The House


Annie Hall

Forty-four features over 48 years. That's a lot of cinema to emerge from the mind of one man, however tireless and prolific. Woody Allen's approach to filmmaking shares more in common with the routine, unfussy diligence of the classical studio era than modern auteurism, which is to say that Allen treats his vocation less like a tortuous calling than, well, a job, something to sit down and do every day. His latest feature, Magic in the Moonlight, arrives in theaters this week, maintaining a release streak that has brought us nearly a film a year for going on five decades. Allen has a reputation for discarding each film as it passes him by, not bothering to reflect on their importance or worry about their legacies; his attentions are drawn to what's next so quickly that he hardly has time to bother with his own history. It's safe to say that Allen wouldn't have much time for a list such as this. Still, the canon cries out for rejuvenation, and so we size up another annual Allen tradition: the commemoration of his greatest hits.

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TAGS: annie hall, bananas, crimes and misdemeanors, diane keaton, gordon willis, hannah and her sisters, love and death, magic in the moonlight, manhattan, manhattan murder mystery, sleeper, the purple rose of cairo, woody allen, zelig


James Garner

1. "James Garner Dead at 86." Gene Seymour remember the film and television legend.

"He was the logical synthesis of John Wayne and Jack Benny. Interlace the Duke's measured drawl and virile swagger with Benny's comic timing and shrewd use of wordless exasperation, and you have James Garner, who died Saturday night in Los Angeles at 86. His persona: Laid-back pragmatist...or, if you needed to be a tad more provocative about it, coolly principled coward. It endeared him to generations of moviegoers and television viewers. Garner's most cherished roles shared, to varying degrees, a bent gallantry that saw little need to advertise or flaunt itself before others. In his entry on The Rockford Files—the 1974-80 TV series in which Garner played a perennially, often unjustly besieged private detective living in a trailer—Gene Sculatti's The Catalog of Cool summed up 'Gentleman Jim's beat message: Very few expenditures of energy are worth the effort. Like Zen, man.'"

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TAGS: anthony michael d'agostino, benedict cumberbatch, bernardo bertolucci, bilge ebiri, david lynch, Elaine Stritch, gene seymour, James Garner, last tango in paris, louis c.k., magic in the moonlight, me and you, sierra mannie, the imitation game, twin peaks, twin peaks: fire walk with me, woody allen


The Leftovers

If you, like me, were cautiously optimistic that "B.J. and the A.C." would replicate the focused structure and rich characterization of last week's "Two Boats and a Helicopter," a celebration of sorts is in order. "B.J.," eccentric and tersely expressive, may not yet signal a trend, but for the first time since The Leftovers premiered, I'm not simply enamored of its potential, I'm excited by its proficiency with an unorthodox brand of suburban drama, part Left Behind and part Leave It to Beaver.

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TAGS: amanda warren, Amy Brenneman, ann dowd, annie q, b.j. and the a.c., Carl Franklin, carrie coon, chris zylka, damon lindelof, elizabeth peterson, Justin Theroux, lesli linka glatter, liv tyler, recap, the leftovers


Cherry Jones

Cherry Jones loves company, so it's fitting that she plays the proprietor of a bed and breakfast in When We Were Young and Unafraid. You won't find the actress demanding her own dressing room, starring in a one-woman show, or refusing to talk to someone who recognizes her. She's motivated most by a desire for connection, deep and true, with her role, the other actors, and the audience. Jones balances this yearning for communion with a sense of loneliness—yet none of it seems neurotic. She's from Tennessee, with an old-fashioned forthrightness that distinguishes her work and conversation. After all, when she won the Tony Award for The Heiress, she became the first Best Actress to out herself by thanking her then-partner, Mary O'Connor. Jones did so simply, treating it not as a landmark, but the easiest, most natural thing to do. In similar no-nonsense fashion, she exposes her characters' desires and shortcomings with neither elaborate techniques to distance herself from them nor self-congratulation.

The open-faced actor currently has her work cut out for her playing the emotionally shut-off Agnes. Playwright Sarah Treem, a writer and co-executive producer on House of Cards, endows Jones's character, who's forced to deal with other people every waking moment, with limited social skills. As a result, the actress not only has to master a steady stream of rituals as if they're second nature; she has to alter her own essential transparency. This frisson adds a layer of tension to an already fraught work, which ambitiously maps out the personal and political crosscurrents navigated by American women in 1972. Agnes's B&B serves as a clandestine shelter for abused women, and while trying to protect her young ward, Penny (Homeland's Morgan Saylor), from the everyday predations of high school boys, she takes in a savagely beaten young wife, Mary Anne, (Zoe Kazan). Soon Agnes attracts the attention of Hannah an African-American lesbian separatist, made charismatically believable by Cherise Boothe.

Agnes is in her 50s. The three other women in When We Were Young are in their teens, 20s, and 30s. Before a performance of the play, I spoke with Jones about going through each of those stages in her own life and work.

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TAGS: 24, Cherise Boothe, Cherry Jones, doubt, doug hughes, john patrick shanley, Morgan Saylor, our country's good, pam mackinnon, pandora's box, Sarah Treem, sisterhood is powerful, the baltimore waltz, the glass menagerie, the heiress, tony awards, when we were young and unafraid, zachary quinto, zoe kazan


Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an ActorArt-making is too often discussed in terms that implicitly liken it to magic, thusly neglecting the truth that it involves work that resembles the day-by-day toils of many other ostensibly plainer occupations. With Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor, film critic Glenn Kenny quietly pushes against that mythology. A compassionate, pragmatic anti-sentimentality, or an attempt at one, serves as the through line for his examination of one the most mythologized of all screen actors. In his introduction, Kenny writes of "De Niro's reluctance to do interviews, and his seeming stumbling while doing them, his famous taciturnity in contrast to his preternaturally vivid presence on screen, created a mythology that itself spawned a counter-mythology. It made De Niro as famous for being an enigma, a code that a journalist or critic with just the right amount of persistence and perspicacity could crack. But what if the answer is right in front of our faces, and always has been?" The author follows that with a quote in which director Elia Kazan (who worked with De Niro on The Last Tycoon) claims that the actor is among the hardest working that he's collaborated with, and the only one who asked to rehearse on Sundays.

In other words, Kenny brings De Niro down to earth as a working artist, which serves to somewhat ironically reawaken your awe for the actor and the profound emotional nakedness that he once achieved reliably in one performance after another. Reading this, one wonders, not why De Niro drifted toward less immersive a-job's-a-job roles, but how he plumbed himself as deeply as long as he did. The author emphasizes detail, connecting physical gestures from one role, sometimes mercilessly, to their repetition in another film (such as the reappearance of a "shoo" motion from Goodfellas in Awakenings.) He paints De Niro unsurprisingly as a master craftsman who's intensely devoted to analysis and rehearsal, which he, somewhat, ineffably fuses with his personality and his soul. (I'm indulging my own mythology.) Following the familiar Cahiers du Cinema "Anatomy of an Actor" template, Kenny discusses 10 "iconic roles" in De Niro's canon that serve to shape the actor's career as he evolved from galvanic acting titan to controversial "sell-out" to an inevitably mellower character actor who's still capable, nevertheless, of imbuing a questionable project or under-respected performer with a bit of prestige by association.

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TAGS: awakenings, bang the drum slowly, elia kazan, glenn kenny, goodfellas, jerry lewis, jodie foster, manny farber, martin scorsese, mean streets, midnight run, paul schrader, raging bull, robert de niro, robert de niro: anatomy of an actor, Some Came Running, stone, taxi driver, the godfather: part ii, the last tycoon, the wolf of wall street


Summer of '89: Shag

ShagHaving grown up in Bloomington, Indiana and graduated from high school in 1959, George Lucas's American Graffiti, a nostalgic view of teenagers living in a small town, naturally struck a chord with me when it came out in 1973. Eight years later, so did Bob Clark's 1954-set Porky's, a more accurate depiction of the horniness of the American teenage male. Then came 1989's Shag, and what with its story looking back to 1963 and focusing on the experience of a group of teenage girls, it felt like a delightful corrective, not least of which because these characters were allowed to be horny too. At one point the girls talk about boners and one of them, Pudge (Annabeth Gish), says this of her friend Mary Pat: "This cousin of hers dated a Clemson Tiger who sprained his in a game, and she had to massage it every night when it got hard because he was in so much pain." Another girl, Melaina (Bridget Fonda), replies, "Mary Pat told you that?" Clearly we were at the beginning of the long, curvy road to Sex and the City and beyond.

I wasn't the only person to see the connection to Porky's. Robin Swicord, who wrote the final drafts of the script, was working from an earlier draft by the team of Lanier Laney and Terry Sweeney. Their script was about a group of girls on vacation at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Swicord—in an interview for the 1995 edition of the Film Writers Guide—described it as "a little bit more like Porky's (1981), it was about finding moonshine liquor. That was the plot; 'Can we get drunk?'" Swicord said her "version of it was like a summer weekend that I spent with my girlfriends in a town very much like Myrtle Beach." She felt she "accomplished making Southern girls who were not ridiculous and simpering. We knew that they were comic characters, but we also knew that they were real." The characters aren't deep, but they're very sharply drawn and imminently playable. I liked them when I first met them in 1989, and liked them still when I encountered them again in preparation for this piece.

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TAGS: american graffiti, Annabeth Gish, bob clark, Bridget Fonda, george lucas, lanier laney, page hannah, Phoebe Cates, porky's, Robin Swicord, Scott Coffey, shag, summer of 89, terry sweeney, tyrone power jr.


Elaine Stritch

1. "Elaine Stritch R.I.P." The tart-tongued Brodway actress and singer is dead at 89.

"Plain-spoken, egalitarian, impatient with fools and foolishness, and admittedly fond of cigarettes, alcohol and late nights--she finally gave up smoking and drinking in her 60s, after learning she had diabetes, though she returned to alcohol in her 80s--Ms. Stritch might be the only actor ever to work as a bartender after starring in a Broadway show, and she was completely unabashed about her good-time-girl attitude. 'I'm not a bit opposed to your mentioning in this article that Frieda Fun here has had a reputation in the theater, for the past five or six years, for drinking,' she said to a reporter for The New York Times in 1968. 'I drink, and I love to drink, and it's part of my life."

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TAGS: conan o'brien, dave franco, dawn of the planet of the apes, Elaine Stritch, kyle buchanan, larry smith, louis c.k., Matt Reeves, orange is the new black, tinder


Wayward Manor

As much as I fear death, if being a ghost is anything like the experience of playing one in Wayward Manor, bring on sweet, sweet oblivion instead. Even Neil Gaiman, who penned this cutesy yet underdeveloped spectral tale, sounds trapped as he takes on the role of the titular house and narrates his own weary words between levels, begging you to help him evict the tenants from his property. The caper is charming and comically creepy at first, as you attempt to startle a burglar named Benny, learning to drop bottles onto the ground in order to make him investigate, and then provocatively possessing nearby statues so that he might, in a rage, charge headfirst at them. But though you'll later have to prey on the maid's quivering around rodents, the mother's fear of grime, and the grandfather's terror of the dark, the novelty is done in by the repetition. Simply put, ghosts have no real freedom, and while the game pretends to offer you a variety of ways to get the perquisite number of scares in each level, all of your haunts are variations on the same theme.

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TAGS: little inferno, moonshark, neil gaiman, the cave, the misadventures of p.b. winterbottom, the odd gentlemen, wayward manor


Split Screen KoreaSplit Screen Korea exemplifies a kind of necessary scholarly monograph that will never go out of style. Instead of seeking to construct yet another fashionable revisionist history, Steven Chung writes fluidly and directly, establishing "film and nation" as the basic binary from which his research emanates. To achieve this, he references prior writings by Fredric Jameson and Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto and explains how film and nation function as "mutual reinforcement" for one another, using Japanese cinema as the most direct comparative model. Thus, Chung avoids treating Korean cinema and Shin Sang-Ok, the central auteur up for examination, as ars gratia artis by honing in on geography, capital, and their inextricable influence on the art that actually makes its way on screen. Moreover, by selecting Shin's films as metonymic for larger concerns within postwar Korean filmmaking, Chung provides an accessible, workable theory addressing the totality of one's historic concerns, from production to exhibition to reception, without ever losing grasp of an economic impetus that informs the work.

Nothing better demonstrates Chung's abilities than his first chapter on the "Enlightenment mode" in Korean cinema. By this, Chung refers to a filmmaking ideal that thought it "the responsibility of the modern, radicalized intellectual elite to enlighten the poor, backward, primitive masses for a specific purpose: social, spiritual, and political awakening." However, Chung complicates this model by explaining the resiliency of artists and that this mode's desires do not necessarily equate to automatic hegemony. Although he doesn't explicitly evoke Stuart Hall's "encoding/decoding" model of dominant, negotiated, and oppositional readings, his suggestion that these films' effects lie in "their invocation of language and style of instruction and conversion" indicates a similar understanding of cultural interpretation to Hall's.

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TAGS: 3 ninjas, ch'ae yŏng-sin, fredric jameson, hellflower, kenji mizoguchi, mitsuhiro yoshimoto, pak tong-hyŏg, shin films, shin sang-ok, split screen korea: shin sang-ok and postwar cinema, steven chung, stuart hall


Gone Girl

1. "Gone Girl to Open New York Film Festival." The David Fincher-directed thriller, starring Ben Affleck, will be the opening night gala screening Sept. 26.

"The World Premiere of David Fincher's Gone Girl will open the New York Film Festival, the Film Society of Lincoln Center said Thursday. The film, starring Oscar-winner Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry, will launch the 52nd annual festival September 26 at Alice Tully Hall, while later that night the after-party will return to Tavern on the Green. Gone Girl, based on the global best seller by Gillian Flynn, features Fincher's return to the festival after The Social Network opened the 2010 New York Film Festival. 20th Century Fox and New Regency will open Gone Girl in theaters on October 3. "

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TAGS: at the movies, ben affleck, blue velvet, conservatism, dave itzkoff, david fincher, david lynch, dennis hopper, gone girl, ignatiy vishnevetsky, john cassavetes, kara vanderbijl, liberalism, love streams, magic in the moonlight, new york film festival, richard brody, roger ebert, woody allen






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