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Ewan McGregor stars as both Jesus and the devil in Rodrigo Garcia’s seventh narrative feature, Last Days in the Desert, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and received a limited theatrical released in May of 2016 from BroadGreen Pictures (shortly after the distributor released another phenomenal title lensed by Emmanuel Lubezki, Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups).
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- Nicholas Bell
Last Days in the Desert follows Jesus (Ewan McGregor) in an imagined chapter from his forty days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, he struggles with the Devil, also played by McGregor, over the fate of an ordinary family in crisis, setting for himself a dramatic test with distinctly human conflicts.
The critics love Last Days In The Desert:
“A warm, generous, and unexpected story” — Christianity Today
“ … inviting, beautiful, frustrating, amusing, affecting, and challenging” – Cinemayward
“… forces us to consider the humanity of Jesus” – PluggedIn.com
“Mesmerizing cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki” – Spirituality & Practice
“Last Days in the Desert achieves greatness” – Crave Online
“Gorgeous and mysterious” – Village Voice
“… most intelligent, engaging film about Jesus since The Last Temptation of Christ.” – NPR
Now you can win the DVD of Last Days In The Desert. »
- Tom Stockman
“Beauty, Love, Mother... And America”
Filmmaker Terrence Malick has perhaps out-mystique’d the great Stanley Kubrick in terms of his public perception. Famously reclusive, Malick never allows photographs of himself to be used, and he never appears in “making of” documentaries about his films. A Rhodes Scholar and a Harvard graduate, he is obviously a brilliant man. Once he got into the film business, he worked as a script doctor until he made his first feature, Badlands (1973). It was critically acclaimed and established Malick as a hot addition to the “New Hollywood” movement. Next came Days of Heaven in 1978, also critically lauded.
And then... he disappeared. For twenty years.
In 1998, he appeared on the scene again, and Hollywood was more than ready to open checkbooks and fund his third feature film, The Thin Red Line.
It takes a lot of mystique for that scenario to happen.
Malick’s fourth picture, »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Cinema Retro)
Leave it to Terrence Malick to always keep us guessing when his next film will drop. Recently we got word that his long-rumored documentary Voyage of Time would finally be dropping this fall and on massive IMAX screens to boot - before the star filled Weightless that he shot back-to-back with this year's Knight of Cups. Like his movies, I guess the release schedules and post-production meander as well.
But even without Weightless's star power, Voyage will pack wattage of its own. Ennio Morricone will be scoring the film, reuniting him with the director after almost forty years since they collaborated on Days of Heaven. And there may not be recognizable faces on screen among the eyepopping visuals, but Brad Pitt narrates (Cate Blanchett is set to narrate the extended, non-imax version that is also rumored).
If you have your doubts about another Mallick meditation on existance, consider that »
- Chris Feil
Year after year film releases from January through June get the short end of the stick during the Oscar season, when latter-year entries — many of them fresh off exposure-boosting festival circuits — drown everything out.
There are exceptions, of course, but mostly, without the help of critical kudos and other precursor awards that deign to have long memories, quality work is frequently left in the also-ran pile. In an effort to keep the spotlight trained on deserving contenders, here is a long list of players we’d like to see remembered by the Academy later this year.
[Note: This list only includes films theatrically released to the public through the year’s midway point. Not all festival entries are eligible.]
Best Picture: “Weiner”
Rather than save it for the documentary feature category, why not just call one of the year’s best movies exactly what it is? This Sundance hit is somehow the perfect movie for now: Flawed heroes, media obsession with titillation yielding obfuscation of substance — it’s brilliantly in tune with the zeitgeist. »
- Kristopher Tapley and Jenelle Riley
Lately, lauded cinematography has been full of nature-porn wide shots (looking at you, “The Revenant“) and catchy camera movement (ok, maybe just you, Emmanuel Lubezki). For a film to be recognized and receive accolades for its camerawork, the effects need to be stellar (pun intended), or full of inventive shots that focus and refocus your attention […]
- Samantha Vacca
After highlighting a recent video series featuring extensive breakdowns of specific films, today we have a set of video essays that focus on styles of some of the greatest cinematographers, both working today and others that have passed on and left an inedible mark. Featuring Vittorio Storaro, Robert Elswit, Roger Deakins, Sven Nykvist, Emmanuel Lubezki, Gordon Willis, and more, wolfcrow’s informative videos briefly highlight their career beginnings and notable work before going into composition, lighting, aspect ratio, clarity, shot length, and much more.
Storaro, who convinced Woody Allen to go digital for Cafe Society, has also recently chimed in on a problem with today’s crop of cinematographers. “People want to work faster or show that they can use less light, but they don’t look for the proper light the scene needs. That isn’t cinematography, that’s recording an image. … I was never happy in any set to just see available light, »
- Leonard Pearce
There is a moment in Sean Penn’s new film — for some reason screening this week in competition in Cannes — when, having navigated the safe passage of a group of refugees from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Charlize Theron’s aid worker asks herself, “In this place of so much war, had I found peace?” It’s a paradoxical query in which basically everything right and terribly wrong about The Last Face can be found. Indeed, cakes are being had and eaten by all involved.
Penn — an active humanitarian who enjoys commendably passing bags of rice out of the backs of trucks — would like nothing more than to educate his audience on the daily horrors of this sort of work on the front line. Good for him. However, while perched upon that high horse, he chooses to also use those horrors as a backdrop and catalyst for a romance between two »
- Rory O'Connor
Sparse and austere, Rodrigo Garcia’s “Last Days In The Desert” is a meditative and moody look at fathers and sons through the eyes of Jesus as he vision quests through the desert seeking guidance from his own savior. While quiet and gorgeous to look at thanks to the stunning photography of Emmanuel Lubezki (“Birdman,” “The […]
- Rodrigo Perez
With the UK release of Knight of Cups this weekend, Neil Calloway looks at a unique directing talent…
Terrence Malick has directed seven films since his debut with Badlands in 1973. That might not seem like many, but when you factor in the fact that between the release of Days of Heaven in 1978 and The Thin Red Line in 1998 he didn’t make a single film, he’s got quite an impressive work rate.
Despite so few films being made, his influence on other film-makers is huge. When Malick’s The Tree of Life was released, Christopher Nolan spoke of his influence on his own films. While that’s hard to see, it’s undoubtedly true that Malick’s films has influenced many writers and directors. True Romance is Tarantino’s homage to Badlands, David Gordon Green’s work shows his influence. Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood contains very Malickian scenes, »
- Neil Calloway
Terrence Malick’s portrait of a lothario screenwriter seems to take an unhealthy interest in its own sleazy subject matter
While Terrence Malick should be applauded for developing his own distinctive cinematic vernacular, there comes a point when his formula of breathily portentous voiceover and wafty imagery starts to nudge into self-parody. Following the odyssey of a successful, womanising screenwriter (Christian Bale), the film unfolds in Hollywood, Vegas and on innumerable sun-kissed beaches. The cinematography, by Emmanuel Lubezki, creates a beguiling magic-hour wonderland out of the southern Californian backdrop, but the material – particularly the use of women – feels queasily inappropriate at times. Is it commentary on the objectification of young girls in a world where female flesh is currency? Or is it just a film which objectifies young girls? There are many shots of immaculately maintained naked female bodies, not all of whom are given voices and some not even faces. »
- Wendy Ide
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then there will never be a definitive list of the greatest cinematography, but for our money, one of the finest polls has been recently conducted on the matter. Our friend Scout Tafoya polled over 60 critics on Fandor, including some of us here, and the results can be found in a fantastic video essay below. Rather than the various wordless supercuts that crowd Vimeo, Tafoya wrestles with his thoughts on cinematography as we see the beautiful images overlaid from the top 12 choices.
“I’ve been thinking of the world cinematographically since high school,” Scout says. “Sometime around tenth grade I started looking out windows, at crowds of my peers, at the girls I had crushes on, and imagining the best way to film them. Lowlight, mini-dv or 35mm? Curious and washed out like the way Emmanuel Lubezki shot Y Tu Mamá También, »
- Jordan Raup
Short of putting Emmanuel Lubezki through astronaut training, it’s difficult to imagine more rapturously beautiful images of the Earth from orbit than those supplied by “A Beautiful Planet,” the latest collaboration between Imax and Nasa. Through an International Space Station module called “The Cupola” — a hemisphere of windows installed in 2010 — and 4K digital cameras more compact than previous-generation Imax gear, our sparkling blue jewel of a planet looks like the centerpiece of a celestial Tiffany’s. In her follow-up to “Hubble 3D,” multitasker Toni Myers (who writes, directs, produces and edits) delivers another 45-minute, once-over-lightly mix of science and spectacle, with Jennifer Lawrence’s voiceover patching the footage together like Scotch tape.
“A Beautiful Planet” may be little more than an Epcot attraction with broader distribution, but it delivers emphatically on its title and should wow field-trip takers and large-format devotees. Myers’ cinematographer, James Neihouse, trained the astronauts to »
- Scott Tobias
Taking Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Cinematography at the Oscars, Alejandro G. Iñárritu's "The Revenant" undoubtedly won the awards where they were most deserved, honoring the director's uncompromising filmmaking, Emmanuel Lubezki's impeccable eye for imagery, and Leonardo DiCaprio's commanding performance. And today we have a terrific prize pack for fans of the film. To refresh your memory, "The Revenant" is based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a frontiersman and trapper who is left for dead after being mauled by a bear, and fights to survive. In the film, DiCaprio takes the role of Hugh, with Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, the man who becomes the target of his vengeance. Read More: Review: Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Fierce And Unremitting 'The Revenant' Starring Leonardo DiCaprio And Tom Hardy The prize pack we have available features a Blu-ray along with a hand-crafted book by artist Blaine Halvorson, »
- Edward Davis
From “Gravity” to “Children of Men,” director Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have created some of the most visually arresting and emotionally compelling movies of modern times. They’ve won Oscars and fans across the globe, and their reliance on long, seamless tracking shots has inspired a rising generation of filmmakers.
But their collaborations didn’t always result in celluloid magic. In a public discussion about their careers at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday, Cuarón and Lubezki dismissed 1998’s “Great Expectations,” a modernized retelling of the Charles Dickens novel, as a black mark on their resumes.
“I think it’s a complete failed film,” said Cuarón, while Lubezki agreed that it was “the least satisfying of our movies.”
The film followed “A Little Princess,” a critically beloved children’s story that both men found immensely satisfying to make. They lacked the same connection to the story of an »
- Brent Lang
Every week we dive into the cream of the crop when it comes to home releases, including Blu-ray and DVDs, as well as recommended deals of the week. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best (or most interesting) films one can take home. Note that if you’re looking to support the site, every purchase you make through the links below helps us and is greatly appreciated.
Over the course of the 1990s, writer-director Whit Stillman made a trilogy of films about the acid tongues and broken hearts of some haplessly erudite young Americans in New York and abroad. Set in the eighties, these films trace the arc of that decade, led by Stillman’s Oscar-nominated debut, Metropolitan, which introduced moviegoers to a strange, endangered species of privileged New Yorker, the “urban haute bourgeoisie. »
- TFS Staff
Due to the myriad of people seeking refuge from the precarious conditions in their homelands or about crimes committed along the extensive area it crosses, the border that attempts to divide Mexico and the United States is an endless fountain of thought-provoking stories, sometimes uplifting and others gruesome, which have become prime source material for film productions on countless occasions. But while there are very few aspects of this interdependent relationship that haven’t been already explored in cinema, director Michael Dwyer’s “Hostile Border” (formerly known as “Pocha: Manifest Destiny”) follows a singular character with a dubious moral compass, cultural ambiguity, and whose identity is difficult to classify.
Claudia (Veronica Sixtos) is a Mexican-born undocumented American, and while that description may sound contradictory, is perhaps the closest to explain what her situation is. She identifies with American culture, as the only place she has ever called home is the United States, yet her status as an undocumented immigrant places her in a limbo that has no easy solution. When a series of terrible choices lands her back in Mexico, a country foreign to her, she realizes that the fact she can’t speak Spanish and doesn’t know what rural life involves alienate her here too. As a pocha, or someone of Mexican descent who doesn’t speak the language or relates to the culture, Claudia is force to reconsider who she believes she is, at least until she can find a way to return to the U.S. by any means necessary.
We chatted with director Michael Dwyer about his unexpected take on a new type of border story, one that takes from genres like the Western and thriller, and becomes its own unique brand of cinematic social commentary.
Aguilar: I was born in Mexico. I grew up there and then I moved to the U.S, so I'm always hesitant about the portrayal of immigrants in film and of the relationship between the Us and Mexico. However, "Hostile Border" has a very unique and authentic angle on these stories that I hadn't seen on screen before. The concept of a "pocha" or "pocho" might be familiar to people in the Mexican community but foreign outside of it. How did you come in contact with this story? What was it that drew you to this specific part of the relationship between the two countries?
Michael Dwyer: Primarily I wanted to tell a story that takes a hard look at the American Dream. For me, growing up around the border, the border is a place where there’s not just two cultures, there are many cultures pushing up against each other. I think within that space you’re able to question your own cultural values, be it Mexican or American, and that was really important for me growing up, having different perspectives on what’s really important about the choices you make, on issues of morals and family. I feel like that’s where I’m coming from, that I wanted to tell a different kind of story about the American dream. I think that there are of a lot of cheering, happy stories of people who come to the Us and who aspire to do amazing things, and it's not that I want to diminish that, but coming of age amidst the financial crisis, where there was no consequences for any of that corruption, gave me a certain feeling that the American dream wasn’t designed for everybody, and there are people who are pushed out. I think that perspective is valuable, because I think that there’s this a dark side to the American dream where people get hurt, and that’s very real.
Aguilar: Your protagonist, Claudia, is in this very ambiguous cultural crossroads , because she doesn’t speak Spanish and she’s sent back to a county that she doesn’t know. She not from here but in a sense also not from there. She connects more with American culture, but her birthplace definitely has an influence in her destiny. Can you tell me about creating this character and devising that ambiguity of what she is or what she thinks she is?
Michael Dwyer: I should say that I had been developing this story for many years, and a real turning point for me happened when I was at the border late one night and I witness the deportation of maybe 100 people. I ended up standing on the line with several of them, and I met people who, like Claudia, didn’t speak Spanish and knew very little about Mexico. That was kind of the “inciting incident” for crafting a different story about somebody who is caught in between the two cultures, the two countries, but then it’s also about being caught in between very difficult choices, and the moral implications of each of those cultures. I hope those all tie together and that there’s a through line there.
Aguilar: She is also not “victim." She’s a very strong character. Often stories made about the immigrant experience are about victimization or powerless characters. Claudia is powerless at times in the film, but she’s has this arrogance about her that doesn't let her entertain the idea of failure. Why was important for you not to have a character that's defined as a victim, but rather one that's partly responsible for her circumstances?
Michael Dwyer: We really wanted to show her as this very strong character. I always wanted to make a Western. I wanted her to be the leading character in a Western, be strong, make bold choices, and be somebody who you can judge but also really root for. I think that that’s something we don’t really see a lot in movies – strong female characters who are both good and bad, and complex, and have a character trajectory that we can grapple with. It was definitely about that, and working with the writer and co-director of the movie, Kaitlin McLaughlin, we definitely brought to it our sense of feminist values and we tried to put that in without making it a message thing. We just wanted to give her strength and determination not to be a victim.
Aguilar: Tell me about your choice of genre and the fact that it’s not a drama. It definitely exploits the elements of a thriller. Its very gritty and intense in terms of the violence and tension, but the film still manages to convey all these other themes surrounding the action. Why did you feel that using a blend between Western and thriller elements was the ideal way yo depict these ideas?
Michael Dwyer: I wrote a version of the script a long time ago that was much more exploratory and experimental in terms of the characters. I was very much inspired by José Antonio Villarreal and his novel “Pocho," and that element of the border. But what we really came to figure out is that the feeling of being caught in between cultures and impossible decisions, is a feeling of intent, suspense and tension. Ultimately we felt that the best way to capture that feeling and put the audience with Claudia was to do that with some of the elements of a thriller, and really playing on the suspense. That’s what Kait McLaughlin, the writer, was really great about – pulling those story beats and really trying to move the story as quickly as possible and raise the stakes as high as possible.
Aguilar: Did you shoot the film in Mexico or was it easies for you to shoot in the United States? Was that decision affected by the importance of authenticity or having a realistic depiction of the spaces the characters inhabit?
Michael Dwyer: We shot two weeks in Los Angeles and another seven weeks in Mexico, around Tijuana. I come from a background in documentary film, so I feel like authenticity is very important. The part of the filmmaking process that is really rewarding to me is drawing from the elements of a location, and really listening and responding to people that you are following. I say that because in a way we tried to have a bit of that documentary feeling to it. There are scenes in here involving large amounts of cattle, and that definitely came out of our documentary approach and listening to our friends telling us, “Hey there is this roundup happening and they are going to be doing vaccinations on all of these cows. “ We would stop our day to go see that. We were a small crew, since the film was made with a lot of passion by a very few people, and that also gave us the flexibility to jump around, respond, and not impart a sense of, “This is what I think this place is,” but instead let the place come alive on its own terms.
Aguilar: There visual style on display is vibrant and transforms the landscapes into incredibly beautiful, almost dreamlike, visions. Where does this approach come from?
Michael Dwyer: I’ve worked as a commercial cinematographer and the visual language is part of my passion for filmmaking and storytelling. I’ve been inspired by great cinematographers like Emmanuel Lubezki. I think that because this is a difficult story I wanted it to be beautiful and I wanted it to pull you in. I hope that this adds to bring the audience into her feelings and her world. That was always the driving paradigm for the choices we were trying to make in terms of the framing and the camera movements. It was about how these heightened the feeling of being in Claudia’s shoes - being caught in between impossible choices. We tried to add to that suspense and feeling of unknown and fear.
Aguilar: Veronica Sixtos is a revelation. Although she had appeared in previous film projects, this is an outstanding lead role for her. How did she come on board and what made you believe she could portray Claudia with all her facets?
Michael Dwyer: It was interesting. We had a pretty extensive casting process trying to find somebody who could play this character. It’s a very complex role because we are pushing the line of likeability. We were brought to Veronica through her costar Jesse Garcia who came on to the project very early on and eventually became a producer on it. He brought us to Veronica and I immediately knew that she had both the physicality to carry it, but also the layers to be sympathetic in the way she makes bad choices. I felt that in our first audition and I’m so happy that it all worked out.
Aguilar: The film was originally titled "Pocha," then became "Pocha: Manifest Destiny," and now for release it's called "Hostile Border." Why did you select each of these and why was the decision to ultimately change it taken? It feels like "Pocha" is really the single word that best describe the cultural complexity you are dissecting here.
Michael Dwyer: For me it was always “Pocha” because I think that term doesn’t have just one meaning. You can talk to anybody in the southwest and ask them what a “pocho” or “pocha” is and you’ll get a different answer every time. It’s not one thing. I think we can all agree that it generally becomes one thing but what changes are the different connotations that it carries. To me that captured the ambiguity that we were after, about somebody that’s stuck in between two cultures and difficult moral choices. When we went to the festivals they wanted an English title, so we wanted something that spoke to this idea of the distorted American dream that we wanted to show. I think the terminology of “Manifest Destiny” is definitely something that I enjoyed playing with at the time because “manifest destiny” is a very dangerous term. Historically I don’t think we recognize how much that term was used to justify a lot of enormous violence and human cost. We are trying to speak to what are the human costs of certain American values and ways of thinking like the American dream. I really liked that connection and thought it would speak to it, but ultimately we wrestled with it and we got great feedback from our distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films. I think we came up with a title that I hope is good in its own way and helps reaching a broader audience.
Aguilar: What was the most rewarding aspect of working between Mexico and the U.S. on this film and how each of these places add their own unique qualities to the storytelling?
Michael Dwyer: Absolutely. When we were casting the project we were casting both here in L.A. and in Tijuana at the same time. I think that experience of casting in both places helped made better decisions about the casting decisions. I’d like to mention Jorge Sanders, our production designer, who is Tijuana-based. Working with him was a great collaboration, there were a lot of great collaborations in this film, but that one was especially important and meaningful. He brought authenticity to how everything should be and how it helped tell the story. He contributed an enormous amount. He is a great artist and a great friend.
Aguilar: Did you ever feel like an outsider telling a story that belonged to someone else and how did you approach it in order to understand it from your point of view?
Michael Dwyer: We really struggled with issues of appropriation. Who am I as a white American to tell this kind of story? But ultimately I hope that we were able to capture the complexity and that we did it on terms that are a critique of American values. I think critiquing American values is something that anybody can and should do. I hope that it can speak to lots of different audiences because of that. »
- Carlos Aguilar
“How to make sense of the Tribeca Film Festival” was the altogether appropriate headline of the New York Times preview of the Tribeca Film Festival. Even as the festival is only a third of the size of most larger festivals — statistic courtesy of Festival Director Genna Terranova at yesterday’s Robert DeNiro and Jane Rosenthal-hosted press lunch — it still unveils itself with a dizzying shock and awe. There are films, but also talks with people you don’t want to miss, from Patti Smith to Emmanuel Lubezki, as well as master classes by filmmakers like Catherine Hardwick. As with most […] »
- Scott Macaulay
Knight of Cups tells the story of a Hollywood screenwriter (Christian Bale) who laments his purpose in life. Strippers, parties, money, family dysfunction, the works. Each interaction he shares comes and goes with ghostly ease, stepping up to drop their two cents of disgruntlement before receding back into the evening’s debauchery. Vice and vulgarity become a source of addiction, a cocktail that goes down smooth and cauterizes the soul. If all this sounds obtuse and pretentious, that’s because director Terrence Malick goes out of his way to make it so. As a result, Knight of Cups is a soufflé that can’t go more than a few minutes without caving in on the viewer – a side effect of its stubborn house chef.
- Danilo Castro
Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant left the Academy Awards earlier this year with three Golden statues and is finally set to make its Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray debut on April 19th. We've teamed up with Fox Home Entertainment to offer a lucky reader a copy of The Revenant on Blu-ray and Digital combo in this giveaway.
The Revenant Oscars included Best Actor for Leonardio DiCaprio, Best Director for Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and Best Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki. The epic film also stars Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter and Forrest Goodluck.
For a chance to win The Revenant on Blu-ray and Digital HD combo, simply fill out and submit the short entry form below. The odds of winning can be increased each and every day you stop back to enter again for as many days as the contest is open. You must be a resident of the U. »
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