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Entries in Burning Questions (47)

Friday
Sep122014

Is There a Right Way to Watch "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby"?

abstew in the house to ask a Burning Question...

Almost a year ago today, director Ned Benson premiered his film debut, an ambitious two part film about the breakdown of a modern relationship called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, at the Toronto Film Festival (and Nathaniel was there). The film was not just one, but two films of the same story, each told from the different viewpoint of its two main characters played by Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy. It was an interesting concept and much like this summer's Boyhood, seemed like an amazing opportunity to show something unique and ambitious in the cineplex. 

Today the film finally arrives in select movie theaters. However, 12 months later, the way the film is coming to us is far different from the way it was originally conceived. The version that opens in NY and LA this weekend (and expanding next week) is actually a spliced two-hour combination of the two films now subtitled Them (which made its debut at Cannes this past May) with the original concept of two separate films, now called Him and Her, to be released a month later in October. But with three different versions of essentially the same story...

Is there a right way to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby? And perhaps more importantly, can all three films sustain enough interest across so many versions? [more...]

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jul212014

Burning Questions: Are Marvel films Interchangeable?

Amir here and I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore. There is no Marvel movie in theatres at the moment but the world is anticipating Guardians of the Galaxy very soon, as has been the case every few months for the past several years. Like Michael Bay films, discussed in the box office column, Marvel films are entities I have vowed not to ever see again, especially after news came out that Edgar Wright was taken off Ant-Man. I was marginally interested in Guardians after seeing the kooky trailer, but who are we kidding? The off-kilter humor of the short preview is going to give way to explosions and “things crashing into other things” and the experience will be like every single other Marvel film.

Which brings me to this frustrating news: Marvel has announced release dates for (hopefully all) their future films until the end of the decade, with the catch being the absence of... film titles? Yes, that’s correct. The studio has planned its visual assault all the way for the next five years, without even bothering with the names in the announcement this time.

Have they now realized that their output is completely interchangeable? I’m not exactly sure if I’d be less upset if these dates had titles attached to them, but what stings about the news is Marvel’s acute awareness that the audience will get excited about it and mark their calendars even without characters or stories to get excited about in the first place, like zombies feeding on chiseled heroes. The studio has become the brand, fully overshadowing the content of its films; and its sibling comics business moves like turning Thor into a woman do little to conceal the studio's lack of creative force. This announcement of release dates of unnamed product reeks of what's desperately rotten with today’s film culture: That a distinctly original, unique (and admittedly problematic) vision like Snowpiercer, fails to crack double digits at the box office, at a time when a studio with no regard for originality or qualitative progress can correctly expect people to rush to their wallets five years in advance.

Something is broken and it needs serious fixing, otherwise what we're offered on screen will continue to become less versatile and more depressing by the week. If you don't believe me, look no further than this weekend's wide release box office, where a meaningless sequel stayed at the top spot; a terrible sequel came second; an even more terrible sequel came third; and the most terrible of all sequels came fifth. I’m fucking angry about everything.

Wednesday
Feb262014

Burning Questions: Is '12 Years a Slave' Really Too Rough For Oscar?

Michael Cusumano here. Oscar balloting closed 24 hours ago and this final crunch before Oscar night has me pondering the gap between pre-Fall buzz and the reality heading into the big ceremony.

If the breathless predictions about 12 Years a Slave that sounded out of Toronto last September were to be believed there should have been zero suspense left in the Best Picture race long ago. Like The King’s Speech before it, McQueen’s film appeared to be such a direct hit to the Academy’s sweet spot that many called the race then and there. So what happened? 12 Years may still emerge victorious but why isn’t it rolling over the competition like a Sherman Tank? 

The popular theory is that 12 Years is turning off the more squeamish voters with its unsparing physical and emotional violence. These voters are supposedly fleeing to the comforts of Gravity, which is nerve-shredding but in the unthreatening context of an action-thriller. This seems logical enough but I wonder if it's too easy an answer.

Is 12 Years a Slave really too rough for awards voters? Or is something larger at play?

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jan032014

Burning Questions: Katniss in Context

The Year in Review continues with Michael Cusumano on Jennifer Lawrence's box office coronation, a more impressive achievement than you think.

At the sound of the closing bell, Iron Man 3 clings to the title of top grossing domestic release of 2013, but Tony Stark should savor the honor while it lasts. He is all but certain to relinquish the crown to Katniss Everdeen in the early weeks of 2014.

If one wants proof that this is all but a done deal, one need only compare the grosses of the first Hunger Games to its sequel. According to Box Office Mojo, Catching Fire’s 398 million is 24 million ahead of its predecessor at the same point in its release (41 days). Since the first Hunger Games’ final gross of 408 million is nearly tied with Iron Man 3’s 409 million, unless the grosses of Catching Fire unexpectedly crater it’s a safe bet that when we close the book on the 2013 the second entry in the Hunger Games series will hold true to its protagonist and emerge from the arena the final victor.

That a film with a strong, capable female protagonist as its sole lead is the year’s number one film is reason to cheer. That I was unable to recall the last film to duplicate this feat emphasizes the rarity of the achievement. It made me curious:

When was the last time a film led solely by a female character topped the domestic box office in its year? [The answer is after the jump]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Sep262013

Burning Questions: Captain Phillips and Ugly Audiences

Michael C. here.  On the Boogie Nights DVD commentary track, Paul Thomas Anderson tells the story of how the audience cheered at the film’s first screening during the scene where William H. Macy’s Little Bill snaps and shoots his adulterous wife. PTA recalls sinking in his seat, wondering how he stepped so wrong that the moment he intended to be a nauseating gut punch was being received as a crowd pleaser. He was relieved moments later when, as he tells it:

William H Macy's gut punch as "Little Bill" in Boogie Nights

Bill Macy walked out and he shot himself in the face and they shut the fuck up real quick. And they weren’t laughing, and they weren’t cheering, and it was dead silence. And I thought, “Good.” I’ve done my job okay. It’s them that’s fucked up. It’s really the moment where you blame the audience and go, “No, you’re wrong.

The question Anderson asked himself in that theater back in ’97 is one that flares up every time a crowd has the “wrong” response to a movie:

How responsible is the filmmaker when a movie provokes an ugly response from the audience?

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep142013

Burning Questions: War of the Five (Nerd) Kings

Hey everybody, Michael C. here. There are certain phrases entertainment writers are fond of throwing around until they lose all meaning. If pop culture pundits are to believed at any given moment there are around a dozen “Best Shows on Television” and twice that many “It Girls”. 

One phrase run into the ground this past summer was declaring such and such person “King of the Nerds -every week saw a new monarch crowned by the media. So in an effort to save everyone the confusion I propose we settle the matter here and now:

Who is the current King of the Nerds?

If we were to put things into Game of Thrones terms (and why wouldn’t we?) George Lucas is the Mad King who used to be the unquestioned ruler but had to be deposed when he lost his mind and started dragging his own films out onto the throne room floor to be destroyed. Peter Jackson would be the Robert Baratheon who was swept into power on the glory of the Lord of the Rings trilogy but whose subsequent projects became increasingly bloated until he was but a shadow of the leader he was when he first took the crown.

Now into the power vacuum wades these potential heirs to the throne and their fervent armies of fans:

JOSS WHEDON – The Popular Favorite

Hand of the King: Nathan Fillion

Claim to the Throne: Tough to beat his combination of mainstream success and cult adoration. Currently at the helm of The Avengers franchise, which, in case you failed to notice, was box office champ of the summer for the second year in a row. Its television spin-off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuts a week from Tuesday. Fans don’t come more loyal than his legion of followers. 

Achilles Heel: Does he desire the title? Low-budget black and white Shakespeare adaptations? Internet musicals? Talk of doing a ballet? He seems more like a theater dork at heart.

 

SIMON PEGG – The People’s King

Hand of the King: Nick Frost

Claim to the Throne: Listen to him talk for 5 minutes (or glance at the cover of his book) and it’s clear that he is the real nerd deal. When he isn’t improving mega franchises with his presence, he is spearheading the Cornetto trilogy, the cult success of the last decade.

Achilles Heel: Can't really break out of cult status as a leading man, but then again, maybe that’s a plus for a Nerd King.

 

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH - The Knight of Flowers

Hand of the King: Martin Freeman

Claim to the Throne: Provokes the opposite of Affleck casting tantrums. Welcomed with open arms every time he shows up in a new geek-friendly franchise, which lately feels like all of them.

Achilles Heel – Sic Transit Gloria. In a year or two his roles in the The Hobbit, Star Trek, and Sherlock will all be in the rear view mirror.

 

JJ ABRAMS – World Conqueror

Hand of the King: A Pile of Money

Claim to the throne: All your franchise are belong to him. Accomplished the obscene fantasy of landing both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises. Who can top that?

Achilles Heel: He has the power but does he have the love of the people? Star Wars and Star Trek aren’t what they once were and he his films have the habit of leaving vocally disgruntled fans in their wake. The masses could rise up against him.

 

GUILLERMO DEL TORO – The Connoisseur’s Choice

Hand of the King: Ron Perlman

Claim to Throne: One of the few guys creating original visions for the screen instead of rebooting and rehashing old ones. Lackluster response to Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, a project he was originally attached to, has only increased his cred, “If only Guillermo had done it…”

Achilles heel: Pacific Rim suggests he loses some of his mojo when reaching for mass appeal. More suited to work on the fringes than to sit on the throne.

 

It doesn’t feel right for me to make such a momentous judgment on my own, so I leave it to you. Declare which army you would join below or make a case for a different candidate altogether in the comments. 

 

 

 

Previous Burning Questions
You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm. Or read his blog Serious Film

Wednesday
Sep042013

Burning Questions: On Perfect Games and "Noah" Jitters

Hey everybody. Michael C. here. Quick question: By your estimation, which directors are currently pitching a perfect game? By which I mean, which filmmakers have yet to make a bad or even a so-so film so far in their career. I can think of three off hand: Spike Jonze, Brad Bird and Darren Aronofsky.

Darren Aronofsky and Logan Lerman on the set of NoahOf course, your mileage may vary on these choices. Right away, I’m sure a lot of you jump ship with The Fountain (Aronofsky), and one could debate whether Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Bird) is a great movie or merely great for a Mission Impossible movie. Feel free to substitute one of your own choices for any of the above. My point isn’t to reopen the debate on these movies. My point is, rarely, if ever, do filmmakers make it through a full career without stumbling at least once, more likely a few times. Even the Coens, who made it nearly two decades without a misstep (Shut up. I like The Hudsucker Proxy), eventually crashed against the rocks with Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. So when directors are in a golden period where they have yet to step wrong, it’s bittersweet because chances are excellent it is not going to last.

Not that a failure-free career should be an artist’s goal, anyway. If I can paraphrase Laurence Fishburne's sage advice from Searching for Bobby Fischer, you can’t play not to lose. The edge of defeat, that’s where you want to be. I prefer my filmmakers who approach things like Robert Altman. Taking huge, all-or-nothing swings at every pitch, knocking it into the parking lot when he connects, lying flat on his ass when he wipes out.

Take Aronofsky. I can't shake the feeling that his upcoming Noah is a giant miscalculation. 

I’m not looking to tread on anybody’s religion here, but it’s hard to deny the essential silliness of the Noah story, and the recently released first official images did nothing to quiet my concerns. I have tremendous faith in Aronofsky’s ability to raise some impressive Biblical thunder, but at some point Russell Crowe will start marching animals on to a big boat and when that happens it’s going to be difficult to keep a straight face, yes?

 

Chances are excellent Mr. Aronofsky will transform the familiar tale in ways I never anticipated, and when that happens I will shake my head at ever having doubted him. But even if my worst fears are fulfilled, it will still be gratifying to know we still have a cinema where filmmakers are free to indulge in a grand folly now and then.

Can you think of a director to who managed to make it a full career without tripping up? (One could make a strong case for Kubrick. I would disagree) Can someone out there give me reason to look forward to Noah? Let me know in the comments.

Previous Burning Questions
You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm. Or read his blog Serious Film