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Maggie Gyllenhaal (#110 of 11)

The Deuce Recap Season 1, Episode 2, “Show and Prove”

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The Deuce Recap: Season 1, Episode 2, “Show and Prove”

Paul Schiraldi

The Deuce Recap: Season 1, Episode 2, “Show and Prove”

Officer Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) issues the titular ultimatum of “Show and Prove,” the second episode of The Deuce, to hookers during a farcical street raid: Show a property voucher proving your residence or spend the night in a holding tank. Alston is nonchalant as he demands paperwork allowing him to plausibly overlook the block’s rampant prostitution, and arrest only hookers who don’t pretend to be merely half-nude loiterers. Like paper bags concealing liquor bottles, the vouchers provide a shroud of willful ignorance for the cops who tolerate squalor but not brazenness.

The Deuce Recap Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”

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The Deuce Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”

Paul Schiraldi

The Deuce Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”

Fans of David Simon’s The Wire won’t be surprised that the pilot episode of The Deuce lacks a singular inciting event designed to ensure audience retention. In the place of narrative hooks, the episode thoroughly maps the ecosystem of vice that was 1970s New York City, and beckons us to explore a ruinous Times Square alongside a sprawling cast of vibrant characters.

2015 Emmy Winner Predictions

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2015 Emmy Winner Predictions

AMC

2015 Emmy Winner Predictions

The democratization of technology is a boon for globalization, but for anyone who ever felt an inkling of pleasure watching the Oscars, it’s become a blight to an institutional process that once made seemingly genuine attempts toward establishing even playing fields. Today, the Oscar season begins as soon as the curtain falls on the previous one. The full-time awards pundit predicts nominees, sometimes even winners, months before a film has even left the editing room (“Could it be two in a row for Eddie Redmayne?!”), the insta-reactionary-ness of Twitter trending films and people up or down like stocks. How good the work is matters less than how good one works a room, or how closely the work aligns with a cultural shift in imagination. Show up at a festival to promote your film, pretend to enjoy getting your picture snapped by a #blessed “industry expert,” thus securing their approval, and suddenly you’re a “lock.” At least that’s what said expert will report to their followers, who’ll slavishly lap up and spread the pundit’s hosannas for films sight unseen—a domino-like effect of readiness and willingness perpetuated by the studios with For Your Consideration campaigns.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actress

Compared to most of the season’s races, Best Actress has remained somewhat open, with only two gals firmly secure in their nominations, and at least five more boasting realistic chances. The two locks in question are, of course, Zero Dark Thirty lead Jessica Chastain and Silver Linings Playbook star Jennifer Lawrence, a pair whom most believe will duke it out for the win. Coming off of one of the most impressive breakthrough years of any actor in memory, Chastain took top billing in a film that never tried to promote girl power, but nonetheless emerged as a battleground riff on any number of feminist dramas, with a can-do female fighting powers that be to see justice done. Historically, it’s the sort of performance the Academy lives to reward, right up there with the dead-on mimicry of late icons. Lawrence, meanwhile, used her turn in Silver Linings Playbook to cement her career longevity, which has been hinted at since Winter’s Bone, the last film to land her a nod in this category. Far from a flash in the pan, Lawrence has that rare gift of deeply understanding the women she portrays, and her bone-deep grasp of unhinged widow Tiffany is the highlight of David O. Russell’s flawed dramedy.

Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012

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Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012
Poster Lab: The Worst Movie Posters of 2012

Dishonorable Mention

The Sessions: The flagship poster for The Sessions is just your latest example of a marketing brainfart: How does one sell a dramedy about a polio survivor looking to lose his virginity? The answer, sadly, is the old, square, film-still-collage standby, whose slanted positioning doesn’t make it any less banal. The ad may be preferable to its illustrated counterpart, which walks a dangerous line between the inspired and the vulgar, but it still fails to do the movie justice, its design appearing unfinished and its lone pullquote a cheap ploy for Oscar love. [Poster]

Save the Date: Never mind the whole bottom-heavy layout here, which opts to crush a pair of stills with a needless mountain of whitespace. The real problem is what’s conveyed in the stills themselves: an aesthetic defined by boring over-the-shoulder shots. Is it a metaphor for the male characters’ lack of emotional presence? Is it underscoring the prominence of the females of the film? Not really—it’s just bad design. And rather than providing quirky adornment as intended, the pencil-drawn faces merely appear tacked-on, somehow making this minimalistic-in-all-the-wrong-ways fiasco look busy.[Poster]

The Giant Mechanical Man: A wonderful gem that never quite found an audience, The Giant Mechanical Man deserved much better than this tossed-together one-sheet, which basically slaps a still on a blue background and scrawls in some text. None of the film’s infectious, magical-realist nature is expressed, only the fact that Jenna Fischer and Chris Messina go for coffee. The lone cloud and subtle heart might suggest that love is in the air for these drifters, but none of it succeeds in piquing interest. [Poster]

Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

If you haven’t already, set 10 minutes aside to savor Pictures at a Revolution author Mark Harris’s latest unfailingly insightful demythologizing of the Oscar game. The conclusion he eventually reaches is that, though the Oscar season has recently been shortened (at least in years which don’t also boast Winter Olympics), precursor events and Best Picture slots alike continue to proliferate to the point that they’re just about stacked one atop the other. Which is why just about the only thing guiding its participants through the torrential rain of trophies and plaques are those same “narratives” that Peggy Noonan infamously declared would no longer work for the RNC.

Hardly Novel: Stranger Than Fiction

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Hardly Novel: <em>Stranger Than Fiction</em>
Hardly Novel: <em>Stranger Than Fiction</em>

Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, an IRS auditor with an OCD-like daily use for his knack for mathematics. Emma Thompson is Karen Eiffel, a neurotic and depressive writer who cannot finish her newest novel. Harold Crick is the protagonist of Karen Eiffel’s newest novel—supposedly an unassuming everyman, living his everyday life in an anytown, unaware of his fate. But he is fully aware, because he’s been hearing Eiffel narrate his day-to-day torpor and she’s spot on with every minute detail, like the sound of folders pulled across one another mimicking soft ocean waves cresting on a beach. Her novel is moot if Crick is aware of his “imminent death” because that hideous phrase “little did he know” is simply wrong: he knows. Stranger Than Fiction is a movie, confused about its intent and clumsily executed at that. Zach Helm is a screenwriter, clever and witty and myopic. Marc Foster is a director, quick to telegraph the screenplay in an effort to streamline the story while undermining his cast’s roundly good performances with borrowed tricks and a meticulous art direction that serves only to distract.

Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Babel, Stranger Than Fiction, & Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

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Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Babel, Stranger Than Fiction, & Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Babel, Stranger Than Fiction, & Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

This ongoing Monday column, the appropriately titled “Navel Gazing,” features House contributors Sean Burns and Andrew Dignan kicking around a few recent releases. Feel free to join them in the comments section.

Andrew Dignan: Alright, the first column seems to have gone fairly well. An observation though: not enough conflict. We’re in agreement on far too much. Let’s get this week’s piece started on a more contentious note then: How about Babel, which is already one of the most divisive films of the fall. A few years ago I was put-off by Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams, finding its game of narrative hopscotch a rather arbitrary stylistic tick meant to energize a tedious and gloomy melodrama never about much beyond its own self-imposed misery. Expecting more of the same from Babel, I was stunned at how unexpectedly hopeful—or if it’s not quite hope, then at least isolating a problem and splaying it out in a way where change seems possible—I found the film.

It’s still an at-times oppressive film that pulses with anger and frustration, and it seems very conscious of the fact that the browner your skin is the worse your prospects are. But I never felt like I was being beaten over the head with a message meant to stimulate liberal guilt and with only one exception (a lot of what happens to Adriana Barraza’s nanny character after they drive back to the border feels lifted from Lars von Trier’s playbook) I didn’t think the film was being overly cruel or manipulative just to hammer home a point. It’s a film about the horrible choices people make and how these choices often spring from fear, resentment or inability to communicate with others—either through the language barrier implied by the title, a set of prejudices or their own self-involvement—that I’m sure on paper just seems like a funeral procession and yet I can’t help but keep coming back to its pockets of humanity.

Shooting in the Dark: Poetry and Posing in Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center

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Shooting in the Dark: Poetry and Posing in Oliver Stone’s <em>World Trade Center</em>
Shooting in the Dark: Poetry and Posing in Oliver Stone’s <em>World Trade Center</em>

There’s not so much an Oliver Stone shot as there is an Oliver Stone rhythm, and if we’re to pinpoint an exact reason for World Trade Center’s ultimate failure, this is the doorstep at which to lay the blame. Stone’s film hinges upon a hollow extended conversation, rendered via a poorly visualized series of chiaroscuro close-ups, between Port Authority police officers John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Peña) as they lie trapped beneath the rubble of the fallen Twin Towers. To say that the close-up is not Stone’s forte is an understatement, but he’s gotten away with it in the past because his films, whatever their flaws, moved: with purpose, if not always with precision. Stone’s talents (and his occasional profundity) lie in juxtaposition and bombast, in a breathless, ragged montage. His depthless canvases are prime examples of “what you see is what you get,” and though this results in a fair share of ideological bullshit it is also, more often than not, exhilarating. His masterpiece is probably the little heralded Any Given Sunday, a football-as-war film that has the audacity (and clarity) to pose Cameron Diaz next to a horse-hung black football player (not to mention foregrounding an elderly Charlton Heston before a widescreen-televised distortion of his shackled, bare-chested Ben-Hur).

No such Cameron and the Cock aesthetics in World Trade Center, but then respectful solemnity, it seems, is the new black. Let the pundits yammer on about Stone’s rehabilitation. He’s merely catering to fashion, courting the very folks who would attack him because of his controversies (and let’s be honest, if at this point you find anything Stone does truly controversial, you need to get out more), which is not to say that this deathly dull work-for-hire lacks for a few striking passages. As has been remarked elsewhere, the prelude to the towers’ collapse is masterful. Stone is in full control of his orchestrations here as he captures the mundane routines of Manhattan’s multicultural hoi polloi - even the Port Authority Jackie Gleason statuem has his part to play in the proceedings. When American Airlines Flight 11 hits the first tower, Stone’s technique falters slightly: his insistence on visualizing the plane as an ominous, half-glimpsed shadow (a failed attempt at transposing myth onto a too-concretely visualized reality) warns of the superficial reductiveness to come. But he regains his footing for a spell, long enough to offer a stunning portrait of 9/11’s confusion: people don’t run to the rescue, they stumble along like zombies, covered in ash and blood, while off-screen sounds hint at a hellish unknown. Jimeno’s strange interlude with a shell-shocked World Trade Center officer (Tom Wright) is when the sequence, and the movie, peak. Then it all (fact and fiction both) comes tumbling down.