1. “Jon Stewart: In Conversation.” What do you do after 16 years turning The Daily Show into an American comic institution? If you’re this comedian, you might spend a summer making a movie about torture.
“No. It’s harder to make humor when there’s no consensus, when there’s no issue that has galvanized a decent amount of mind space. If you have to spend the first five minutes of a bit going, ’There’s this thing called ‘corporate inversions,’’ you can still create something, but the synapses fire much quicker when people are already focused on something. I can remember right after 9/11, when all those anthrax scares came and TV news started putting up that ticker at the bottom of the screen. There was a real electricity to it, and you could do any joke. People are scared, but they want to remember, Okay, we’re still human. There is a certain heightened awareness to things, but it’s not Mad Max. When you look at this Ebola thing, it’s fucking crazy how overwhelming the coverage has been. One guy had it, he brought it here, and then two people that cared for him got it. More people are going to die from the flu, more people have been killed by cops since this happened! But all anybody can talk about is that we’re all going to die of Ebola. You’ve got congresspeople out there: ’Let’s completely shut off Africa! Let’s submerge it!’ What was it Ted Cruz said? Somebody told him, ’The medical experts say that would actually not be helpful.’ Cruz says, ’Let’s just not listen to the experts and use some common sense.’ Of course, let’s not think about the people who study this. Let’s go with the gut. The gut is, Ewww.”
2. ”Interstellar Is The Ultimate Movie About An All-American Bro Saving Humanity.” Alison Willmore on how Christopher Nolan gets his biggest canvas yet, but still can’t figure out a way to balance his spectacularly realized action with human drama.
“The movie just can’t plausibly get into the headspace of people going through the unprecedented experiences its characters do, and therefore, it constantly smacks of psychological phoniness in everything but Cooper’s love for what he’s doing, the one emotion Nolan doesn’t seem to have any difficulty relating to. It’s not an accident that his best film, The Prestige, explored how ambition drove its two main characters to destroy each other in their competition to be the best. Dedication to a cause or calling at the cost of everything else is a theme you can pick out in all of his movies, and Interstellar suffers in halfheartedly trying to pretend there’s some kind of counterbalance.”
3. “Viennale 2014. Revolutions in 16mm” For MUBI, Daniel Kasman on a program at this year’s Vienna International Film Festival gathered around collective films, war films, sex films, expanded cinema, and more.
“While co-curator Haden Guest casually described the Revolutions in 16mm series as a kind of history of the format, my limited viewing couldn’t be construed as such a survey but rather of a range of investigative possibilities: different subjects, different forms, different arguments and textures. Not exactly the most profound or specific picture, yet its variety was invigorating and encouraging. Underscored by Nathaniel Dorsky talking at the presentation of his new works of these being the dying years of the 16mm format, Revolutions in 16mm perhaps counterintuitively doesn’t suggest a propulsive forward motion of the technology and the art. Rather, it suggested a massive and ungathered range of a perhaps soon to be thwarted form that sprawls over the decades for us to continually draw from in the uncertain future.”
4. “The World’s Stage.” For Reverse Shot, Jeff Reichert on Citizenfour.
“After carefully humanizing Snowden, Poitras turns him back into an image, with a shot of the same interview Poitras just filmed being played on a massive jumbotron above a busy Hong Kong thoroughfare. So many documentaries, no matter how closely they’re released to the events they document, arrive at theaters seemingly cast in amber, yet Poitras’s films are always imbued with the urgency of ’now.’ My Country, My Country charts the lead-up to the first free elections in Iraq in 2005, and most of the action in The Oath take place not long after, but both remain vital years later, thanks to Poitras’s filmmaking choices. Her interest lies in making cinema as opposed to packaging and presenting information; she treats her ’characters’ (common documentary speak for ’people’) as rich and multivalent; her clean aesthetic is made up classical elements—establishing shots, shot/reverse shots, and close-ups; and she’s always looking to create ideas through editing. Her smarts lead her to de-emphasize context and trust that her audience might be as smart as she is, able to read the room in the same way she did when there with a camera. The intellectual questions in nonfiction of late have swirled around hybridity and exploding forms, but hopefully in the wake of CITIZENFOUR we’ll be refocused on the basics of filmmaking: Poitras has crafted a real-life thriller more energetic than Kathryn Bigelow’s infinitely higher budgeted Zero Dark Thirty.”
5. ”Pulp Fiction at 20.” For Fandor, Chuck Bowen on why the film never left us.
“For all of Pulp Fiction’s self-consciousness, the film’s reputation, with both admirers and detractors alike, as a meta-ironic work of too-cool-for-school-ness is exaggerated. The blended archetype characters and the wearying dramatic weightlessness are consciously achieved qualities, but they aren’t intended ironically. They just aren’t the focus of the film’s true reverence and awe, which is reserved solely for all the objects and the art they signify, and the personal transformations that they promise should you ’get’ them. Pulp Fiction is quite innocent, both obnoxiously and endearingly so. It’s undeniably a personal film, but it’s a personal ode to impersonality, to emotional evasion through stuff. (A rape is accorded less dramatic weight than a milkshake Mia orders at Jack Rabbit Slim’s; and most characters are most memorable for their hair styles.) Despite the bad-boy posturing, Tarantino’s eager to please as a filmmaker, exceedingly studied in his carefully planted cultural cues and instances of ’outrage,’ which serve to successfully distract from Pulp Fiction’s quite conventional theme of love thy brother.”
Video of the Day: Kevin B. Lee on how The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari invented the horror movie:
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