Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Night Netflix: "Breaking Bad- The Complete Second Season"

I suppose there are some that would argue that the act of watching a television show shouldn’t be a stressful one—that it should be an escape to entertainment, the release of a pressure valve rather than the compacting of one. Breaking Bad, on the other hand, functions in such a constant state of dread, permeated by a sense of bad things right on the verge of occurring. It operates at a fever pitch; it keeps ramping up, higher and higher, increasing the intensity to such a degree that you’re not sure how they can possibly sustain it. But they do, and then they top it. It’s a masterful program.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hey, It's This Week's Flavorwires

Open Thread: Is “The 100 Essential Directors” List Too Snobby?

Here at Flavorwire, we’ve learned (and continue to be reminded, on an almost daily basis) the pros and cons of making a good list. On the plus side, people love to see pop culture artifacts piled up and stacked against each other; it starts conversations and stirs passions. On the minus side, selecting and ranking beloved films, television shows, albums, books, musicians, etc. is just asking for trouble—what begins as starting conversations and stirring passions can become a melee of second-guessing, judgment, and sometimes even name-calling. So our sympathies and admiration go out to the fine folks at Popmatters, who have spent the past several weeks compiling a list of “the 100 essential directors,” and thus opened themselves up to the inevitable Monday-morning quarterbacking of film fans, a notoriously hard-to-please bunch.

The site’s editors wisely avoided the most bitter arguments by running the list alphabetically rather than in a ranked order; it’s a move that also spread out the angry “What about….” comments throughout the series’ run, rather than all at the end. But now that we’ve had a chance to look at the whole thing, as you have, there are some, well, puzzling choices.

10 Unexpectedly Effective Movie Villains

One of the many pleasures of Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn’s slick new art house/action hybrid (opening in select cities this Friday—and as Letterman likes to say, we sure hope your city has been selected), is the masterful performance of the great Albert Brooks. The comedian/filmmaker/comic actor (and, most recently, novelist) plays the film’s villain, a hard-boiled gangster type; Brooks harnesses his groggy weariness (that raspy voice has seldom been so well-utilized) and that impatient anger that’s always percolating under his best work. He’s unexpectedly chilling and effective. His top-shelf work got us thinking about other actors who took on villainous roles and, whether due to their good-guy personas or comedic backgrounds, took us by surprise with their ruthlessness of their darker turns. We’ve rounded up our picks after the jump.

TV’s Most Egregious Rip-Offs

As we may have mentioned a time or twelve, we’re less than pleased that we had to go an entire summer without a new season of Mad Men. While we’re waiting for its postponed winter season premiere, however, the fine folks at NBC and ABC have been kind enough to offer up some alternatives—and hey, look at that, they just so happen to each have a show set in the early ‘60s, all full of vintage styles and attitudes! Television is a business, of course, so it would stand to reason that networks would want to hedge their bets by giving viewers more of a good thing they like. More often than not, however, TV’s copycats fail—because viewers see right through the ruse, and because the reason they liked the trendsetters was that they were new and unique, unlike the other stuff on the tube. After the jump, we’ll take a look at some of the most blatant Xeroxes in TV history.

R.I.P. John Calley, The Man Behind Some of Your Favorite ’70s Cinema

Woodstock. McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Klute. Dirty Harry. A Clockwork Orange. What’s Up, Doc? The Candidate. Deliverance. Super Fly. Scarecrow. Enter the Dragon. Mean Streets. Badlands. The Exorcist. Blazing Saddles. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Uptown Saturday Night. Night Moves. Dog Day Afternoon. The Man Who Would Be King. All The President’s Men. The Outlaw Josey Wales. The Late Show. Oh God! The Goodbye Girl. Straight Time. Superman. Going In Style. The Great Santini.That astonishing list of 1970s films—iconic, intelligent, commercial yet daring—is much of the legacy of John Calley, who died Tuesday morning at age 81.

Trailer Park: Murderers, Messengers, and More Muppets

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 ten new trailers for you to feast your eyes on this week; check ‘em out after the jump.

In Theaters: "Stay Cool"

Reviewed at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival

“That sucked,” says Henry McCarthy (Mark Polish) about twenty minutes into Stay Cool, which is a funny coincidence, because I said the same thing when the movie ended an hour and a half later. This is the sixth film from the Polish brothers (Mark wrote and stars, Michael directs), whose earlier films include the odd and fascinating Twin Falls Idaho and the lovely Astronaut Farmer, so its poor quality is all the more surprising. According to imdb, it was shot back-to-back with their currently-unreleased fifth film, Manure; I’m not sure if they were just worn out from finishing another picture, but however you slice it, I think they gave that title to the wrong movie.

In Theaters: "3"

Back in 1999, Movieline ran a piece called “100 Questions We Honestly Want to Ask Hollywood,” and one line from it has always stuck with me: “How come Mike Figgis can do Leaving Las Vegas and then go back to being Mike Figgis?” It’s memorable not only because it applies to Figgis (ever sat through The Loss of Sexual Innocence? Good heavens), but to a number of filmmakers who make one incredible film, one picture where everything snaps into place, and then never manage to replicate that, no matter how many times they try, and how many chances we give them.

All of this is a long way of getting around to saying that Tom Tykwer, the director of the electrifying Run Lola Run, has made yet another film that is nowhere near Run Lola Run. He has, it must (and should) be noted, gone to great pains in the years since that 1999 joyride to not churn out films that replicated that style (or, God help us, a sequel—Keep Running, Lola!). But the films he has made—The Princess and the Warrior, Heaven, Perfume, and The International—don’t offer anything to replace the sheer ingeniousness and adrenaline of that breakthrough effort. None of them are bad films, but none of them are particularly memorable either. His latest, 3, is his least successful picture to date.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In Theaters: "Straw Dogs (2011)"

Remaking Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is, let’s face it, a no-win situation. Always one of the more problematic films of the 1970s canon, the original is an ugly, brutish, fundamentally troublesome motion picture, and the degree to which it is either memorable or admirable (and that is a mileage that varies wildly) is based entirely upon the specificity of Peckinpah’s direction and Dustin Hoffman’s acting. Remove those elements, as you must in remaking it, and you’ve got a pretty basic thriller, with a dash of rape thrown in for good measure. To call out any remake as specifically “unnecessary” is a dash down a rabbit hole (no remake is “necessary”—and, for that matter, no film is either), but the mere existence of a 2011 cover of Straw Dogs is, all things considered, befuddling. There’s really no reason for this movie to exist.

In Theaters: "Restless"

There’s a kind of schizophrenia to the filmography of Gus Van Sant, which veers wildly from modestly conventional crowd-pleasers like Good Will Hunting and Milk to abstract, experimental fare like Gerry and Elephant. His patterns are somewhat similar to Soderbergh’s—right down to the fact that the pictures he make “for them” tend, contrary to expectation, to be of a higher quality than those he makes “for me” (though at his worst, Soderbergh never turned out a slag heap as unwatchable as Last Days). His latest film, Restless, feels like a conscious effort to meld the two halves of his directorial persona, though the result is a picture that should please absolutely no one.

In Theaters: "Drive"

Watching Ryan Gosling has become one of the more compelling activities for discerning moviegoers over the last few years—not in “keep an eye on this guy, he’s doing interesting things” kind of way, but in the literal act of watching him, and specifically him, in the films that he does. You can’t take your eyes off of him. It’s easy to click off the roll call of intense and iconic actors who he recalls (Brando, Pacino, Penn, Depp) without examining why he brings them to mind: because he possess that intangible, elusive quality—call it magnetism, charisma, heat, whatever—that draws us in.

Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Gosling’s new film Drive, is well aware of that quality, and uses it—plays up to it, even. His character is, in the early scenes, purposefully opaque; Refn and screenwriter Hossein Amini (adapting James Sallis’s book) construct those opening passages in a way that painstakingly minimizes the amount of dialogue he speaks, sometimes reducing scenes down to mere in and out points, skipping the chitter-chatter in between. (It also makes his quiet work here an even more jarring contrast to his chatty ladies’ man in last month’s Crazy, Stupid, Love.)The pacing is deliberate, lackadaisical even. Long takes hold on Gosling’s face as he takes in his surroundings, contemplates a situation, and reacts. Or doesn’t, whichever.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On DVD: "Hesher"

There’s a real uncertainty in the early scenes of Spencer Susser’s Hesher; What’re they up to here? I kept asking myself. What are they trying to do? It’s hard to tell if the film is going for black comedy, sociopathic drama, or cheap thrills; by the time it ends, it’s still hard to say. There are scenes that are funny, others that are creepy, and then there’s Rainn Wilson, playing an empty shell of a widower and doing it absolutely straight. It almost feels like Susser and co-writer David Michôd (who wrote and directed the brilliant Animal Kingdom) decided to lock all their wild ideas into a room and let them fight it out.

On DVD: "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop"

In explaining the concert tour that is the subject of the new documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, the comic muses, “Really, my main goal for this is to have fun.” Behind the camera, director Rodman Flender asks, “Do you think you could have fun without an audience in front of you?” O’Brien does not answer. He doesn’t have to.

Monday, September 12, 2011

On DVD: "Wishful Drinking"

“If my life wasn’t funny, it would be true… and that is just completely unacceptable.”
 -Carrie Fisher

The film version of the stage adaptation of Fisher’s 2008 autobiography Wishful Drinking comes via the auspices of HBO Documentary Films, and is helmed by esteemed nonfiction filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (the team behind The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Inside Deep Throat), but don’t be mistaken; aside from some fleeting archival footage and film clips—many of which were already incorporated into the stage production via rear production—it is basically a straight performance film. This is not a criticism. Quite the contrary, in fact. Fisher’s one-woman show, which has played around the world and on Broadway, does not require a great deal of explanation or contextualization; she does all of that perfectly well, thank you very much. To put across the brilliance of Wishful Drinking, all Bailey and Barbato really needed to do was put Fisher on stage, and turn on the cameras. They do that skillfully and unobtrusively.

On DVD: "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.

Slowly, we begin to piece together who is who, and what is happening. The group consists of three couples, one of them with a child (and expecting another), and a guide. His name is Meek (Bruce Greenwood), and he is, by all appearances, not very good at his job. The journey should have taken two weeks. So far, it has taken five. No one seems entirely sure what to do; Soloman Tetherow (Will Patton) is the only one of the husbands with much of a backbone, and even he isn’t willing to challenge Mr. Meek. But in her own quiet way, his wife Emily (Williams) is, and will.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Archive: "Man on Wire"

If you're going to watch a movie abou the World Trade Center tonight, just watch this one. It's streaming on Netflix. It doesn't mention 9/11. It doesn't have to.

Early on the morning of August 7, 1974 (the day before Nixon’s resignation), a French street performer and wire walker named Philippe Petit stunned New York City, and the world, by walking a high-wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center without a net. Director James Marsh’s extraordinary documentary Man on Wire tells the remarkable story of Petit’s journey to that wire, a dream that began when he first read about the towers before they were even constructed. As his girlfriend Annie notes, in retrospect, “It was as if they had been built especially for him.”

On TV: "The Space Between"

From Tribeca 2010: Travis Fine’s The Space Between wants to be a great movie; it’s clearly aching to be one. It wants it so bad, you want it too. But it’s not a great movie. It takes a very good idea—a ground-level view of 9/11, as seen by a jaded stewardess and the Muslim “unaccompanied minor” in her charge—and plugs it into yet another “road movie” structure. God, I’m tired of road movies. This is the fourth one I’ve seen at Tribeca, and there’s more (there’s even one called Road, Movie). Attention indie filmmakers: get some new ideas.