The House


The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises

At a certain stage of Batman's filmic evolution, Bruce Wayne explained that he chose the bat symbol not just because he wound up in a cave as an orphaned, traumatized child, but because he felt it could "strike fear" into the hearts of Gotham's wicked. In this age of darkening fantasy properties to reflect the real world's gritty gloom, Wayne's objective has been repurposed by the makers of superhero films, who use their protagonists' unmistakable, teaser-ready emblems to strike anticipation and apprehension into the hearts of fans and fanboys everywhere. The folks behind The Avengers have tried to employ this sort of tactic, but that whole brand is unfashionably streamlined, and it doesn't boast a logo that's built for both noirish dread and count-the-days excitement. Grim is in, and beyond the launchpad of showcasing creatures that naturally give people the creeps, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises have parlayed an entire mood into simplistic and enormously effective poster designs.

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TAGS: batman, bruce wayne, columbia pictures, green lantern, peter parker, poster lab, posters, spider-man, the amazing spider-man, the avengers, the dark knight, the dark knight rises


The Descendants

[Editor's Note: The Conversations is a House feature in which Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard discuss a wide range of cinematic subjects: critical analyses of films, filmmaker overviews, and more. Readers should expect to encounter spoilers.]

Jason Bellamy: Alexander Payne films don't have the distinct visual styles of movies by Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, to name two other filmmakers of his generation, but they are quickly recognizable just the same. Payne's five feature films are quasi-tragic comedies with hopeful but not fully redemptive conclusions about people struggling with significant life changes. Protagonists in Payne's movies are always flawed. Relationships are usually difficult, distant, damaging, or all of the above. And deception is commonplace. On the face of that description, Payne's movies mustn't seem distinct at all. In fact, I think I just described every crappy romantic comedy from the past decade or more. But what sets Payne apart is the way he applies these themes—unflinchingly exposing his characters' worst tendencies before ultimately regarding them with great sympathy—and, even more so, who he applies them to. If Payne's films are known for anything, it's for being about average Americans, emphasis on the "average."

Of course, at the movies, where Jimmy Stewart can be considered an "everyman" and Kathrine Heigl can be cast as the proverbial "girl next door," "average" is never ordinary, which is precisely why Payne's characters generate so much attention, because they're often ruthlessly unexceptional. Ruth in Citizen Ruth (1996) is a promiscuous glue-huffer who becomes a pawn in an abortion debate. Jim in Election (1999) is an awarded high school teacher who can't outsmart his students or pull off an extramarital affair. Warren in About Schmidt (2002) is a retiree with no interests or usefulness. Miles in Sideways (2004) is a writer who can't get published, a wine snob who can't control his drinking and an introverted romantic who can't move on from his divorce. Matt in The Descendants (2011) is a husband who doesn't know his wife and a father who doesn't know his kids. And those are just the main characters.

Because Payne's characters tend to live modest lives (some of them in modest Middle America), and because Payne is so fearless in his examination of their faults, and often uses his characters' shortcomings as mechanisms for humor, his films have often been attacked as condescending. In this conversation we'll go into each of the five films mentioned above, as well as Payne's memorable vignette from 2006's Paris, Je T'Aime, which does little to deflect the accusations of condescension. But let's start by addressing the elephant in the room. Ed, does Alexander Payne look down his nose at his characters, or ask us to mock his characters, for being unremarkable? Is his humor mean-spirited and class-conscious? In short, is he condescending?

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TAGS: 14e arrondissement, about schmidt, alexander payne, chris klein, citizen ruth, election, george clooney, jack nicholson, kathy bates, laura dern, margo martindale, matthew broderick, paris je taime, paul giamatti, reese witherspoon, sideways, the conversations, the descendants, thomas haden church, virginia madsen


Kim Kardashian

Slate gives us "The Year in Cads," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, and Kim Kardashian.

IndieWire offers the top 10 "Filmmaker Toolkit" articles of 2011.

The Democrats' unwavering focus on Mitt Romney may be paying off.

Jim Emerson shares the precise moments when he fell in love with a handful of 2011's best movies.

Behold the shirtless evolution of Sylvester Stallone.

Michele Bachmann talks about her favorite gun.

For The New York Times, Nelson George discusses Pariah and a possible New Black Wave in cinema.

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TAGS: adrian curry, anthony weiner, arnold schwarzenegger, beyoncé, indiewire, jim emerson, joseph gordon-levitt, kim kardashian, louis virtel, margaret thatcher, mitt romney, movieline, mubi, nelson george, pariah, posters, slate, sylvester stallone, the new york times, twitter, zooey deschanel


The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

The day before the first ever episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on British television—the 22nd of November, 1963—is etched into world history forever due to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. However, that day was also notable for the deaths of a pair of celebrated British authors. One was Aldous Huxley, and the other was C.S. Lewis—who therefore missed by the narrowest of margins the chance to see a science fiction twist on the enchanted wardrobe from his famous Narnia books that opened onto whole worlds of adventure. The similarities between Lewis's magic wardrobe and the TARDIS have often been noted, especially by current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, and in this year's Christmas special he uses The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as inspiration for a festive bit of escapism. There's nothing much going on below the surface—and compared to the convoluted plotting of this year's season arc, the storytelling here is almost shockingly undemanding—but the Who of the Christmas specials has always been a deliberately simplified version of the show, specifically aimed at an audience containing a large number of non-regular viewers.

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TAGS: alexander armstrong, arabella weir, arthur darvill, bill bailey, c.s. lewis, claire skinner, doctor who, farren blackburn, holly earl, karen gillan, matt smith, maurice cole, recap, steven moffat, the doctor the widow and the wardrobe


War Horse

[Editor's Note: Oscar Prospects is your weekly analysis of an awards contender and how it's likely to fare come Oscar nomination morning. The column is comprehensive, so beware of spoilers.]

Just as The Artist boasts a built-in underdog story perfectly primed to court Oscar ("It's silent, it's black and white, and it's actually a lovable hit!"), War Horse, Steven Spielberg's old-school insta-contender, has its own inherent, frontrunner-battling virtues to get behind, its title alone as apt as one could imagine for a top hopeful striving to stay ahead in the race. War Horse's largely good critical ink and inevitably good box office have some pundits capitalizing on an attractive, would-be-winner scenario, attempting to add intrigue to a redundant precursor influx by declaring the equine epic the new Best Picture candidate to beat. The truth is, while The Descendants has certainly fallen behind as The Artist's toughest competition, not much about War Horse's chances has changed since the movie's Christmas release. It is unsurprisingly grand, and unsurprisingly beloved in a not-quite-universal way, all of which still suggests it will place in the top category, but have to settle for a nomination. Humoring the notion of a War Horse victory is a bit too cynical and trend-driven, invoking last year's King's Speech win to hastily declare a complete death of the Academy/critics' group alignment that flourished in the aughts.

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TAGS: academy awards, gone with the wind, hugo, janusz kamiński, joanna johnston, john ford, john williams, oscar prospects, scarlett o'hara, steven spielberg, the artist, war horse


Kim Jong-un

Following his father's memorial service, Kim Jong-un was declared "supreme leader" in North Korea.

The G.O.P. Debates, planking, and the junk in Pippa's trunk were among the 75 things New Yorkers were talking about in 2011.

This is what happens when you visit the 9/11 Memorial, but forget to leave your .32-caliber pistol at home.

Time lists the top 10 movie trailers of 2011.

David Fincher spills to EW the importance of properly lighting a nipple piercing.

The Huffington Post compiles what may be the most unsurprising list of the season with their countdown of 35 celebrity smokers.

The first man-candy still from Steven Soderbergh's Channing Tatum stripper film Magic Mike has been released.

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TAGS: 911, channing tatum, christopher hitchens, david fincher, entertainment weekly, g.o.p. debates, kennedy center honors, kim jong-un, magic mike, meryl streep, movie trailers, north korea, pippa middleton, ryan stewart, steven soderbergh, the huffington post, the tree of life, the village voice, time


Fast Five

Impending classic Fast Five tops list of Most Pirated Movies of 2011.

Tarzan chimp allegedly dead at age 80.

The Guardian's David Cohen thinks "Cecil B DeMille would have admired the funeral of Kim Jong-il."

Ben Nelson to retire from Senate. Good riddance.

Bill Maher takes heat over Tim Tebow Tweet.

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TAGS: 10 most pirated movies of 2011, bambi, barack obama, ben nelson, bill maher, cecil b. demille, david cohen, faces, fast five, forrest gump, kim jong-il, national film registry, tarzan, terrence malick, tim tebow


Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean, "4 Tears." "4 Tears" is skeletal enough that the overblown earnestness that rendered "Made in America" the wishy-washy low point of Kanye West and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne actually works here. Accompanied by only a basic drum-machine beat and a keyboard riff that evokes a keening harp, Ocean's brief ballad withholds weeping for a more dramatic description of single tears running down the singer's face, imagery he somehow manages to pull off. It's a nice, uncynical love song to no one in particular, a bravely simple track that feels like a little step forward for Ocean. Jesse Cataldo

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TAGS: 212, 4 tears, anything like you, azari and iii, azealia banks, fade to grey, frank ocean, house playlist, kelis, liquorice, lone, pineapple crush, reckless with your love, remember, retromania, simon reynolds, visage, we will always be, will.i.am, windy and carl


Take Shelter

Paste's 50 best movies of 2011.

Dee Rees and Adepero Oduye talk coming out and coming of age in Pariah.

Cuba makes more reforms to retail sector.

Fake Taylor Lautner coming out cover story hits web.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex scandal inspires Abel Ferrara film.

What gay rights wins can teach pro-choice movement.

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TAGS: abel ferrara, adepero oduye, cuba, dee rees, dominique strauss-kahn, fandor, margaret thatcher, meryl streep, moneyball, pariah, paste, pedro armendáriz jr., steve zaillian, taylor lautner, terrence malick, the girl with the dragon tattoo, the iron lady, the thin red line


Occupy! Scenes from Occupied AmericaOccupy! Scenes from Occupied America, the latest book from the editors of the Brooklyn-based literary journal n+1, would seem to have arrived just in time. As I write, much of what Occupy Wall Street meant in 2011 looks as though it will be a memory in 2012. Major occupations throughout the country, including the flagship encampment at Zuccotti Park, have been dismantled. Others that remain, like the one in Washington, D.C., face the growing threat of eviction and the deteriorating weather of a North American winter in full effect. Mainstream media coverage, ambivalent even during the movement's high watermark, has turned definitively to a more reassuring, if less comprehensible, strain of political theater in the Republican presidential primary. Whether or not this decline in profile and enthusiasm is permanent, the evident phase-change merits a look back at the movement's first chapter.

The writings assembled in Occupy!—from the journal's editors, as well as other writers and thinkers sympathetic to OWS—chronicle the movement's first month and a half, from the settlement by protesters in a small park in New York City's Financial District, to eventual expansions in Oakland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Boston. The book consists of first-person anecdotes about life and activity within the occupations, as well as essays on various theoretical and practical aspects of the movement as it grew. Many of these pieces originally appeared in the Occupy! Gazette, a special newspaper printed by n+1, and on the journal's blog where content about OWS is regularly posted. Also reprinted are speeches made at encampments in New York by Judith Butler, Angela Davis, and Slavoj Žižek. The book's account ends two weeks before the Zuccotti eviction and the subsequent Day of Action on November 17 that found some 30,000 marchers in the streets. The preface acknowledges that these events took place as the book was going to print, and its posture is one of defiance: "You can pull up the flowers but you can't stop the spring…The movement and this book are not over." It sets the tone for much of what is to come, namely articulate endorsement of its subject. For all the collection's problems, mistaking its audience isn't one of them.

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TAGS: angela davis, astra taylor, judith butler, keith gessen, mark greif, n+1, nikil saval, occupy philadelphia, occupy the boardroom, occupy wall street, occupy! gazette, occupy! scenes from occupied america, rebecca solnit, sarah resnik, slavoj žižek, sunaura taylor, zuccotti park







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