God,’ ‘Particle Fever,’ ’12 Angry Men,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm 

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With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we 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

12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet)

It’s all about process. Before our very eyes, a seemingly airtight case is dismantled piece-by-piece, each of the deliberating jurors about to convict a young man slowly-but-surely coming around to a cool-headed protagonist over one hot, sweaty, surly backroom session. Sidney Lumet’s picture is not without a few niggling problems — including questions of how this person would actually not be guilty; some of the script’s too-easy emotional tugging — but this is an exemplary manipulation of physical space and character psychology that never really cheats in either direction. A narrative that couldn’t function so properly outside of its assigned form: the ideal real-time film. – Nick N.

Where to Stream: Netflix

After Tiller (Martha Shane, Lana Wilson)

Although documentaries often present real-life people working in risk-filled areas, the results can be quite banal. Half of reality television is filled with potentially exciting subjects: ER surgeons; truckers crossing thin sheets of ice; Alaskan crab fishers; or cops working some of world’s most dangerous streets. The problem with these shows is that, more often than not, their content boils down to one simple idea: “pretty crazy stuff!” In a breath of fresh air, After Tiller actually explores the psychology of four late-term abortion doctors, a group whose work is not inherently dangerous, but whose professional embroilment in political controversies have made them potential targets. Instead of gaping at this profession and the dangers surrounding it, directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson have crafted a nuanced psychological portrait of why the set would fight for women on these front lines, as well as the ethical, political, and moral decisions they face every day. - Peter L. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

City of God (Fernando Meirelles)

For any number of reasons, crime sagas that earn a Goodfellas comparison would not strike the average viewer as a prime candidate. Yet Fernando Meirelles, not nearly as good ever since, gives a story of Brazilian debauchery its human core in the form of a young, ambitious, wholly relatable boy evolving into manhood under what, we’re led to feel, are the worst conditions known to man. That we’ll likely never know many (or all) of the situations that play out herein makes City of God’s reverberations an even greater miracle. – Nick N.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Lawless (John Hillcoat)

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John Hillcoat‘s Lawless, with its Tommy guns, tilted fedoras and backwater blues, is certainly the most American film to show at Cannes in some time. It’s the 1920s in Virginia and Prohibition is at full-tilt, a band small-town brothers named Bondurant – Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) – making a hefty profit off the moonshine they brew in the deepest part of their Franklin County forest. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Life Itself (Steven James)

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It’s only fitting that documentary filmmaker Steve James, of Hoop Dreams fame, was able to capture the iconic film critic Roger Ebert during the final months of his life. Ebert was one of the voices who championed Hoop Dreams and helped elevate it to a broader limelight, exposing it to audiences who very likely would have never heard of it — as he did with countless other films. It seems almost impossible for any film critic, filmmaker, or filmgoer not to have been in one way or another influenced by Ebert and his vocal opinions. Based loosely on his autobiography of the same name, Life Itself examines the man who was revered for his frank, direct, and articulate opinions on cinema. - Raffi A. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda)

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Known for his intimately personal style of filmmaking and, often, drawing from his own experiences, there are always tugged emotional heartstrings that permeate the core of Hirokazu Koreeda’s films. With his latest title, Like Father, Like Son, the Japanese director drew from his experience of becoming a father to craft an intensely poignant film about parenthood. Oftentimes heart-wrenching, Koreeda is able to weave a range of emotions by remaining slightly detached and observing the subtle mannerisms of both families; with such great performances from both of the child actors, it’s near-impossible not be bowled over by their struggle to understand what’s happening. - Raffi A. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Particle Fever (Mark Levinson)

Science! You either see it as the backbone to understanding or you don’t, and everyone who doesn’t, may want to avoid Mark Levinson‘s Particle Fever because it’s first and foremost a document about the subject’s cool factor and importance. If you’re a creationist and everything you hold true about our origin comes from a book written centuries ago by multiple people who potentially had a simultaneous psychotic break to hear voices, all sense of wonder and discovery is nonexistent in the present. What point is there to search for answers when you know death brings salvation? Only in Paradise can you discover something new and real. For scientists, however, the rush of adrenaline uncovering a truth never before seen by humanity is as crucial an experience as a Catholic meeting God. They’re finding miracles. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes

Perfect Sense (David Mackenzie)

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There’s a scene about halfway into David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense in which people become scavengers, rushing about eating everything in plain sight, from hands to flowers to peanut butter. When it’s all said and done, they have lost their ability to taste. It reads more visceral and engaging on the page than it comes across on the screen. Still, this is a unique world from the minds of Mackenzie and his writer Kim Fupz Aakeson, determined to find optimism in the most dire of science-fiction scenarios. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Premature (Dan Beers)

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Enduring and funny, Premature, much like last year’s The To Do List, is a useful entry into that time test genre of the summer teen sex comedy. It’s a shame nowadays most of them find their audience not in the theater with a crowd, but on VOD. This is a perfect movie for a group of 15-year-old boys, but perhaps they will experience it alone, much like the sexual history of our hero Rob (John Karna). – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Transcendence (Wally Pfister)

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With a title of Transcendence the promise of mind-bending science-fiction is apparent before one sees a frame of the film. Too bad then, that Wally Pfister’s new AI thriller ends up being anything but, eschewing the awesome possibilities of its concept for ancient, creaky Frankenstein-esque indictments about man’s hubris. Pfister, who has long served as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer, gives the movie the proper visual sheen, but although it may look like a Nolan film from the distance of the trailers, it doesn’t walk or talk like one, regardless of how many gentle speeches Morgan Freeman gives. – Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Also New to Streaming

Netflix

Bad Santa
Basic Instinct
The Believer
Crimson Tide
Cujo
From Here to Eternity
Gideon’s Army
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Patton
Philadelphia
Primal Fear
Sophie’s Choice
Venus
The Young Americans

What are you streaming this weekend?

Discover more titles that are now available to stream.

Posterized July 2014: ‘Magic in the Moonlight,’ ‘A Most Wanted Man,’ ‘Life Itself’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, July 2, 2014 at 12:29 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.


Oof. There are a couple good posters this month. That’s it. And I don’t mean “a couple” hyperbolically, either. There are maybe two I’d consider looking at again at the end of the year. Maybe.

It’s July, though. No one is surprised.


Monkey Business

What is surprising is the fact that America has one-upped the world as far as providing a poster series devoid of humans for human sake. For a movie entitled Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (opening July 11), however, you’d automatically assume any actor not being motion-captured like Andy Serkis is moot to begin with. So don’t give American designers too much credit for doing what logic calls for.

A series of character sheets for the apes is an inspiring decision nonetheless, seeing as the layperson honestly has no clue what their names are. And that’s okay. I’ll assume the first is Caesar just because I remember him looking like that in the previews — I never saw its prequel, nor any of the original films — but it’s an unnecessary distinction regardless. These apes mean business as they ready for war and you get the emotion and attitude of that revelation in spades.

Here is where it gets funny, though — and by “funny” I do truly mean laughable, because how could you not laugh at BLT Communications, LLC‘s Caesar riding a horse into battle? I know fanboys all over the internet LOVE this poster, but I can’t help snickering each time I see it. Granted, it doesn’t help that my girlfriend whispered, “It thinks it’s people” when this scene came onscreen during the trailer while at the movie theater. The whole thing is a bit absurd, which I say knowing the films are supposed to be great. I just can’t muster any enthusiasm, and this “painting” of post-humanity isn’t helping.

The real joke is even funnier, though, thanks to the aforementioned foreign interpretations with floating human heads. Maybe they thought their citizens wouldn’t want to see a film all about angry monkeys? Or maybe Jason Clarke is huge in Europe.


Get the most for your money

Tammy (opening July 2), on the other hand, is all about the humans — Melissa McCarthy, to be exact. It’s not without reason that WORKS ADV goes this route, though, because the film is her baby. She’s the star, co-writer, producer, and wife of the director. Her hands are all over this thing and, who knows, maybe she chose the marketing materials too.

Unfortunately for her, the posters spelling out the title one letter at a time do nothing to make you want to see the film. Instead it looks like the firm spent too much money on the photo shoot and thought this would be a great way to get more bang for their buck out of the pictures. Common sense would dictate giving each letter to a different actor — show some variety like so many children’s films utilizing this trick. But that probably means more money having to truck everyone into the studio to make faces that are half-angry, half-laughing, and fully uninterested.

The best detail is that the “main” teaser sheet appears to use the exact same Sam Jones-shot photo used alongside the “T”. Crop it differently, change the position of her hand, and voila! We have a brand-new, yet almost identical piece of artwork to slap up at the local multiplex.

At least the other “action” shots have a bit more intrigue thanks to not simply being McCarthy in a controlled environment of yellow light. They’re horribly Photoshopped and less-than-great examples of graphic design, but they do give us an idea of what to expect, plot-wise. The truth is that McCarthy’s name sells tickets with or without intrigue.


2D layers

If you really want to grab someone’s attention with a poster, one maneuver is to play with fabricated depth. It can often look cheesy when a drop shadow is too blatant, but when it’s done right, you sometimes create something very special.

Canyon Design Group‘s sheet for A Most Wanted Man (limited July 25) is not one of these cases. I’m not sure what their goal was in creating a puzzle of boxes at differing distances from the viewer, but you can’t help getting confused trying to work everything out. Some instances make you think a square can slide in between two others and some seem like they’re popping forward. Do the tinted pieces denote importance? Who knows?

I guess, at a certain point, we knew Anton Corbijn would be saddled with a sub-par advert — one that didn’t quite match the stunning photography he usually captures onscreen. Canyon seems to want to follow tradition by keeping it graytone, but it simply can’t match Kellerman Design‘s Control or P+A / Mojo‘s The American. The gray doesn’t possess enough contrast for drama and the color seems an afterthought rather than a carefully planned eye-catcher.

I do like the modern, stencil-like typeface on the title, though. So not all is lost.

Unlike the film itself — which looks horrible — Sex Tape‘s (opening July 18) teaser is effective in its simplicity. ARSONAL sticks to the basics by putting its already-provocative title front, center, and big, with its stars desperately attempting to shield our eyes from what the words could mean. There’s some physical humor, Cameron Diaz‘s bare legs, and a genuine sense of the unknown to pique interest.

The obvious error is in how fake the depth is handled by a pretty bad example of the aforementioned drop shadow. Some points of contact look as though the actors are touching a wall, while others make them look like paper dolls. I know it’s probably more money, but why not construct those giant letters and have Diaz and Jason Segel play off of something real? As it is, we aren’t even sure those are their bodies and not simply stock art affixed with their heads.

At least its minimalism forgives such issues as realism, though, because you know it’s merely a gimmick. The movie’s second poster is not so lucky. I don’t know what is happening with Segel’s head here, but it’s messed up. Maybe the size is wrong or perhaps the complete removal of depth to the point where his chin is painted onto his skin is what’s weird. And why put them on the black background again? The least you can do is keep them in scene with a bedroom at their backs. This looks like your friend’s amateur Black Box Theater performance from college.

If something can save us, Woody Allen is it, right? Wrong. While I enjoy the idea of Magic in the Moonlight‘s (limited July 25) poster, execution leaves a bit to be desired.

As per usual, all the text is in Allen’s trademarked font to ensure it doesn’t overpower any of the visuals or his own name and, much like Midnight in Paris, it has a painterly feel. Sadly the depth of focus creating such an aesthetic by blurring the trees into an Impressionistic haze is ill-fit for the starkly in-focus duo at the front. The glow on Colin Firth‘s face makes him appear to be a cardboard cut-out, while Emma Stone‘s proximity does just the same.

The one bright spot becomes her out-stretched arm. Here, in this piece of flatness, comes a miraculous example of space and motion. You can feel her hand extending towards you as she looks into the beyond with her psychic powers, and it strangely captivates your gaze. His shoulder going over the border ruins much of this sensation by grounding us back to the medium’s limitations, but, for a fleeting second, it is magical. It’s also better than the cartoony observation-room iteration with its oversaturated colors and unnatural plasticity.

No, this category’s winner comes from the man who would have been critiquing the rest were he still with us today. It isn’t the final poster put out by Magnolia Films which looks more like a text book cover than anything else (despite the admittedly nice flourish of making the projector lens form the dot of the “I”), but the festival sheet of Life Itself (limited July 4) that uses depth best.

It’s not necessarily a great design but it does succeed at getting its job done when it comes to depicting Roger Ebert as its subject and the setting he was so familiar with. The decision to use an old photo of him tickled by what’s onscreen is inspired and the drop shadow on the nicely spaced text beside him in sequential seat rows a realistic rendering. Those words pop and in turn help the illusion that we’re actually looking into a theater from the screen, diving into the page itself in the hopes we could sit beside this icon of criticism and talk shop.


Two sides of the same coin

For my next trick I compare a stateside film’s campaign and one hailing from France. Both utilize a main sheet and character posters, but each sees different results due to conventions or lack thereof. I wonder which proves more inventive?

Let’s do America first with The Purge: Anarchy (opening July 18). I have a love/hate relationship with Ignition‘s teaser of Red, White & Blue built by graffiti assault weapons. I applaud the effort to do something different, but the end result is a bit stock photo/vector silhouettes run through Photoshop filters. It’s almost a little too clean of a grunge job if you know what I mean—it tries too hard.

Is it better or worse than the Netherlands’ version? That’s up to you. I like each for its own reasons, but neither comes close to matching the mood of the mask from the original film highlighted in chiaroscuro courtesy of cold open. The title is bulky, the weight off balance thanks to the pitch-black top doing nothing to resemble white space rather than a way to split the sheet in half. I do like the creepily painted Purgers straight out of a The Warriors revival, though. I’m digging that the sequel will take place outside in the chaos.

But the character posters are as boring as you’d expect with three actors on display behind slightly changing taglines specific to their roles. Wonderland hopes to mess their designs up with scratches and streaks, but the quality remains too crisp to really buy into the aesthetic. They probably work better as vehicles to disseminate the hashtag #SurvivetheNight than anything else.

For Michel Gondry‘s latest Mood Indigo (limited July 18), Le Cercle Noir decides to have some fun with all its iterations. If you’re familiar with the director you’ll know it wouldn’t be too hard to believe that a part of the film takes place underwater, so this image is a perfect embodiment of what he brings to the table. Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou‘s smiles are infectious, they both radiate beauty despite their awkward surroundings, and the suspension of time the water provides is something that will stand out amongst the other posters on display.

Surprisingly, the American version lends itself to a similar sensibility—this time with a sort of watercolor quality in the background behind our two leads in love. There’s a hybridization of real world and fantasy like we’ve come to expect from Gondry and you get a sense of the fun, romance, and possibly adventure if not solely a means for the visual flair displayed along the way.

What really struck, though, is how Le Cercle Noir handled the French character sheets. Yes, they’re similarly boring in that they depict one person staring at the camera, but they also add excitement by placing them in different scenes. Their backgrounds aren’t some drably textured color; they’re the vibrant hues of Gondry’s palette. But the best part has to be the way they introduce the characters through a personal and informal system of supplying the actor’s first name before his/her role. Audrey is Chloé, Philippe is Partre, and Omar is Nicolas. There’s warmth to that familiarity that really sticks with me.


A visual flair

As I said in the introduction, it’s slim pickings this month as far as memorable designs. These four are the best. Would they be so any other month? Lucky for them we don’t need to find out.

For Alive Inside (limited July 18), the idea to use a jigsaw gimmick adds an interesting aesthetic to what could have been a generic collage. The puzzle pieces did make me think Autism at first for obvious logo-specific reasons, but I guess it does work well for the actual subject of Alzheimer’s this documentary focuses on too. Memories are like bits of us that either remain in place or get lost in the shuffle. Healthcare providers as a result must put those pieces back together—ah, metaphor.

Even if you can’t quite tell the Alzheimer’s angle, though, it’s hard to miss the music component thanks to its iPod commercial homage of flat person and white headphones. Its inclusion stands out and helps make the poster look like an actual collage rather than a fake one with its two-dimensional layering. I only wish the puzzle pieces around the edge didn’t seem to dissolve into the background. That ruins any chance of believing this was created outside of a computer.

As anyone who regularly reads this column knows, I’m a huge fan of Gravillis Inc.‘s work. So it should be no surprise their sheet for Ron Howard‘s concert film Made in America (limited July 11) is a July favorite.

It’s simple, effective, and clean in its heavy black background and overexposed—almost Xeroxed—image of a stage at bottom. None of the text is obtrusive and in fact has a ton of buffer from itself and the photo throughout. I like that the American Flag motif showing through the title font is rough enough to lend a coolness rather than cartoony bright colors and I have to admit to loving how the crossbar of the many “As” around it are removed.

The poster for I Origins (limited July 18) is similarly pleasing in its simplicity (even though it’s pretty much the cover to Mark Danielewski‘s 2006 novel Only Revolutions). I don’t know much about the film because I’ve found that’s the best way to enter a Brit Marling creation, so I couldn’t say for certain what’s exactly going on. I’m enjoying the juxtaposition of an eyeball iris with the title’s “I” nonetheless. (It’s not even an eyeball is it? Probably a fertilized egg a la Heroes?)

Like Made in America, the text here never infringes on itself. There is some nice breathing room from actors’ names to title to footer information with a healthy leading between lines too. And you can’t prevent yourself from getting lost in the imperfect symmetry of the image behind those words nicely contrasted by the sharp (mostly) sans-serif font.

If I’m going to give kudos to any advert this month without strings attached, though, it has to be Art Machine, A Trailer Park Company‘s teaser for Earth to Echo (opening July 2). This is just a very well-designed image from its colorful clouds lighting up the middle of the page to the silhouetted children looking into the great beyond to the expertly stylized logotype. And that constellation map of geometric circles and triangles that reminds me of the detail work at the Taj Mahal is a splendidly patterned maze for our eyes to follow into its center.

BLT Communications, LLC’s main poster is cute if only because Echo itself is cute, but it loses something in the cartoonification. The logo is ruined with the font change from slickly thin sans to bulky serif, the blue is flattened and erased of all drama, and the hand coming in looks like it was animated rather than photographed. It probably appeals to the children the film is targeting, but as far as design goes it’s light years away from the brilliance of Art Machine’s meticulous composition.

What is your favorite July release poster? What could have used a rework?

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