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Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Snowpiercer,’ ‘La Dolce Vita,’ ‘Los Angeles Plays Itself,’ and More

Written by Jordan Raup, October 21, 2014 at 12:30 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.

F for Fake (Orson Welles)

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Getting a Blu-ray upgrade this week on The Criterion Collection is Orson Welles‘ landmark F for Fake, a work that blends all lines of reality to deliver the kind of work that could only come from its creator. Packed full of extras, the notable inclusions are commentary from Oja Kodar and Gary Graver, as well as an extensive interview with Welles and a documentary on his many unfinished projects. There’s also a documentary on Elmyr de Hory, who is heavily featured in the film. Perhaps moreso than any other films from the director, it’s the one you’ll want to immediately rewatch after a first view.

La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini)

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Also on The Criterion Collection his week is, finally, Federico Fellini‘s Palme d’Or-winning drama La Dolce Vita. One of the Italian filmmaker’s most successful and accomplished films, the nearly three-hour masterpiece follows his frequent collaborator Marcello Mastroianni as a journalist who spends a week assessing his craft and desires in Rome. Featuring interviews with both Fellini and Mastroianni, the must-own release also includes a look at production assets from the film, a video essay, and much more.

Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen)

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Once thought to never see a release due to rights issues, the fine folks at Cinema Guild picked up Thom Andersen‘s 2003 documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself for a release and it’s now available for the first time on home release, on Blu-ray no less. Tracking the history of Los Angeles entirely through films, the nearly three-hour documentary has been an underground gem in the last decade, but will hopefully rise in stature in the coming years due to the release. The release includes Andersen’s recent short The Tony Longo Trilogy as well as essays about the film.

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)

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In a sea of vapid summer blockbusters, Snowpiercer was one of the more acutely engineered thrillers of the season. Stock full of intriguing ideas and a host of memorable characters, it’s one we imagine we’ll be revisiting many times and today the Blu-ray arrives. The release features a handful of worthwhile behind-the-scenes videos (notably an hour-long look at the source material), but the most interesting of features is an insightful critics audio commentary hosted by Scott Weinberg, James Rocchi, William Goss, Drew McWeeny, Jennifer Yamato, and Peter S. Hall. While the audio quality is up-and-down, as Weinberg talks with each guest about different aspects, it’s a compelling experiment I’d welcome in future releases.

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

The American (Blu-ray) – $5.80

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.94

An Education (Blu-ray) -$7.57

Animal Kingdom (Blu-ray) – $7.08

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $6.89

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Cabin in the Woods (Blu-ray) - $7.92

Casino (Blu-ray) – $9.68

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.56

Gone Baby Gone (Blu-ray) – $6.00

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $6.96

Hanna (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Headhunters (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Heat (Blu-ray) – $8.48

High Plains Drifter (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $9.99

I Saw the Devil (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $9.23

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $9.63

MacGruber (Blu-ray) – $8.64

Melancholia (Blu-ray) – $10.49

Never Let Me Go (Blu-ray) – $7.57

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $4.50

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $6.74

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Pain & Gain (Blu-ray) – $9.27

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

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $7.93

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $9.10

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.96

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $7.98

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.50

sex, lies, and videotape (Blu-ray) – $7.25

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $7.41

Skyfall (Blu-ray) – $9.96

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $12.74

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $5.00

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

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $8.98

Vanilla Sky (Blu-ray pre-order) – $8.62

Volver (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Waltz With Bashir (Blu-ray) – $7.07

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $7.34

Zodiac (Blu-ray) – $6.99

What are you picking up this week?

The Dance of Reality in Steven Spielberg’s ‘1941’

Written by Ethan Vestby, October 20, 2014 at 2:09 pm 

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Even 38 years later, you’d think that simply the quick subtitle of “December 13th, 1941” would be enough for most audience members to be reminded that it’s the week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and, furthermore, the subsequent entry of the United States into World War II. Yet, as told through an intertitle, even semi-recent history is being made over to resemble something closer to Star Wars. Given the ensuing (and strange) sight of World War II being fought in Los Angeles instead of a cold German winter, a rubble-strewn Italy, or a Pacific Island, we’re only further removed from a notion of the real and plucked into fantasy.

Not helping matters is an enormous ensemble, including famed Army General Stilwell trying his best to contain a public on the verge of hysteria over another possible Japanese attack, the attempted wooing of his plane-obsessed secretary by a horny Captain, the conflict between a serviceman and a dishwasher — who share both strikingly thick eyebrows and an interest in the same girl — an invading Japanese sub containing both Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee, the installation of an anti-aircraft gun in the backyard of a Santa Monica home, and, last but not least, the permanently hungover John Belushi as rogue pilot Captain Bill Kelso, about whom we know all that’s necessary when a character introduction ends in him unintentionally blowing up a gas station.

While this sounds more like one of the genre-plays of Robert Altman — and it does, in fact, share at least the Mad Magazine diaspora of The Long Goodbye1941 is instead the work of a far different luminary of ’70s American cinema: Steven Spielberg. The abnormality of this film within his career, being considered by more than a few as his first outright failure, places it amongst New Hollywood flops such as Scorsese’s New York, New York, Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and Coppola’s One from the Heart. As the widely perpetuated history goes, each of these pictures failed to connect with the public on account of the deadly mix between homage and pomposity — in so many words, the creator’s ambitions getting in the way of proper creative flow. Just how much this ego was afforded by success becomes visible in the fact that 1941 opens with a direct reference to Jaws, with the substituting of a shark for a Japanese submarine. Even the populist of the New Hollywood group wasn’t innocent.

Yet when assessing an American cinema quite comfortable making dramatic narratives out of the Vietnam war (as evidenced by the Academy Awards thrown toward The Deer Hunter and Coming Home), 1941’s comparatively childish blockbuster tendencies certainly made it a target. Even in his first World War II drama, Empire of the Sun, Spielberg couldn’t totally escape certain labels as Hollywood’s great boy who never grew up, for it still had war seen through a child’s perspective. But to differentiate the “juvenilia” of Empire of the Sun and 1941’s is easy: whereas the beginning of the former film sees its child protagonist separated from his parents because he dropped a toy, the latter is equivalent to a very hyperactive little boy with likely a few too many trinkets at his disposal. Consider this proverbial child kin with the film’s only instance of kids, the brood of Ned Beatty’s hopeless middle-class patriot: laying traps for unsuspecting adults or pickpocketing sleeping soldiers the morning after the film’s climactic battle, and likely one of the very few examples of malicious children within Spielberg’s oeuvre.

The next film he’d make that would draw similar ire for its chaotic nature would, of course, be Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the notorious sequel that brought its predecessor’s darker implications to the forefront, chiefly in terms of violence. For every claim of Spielberg’s empathy, there still lies his mean-spirited tendencies. Outside of a disaster-obsessed mind à la Roland Emmerich, what director can claim to have killed as many onscreen as he? After counting every massacred henchman in an Indiana Jones picture, dino or shark chow in a monster classic, or gunned-down faceless soldier in a war epic, Spielberg must seem like one of the great nihilists rather than the modern Capra.

The difference with 1941 is that it’s the most outright cartoonish of all his titles, carrying the logic of characters who can’t die no matter how much violence is inflicted their way. In fact, the number of pratfalls suffered by the variety of characters, both central and extraneous, is so great that it almost begins to function as a kind of anti-comedy. Perhaps the reason why the film dedicates an extended amount of time to cutting back to Gen. Stilwell’s awe at a screening of Disney’s Dumbo throughout the middle act is because the world outside him is the rival Looney Tunes: a nightmare of constant slapstick without any of Disney’s usual sentiment. (One of the chief images we see projected is Dumbo and his mother, which reduces Stilwell to tears.)

Yet if everyone’s a grotesque caricature (as further evidenced by the end credits, which features almost every member of the film’s enormous ensemble screaming), then does this America even deserve to defeat the Japanese? Dan Aykroyd’s propaganda-machine soldier Sgt. Tree, with his recurring line about the one thing he hates most (seeing Americans fighting other Americans), articulates the savage irony running throughout the film. It’s likely what caused right-wing icons like John Wayne and Charlton Heston to angrily turn down the role of Stilwell.

His following World War II dramas were considered, by some, a penance for 1941’s supposed mockery of history, be it the starkness of Schindler’s List or assaultive “verisimilitude” of Saving Private Ryan. Yet the so-called “definitive” air of each film’s images are still born out of other works, be it Schindler’s art-house, matter-of-fact black-and-white photography and master-shot-captured violence, or Private Ryan’s classical male weepie / Fuller-esque camaraderie. Perhaps 1941’s advantage over all these films is that its actual theme is images, here channeled to communicate the purported decency of Americans, a fear of the Japanese, or even the pursuit of fame, with a contest reward of a 7-year contract at RKO.

steven_spielbergOne of Spielberg’s protégés (if you dare call him that), Michael Bay, would later do his own iteration on 1941, though instead of a historical farce (which it unintentionally came to be), Pearl Harbor was a stab at the kind of prestige that blockbuster-gone-Oscar directors such as Spielberg and James Cameron had attained. Instead of treating a love triangle as the ultimate symbol of America’s lost glory, Bay’s disingenuously earnest film could’ve benefited from the upfront misanthropy of his Pain & Gain: mocking the idiocy that both fuels and is produced by the conception of the American dream, much in the way of Spielberg’s film.

If Bay was somewhat a victim of his new-millennium-epic requirements, Spielberg similarly got stuck in one-upping his past hits. Case in point: the spectacular jitterbug setpiece — which likely any other director would seem content with having as the climax of their film — evidences that the true conflict of 1941 isn’t between the Americans and the Japanese, but instead the old-fashioned spectacle of the body and motion versus the new kind of machinery provided by folks over at ILM.

That each even have their own respective soundtracks — pop for the former, artillery for the latter — speaks to how Spielberg wished to turn the film into a musical, a genre itself analogous to the action-adventure picture. Just think the set-pieces of a Busby Berkely film, in which the rows of dancing girls often form a greater shape, all while showcasing real human bodies — that’s the kind of spectacle less and less common in the wake of the blockbuster. It seems a bit telling that the aforementioned New Hollywood failures One from the Heart and New York, New York were musicals; even the self-indulgence of Heaven’s Gate is signaled pretty early on by an extended dance sequence containing hundreds of extras.

In a 1980 interview with Chris Hodenfield that essentially functions as a post-mortem of 1941, Spielberg confesses to both his sizable ego after the success of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as his occasionally juvenile sensibilities. Yet there comes a point in the conversation where he begins discussing his favorite films, one being Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. In articulating that film’s effectiveness, he pointed to how particular it was to the time: that while waiting in line to see it in its original theatrical run, his sister came to give him a letter from the Selective Service to report for his physical.

Whereas Spielberg admitted that, with 1941 and being a baby boomer, all the images he was confronting were out of past films, not the first-hand paranoia of war and annihilation that Kubrick faced. This perhaps points to why War of the Worlds remains one of his most dramatically effective films: the usual Spielberg sight of extraterrestrials instead recalls the images of 9/11, which were so very fresh in the minds of most American. This evidences the seeming paradox of Spielberg, who more often attains his most-personal vision through “popcorn” films. But if “war is hell” has long held dominion over “war is farce” as the dominant commercial form, one can only hope that the king of Hollywood will bear to indulge his inner-child one more time.

1941 is now available on Blu-ray.

New to Streaming: ‘Camp X-Ray,’ ‘Norte,’ ‘Young Ones,’ ‘Venus in Fur,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, October 17, 2014 at 1:43 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, and shoot over suggestions to @TheFilmStage

Begin Again (John Carney)

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To answer the former title’s question—Can a Song Save Your Life?—writer/director John Carney says “yes.” A song can save someone from jumping off a subway platform and someone else from the searing emotional pain of being scorned in love. Music in general is an art form that can move us to tears with one simple chord or touchingly real lyric. It alters us in a way that can’t be explained; the same song telling a person there is purpose while the guy standing a foot away might hear nothing. In other words, it’s not the song that does the saving necessarily, but the specific moment in time it comes into contact with its target. A beauty can resonate, reach your heart, and tell you everything is going to be okay. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Breathe In (Drake Doremus)

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In nearly every possible way is Drake Doremus‘ Like Crazy follow-up, Breathe In, a more mature, confident and impressive piece of work. For the first hour at least. Featuring quietly devastating performances from Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan, who play a couple at the bitter end of a 17-year old marriage, Doremus allows his actors to act, slowly letting us into this family that is broken to pieces once foreign exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) comes to stay. He and cinematographer John Guleserian let the camera stay put for the most part, a welcome change of pace from the handheld shakery that consumed Like Crazy. It’s a handsomely shot film that makes the very most of its Upstate New York setting. At once dreary and serene, the color tone of the picture very succinctly meshes with the emotional pull going on inside this home. All is wrapped together with a beautiful score from Katie Byron. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Camp X-Ray (Petter Sattler)

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There’s a noble attempt in Camp X-Ray, written and directed by Peter Sattler, to make a war movie that’s about individuals rather than ideals. Set in Guantanamo Bay, the film is essentially a long conversation between Private Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) and a GITMO detainee named Ali (Peyman Moaadi). Cole is green, newly transferred to the station. Ali, on the other hand, has been held by the United States for nearly a decade. What begins as a long-form test of Cole’s patience by Ali, who’s already got a history as a uncooperative detainee, slowly morphs into something deeper. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Debt (John Madden)

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There is a fantastic film in The Debt. With a director like John Madden behind the camera, it’s a bit surprising that he didn’t churn out something of a higher caliber, especially when there’s plenty of scenes that show signs of a competent, meticulous storyteller at work. And, sure enough, when those scenes play out – a tense train station sequence in particular – they outweigh the film’s less impressive qualities. – Jack G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Hours (Eric Heisserer)

Paul Walker, who will forever be remembered as an action star, is an interesting choice to leadEric Heisserer’s Hours, a drama with elements that seem borrowed from an action film. It never revs up into kinetic action movie territory, however, instead remaining a contained, smart dramatic thriller. Walker stars as Nolan, whom we learn very little about despite the film’s flashback structure. What we do learn is that he’s married to the beautiful Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez), whom he met at random when the two strangers accidentally prevented a bank robbery — this and a lot of other would-be action sequences remain off screen. – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Housebound (Gerard Johnstone)

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Housebound takes the sealed bottle horror genre and waltzes right up to it, telling it that everything you expect, the characters expect as well, and lets things fall where they may. Everyone is immediately on top of their game when the haunted house aspect is revealed, but no one seems particularly good at keeping the bad stuff from happening. Perhaps general ineptitude is where most of the hilarity in director Gerard Johnstone’s newest film comes from, but since when is that anything but funny in spurts? Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is a 20-year-old rebel that manages to fail at the big details during a heist and is sentenced to house arrest at her mother Miriam’s (Rima Te Wiata) house. That wouldn’t be too bad, but between all of her sudden free time and Miriam’s doting, but gossipy, personality she feels like it might just be apt punishment. – Bill G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz)

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While Lav Diaz’s Norte, the End of History may not be easily classified or explained — it could be summarized in terms of basic narrative trappings, but not as far as intent or accomplishment are concerned — it conjures an intoxicating psychology, transplanting all of its socio-political concerns through the eyes of characters so wholly realistic that we feel we’ve actually met them. Diaz, whose works are known both for their langorous observations of very human systems and their overwhelming attention to spiritual / psychological details, has concieved a work as ambitious as any made by the humanist directors of yester-year. (Kenji Mizoguchi particularly comes to mind.) Drawing some of his inspiration from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Diaz tells one encompassing story from three essential viewpoints, although the summation of these interspections are more thematic than narrative, introducing us to characters who wind up on different spectrums and on different receiving ends of various social pressures that exist within the Phillipines. The film’s extensive running time — upwards of four hours, and with nary a shot or moment I can imagine cutting — and Diaz’s own distinctive, hypnotic visual style — long master shots and intuitive relocations of space — do make Norte something of a challenge, but it’s been a long time since a filmmaker rewarded with so much in exchange for our patience. - Nathan B.

Where to Stream: iTunes

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‘My Darling Clementine’ Hits Criterion: John Ford as the Great American Poet of Cinema

Written by Peter Labuza, October 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm 

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When considering cinema as poetry, there is Brakhage, who described his own process as an attempt to create poetry, or perhaps Godard, as Kent Jones has discussed; there is the trance-like state of Tarkovsky and the transcendental state of Malick. But even if two of those mentioned beckon from the world of Thoreau, where is the American poet? The one, to quote Whitman, who is “the great individual, fluid as Nature, chaste, affectionate, compassionate, fully armed.” Cinema has gifted us many great individuals, but perhaps not in the way Whitman composed them — a type of American attitude that is once in search of greatness but finds it through modesty, where a handshake can feel cosmic in its scale.

We can engage with symbolic presence in cinema — the fact that the image is not just an image but the image — in any film. But what is it in John Ford’s images, and in his darkest film, My Darling Clementine, that makes it feel like one of the few works of American poetry on film? Like Whitman before him, Ford’s films continually tap into a consciousness that feels distinctly bred out of 250 years of searching of an identity born in constant flux. And thus the paradox of Ford emerges: characters with a slow, mannered type of speech fit for their simple backgrounds and simple desires, but elevated to the status of Great Men and Great Women, made mythic through a mise-en-scene that pictorially destines them, without ever reducing their physical bodies to an iconic parade as Norman Rockwell would do. Instead, Ford’s essential trait is this humility, the fundamental trait of American goodness he would recognize in film after film.

My Darling Clementine, which has been acutely restored for its Criterion Blu-Ray debut, sits at a key moment in the Ford filmography. While known as a filmmaker of Westerns, his sound period had been largely absent of them beyond the one-two punch of Stagecoach and Drums Along the Mohawk in 1939. My Darling Clementine in 1946 would be the first of a dozen Westerns he would then make. It was also his last film in collaboration with Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox, who had been a key editor for many of his films, for better and for worse. And most essentially, it was Ford’s second film following the war that had scarred him in many ways. They Were Expendable was his only film to directly address World War II, yet the pains of the war are evident in every Ford film that followed.

While I would hasten to call My Darling Clementine a postwar movie, following the film through its genre interpretations only creates a skeletal form of what made Ford’s poetry. In a reading of the film as a Western, the film follows an individual of justice, Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda), bringing civility to a town that has none. There’s a good eastern woman, whose name adorns the title (tranquilly embodied by Cathy Downs), contrasted with the Latino-western woman (Linda Darnell) of low moral standards. There is ultimately a promise of civility by way of a half-built church, the scent left by a barber, and a stagecoach interrupting the climatic battle. This is to say, My Darling Clementine has all the makings of what we expect to watch when we view a Western. However, that is not why the film’s mysterious aura feels so haunted compared to the other icons of the genre.

After a long collaboration with veteran cinematographer Joseph August (including the war), John Ford collaborated with Joseph MacDonald on My Darling Clementine. If August had learned much of his work from the silent era of pictures (his 1922 William S. Hart picture Travelin’ On shares a clear relationship to German Expressionism), MacDonald brought a quality of the slowly ubiquitous postwar style of lighting to My Darling Clementine (the DP would bring harder edges to collaborations with Kazan, Fuller, and Hathaway). I would hasten to call Ford’s film a film noir, but there is certainly air of pessimism hangs throughout the film in a way different from the Ford of the pre-war. Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) has ran from the East, hiding a guilty past we can never know. Violence has an impact that feels utterly reprehensible — the edit to the boom of a shotgun in the Clanton home remains one of Ford’s most shocking displays of inhumanity. And while Monument Valley is present, the images are literally darker, as Tag Ghallager notes in his video essay for the Blu-Ray, Day-for-night photography provides a bleak vision of the landscape; the ever present clouds creating a ceiling, denying the infinity of possibility that the Western has so often promised.

Of all the revered auteurs, the ones that still give that word meaning, Ford was respected in part by those who spilled ink along the pages of Cahiers Du Cinema, but rarely the passion given to Hawks, Hitchcock, Ray, and beyond. Perhaps this was part power play — Ford was well respected in the United States, and a four-time Oscar winner — but I’d like to think there’s something quintessentially lost in translation in Ford’s depiction of American life. Again, we return to the moments that stick out in Ford’s films. My mind jumps to Fonda’s slow deliberation of whether to dance with Ms. Clementine, eventually chucking his hat, and the way Downs gives a slightly embarrassed smile for his all too groomed hair. I think of Fonda dancing in his chair like a child to the annoyance of Chihuahua. There is the way Wyatt and Doc speak to each other, using shorthand American lingo, while acknowledging the pauses speak to a deeper resentment. There is the way smoke fills each room with a distinct fill of a lived-in presence, existing independently of any beauty to be foregrounded. And there’s that final handshake between Wyatt and Clementine — a moment only seen in the “pre-release” version on the Blu-Ray (test audiences forced Zanuck to replace it with a gentle kiss) — perhaps a promise for the future, but more likely an acknowledgment of the temporary peace.

Ford’s great moments as poet happened pictorially — within a singular shot rather than the way he edits them into space. For Ford, space is a given, where the dynamic shadows of the landscape form a painterly backdrop (one that drove Manny Farber mad). But it was about bringing these paintings alive through the gestures of his actors, and ones often shot in medium shots, rarely emphasized by the camera. His presentation emphasized a complexity within its own simplicity. T.S. Elliot once remarked that poetry was not “the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” Perhaps this is what moved Ford away from the auteurs and toward the poets — his presence is felt, but not so fervently as the beloved of Cahiers. His camera simply captured an American ethos succinctly and directly, and a painfully felt one in My Darling Clementine: a yearning for an American myth, though perhaps one lost before it even became legend.

My Darling Clementine is now available on Criterion.

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: Steven Spielberg, ‘Venus In Fur,’ ‘Synecdoche,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, October 14, 2014 at 3:00 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.

My Darling Clementine (John Ford)

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John Ford takes on the legend of the O.K. Corral shoot-out in this multilayered, exceptionally well-constructed western, one of the director’s very best films. Henry Fonda cuts an iconic figure as Wyatt Earp, the sturdy lawman who sets about the task of shaping up the disorderly Arizona town of Tombstone, and Victor Mature gives the performance of his career as the boozy, tubercular gambler and gunman Doc Holliday. Though initially at cross-purposes, the pair ultimately team up to confront the violent Clanton gang. Affecting and stunningly photographed, My Darling Clementine is a story of the triumph of civilization over the Wild West from American cinema’s consummate mythmaker. – Criterion.com

Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection

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He recently kicked off production his latest feature, and now fans of Steven Spielberg have another reason to celebrate the director. Arriving on Blu-ray today is Universal’s eight-film collection with the notable distinction that it’s the first time that his thrilling debut Duel, his follow-up, the Bonnie and Clyde riff The Sugarland Express, his sprawling comedy 1941, and the sentimental drama Always are available on Blu-ray. Also including Jaws, E.T. and his pair of Jurassic Park films, the special features on the discs are the same found in the stand-alone releases, but as single set, completists will be pleased. Lastly, there’s a 58-page booklet which includes quotes, trivia, storyboards, concept art, behind-the-scenes photos, and more. – Jordan R.

Venus In Fur (Roman Polanski)

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Once again adapting a stage play, Roman Polanski‘s take on Venus In Fur is more playful and cinematic than one might expect after his last feature, Carnage. Featuring committed performances by Mathieu Amalric, and, most strikingly, Emmanuelle Seigner, this back-and-forth, meta tug-of-war is a delightful, sharp tease of a film. If anything, it’s further proof that Polanski is still as lively as ever and has us looking forward to him jumping off the stage with D. Unfortunately IFC Films are only putting out a DVD of his latest feature, but we recommend checking it out nonetheless. – Jordan R.

Rent:

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Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.94

Animal Kingdom (Blu-ray) – $7.08

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $6.90

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray) – $9.99

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

Casino (Blu-ray) – $9.68

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.56

Gone Baby Gone (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Gravity (Blu-ray) – $12.00

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $6.96

Hanna (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Headhunters (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Heat (Blu-ray) – $8.48

High Plains Drifter (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $9.34

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $9.78

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $9.99

I Saw the Devil (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $8.63

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $9.63

MacGruber (Blu-ray) – $7.69

Melancholia (Blu-ray) – $10.49

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $4.50

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $6.74

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Pain & Gain (Blu-ray) – $9.27

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

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $7.93

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $9.10

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.96

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $7.94

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.25

sex, lies, and videotape (Blu-ray) – $7.25

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Snowpiercer (Blu-ray pre-order) – $14.95

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $12.74

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $5.00

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

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $8.98

Vanilla Sky (Blu-ray pre-order) – $8.62

Waltz With Bashir (Blu-ray) – $6.92

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $7.34

What are you picking up this week?

New to Streaming: ‘Stretch,’ ‘Horns,’ ‘Automata,’ ‘In a World…,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, October 10, 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, and shoot over suggestions to @TheFilmStage

Automata (Gabe Ibanez)

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Automata, directed by Gabe Ibanez, does its damnedest to tackle those tried-and-true questions about artificial intelligence from a fresh angle. And with an impressively-layered lead performance from Antonio Banderas, as well as some densely-explored existential themes on humanity, the film hits the right notes some of the time. Unfortunately, the dialogue and the central narrative arc do not live up to the ideas present throughout. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to See: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Cuban Fury (James Griffiths)

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Cuban Fury mostly delivers the kind of funny, silly and delightful comedy as you’d expect from something “based on an original idea” by Nick Frost, best known as the side kick to Simon Pegg’s leading man in Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy.” Here, Frost plays Bruce, a self-described “unstoppable salsa machine” with a passion for dance until his career ends in a brutal attack he and sister Sam (Oliva Colman) refer to as Sequin-Gate (he was forced to eat the sparkling decorations bedazzled to shirt by a group of hooligans). – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Earth to Echo (Dave Green)

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In 1982 it took a whole movie for E.T. to place a call back to his home planet. He might have found more luck with the trio of kids in Earth to Echo, who always seem to have a surplus of cell-phones and tech gadgets lying around. Echo, a family friendly adventure crafted in the E.T. mold, also features an endearing alien visitor trying to get off our blue rock with the help of a few pre-teen friends. The only new wrinkle in this version is that ever-present technology; this is The Goonies for the YouTube generation, featuring a charming trio of boys who spend most of their time being so self-aware of themselves as stars of a ‘story’ that any genuine moment where they come off as just vulnerable kids is both poignant and disarming. – Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Horns (Alexandre Aja)

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In a film festival climate which often seeks to grab attention through comparison — “it’s this year’s that,” or, just as often, “it’s this meets that” — we, ourselves, can play the comparison game: Horns aspires for Twin Peaks, but ends up as Twilight. It’s not simply a bizarre, supernatural tonal mishmash in the Pacific Northwest — though there is that — but, worse yet, a more-often-than-not strained collection of ugly misogyny and computer generated mumbo-jumbo. – Ethan V. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

In a World… (Lake Bell)

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Sundance Film Festival is a breeding ground for exciting, new talent, with many budding filmmakers first stepping foot into the short film arena. The latest example comes with writer/director Lake Bell, who premiered her short Worst Enemy at the 2011 festival, and has now returned with her first feature-length effort, In a World…. Diving into the voice talent industry, Bell has crafted a relatable, humanistic small-scale drama, but one that could use another polish. – Jordan R. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix, Amazon Prime

The Purge: Anarchy (James DeMonaco)

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I mostly enjoyed last year’s suspense horror The Purge, despite high expectations for the premise actually going where it needed to prove more than another generic home invasion flick. Writer/director James DeMonaco gave us the graphic brutality its conceit promised through its claustrophobically bottled skirmish between malicious debutantes and an (not so) innocent family trying to survive while also lending the social commentary at its back a voice. I use the parentheses because it just so happened that the Sandin’s patriarch was implicitly involved in the titular cleansing, making money off of the fear so many “true” innocents felt. To survive the government mandated 12-hour carte blanche crime spree you need protection and luck. DeMonaco showed that impenetrable bunkers can’t always save their inhabitants; his sequel presents how it’s even worse for those with nowhere to go. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Million Dollar Arm (Craig Gillespie)

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It’s likely that you’ll know well ahead of entering the theater whether or not Disney’s Million Dollar Arm is your kind of entertainment. The final product—a well-made, enjoyably predictable, by-the-numbers sports drama—is destined to reward the confidence of those all-in audience members, while drawing a few begrudging naysayers along for the ride. If you find yourself attending Arm this weekend at the behest of baseball fans or relatives looking for a family-friendly outing, don’t worry much. Thanks to the likes of star Jon Hamm, writer Thomas McCarthy and director Craig Gillespie, this underdog story might actually provoke some cheers, even as you try to resist. - Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Stretch (Joe Carnahan)

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In the 16 or so years that he’s been in the game, filmmaker Joe Carnahan has built his reputation as much on the films he has made as he has on the ones he has not. A very vocal presence online and in the press, Carnahan is equal parts Hollywood studio cautionary tale and creative crusader. His new picture, Stretch, was scheduled to come out in theaters March 21st, only to be pulled by distributer Universal months before release, claiming the film was not worth the money it would take to put it out on the big screen. Now it finds its way to the masses via Video On Demand, a distribution model that’s far less inauspicious then it once was. And though, on paper, Stretch has the makings of an alternative, studio hit – given it’s slick look and jam-packed, all-star cast – one understands the reservations having watched it through. Take note, this is mostly a positive. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Also New to Streaming

Amazon

Copenhagen
Dead Snow 2: Red. Vs. Dead
I Am Ali
Kite

iTunes

Last Hijack

Netflix

A Long Way Down

What are you streaming this weekend?

Discover more titles that are now available to stream.

Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Edge of Tomorrow,’ ‘Obvious Child,’ ‘Gravity,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, October 7, 2014 at 4:50 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.

Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)

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Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s latest summer action vehicle, fits nicely into the group of recent blockbusters concerned with altering a distant past. Like X-Men: Days of Future Past or Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow is also adapted from existing material, this time a Japanese science-fiction novel titled All You Need Is Kill. Created by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, it’s the backbone for director Doug Liman’s tent-pole about an unfortunate military major trapped in a perpetual time loop. Cruise has crafted a body of work consisting of drastic and bold characters; he has taken his star persona and flirted with physical and emotional recklessness to craft memorable moments in films as diverse as Magnolia and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. These characteristics are notably absent at the start of Edge of Tomorrow, as Cruise plays Major William Cage, a figurehead used to sell a war to the public against an invading alien species. – Zade C. (full review)

Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock)

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In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock made his official transition from the British film industry to Hollywood. And it was quite a year: his first two American movies, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent, were both nominated for the best picture Oscar. Though Rebecca prevailed, Foreign Correspondent is the more quintessential Hitch film. A full-throttle espionage thriller, starring Joel McCrea as a green Yank reporter sent to Europe to get the scoop on the imminent war, it’s wall-to-wall witty repartee, head-spinning plot twists, and brilliantly mounted suspense set pieces, including an ocean plane crash climax with astonishing special effects. Foreign Correspondent deserves to be mentioned alongside The 39 Steps and North by Northwest as one of the master’s greatest adventures. – Criterion.com

Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre)

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Obvious Child does well in tackling big issues that all women face without a wink or a shrug. And while writer/director Gillian Robespierre offers some political views throughout, she thankfully avoids the soapbox. Small in stature but big in laughs, this film announces comedian leading lady Jenny Slate, a talent we will hopefully see much more of in the near future. If Paul Feig‘s Bridesmaids can be credited for commercializing the female gross-out comedy of this day and age, Obvious Child does well in bringing it back down to earth within a more contained, personal environment. Robespierre’s film is unafraid to tackle big issues that all women face without a wink or a shrug, and while the political views presented throughout the film may turn off a certain conservative viewership, the film thankfully avoids a soapbox. The jokes and opinions and decisions these characters make accurately reflect the world they are living in. We believe and engage in the realm Robespierre has built, and, most importantly, understand these people fully. - Dan M. (full review)

Rent:

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Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

The American (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.94

Animal Kingdom (Blu-ray) – $7.08

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Big Lebowski (Blu-ray) – $9.24

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

Casino (Blu-ray) – $9.68

Drag Me To Hell (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Gone Baby Gone (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Gravity (Blu-ray) – $12.00

Greenberg  (Blu-ray) – $5.42

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Hanna (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Heat (Blu-ray) – $8.48

High Plains Drifter (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $7.97

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $8.00

I Saw the Devil (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Knocked Up (Blu-ray) – $8.82

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $9.63

MacGruber (Blu-ray) – $7.69

Melancholia (Blu-ray) – $10.49

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Blu-ray) – $8.58

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $4.50

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $6.74

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Pain & Gain (Blu-ray) – $9.99

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

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $7.93

The Place Beyond the Pines (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $9.49

Prisoners (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.96

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.25

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $7.49

Snowpiercer (Blu-ray pre-order) – $14.96

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $12.74

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

Source Code (Blu-ray) – $5.00

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $8.98

Vanilla Sky (Blu-ray pre-order) – $8.64

Waltz With Bashir (Blu-ray) – $6.85

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $7.76

What are you picking up this week?

Your Guide to the 83 Best Foreign Language Film 2015 Oscar Contenders

Written by Jordan Raup, October 7, 2014 at 3:00 pm 

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While the awards talk already this season has been discussed ad nauseam, we do give special credence to a specific section of the Academy Awards: the Best Foreign Language Film submissions. As close as cinema gets to a World Cup or Olympics, each country is able to submit their choice to compete for the award, with a few guidelines. Notably, each film must have been released in its respective country from October 1st of the previous year to September 30th of this year.

With that date recently passing, The Academy has confirmed 83 countries that have submitted a selection and today we are going to take a look at them all. Notable inclusions are Palme D’Or winner Winter Sleep, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Ida, Xavier Dolan‘s Mommy, the DardennesTwo Days, One Night, and Ruben Östlund‘s Force Majeure, while Mauritania submitted for the first time ever with Abderrahmane Sissako‘s Timbuktu, and Panama and Kosovo also with Invasion and Three Windows and a Hanging, respectively.

As these get initially pared down by The Academy, and then subsequent finalist lists, all the way to five nominees in January, followed by the winner during the ceremonies, check back for coverage. In the meantime, see trailers for (almost) all 83 films below, and reviews where available.

Afghanistan – A Few Cubic Meters of Love - Jamshid Mahmoudi

Argentina – Wild TalesDamián Szifrón

Austria – The Dark ValleyAndreas Prochaska

Australia – Charlie’s CountryRolf de Heer

Azerbaijan – NabatElchin Musaoglu

Bangladesh – Glow of the FireflyKhalid Mahmud Mithu

Belgium - Two Days, One Night - Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Bolivia – Olvidados - Carlos Bolado

Bosnia and Herzegovina – With MomFaruk Lončarević

No trailer available.

Brazil – The Way He Looks - Daniel Ribeiro

Bulgaria – Bulgarian Rhapsody - Ivan Nitchev

Canada - Mommy - Xavier Dolan

Continue >>

‘Gone Girl’ and David Fincher’s Manipulation of Trust

Written by Forrest Cardamenis, October 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm 

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Note: Spoilers for Gone Girl and David Fincher‘s other films below.

“The sooner you look like yourself, the sooner you will feel like yourself.” People tell a lot of lies in Gone Girl, but perhaps none as big as that one. This is a film in which appearances and images of everything, from the big picture to the tiniest details, cannot be trusted.

In a way, then, Gone Girl is the film that Fincher has been working toward his entire career, placing the distrust of appearances of his early films and the shortcomings of images in his later work together in a way that projects its distrust directly onto the viewer. The Game puts a banker (Michael Douglas) into a staged alternate-reality that culminates in his inability to differentiate it from reality. Fight Club’s protagonists assert that society’s consumerist obsessions are turning us into commodities, only to reveal that the nameless narrator is himself not who we thought.

Fincher’s more recent and sophisticated films tend to ask these questions in less abstract and grandiose ways, looking at information and images rather than large statements about consumerism. Zodiac is a fight between analog and digital and ultimately the primacy of the former and the versatility of the latter. Characters are clumsily stuck trying to solve a killer’s riddles and Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) sees his efforts slowed as he digs through archives of information and scammers to meet contacts in person. All this is suggested by Fincher’s choice to shoot the film digitally—the blood, the city, and the information that creates its own plane on the image all show that digital technology is just as “real” and ultimately more versatile than clumsy analog partners. The Social Network approached it from the other direction, starting with faith in the digital image but gradually coming to doubt it. At the start, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) loses (or rather throws away) Erica and is not tagged for Harvard’s prestigious final clubs. His reaction is to create Facebook, a digital projection of oneself at their greatest—the photos of parties, a clear marker of relationships, quadruple digit friend counts—so as to hide their own inadequacies. It ultimately fails Mark—even his digital self is lonely without Erica, and has he sits refreshing the page as the film draws to a close, the takeaway is that there are some lies that we can’t even get away with on the digital landscape.

gone_girl_4Gone Girl goes furthest: whether it is one’s physical appearance, their demeanor, or their presentation on the news, one cannot trust what they see. Moreover, the film itself continues to reveal its own deceptions, and the cinematic image itself becomes fallible, subject to issues of timing and context that obscure the truth. Fincher’s films have struggled with how our reality — be it self-imposed or not — shapes us, and in Gone Girl they shape not just the characters, but the viewers. We unwittingly become just like the masses in the film rushing to cable news day after day. Like them, we don’t even know how crooked our vision is.

The general synopsis is itself a case of deceptive appearances. Nick (Ben Affleck) returns home to find that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared. The case is initially declared a kidnapping because of the scene at Nick and Amy’s home: an overturned table and broken glass indicates a struggle, and as the lead detective will tell Nick later, no blood and no body means kidnapping—look at people outside the house—but blood and no body means murder—look at people inside the house. Save for a small bit of blood up high, there is not anything to suggest murder, or so it appears. A closer look with technology reveals something the human eye cannot—a great deal of blood all over the kitchen floor. With that, they start to look inside the home, and Nick is accused of murder.

So which is it, victim or murderer? Nick is never quite who he seems to be. We are introduced to him by his concern for Amy and, in flashbacks, his self-aware smooth-talking that endears him to his future wife. Once Amy is missing, however, we see how oblivious, if not uncaring, Nick is. He doesn’t know Amy’s blood type, what she does all day, or who her friends are, and flashbacks also tell us that he was irresponsible and a bit selfish in the past. Before we know it, new information tells us that he’s an abuser and a cheat, and then he even looks to be a murderer. Key word: Looks. Nick is only a murderer until we learn that Amy is alive. Nick is now a victim not in the sense that it is his wife that is missing — he didn’t care much for her anyway — but in the sense that he is not the man TV keeps accusing him of being.

With Nick constantly being cast in a new role in this tabloid drama — and what is cable news if not a tabloid? — we slowly learn that Amy is just the opposite. Nick is powerless: he does not know where Amy is or how to prove his innocence and the media controls his image. Amy, conversely, can manipulate her own appearance. When we first hear about her when Nick is being questioned, she sounds like a stereotypically subservient housewife. He goes to work while she stays at home reading. She uses this illusion to cook up her plot, one which will see her vanish and him executed for her murder. When we see where she disappears to, she dons a disguise, reinventing herself as Nancy, who has walked away from her cheating boyfriend in New Orleans. She plays the vamp with Desi (Neil Patrick Harris), and returns to Nick as the traumatized victim. Throughout the film, then, Amy puts on appearance after appearance, shaping the way people—particularly men, as the one person to see through it is a woman—perceive her and then undercutting their assumptions when necessary. In doing so, she casts Nick in various roles: her initial plot makes him look like a murderer while her reappearance makes him look like a grateful and dedicated husband. Neither, of course, is true.

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So while the plot is itself about how misleading appearances are, the film manifests this idea in a broader distrust of images in general, the cinematic image included. With it revealed to the audience that Nick was unhappy with Amy and much prefers time with his mistress that he may soon be allowed, he puts on a “Find Amy” pin. Against Nick’s wishes, a woman helping out with the search for Amy takes a selfie with him, and that photo ends up on cable news. How could a man whose wife just went missing be posing for photos with other women? Maybe he killed her. So the rumblings begin.

Who did he kill, though? Amy is famous not for being a missing person, but because she is the inspiration for and daughter of the author of the best-selling “Amazing Amy” book series. But “Amazing Amy” had a very different life than Amy did. Amazing Amy played the cello, was a varsity volleyball player, and had a dog to “make her more relatable.” Amy quit cello at age 10, did not make the volleyball team, and didn’t have a dog, or even a particularly happy childhood. As Nick remarks, her parents were not the best. Yet it is this false image of Amy that is sold to the media and the public and that turns her disappearance into such a sensation. We have to ask: Is the public upset about the disappearance of a person—Amy herself—or about the disappearance of “Amazing Amy,” her imageable counterpart?

The cameras, too, are not to be trusted. Nick reflexively, and only momentarily, smiles while posing next to a poster soliciting information on Amy’s disappearance. Amy finds herself in a house with plenty of closed-circuit cameras, and she performs for one in a rather shocking manner for the sake of her story. They lie, and nobody realizes. Mediated images are already suspiciously shy of reality.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on TV, which tells not a single truth throughout the film. We know that Nick did not consent to that photo. When public opinion turns against him, they presume him guilty and her dead—both false. Nick wins Amy back with a spectacular — and spectacularly performative — television interview. It goes without saying that words cannot be trusted — everyone tells lies to save their own skin—but images are even more dangerous.

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That danger extends far beyond the world of the film, manifesting itself, thanks to the film’s ambitious structure, in manipulation of the viewer. It is here worth noting that nearly all of Fincher’s previous films have progressed chronologically, with The Social Network being the sole exception, but even it merely splits into two timelines and tells both chronologically. Thanks to Gillian Flynn’s script, adapted from her own novel, Gone Girl parallel edits and loops back on itself. By interweaving flashbacks narrated by Amy from her diary with the first few days of the disappearance, the unreliability of the cinematic image becomes part and parcel to Gone Girl. As it so often does, the voice-over conjures images. We see Nick and Amy’s meeting, their happiest days, their struggle through tough times, and his descent into abuse. While these images start true, at a certain point, unbeknownst to us, become false, revealing themselves to be so only after our view of Nick has been colored. While we may not go so far as to say that he’s a killer, we do believe that he was abusive. The reveal transforms Amy, in story terms, from victim to antagonist. But, because the film is inflected with Amy’ subjectivity throughout in the form of voice-over, our sympathies stay with her. After a few days of watching Nick — who does not have a voiceover — we learn the truth when it jumps back to “One day gone” from Amy’s point of view: If this had been reversed we would have a radically different film on our hands.

Gone Girl is not strictly about marriage, as it may appear on the surface, or even about the way an anxious public feels the need to cast heroes and villains in more complex stories, but about how the manner, the order, the vehicles, and the timing at which information is given to us affects our processing of it. The damning flashbacks of Nick coincide with amped up suspicion and the discovery that he has been cheating on Amy — put them a little earlier or a little later, and we probably would not have believed them, but where they are, they convince us, and they heighten our alliance to Amy as a result. Most impressive is a similar effect in the scene with one of Amy’s exes in New York. Early in the film, Amy’s parents say that she attracts stalkers and admirers, and they point to two exes — Neil Patrick Harris’ Desi, and another, Tommy (Scott McNairy), who has little screen time. Nick goes to meet Tommy when our sympathy for Amy is at its lowest, so when he says that he did not rape her, we believe him. Looking at this event holistically, in context of all the lies and deceptions in the film, do we really want to take his word for it? It takes us nearly 150 minutes of watching and hearing about Amy and Nick to decide who they are. How are we going to take someone at their word after 5 minutes? Certainly the film’s self-conscious structure, one that begins following two separate timelines but allows one to dissolve into fiction, then loops back and cross cuts once again, all while presenting one character’s story subjectively and the other objectively, is fully aware of the importance of how timing colors perception, and the structure and the story itself tell us to consider timing and context and to take what we see with a grain of salt. If we began with Amy and saw her accrue sympathy while Nick was painted as the bad guy, we would certainly not believe Tommy.

Fincher’s films have long been “pulpy” and “trashy,” from the grotesque serial-killings of Seven to the brutal nihilism and sexual violence of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and as Fincher’s career progressed he has gotten better at presenting his own concerns in spite of this material—in short, he’s increasingly exemplified Andrew Sarris’ brand of “auteur theory.” With Gone Girl, Fincher works not in spite of but through the pulp: its mysteries and twists allow Fincher to take his concerns further than ever. One could argue that makes Gone Girl more Flynn than Fincher, but the self-referential nature the film takes on also allows it to pose much bigger questions than its predecessors.

New to Streaming: ‘Killing Them Softly,’ ‘Los Angeles Plays Itself,’ ‘ABCs of Death,’ Woody Allen, ‘Paths of Glory,’ & More

Written by TFS Staff, October 3, 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’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, and shoot over suggestions to @TheFilmStage

The ABCs of Death 2 (Various)

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Featuring segments from Rodney Asher (coming off his doc on The Shining, Room 237), animator Bill Plympton, Vincenzo Natali (Splice, Cube), The Last Winter director Larry Fessenden, Cheap Thrills E.L. Katz, and more, The ABCs of Death 2 has returned to kick off the month of Halloween. To coincide with the release, we’ve been provided with an exclusive still from On the Job’s Erik Matti‘s short, I is for Invincible, which can be seen above. Check back for our interview with the director and full review in the coming weeks. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Harmontown (Neil Berkeley)

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We all know our own flaws, but change can be so devastatingly difficult to accomplish that it can haunt some people. Whether it is alcoholism or other kinds of abuse, or even the mundane like picking your nose or biting your fingernails, we all struggle to turn that leaf. Dan Harmon, creator — and some say, genius — behind Community and numerous other programs (a handful of which never even made it on air) is the focus of a new documentary called Harmontown. – Bill G. (full review)

Where to Stream: AmazoniTunes, Google

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt)

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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: iTunes, Google

Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)

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Opening and ending with speeches about these United States and the sameness of our promised land, writer/director Andrew Dominik paints his America with blood and cash and well-worn leather. Brad Pitt stars as Jackie Cogan, a fixer of sorts brought in to handle a problem with a particular underground gambling racket. A well-liked man named Markie (Ray Liotta) runs the game, which is held up by a couple of rundown thugs (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn). Unfortunately, this is the second time the game’s been taken, so the boys upstairs want answers. A man Cogan calls “counselor” (Richard Jenkins) serves as the middle man, aggravated at those he serves and how long it takes to get “the okay” for any kind of spending. It is a recession after all, and everyone’s operating at “recessions prices.” - Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Love and Death (Woody Allen)

The most flat-out hilarious film Woody Allen has ever made, Love and Death not only deals with these eponymous themes in an expert fashion, but does much more: after a string of screwball absurdist comedies — but before he went on to make Annie Hall — he capped things off with this must-see examination of philosophical pondering and Russian literary parody. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen)

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Once thought to never see a release due to rights issues, the fine folks at Cinema Guild picked up Thom Andersen‘s 2003 documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself for a release and ahead of a Blu-ray debut, it’s now available on VOD. Tracking the history of Los Angeles entirely through films, the nearly three-hour documentary has been an underground gem in the last decade, but will hopefully rise in stature in the coming years due to the release. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: iTunes

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