The House


Carl Theodor Dreyer The last five films of Carl Theodor Dreyer are accepted classics of world cinema, written about, shown regularly, and given the full Criterion treatment on DVD. Many who have only seen a few silent films have seen his The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and Criterion recently put out a comprehensive Vampyr (1932) that helped to shed some light on that misty, eternally disorienting film, with its radical, bizarre use of space. His three late sound films stake their claim in an essential Criterion box set: Dreyer's Day of Wrath (1943) continues to exert its nearly unbearable tension; watching it is like working up a sweat, almost dying, then letting the sweat evaporate off of your mind and body until you are as free of fear as the accused witch Anne (Lisbeth Movin). (Dreyer disowned his next film, the nearly never-seen Two People {1945} but I've heard that a rare print was screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and I can only hope that this final piece of the Dreyer puzzle will someday play in New York and elsewhere.)

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TAGS: bam, carl theodor dreyer, gertrud, leaves from satan's book, love one another, master of the house, michael, once upon a time, the bride of glomdal, the parson's widow, the passion of joan of arc, the president, two people, vampyr


Breaking Bad

If the United States makes it easy to follow a certain path to some form of success, it also makes it a little too easy for someone to get lost. "Down," written by Sam Catlin and directed by John Dahl, is evenly split between two deliberately paced stories that converge at the end. In one, a man tries to reconcile with his wife after his secrets and lies take their toll on his marriage. In the other, the man's partner in crime confronts the fact that he's being cast out of the place he's been staying and he doesn't really have a backup plan. Like last year's much-acclaimed film Wendy and Lucy, his descent into some American underbelly becomes a story about just how easy it is to blip off the map, to find yourself completely and utterly gone.

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TAGS: aaron paul, Anna Gunn, breaking bad, bryan cranston, down, john dahl, Raymond Cruz, recap, RJ Mitte, Sam Catlin


Friday Night Lights

"It's gonna blow, don't ya know." It's a phrase that a Dallas sports radio host was fond of saying back when the polarizing Terrell Owens joined the Cowboys. Since very early on in Season 3 of Friday Night Lights, the phrase has been looping in my head. For nearly the duration of the season, Joe McCoy's fuse has been burning, and it was only a matter of time until the man did something drastic. "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" was written by Bridget Carpenter, Patrick Massett, and John Zinman; the only other Friday Night Lights episode crediting three writers was the Season 1 finale, "State." It seems fitting that these specific three would write this episode, as they're responsible for scripting some of the more McCoy-centric stories this season such as "How the Other Half Live" and "It Ain't Easy Being J.D. McCoy." With the Texas High School Football State Championship just a game away, the show's writers, along with the episode's director, Michael Waxman, and the actors playing the McCoys (D.W. Moffett, Janine Turner, and Jeremy Sumpter) are tasked with bringing this festering problem to a climax at the most inopportune moment.

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TAGS: a hard rain's gonna fall, bridget carpenter, D.W. Moffett, friday night lights, janine turner, Jeremy Sumpter, John Zinman, michael waxman, Patrick Massett, recap


Solaris

[Editor's Note: The Conversations is a monthly feature in which Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard discuss a wide range of cinematic subjects: critical analyses of films, filmmaker overviews, and more. This is the second half of a two-part conversation; the first part can be found here. Readers should expect to encounter spoilers.]

Ed Howard: You selected Steven Soderbergh's Solaris as the film from the last few years you believe to be unfairly overlooked, and it's not hard to see why you chose it. There are few types of films that are more often overlooked and forgotten, en masse, than the amorphous category of the "remake." Fairly or unfairly, critics tend to be inherently skeptical of remake projects, even if audiences flock to genre remakes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the "reboots" of franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween. In Soderbergh's case, his film couldn't even be called a commercial success; it was more or less a flop whose memory has almost completely faded from the popular imagination in just a few short years. When Soderbergh's film came out in 2002, I skipped over it for the same reason that I suspect a lot of other people did: by all appearances, it was yet another Hollywood "updating" of a classic film from years before, a film that if you ask me didn't really need to be revisited. Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 Solaris is a classic of the science fiction genre, as well-loved and admired among art-cinema fans as Stanley Kubrick's more popularly known 2001: A Space Odyssey, to which Tarkovsky was directly responding in making his own film. Moreover, the 1961 novel of the same name by Stanislaw Lem is also a classic, one of the greatest works of sci-fi literature (and a personal favorite of mine). Soderbergh was stepping into tremendous shoes by attempting to tell this story, and I'm sure he realized that this film would inevitably be compared to its predecessors, making it difficult to evaluate on its own terms.

The question then becomes: on its own terms, what is Soderbergh's Solaris? What was his rationale for revisiting a classic story? What does he bring to the film to make it his own? Does this new Solaris deserve its current obscurity or should it be remembered simultaneously with its predecessors (or even elevated above them)? I have my own opinions on these questions, but for now I'm interested to know what you think. Does what I've described gibe with your own reasons for picking this film? And why do you think Soderbergh's Solaris deserves a second look?

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TAGS: andrei tarkovsky, erin brockovich, eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, full frontal, ghost, lost, michael clayton, oceans eleven, out of sight, solaris, stalker, stanislaw lem, steven soderbergh, the conversations, the fountain, the limey, the mirror, traffic, undertow, watchmen


Lost

Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) has always been one of Lost's most under-served characters. If you go back and look at the Pilot, the revelation that he's an Iraqi is played for friggin' COMIC EFFECT, for God's sake. Andrews' performance is so solid (to the point where he's one of the few Lost cast members to score an Emmy nomination, somewhat inexplicably) and his presence is so great that he's been kept alive long after other characters the show had no idea how to service would have been killed off. Every season, the series tosses in an episode that pretty much boils down to, "Hey, Sayid used to torture. Isn't that MORALLY AMBIGUOUS?!" and calls it a day. Without Andrews, most of these episodes would be complete yawns (only "Solitary" and "The Economist" are really worthy of his talents), but the actor has managed to save most of these by just gritting his teeth and pushing through the pain. Like, pretty much all I can remember about Season Three's "Enter 77" is that the Sayid flashback was ridiculous (I think it involved a mystical cat?), but Andrews was SO GOOD that I liked it more than I probably should have.

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TAGS: Alan Dale, Daniel Dae Kim, elizabeth mitchell, evangeline lilly, he's our you, henry ian cusick, jeremy davies, jorge garcia, josh holloway, lost, maggie grace, Naveen Andrews, recap, sterling beaumon, terry o'quinn, william sanderson, Zuleikha Robinson


Undertow

[Editor's Note: The Conversations is a monthly feature in which Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard discuss a wide range of cinematic subjects: critical analyses of films, filmmaker overviews, and more. This is the first half of a two-part conversation; the second part can be found here. Readers should expect to encounter spoilers.]

Jason Bellamy: For our third installment of "The Conversations," we decided to each select a film from the past 10 years that we thought was unfortunately overlooked and/or unfairly maligned. Serendipitously, we selected films that the other person had yet to see. You elected to champion 2004's Undertow. I selected 2002's Solaris. These films have few similarities, and so there will be no attempt to connect them beyond our feeling that they are deserving of increased discussion and praise.

Thus, we begin with Undertow. Prior to seeing this film, I knew exactly four things about it: 1) Its director is David Gordon Green; 2) Its star is Jamie Bell (or as I usually call him, "The kid from Billy Elliot"); 3) It's set in the South; 4) Roger Ebert loved, loved, loved it. That's it, and that's all. I vaguely remember the film coming out and being interested in it. Yet somehow I never got to it until now.

If Undertow was maligned (I've avoided checking Metacritic to this point), I don't remember that. Overlooked seems right. Mention of Green usually inspires reference to Undertow predecessors George Washington and All the Real Girls. I'm sure you and Ebert aren't Undertow's only fans, but I can't say I remember anyone else so much as mentioning it.

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TAGS: all the real girls, badlands, david gordon green, days of heaven, entertainment weekly, george washington, kill bill, owen gleiberman, pineapple express, quentin tarantino, saving private ryan, scott foundas, steven spielberg, terrence malick, the big red one, the conversations, the night of the hunter, undertow, variety


God's Land[Editor's Note: The following is the first in a series of on-set reports by producer Jeremiah Kipp on God's Land, a feature film written and directed by Preston Miller, whose previous feature, Jones, was covered by The House Next Door here (review), here (interview), and here (podcast).]

[Photo Credits: Shing Ka (all, except logo); Leif Fortlouis (logo).]

Day One

The 8-year-old boy, Matthew, is clutching his mother's sleeve tight and holding her hand. He looks very pale. As the director of photography, Arsenio Assin, sits on a nearby couch inspecting the Hi-Def camera, which is state of the art and still has that "new car smell," and the filmmaker, Preston, assembles the costumes, which are, to say the least, quite bizarre (a white cowboy hat, white zip-up hoodies, white sweatpants and Texarcana cowboy boots), the boy seems to wonder just what he got himself into here. We load up the passenger van and drive out to the shopping mall, where we will proceed to shoot these actors in these strange costumes moving through this consumer-driven space. Matthew barely says a word to us; he is going through something completely interior—and completely personal.

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TAGS: arsenio assin, béla tarr, god's land, hou hsiao-hsien, jeremiah kipp, jodi lin, jones, leif fortlouis, matthew chiu, preston miller, shing ka


Coming Up in This Column: Sunshine Cleaning, Everlasting Moments, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, Horton Foote, Teaching the Young: Take Two, The Mask of Dimitrios, Burn Notice, Castle, ER.

Sunshine Cleaning

Sunshine Cleaning (2008. Written by Megan Holley. 102 minutes): Not Little Miss Sunshine.

Yes, it has "sunshine" in the title. Yes, it has Alan Arkin as a crusty grandpa. Yes, it has a light colored van. Yes, it is set the Southwest. Yes, the poster is similar. But does Little Miss Sunshine start with a man bringing a shotgun shell into a sporting goods store, asking to look at a shotgun and blowing his head off with it? No. Sunshine Cleaning is a darker film (in spite of what you may think from the trailer), further along the continuum of dramedy to drama than to comedy.

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TAGS: burn notice, castle, er, everlasting moments, harvard beats yale 29-29, horton foote, sunshine cleaning, the mask of dimitrios, understanding screenwriting


Big Love

Big Love's season finales often have a bit of an out-of-control feel to them, as though any given season's plotlines have gotten so all-encompassing that it's all the show can do to race just ahead of the giant boulder of story that threatens to overtake it at any moment. "Sacrament," written by Victoria Morrow from a story by Coleman Herbert and directed by Dan Attias, managed this feat more elegantly than last season's finale, and it mostly brought the series' sporadically brilliant third season to a close, even if the finale was, itself, only sporadically brilliant. I suspect everyone here is tired of hearing me diagnose the show's problem as spending too much time at Juniper Creek (even if I'm more charitable toward those characters and storylines than some commentators), but the four episodes following "Come, Ye Saints," the best episode the show has ever done, just got too bogged down in compound morass. Still, developments in the finale suggest that the focus of the show will shift decisively to the Henrickson compound in Sandy, Utah, and to stories of Bill Henrickson's (Bill Paxton) third wife, Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) in the show's fourth season.

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TAGS: aaron paul, amanda seyfried, big love, bill paxton, chip esten, chloë sevigny, Douglas Smith, ginnifer goodwin, Harry Dean Stanton, jeanne tripplehorn, Matt Ross, recap, sacrament, Shawn Doyle


Breaking Bad

In "Bit by a Dead Bee," written by Peter Gould and directed by Terry McDonough, the camera takes its sweet time drinking in the details of one of those seemingly innocuous pieces of art bought from low-rent furniture stores and used to decorate hospital rooms in as peaceful and unobtrusive a manner as possible. The painting depicts a rowboat heading out into a large lake, tree branches drooping down to the ground to frame the image on either side. A man is at the oars of the rowboat, and his family is standing on the shore, waving to him as he rows off into the afternoon sun. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), in the hospital to cover for the fact that he was kidnapped by a drug dealer in last week's episode and will have to account for a good deal of missing time, stares and stares at that painting, and the more he looks at it, the less innocuous it seems. He is that man, rowing off into uncertainty, and everyone he's ever known and loved is already standing on shore to wave farewell to him, even as he's trying to row just slowly enough to make sure they have a life to return to when they get done bidding him farewell. Walt's a man heading into uncertainty, and all the planning in the world isn't going to change that.

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TAGS: aaron paul, Anna Gunn, bit by a dead bee, breaking bad, bryan cranston, Dean Norris, Harry Groener, Peter Gould, recap, RJ Mitte, Terry McDonough







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