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Cannes Film Festival 2014: Foxcatcher Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2014: <em>Foxcatcher</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2014: <em>Foxcatcher</em> Review

Enervated to the point of somnolence, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher squanders inherently intriguing material—the murder of Olympic gold medalist David Schultz by eccentric scion John E. du Pont—by sapping it of any dramatic or satiric potential in favor of a smothering mood of muted solemnity. And I do mean muted: Miller favors repeated sequences where the diegetic sound dips to the threshold of audibility so that composer Mychael Danna (the same culprit behind The Captive’s bombastic score) has free reign to do his best Arvo Part impersonation. What we’re left with is a sluggish, molasses-y storyline showcasing two solid actors (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum as brothers Dave and Mark Schultz), and Steve Carell, hiding behind a Mr. Burns-esque prosthetic nose and the beady, carrion-eager eyes of a peregrine falcon, doing what amounts to a feature-length SNL impression. Vanessa Redgrave turns up briefly, just long enough to advise John as to the terribly “low” nature of his preferred sport and then to glower disapprovingly at the grappling combatants.

100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

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100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time
100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

From Chuck Bowen’s introduction to Slant Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Horror Film of All Time: “A startling commonality emerges if you look over the following films in short succession that’s revelatory of the entire horror genre: These works aren’t about the fear of dying, but the fear of dying alone, a subtlety that cuts to the bone of our fear of death anyway—of a life unlived. There’s an explicit current of self-loathing running through this amazing collection of films. What are Norman Bates and Jack Torrance besides eerily all-too-human monsters? Failures. Success also ultimately eludes Leatherface, as well as the socially stunted lost souls of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse. What is the imposing creature of Nosferatu? He makes for quite the presence, but his hungers ultimately lead him to oblivion.” Click here to read the feature and see if your favorites made our list. And see below for a list of the films that just missed the cut.

Sinful Cinema Halloween: H20

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Sinful Cinema: Halloween: H20
Sinful Cinema: Halloween: H20

Sadly, Halloween: H20 has nothing to do with water. It isn’t the Michael Myers brand’s equivalent of Jason X, sending its masked killer into the deep sea instead of deep space. No, the title of this 1998 slasher, the seventh in the Halloween series, merely exploits the fact that “Halloween” starts with an “H,” and that this installment takes place 20 years after the original. That “h2o” is also a universally known yet wholly unrelated combination of characters is simply, ya know, earworm-y title gravy. I actually can’t recall water, in any capacity, appearing in a single frame of this film. The liquid most often featured is alcohol, like chardonnay and vodka, which Keri Tate, better known as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), slugs back to quell fears of the brother who offed her promiscuous friends in the ’70s. Having faked her death, changed her name, and given birth to a son, John, Laurie (as we’ll call her herein) is now the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, a tony private high school in a remote part of California, and the perfect secluded, hallway-rich setting for a killer to stalk and stab. At this school, LL Cool J, one year away from the equally sinful delight Deep Blue Sea, plays token-black security guard Ronnie; Adam Arkin plays Laurie’s colleague and love interest, Will; and Josh Hartnett, in his feature debut, plays grown-up John, who, at the edge of seventeen, serves to prove that Myers may just have a long-standing Stevie Nicks obsession.

Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece

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Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece
Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece

Of all the feature films in Pixar’s impressive repertoire, Finding Nemo has arguably proven the most durable. The movie, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, is held in high favor critically and with audiences, but to some extent it’s also underappreciated, commonly regarded as an admirable, stalwart entry from the animation house. And yet, though it’s not a film that’s inspired the kind of rapturous following that The Incredibles or WALL-E have cultivated, Finding Nemo remains the heart and soul of the Pixar family of movies. It showcases a number of hallmarks for which the studio has become renowned, such as stunning technical bravura and smoothly elegant storytelling. But what distinguishes Finding Nemo from its studio brethren—and what makes it Pixar’s enduring classic to date—is its narrative accessibility and emotional directness.

At the time of its release, Finding Nemo was primarily heralded for its unparalleled pictorial beauty. Digital animation was still somewhat fresh at the time; just two years before, Shrek had introduced brand new possibilities in digital animation with its crisply rendered environments and characters that had scale and weight. Finding Nemo, by turn, was possibly the first full realization of those possibilities. I still remember seeing it in the theater and feeling completely engulfed by the colors, layers, and textures of the underwater world it fashions. Ten years later, the film still exudes an ethereal quality that’s seldom seen in today’s animation (which is a credit, also, to the deep musical and overall soundscape). But the abounding detail of the film’s visual design, from the scales on Nemo’s body to the speckles dancing in the foreground and background of every frame, is all the more astounding for how subtly it’s deployed.

Understanding Screenwriting #108: Side Effects, Like Someone in Love, Point Blank, Downton Abbey, Parade’s End, & Smash

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Understanding Screenwriting #108: <em>Side Effects</em>, <em>Like Someone in Love</em>, <em>Point Blank</em>, <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Parade’s End</em>, & <em>Smash</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #108: <em>Side Effects</em>, <em>Like Someone in Love</em>, <em>Point Blank</em>, <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Parade’s End</em>, & <em>Smash</em>

Coming Up In This Column: Side Effects, Like Someone in Love, Point Blank, Downton Abbey, Parade’s End, Smash, but first…

Fan mail: David Ehrenstein, reacting to my comments on Cat Ballou, thought that all the things I liked about the writing and acting came together “thanks to efforts of that controversial new-fangled invention known as the Director.” I didn’t get around to mentioning the director, Elliot Silverstein, because this is one of those films, like M*A*S*H (1970), Chariots of Fire (1981), and Thelma & Louise (1991), that succeeds in spite of its director rather than because of him. Silverstein is very sloppy about where he puts the camera and the acting is all over the place. This was his only truly successful film, and he soon went back to television, where he started.

Side Effects (2013. Written by Scott Z. Burns. 106 minutes.)

Better than Hitchcock. Both Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick were interested in psychiatry. In the mid-’40s, Hitchcock persuaded Selznick to buy a novel that was, according to Hitchcock’s biographer, Donald Spoto, “a bizarre tale of witchcraft, satanic cults, psychopathology, murder, and mistaken identities.” (The background material here is from Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock.) Hitchcock presented some ideas on how a movie could be made out of the material to Ben Hecht, who wrote the screenplay for Spellbound (1945). Hecht’s version deals with an amnesiac who replaces a man scheduled to become the head of a mental hospital. The amnesiac is accused of murder and with a helpful female psychiatrist works out his problems. Since she’s played in the film by Ingrid Bergman, he falls in love with her as well. The film was a commercial success, but it’s rather clunky, like many ’40s films about psychiatry. And like many Hitchcock films, it’s less about character than about giving the director a chance to show off. As befits Selznick, the film is a slick production with stars (Gregory Peck as the amnesiac) in a romantic mode.

Death by Art Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento

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Death by Art: L. Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento
Death by Art: L. Andrew Cooper’s Dario Argento

“What the fuck is this bullshit psychoanalysis?” are the wonderful words spoken by Jeremy Irons’s Beverly Mantle in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), and if you follow the arguments of L. Andrew Cooper in his new book, the films of Dario Argento often share a similar opinion. Cooper claims Argento, though labeled early in his career as the “Italian Hitchcock,” spent his early, gialli-focused years lambasting and lampooning “Freudian proclivities,” most notably in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969), which positions itself as a Psycho (1960) homage, only to jest at Hitchcock’s insistence upon closure via psychological ends. In fact, Cooper argues that aesthetics, especially beginning with Deep Red (1975), become a replacement for both psychoanalysis and narrative in Argento’s films, leading him toward an interest in visual excess, which would culminate in Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), films that “in their combinations of wild visuals and storylines that challenge storytelling itself, were unlike anything the world had ever seen.” If the previous claim reads slightly clunky and definitely hyperbolic, it’s likely because Cooper’s book, on the whole, is torn between its academic and populist inclinations. Unlike Maitland McDonagh’s revelatory Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, which strikes an invigorating balance of analysis, theory, and historicizing, Cooper states from the onset his desire to “eschew a traditional auteur approach.” Necessarily, this leads him down a rather predictable post-structuralist path, replete with deconstructionist close-reading after close-reading—all of them informative and knowledgeable, certainly, but few, if any, of them truly illuminating the depths of Argento’s oeuvre, beyond relatively fundamental distinctions between form and content and Argento’s non-normative subversions.

Homosocialisms David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin

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Homosocialisms: David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin
Homosocialisms: David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin

In an early scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the panning camera reveals a framed photograph of a young, smiling blond woman—except, the image is on negative film, which serves as a presumable correlation for disabled protagonist Jeff’s (Jimmy Stewart) outlook on women, which is tested in his gaze and projected desire from a lofty apartment window throughout the film. The well-known premise of Rear Window serves as a basis for David Greven’s Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin, a provocative monograph that examines often casually dismissed “negative” images of non-normative sexuality, while offering serious reconsideration of not just Hitchcock’s critical legacy as a misogynist filmmaker, but key works within the oeuvres of New Hollywood directors like Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, and Brian De Palma, the latter of whom receives considerable analysis and discussion in relation to his intertextual engagement with Hitchcock, but also his treatment of women and use of melodrama. Primarily, however, Greven details how these New Hollywood filmmakers “seized upon Hitchcock’s radical decentering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at time depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions.” The end result is a rigorously researched, personal, and passionate work, worthy in style and content of the frenzied films and filmmakers being engaged.

Poster Lab: Hitchcock

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Poster Lab: <em>Hitchcock</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Hitchcock</em>

The one-sheet for Hitchcock may turn out to be the 2012 poster that makes the strongest statement. More than just announcing a film’s release, this simplistic and darkly ironic ad marks a bold move for Fox Searchlight Pictures, and augments their reputation as a studio wont to crash the Oscar season with a surprise contender. Still in production as recently as this past spring, the movie, based on Stephen Rebello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, wasn’t expected to be prepped as awards bait. It’s suddenly set to drop on November 23, and the poster serves as its coming-out party, brandishing the first peek of Anthony Hopkins as the portly suspense master.

As the movie, like the book, charts the lead-up to the release of Hitchcock’s most famous title, the poster loosely adopts the Psycho title font, which is aptly cocked to further imply a tinge of black comedy. It’s a tone directly reflective of the late auteur’s trademark film intros, which presented a harmless-looking host who gingerly welcomed viewers to scream their guts out. “Good evening,” reads the tagline on the dinner-party design, and the words have an irony all their own, as they’ve been uttered not only by Hitchcock, but by Hopkins in a memorable scene from Hannibal. It may not be fate, but it’s serendipitously spooky.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Ali Arikan’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Ali Arikan’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Ali Arikan’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Preferential classification in the arts, based on arbitrary choice or empirical study, has a tendency to beget among the chattering classes some sort of mass hysteria. Cinephiles are no exception: Just look at the almost two-month-long back-and-forth fostered by year-end lists. But the pandemonium that starts every December doesn’t even compare with the brouhaha surrounding a “best films of all time” poll. Since the Sight & Sound list is the most venerable one of them all, I expect the conversation to be exceptionally bombastic.