Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Blank City"

From 2009: Nothing makes this cinephile happier than a good movie about movies—I’ve watched Z Channel and The Celluloid Closet and A Decade Under the Influence and This Film Is Not Yet Rated more times than I’d care to count, and Blank City may not quite approach the five-star quality of those films, it is still a stellar, well-constructed doc that vividly recaptures a very specific moment in underground cinema.

Friday, February 24, 2012

On TV: "Semper Fi: Always Faithful"

Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger joined the United States Marine Corps in 1970, right out of high school. He served honorably for 25 years. Part of that time was spent at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina; that’s where his daughter Janey was born. A few years later, Janey died of leukemia. In 1997, a report surfaced, indicating that toxic cleaning solvents had been improperly disposed of at Lejune, contaminating the camp’s drinking water supply. Sgt. Ensminger’s daughter was one of hundreds who were born or spent time there and had succumbed to leukemia, cancer, and other ailments. The Marine bureaucracy refused to take responsibility—they were not, in his Ensminger’s words, “gonna do what was right by their people. They were gonna have to be forced to do it.” And he was just the guy to do that.

How to Pull the Perfect Movie Heist

This will be included in the links post this weekend, but in the meantime, if you haven't seen the heist movie megamix I made for Flavorwire (pulling clips from over two dozen caper pictures), check it out below:

Video Essay: "How to Pull the Perfect Movie Heist" from Flavorwire on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

In Theaters: "The Forgiveness of Blood"

Joshua Marston’s first feature, Maria Full of Grace, was the story of a Colombian girl who works as a drug mule. It was shot in subtitled Spanish, in spite of the fact that writer/director Marston hails from Beverly Hills. After it met with worldwide acclaim, robust box office, and awards recognition, one might think that the earnest filmmaker would choose to take it easy the next time around, to make something a little more accessible or blatantly commercial. One would be wrong. His new picture, The Forgiveness of Blood, takes place in northern Albania, and (as with his previous effort) it’s not one of those films where the location is arbitrary, where Hollywood storytelling conventions are honored, or where everyone somehow mysteriously speaks English. It’s a grim and difficult tale of old vendettas and even older customs. It’s a powerful film, and a challenging one as well.

In Theaters: "Wanderlust"

Third acts are a tough nut to crack in broad, raucous comedies. “A film going nowhere in particular,” Joe Adamson wrote, “feels pretty sheepish about itself by the time it doesn’t get there.” He was writing about the Marx Brothers, but it’s a dilemma that continues to plague mainstream comedy filmmakers to this day; a film can coast for a good, long while on funny ideas and inspired improvisations and the charm of its players, as David Wain’s Wanderlust does, but the conventions of studio filmmaking and the expectations of a general audience mean that, incongruent as they may be with the free-wheeling nature of what has come before, we must have a conflict and a climax and a resolution, preferably a happy one. Would you believe that Wanderlust introduces an evil real estate agent halfway through? And breaks up the protagonists so that they can realize how much they really love each other? And reveals that a seemingly sympathetic character is actually a terrible person? You would, if you’d ever seen a movie before.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On DVD: "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

The group lives communally, on a farmhouse up in the Catskills. By day they work; everyone has their job, their place. At night, the men eat first, in silence, while the women sit tensely in the next room and wait for them to finish. Once the men are done, the women take their places at the table. They sleep several members to the room; the only one who gets a room of his own is Patrick (John Hawkes), the leader, though he insists, with false modesty, that the home belongs to all of them. And then early one morning, before anyone is awake, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) runs away.

What happens to her next, as she attempts to understand her time with the group and why it has made her the way she is, is the basis of Martha Marcy May Marlene, an extraordinary film from writer/director Sean Durkin. Her story unfolds over two interlocking timelines: the two years she spent in the Catskills, in what first seems a commune and, it slowly becomes clear, was actually a cult; and the two weeks immediately following her escape, as she recuperates in the Connecticut lake house of her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy). Lucy presses her for an explanation of where she’s been and what happened to her. Martha doesn’t want to talk. But memories and images begin to surface.

On DVD: "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?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On DVD: "J. Edgar"

On the Venn Diagram of Oscar nomination probability, the titular role in J. Edgar looked like 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 could have just called 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.

On DVD: "Weeds: Season 7"

When we last saw Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), the decreasingly lucky soccer mom pot dealer of Showtime’s long-running comedy/drama Weeds, her attempt to escape to Copenhagen with her new baby, her extended family, and her life had failed by that much. Reverting to “plan C,” she gave herself up to the authorities—and, presumably, gave up her father’s child, Mexican kingpin Esteban, in the process. The idea of master improviser and unlikely survivor Nancy spending a little bit of time in the slammer was a delicious one, so it is a bit of a disappointment that the seventh season of Weeds opens with the text “THREE YEARS LATER,” and Miss Botwin’s parole hearing. It’s a fairly bold move, narratively speaking; you don’t see shows taking those kinds of leaps in chronology all that often. But it’s a bit of a copout as well—don’t promise us Nancy behind bars (in not only that last episode but the season’s promo materials) and then leapfrog her stint. This is the first of several issues with season seven, a year that finds Nancy & Co. still engaging, but their vehicle showing real (and worrisome) signs of old age.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

This Week's Links

From The Atlantic:
The Most Insane, Illogical Award Choices in Oscar History

This year’s Academy Awards are just around the corner (well, okay, they’re still a week and a half away, so it’s more like around the corner, down a little, second door on the left), and while we can’t help but get a little excited about Hollywood’s big night, we’re also being very careful to keep our expectations in check. We’ve already lamented the many worthwhile films and performances that were unduly snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the nominations phase; when Sunday the 26th rolls around, you can bet the farm that the AMPAS will confound us again by making at least a couple of spectacularly bone-headed choices. There’s a long and storied history of the Oscar simply going to the wrong damn person or movie, countless cases where a peek back at the list of nominees and the eventual winner provokes confusion, rage, or at the very least, a bit of head-scratching. After the jump, we’ve gathered ten of the most egregious examples.

The Most Unwanted Sequels in Film History

As you’ve surely noticed from the lines of ecstatic moviegoers camped out on the sidewalks of your local cineplex (/sarcasm), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is out tomorrow. Try to contain your excitement. Yes, in their infinite wisdom, Hollywood has spent $75 million to grind out a sequel to Ghost Rider, a film that nobody liked and nobody wanted to see more of. So why on earth does Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance exist? Ah, here we go: because beloved or no, the first film grossed $115 million, and while that may be a meager profit on a reported $110 million budget (seriously? SERIOUSLY?), it pretty much doubled that gross overseas. As they say, it’s show business, kids, and if there’s that many ticket buyers who’ll pony up once to see Nicolas Cage flambĂ© motorcycling around for justice, maybe they’ll do so twice. (Not to worry, though: the sequel is directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who did Crank and, um, Crank 2. And, oh dear, Jonah Hex. Enjoy, moviegoers!)

GR:SOV (as the kids are calling it) is just the latest in Hollywood’s long, long, long history of churning out utterly inexplicable sequels. Look, let’s be clear, we’re not cinema snobs, railing against sequels on general principle: movies from Godfather II to Aliens to The Dark Knight to Harry Potter 3-7.5 have proven that you can follow up a film with equal (or even advancing) returns. But there has to be a compelling reason for it to exist: a story worth returning to, say, or even a general positive opinion of the initial outing. After the jump, we’ll take a look at a few occasions where we got a sequel, whether we wanted one or not.

From Flavorwire:
10 Romantic Comedies That Aren’t Terrible

Well, kids, it's Valentine's Day, and those of you who aren’t looking to go out and spend a fortune at a swanky restaurant (read: those of you who are married or in relationships that have been going long enough that you’re not trying to impress each other anymore) may very well choose to stay in for the holiday, cuddling up on the couch and enjoying a nice romantic comedy. Except, ugh, they’re all terrible.

Or so it seems, in this Heigl/Hudson/Hugh/Sarah-Jessica saturated cinematic marketplace. But believe it or not, there are some genuinely great romantic comedies out there—smart, tender, funny movies that make you laugh and warm your heart. No, seriously! We’ve not only managed to collect ten of them, but even an alternate choice or two for each. Snuggle up and enjoy after the jump.

The Weekend Box Office: Explain Yourself, America

The pre-Valentine’s Day weekend was an unexpectedly big one at the box office, with four new movies bringing in over $20 million in receipts—only the second time in history that such an event has occurred, and the first time, as some outlets are reporting, that it’s happened on a non-holiday weekend. (We’ll let you decide whether a few days before Valentine’s Day counts as a “holiday weekend” or not. I’ll refrain from comment, in the interest of not upsetting anyone on the eve of said maybe-holiday.) What’s even more remarkable about this considerable fiscal accomplishment is that it was achieved with four movies that no one here at your Flavorwire can actually imagine going to see. Neat trick, Hollywood!

Trailer Park: Throwbacks and Festival Hits

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 for your Friday viewing enjoyment; check ‘em all out after the jump, and share your thoughts in the comments.