Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The Year in Review

The idea of a year-end, top 10 list being anything resembling authoritative is a fundamentally silly one—while there are (and always will be) those who beg to differ, it's not that hard to come up with a consensus of the films that are well-made, engaging, entertaining, etc., which is why you see so many of the same movies on so many year-end lists, critics awards press releases, and Oscar nomination prognostications. Where it gets personal, specific, and thus debatable is in what one viewer finds separates certain films from the established pack of "well-made films, " because that's where everything from pre-identified preferences to the movie-goer's mood at the time of viewing to the persistent whispering of some jackass in the seat behind you comes into play. The easiest part of the list that follows was the "honorable mention" section—those are good movies, and there is a fair amount of agreement on that. The titles in the top ten are ones that, for whatever reason, spoke to me more loudly, more urgently, and with greater force. The reasons vary, and I'll do my best to explicate them.

Friday, December 30, 2011

In Theaters: "Angels Crest"

Reviewed at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival

Gaby Dellal’s Angels Crest has a palpable feeling of unease in its opening scenes, as young father Ethan (Thomas Dekker) loads his three-year-old son Nate into his pickup truck and drives him out to the woods so they can watch the snow fall. But Nate falls asleep on the way, and Ethan sees a deer he wants to track. So he leaves the heat on, locks the door, and leaves the kid in the truck. No points for guessing that this idea doesn’t work out well, for anybody.

In Theaters: "A Separation"

Reviewed at the 2011 New York Film Festival

The opening scene of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation finds Simin (Leila Hatami) and her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) in front of a judge, asking for him to grant their divorce. The setting is present-day Iran. Simin wants badly to leave the country with her husband and their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), but Nader refuses—he must stay to tend to his father, who has Alzheimer’s. She does not want to stay, not only for herself, but for her daughter: “I’d rather she didn’t grow up under these circumstances.” (“What circumstances?” the judge demands suspiciously.) The lengthy and difficult dialogue scene is played in one unbroken take, directly into the camera, which is subjectively placed in the position of the third person in the room—the camera as “judge.” But what is so fascinating about A Separation is that, for the rest of the film, Farhadi refuses to allow his camera to judge his characters. It just observes, and sees every character with empathy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Theaters: "The Iron Lady"

We first meet Margaret Thatcher in the new biopic The Iron Lady in her twilight years—long after her time as British prime minister, just another old lady buying milk. Confused and delusional, she sees (and converses with) her deceased husband, Dennis (Jim Broadbent); though still smart and perceptive, her sense of reality is a little hazy, and she finds her mind wandering into the past. “You can rewind it, but you can’t change it,” Dennis tells her.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On DVD: "A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy"

You wouldn’t expect a movie titled A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy to be this charming or likable, but improbably enough, it is just that. This is not to imply that it is not raunchy; this is a dirty, dirty little movie, filled with nearly non-stop sexual conversation, including verbal descriptions of sex acts rendered in cheerfully graphic detail. But it’s all about how you approach these things, and somehow, writer/directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck make the movie salacious without making it either crass or mean-spirited. There is a sweetness to its ribaldry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In Theaters: "Pariah"

I don’t know these girls. We don’t see them in movies very often. Alike (Adepero Oduye) and Laura (Pernell Walker) are teenage black girls, although the opening scenes deliberately obscure their sexual identities; in the dimness of a nightclub, in the mass of bodies on the dance floor, we’re not sure who’s what. They’re “AG” (short for aggressive—and yes, I had to look it up on Urban Dictionary), lesbians who dress and act like thugged-out guys; they listen to rock music and have their own specific style. On their way home from the club where they hang out with other AGs and the bi-curious girls who are drawn to them, we see Alike (“Lee” for short) undergo a transformation—she loses the baseball cap and loose-fitting rugby jersey, revealing a form-fitting tank top underneath, and snaps in her earrings. Lee is 17, and she’s already living a double life. Pariah is her story.

Friday, December 23, 2011

In Theaters: "War Horse"

I guess you could call Steven Spielberg’s War Horse “old fashioned,” but I wouldn’t deploy it as a compliment. Handsomely mounted and utterly sappy, it’s the filmmaker’s least successful picture since The Lost World: Jurassic Park; it has its moments, but they are undercut by inexplicable choices and the project’s utter solemnity about itself. And it is almost entirely undone by the comically overwrought work of composer John Williams, whom Spielberg has allowed to go completely out of control.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In Theaters: "Pina"

The subject of Wim Wenders’ new documentary is Pina Bausch (1940-2009), the German modern dance performer and choreographer, but we don’t learn all that much about her in the strict sense—there’s little in the way of facts, dates, personal details, and the like. What we discover, over the course of Pina, is a sensibility, a way of seeing the world and a way of working to convey that sensibility. There are some archival clips, shown running on a 16mm projector. There are testimonials from the dancers who learned from her, but they are stylized and brief. The bulk of the film is about her work—the dance pieces that she created and often performed in, which are presented here in a manner that is exciting and ingenious.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Theaters: "Albert Nobbs"

“Such a kind little man,” says the hotel guest, of Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close), the headwaiter. Prim and proper, Albert is quiet, introverted, hard-working. He’s also a woman, masquerading as this man for decades, stashing away every pence he’s earned. He dreams of owning a shop—a tobacconist’s, perhaps, with a parlor in the back for tea and a girl working the counter. Ah yes, a girl. A wife. That’s where it gets complicated.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In Theaters: "The Adventures of Tintin"

Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin begins with a wonderful, Pink Panther-style opening credit sequence, rendered in good ol’ reliable, traditional animation. Only problem is, that animation is far more stylistically appealing than what follows: another attempt at “performance capture animation,” the peculiar and frankly unnerving technique that has preoccupied Spielberg’s friend and frequent collaborator Robert Zemekis for the past decade or so. At risk of putting too fine a point on it, your correspondent does not care for this style—it gives everyone a weird, waxy look, their dead eyes providing a shortcut to the uncanny valley. (My “get off my lawn, you damn kids” tendencies are further amplified by the film’s uninspired 3D presentation, which adds nothing but a couple of bucks to your ticket.) So the fact that I ultimately found Tintin so utterly enjoyable in spite of my resistance to its overall style speaks volumes to its entertainment value; aesthetically pleasing or not, this is an appealing and enjoyable picture.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This Week's Links

From The Atlantic:
2011's Biggest Movie Controversies

We film folk can get worked up pretty easily, so while we found plenty of things to get all a-tizzy about in 2011, the assembled list of 2011's film controversies doesn't exactly read like end-of-the-world, stop-the-presses stuff. But these things are important to us! We're easily excitable! Thus, ratings and posters and Oscars and Darth Vader's scream were well worth talking about—then, and now. Join us after the jump to relive some of the year's very big deals.

From The Village Voice:
Sex in a Coma: Not So Dreamy

Lee Breuer’s production of Sex in a Coma at Here is almost unbearably pretentious—a cacophony of whispers, fog, and stilted proclamations—but that’s not the problem. The problem is the utter tonal schizophrenia on display within the production, which veers uneasily from magic realism to broad comedy with little evidence of method or design. I haven’t the faintest idea how it was meant to make me feel, and unfortunately, its creators appear equally clueless.

From Flavorwire:
Open Thread: Can You Separate the Film from the Filmmaker?

Taking a gander at this week’s new releases, I see that the time has come for Carnage to open—a good thing, because it’s a crisp, disruptive dark comedy of manners with stellar performances from an ace ensemble (Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly), and a bad thing, because it’s directed by Roman Polanksi, so now we’re going to have to talk about Roman Polanski again, which is, well, a dicey proposition. It forces us to ask the question that we had to ask when The Ghost Writer came out, and The Pianist, and Death and the Maiden, and pretty much everything he’s done since he was arrested for (and later pleaded guilty to) unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old back in 1977. It’s the same question we’ve had to ask with every Woody Allen film that’s come out since his affair with companion (and mother to his biological child) Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn—30 years his junior—was revealed. It’s the same question we had to ask when Melancholia came out earlier this fall, after Lars von Trier’s notorious “O.K., I’m a Nazi” press conference at Cannes.

That question: Can you separate the film from the filmmaker?

The Year in Film: 2011′s Best Performances

For all the remakes and reboots and 3-D blockbusters, 2011 was a great year for film actors, with a wealth of terrific performances for us to choose from. What’s more, in sharp contrast to most years in recent memory, there was a bumper crop of terrific roles for great actresses—a trend that we’d like to see stick around for a while. After the jump, we’ll tell you about some of the best performances we saw this year, and why we’re still talking about them.

10 Essential ‘Community’ Episodes to Watch Over Holiday Break

Well, it’s Thursday, but there won’t be a new episode of Community tonight. Apparently, there won’t be a new episode of Community for many more Thursday nights… excuse me…

Okay, I’m back. Nothing wrong with a good morning cry. As I was saying, last week’s Christmas episode marked the final new episode until the series’ undetermined spring return to the NBC schedule, as room is cleared in the Thursday night line-up for 30 Rock’s return and various other shufflings. NBC promises (promises!) that the innovative ensemble comedy isn’t cancelled, it’s just going on a little break, but their assurances have the subtle air of a parent’s earnest insistence that no, Sir Barksalot just went to a farm in the country where he can run and play, not that he was… put to… sorry, be right back…

Right-o. Our worries about Community’s future aside, its distressing exile—along with the rerun cycle that has already taken over prime-time—and the recent addition of the entire three-season run to Hulu Plus means that the holidays are a fine time for you Greendale novices out there to catch up on what is, I believe, the finest comedy program on network television. After the jump, we’ll give you the ten episodes most worth your time.

Trailer Park: Coming Soon — Next Summer’s Blockbusters!

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. This week’s ten trailers include several peeks at next summer’s blockbusters, which are presumably rolling out in front of the big holiday releases. But there are some smaller (and stranger) titles hiding in there as well; check ‘em all out after the jump.

In Theaters: "The Artist"

The story of the transition from silent to sound cinema has been told before—most memorably in Singin’ in the Rain, but also in plays like Once in a Lifetime and between the lines of Sunset Blvd. However, the idea of telling that story in the style of a silent movie is a new one, and it is executed in Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist with wit and grace; from the opening credits, everything (the music, the font, even the aspect ratio) is just right. So is the framing and shot selection within the film itself, and the authenticity extends past the look and sound (or lack thereof); the actors also work within the broadly drawn silent movie style, and do so without condescending or laughing at it. The Artist is an aesthetic triumph; what is less certain, in retrospect, is whether it is a narrative one.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In Theaters: "Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol"

From the time it was announced, there was an air of slight desperation about the fourth film in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Star Tom Cruise is pushing 50, and the last entry had somewhat underperformed, having the misfortune to open less than a year after all the couch-jumping and other weirdness that left American feeling a little uneasy about its biggest box-office star. His subsequent films haven’t done all that hot either (remember Knight & Day?), so it was time to go back to the well. From the casting of Jeremy Renner (maybe he’s being groomed to take over!) to the emo key art (hoodies!) to the trailer music (Eminem! See, edgy!), one couldn’t shake the feeling that Cruise and company knew that they had to make this one count, and were working a little too hard at it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Theaters: "Corman's World"

Roger Corman, 85 years old, is currently credited on imdb with producing 395 films—three of which are currently in post-production. This is not the filmography of a man who is in it for a buck, or he’d have retired long ago. He is in it because he loves the movies, the sheer act of making one. That love is present and palpable in the worst of his no-budget turkeys; it’s there in the madcap opening sequence of the new documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, in which director Alex Stapleton is all but drunk on those movies, on those goofy images of monsters and mayhem and babes and boobs. Corman wasn’t a serious filmmaker, but Corman’s World takes him seriously—as an exploiter, and as an artist, and often as both simultaneously. It’s an obscenely good time of a movie, the same sort of “inside the outside of Hollywood” fun delivered by films like Not Quite Hollywood and American Grindhouse.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Theaters: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films are big and loud and noisy—probably a bit more than they need to be—but he’s keenly attuned to what it takes to keep a modern audience’s attention: move fast, talk faster, lots of fistfights, blow some stuff up. It was a formula that worked for his original 2009 Sherlock Holmes, and he doesn’t go mucking with it in the new sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows; he’s found a style that works, and he indulges it. The results are occasionally uninspired, but good-natured fun all the same.

In Theaters: "Carnage"

Roman Polanski’s Carnage begins at what appears to be the end. Two pairs of parents, the Longstreets (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) and the Cowans (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), have met at the former’s apartment because their two sons have had a fight. We see that inciting incident at the conclusion of the opening credits, an burst of barbaric but childlike violence. The adults are very much insistent on being, well, adult about the whole thing; they’ve penned a letter and agree that the boys should meet, under some circumstance, to talk it out. The Cowans put on their coats. But they do not quite make it out the door; something keeps pulling them back in to this little confrontation, which slowly but steadily goes clean out of their control. “We’re all decent people, all four of us!” Mr. Longstreet insists, but by that point in the afternoon, he’s not even convincing himself.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Theaters: "Addiction Incorporated"

The idea that the seven heads of the big tobacco firms could sit in front of a congressional subcommittee as recently as 1994 and say, each of them, with a straight face, that nicotine is not addictive is a mind-boggler. But they did. It was the subcommittee on health and the environment, led by Congressman Henry Waxman, and though there were a couple of friendly faces for the CEOs and VPs (like Congressman Thomas J. Bliley, who had enjoyed their donations for years), most of the lawmakers let those men have it—and one of them forced the head of Philip Morris to let a man named Victor DeNoble waive his confidentiality agreement to testify for them. Put on the spot, the company released DeNoble. He then came to tell the committee about how his research had led to Morris isolating and pushing the addictive quality. All seven of those tobacco muckety-mucks left the industry shortly thereafter.

DeNoble’s story is the primary focus of Charles Evans Jr.’s documentary Addiction Incorporated, though it is not the only one. Evans tells several tales here, separate yet interconnected by their ties to the fall of Big Tobacco: DeNoble’s research, ABC’s investigation of the industry, the FDA and Congressional pick-up, the first class action suits, the Reno Department of Justice’s RICO trial.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On DVD: "Fright Night (2011)"

Full disclosure: I have never seen Fright Night, the 1985 horror picture upon which Craig Gillespie’s new remake is based. Depending on your point of view, that either renders me a) grossly under-qualified to judge the quality of the new film, or b) uniquely qualified to do just that, as it allows a viewing free of both negative comparisons and the nostalgic glow that tends to cloud our judgments of the pop culture of our youth. I went into the new Fright Night cold, so I can’t tell you how it stacks up. What I can tell is that it is a reasonably entertaining and high-spirited creeper that takes itself exactly the right degree of seriously.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This Week's Flavorwires

The 5 Film Commenters You Meet on the Internet

So all of a sudden everyone is talking about you, the Internet reader—or, more specifically, the Internet commenter. On Thursday, Slate’s Katie Roiphe took a close and thoughtful look at something that most of us who write online have long presumed as par for the course: the angry commenter. “It’s easy to see how one might disagree with or dislike an article,” Roiphe writes, “but what is more bewildering and bears examination is the response of hating the writer’s guts. One would think, reading some of these comments, that the writer has done something to the commenter, that there has been some deep personal transgression.” (Roiphe’s piece has, predictably, prompted nearly a thousand comments—most of them angry.) Over at the Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen notes that comments “continue to be terrible, and it's not only because of trolls and morons. Internet comments are hard to read and harder to engage with. Even in places with smart, thoughtful readers, the comment sections tend to be more like lists of unconnected ideas than genuine conversations.”

The Year In Film: 2011′s Biggest Movie Controversies

Every Wednesday in December, Flavorwire will take a look back at the year in film—the stories, the performances, the movies that we were talking about in 2011. For this week, let's revisit some of the year's movie controversies, shall we?

The Most Insufferable Holiday Movies of All Time

Everybody loves a good holiday movie. When we wrote last week about the beginning of the season, and our favorite annual Christmas movies (Die Hard and It’s A Wonderful Life), our readers threw in their favorites: A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, Bad Santa, Muppets Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, etc. But, lest we forget, every film of the season ain’t White Christmas; there are plenty of rotten holiday movies. (And, in fact, one of them is coming out tomorrow: steer clear of New Year’s Eve as though your life depends on it.) As many great Christmas movies as there are, it’s also a very tricky style to get right, requiring the proper mix of holiday cheer, sentiment, laughs, and warmth. It is pretty easy to screw that elixir up, and end up with something sickly sweet and utterly unwatchable. After the jump, we’ll gather up a few lumps of coal from our previous Christmas stockings.

Our Favorite Film Fans’ Favorite Criterion Films

In retrospect, last week’s gift guide for movie geeks was seriously lacking in one important element: it needs more Criterion. The Criterion Collection, as you presumably well know, is the preeminent home video label for film nerds, lavishing their second-to-none skills of restoration and supplementation on titles both well-known and obscure. So yes, a week-late addendum: if you’re shopping for cinephiles, a title or two from the Criterion Collection should do the trick.

Trailer Park: A Holiday Feast

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. We’ve got a whopping twelve trailers for you this week, offering everything from animation to big-budget studio comedy to Sundance hopefuls; check ‘em out after the jump.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Night Netflix: "Meek's Cutoff"

Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff is not a film that is interested in burdening us with a lot of exposition. The title card gives us the time and place: “Oregon, 1845.” The opening sequence is free of dialogue and composed almost entirely of long, languid takes—a group of settlers, executing a river crossing. The action is done plainly, without flourish. It is a good ten minutes before we get a good enough look at Michelle Williams, the star of the picture, to recognize her. There are no proper introductions, because we are joining a story in progress.

Friday, December 9, 2011

In Theaters: "New Year's Eve"

Let’s start with the music, because that’s a good a place as any. The score for Garry Marshall’s all-star clusterfuck, New Year’s Eve, is provided by John Debney, and he worked for his paycheck—every single moment in the film is smothered in music, slathered in it, every potential change in emotion or tempo telegraphed, loudly, by the non-stop music. Sad scene? Slow piano. Charming, cutesy scene? Gimme an uptempo, jazzy number. Hey look, there’s Zac Efron—he’s young and hip, so let’s switch this plinky music over to somethin’ with some guitars in it! Yay-uh! Oh hey, here comes Colombian sexbomb Sofia Vergara! Put in some salsa music!

You guys, I’m serious, they put in salsa music for her entrance. I guess we should be relieved that it’s such a painfully white movie, if for no other reason than to spare us the sound of a gong accompanying the entrance of any Asian characters.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In Theaters: "I Melt With You"

In the opening sequence of Mark Pellington's nihilistic drama I Melt With You, the screen is filled with phrases of despair, in big block letters: “I AM A MAN”, “I AM AFRAID,” “I AM DIVORCED,” “I CAN'T GET HARD,” “I LOVE YOU,” and so on, and so on, until the title is rendered in similar fashion. Subtle, eh? What follows is a movie not so much bad (and certainly not as bad as its Sundance buzz would suggest) as it is overcooked. There is boldness in its ambition, and truth in its implications, but it's all slathered in a thick coat of shouting and preening.

In Theaters: "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Eva (Tilda Swinton) is a woman who has learned to walk between the raindrops. She keeps her head down; she ignores the people who stare or point. Something terrible happened in her recent past, something involving her son Kevin (Ezra Miller), and she feels responsible. She's trying like hell to get on with her life, but that's clearly not going to happen; she's too haunted, by whispers, memories, ghosts.

Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin tells Eva's story within a fractured narrative that becomes a dreamlike intermingling of her complicated past with her tortured present. It also does so without telling us more than we need to know about either, yet never seeming to withhold information; in spite of our uncertainty (particularly in the opening scenes) about how one thing relates to the other, Ramsay's such a confident and assured filmmaker that we feel adrift but not lost.

In Theaters: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is an uncommonly intelligent motion picture, a spy thriller that is less interested in gadgets and explosions than it is in pauses and looks. Based on the novel by John le Carré (earlier adapted into an acclaimed BBC miniseries), it is a complicated film, requiring the sort of attention and patience that audiences can no longer be relied upon to bring to the theatre. It’s the kind of movie we’re always hearing they don’t make anymore, until they do. And here it is.

In Theaters: "Young Adult"

Mavis Gary, Charlize Theron’s leading character in Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, is unapologetically brusque, brittle, and unlikable. The ghost-writer of a young adult franchise, she treats her work with such contempt that the Word file for her current masterpiece is called “pieceofshit.doc.” She wakes up each morning in her clothes, sleeping off the previous evening’s drinking, and pours Diet Coke down her throat. Her only consistent companion is her tiny, unappreciated dog. She spends her life in a dissatisfied daze, with the aural accompaniment of E! reality shows.

And then she gets an email. Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), her high-school boyfriend, and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), have had a baby. The email gets her goat. It must have been her ex’s cry for help. How miserable he must be! And with that, she packs a back and drives back to her hometown to win him back. “Don’t you get it?” she asks a skeptic, incredulously. “Love conquers all!”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On DVD: "The Hangover, Part II"

One of the first lines spoken in The Hangover Part II is "It happened again." The same character proceeds to say, "No, this time we really fucked up!" Later, another character says--hold on, let me check my notes--"I can't believe this is happening again!" These lines are the comedy sequel equivalent of "I'm gettin' too old for this shit!" That's some lazy, lazy writing friends, but it's right at home in The Hangover Part II, which is one of the more crass motion pictures in recent memory.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

This Week's Links

For The Atlantic and Flavorwire:
10 Films That Avoided the NC-17 Rating and Suffered for It

Shame, a candid and pwerful look at sexual addiction from director Steve McQueen (no, another Steve McQueen) is out in limited release tomorrow, and as we reported last month, it’s going out with the NC-17 rating—no children under 17 admitted, under any circumstances. The rating, many have surmised, is due to the film’s copious male nudity, and that’s how the American ratings system works: all the naked ladies you want, but the erect male member= automatic NC-17.

For The Village Voice:

The Door Opens in New York
The hard, sharp banging of the titular object in 59E59’s production of The Door puts the audience on edge from the moment the lights go up—it rings through the small black box theater like a gunshot, and returns at regular and unexpected intervals. “Drives you ‘round the bloody bend, doesn’t it?” asks Boyd (Tom Cobley).

For Flavorwire:

Open Thread: What Are Your Essential Holiday Movies?
Well, the Thanksgiving holiday is over, the only turkey left is that weird slab of half-fat and half-dark meat, the recycling can is overflowing with empty beer and wine bottles (seriously, somebody better take that out), and it’s time to start thinking about Christmas—specifically, Christmas viewing. It’s little wonder that the “holiday movie” has become such a venerable moviemaking standby; whether the resultant picture is good (A Christmas Story) or not so good (Fred Claus), there’s a pretty good chance that studios can count on perennial DVD sales and TV bookings as a revenue stream.

There are plenty of memorable holiday films, and yes, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see a list or two centered on them in the upcoming weeks. But as the season gets underway, we thought we’d keep it simple, and ask you the basic question: What are your essential holiday movies? What do you always watch once the Christmas season is in full swing?

Gift Guide: The Best Gifts for Movie Geeks
Now that Christmas shopping season is in full effect, it’s time for your Flavorwire to swing into public service mode. Yes, yes, all the lists and links and commentary are fun, we know you’re saying, but where are the shopping tips? What do I get my movie-obsessed cousin Donovan? Do I have to actually communicate with him to find out what he wants? Those phone calls always last twice as long as I want them to, and his breathing patterns are disturbing! Fear no more, gentle reader, for after the jump, you’ll find a collection of films and books guaranteed to warm the hearts of your film fan relatives on Christmas morning, which they’ll enjoy to the fullest before fleeing the premises to catch the 1:20 matinee of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Check them out and add your own after the jump!

Video of the Day: The Opening of ‘Community,’ ‘Parks and Rec’-Style
In our house, we dance to the TV theme songs. (Don’t judge; you’ve done it too.) And not just the easy ones, like that incredibly catchy Community theme, or the rollicking little instrumental that starts Up All Night. Nope, we even get our march on to the theme from Parks and Recreation. It’s not even that the songs are all that good—we’re just so happy to be watching these shows that a little groove (even a seated one, which is my specialty) is a nice way to show our appreciation.

Trailer Park: Off the Grid
Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. We’ve got six new clips for your perusal, ranging from a teaser for a flick that puts Tim Riggins on Mars to an extended, eight-minute version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer; check ‘em out after the jump.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Night Netflix: "Passing Strange"

Spike Lee spent much of 2001 trying to get a film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Rent off the ground; the project was at Miramax, and Lee—a New York filmmaker with both a personal interest and family history in music (his father was an acclaimed and respected musician and composer)—seemed like a perfect fit. But Lee and Miramax parted company over budgetary concerns, and the film was eventually made by Revolution and Columbia, with Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) inexplicably in the director’s chair. We’ll never know exactly what Lee’s Rent would have been like—it’s one of those things that only exists in the alternative movie universe, with Sam Peckinpah’s Superman and Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness—though we can pretty safely guess it would have been superior to Columbus’ flaccid take.

However, we can get something of an idea of what a Lee Rent might have looked like from his latest release, a thrilling, energetic performance film of the similarly vibrant Broadway musical Passing Strange. Unfortunately, Strange couldn’t match Rent’s killer box office; it only ran 165 performances (symptomatic of a Broadway environment where critical kudos are seemingly less important than big stars or recycling of material). Lee was taken by the show, however, so he and his cinematographer, the brilliant Matthew Libatique (Iron Man, The Fountain), took their cameras to the Belasco Theatre to capture the show’s final performances in July 2008.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Theaters: "Shame"

In the opening sequence of Steve McQueen's Shame, protagonist Brandon (Michael Fassbender) flirts silently with a woman sitting near him on the subway. The filmmaker shows, and demands, incredible patience in this wordless scene; he lingers on the details (his fleeting glance, her ringed hand, the way she uncrosses her legs). McQueen intercuts that sequence with short, staccato glimpses of Brandon's day-to-day life, the rituals of his routine, which appears to consist primarily of the spaces between sex. There's nothing terribly expositional happening, but we feel, very quickly, like we know exactly who this guy is.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On DVD: "Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil"

Eli Craig's Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil begins with a scene of handheld, "found footage" horror, before jumping to a group of idiot college kids camping in hillbilly country. Once they hit the woods, there are shout-outs to The Evil Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Fargo, not to mention a story of a similar group picked off in these very woods 20 years previous by killers who are still... out... there. You don't have to be a horror movie aficionado on the lookout for those homages and quotations to enjoy Tucker & Dale, but it sure does help.

On DVD: "The Future"

People do not respond mildly to the work of Miranda July. Some find her a remarkable and unique voice; others find her films intolerable, overly mannered and self-conscious. I suspect that part of the reason that she evokes such fierce reactions is that people aren't quite sure what to make of her--her films (The Future is the long-awaited follow-up to her breakthrough picture, Me and You and Everyone We Know) are so unlike anything we've seen before that we don't have a pre-conditioned response to them to call up. In seeing other movies, we respond fairly quickly to elements we recognize and like (or dislike), and that sets the table for the rest of our experience--which may or may not upset those expectations, but they at least provide a starting point. July's films defy categorization. We don't know what the hell they are. On the film's IMDb page, the recommendations ("if you enjoy this title, our database also recommends") are: The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the Robert Redford/Jennifer Lopez vehicle An Unfinished Life, the Meryl Streep romantic comedy Prime, the LGBT Muslim documentary A Jihad for Love, and the Ben Kingsley made-for-TV biblical drama Joseph. That's random even for IMDb recommendations. They can't figure out what box to put her in either.

Monday, November 28, 2011

On DVD: "Our Idiot Brother"

Jesse Peretz's Our Idiot Brother is the kind of movie that may very well play better on a second viewing, once your expectations have been adjusted and you know what they're going for. It is not, in spite of its broad premise and rather stock characters, a laugh-a-minute comedy; Peretz (and writers David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz) go for a more muted, low-key affair. Then again, a second look might make all the more apparent the film's central flaw--that those two approaches are fundamentally at odds with each other. It is a good film, due primarily to the skill and pizzazz of its loaded cast. It is not a great film, though, because it doesn't seem sure of exactly what it wants to be.

On DVD: "30 Minutes or Less"

Ruben Fleischer's 30 Minutes or Less is a film nearly undone by the uncertainty of its tone--both in terms of how the events in the frame slam into each other, and how uneasily they coexist with life off-screen. You see, it is inspired (very, very loosely) by the story of Brian Douglas Wells, a 46-year-old pizza delivery driver who was involved in a bizarre 2003 incident in which he was forced--by virtue of the remote-controlled bomb strapped to his chest--to rob a bank and turn over the cash to his kidnappers. At first glance, this sounds like it might have action/heist/comedy potential, until you discover that Wells was killed when the bomb went off, and turned out to have been involved (at least in some manner) with the planning of the scheme. Whatever the degree of his involvement, I can't imagine his friends and family will be too amused by the decision to turn his misfortune into a wacky summer comedy.

On DVD: "Friends with Benefits"

Well, the “fuck buddies” comedy sweepstakes has come to close, with less of a clear winner and more of a draw. First came January’s No Strings Attached, Ivan Reitman’s fitfully amusing but formulaic and inexplicably overlong entry, featuring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman; now we have Portman’s Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis paired with Justin Timberlake for Friends with Benefits. This one is helmed by Will Gluck, the clever filmmaker behind last summer’s sleeper hit Easy A, a witty and knowing deconstruction of teen movie clichés and literary allusions, anchored by a star-making performance by Emma Stone. Gluck’s involvement (and a supporting turn by Stone) made one hope that lightning would strike twice. Alas, Friends is only marginally better than Strings; it’s a glossy, empty after-dinner mint of a movie, endlessly predictable and surprisingly short on real laughs. And Emma Stone is only in one scene—the first.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

This Week's Links

From the Village Voice:
Horsedreams Is Addicted to Cliche

We’ve seen the anti-drug cautionary tale many times before, in prestige dramas and cheeseball PSAs and all points in between. Whether it can be done without simplification and sermonizing in the post-“Just Say No” era is a question left unanswered by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s new production Dale Orlandersmith’s HORSEDREAMS. It is an earnest work-—painfully, almost embarrassingly so. And it’s mostly free of nuance or complexity; the whole thing is about as subtle as a hammer to the head.

From Flavorwire:
Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’: Will Kids Respond to Cinema 101?

The most surprising thing about Martin Scorsese’s new film Hugo (out Wednesday) is how much more there is to it than has been indicated in the ad campaign, which presents the picture—probably wisely, from a mass-market standpoint—as a standard children’s adventure with a dose of magic and a dash of slapstick, all in 3D (of course). To be clear: it is all of that, though done with a skill and intelligence that puts most “family movies” to shame.

A Look Back at Our Favorite Muppet Movie Moments

We’re going to do our best to keep from setting you up for a disappointment by overselling The Muppets (out in theaters tomorrow). Seriously, we’re going to try. But the fact of the matter is, it’s utterly delightful—a charming, witty, and frequently heartbreaking little gem. If we’re responding to it with more enthusiasm than it deserves, so be it; we grew up loving the Muppet movies, and this new effort somehow manages to summon up the spirit of (to borrow the Star Wars parlance) the “original trilogy” while also existing as its own wonderful addition to the Henson canon. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll leave singing "Mahna Mahna." So, in celebration of the franchise’s return to form, we’d like to pause and enjoy a few of our favorite moments from the earlier Muppet movies; add your own in the comments.

Flavorpill’s Zagat-Style Guide to TV’s Best Thanksgiving Episodes

Thanksgiving is upon us, and it’s high time to enjoy all of our favorite yearly traditions: the turkey, the stuffing, the pumpkin pie, the awkward family encounters, pretending to care about football… and, most of all, that venerable standby of episodic television, the Thanksgiving show. As best as we can determine, the first weekly series to do a Thanksgiving-centered episode was The Burns and Allen Show, back in 1951; Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Make Room for Daddy, and Mr. Peepers quickly followed suit, realizing that a Thanksgiving show offered plenty of fodder for conflict, resolution, and warm holiday cheer. We’ve selected ten of our favorite Thanksgiving episodes—and in the culinary spirit of the holiday, we present them in the ever-popular Zagat’s dining guide format, because why not? Check ‘em out after the jump and add your own in the comments.

Staff Picks: What Flavorpill Editors Are Thankful for This Year

I don’t often write about music here on the site, due to being grossly underqualified and hopelessly unhip (my big-dollar music purchase this fall was the 20th anniversary vinyl reissue of U2’s Achtung Baby, if that gives you an idea of how tightly I’ve got my finger on the pulse of what’s hot musically these days). But few things on this earth have given me as much pleasure this year as the utterly marvelous throwback video for Cee-Lo Green’s “Cry Baby.” Already my favorite song on the record (it runs circles around “Fuck You”), the Hi Records-style pop confection is given a candy-colored visual rendering, complete with backlot-style set design, retro group choreography, and Jaleel “Steve Urkel” White stepping into the role of Cee-Lo. It’s a beautifully executed, joyful clip with a sense of humor—a reminder of how great music videos can still be (if you can find them).

Trailer Park: Holiday Leftovers

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. We’ve got five new trailers for your post-turkey consumption this week; check ‘em out after the jump.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Theaters: "A Dangerous Method"

David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method is a film that grows upon reflection; even considering the filmmaker's more austere recent efforts, it is a picture that the viewer keeps waiting to ignite, and never quite does. But it nestles itself into the mind, where its quirks and complexities continue to reverberate long after the credits have rolled. The filmmakers clearly could have chosen to shoot the works, to ratchet up the raunchiness and high drama; instead, the picture is drawn in finer strokes, and its closing shots cause the viewer to reevaluate all that has come before. It is not the film you expect, but it sticks with you.

In Theaters: "My Week with Marilyn"

"Shall I be her?" asks Marilyn Monroe, and you see how she changes--she tarts it up, putting her hand behind her head just so, moving in that distinctive way, playing up the persona of Marilyn that was, it seems, quite removed from the real person in there, the damaged girl named Norma Jean who wrestled her entire short life with crippling insecurities and terrible addictions. The dichotomy between the person and the image has been explored memorably before (most obviously in the cable movie Norma Jean and Marilyn), and that split is the key to Michelle Williams's brilliant performance in My Week with Marilyn.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In Theaters: "Rampart"

The first hour or so of Owen Moverman’s Rampart is so strangely compelling, so utterly uncompromising and enigmatic, that you figure out right away that there’s no way they can pull it of all the way through, and you’re right. Its first half gets our attention; its second tries our patience. This is not to imply that the picture isn’t worth seeing—merely that you should know what you’re getting into.

In Theaters: "Hugo"

Damnit, Martin Scorsese. How are we supposed to fight the good fight against the corruption of American cinema presented by the encroachment of the 3D fad if you’re going to go and use it to create a film as utterly delightful as Hugo?

In Theaters: "The Muppets"

When Mary (Amy Adams), Gary (Jason Segel) and his puppet brother Walter (Peter Linz) visit the Muppet Studio early in the new Muppet film (titled, sensibly enough, The Muppets), they find it in cobwebbed, abandoned disrepair. The image of that forgotten space is a none-too-subtle metaphor for the current state of the Muppet film series, which has been the object of occasional attempts at reinvention and reanimation, in film and on television, but has never been able (in the honorable Star Wars tradition) to even approach the magic of the “original trilogy.” In a move so edgy and loaded with disaster potential that it remains shocking that Disney made it, Segel and Nicholas Stoller—who worked some puppet-based humor into their R-rated romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall—were hired to write a Muppet movie that could jump-start the languishing franchise. And what is most remarkable about The Muppets is that, from the sweetly nostalgic opening sequence forward, they absolutely nail it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Some Links, Then

From the Maddow Blog:
Atlas shrugged it off (File under "whoops.")

For the product of a creator as humorless as Ayn Rand, that “Atlas Shrugged—Part I”movie has certainly provided us with plenty of chuckles this year. First there is the film itself, which was greeted with reviews only slightly warmer than “Jack and Jill”’s (“Not all books should be made into movies, and this is one of them-- Boston Phoenix; “The tinhorn film version of ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part 1’ fails to rise even to the level of ‘eh’ suggested by Ayn Rand’s title-- Chicago Tribune). Then came its theatrical release on April 15 (GET IT?), when—in spite of the tireless efforts of such renowned cinematic publicists as FreedomWorks and John Stossel—it tanked, failing to earn back even a quarter of its $20 million budget. The perils of the free market, am I right?

From Flavorwire:
Open Thread: Did Johnny Depp Step in It?

The facts are these: Last weekend, The Guardian ran an interview with Johnny Depp, promoting the European release of his Hunter S. Thompson adaptation The Rum Diary. Decca Aitkenhead’s profile begins with the line “In the weeks leading up to this interview, I began to think there must be some law that makes it illegal not to love Johnny Depp,” which has turned out to be an ironically specious statement, since this very piece has ended up pissing off an entire Midwestern city.

Reader’s Choice: 10 More Definitive Cinematic Music Cues

Any time you have the gumption to pose a list of the ten definitive anything, you’re going to get some pushback. But because Flavorwire has the greatest readers in the world (/blatant sucking up), our post last week of The Most Definitive Music Cues in Film History prompted very little venom, and several excellent additions (including a few that had been on our first, wildly overambitious draft). The concept, once again, is that certain films use pop music cues so well that the movie and the song get inextricably bound together in your head; when you think of the movie, you hear the song, and when you hear the song, your see the film in your mind’s eye. We’ve picked our ten faves from the addendums offered by you, the reader, after the jump; feel free to add more of your favorites in the comments.

Our Favorite Diane Keaton Movie Moments

Diane Keaton’s memoir, Then Again, is out today, and that’s about all the excuse we need to sing the praises of one of our all-time favorite leading ladies. In 50 films over the course of 40-plus years, Keaton has assembled a body of work that is unique in today’s cinematic landscape: she’s crafted a distinctive and memorable onscreen persona, without repeating herself or wearing out a tired shtick. After the jump, we’ve selected ten of our favorite individual moments—a scene, a conversation, even a look—from her career; add your own in the comments.

DVR Alert: Epic Woody Allen Doc Begins Sunday

Love him or hate him (and we mostly love him around here), one can’t deny the lasting influence and importance of Woody Allen—or his astonishing productivity, knocking out a film a year as writer/director (and sometimes star) for the past, oh, forty years. The sheer volume of his output makes it less than surprising that American Masters’ new profile of the venerable filmmaker, Woody Allen: A Documentary, is a bit of an epic affair: it totals three-and-a-half hours and is running in two parts on PBS. Check out the preview and some surprising clips after the jump.

Trailer Park: ‘Haywire’ > ‘Hunger Games’

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. We’ve got seven new trailers this week, including, yes, Hunger Games; check ‘em out after the jump.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Night Netflix: "Midnight Express"

Alan Parker’s Midnight Express is a tough, troubling, difficult picture. It’s thoroughly unpleasant to watch, loaded as it is with brutal assaults and grisly torture and people losing their minds; it also includes some cringe-inducing xenophobic attitudes and dialogue (which screenwriter Oliver Stone later apologized for). It’s structurally wobbly, and full of odd interludes. But you can’t deny director Parker’s ability to work over an audience; his direction is tight and sometimes unbearably tense, and he manages to draw us in to a story with a serious shortage of sympathetic characters, primarily through the sheer brute force of his imagery.

Friday, November 18, 2011

In Theaters: "The Descendants"

The phrase "slice of life" has been tossed around so haphazardly, for so long, that it's become something of a pejorative--the kind of descriptor that sounds alarm bells of laziness, or preciousness, or predictability. If considering only its broad strokes, Alexander Payne's new film The Descendants sounds as though it could easily fall into those traps; it is the story of a man wrestling with new responsibilities and old secrets as his wife lies on her deathbed. It's in the playing that the film finds its flavor--in Payne's unique ear for dialogue and tone, and in the keenly felt performances, particularly a leading turn by George Clooney that is among his finest work.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

In Theaters: "Another Happy Day"

When I was working on my undergraduate degree in Theatre Performance (I know, I know), I took an introductory playwriting class. One of the first lessons we learned was a simple equation: conflict = drama. Of course, it’s not that simple; all conflict isn’t automatically dramatic, and conflict isn’t necessarily defined by yelling, screaming, and crying. At some point, these important caveats should’ve been whispered to Sam Levinson, the writer/director of Another Happy Day, who squanders an excellent cast and inherently dramatic situation by amping up the volume and the tears. If you’re looking to watch people yell at each other for 119 minutes, boy do I have the movie for you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On DVD: "Bellflower"

Evan Glodell's Bellflower begins with one of the oddest Meet-Cutes you've ever seen. Woodrow (Glodell) and his buddy Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are hanging out in a bar when their big promotion of the night is announced: a cricket-eating contest. The prize is nominal, but it's just the kind of thing that sounds like fun when you're half in the bag, and Woodrow likes the looks of Milly (Jessie Wiseman), the first girl to volunteer, so he's in. She destroys him, but they get to talking afterwards; she's got a terrific, wide smile, and an endearing way of calling him "buddy," and she isn't thrown by his response when she asks what he does ("I'm building a flamethrower"). He gets her phone number.

One of the many things that Bellflower gets exactly right is that palpable thrill of finding someone who is genuinely interesting, who you can't wait to see and talk to again. That's a feeling that comes across in films less often than you'd think; more often than not, the attraction between leading characters occurs because it seems pre-determined, motored by the script rather than the chemistry. The vibrations that come off of these two characters are so skillfully conveyed, and we buy their attraction with such unquestioned acceptance, that the strange turns their story takes are received without much resistance.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Link-O-Rama

From the MaddowBlog:
Politics Goes to the Movies: 'Into the Abyss'

Werner Herzog makes his intentions clear early in his powerful new documentary “Into the Abyss.” “I do not think human beings should be executed,” he says. “Simple as that.” The moment is particularly charged because it’s not stated in narration; he says it to Michael James Perry, a smiling 28-year-old who is days from execution. The filmmaker’s word choice is telling—he does not speak of the “death penalty,” which is the charged language of an issue. Herzog is less interested in the political implications than the philosophical ones.

From Flavorwire:
The Most Definitive Music Cues in Film History

That’s the power of a well-chosen music cue in film; when they’re properly matched, we’ve suddenly married them, and anytime we hear that song we see that scene, and anytime we think of that movie, we hear that song. After the jump, we present ten songs that are forever tied to the movies that showcased them (and, just to keep it fair, there’s no songs from “musicals,” and no songs that were composed specifically for the film in question). Agree, disagree, and add your own in the comments.

Open Thread: Let’s Talk About Adam Sandler

I’m a fan of subway film criticism. It’s one of the pleasures of being a movie fan in New York, like Film Forum double-features and midnight cult films at the Landmark Sunshine; a wise guy with a Sharpie often articulates our collective reaction to a film more succinctly with a few words on a subway ad than any number of critics can in a thousand-word review. Take, for example, this pointed little barb recently spotted on the L-line. Scrawled across the poster for Jack and Jill, the new Adam Sandler picture in which he plays both a regular Joe and — wait for it — his own twin sister, are the words “not even f*cking trying anymore.” Glancing over at Sandler’s wide-eyed mug, it seems a perfect marriage of word and image.

Let’s Plug Our Favorite Filmmakers into Unexpected Genres

Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here: too often, filmmakers become defined by a certain type of movie, locked into a specific genre or style. Some break out occasionally (see Scorsese’s upcoming Hugo), and a few have made a career of genre-jumping (think Danny Boyle). But back in the “studio era,” directors-for-hire like Howard Hawks and John Ford were given assignments, and had to adapt themselves into journeymen who could make any kind of film with style and skill. After the jump, we’ve compiled a short list of a few filmmakers who we’d like to see class up some B-movies.

‘Melancholia’ and Our Favorite Cinematic Apocalypses

Apocalypses are a popular topic for filmmakers—though most are more interested in the narrative possibilities of the post-apocalyptic world than the event itself. Melancholia distinguishes itself by being something of a pre-apocalyptic picture, delving into the anxiety and fear of those who are awaiting the earth’s possible collision with a foreign object (timely!). After the jump, we’ll take a look back at a few of our favorite cinematic apocalypses.

Trailer Park: Cops, Corman, and Our Old Friend Eddie

Welcome to “Trailer Park,” our regular Friday feature where we collect the week’s new trailers all in one place and do a little “judging a book by its cover,” ranking them from worst to best and taking our best guess at what they may be hiding. We’ve got six new trailers this week, including new vehicles for The Rock, Kristen Stewart, and Jonah Hill (and an old one for Eddie Murphy); check ‘em out after the jump.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Theaters: "London Boulevard"

William Monahan’s London Boulevard kicks off with the most tough, joyful, strap-yourself-in-cuz-we’re-watchin-a-picture-show opening credits sequence in many a moon: big bold lettering, sliced-up images, and the pounding sound of the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul.” There’s such fierce energy and raw power bursting from the screen that it seems like a promise the picture can hardly keep, and who knows, maybe it doesn’t. In terms of plot, tone, and structure, the movie’s something of a mess, full of pieces at odds with each other that Monahan is constantly struggling to snap together. He ultimately just slams them all into each other and barrels on through—and he does it with such sheer bravado and confidence that we end up going along with him. It doesn’t really hang together, not really. But when a picture is this sleek and pleasurable, why complain?

In Theaters: "The Love We Make"

There is something wonderful, evocative, and more than a little nostalgic in seeing Albert Maysles train his documentary camera—shooting in 16mm black and white, no less—on one James Paul McCartney. Maysles and his brother David were the lensmen of What’s Happening!: The Beatles in the U.S.A. (aka The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit), accompanying the lads from Liverpool on their first whirlwind invasion of New York. The McCartney that Maysles meets here is now an elder statesman of rock, and the occasion is a more solemn one—the assemblage of “The Concert for New York City,” the all-star show McCartney helped put together a month after 9/11.

The resulting documentary, The Love We Make (co-directed by Maysles and Bradley Kaplan), ran on Showtime for the 10th anniversary of September 11, and is now seeing a limited theatrical run. It seems strange that the footage sat unused for so long (its belated release, and those of such other delayed items as the 30 for 30 entry Muhammad and Larry, makes one wonder what other treasures are buried in the Maysles vaults)—or, at least, it seems strange in the first hour or so of the film, which is marvelously intimate and frequently entertaining. Once the picture reaches the home stretch, however, the motivations for the interval become a bit more clear.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Outtakes from the Greil Marcus Interview

My interview with Greil Marcus, which ran in the online version of the "Village Voice" a couple of weeks back, was something of a dream assignment for me; Greil is one of my literary heroes, the guy who made me want to do the kind of pop culture criticism that I hope to do, y'know, when I grow up. So smashing our 90-minute interview into a reasonably succinct piece that not only profiled him but gave proper time to his new book on the Doors was a bit of a job; I went through a lot of drafts, and had to lose or not use what I felt was a lot of good quotes. As a result, in the spirit of the bootleg recordings and alternate versions that he so often focuses on in his work, I wanted to present a couple of outtakes from my profile of him.

In Theaters: "J. Edgar"

On the Venn Diagram of Oscar nomination probability, the titular role in J. Edgar has got to be something of a sure thing for Leonardo DiCaprio: slightly villainous, based on a real person, wide range of aging, secretly gay. If he were mentally or physically challenged, they might as well call off the ceremony. (He does have an occasionally surfacing stutter, so, nice try.) The film provides DiCaprio with the opportunity for some award bait, and it gives director Clint Eastwood the chance to make a big, sweeping biopic. Those are reasons enough for them to make the picture, I suppose, though they might not be reason enough for you to see it.