The House


Alfred Hitchcock

1. "An Auteur Is Not a Brand." Richard Brody on why so many are piling on the idea of the auteur.

"That polemical side of auteurism is what fell away as the idea spread widely. Movies also have a role in civic life, and directors' political ideas are inextricable from their worldviews (and careful viewing entails distinguishing the orthodoxies of a studio or a government from a director's inflection of, or departure from, the official line). Yet politics and sociology have come to the fore again in the discussion of movies, for the very reason that auteurism has run rampant: the empiricism of critical discourse. Social trends and ideological casts are easy to talk about, as are the diverse traits of habit or style that render a formerly overlooked filmmaker distinguishable. But what makes a movie—and a filmmaker—great is something that veers toward the ineffable."

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TAGS: affluenza, armond white, auteurism, boy meets girl, boyhood, bright lights film journal, drew mcweeny, john landis, Kevin Asch, leos carax, nick schager, planet of the apes, richard brody, richard linklater, steve johnson, tim burton


Tom Kitt

Luckily for Tom Kitt, he was in his dorm room when opportunity knocked. A lovely young woman made him a desperate offer to work on the music for the annual campus show premiering just days later. Though he was an economics major, he said "yes." The experience generated a new dream for his life which, over the past 20 years, has been realized. Still, Kitt has often wondered about the other life he might have led, the other Tom he might have become, if he hadn't been inside that dorm room—thoughts that would inspire If/Then, his latest collaboration with lyricist-librettist Brian Yorkey.

Their musical about a supremely cautious woman, Elizabeth (Idina Menzel), audaciously leaps over traditional story structures. In the opening number, the character considers the probable outcomes of a simple choice: to help a friend (Anthony Rapp) gather signatures to protest a housing development or listen to music with her new neighbor (LaChanze). The show then magically lets her give each option a shot by splitting her in two, as Liz and Beth, and the proceeding parallel narrative shows how big and small choices like Liz's agreeing to take the phone number of a handsome war vet (James Snyder), or Beth's taking a phone call from an old friend (Jerry Dixon), significantly alter the life and personality of each.

Liz and Beth may share an initial resistance to risk, but Kitt and Yorkey embrace it. Like their previous collaboration, Next to Normal, which earned the pair the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, If/Then is a wholly original musical in an era of movie adaptations, revues, and bio-sicals. I sat down with Kitt in early June, when If/Then's cast album was released, to discuss the choices and serendipities that have shaped his life and work.

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TAGS: 21st century breakdown, alanis morissette, american idiot, anthony rapp, Billie Joe Armstrong, brian yorkey, bruce springsteen, channing tatum, David Stone, diablo cody, freaky friday, green day, high fidelity, Idina Menzel, ifthen, jagged little pill, james snyder, jerry dixon, lachanze, leigh silverman, magic mike, next to normal, rita pietropinto-kitt, roberto aguirre-sacasa, steven soderbergh, sweet valley high, these paper bullets, tom kitt


Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an ActorThe core of Tom Cruise's ongoing superstar appeal to audiences is relatively self-evident: He's a doer. His characters do things that encourage us to believe that we can do things. It's too easy to say that Cruise came of age at the perfect place and time—the gung-ho American 1980s—and rode that rollercoaster to the bank for something like 30 years and counting. Cruise is shrewd and adaptable, and he's probably still in the game because he informed his fame with a quietly autobiographical aura. He lets his work show, and so his desperation to be "taken seriously" as an actor while staying forever youthful parallels his characters' various self-actualizing yearnings.

Cruise is a continued subject of fascination for critics because his everlasting prominence as a star is noteworthy regardless of any further context and, more interestingly, because of that tendency to always assume that still waters run deep. Cruise is so polished, and his performances so clearly, nakedly hyper-controlled, that he can't help but invite scrutiny of neuroses and of more-obvious-than-usual bridges between art and commerce. Cruise's self-consciousness implies a peek behind the curtain of how Hollywood works, and critics, obviously, are concerned with the symbology imbedded in Hollywood product. Control, whether artistic or personal, is, fittingly, the theme of Amy Nicholson's Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor, and the star's tricky simultaneous courting of fame and artistic credibility is the book's logical through line.

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TAGS: amy nicholson, born on the fourth of july, eyes wide shut, interview with the vampire, magnolia, mission: impossible - ghost protocol, risky business, ron kovic, stanley kubrick, tom cruise, tom cruise: anatomy of an actor, top gun, tropic thunder


Game of Thrones

1. "2014 Emmy Nominations." Game of Thrones tops nominations; Hannibal and The Americans snubbed.

"Cable continued to dominate the awards: Commercial broadcast networks claimed just two of six comedy slots, and were shut out of the drama and (as usual) movie and miniseries categories. Left out as series contenders were CBS's The Good Wife (though star Julianna Margulies and supporting players Christine Baranski and Josh Charles were nominated); HBO's Girls (though Lena Dunham and Adam Driver were); Showtime's Homeland (though Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin were); and Fox's Golden Globe-winning Brooklyn Nine-Nine and its star, Andy Samberg (though supporting actor Andre Braugher won a nod)."

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TAGS: ambiancé, anders weberg, breaking bad, caught, emmy awards, fargo, game of thrones, hannibal, hollywood, homeland, i vinti, j. hoberman, Jeff Reichert, max ophüls, michael bay, michael koresky, Michelle Rodriguez, orange is the new black, orphan black, the americans, the good wife, true detective, zac efron


Steven Soderbergh

1. "Steven Soderbergh On Why He Really Quit Movies." The director talks about his new TV show, his old films, and the one-asshole theory of everything.

"And I'll tell you why. This country is too fucking big. I honestly think...In nature, if a cell gets too big, it divides. You can't come up with a set of rules that's going to work for 350 million people. You're just not. So we're stuck. Robert Kennedy had this great quote: '20 percent of people are against everything, all the time.' That's a big number now. And you know what? 'No' is easy. 'No' doesn't require any follow-up, commitment. 'Yes' is hard, 'yes' has to be worked on. It needs a lot of people to keep it as 'yes.' That's where we're at. When I'm president, we're going back to the Thirteen Colonies, is what we're going to do. It's a weird time. Because the trajectory...Wow, I look around and I'm alarmed. I guess every generation feels that way, I don't know, but I'm really alarmed. I talk to smart people who work in fields either, you know, neuro-cognition or social analysis, I go, 'Am I going nuts or is this thing going a certain direction, really fast?' All of them go, 'You're not imagining things.' And I go, 'What do we do?' This could turn into Mad Max, like tomorrow. The fabric is so thin, I feel like."

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TAGS: angelina jolie, before midnight, bilge ebiri, boyhood, christopher nolan, exodus: god of kings, forrest gump, jennifer lawrence, richard linklater, ridley scott, robert zemeckis, slacker, steven soderbergh, wesley morris


Taylor Swift

1. "For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love Story." The singer-songwriter says artists and fans will still form deep bonds, but they will do it in new ways.

"In the YouTube generation we live in, I walked out onstage every night of my stadium tour last year knowing almost every fan had already seen the show online. To continue to show them something they had never seen before, I brought out dozens of special guest performers to sing their hits with me. My generation was raised being able to flip channels if we got bored, and we read the last page of the book when we got impatient. We want to be caught off guard, delighted, left in awe. I hope the next generation's artists will continue to think of inventive ways of keeping their audiences on their toes, as challenging as that might be."

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TAGS: boyhood, david fincher, drew harwell, gone girl, jack halberstam, michael koresky, nick pinkerton, reverse shot, richard linklater, tampa bay times, taylor swift, transgender, trigger warning


Tom Perrotta

1. "Tom Perrotta Interview." Joel Keller interviews the Leftovers creator on how he and Damon Lindelof made his book darker for HBO.

"Look, if you want to know what happened, if that's why you're watching the show, you're going to hate it because it's not about that. It's about how people live in the face of a mystery that is not going to be solved. It's three years and scientists and studies say, 'We don't know.' There's no religion that can explain it. And they've almost stopped talking about it because there's nothing to be said. I felt like this Malaysian airliner that disappeared this year was an interesting case study on that. For about a month, it was in the news every day. CNN couldn't stop talking about it. And what they did was just have various experts and journalists just spin whatever theory they could think of. That's what the human mind does when it's confronted with a question that can't be answered is spin out crazy theories. And I think that that's what's going on in The Leftovers. This thing has happened, nobody can explain it and what the story is about is what people do when confronted with this gigantic hole in their understanding of the world. "

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TAGS: andy greenwald, brandon harris, damon lindelof, edinburgh film festival, filmmaker, grantland, hbo, joel keller, john carpenter, john mcgrath, justin bieber, life itself, michael pattison, seinfeld, steve james, the leftovers, the thing, Tom Perrotta, vanessa grigoriadis, vashi nedomansky


The Leftovers

Troubled chief of police Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) first encounters the penguin of "Penguins One, Us Zero" during an exchange with the police department psychologist assigned to evaluate his fitness for duty. Garvey's massacre of a pack of dogs (gone wild, local myth has it, after witnessing the Sudden Departure firsthand) has Mayor Lucy Warburton (Amanda Warren) and the chief's colleagues on the force worried about his mental state, and Garvey's unsubstantiated claim that an unnamed "mystery man" (Michael Gaston) joined him in the shooting does little to quell their doubts. Amid the combative atmosphere of the counseling session, the most jarring detail is the presence of a goofy, inflatable black bird with large blue eyes and toucan-esque splashes of color on its body. "I work with a lot of kids," the shrink explains. "They use it for aggression." As its title suggests, the second episode of The Leftovers teems with flashes of anger, but it's the objects of frustration that end up winning out.

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TAGS: amanda warren, Amy Brenneman, carrie coon, charlie carver, Emily Meade, hbo, Justin Theroux, liv tyler, margaret qualley, max carver, Michael Gaston, Paterson Joseph, penguins one us zero, recap, scott glenn, the leftovers


Weekend at Bernie'sTed Kotcheff's moth-bitten, notoriously macabre comedy Weekend at Bernie's is best—and most rewardingly—revisited as an unintended rumination on the queasy moral crises of Reaganomics-era America. While traipsing the corpse of a mob-whacked insurance tycoon around his $2 million beachside Hamptons mansion for a weekend, getting laid is nevertheless priority one for dum-dum antiheroes Richard (Jonathan Silverman) and Larry (Andrew McCarthy). But as the issue of Bernie's death begins to eclipse Richard's accursed attempt to woo his hot co-worker love-interest, Gwen (Catherine Mary Stewart), the film plays like a live-action elaboration on the Pleasure Island sequence in Pinocchio, but for teenagers looking to catch a glimpse of their future awkward adult selves.

That the gags are terrible doesn't dilute the casual, old-fashionedness of their execution: They build up and play out in a way that feels uncannily like satire, except all the characters can spit out is empty, nacho-cheesy boilerplate. There's a scene where Richard—a gawky analyst in a salmon-colored dress shirt and glimmering suspenders—tells Gwen that his parents are dead in order to win some kernel of sympathy. Tim Matheson made this type of fuckery hilarious in Animal House with his knowingly supercilious performance-within-a-performance; Silverman simply comes across as a liar and a doof. Sure, it's mean-spirited, but more to the point, it's a blown opportunity to reveal anything about the characters other than (a) he's a coward and (b) she's gullible.

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TAGS: american psycho, andrew mccarthy, animal house, Catherine Mary Stewart, Jonathan Silverman, pinocchio, Robert Klane, summer of 89, Ted Kotcheff, terry kiser, Tim Matheson, wake in fright, wall street, weekend at bernie's


Michael Bay

1. "Age of Exhaustion." Alex Pappademas on the year of the self-loathing summer movie.

"Even before [Michael] Bay rolled out his thunderous mea culpa, the summer of the self-loathing blockbuster was in full swing. The season's highest-grossing comedy is 22 Jump Street, a cash-grab sequel whose premise is that cash-grab sequels are embarrassing and lame, a movie that exists because everyone involved is both too cool to make a sequel and too weak (or too contractually obligated) to say no to one. The story begins with Nick Offerman’s police chief ordering Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s buddy-cop characters to go back to doing what they did before, because it worked. The climax features Tatum hurling a grenade into a helicopter while falling into the ocean, traditionally an action hero’s cue to say something cool; all Tatum’s Officer Jenko can come up with is the self-referential 'Something coooool!' When it’s over, in place of an end-credits gag reel, we get a parade of fake clips and posters for dozens of future Jump Street sequels, most of them too plausible to be all that amusing. It’s as if directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are blowing up this well so they’ll never be tempted to go back to it."

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TAGS: 22 jump street, a hard day's night, adam thirlwell, chris miller, domino sugar factory, emily gould, friendship, hollywood, kara walker, maureen o'connor, michael bay, nicholas powers, phil lord, pier paolo pasolini, richard lester, roger deakins, stephanie zacharek, transformers: age of extinction






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