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Fall 2015 Preview: Our 20 Most-Anticipated Films

Written by TFS Staff, August 26, 2015 at 2:30 pm 

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In continuing our fall preview, after highlighting the 30 best films we’ve already seen, today brings a look at the unknown. We’ve narrowed down 20 films with confirmed release dates that are coming over the next four months and have us intrigued. While some won’t show up until late December, a good amount will first premiere over the next few weeks at various film festivals, so check back for our reviews.

To note, we’re still curious about a number of titles that didn’t make the cut. Pan, Creed, The Night Before, In the Heart of the Sea and Krampus deserve honorable mentions. Black Mass, Everest, Joy and The Danish Girl show promise, but as their respective directors failed to impress with previous features, we’re a bit wary. Then there’s a handful of dramas (Truth, Stonewall, Truth, Burnt, The 33, Snowden, The Secret in Their Eyes, I Saw the Light, About Ray, Freeheld) that we’re not sure are capable of rising above the standard Oscar bait. Lastly, there’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which everyone will be buying a ticket for regardless, so we thought it would be best not to waste the space.

Check out our 20 most-anticipated films below and return soon for our final preview: the festival premieres we’re most looking forward to.

20. Our Brand is Crisis (David Gordon Green; October 30th)

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Based on Rachel Boynton‘s documentary chronicling the involvement of James Carville‘s political consulting firm in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election, Our Brand Is Crisis marks a major step for director David Gordon Green, who’s had a string of eclectic choices throughout his career. It’s produced by George Clooney and starring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton, and while we’re still unsure if this will be standard awards fare or something far more dynamic, consider us intrigued. All will be revealed soon, as it heads to TIFF for a premiere ahead of an October release. – Jordan R.

19. Bone Tomahawk (S. Craig Zahler; October 23rd)

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With Furious 7 and a top pick on this list (spoilers!), it’s shaping up to be the year of Kurt Russell. His next project is looking to fly a bit more under the radar. Bone Tomahawk, which sees the actor return to the western, follows a quartet of men who set out to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers. Having come from the relatively unproven writer-director Craig Zahler, this has the makings of one of the fall’s sleeper surprises. Set to premiere at Fantastic Fest, it also stars Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, and Lili Simmons. – Jordan R.

18. By The Sea (Angelina Jolie; November 13th)

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Angelina Jolie will assuredly get personal with her latest film, By the Sea, which she co-stars in and co-produces with her husband Brad Pitt, and is based on her original script. Curiously, this project emerged in May 2014 while her WWII drama Unbroken was getting primed to eventually bore audiences the following winter. But, unlike her two previous films, this one has the pull of featuring Jolie directing herself in a story about a couple trying to save their marriage, with the potential for a very intimate portrayal of enduring pain — something she expressed in previous projects, but without immediacy. Not for nothing, the film is also shot with mostly natural light by cinematographer Christian Berger (a regular Haneke collaborator) in the nation of Malta. – Nick A.

17. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy; November 6th)

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Less than a year after the release of his fairy tale nightmare The Cobbler, writer-director Tom McCarthy returns to the silver screen with a much more promising drama, this concerning The Boston Globe’s investigation into sex abuse within the city’s archdiocese. Along with McCarthy’s name (whose failure with The Cobbler was bafflingly uncharacteristic), it boasts the likes of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci. Distributor Open Road’s October opening is very curious for awards-favorable attributes, especially with this time of year’s particular love for a gripping true story. – Nick A.

16. The Walk (Robert Zemeckis; September 30th)

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2012’s uniformly excellent Flight — well, “uniformly excellent” if we’re discounting music cues — showed that Robert Zemeckis hasn’t lost an ounce of his talent; if anything, the director seemed awakened from years and years in the motion-capture realm, more alive to the possibilities of the camera than ever before. The Walk may very well prove to be a special-effects showcase first and narrative / character piece second — his long history of toying with new tools is one thing; the IMAX 3D presentation confirms it’s being sold on this angle — and, boy, does Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent raise some questions, but a formally muscular heist movie that climaxes with high-wire work? This is exactly what the Oscar-season rush could use. Nick N.

15. Trumbo (Jay Roach; November 6th)

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Dalton Trumbo is a fascinating Hollywood fixture whose significance was almost lost in Hollywood history during the Red Scare, a victim of McCarthyism at its most ferocious and indignant. Director Jay Roach (HBO’s Recount, Game Change, and even The Campaign) throws his political weight behind this biopic about the writer, with a post-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston getting a rare time at the center of a story (where he probably won’t scream a quarter as much as he did in Argo and Godzilla). The film will also feature the likes of Elle Fanning, Alan Tudyk, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Louis C.K., and Michael Stuhlbarg. – Nick A.

14. The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn; November 25th)

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This summer’s Inside Out proved that Pixar haven’t lost their magic touch. The question remains, however, if they can extend that level of quality to their upcoming projects. Before an onslaught of sequels, we’ll get another original work with The Good Dinosaur. Following an Apatosaurus named Arlo and his family in an alternate world, one where they were never destroyed by asteroids, it has a nearly wordless trailer hinting at a potentially intriguing execution that will hopefully carry over to the full film. – Jordan R.

13. Suffragette (Sarah Gavron; October 23rd)

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While the deeply enjoyable Far From the Madding Crowd isn’t likely to put Carey Mulligan in any awards contention, we imagine things will prove different with the forthcoming Suffragette. Directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) and given a prime October release date from Focus Features, the first preview sold a vital, emotionally rich drama. Mulligan leads, playing a foot soldier of the early feminist movement who quickly turns to violence to solve the issue, and its promising cast also includes Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Meryl Streep, Romola Garai, Brendan Gleeson, and Ben Whishaw. – Jordan R.

12. Spectre (Sam Mendes; November 6th)

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Sam Mendes, whose Oscar-friendly work I’ve never much taken to (save the oddball Jarhead), found a perfect outlet in Skyfall, which allowed him to foreground a skill for directing actors against a strongly conceived and, on the part of Roger Deakins, immaculately lensed spy tale. Trailers and the like give the impression that Spectre, its follow-up, follows closely behind in terms of scope and mood. Even if it wasn’t following up one of the franchise’s best entries, another Bond film that allows Daniel Craig to explore this character — which he’s already done as well as anyone who’s stepped into 007’s shoes — while cavorting around the globe, photographed by Hoyte van Hoytema, terrorized by Christoph Waltz, and seduced by Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux (oh, my!) on a secret mission is worth paying attention to. – Nick N.

11. Room (Lenny Abrahamson; October 16th)

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After taking on the creative process with the Michael Fassbender-led Frank, director Lenny Abrahamson will head down a darker turn. Based on the best-selling novel by Emma Donoghue, Room stars Brie Larson as a woman held captive with her child, inspired by the disturbing true story of Elisabeth Fritzl, an Austrian woman who finally escaped 24 years of captivity in 2008. Set for an October release from A24, following a TIFF debut, its first trailer sells quite the emotional-looking drama — hopefully with another fantastic leading performance from Larson, who greatly impressed in Short Term 12 just a few years back. – Jordan R.

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Fall 2015 Preview: The 30 Best Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by TFS Staff, August 25, 2015 at 11:30 am 

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Now that the summer is cooling down, we’re entering perhaps the best time of year for cinephiles, with a variety of festivals — some of which will hold premieres of our most-anticipated 2015 features — gearing up. As we do each year, after highlighting the best films offered thus far, we’ve set out to provide a comprehensive preview of the fall titles that should be on your radar, and we’ll first take a look at selections whose quality we can attest to. Ranging from a handful of premieres last from fall to acclaimed debuts at Sundance, Cannes, and more, we’ve rounded up 30 titles that will arrive from September to December (in the U.S.) that are all well worth seeking out.

As a note, these (including The Cut) didn’t make the cut, but you can see our reviews at the links: A Walk in the Woods (Sept. 2nd), Coming Home (Sept. 9th), A Brilliant Young Mind (Sept. 11th), The Fool (Sept. 16th), The Cut (Sept. 18th), Racing Extinction (Sept. 18th),  The Green Inferno (Sept. 25th), Knock Knock (Oct. 9th), Meadowland (Oct. 16th), I Smile Back (Oct. 23rd), Love (Oct. 30th), Very Semi-Serious (Nov. 20th), and Youth (Dec. 4th).

There’s also bound to be more releases revealed in the coming months (45 YearsDheepan, and Dark Horse are some of the must-see potential late-year releases), but we stuck only to ones with release dates we could confirm. Check out the 25 below and return in the coming days for the rest of our previews, including our most-anticipated films and the festival premieres we’re most looking forward to.

Time Out of Mind (Oren Moverman; September 9th)

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Finding a link between the shared title of Oren Moverman‘s third feature film, Time Out of Mind, and Bob Dylan’s 1997 album took a little effort. Moverman co-wrote the script for Todd Haynes’ fantastic Dylan saga I’m Not There, and perhaps it was here that the title resonated and, to the writer-director’s mind, could be grafted onto his latest, Richard Gere-led drama. – Zade C. (full review)

Welcome to Leith (Christopher K. Walker and Michael Beach Nichols; September 9th)

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In what could also be described as a horror film, Welcome to Leith is a truly terrifying portrait of a small town of 24 residents that one day receives an unwelcome neighbor: a white supremacist interested in moving his people in to create their own Aryan hamlet. Both Craig Cobb and associate Kynan Dutton, as well as long-time town residents — including mayor Ryan Schock — provide access to filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, who patiently wait for the saga to play out. – John F. (full review)

Goodnight Mommy (Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz; Sept. 11th)

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As its moniker suggests, one never quite knows what to expect when it comes to secret screenings during Fantastic Fest. At times they can be highly-anticipated titles that blow the doors off the venue or they can present films that had little-to-no demand that simply rock. This year was most certainly the latter, as Goodnight Mommy (or Ich Seh Ich Seh) screened, a film I’m thoroughly convinced will be divisive and also one that I imagine will be highly rewatchable. There’s little doubt about the insanity within this chilling Austrian thriller. While the more vague the better, it is a cruel, twisting narrative that too obviously telegraphs some aspects but also keeps a handful of the proceedings mysterious and is all the better for it. – Bill G. (full review)

Respire (Mélanie Laurent; September 11th)

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French actress Mélanie Laurent’s drama Respire (Breathe) is not just the most impressive film so far this year directed by an actor. It also ranks among the most astute recent studies of the emotional minefield that is adolescence. The story of the friendship between two teenage girls — the quiet, thoughtful Charlie and impulsive, outgoing Sarah — is grounded in realism. While Breathe takes a turn toward melodrama in its final moments, even this shift is believable, and feels utterly appropriate. It has not garnered the attention of modern French classic Blue is the Warmest Color, but Breathe is nearly as strong a film, and certainly as memorable. The similarly-themed pictures would, in fact, make a fine double-bill of trois coleurs cinema exploring the highs and lows of teenage wildlife. That’s high praise, but Laurent deserves it. Long one of our most uniquely talented and expressive performers, with Breathe she shows that Mélanie Laurent the filmmaker is capable of the same subtlety Mélanie Laurent the actor has displayed in films like Inglourious Bastards and Beginners. With stars Joséphine Japy (Charlie) and Lou de Laâge (Sarah), Laurent has brought to life two wonderfully realized, startlingly flawed characters on the cusp of adulthood. – Christopher S.

Sleeping with Other People (Leslye Headland; September 11th)

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Every year it seems we sound the death knell of the romantic comedy. They often feel too “big” for a sometimes particular indie scene, and studios aren’t making them anymore in a market built for an international audience not quite as comfortable with (mostly) privileged white people having introspective conversations about what’s in their heart and what not. So let it be said, that the romantic comedy has re-emerged alive and well, thanks in no large part to writer/director Leslye Headland and her film Sleeping with Other People, starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie. Working within sub-genre expectations with a sure hand and a bit of a sardonic streak, Headland finds fresh ground to tread in familiar territory, not-so-subtly updating When Harry Met Sally… for a generation a tad more comfortable with oral sex and obsessed with their iPhones. – Dan M. (full review)

Peace Officer (Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber; September 16th)

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Instead of focusing on the largest hot-button issue now, race in relation to policing, directors Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson take a different tact. What truly separates Peace Officer from the average documentary is that it not only takes on a compelling subject matter, but it uses William “Dub” Lawrence as the fascinating linchpin of the entire film. Dub becomes the level-headed investigator for both the police and the victims. Considering it was Dub that approached directors Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson it isn’t surprising they decided to use him as the compelling centerpiece. Lawrence’s history is particularly fascinating. In 1974, he became Sheriff of Davis County, Utah and served the public for years to come. Just a few years later we formed the county’s SWAT unit that would decades later kill his own son-in-law. – John F. (full review)

Sicario (Denis Villeneuve; September 18th)

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With each film, Denis Villeneuve proves his talent for crafting extremely effective visceral spectacles, ensnaring the viewer through expert engineering of mood and action. Yet, with each film, he undermines his achievement by attempting to aggrandize his narratives with weighty undercurrents that are, in fact, desperately vacuous. While Sicario is no exception, unlike the insufferably pretentious Enemy, it delivers a constant, exhilarating stream of elaborate and exquisitely photographed thrills that ends up largely compensating for the would-be profundity. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Songs From the North (Soon-Mi Yoo; September 18th)

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“Dictatorships are banal” might be the main thesis of Songs from the North, a curious essay film from Soon-Mi Yoo (who contributed a segment to Far from Afghanistan). The cultural vision of North Korea is certainly one that often feels limited here in the United States: CNN specials about horrors under the reign of their three Kims (Il-sung, Jong-il, and Jong-un), oddball visits by Americans like Dennis Rodman, and, now, a standard enemy in films like Red Dawn and Team America: World Police. (This is to say nothing of an especially odd thread running through David Cronenberg’s debut novel, Consumed.) In that regard, Yoo’s film is a necessary correction of how we should view or think about what life is really like in North Korea, even if the work feels somewhat limited by its own necessity. – Peter L. (full review)

The Reflektor Tapes (Kahlil Joseph; September 24th)

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After earning the top honor at the Grammys, Arcade Fire delivered another epic album with the two-part Reflektor and with the release brought a worldwide tour. There to capture it all was the Sundance-winning Kahlil Joseph and the result is the feature-length documentary The Reflektor Tapes. Set to screen across the globe on September 23rd after a TIFF premiere, I got an early look at the film, and while full reviews are under embargo until the official debut, I can tell you it’s a deeply intimate look at the process of creation and touring — one that should please any fan of the band. – Jordan R.

99 Homes (Ramin Bahrani; September 25th)

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Ramin Bahrani made a name for himself with three independent films over the last decade, focusing on humanity’s daily struggles, reinvented foreign lives in America, and a fundamental sense of decency. With 2012’s At Any Price and this year’s 99 Homes, Bahrani has twice returned to the festival that launched his career, presenting the evolution of those themes. Not coincidentally, the worst years of the financial crisis stand between his acclaimed Goodbye, Solo and the tepidly received 2012 picture, and they must have had a profound effect on the direction of Bahrani’s filmography. With a broader canvas, flashier casts, and a more overt penchant for melodrama, At Any Price and 99 Homes single out agriculture and real estate as the catalysts of contemporary American sufferings. – Tommaso T. (full review)

Finders Keepers (Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel; September 25th)

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Based on its premise, one might initially peg Finders Keepers as one of the strangest documentaries of the year, but it soon reveals itself to be one of the most emotional and uplifting. The story centers on John Wood, an amputee who is attempting to reclaim ownership of his mummified leg from Shannon Whisnant, who believes its his property and has dreams of being a reality TV star. Directors Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel root themselves into the community as they explore the perils of addiction and the bond of family, all while tracking this peculiar custody battle of sorts . – Jordan R.

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Mapping Out the Sexual Dynamics of Xavier Dolan’s ‘Tom at the Farm’

Written by Armen Karaoghlanian and Mehruss Jon Ahi, August 13, 2015 at 12:30 pm 

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Interiors is an online film and architecture publication, published by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. For more information, visit their website and official store.

Xavier Dolan’s film, Tom at the Farm, like Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, depends largely on its setting of Québec’s rural panorama. The film starts by taking its audience out of the city and into the country, as we follow – quite literally – Tom (Dolan) into the farm via an aerial shot of his car.

This opening scene of the Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu is 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Montreal, Tom’s place of residence and employment. This lengthy drive immediately emphasizes the distance of the farm from the outside world.

The difference, however, between film and play is how individual spaces are represented; rather than restricting the space like the source material, which consists only of a kitchen, a barn, and a bedroom, Dolan opens his film up. In the press book, he states a desire for removing Tom from the farm a handful of times. These include scenes at the funeral, his visit to the doctor, and a trip to a bar. In these instances, we see Tom interacting with characters other than Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) and his mother Agathe (Lise Roy); more importantly, we see him continuously coming back to the farm, further suggesting his consenting captivity.

In Dolan’s first three feature films, his characters’ sexuality always played a key focal point of the narrative. In I Killed My Mother, he plays the role of a conflicted homosexual teenager; in Heartbeats, he plays one-third of a love dual who becomes infatuated with the same man; in Laurence Anyways (which does not feature the writer-director in an acting capacity), his focus shifted onto a larger scale, focusing on the epic love story of a man who decides he wants to live the rest of his life as a woman. Tom at the Farm, which is a change of direction for the filmmaker in terms of both style and content, is more subtle in its exploration of such themes. The character of Tom isn’t explicitly stated as a homosexual; even his reason for attending Guillaume’s funeral is slowly unraveled.

Tom at the Farm is a film that deals with oppression and deception. Francis, on the surface, comes off as Guillaume’s homophobic, domineering brother who wishes to run Tom out of their home. Dolan, however, has said that they are both “wounded” individuals. Francis has known nothing his whole life, save for their family farm, and, since becoming head of the household after the death of his father, has been burdened with the responsibility of looking after his family. Francis, in essence, has been and always will be alone. Tom experiences a different kind of loneliness: the sort that derives from living in the city.

This film carefully examines the relationship between Tom and Francis, with each finding something in one another. Tom remarks that Francis reminds him of his lover, citing similarities in their voices, whereas Francis — who we learn is more or less sexually deprived — asserts physical dominance over the weaker Tom. This feeling of claustrophobia is amplified with a shift in aspect ratios, which happens twice over the course of the film.

Tom at the Farm borders on the perverse as a clear sexual tension rests between Tom and Francis. In his arrival at the farm, Tom enters an abusive relationship. Francis psychologically manipulates Tom, showing signs of Stockholm Syndrome as he starts sympathizing with his captor. Tom even starts repeating Francis’ words, and later, when Francis chokes him, Tom pushes him for more.

Their sexual dynamic coheres in a beautifully unexpected scene in which Tom and Francis dance together in a barn. In our floor plan, we diagrammed their dance, highlighting three key moments, including its beginning (1), Francis dipping Tom (2), and Francis shutting the music off when his mother walks in (3).

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Francis’ advances become more direct over the course of the film. In a scene where Tom wakes up, he finds that Francis has pushed their beds together, suggesting the intimacy he desires. Francis also even states, “I know you like me,” urging Tom not to leave the farm. Francis very clearly sees Tom as a submissive partner — whether Francis had a similar type of relationship with his younger brother is never addressed or revealed.

Tom at the Farm is also a film that is very much concerned with exploring a continuous cycle of abuse. Sarah’s arrival highlights how brainwashed Tom has become. Tom, who desperately wanted to escape the farm earlier in the film, now considers Francis part of his family and even threatens Sarah when she wants to leave. It’s through her character that we see how manipulative Francis has been. It’s not until much later, when Tom hears the brutal story about Francis in the bar, that he finally awakens, which encourages his escape — but not before Sarah becomes Francis’ new victim.

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Tom at the Farm hits theaters and VOD on August 14.

Posterized August 2015: ‘Cop Car,’ ‘Queen of Earth,’ ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, August 5, 2015 at 1:22 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.


Is it just me or has 2015 really shown an increase in the disparity between Hollywood studio-driven marketing and that of the independents? There’s no one to blame but the producers because the same design firms are working on both. The artists obviously have it in them to wow us, so someone must be tying their hands for the generic mediocrity we’re supplied in lieu of unbridled creativity.

I’m forced yet again to place the bigger releases here as afterthoughts of uninspired theatrics [Fantastic Four (August 7)], god-awful color schemes that assault the senses with transparent floating faces [The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (August 14)], the drably obvious [Straight Outta Compton (August 14)], and could-have-been-betters [American Ultra (August 21)].

Well, I do actually like the latter example’s graffiti work. It’s the character sheets of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart smoking up that put me to sleep.


That reminds me of the time …

That’s not to say there isn’t a wide release worth mentioning, even if it’s for playing copycat like Sinister 2 (August 21). I might be cheating by lamenting how a sequel’s poster could dare look exactly like its predecessor, but here we are regardless.

My issue is the new design being so exacting to BLT Communications, LLC‘s original that it comes off as smug. Let’s put two kids with hands on the wall spreading the ink of their victimizer to match the dual sketches of hanging bodies. It’s the same font, same menacing sneer, and possibly the same arm/hand dressed in a new sleeve.

At least that one equals the creepy factor of its mirror rather than the second entry, which loses its impact by zooming out and adding superfluity. What I loved about this giant scrawl is that we’re enveloped by it as soon as our eyes meet his. The remix not only lightens his visage and cleans up the excess seeping away from the contours of his face, but it adds those two children again. Why have us watch them look at him instead of looking at him ourselves? Why would you remove that visceral connection?

Dark Places (limited August 7) is different—as are the next two—in that it merely resembles another poster rather than purposefully seeking to copy it. I like the piece and its deep blackness swallowing Charlize Theron into its center, consuming her like the memories Libby Day has endured for more than two decades. The red title pops nicely and its sharp sans font complements the chiaroscuro flesh above, but I’m not sure what’s happening with the random line extensions. I wonder if there was a reason for them or simply a desire to not feel static. It’s distracting.

The first time I saw the sheet my mind drifted to Crew Creative Advertising‘s Birth, falsely remembering it as Nicole Kidman in matching fetal position. It’s not, but the color scheme and stark shadows are virtually identical. My memory was right to conjure it, just wrong as far as why.

Where Diary of a Teenage Girl (limited August 7) looks like BLT’s Perks of Being a Wallflower is the result of their subject matter and clichéd design sensibilities. There’s something inherently attractive about the use of expansive negative space—more than is possible in the former’s instance since their living room wall would probably end where the title is—to dwarf the focal point below. The wallpaper’s uniformity begs for us to find something different and unique to spy. And the same goes with Perks‘ bricks. We must look at the actors because there’s little else as compelling.

Despite being an effective, albeit over-used, decision, I prefer the more personal touch of Diary‘s hand-drawn alternate. It puts us into the titular girl’s mind/page to witness her doodles and learn something about her beyond the blank stare of boredom shared with those on either side. There’s a whimsy to offset the hipster awkwardness and I adore the thickly inked lines highlighting the photography to make it almost seem three-dimensional.

The mundane-ness of She’s Funny That Way (limited August 14) is so ubiquitous that I cannot pull the one poster I know it lifts from out of my memory. I thought it was a couple different films only to discover they were different variations on the blocked actor portraits with black and gold hues. Finally I settled upon Gangs of New York and the logo from Frasier as the most relevant comparisons of the many I’m sure you will start listing off right now. The colors and motifs are the types of buzzworthy attributes obnoxious clients ask for because they can’t comprehend they want them because they’re everywhere else.

I don’t love the crudely minimalized illustration of its French sheet under the name Broadway Therapy, but it at least grabs our attention with a style not found in a design program’s stable of do-it-yourself templates. There’s life to its imperfect line-work and its font’s incongruous middle points ascending into the air. Who knew you could recognize faces when they weren’t closely cropped stills looking in all directions but at each other or us?


Standing on the edge

Moving on towards the indie sheets unafraid to experiment and provide something fresh comes Bravo Design Inc.‘s The Mend (limited August 28). What’s great about this poster is its deceptive humor. At first you see the delicately illustrated heart with tree roots that resemble a pair of human lungs—similar to the pretty Deep South ad from a couple years back.

Only afterwards do you notice the two figures at top urinating into its open veins. The rough charcoal intricacies juxtaposed with such a crass act can’t help but spark something in you. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to forget. Just don’t ask me about the helicopters because they are so out of place I’m already unable to stop my eye from landing on them before looking away.

Air (limited August 14) is a bit of an anomaly in its decision to use its title as window frames for images because it actually takes advantage of the space each letter provides. Usually the entire word would expose a single image for no other reason than it being an interesting way to give us text and photo simultaneously. With just three letters to Air, however, each can become its own field.

The designers take advantage by utilizing their individual spaces. They play on the angle of the “A” with Norman Reedus looking down and the right leg of the “R” with Djimon Hounsou following suit as the thinness of the “I” perfectly contains Sandrine Holt‘s sleeping body. It may not be overly dramatic like the illuminated door of the teaser, but it definitely tells more of a story to stand alone opposite an already existing wealth of high contrast black and white at the multiplexes.

Similarly The Boland Design Company takes special care with Autumn de Wilde‘s photography to let it frame Meru‘s (limited August 14) expanse of natural beauty while also portraying the craziness of what this climber is doing. The crop gives us a sense of scale and space by placing us inside the shot. I want to reach out and grab the cliff face before vertigo sets in and I fall.

My favorite part is a much more minute detail. I absolutely love the tiny corner of the “U” disappearing behind the rock. The artist could have easily shrunk the name to fit the whole thing in the middle, but he/she took the chance to really bring it together as one cohesive whole. It, coupled with the perspective of the wall, sucks us in with legitimate depth.

Special mention in this section goes to Hitman: Agent 47 (August 21) because it’s a major studio (Fox) letting BOND have some fun. Its tease knows exactly what fans of the videogame franchise would find recognizable: its bald headed antihero and his bright red tie. This movie existing proves this fan base is alive and well because the original film couldn’t have made enough money to green light a sequel on its own.

Its graphic nature with its dual use of the larger tie as iconography and sky between two skyscrapers is a definite departure from most work churned out today. Heck, BOND was even forced to deliver a couple photo-centric entries mimicking The Raid‘s third-person shooter aesthetic that’s become an action norm. What those two are truly missing, though, is the attractive “47” insignia of the first. It’s z-axis mirroring is an optical illusion of sorts and a brilliant focal point to subliminally earworm into our brains.

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Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Far From the Madding Crowd,’ ‘Night and the City,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, August 4, 2015 at 1:00 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. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best (or most interesting) films one can take home. Note that if you’re looking to support the site, every purchase you make through the links below helps us and is greatly appreciated.

Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg)

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

Night and the City (Jules Dassin)

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Two-bit hustler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) longs for “a life of ease and plenty.” Trailed by an inglorious history of go-nowhere schemes, he tries to hatch a lucrative plan with a famous wrestler. But there is no easy money in this underworld of shifting alliances, bottomless graft, and pummeled flesh—and Fabian soon learns the horrible price of his ambition. Luminously shot in the streets of London while Hollywood blacklisters back home were closing in on director Jules Dassin, Night and the City, also starring Gene Tierney, is film noir of the first order, and one of Dassin’s crowning achievements. – Criterion.com

Also Arriving This Week

Adult Beginners (review)
A Little Chaos (review)
Child 44
The Dead Lands (review)
Insurgent (review)
Madame Bovary
The Nightmare (review)
True Story (review)
The Salvation (review)
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (review)

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

12 Years a Slave (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Adaptation (Blu-ray) – $7.86

A Most Wanted Man (Blu-ray) – $7.99

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

The American (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Amelie (Blu-ray) – $5.97

Anna Karenina (Blu-ray) – $12.22

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

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $10.99

Black Swan (Blu-ray) – $6.75

Brokeback Mountain (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Brothers Bloom (Blu-ray) – $8.13

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

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.93

Captain Phillips (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Children of Men (Blu-ray) – $8.51

Cloverfield (Blu-ray) – $4.99

Collateral (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Counselor (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Descendants (Blu-ray) – $7.40

Drive (Blu-ray) – $7.77

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $7.02

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.17

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $7.50

The Graduate (Blu-ray) – $8.26

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $9.46

The Guest (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $7.41

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.66

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $8.89

It Follows (Blu-ray) – $12.76

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $8.33

John Wick (Blu-ray) – $11.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $7.88

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

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $7.99

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

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.71

Magic Mike (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Blu-ray) – $6.00

Margaret (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Blu-ray) – $6.74

Michael Clayton (Blu-ray) – $9.67

Mud (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Never Let Me Go (Blu-ray) – $6.53

Nightcrawler (Blu-ray) – $8.99

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

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $7.49

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $5.88

Pariah (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $6.50

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $9.48

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $8.72

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

Seven (Blu-ray) – $6.91

Seven Psychopaths (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $6.14

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) – $9.90

Synecdoche, NY (Blu-ray) – $6.57

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $8.69

The Tree of Life (Blu-ray) – $6.99

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $4.99

True Grit (Blu-ray) – $9.20

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.99

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.99

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

Whiplash (Blu-ray) – $14.99

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

15 Films to See in August

Written by Jordan Raup, August 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm 

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Summer may soon be over, but the final month of the filmgoing season brings some of the finest films of the year thus far. Ranging from directorial debuts to the latest works from much-praised directors to promising animations and biopics, there’s a number of strong options. Aside from new films, we should also note Whit Stillman‘s Metropolitan will be getting theatrically re-released beginning on August 7th and is certainly a must-see. Preceded by matinees, check out our top 15 below and let us know what you’re most looking forward to.

Matinees to See: Cop Car (8/7), Dark Places (8/7), Two Step (8/7), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (8/14), The Boy (8/14), Meru (8/14), People Places Things (8/14), 6 Years (8/18), Grandma (8/21), Learning to Drive (8/21), The Second Mother (8/28), Turbo Kid (8/28), and When Animal Dreams (8/28)

15. Fort Tilden (Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers; Aug. 14th)

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Synopsis: A comedy about Allie and Harper and their needlessly difficult journey to the beach.

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Why You Should See It: Brooklyn-set indie dramedies are often dime a dozen at your local film festival, but every so often one seems to rise above the pack. Such was the case at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival where Fort Tilden premiered, picking up the Grand Jury Prize in its narrative category. Over a year later, Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers‘ debut, which looks to have perceptive wit and a vibrant cast of newcomers, will arrive in theaters.

14. Digging For Fire (Joe Swanberg; Aug. 21st)

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Synopsis: The discovery of a bone and a gun send a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.

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Why You Should See It: Another year, another film (or two) from Joe Swanberg. While that output may hint at diminishing returns, we said in our review, the director “keeps getting better and better. A few years ago, Swanberg seriously stepped up his game with his highest-profile film yet, Drinking Buddies. The filmmaking, structure, and acting is all polished in that film, and the same goes for the writer-director’s latest, Digging for Fire. Co-written by the film’s star Jake Johnson, this marks another step forward in Swanberg’s evolution as a filmmaker.”

13. American Ultra (Nima Nourizadeh; Aug. 21st)

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Synopsis: A stoner – who is in fact a government agent – is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he’s too well-trained and too high for them to handle.

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Why You Should See It: While Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are earning a great deal of praise for their roles in The End of the Tour and Clouds of Sils Maria, respectively, the two recently embarked on an Adventureland reunion that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Coming from Project X director Nima Nourizadeh and Chronicle scribe Max Landis, expectations are high (sorry) for American Ultra, but hopefully it’ll be some late-summer fun.

12. Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton and Richard Goleszowski; Aug. 5th)

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Synopsis: When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for.

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Why You Should See It:  Continuing from their most famous franchise, Aardman Animation’ Shaun the Sheep follows our titular character, first debuting in Wallace and Gromit‘s A Close Shave back in 1995. As he went on to get its own TV show in 2007, after nearly 100 episodes, he’s getting the feature-film treatment. With strong reviews after its U.K. release, it’ll finally arrive in U.S. theaters this month.

11. Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray; August 14th)

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Synopsis: The group NWA emerges from the streets of Compton, California in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes pop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.

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Why You Should See It: While most biopics seem to take the standard by-the-numbers approach of capturing the story of their subject, the N.W.A. drama Straight Outta Compton looks to be doing things quite differently. With cinematography by frequent Darren Aronofsky collaborator Matthew Libatique and direction from F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off, The Italian Job), the early word is fairly strong.

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New to Streaming: ‘The Guest,’ ‘White God,’ ‘About Elly,’ ‘Wet Hot American Summer,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, July 31, 2015 at 12:00 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.

About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)

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A few years before A Separation left its considerable mark on the world-cinema landscape, Asghar Farhadi had another masterpiece under his belt. Why it’s been unavailable in the United States for some six years is a total mystery, but that (courtesy of Cinema Guild) has finally been taken care of — and now, at long last, here is About Elly. For fitting the mold of mystery, hangout movie, social critique, and gender-dynamics drama with equal aplomb, this film is the clearest example of Farhadi’s considerable powers. Its 2009 tag be damned, About Elly is one of the best “new” releases we’ve been given this year. – Nick N.

Where to Stream: iTunes

Dark Places (Gilles Paquet-Brenner)

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With David Fincher‘s take on Gillian Flynn‘s Gone Girl finding success this past fall, an adaptation of the author’s sophomore novel has now arrived. Dark Places, directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner (coming off the indie hit Sarah’s Key), brings together Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christina Hendricks and Drea de Matteo. The story follows Theron as Libby Day, a woman who, at the age of 7, survives the massacre of her family and testifies against her brother as the murderer. Twenty-five years later, a group obsessed with solving notorious crimes confronts her with questions about the horrific event. Ahead of a theatrical release, it’s now available to stream. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Guest (Adam Wingard)

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I could say plenty about the latest collaboration from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. I could explain its fresh, contemporary spin on testosterone-fueled 80s-era action thrillers. I could elaborate on its sexy visuals, its pulsating soundtrack, and its unrelentingly cool style. I could most certainly drool over Dan Stevens‘ transformation into a hot and dangerous super solider. But mostly I just want to say, “Holy shit, this movie!” – Amanda W.

Where to Stream: Netflix

The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson)

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With Saturday Night Live serving as their initial platform, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have enjoyed substantial comedic careers in Hollywood, both behind and in front of the camera. One can imagine the initial shock found in their latest film, the small-scale character drama The Skeleton Twins, when it opens with the pair attempting suicide on opposite ends of the country. Estranged for a decade, Milo (Hader) is coming off a bad break-up with his boyfriend in Los Angeles, while Maggie (Wiig) is having marital problems in New York, both left to feel relatively aimless when it comes their lives. When Milo’s failed wrist-cutting causes the hospital to interrupt his sister’s own endeavor to down a handful of pills, they are reunited. As one might expect, the reasons for their shared depression is slowly (and a bit too neatly) revealed. – Jordan R. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Slow West (John Maclean)

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The treacherous landscape of the west has been captured in numerous entries in the genre, but rarely with the distinctive vibrancy cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Fish Tank) brings to it in Slow West. John Maclean — who has had a long relationship with his star Michael Fassbender in a handful of shorter form projects — makes his directorial debut here, clearly reveling in providing his twist on the genre, while still holding true to its roots. – Jordan R. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Beautiful Laundrette is now available through The Criterion Collection.

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

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

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

Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)

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

My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears)

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

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

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

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

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

12 Years a Slave (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Adaptation (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Most Wanted Man (Blu-ray) – $7.99

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

The American (Blu-ray) – $8.48

Amelie (Blu-ray) – $5.98

Anna Karenina (Blu-ray) – $12.22

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

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $10.55

Black Swan (Blu-ray) – $6.76

Brokeback Mountain (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Brothers Bloom (Blu-ray) – $8.01

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

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.95

Captain Phillips (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Children of Men (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Cloverfield (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Collateral (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Contempt (Blu-ray) – $11.99

The Counselor (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Deer Hunter (Blu-ray) – $10.73

The Descendants (Blu-ray) – $7.40

Drive (Blu-ray) – $7.77

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $8.25

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $7.50

The Graduate (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $9.48

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $7.64

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $7.66

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $8.49

Interstellar (Blu-ray) – $10.00

It Follows (Blu-ray) – $12.90

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $5.00

Jane Eyre (Blu-ray) – $8.33

John Wick (Blu-ray) – $11.99

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $7.88

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

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

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $9.18

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

Looper (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.71

Magic Mike (Blu-ray) – $6.99

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

Margaret (Blu-ray) – $8.99

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

Michael Clayton (Blu-ray) – $9.68

Never Let Me Go (Blu-ray) – $6.53

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

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $7.49

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $5.88

Pariah (Blu-ray) – $6.49

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $6.50

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $9.10

Pulp Fiction (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $8.72

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

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.01

Seven Psychopaths (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Shame (Blu-ray) – $7.99

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $6.14

The Spectacular Now (Blu-ray) – $7.88

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) – $9.92

Synecdoche, NY (Blu-ray) – $6.57

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $7.88

The Tree of Life (Blu-ray) – $6.99

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $7.99

True Grit (Blu-ray) – $8.80

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.99

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.99

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

Whiplash (Blu-ray) – $14.99

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

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