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"All three look a little insufferable. The stupid music and the "based on a true story"/"an unforgettable story" shots and the critics quotes instantly turn me off. But I'm in for most things Lonergan, even though the plot of Manchester By the Sea is clearly Baby Boom meets Good Will Hunting." - CharlieG

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Tuesday
Jul222014

Under the Skin and Into the Fog

Formless void and darkness. And then light, blinding light. Jonathan Glazer and his gifted cinematographer Daniel Landin present them in that Biblical order. They toy with them for the remainder of Under the Skin, separating them like they're playing god.

Honorable Mention

Perhaps they are since this haunting film begins, as far as I can tell, with Creation, or a creation of sorts. Is it our protagonist being formed (?) or, rather, assuming a new form complete with vocal exercizes to play the role. (The mystery woman is never named in Under the Skin, and none of the men she entices and lures into her formless void, ever think to ask her for it so we'll refer to her as "She" or "Her" since it's Scarlett Johansson we're talking about). What She needs language for is something of a mystery. She seems to communicate best telepathically in the eery repeated shots of her and her driver/accomplice staring at each other or staring into windows / mirrors. That's as good an explanation as any for how she understands the thick Scottish brogues around her when English is not her mother tongue.

Though the details of what exactly is occuring in any given sequence of this great picture are often indecipherable, the artistry of the film is not. It's alternating visual schemes of darkness and light, its elemental preoccupations (water, air, fire... and, well Earth, all play key roles) and its weird asides (the blinking mask, that golden shimmer interlude, the cake!) and Scarlett's fascinatingly alien comportment all prove more rewarding on second viewing. 

Runner Up

The most powerful recurring image and in some ways the most inexplicably frightening is watching the men slowly sink into blackness, like sailors willfully drowning for a siren's call. You may have your own ideas about what exactly She is harvesting their skin for but I assumed it was the creation of more faux humans like herself. And if so, how perverse that Creation is always doubling as Destruction. 

And speaking of perversity, Here's my choice for Best Shot, below. In a film full of startling imagery, it's something as mundane as a car on the road, and a woman in the fog, from the point of view of a car's dashboard. It's a visual choice as it continues the film's often ingenious play on stark blacks and bright whites while reversing the now familiar feeling of men swallowed up in blackness. It's a narrative choice, marking as it does the transition to the film's last act and reverses our usual view of looking out the car's window with her and for a moment, the same view looking at her. It's an emotional choice as I forgot to breath watching it. She has rejected her calling, an apostate suddenly wandering in a strange land without purpose.

Best Shot. Into the Fog

Glazer leaves us waiting for Her return a full 14 seconds before we join her in the fog. Her emotions are still totally alien to us as she rotates in place, staring into the liquid air. Looking for what? Everything that should be mundane, including this view from inside a car we've spent half the film in, is riddled with complexity and eery wonder. Glazer has the power to render the familiar alien and by the film's end, and rather movingly, the alien familiar.

I'm not otherwise a religious person but the cinema is my church and Jonathan Glazer is one of the new gods. I've watched Under the Skin twice now, both times with equal parts reverent awe and abject fear. I'm a true believer. 

See the whole roster of chosen shots from 22 other HMWYBS participants

 

Tuesday
Jul222014

Beauty Break: "I like thinking about the red dress..."

50 years ago today Marnie (1964) hit movie theaters and, as quite a divisive picture in the Hitchock filmography, ended one of the most beloved perfect runs that any filmmaker has accomplished in the history of ever  (1958-1962: North By Northwest, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds).

So Marnie has a bad rep, posts about her don't get you riled up like other Hitchcock fests, and she's underseen today. Not to lovingly kick that crazy bitch while she's down but it occurred to me the other day when she popped into my head that Marnie's color phobia means she would never be able to see an Almodóvar picture. Her loss. And she would be absolutely terrified by Sara Goldfarb addictions in Requiem for a Dream. (I mean more terrified than the rest of us) 

I like thinking about the red dress. And the television and your father."

I dedicate this following gallery of beautifully cinematic red dresses to Marnie who fears them and to Ellen (currently battling Pazuzu) who likes thinking about them.

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Tuesday
Jul222014

1973 Look Back: Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye"

We're giving 1973 some context as we approach the Smackdown. Here's Matthew Eng on an Altman film.

There’s an unmistakable sense of nostalgia that permeates Robert Altman’s seldom-seen 1973 neo-noir The Long Goodbye, an air of reminiscence highlighted by the film’s title track, a nifty, pliable, lovelorn little number composed by John Williams and Johnny Mercer that gets incorporated endlessly throughout the movie, evoking sporadic familiarity, even though we rarely hear the same version twice. It transforms itself, from scene-to-scene, into a flimsy piece of supermarket Muzak, an ivory-tickled barroom ditty, even a castanet-laden flamenco. It’s a caressing torch ballad one moment and a marching band’s funeral hymn the next. The song, in all its reimagined incarnations, continually threatens to embed itself into the viewer’s mind, but just as quickly eludes any tighter hold. It’s as though the film, in its own increasingly weary, tumbledown sort of way, is nostalgic for the tune, longing for something that comes back but is never the same.

It’s telling of Altman’s intentions that the film forsakes any other discernible music apart from this titular track, save for the classic, semi-satiric “Hooray for Hollywood,” which opens and closes the film. The Long Goodbye may be based on an eponymous Raymond Chandler novel, centered around a character made legendary by Bogart, and hitched to an entire history of early noir filmmaking, but it is not a mere, Body Heat­-like retread. And although there may be obvious admiration and even some slight affection for the genre in all of its former, mannered glory, it’s certainly not a love letter.

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Tuesday
Jul222014

Celebrating Sandra with "Hope Floats"

With Sandra Bullock's 50th birthday approaching we'll be looking at a few of her films. Here's Andrew Kendall on a little discussed '98 picture. - Ed.

Is it strange that when asked to celebrate Sandra Bullock’s birthday with a film from her oeuvre I immediately turned to the 1998 (ostensible) romantic drama Hope Floats? Despite the 80 million dollars at the box office the film was not quite a hit and critics were not impressed. Yet, whenever I’m asked to stump for a Bullock performance I tend to turn to Birdee Pruitt not necessarily as the “best” Bullock, or not even quintessential Bullock but my favourite Bullock.

The well-intentioned, sometimes – oftentimes – too treacly Hope Floats from writer Steven Rogers (who did a better job handling domestic dramas that same year with Stepmom) and direct Forrest Whitaker (who helmed his strongest film three years earlier with Waiting to Exhale) is a movie I feel warmer towards than I should. It gets a bit turgid in the middle falling prey to the lazy, but not necessarily inaccurate, complaint that it’s probably too long. But I can’t turn my back on the easy warmness of the film, mostly because of its able bodied cast – Harry Connick Jr being just the right amount of cocky and charming, Mae Whitman giving one of the best children performances of the nineties, and Gena Rowlands giving the type of performance that would net an aging actresses an Oscar nomination if this was 1940s (think Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager). And, of course, Sandra Bullock – the lead performance the film lives and dies by. [More...]

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Tuesday
Jul222014

Happy 50th to the Inimitable John Leguizamo

Happy 50th to the enduring character actor and one man show trouper John Leguizamo. He has his first (film) hit in years this summer as part of the ensemble of Chef and he's arguably even its secret weapon; his cheerful sideline energy helps cut the sometimes sour taste of the movie's vaguely offputting self pitying / self aggrandizing central character business featuring Jon Favreau.

But Leguizamo has been doing that for years, significantly boosting or even altering the energy of pictures he was fourth or fifth or, you know, twelfth billed in. It's true that his brand of sideline showmanship often teeters towards hardly altruistic hamminess; he's an unrepetant scene stealer. But it was a treat to see him again, I raedily admit, and so shortly after I happened to watch his most recent one man show "Ghetto Klown" on cable or streaming or something (I forget) wherein he talks about this impending 50th birthday, the disintegration of his film career and trying to get things back on track. 

That story has a happy ending given that it's hard to miss his earnest but unforced exuberance in Chef and wish him well on future gigs. Especially if you have any fond recollection of past gems like...

From top left: Summer of Sam, the most all-around underappreciated of Spike Lee's quality joints, gave him a rare leading role as Vinny the hairdresser; he was wonderfully too much and Golden Globe nominated as Chi-Chi in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar like an excited drag puppy that couldn't stop peeing; and of course there's his unrequited romantic highly-fictionized version of Toulouse Lautrec in the classic Moulin Rouge!. These are his greatest film roles and it's just perfect that two of them have exclamation points in the title since he's that kind of actor. 

I only speak the truth ♫ I only speak the truth "

What's your fondest memory of Leguizamo's career?

Tuesday
Jul222014

True Blood: Return to Oz

Here's Adam, who is still on the death march to True Blood's final episode.

This weekend's episode of True Blood took place almost entirely at Sookie's house as assorted Bon Tempser forced a celebration of life on the grieving fairy. Eventually Sam Merlotte’s girlfriend/fiancé/baby mama (I’m sure she was given a name at some point during the show, but I can’t/will never for the life of me remember it) stands up and causes a scene. She's all judgmental righteous and 'how can we just have a party while surrounded by all this death?' (because heaven forbid these characters have a chance to let loose and not shudder and scream every time they walk into a room, right?). She even manages to scream out, what are we all doing here?!

What am I even doing on this show?

Bitch, that’s what we’ve been asking of you since you suddenly appeared all willy-nilly last season as a lead character. Where was Letti Mae when her trusty butcher knife could’ve actually been useful?

Meanwhile, outside the party... Lets give a round of golf claps for Lafayette penetrating James, people! [Decidedly NSFW extremely impolite musings on this week's episode after the jump...]

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Monday
Jul212014

Curio: James Garner, Jim Rockford, and an altered matchbox car

Alexa here, back from vacation with an atypical Curio. I was very saddened at the news of James Garner's passing. While I am a fan of many of his films (The Americanization of Emily ranks especially high), he is primarily remembered from television, and, for me especially, as Jim Rockford. His beleaguered, Marlowe-esque hero was a touchstone of my childhood.

In fact, I am something of a Rockford Files obsessive: I even altered a toy Firebird to more closely resemble the one made famous from many a car chase. [More...]

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