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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | instagram | letterboxd | deviantart 


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A brief history of faux-Frankensteins

Tim here. All this talk of the great-looking movies we can’t wait to see, and the Sundance crop of interesting (or semi-interesting, or bad) indie films is pulling focus from the reality of filmgoing as most of us live it. Which is that it’s January, and unless you’re still cleaning off the last end-of-year films as they trickle out into medium-wide release, the options for seeing a movie in theaters right now are dire.

Case in point, tomorrow finds the release of I, Frankenstein, which, if I’m being honest, is very much I movie I’ve been looking forward to as much as anything on my official We Can’t Wait ballot, though for entirely different reasons: the combination of Frankenstein, demons, and chiseled abs promises bad movie awesomeness of a sort that I don’t expect to be replicated anytime soon.

It’s not the first nominal Frankenstein adaptation to go so far afield from the source material, either; not even the first outrageously bad one. There is a grand tradition of Frankenstein-derived films so utterly bizarre and off-the-wall and divorced from Shelley that they make I, Frankenstein look dull, sedate, and conventional. After the jump, let's take a quick look at some of the strangest.

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Happy National Pie Day! What's Your Favorite Pie Scene in a Movie?

my first pie I baked solo! Today is National Pie Day and if you don't celebrate it by watching Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet make pies as a substitute/preamble to carnal rutting in Labor Day (reviewed), you should eat one. To the left you'll see me as the proud chef of my first pie a month back. It was pumpkin (duh!), messy, and a little burnt but I devoured it anyway. Despite the deliciousness I had planned for this Very Important Day, film festivalling has thrown off my other blogging instincts (I'll be back to normal Monday). So no big pie-celebrating top ten list or visual extravaganza for this very special day.

When I think of pies in the movie I often think of The Help or Waitress but in neither of those cases would I want a slice, you know? The other most easy-to-retrieve pie memory is the now extinct slapstick gag of cream pies in people's faces. 

Help me find better cinematic attachments to pies by citing your favorites in the comments. 


Sundance: Kumiko Hunts "Fargo"s Hidden Treasure

Sundance coverage continues with Nathaniel on the fascinating oddity "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter"

Meet Kumiko (Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi from Babel), pictured above, a mopey Japanese woman in a red hoodie. This picture of her is not quite complete. While Kumiko is a mopey Japanese woman in a red hoodie there's more than just moping going on inside her, however  opaque her inner life remains. She's a quiet "Office Lady" who is miserably depressed and finds consolation only in her pet bunny Bunzo (who steals nearly every moment he's in) and her taste for treasure hunting. The movie, inspired by true events, opens with an, I assume, metaphorical search for a buried videocassette of Fargo. Once Kumiko watches it she becomes convinced that the movie is real and that Steve Buscemi's treasure awaits her in Minnesota. The red hoodie remains but she'll keep piling on other memorable attire over it on her journey from cold urban Tokyo to freezing rural Minnesota, as if the journey itself will protect her, weigh her down, or bury her. Or all three. 

The film's great strength is in its eery expressive visuals whether that's a surreal burst of shifting wet orange light (which turns out to be an airplane being de-iced I think?), odd textural juxtapositions like cloth over static tv screens, or smart visualizations (and sound mixing) which amplify Kumiko's solitude and emotional disconnect. Given the writer/director team's (Nathan and David Zellner) aptitude for mood building and imagery and the sparse dialogue, the film hardly needs to spend as much time in Japan as it does -  I confess that it took me nearly half an hour to settle into its wavelength. Kumiko doesn't always help, remaining a frustratingly impenetrable character. And yet worries about accessibility seem off point since Kumiko herself just can't connect.

The inciting image in "Fargo"

Eventually the movie curdles into something like a dark Asian companion piece to The Purple Rose of Cairo in which Kumiko continually wills the Coen Bros' classic to consume her. It's a tough sit but I found it rewarding and singular, especially in its presentational clinging to old technologies. Kumiko watches VHS, hand sews treasure maps, and despises her cel phone; she just isn't fit for the times, unable to connect in Japan or America. An ignorant but well intentioned old woman underlines this in one brilliantly succinct joke, handing the confused young woman an old paperbook of "Shogun". 

GradeB+... it really grew on me 24 hours after seeing it
Distribution: I'd say unlikely but you never know.


We Can't Wait! (Preview)

Amir here to kick off We Can’t Wait!, a week-long series by Team Experience on our most anticipated films of 2014. The title is pretty much self-explanatory. We voted as a group and, starting tomorrow, each of us will cover one of the films that ended up on our top ten 14 list. Before that, however, let’s take a quick look at some of the films that were placed highly on our individual ballots but failed to make the final list. You may remember that I posted my own personal list of most anticipated films in this space previously. Let’s hear from the rest of the Team…

Untitled Public School Project (dir. Baumbach)
Noah Baumbach’s upcoming Untitled Public School Project, starring and co-written with his diligent muse and recurring collaborator Greta Gerwig, sounded to me like Greta-and-Noah’s Up the Down Staircase, a little-remembered 1968 drama in which Sandy Dennis stars as a fresh-faced, first-time teacher pushed out of her element and into the full and frenzied halls of a NYC public high school. This got me thinking that Greta Gerwig could very well be the Second Coming of Sandy Dennis, what with both actresses’ enchanting onscreen blending of quirky neuroticism, inspired mannerisms, and modest, effortless, and intelligent charm, subsequently causing crazy, giddy daydreams of Greta-as-Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I think I need to lie down...

Details are somewhat scant on this one, but the intriguingly untitled Frances Ha follow-up doesn’t sound much like what I’d envisioned. Instead, and in a vein seemingly similar to Frances, the film centers on the relationship between another of Greta’s determined New York hopefuls and her worshipful Barnard buddy, played by Lola Kirke, sister of Girls star Jemima. In this New Yorker article from April of last year, Baumbach likens the movie to both The Great Gatsby and Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, which sounds both mind-boggling and marvellous. Then again, after Frances, I’d probably follow Noah and Greta into an Armageddon remake if it came down to it.
-Matthew Eng 

Godzilla (dir. Edwards)
The last time Hollywood tried to make a CGI epic out of Toho’s radioactive lizard, the results were deeply vile. But Gareth Edwards is no Roland Emmerich. And any doubts to the contrary evaporated when the teaser trailer bowed at the end of 2014; its grave tone, gorgeous pop-nihilistic visuals, and suggestive hints of creature design prove that the filmmakers at least know what film they should be making. Whether they’ve actually made it is something we’ll find out in May, but from this distance, it looks to me like the obvious frontrunner for King of the Summer Popcorn Movies.
-Tim Brayton 

Tammy (dir. Falcone)
The words were "Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon road trip comedy". I was sold instantly. McCarthy's comic talents are supreme when the co-star chemistry works - Sandra Bullock yes, Jason Bateman no, which suggests the laws of cosmic comedy are a mystery. And it's been so long since Sarandon was a movie star that she needs to take this chance to cut loose as a profane, hard-drinking grandmother. McCarthy co-wrote the script with her husband Ben Falcone, who has first time directing duty here. So all in all, a volatile mix of untested and unpredictable - but that can often make for cinematic magic.
-David Upton 

Magic in the Moonlight (dir. Allen)
At the beginning of every new year I know little about what the 12 months will hold for me, but I know one thing for sure: I'll be first in line on opening night for the new Woody Allen movie. As usual, no one knows exactly what this one is about (and bless him for cherishing secrecy in this time and day when we know way too much about every single film before a trailer's out) other than "A-listers get together in new locale to make Allen film". All I can hope for is that the Woodsman will give us the next brilliant Emma Stone performance promised in Easy A and that it will be at least half as good as Blue Jasmine was last year.
-Jose Solis 

Interstellar (dir. Nolan)
Whenever Christopher Nolan makes a film, it is a must-see event. They're met with equal levels of anticipation by both fanboys and highbrow cinephiles alike, eager to devour and dissect the worlds he creates. Even if you find yourself admiring the craftsmanship rather than the finished product, he's one of the few directors making adult-oriented, thought-provoking blockbusters. With an Oscar-approved cast (Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burystn, and Michael Caine, to name a few) playing scientists and explorers that delve into a newly discovered wormhole that allows time travel and journeys to new dimensions, it seems that Nolan is, once again, looking to push cinematic boundaries. And I'll be one of the first in line at the IMAX ready to have both my eyes and mind stimulated.
-Andrew Stewart 

A Man Most Wanted (dir. Corbijn)
John Le Carré novels have made some pretty good films in the past, from the steamy Tailor of Panama to the icy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This one, from the master of the spy novel's recent tome based on the true-life story of Murat Kurnaz, a Chechen Muslim and legal resident of Germany who gets caught up in the war on terror, boasts a stellar cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Bruhl, Robin Wright, and Willem Dafoe) and an inspired choice in the director's chair: Anton Corbijn, who directed The American, the most interesting spy film of the new millennium. And hey, if that doesn't interest you, IMDB says that you might like it if you liked ANY of the revitalized Ms. McAdams's 2013 efforts (Passion, To the Wonder, and About Time)! BONUS: Early word from Sundance is good, which only makes me more excited!
-Daniel Bayer 

Far From the Madding Crowd (dir. Vinterberg)
Matthias Schoenaerts stars as a young shepherd and Carey Mulligan as the young woman who becomes the object of his affection for some years in Far from the Madding Crowd. I’m excited but nervous about this adaptation of this Thomas Hardy novel. Literary adaptations too often end up as arid affairs despite any inherent zest and life of their source material. Nailing the weird but charming mix of comedy and tragedy from the text already seems like a difficult task and I can’t help but wish Tony Richardson were still alive to attach his irreverent adaptive skills to it. But the film is excellently cast from Juno Temple as servant Fanny to Michael Sheen as bumbling Boldwood. David Nicholl’s last script (Great Expectations) though occasionally surface-y was a fine condensation of a lengthy novel. And, sure, this 19th century country-romp seems a far cry from Thomas Vinterberg’s recent The Hunt but a director with a strong hand is always the best thing for a literary adaptation so I remain hopeful. Now, let us pray that in translation to the screen Mulligan’s Bathsheba retains her agency and feminist edge.
-Andrew Kendall 

Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (dir.Lawrence)
Sue me for becoming captivated by a tween movie trend. When a Burning Question asked, "Book or movie first?" I answered book, but Michael C. concluded movie. The first Hunger Games movie was my experiment. I read the book after (and decided Michael C. was wrong). I got hooked on the trilogy, and now I can't get enough of the films. They're imperfect, to be sure. They should dive more deeply into the social commentary, or at least choose between a message and appealing to an audience. But they're juicy fun, and it's easy to anticipate a film when I already know I love the content.
-Deborah Lipp

How To Catch a Monster (dir. Gosling)
Have we lost faith in Ryan Gosling or does his desire to quit acting for the time being after Gangster SquadOnly God Forgives and The Place Beyond the Pines -- back-to-back-to-back performances which weren't greeted as warmly as he's accustomed to -- speak well of his own keen instincts about how to manage his career. Will getting behind the camera rejuvenate him? Not all actors can direct but I'm intrigued by his choice of genre (urban fantasy) and especially his casting. Christina Hendricks stars as "Billy" a single mother who gets swept into a dark underworld. Since Hollywood proper seemed dumbfounded as to what to do when she broke on Mad Men, weirdly assuming that January Jones was the only Mad Woman worth pursuing as a movie star, it's a relief that a film star like Gosling gets it. The cast also includes Matt Smith as "Bully", Saorsie Ronan as "Rat" and Eva Mendes as "Cat" and if all those famous names playing weirdly matching character names for a movie star trying to become a writer/director don't make you curious, what could?

Are you excited about these nine titles? If so, why?


Sundance: 'Land Ho!' Proves Aaron Katz is America's Next Great

Sundance coverage continues with Glenn musing on the career of Aaron Katz and his latest, Land Ho!

"Mumblecore", the term given to the influx of super low-budget independent films with a rotating core of creatives, cops a lot of grief these days. I assume it's mostly from people sick of Lena Dunham’s ubiquity (she wrote/directed/starred in the incredible Tiny Furniture) or people just getting sick from the home-spun, handheld aesthetic that beset many of the movement’s features. Personally, I love that we now have the likes of Greta Gerwig, Lynn Shelton (who’s at Sundance again this year with Laggies) and Joe Swanberg amongst others. The brightest star to my eyes, however, is Aaron Katz, the 32-year-old American director who directed the woozy, boozy, teenage coming-of-age drama Dance Party USA and the deliciously cheeky Sherlock riff Cold Weather. He returns with Land Ho!, co-directing alongside Martha Stephens (Pilgrim Song), and proves that he is indeed one of America’s next greats and perhaps my favourite working American director.

Land Ho! is a simple film, but never simplistic. It’s certainly not as high-concept as Cold Weather, but it weaved an enchanting spell over me with its tale of two friends, Colin and Mitch, taking a late-in-life vacation through the wilds of Iceland. Paul Eenhoorn of the equally beguiling This is Martin Bonner stars with Earl Lynn Nelson in only his third (!) film, and your enjoyment of the film rests quite heavily on their shoulders. Eerhoorn’s delicate, friendly style is such a beauty to watch and the film’s latter passage as the re-invigoration of Colin literally comes bubbling to the surface in a hot spring is such an effective, richly portrayed sequence that's a wonder to watch. Nelson, also good, unfortunately has the lesser of the two-hander, although his randy senior citizen act results in many genuinely funny moments.

I can’t speak for Martha Stephens of which this is the first film I have seen, but Aaron Katz is just about the bee’s knees right now. I respond so strongly to his stripped back, but emotionally vibrant and visually effervescent approach to his material. It would be hard to make Iceland look ugly, but with Land Ho! it is filmed so lovingly by Katz’s frequent cinematographer, Andrew Reed, that is reveals an entirely new beauty. An argument scene between the two men lit only by the hovering radiance of nightclub glowsticks is a particularly striking image that I’ll likely not soon forget. The soundtrack, too, is a total winner with scenes punctuated by somewhat anachronistic – and yet totally right – electronic music including the film’s unofficial anthem, “In a Big Country”.

Compared to another former mumblecore-adjacent director’s Sundance return, Alex Ross Perry and Listen Up Phillip, Katz and Stephen’s Land Ho! isn’t a particularly revelatory creative step forward. However, what it has are rare virtues that will likely strike at viewers in a truly genuine, earnest place that cinema rarely ventures. It’s a sublime film, wonderfully styled, and one that makes me entirely confident in announcing Katz as one American cinema’s most vital, invigorating, and masterful modern voices.

Grade: A-
Distribution: Was just picked up this morning by Sony Pictures Classics for worldwide release in 2014. Let’s start that best original song ball rolling for this dizzying ditty by Keegan DeWitt.


A Year With Kate: Little Women (1933)

Episode 4 of 52 Anne Marie is screening all of Katharine Hepburn's films in chronological order.

In which we remember childhood fondly.

When I was 11, our school librarian told me that if you love a book enough, you have its first line burned into your brain. Being a very literal child, I immediately selected my favorite book, Little Women, and studiously memorized the first line:

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents, grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.”

Later—much later than I’m comfortably willing to admit—I realized that Mrs. Krall actually meant that when you love a story, you revisit it so often that it stays with you. I think we can all agree this extends to film as well. [more...]

Click to read more ...


Sundance: "Obvious Child" is a Funny Hit

Jenny Slate stars in "Obvious Child"Our Sundance Film Festival coverage continues with Michael Cusumano on "Obvious Child".  

If you have heard Tig Notaro’s astonishing comedy album LIVE you have some sense of the vibe Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child is aiming for. The album captures the already legendary set where Notaro hit the stage fresh from a cancer diagnosis and proceeded to spin that, and a slew of other recent misfortunes including the death of her mother and the disintegration of a long term relationship, into comedy gold. 

The circumstances Obvious Child’s Donna Stern finds herself in are pretty rough, if not as dire as Notaro’s. In the space of a week Donna is dumped by her boyfriend, loses her job, and hits a new low on stage as a struggling NYC comedian. All this before the possibility of unplanned pregnancy enters the picture. The film captures the therapeutic thrill to be had in tackling your greatest fears in front of a live crowd and wrestling them into the stuff of comedy. 

If the broad outlines sound like the sort of cheap irony (Abortions on Valentines Day!) that Sundance films too often fall into, know Obvious Child avoids the pitfall of formula thanks to the skill of two women: The smart, funny screenplay by writer/director Gillian Robespierre and the winning performance from Jenny Slate as Donna. The film may never reaches the heights of, say, Frances Ha’s take on similar material, but it unfolds with a directness and honesty that keeps the grinding of plot gears from becoming too audible. All this while keeping the laughs coming at the steady pace the film’s subject demands. Slate rings true in every aspect of the character, onstage as a standup and offstage as a woman flailing as her life choices simultaneously explode in her face.

It’s also worth noting that Obvious Child is quietly boundary pushing in its handling of abortion. When the idea of accidental pregnancy first enters the story I wondered if the film would really go there or if it would just brush of the possibility with a quip or two. Not only did the film go there, I can scarcely think of another movie that addressed the choice with more clarity and lack of judgment. Like the rest of the film, it goes at the subject with an empathetic and perceptive spirit, wielding comedy as a shield to deflect the most painful moments life can throw at you.

Obvious Child may not be a major film, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable one, and it will surely do big things for Slate’s career. It’s an easy recommendation to make.

Grade: B
Distribution: A24 picked up Obvious Child in one of the earliest big sales of the festival