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Saturday
Nov012014

AHS: Freakshow "Edward Mordrake Pt. 2"

I apologize for the lateness of this piece! AHS's two-part Halloween episode was structured around green smoke spewing evil spirit Edward Mordrake's search for another soul to add to his collection of dead ghouls. This search was something like a B story entirely made up of SAG Ensemble clip reel auditions with several actors getting their own "darkest hour" backstory to tell. I loved the Illustrated Seal's (Mat Fraser) clip reel about his "handsome face" and am pleased to have read that Ryan Murphy, recognizing his talent, wants to give him a non-freak role somehow in a future season, despite his deformed hands and arms.

After completely the sad story roundup, Mordrake decides to take Elsa (Jessica Lange) with him into the afterlife following her grisly tale of her Weimer Era Germany sex club stardom ends in the grisly chain-sawing of her legs. (Yuck -- and that isn't even the grossest image in her story). But, Mordrake stops when he hears distant music.

Where is it coming from?

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Saturday
Nov012014

Meet the Contenders: Rene Russo "Nightcrawler"

Each weekend a profile on a just-opened Oscar contender. Here's abstew on this weekend's new release, NIGHTCRAWLER, which is a perfectly dark treat for a Halloween opening.

Rene Russo as Nina Romina in Nightcrawler

Best Supporting Actress

Born: Rene Marie Russo was born February 17, 1954 in Burbank, California

The Role: Screenwriter Dan Gilroy (2006's The Fall, The Bourne Legacy) makes his directorial debut with Nightcrawler (which he wrote as well). The film stars a gaunt, crazy-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal (a Best Actor Contender) as Lou Bloom, an unemployed but determined man in Los Angeles that stumbles upon a career as a news journalist. He video records car crashes, home invasions, and bloody crimes, selling the footage to the local news station. Russo stars as a veteran television producer, in charge of the "vampire" shift of the lowest rated station in town. She encourages Bloom's budding career, forming a twisted relationship with him to gain viewers.

The film is also a family affair for Russo who is married to Gilroy (he also wrote two of Russo's previous films 1992's Freejack and 2005's Two for the Money) and her brother-in-law, Oscar nominated writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity), is a producer on the film.

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Saturday
Nov012014

HTGAWM: "We're Not Friends" & "Whack-a-Mole"

It's true.  I didn't quit How To Get Away With Murder as intended. The people have spoken and the last writeup was so popular that I kept watching. But writing about it is harder when it's not being porny and forcing my hand and, um, jaw (see: previously on...)

"We're Not Friends" & "Whack-a-Mole"
It's two episodes in one post, a survival tactic. Manuel will be handling the next while I'm in LA, bless him for his sacrifice.

These latest two eppys huff and puff and cry and scream and the first at least is so (typically) hysteric that it has a jury picking montage with frenzied strobelight-editing set to housemusic from the 90s (I half expected Viola Davis to start pivoting and jacking while shouting "excuse" and "accept" and "dismiss for cause" at each potential juror.) Amidst all the heightened emotion the two rawest expression of feeling came in scenes between Annalise and soon-to-be-dead husband Sam. Their scenes together crackle in a way that little else on the show does which does not bode well for Season 2, unless they go supernatural and keep Tom Verica on as a ghost. Pretty please?! You're always jumping the shark when every character is a shark anyway and it's not like they're concerned with Ivy League or Legal accuracy.

These two scenes with have promising Emmy-seeking character moments, though they're a potentia mine field of regressive gender politics. In 'Not Friends' Annalise implies that she was once like the murdered student, a student her husband picked up "weak, broken ... a mess that he had to clean up" and in 'Whack-a-Mole' she delivers a pathetic but wholly human refrain of "I need you"

So...um... [cue Celine power ballad] she's everything she is because he loved her??? 

What the what now,Viola?

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Saturday
Nov012014

Review: Force Majeure

Amir here to talk Sweden's Oscar submission, now in theaters...

The opening sequence of Ruben Ostlund’s fourth feature, Force Majeure, has an ominous aura to it. On the surface, there is nothing strange about a happy, wealthy Swedish family stopping for a family portrait during their vacation at a posh French ski resort. Yet, as their unseen photographer becomes more assertive with his commands, ordering them to get closer together and forces the corners of their lips upward, something seems amiss. No sign of trouble is yet to be found though, as Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their white-as-snow children spend the first couple of days skiing together. It is during lunch at the high-end restaurant on the balcony of their hotel that everything falls apart at the seams, revealing the tenuous links that keep this family – or is it every family? – together.

Tomas insists that the loud bang and the ensuing avalanche are controlled by resort patrols, but when panic strikes all diners, it is he who abandons ship first, opting for his own survival as he runs away from his family. When this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pivotal moment in the narrative is over and the snow powder settles, Tomas is overcome with shame but returns to the table as though nothing out the ordinary has happened. For Ebba and the children, however, the gravity of the mistake makes it unforgivable. As the vacation progresses and story of that fateful moment is repeated between Tomas, Ebba and their friends, perceptions change, stakes are raised and bonds are severed and mended again. The avalanche has hit the family like, well, an avalanche; but as Nathaniel correctly pointed out in his review, the analogy only feels forced when articulated by the reviewer, not when the director slyly works in into the film. 

Ostlund tells this story with a remarkable panache for minimalist style and minimalist storytelling. The snow-covered background affords him the possibility to concoct some of the most memorable images and sounds of any film this year, but more impressive is how he replicates the same clean, sparse atmosphere in his storytelling. With a keen eye for small interactions between characters, Ostlund manages to say quite a lot while saying very little. Note one particular instance, where an uncomfortable Brady Corbet (unexpectedly brilliant in a tiny role) is asked to adjudicate between Tomas and Ebba. Ostlund has been similarly preoccupied with awkward group encounters in his previous films, and here, holding the camera as a taciturn Corbet nervously fidgets around in his seat to avoid delivering responses, he proves his knack for capturing truthfully these small but crucial interactions.

Force Majeure is about our perceptions of each other, the image we project of ourselves, and our differing perspectives, and above all it’s about how tenuous all of these things are, how friendships and relationship and even familial bonds can be broken with one moment’s worth of complete idiocy. Then again, how stupid is Tomas’s mistake? Can a single momentary slip break everything? Whose perspective do we accept as the truth? Ostlund toys with these questions without offering definite answers, knowing well that there can be none. If anything is definitively claimed, it’s the vulnerability of man and his position in the traditional family structure. For all its pretensions of power and control, no institution is as fragile and easily bruised as masculinity. Kuhnke’s performance as the man crumbling under the weight of his own self-image and perceived infallibility is perfectly pitched to the film’s sense of humor.

Ostlund’s comedy is dry and detail-oriented. In several instances, it is only the framing of a character, or a split-second cut that causes uproarious laughter. It is an absurd sense of humor, too. Consider that the film’s biggest moment of comedy gold is delivered not by an actor, but by a remote controlled toy drone. Only in the hands of an extremely confident director like Ostlund can such storytelling succeed. After a couple of minor festival hits, Force Majeurehas now entered him among the world’s most exciting filmmakers.

Related
Scandinavian Films
Oscar Submission Charts

 

25 of 83 Foreign Submissions Reviewed
AfghanistanArgentinaAustraliaBelgium,
BrazilCanadaCuba, Czech Republic, Finland,
France, GeorgiaGermany, HungaryIceland,
Israel, ItalyLatviaMauritaniaNorway,
PolandPortugalSweden, Switzerland,
Uruguay, and Venezuela

Friday
Oct312014

The Honoraries: Harry Belafonte, Beetlejuice (1988)... and Selma (2014)?

In our miniseries "The Honoraries" we're celebrating the four talents that'll be honored by the Academy at the Governor's Awards this year. Here's Nathaniel...

Or, rather, here's soon to be Jean Hersholt Humanitarian winner Harry Belafonte's immeasurable contribution to Tim Burton's Beetlejuice (1988) - included below since it seemed appropriate for Halloween. When I was a kid these Belafonte songs weren't new to me since my parents had a few of his records but I imagine for a whole swath of young moviegoers in the 1980s this was quite an introduction. Two of the movie's key scenes were basically handed over to his joyful voice and catchy songs.

"Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" was originally from Harry Belafonte's "Calypso" album, his third, in 1956. The song was a top five hit but the album was an even bigger sensation spending over half a year as the #1 selling LP in the country. "Jump in the Line" the Belafonte number that closes the film through Noni's floating dance was a cover recorded for his 1961 album "Jump Up Calypso".

Beetlejuice (1988) and political activism after the jump...

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Friday
Oct312014

Review: John Wick

Michael C here 

The screenplay for David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick is so simplistic it rises above laziness until it reaches a kind of glorious absurdist joke. What “plot” there is (and I’m typing those quote marks as hard as I can) could be adapted into a book for beginning readers without much stretching:

See John Wick’s wife die. John sad.
John’s wife leaves John dog. John slightly less sad.
See Russian mobster kill John’s dog. John mad.
See John kill. Kill, John, kill!

To gripe about the thinness of the script is to miss the point. A movie like John Wick is all about getting to the good stuff. When the story is pared down to such a degree it’s a giftwrapped opportunity for filmmakers to show off their chops by filling all that empty space with creatively staged mayhem and wild, indulgent detours, two things for which I am always on board. On such occasions, I am more than willing to disengage higher brain function for 100 minutes, lean back in my seat and say “Show me what you got!” silly grin on my face, drool collecting on my popcorn...

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