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‘The Incredible Jessica James’ Takes on New York in Trailer for Sundance Comedy

24 June 2017 10:07 AM, PDT

Netflix has released the first teaser for The Incredible Jessica James, a comedy that centers around an aspiring playwright who develops a relationship with a guy on the rebound in New York. However, the teaser is more focused on the titular character’s (Jessica Williams) more negative (and comedic) interactions with men, along with a demonstration of her energy and charisma. I may get chewed out for this, but it is a bit of a bummer that a movie about a black playwright is written and directed by a white dude. Hopefully the film’s perspective is guided by Williams.

“Unfortunately, the narrative Strouse surrounds her in feels narrow-minded,” we said in our review. “We’re in New York City, where Jessica teaches a children’s theater workshop while getting her work rejected for every theater grant imaginable. Boone, with a grin, asks how she can possibly pay her rent. »

- Mike Mazzanti

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John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson Form a Bond in Trailer for kogonada’s ‘Columbus’

23 June 2017 6:00 AM, PDT

The path to becoming a director is one generally accompanied by a profound knowledge of film history, but that passion is rarely more public then when it comes to kogonada. After years of working on visually detailed video essays for The Criterion Collection, Sight & Sound, and more, he’s now made his directorial debut with Columbus, an impeccably composed drama of quiet humanity and curiosity. If his nickname wasn’t enough of a hint, traces of Yasujirō Ozu’s influence can be found, but this first-time director has created something distinctly his own. Ahead of an August release, the first trailer has now been released.

“As these two parallel stories are told, and eventually converge in a wonderfully blocked sequence, Columbus unfolds with a patient rhythm, comprised of characters who are resistant to wearing their emotions on their sleeves,” I said in my review. “This leads to making their interactions all the more genuine as we first must acquaint ourselves with the location and history before peeling back layers. Richardson, who recently made an indelible impression in The Edge of Seventeen, is the stand-out here, playing Casey with both an independent streak (especially when it comes to the advances of her library co-worker played by (Rory Culkin) and a longing for resolution as it pertains with letting go of her burden with her mother.”

Check out the trailer below via EW and we’ll update when a not-so-terrible player is available.

When his father, a renowned architecture scholar, falls suddenly ill during a speaking tour, Jin (John Cho) finds himself stranded in Columbus, Indiana – a small Midwestern city that is celebrated for its many significant modernist buildings. Jin strikes up a friendship with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young architecture enthusiast who works at the local library. As their intimacy develops, Jin and Casey explore both the town and their conflicted emotions: Jin’s estranged relationship with his father and Casey’s reluctance to leave Columbus and her mother. With its naturalistic rhythms and empathy for the complexities of families, debut director Kogonada’s Columbus unfolds as a gently drifting, deeply absorbing conversation. With strong supporting turns from Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, and Michelle Forbes, Columbus is a showcase for its director’s striking eye for the way physical space can affect emotions.

Columbus opens on August 4. »

- Jordan Raup

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New to Streaming: ‘The Bad Batch,’ ‘Summer Hours,’ ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ ‘Paterson,’ and More

23 June 2017 5:31 AM, PDT

With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the titles that have recently hit platforms. Every week, one will be able to see the cream of the crop (or perhaps some simply interesting picks) of streaming titles (new and old) across platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and more (note: U.S. only). Check out our rundown for this week’s selections below.

The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour)

Ana Lily Amirpour’s second feature shoots for Harmony Korine meets Mad Max and would have nearly almost hit the mark were it not for the gratingly aloof attitude and the swaths of directorial license being taken. The Bad Batch — an ambitious, expansive dystopian sci-fi western which features partying, drugs, and cannibals — might come as music to the ears of diehard fans of films like Spring Breakers and Gummo (a kid doesn’t quite eat spaghetti in a bathtub, but a kid does eat spaghetti after being in a bathtub). However, beneath its dazzlingly hip surface the script and characters leave much to be desired. It’s like taking a trip to Burning Man: a pseudo-spiritual, uniquely punky experience perhaps, but one that’s full of annoying rich kids and ultimately emotionally shallow. – Rory O. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes

Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts)

Though it may not feel fully inspired so much as competently pre-visualized, Kong: Skull Island fits snugly into the growing canon of reboots that exist within ever-expanding movie universes. That’s a first sentence to a positive review that perhaps reads a bit more cynically than intended. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and written by a bunch of dudes (Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly with a story credited to John Gatins), this umpteenth version of the King Kong story pulls from every available pop-culture source in building a fun creature feature. Much of the credit goes to the breathtaking effects and brisk pace, which distract from some lofty line readings and silly plot devices. – Dan M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Le Trou (Jacques Becker)

One of the greatest prison escape dramas of all-time, Jacques Becker’s recently-restored Le Trou is a masterclass in tension. By putting us both in the physical and psychological headspace of our protagonists, it’s an enveloping experience as we see a number of close calls, leading up to one of the most unforgettable endings in cinema. – Jordan r.

Where to Stream: Mubi (free 30-day trial)

Moana (John Musker and Ron Clements)

It’s time for another Disney Princess movie, and you know how it goes. Disney knows too, and wants you to know that it knows. When the title character of Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) denies that she’s a princess, claiming that she’s merely the daughter of her island’s chief and the next chieftain, her adventuring partner Maui (Dwayne Johnson) asserts, “Same difference,” and that, “You wear a dress and have an animal sidekick. You’re a princess.” But Disney is doing its best to make the culture rethink cinematic fantasy princesses, countering the stereotypes of helpless femininity (which the studio largely put in place) with a new roster of highly capable action heroines. And Moana is, as they call it, a good role model. And the movie around her is fine. – Dan S. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (Brian Knappenberger)

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press uses a salacious story and website as the launching pad to discuss where we currently are, so much so that I imagine director Brian Knappenberger — who uses footage from President Trump’s infamous press conference only a few days before the film’s Sundance premiere — may wish to stay on the story. Gawker, a site spun out of Gizmodo, was founded to share the types of stories mainstream news outlets would often shy away from, including celebrity sex tapes, outings, drug use, and allegations that have swirled but not picked up traction. They’ve featured Rob Ford smoking crack, Bill Cosby’s multiple accusers, Hillary Clinton’s emails, Tom Cruise’s prominent role in Scientology, and the one that brought them down: the infamous Hulk Hogan sex tape recorded for private use by Hogan pal and infamous Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, best known nationally for his stint on Howard Stern’s satellite channel. Bubba’s antics will no doubt some day be the subject of a documentary of their own, from his role in both the Hogan affair to his odd appearance in the David Petraeus saga. – John F. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

Jim Jarmusch proved he was back in a major way with Only Lovers Left Alive a few years ago, and the streak continues with Paterson, a calm, introspective drama with such positive views on marriage and creativity that I was left floored. In following the cyclical life of Adam Driver‘s Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who also has dreams of being a poet, Jarmusch superbly shows that one’s own life experience — however seemingly insubstantial — is the only requirement to produce something beautiful. Moreso than any other film in 2016, this is the kind of world I want to live in. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

Star Trek Beyond (Justin Lin)

After the pleasant fluff of its kick-off installment and the frog march of unpleasantness that was Into Darkness, the rebooted Star Trek film series finally hits a fun median between big-budget bombast and classic Trek bigheartedness with Star Trek Beyond. Does the franchise’s full descent into action, with only the barest lip service paid to big ideas, cause Gene Roddenberry’s ashes to spin in their space capsule? Probably, but in the barren desert of summer 2016 blockbusters, this is a lovely oasis. – Dan S. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)

Perhaps a point of contention on New York Times’ top 25 films of the 21st century list, Olivier AssayasSummer Hours is a commendable top 10 pick. Led by Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier, and Kyle Eastwood, this drama follows a family reuniting following the death of their mother. Like the best of Assayas’ films, it’s an impeccably-crafted, subtly-moving experience, one that wades in the ideas of the value of what we hold on to and a graceful reflection on the passage of time. – Jordan R.

Where to Stream: FilmStruck

Wilson (Craig Johnson)

The world of Daniel Clowes is one without manners, glamour, and tact, but it is also one of uncomfortable truth, as scathing as it might be. One may have never verbally conveyed the discourteous musings of his characters to the extent to which it is their everyday vernacular, but we’ve all had similar thoughts when life isn’t going our way. The latest adaptation of his work comes with Wilson, directed by Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins), featuring a role Woody Harrelson is clearly having the time of his life with. Despite his commitment to a lack of civility, there’s a darker film lying in the cynical heart of Wilson, one that gets squandered by its mawkish aesthetic and lack of interest in exploring these characters beyond their crudeness. – Jordan R. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

The Zookeeper’s Wife (Niki Caro)

The Zookeeper’s Wife begins with those five famous words that hold the power to either become a film’s dependency (and therefore downfall) or its empowering catalyst, laying the foundation to convey a poignant tale: “Based on a true story.” Fortunately, The Zookeeper’s Wife sticks with the latter, and the true tale being told is one for the ages. Niki Caro‘s drama follows a couple who hide Jews in their zoo and use it as a point of passage and escape during the Nazi takeover of Warsaw. The narrative is a simple one, allowing The Zookeeper’s Wife to shine in its performances, imagery, and storytelling, which it pristinely accomplishes. – Chelsey G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Also New to Streaming

Amazon

Night School (review)

FilmStruck

Rodeo and The Moment of Truth

Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? and Quadrophenia

An Actor’s Revenge

Her Brother

Conflagration

The Woman in Question

The Importance of Being Earnest

Mubi (free 30-day trial)

Paris Frills

The Train to Moscow:  A Journey to Utopia

Lost in Lebanon

Being 14

Molly’s Theory of Relativity

Le Moulin

Netflix

The Stanford Prison Experiment (review)

Discover more titles that are now available to stream. »

- Jordan Raup

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Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, Tavi Gevinson & More Survive New York in Trailer for ‘Person to Person’

22 June 2017 2:55 PM, PDT

Multiple New York stories come together in Dustin Guy Defa’s Person to Person, an ensemble piece that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The film was shot on 16mm, which lead The Film Stage’s Dan Mecca to comment, “There is certainly — and commendably — a worn look to this version of New York City, thanks in large part to cinematographer Ashley Connor and her use of Super 16. If not for cell phones and other modern tech, we could be in the middle of a Woody Allen picture from the 1980s.”

Featuring a cast that includes Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., George Sample III, Olivia Luccardi, Hunter Zimny, Ben Rosenfield (here meeting a better fate than on Twin Peaks), and Philip Baker Hall. Watch the first trailer below.

During a single day in New York City, a variety of characters grapple with the mundane, the unexpected, and the larger questions permeating their lives. An investigative reporter struggles with her first day on the job, despite help from her misguided boss; a rebellious teen attempts to balance her feminist ideals with other desires; and a young man seeks to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend, even as her brother threatens revenge. Meanwhile, an avid music lover traverses the city in search of a rare record for his vinyl collection.

Person to Person opens in theaters and VOD on July 28. »

- Chris Evangelista

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Trailer for ‘That Day, on the Beach’ Restoration Revives Edward Yang and Christopher Doyle’s Debut Feature

22 June 2017 1:56 PM, PDT

Good Lord, here’s a welcome find: Edward Yang’s long-rare, long-left-in-horrible-condition debut feature That Day, on the Beach has been restored with assistance from the Central Motion Picture Corporation — in 2015, it turns out, when the film had an under-the-radar screening at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival. It’s coming to international waters on July 14; and while no U.S. release of any kind has yet been announced, an English-subtitled trailer has been made available.

As you’d hope, what’s seen of the restoration far supercedes any copy available since, say, its 1983 release, though might very well exceed that. Finally can Christopher Doyle’s own debut as a cinematic craftsman be seen in the proper light — at least if you’re somewhere this is screening. Allow me the opportunity, here, to cc everybody with the power to give That Day, on the Beach its U.S. due. This is a major step towards reclaiming one of the greatest film artists of the past 50 years.

See the preview below (thanks to @HerrKman for the find): »

- Nick Newman

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NYC Weekend Watch: Ozu, Peter Nestler, ‘Monterey Pop,’ Bertrand Tavernier & More

22 June 2017 11:55 AM, PDT

Since any New York City cinephile has a nearly suffocating wealth of theatrical options, we figured it’d be best to compile some of the more worthwhile repertory showings into one handy list. Displayed below are a few of the city’s most reliable theaters and links to screenings of their weekend offerings — films you’re not likely to see in a theater again anytime soon, and many of which are, also, on 35mm. If you have a chance to attend any of these, we’re of the mind that it’s time extremely well-spent.

Metrograph

The best of Ozu in one series.

Films by members of Magnum Photos will screen, as does Alan Clarke’s Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

Museum of the Moving Image

The Spielberg series screens three underseen, rediscovery-ready titles this weekend.

Film Society of Lincoln Center

Largely unseen, the films of Peter Nestler, a key figure in post-war German cinema, are being given their due in a new series.

Nitehawk Cinema

Midnight brings the restored Monterey Pop, Street Trash, and The Holy Mountain.

The Blues Brothers (with pre-show performance) and The Lost World screen before noon.

Quad Cinema

The films made and loved by Bertrand Tavernier are screening.

Funeral Parade of Roses continues its run.

Museum of Modern Art

The Philippine series continues running, including two films by Lav Diaz.

IFC Center

Midnight brings To Live and Die in L.A., The Thing, The Italian Job, and Taxi Driver.

During the day, Stalker, No Country for Old Men, and Monterey Pop are offered. »

- Nick Newman

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Jake Gyllenhaal Gets ‘Stronger’ in First Trailer for David Gordon Green’s Boston Marathon Bombing Drama

22 June 2017 8:41 AM, PDT

After Peter Berg took some liberties in directing a thriller-esque approach to the Boston Marathon Bombing drama with last year’s Patriots Day, a new film this fall takes a more personal lens on the horrific event. Stronger, directed by David Gordon Green, tells the story of survivor Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who adjusts to his new life after losing his legs in the terrorist attack.

Ahead of a fall release and likely Tiff debut, the first trailer has now landed. “I can’t begin to think about the pain that he has been through. In fact, I have thought about it a lot. I’ve tried to,” Gyllenhaal tells USA Today. “But I don’t know if I would have been able to survive. I don’t know if I have the strength that he has. And that’s a question that I ask myself every day with this film.”

Check out the trailer below for the film also starring Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson and Clancy Brown.

Stronger is the inspiring true story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become the symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff, a 27-year-old, working-class Boston man who was at the marathon to try and win back his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany). Waiting for her at the finish line when the blast occurs, he loses both his legs in the attack. After regaining consciousness in the hospital, Jeff is able to help law enforcement identify one of the bombers, but his own battle has just begun. He tackles months of physical and emotional rehabilitation with the unwavering support of Erin and his family. It is Jeff’s deeply personal account of the heroic journey that tests a family’s bond, defines a community’s pride and inspires his inner courage to overcome devastating adversity. Filled with raw emotion, humanity and humor, Stronger is the inspirational real-life story of the man who became the living embodiment of “Boston Strong.” The film also stars Academy Award® nominee Miranda Richardson and is directed by David Gordon Green.

Stronger opens on September 22. »

- Jordan Raup

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The New West: The Greatest Revisionist Westerns of All-Time

22 June 2017 5:48 AM, PDT

The classical western exists as an ideal sandbox for stories of heroism, in which white hats can immediately separate our protagonists from the black-hatted antagonists. Occasionally, though, we have a revisionist western that questions and defies the well-trodden patriarchal confines of the genre, as if looking at an old image from a tilted perspective and finding something new.

Sometimes, the characters don’t fit into the dusty old boxes occupied by so many western heroes and heroines. The hero robs and kills to stay alive, frightened and overwhelmed by this strange, new frontier. Other times, the stereotypical Western landscape disappears, blanketed in snow. Horses drive their hooves through ice-covered puddles. Wind screams past bone-thin trees — manifest destiny frozen over, encasing the American dream in ice.

In the case of Sofia Coppola’s newest, The Beguiled, gender and power roles reverse: an injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) turns up at a girl’s school, an arrival which breeds intense sexual tension and rivalry among the women (Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning). According to our review, the movie is “primarily based on the 1966 book by Thomas Cullinan,” and “appears, at first glance, to be a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 film adaptation rather than any sort of new reading of the original text. Coppola, of course, is far too clever for that.”

In celebration of The Beguiled, we’ve decided to take a look at the finest examples of the revisionist western. Enjoy, and please include your own favorites in the comments.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)

Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) idolized the legendary outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt), growing up hearing campfire stories about the man. Ford loved James so much that he eventually willed himself into the man’s life story. You cannot tell James’s story without also telling Ford’s. These two tragic lives are irrevocably linked by Ford’s betrayal. The film’s dryly antiseptic voiceover narration confides that Ford grew to regret his violent ways. The same goes for James, who at one point beats a child and then weeps into his horse’s neck, unable to live with his own deeds. While James’ propensity for violence is a deeply cut character flaw, Pitt plays the outlaw like an emotionally wounded teenager. His jovial sense of humor cloaks a vindictive and self-loathing interior. Whether Jesse James hurts himself or someone else, there is always a witness looking on with wide eyes. After James’ murder, Ford became a celebrity, touring the country reenacting the shooting. But Ford gained his prominence by killing a beloved folk hero. And so, one day, a man named Edward Kelly walked into Ford’s saloon with a shotgun and took revenge for James’s murder. Unlike the aftermath of Ford’s deed, people leapt to Kelly’s defense, collecting over 7000 signatures for a petition, leading to his pardon. America hated Robert Ford because he killed Jesse James. They loved Edward Kelly because he killed Robert Ford.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (Robert Altman)

Robert Altman’s largely forgotten and often funny western about egotistical showman Buffalo Bill Cody (Paul Newman) treats its lead without respect, eagerly mocking him at every opportunity. Known across America as they best tracker of man and animals alive, Cody runs Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, a rodeo-like performance of cowboy-feats, ranging from simple rope tricks to the trick-shots of the legendary Annie Oakley. However, Cody is a fraud, a walking accumulation of lies and tall-tales. When Cody gets the chance to hire Chief Sitting Bull, the man who defeated General Custer at Little Big Horn, he’s thrilled, until Sitting Bull refuses to participate in his offensive show. Contrasted with phony Buffalo Bill Cody, Sitting Bull drips with dignified authenticity, totally uninterested in living up to the ignorant public’s racist image of his people. While the manufactured “reality” of Cody’s shows gets applause from white audiences, the stoic realness of Sitting Bull initially receives jeers, until something occurs to the crowd: this isn’t showmanship; this is the real thing. Later, when Cody and his gang form a posse, he hastily removes his show attire and searches through his wardrobe, cursing: “Where’s my real jacket?” So utterly consumed by his own public image, Cody can no longer locate his true self. Altman’s film is a rare western with a lead character who never succeeds, changes, or learns from his mistakes, always remaining a hopelessly pompous horse’s ass.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill)

As we meet the legendary Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) he’s scoping out a bank, recently renovated to include heavy iron bars over every window and bolted-locks on every door. He asks the guard what happened to the old bank, which displayed such architectural beauty. “People kept robbing it,” the guard says. “Small price to pay for beauty,” Butch replies. It’s a running theme in revisionist westerns to reveal the truth behind the legend. The changing times had rendered bandits on horseback obsolete. But Butch Cassidy and his partner, the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) didn’t see the end coming until the future was already upon them. After barely evading a super-posse (to use a term coined by screenwriter William Goldman) led by a ruthless bounty hunter, they escape to Bolivia with Etta (Katherine Ross) Sundance’s girl, where their criminal ways are similarly received. What began as a vacation away from their troubles slowly becomes a permanent getaway run, sowing seeds of inevitable tragedy. Etta sees what Butch and Sundance cannot: the end. “We’re not going home anymore, are we?” Etta tearfully asks Sundance, informing him that she has no plans to stick around to watch them die. George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a tearful celebration of a pair of old dogs too foolish to learn new tricks.

Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch)

The gorgeous and haunting Dead Man opens with a soot-faced Crispin Glover trilling as he points out the window of a train: “They’re shooting buffalo,” he cries. “Government said, it killed a million of them last year alone.” The American machine greedily consumes the landscape, leaving smoldering devastation in its path, while a stone-faced accountant named William Blake (Johnny Depp) travels to the hellish town of Machine, where he’s promised a job. Unfortunately, there’s no job at the end of the line for this seemingly educated man, blissfully unaware of his namesake, the poet William Blake. After taking a bullet to the chest, Blake wanders this dying western landscape as if in a dream, guided by Nobody (Gary Farmer) a Native American raised in England after getting kidnapped and paraded around as a sideshow attraction for whites. At one point, Blake stumbles upon three hunters by a camp fire, one of which, played by Iggy Pop, wears a muddy dress and bonnet like a twisted schoolmarm. Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s twist on the western (accompanied by Robby Müller’s flawless cinematography) hums with textured period detail and vivid costume design, the accumulation of which achieves an eerily stylized tone.

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

The spirit of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is in the sequence scored by Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name.” Django (Jamie Foxx), now a free man, removes the old saddle from his horse’s back, a saddle originally procured by a white slaver, the animal’s previous owner. He then mounts in its place, his own saddle personalized with an embroidered D. His freedom is still new and unfamiliar but, Django is more than willing to grasp those reigns. What works best about the film is how Tarantino’s screenplay embraces the politics of the Antebellum South in a fashion carefully ignored by every other western of its time. The dialogue, Tarantino’s most applauded talent, wheels a careful turn between a sly comedy-of-manners and a bluntly provocative historical indictment, always landing on a shameless exploitation cinema influenced need for violent catharsis. Tarantino’s channeling of Spaghetti Western violence, with the gore cranked up to a level far beyond that of even Sergio Corbucci’s bloodiest work, delivers tenfold on that catharsis, splattering the pristine white walls of Candyland plantation bright red.

El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Dripping with transgressive and bizarre imagery, El Topo embraces every taboo imaginable with a breathless zeal. Existing somewhere between Midnight Movie oddity and art-house epic, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s second feature envisions the west as an unknowable landscape, dotted with peculiar and grotesque characters, such as a legless gunfighter who rides around on the back of an armless man. Describing the film in narrative terms, beat by beat, would be pointless, although we follow a rider in black, the titular El Topo (which means The Mole) who crosses the desert with a naked boy on the saddle. Though we spend more time with El Topo, his son is the heart of the film, this warped and subversive pseudo-fable exploring the cyclical nature of life. Jodorowsky’s painterly eye for composition lends individual shots with arresting and breathtaking resonance. With less than subtle biblical imagery scattered throughout, including a marvelous sequence involving a religion based around the game of Russian Roulette, Jodorowsky’s film feels at times like a twisted celebration of mysticism, sampling notes from Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. It’s ending, a chaotic, dream-like burst of violence, adds a scathing gut-punch to an already overwhelming experience. There is no other western quite like El Topo, to say the least.

Continue >> »

- Tony Hinds

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Marion Cotillard Finds Passion in U.S. Trailer for ‘From the Land of the Moon’

22 June 2017 5:44 AM, PDT

While she recently opened Cannes with Ismael’s Ghosts, a Marion Cotillard-led feature from last year’s festival will now get a release next month. Nicole Garcia’s From the Land of the Moon is a period weepy, set after World War II, which follows the actress bound by a loveless and begins an affair. Also starring Louis Garrel and Álex BrendemühlSundance Selects has now released a new U.S. trailer.

We said in our review, “We haven’t even reached the midway point of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but it’s probably safe to assume that Nicole Garcia’s From the Land of the Moon will be the least-ambitious film this year’s competition has to offer. Based on Sicilian author Melena Agus’ 2006 novella of the same name, it is a weepy Sunday matinee melodrama of the most run-of-the-mill variety, full of pretty people in pretty clothes feeling Big Emotions. A Tchaikovsky leitmotif reminds us of the protagonist’s wary heart. There are at least four shots of Marion Cotillard curled in a ball on the floor crying. You can probably see where this is going.”

Check out the trailer below.

Based on the international best-selling novel and starring Academy Award®-winner Marion Cotillard, From The Land Of The Moon is the story of a free-spirited woman fighting for passionate dreams of true love against all odds. Gabrielle (Cotillard) comes from a small village in the South of France at a a time when her dream of true love is considered scandalous, and even a sign of insanity. Her parents marry her to José (Àlex Brendemühl), an honest and loving Spanish farm worker who they think will make a respectable woman of her. Despite José’s devotion to her, Gabrielle vows that she will never love José and lives like a prisoner bound by the constraints of conventional post World War II society until the day she is sent away to a hospital in the Alps to heal her kidney stones. There she meets André Sauvage (Louis Garrel), a dashing injured veteran of the Indochinese War, who rekindles the passion buried inside her. She promises they will run away together, and André seems to share her desire. Will anyone dare rob her of her right to follow her dreams?

From the Land of the Moon opens on July 28. »

- Jordan Raup

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BAMcinemaFest Review: ‘Escapes’ is a Seductive, Larger-Than-Life Look at Hampton Fancher

22 June 2017 4:44 AM, PDT

Escapes isn’t the only Michael Almereyda film showing at BAMcinemaFest this year. In fact, it’s not even Almereyda’s only festival entry dealing with memory (the other is melancholic sci-fi tale Marjorie Prime), but it’s certainly the one in which he best approaches how we remember. The documentary (executive produced by Wes Anderson) centers on the life of B-list actor Hampton Fancher, who achieved moderate success largely in part to a lanky handsomeness that made him the right type to play brooding cowboys, con men, and an assortment of supporting characters in TV shows and obscure European films. But what Fancher lacked in prestigious roles he more than made up for in outlandish life experiences, which ranged from becoming a flamenco dancer at age 15 to being picked up in the street and put in a film. Perhaps his most remarkable achievement, and the reason why Almereyda even made a whole film about him, is that he wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner after an unusual encounter with Philip K. Dick.

But reading about Fancher’s life doesn’t compare to hearing him narrate it, and Almereyda makes the most of this Dickensian hero’s qualities by having him share some of his most unique anecdotes. Narration is juxtaposed with cleverly selected and edited shots from TV and film appearances — as well as those of other celebrities mentioned, e.g. his friend Brian Kelly of Flipper fame, and his former romantic partners Teri Garr, Sue Lyon, and Barbara Hershey — that give Escapes the shape of a collage or a Russian doll, depending on how Fancher is telling the story.

In allowing him to speak his mind, Almereyda turns Fancher into an unreliable narrator who isn’t always totally likable. He speaks ill of women and calls Mexican immigrants “wetbacks,” like the racist relative who claims he just never learned the right terms for non-white people. Since his stories are so self-centered and full of terms that make one squirm, it’s easy to wonder if he’s telling the truth. Are his anecdotes based in reality or simply an actor’s attempt to make his life sound more grandiose than it was? When he tells of a time the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. was opened only for him, we can envy the privilege, but also wonder if it wasn’t just a case of him showing up earlier, at an hour when it would’ve seemed he was all by himself.

Fancher seduces the ear and imagination by relentlessly spitting names and dates, giving us no time to breathe and question his remarks. But if you look past his occasionally unpleasant way of telling stories, he proves to be an anachronistic figure, a man trapped in the amber of Hollywood dreams. Perhaps all of his tales are true — but were that the case, the film’s title would seem odd. Who would want to escape a life of such adventure? Almereyda uses a title card in which Tinseltown is referred to as the “land of make believe,” and if that’s true, Fancher could very well crown himself a prince of pretense — a man born to be in the movies.

Escapes screened at BAMcinemaFest and opens on July 26. »

- Jose Solís

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BAMcinemaFest Review: ‘En el Séptimo Día’ is a Compassionate Portrait of the Immigrant Experience

22 June 2017 4:43 AM, PDT

Discussing the ways in which fiction films shift between their linear, wholly narrative impulses and something approaching ethnography is among the most illuminating aspects of movies so deeply tied to a specific time and milieu. En el Séptimo Día, written and directed by Jim McKay, is particularly upfront about this. Near the beginning of the film, a set of onscreen text locates the events of the narrative as Sunset Park, Brooklyn in the summer of 2016, discretely divided into the days of a single week (beginning on Sunday) and the following Monday. With the sole exception of one shot — a cybercafé in Mexico — the movie never leaves this setting, exploring the seemingly endless maze of streets and the establishments and restaurants just off the beaten path with careful detail and an almost unerring eye.

The viewer’s guide and focal character is José (Fernando Cardona), a Mexican immigrant and avid soccer player who, over the course of the week, attempts to juggle his responsibility as captain of his football team, which is due to play in their league’s finals on Sunday, and his job as a bicycle delivery-person for a somewhat upscale Mexican restaurant. This latter occupation forms much of the backbone of En el Séptimo Día, as a good deal of time is spent observing José as he pedals around the borough making deliveries, often waiting for lackadaisical customers or various other impediments – one day prominently features torrential rain which he must fend off using only a poncho.

Through all of this, there is a certain veneer of repeated indignities inflicted upon him due to his social status as a lower-class worker, primarily – but not solely – by his boss, the most prominent non-Spanish speaker in the film (all English dialogue is also subtitled in Spanish as well, in an intriguing bit of alignment with the viewpoint of the immigrants). José is never discriminated against specifically because of his race per se, but there is an undeniable and continual feeling of uncaring disdain that emanates from almost every character that isn’t friends with him, and indeed they exist on a certain continuum of helpfulness or unhelpfulness that McKay manages to conjure without ever creating a straw-man that can be simply tossed aside.

The idea of Mexican heritage and community as being worthy of celebration in spite of the surrounding culture is repeatedly emphasized, both in the soccer league – at one point it is remarked that only people of Mexican descent can play in the league, and José’s team seems to be named after Puebla F.C. – and in the more “important,” mundane concerns. Much of the central conflict lies in the choice that José must make between working on Sunday, and therefore missing the final that his team will likely lose without his skill, or playing and thus losing his job. An additional wrinkle is thrown in by the imminent birth of his daughter: unless he keeps his job, he cannot go on vacation in a month to bring his wife to America so that his child can obtain U.S. citizenship.

It is to McKay’s credit that these weighty concerns only rarely dominate En el Séptimo Día, which derives much more of its interest from the small, tossed-off interactions of a Skype call, or the banter between the teammates that share a cramped apartment. Even the technical aspects have a lightness to them, as almost all of the film is conveyed through shot/reverse-shot and quick, clean pans, deploying handheld on only a few occasions. In a way, this reflects a certain ethos on the part of the cast and crew: En el Séptimo Día aims not for a glorified, glamorized version of an existence only slightly above poverty nor an excessive grittiness with pretenses towards “realism.” Rather, it seeks to portray a certain way of life with compassion, vitality, and above all fidelity, aims that are deeply felt and executed throughout this remarkable, vigorous film.

En el Séptimo Día premiered at BAMcinemaFest. »

- The Film Stage

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Chadwick Boseman Fights for Freedom in First Trailer for ‘Marshall’

21 June 2017 7:48 PM, PDT

While Chadwick Boseman will be most seen as a superhero on the big screen, he’s no stranger to playing real-life icons. After Jackie Robinson and James Brown, he’s portrayed Thurgood Marshall for a new historical drama this fall, aptly titled Marshall, and now the first trailer has arrived.

Directed by Reginald Hudlin (The Ladies Man, House Party) in his first film in 15 years, the story tells the early days of the man who would go on to sit on the Supreme Court, as he got experience with criminal law. Set for a mid-October release, this one seems primed to debut at Tiff, so check back for our take in a few months.

Also starring Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown, and James Cromwell, check out the trailer below.

Long before he sat on the United States Supreme Court or claimed victory in Brown v. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) was a young rabble-rousing attorney for the NAACP. The new motion picture, Marshall, is the true story of his greatest challenge in those early days – a fight he fought alongside attorney Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), a young lawyer with no experience in criminal law:  the case of black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), accused by his white employer, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), of sexual assault and attempted murder.

Marshall opens on October 13, 2017. »

- Jordan Raup

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June 1977: When New Hollywood Got Weird

21 June 2017 9:52 AM, PDT

Last month, coverage of the 40th anniversary of Star Wars was understandably extensive, with pop-culture publications, daily newspapers, and TV media commemorating a film that by all rights changed the landscape of Hollywood, for better or worse. Conversely, there will likely be relatively little retrospective celebration for William Friedkin’s Sorcerer or Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, two terrific films released roughly one month later in the week of June 19-25. Though they weren’t the first examples of New Hollywood directors following huge successes with more difficult works that flopped (Peter Bogdanovich’s secretly lovely At Long Last Love comes to mind), they stood in 1977 as back-to-back examples of talented filmmakers – one Oscar-winning, the other well on his way to becoming the most-acclaimed director of his generation – overreaching and failing after becoming a bit too full of themselves.

That is, of course, an oversimplification, just as the other charge popularized by the likes of Peter Biskind – i.e. George Lucas’ grand space opera and Steven Spielberg’s personal blockbusters killed Hollywood’s interest in movies for adults – is an oversimplification. In all truth, it isn’t surprising that audiences didn’t go for Sorcerer or New York, New York, two especially challenging-for-the-mainstream features that pushed their creators’ aesthetics to greater extremes than before while tracking in subject matter that was pessimistic even for the time. But while both films and their troubled productions saw directors burned by their ambition, they are also exceptional works showcasing how exhilarating it can be when all commercial sense goes out the window.

Friedkin’s Sorcerer can lay more claim to having been actively harmed by the arrival of Lucas’ megahit, arriving exactly one month later, on June 25, and competing for a thrill-seeking crowd. (One theater reportedly pulled Star Wars for Sorcerer for a week, only to replace it when Friedkin’s film failed to lure an audience.) The film, a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 masterpiece The Wages of Fear, was also hurt by its confusing title — named after one of the trucks transporting dynamite through a dangerous jungle to put out an oil fire — and a budget that ballooned from an initially planned $15 million to $22 million following a difficult production.

Friedkin, hot off the Oscar-winning The French Connection and hugely successful The Exorcist, already had a reputation for his temperament and arrogance. They were in full force on Sorcerer: he clashed with cinematographer Dick Bush, who left halfway through filming, as well as producer David Salven, whom Friedkin fired after fights over the expensive location shoots. Friedkin extensively clashed with Paramount brass, sometimes reasonably (kicking executives off set after perceived interference), sometimes amusingly but questionably (the evil oil execs pictured in the film are actually Gulf & Western’s executive board, and they repaid him by not promoting the film). The jungle shoot itself was hell, with about 50 people quitting following injury or illness while Friedkin himself contracted malaria and lost 50 pounds.

But it’s only appropriate that the making of Sorcerer was so desperate, given the story it tells. Friedkin’s worldview has always been bleak and cynical, and Sorcerer may be the purest expression of that. Its heroes are a hard-bitten New Jersey hood (a spectacularly testy Roy Scheider) hiding out after shooting a mobster’s brother, a crooked French banker (Bruno Cremer) on the run following fraud accusations, a Palestinian terrorist (Amidou) behind a Jerusalem bombing, and a Mexican hitman (Francisco Rabal) who gets in on the job after murdering the fourth driver (Karl John), apparently a fugitive Nazi. The film presents their crimes as facts and without real judgment, their rottenness just another bad part of a burned-out, brutal world.

Where The French Connection and The Exorcist gave viewers visceral thrills early on and some sense of right and wrong (even if it’s fatally compromised), the early action in Sorcerer is more painful, with suicide, terrorism, and the loss of friends and partners forming the four prologues introducing the men at this film’s center. Friedkin then drops us into squalor and despair in a small South American town where the heat and rain are nearly as oppressive as the police state, the work is dangerous and pays little, and the mud seems to soak up any sense of hope. It’s little wonder that they might take up the dangerous assignment of driving through an arduous jungle landscape with unstable explosives that could set off at any moment. When you’ve been driven into no man’s land by your sins, any way out is worth it — no matter how unlikely it is that you’ll survive.

The actual drive up to the oil well doesn’t begin until about halfway through and takes on the tone of an unusually fraught funeral march for the protagonists. Friedkin’s immediate, docurealistic style helps ground the proceedings as set-pieces grow more heightened, most memorably when the drivers guide their trucks over a deteriorating bridge as the river beneath it overflows — the most expensive sequence in the film, as well as the most difficult-to-shoot of Friedkin’s career. As Popeye Doyle’s car chase in The French Connection and Regan & Chris MacNeil getting jerked around in The Exorcist evince, Friedkin always had a gift for making scenes that were already dangerous in conception even more tactile and nerve-wracking. Here, his emphasis on the mechanics of the crossing – the snapping rope and wood – as well as the fragility of the bodies attempting to cross (particularly as one rider steps outside to guide the truck and risks getting thrown off or crushed in the process) make the danger of their situation all the more palpable.

Yet there’s a more existential doom permeating the film compared with the nihilism of his earlier efforts, a more complete melding of his hard-bitten style with expressionistic touches that peppered The Exorcist. Part of that comes from Tangerine Dream’s ethereal score, which accentuates a sense that the elements are set against the drivers. But Friedkin also lends the film’s grungy look a sort of otherworldly menace, whether the camera soars through gorgeous greenery while a fire burns in the background or Scheider envisions a stream of blood soaking the dirt.  Even the small moments of beauty (e.g. a butterfly hiding from the rain or a woman briefly dancing with Scheider) seem to tease the protagonists and underline their utter hopelessness. By the time we reach a grim conclusion, Friedkin has taken us through a world without mercy or decency, in which fate mocks even the most resilient of us.

Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, released just a few days earlier on June 21, was less plausibly affected by the release of Star Wars, and more likely the victim of critics and audiences being put off by its mix of glossy, Vincente Minnelli-esque musicality and aggressive, John Cassavetes-influenced verisimilitude. Scorsese, with the story of a creative and personal relationship collapsing under the weight of jealousy in a postwar environment, sought to bring to the forefront the unhappiness lurking under the surface of films such as Meet Me in St. Louis and My Dream is Yours.

It, like Sorcerer, had a difficult production, with the director battling a severe cocaine addiction while breaking up with then-wife Julia Cameron and carrying out an affair with lead actress Liza Minnelli. The film’s herky-jerky rhythms and circular intensity seem to take cues from that tension, the big-band musical numbers clashing with deliberately repetitive improvisations and screaming matches. Scorsese had mixed realism with melodrama (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and grit with florid formalism (Taxi Driver) previously, and would go on to marry his classic and New Hollywood interests more palatably in Raging Bull. But New York, New York isn’t a marriage so much as it’s a push-pull war, one that’s sometimes exhausting.

Acknowledging the unattainability of Hollywood fantasies makes it no less vital a love letter. Scorsese opens with an astonishing crane shot on V-j Day as Robert De Niro’s Jimmy gets lost in the excitement of a crowd, only to appear under an arrow that both pinpoints and isolates him. De Niro’s first interactions with Minnelli’s Francine, meanwhile, are less a meet-cute, more an ongoing, insistent harassment that eventually wears down her defenses. The entire opening sequence communicates a sense of spiritual and personal emptiness amid celebration, an early warning that not all is well in the postwar era.

De Niro continues playing Jimmy as a halfway point between his insecure, jealous bruiser in Raging Bull and his relentless, obnoxious pest in The King of Comedy, but Scorsese finds some truth in his and Francine’s romance (even as it’s rotting from the inside out) in their musical performances, with the two finding a better balance and greater chemistry as they perform “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me.” Their partnership flourishes out of a mutual recognition of talent — or, in his case, recognition of greater possible success together. Still, that balance begins to tip whenever Francine asserts herself, as in a scene where she tries to pep up the band following one of Jimmy’s criticisms, only for him to tear her down. And the film’s most gorgeous images undermine any possibility of happiness between the two, with De Niro proposing (badly: “I love you… I mean, I don’t love you. I dig you; I like you a lot”) in front of a fake forest.

Purposefully, the film’s first two hours give more emphasis to Scorsese’s more discursive side, major arguments between Jimmy and Francine getting interrupted by Jimmy’s ability to get into a minor argument with anyone he encounters. It’s in the final third that focus shifts to the director’s inner formalist and New York, New York turns into a proper musical with the remarkably bittersweet “Happy Endings” sequence. Francine’s finally given a chance to flourish as a performer, unhindered by Jimmy’s jealousy, and Scorsese jumps into an unabashedly stagey finale not unlike that of The Band Wagon or An American in Paris.

Yet the climax still reflects the inherent unhappiness in Francine’s life, telling a story of a relationship ended by success, only to double back and conclude with a wish-fulfillment coda that only makes it more painful. We’ve already seen the truth in the lives of Francine and Jimmy, and no rousing performance of “Theme from ‘New York, New York’” is going to change that. Their final encounter twists the knife further, giving one last tease of possible reconciliation before recognizing that it’s impossible, leaving Jimmy with a final, lonely shot echoing that V-j Day opening.

Audiences and critics largely rejected New York, New York and Sorcerer, with neither film making its budget back or earning the raves their makers had come to expect, but time has been kind to both. They haven’t exactly seen widespread reevaluation as their makers’ best works — Sorcerer wouldn’t be too far off for this writer, and Scorsese’s film has its passionate advocates — but they’ve developed cult followings and at least partly shaken off their previous distinctions as merely ambitious follies. Perhaps it’s appropriate that they’re not as widely cited as Taxi Driver and The Exorcist – they’re pricklier than their more popular predecessors, better suited as advanced viewing than introductory works. They may not generate thousands upon thousands of appreciations 40 years later, but they’re there, waiting for curious viewers to make a discovery. »

- The Film Stage

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Get Empowered Through Dance in Exclusive Stills from Sundance Winner ‘Step’

21 June 2017 9:00 AM, PDT

One of the most inspirational films at Sundance this year — so much so it won a specific Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking in its U.S. Documentary section — was Amanda Lipitz‘s Step. Following an inner-city, all-girls step dance team in Baltimore as they challenge themselves both on stage and off, they are empowered by their community and bond through the art of dance. Ahead of a release this August from Fox Searchlight, we’re pleased to debut a set of new stills showing the group in action.

Step, like many documentaries, uses a sport as an entry point to a larger discussion about race, the struggles of those on the lower end of the income spectrum, and the challenges of being a single parent and inner-city life,” we said our review. “It’s a film that is as inspiring as its subjects and may very well encourage those that see it to visit their guidance counselor for advice on their options even if, like Blessing, they may not have the grades nor the family support.”

Check out the exclusive stills above and below, as well as a new featurette, and see the trailer here.

Step is the true-life story of a girls’ high-school step team set against the background of the heart of Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college.

This all female school is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so. Deeply insightful and emotionally inspiring, Step embodies the true meaning of sisterhood through a story of courageous young women worth cheering for.

Step opens on August 4. »

- Jordan Raup

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Lily Collins is on the Road to Recovery in Trailer for ‘To the Bone’

21 June 2017 6:22 AM, PDT

Premiering at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, To the Bone marks the directorial debut of Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Marti Noxon. Led by Lily Collins, it tells the story of a young adult afflicted with anorexia and her battle in attempting to overcome it. Set for a release on Netflix next month, the first trailer has now arrived for the film also starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie Preston, Lili Taylor, Alex Sharp, Liana Liberato, Brooke Smith, and Ciara Bravo.

“Written and directed by Marti Noxon, To the Bone is an occasionally harrowing drama geared towards the Ya crowd from a filmmaker that knows the terrain well, having written Fright Night and I Am Number Four, as well as TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Glee, and Angel,” we said in our review. “Exploring eating disorders, the film is fronted by a strong performance by Lily Collins as Ellen, a 20-year old artist from an upper middle-class household living with this battle. While the script is occasionally quite frank and knows the territory it’s exploring well, it falls back on the same tropes you’d expect from a network TV series, creating artificial drama and an attempt at a loveably quirky character that derails the entire picture.”

Check out the trailer below.

A young anorexic woman reluctantly enters an unconventional treatment program, where she bonds with other residents struggling with eating disorders.

To the Bone hits Netflix on July 14. »

- Jordan Raup

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Claire Denis Will Begin Production on Her Sci-Fi Drama ‘High Life’ Next Month

21 June 2017 5:41 AM, PDT

When Claire Denis announced her new film Let the Sunshine In and premiered it at Cannes just last month, some thought it signaled a further delay for her ambitious sci-fi feature High Life, but thankfully it looks like things are back on track. The project, starring Robert Pattinson, Patricia ArquetteMia Goth, and Lars Eidinger, will be kicking off production early next month. This update comes from a Vogue piece on Goth, while the Film Commission of Poland confirms shooting will take place there. One of its stars also recently opened up more about the highly anticipated feature.

“The movie will take place in the future, the character is an astronaut,” Pattinson tells Cahiers du Cinéma (via a fan site). “He’s a criminal who volunteers for a mission toward a black hole, but he realizes along the way that a doctor on board wants to do sexual experiences with humans in space … (laughs) It’s a very strange film. I had not thought about it for some time, but Claire talked to me about it here in Cannes, and she showed me some image tests of space, completely crazy. I love Claire, I can’t believe I’m going to work with her, especially for a science fiction project. It’s going to be very beautiful.”

As we await more details, check out the synopsis below.

Deep space. Beyond our solar system. Monte and his infant daughter Willow live together aboard a spacecraft, in complete isolation. A solitary man, whose strict self-discipline is a protection against desire – his own and that of others – Monte fathered the girl against his will. His sperm was used to inseminate Boyse, the young woman who gave birth to her. They were members of a crew of prisoners: space convicts, death row inmates. Guinea pigs sent on a mission to the black hole closest to Earth. Now only Monte and Willow remain. And Monte is changed. Through his daughter, for the first time, he experiences the birth of an all-powerful love. Willow grows, becoming a young girl, then a young woman. Together, alone, father and daughter approach their destination – the black hole in which all time and space cease to exist. »

- Jordan Raup

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Review: ‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’ Might Be the Ultimate Found Footage Film

21 June 2017 5:27 AM, PDT

There is a scholarly theory that proposes films are always telling the story of their creation, singing an endless song about their own history. That seemed to have been literally the case in 1978 when Frank Barrett, a construction worker in Dawson City in the northern Yukon, discovered strips of nitrate film poking out of the earth in the site of a new recreation center — like stubborn blossoms trying to defeat the harshness of winter. Children had taken to lighting the visible strips on fire unaware that in the joy of the pyrotechnic display they were erasing history. Barrett’s unique discovery led to the unearthing of over 500 reels containing films made in the 1910s and 1920s, and considering that it is believed that 75% of all silent films were lost, this might have been the most important finding in the archaeology of film. Taking clips from these reels and solving the mystery of how they ended up buried in the Yukon, director Bill Morrison made Dawson City: Frozen Time which might just be the ultimate found footage film.

Morrison tells three parallel tales: one in which prospectors expel the Hän people from their land upon discovering gold and start the township of Dawson, another in which the glories and failures of the inhabitants of Dawson help jumpstart Hollywood, and a third one which is nothing less than a history of cinema itself. In the first one we see how at the turn of the 19th century, American prospectors made their way up to the Klondike River territory and drained it from its mineral riches, while displacing the original inhabitants. We learn that over one-hundred thousand people tried making their way up to the Yukon, with over seventy thousand either returning gold-less or perishing on the road. One of those who gave up on the way, but found a way to make money off people’s basic instincts was an ancestor of the current American president, who opened the brothel that started their fortune. Talk about prescience.

In fact, Dawson City seems to have emanated this strange energy that should have made it one of the most influential cultural hubs in modern history, but its distance and the way it was so quickly forgotten once the gold ran out gave it a different future. The small town inspired Jack London to write his books of adventure in the snow. It was also the place where Alexander Pantages opened his first theater before becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest impresarios, and Dawson City paved the road for a young Sid Grauman who realized he had a knack for entertaining people and led him to open one of the most iconic movie palaces in history home to the very first Hollywood movie premiere. It’s as if everyone touched by Dawson City went on to lead a notorious life — and in the case of actor William Desmond Taylor, who worked briefly at the Yukon Gold Corporation before leaving to find fame in Tinseltown, also a notorious death.

The ice and earth of the Yukon held much more stories than the reels of film themselves contained, and one of the most impressive feats in the documentary is how Morrison is able to always find his way back to the central narrative. He’s such an astute filmmaker that he creates dialogues that could very well warrant films of their own, such as the depressing notion that the flammability of nitrate film, which caused fires that burned down Dawson’s entire business district nine times in nine years, was also the reason behind filmmaking pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché’s early retirement. After her studio burned down, she simply gave up. Or how photographs of Dawson City inspired Jim Low and Wolf Koenig to make City of Gold, the 1957 documentary short that originated the “Ken Burns” style of panning and zooming on photographs; therefore originating the form Morrison works with in this very film. The short was nominated for an Oscar and the ceremony that year was held at a Pantages theater.

Morrison proves that there is no better way to tell the story of movies than with movies, and it seems almost spooky how the Dawson City reels supplied him with the material he needed. It’s as if the films had been aching to speak to the world. “Speech” is key here, since all the films are silent. In fact Morrison discovers it was talkies that led so many silent films to be discarded. Dawson City was at the end of a distribution line which meant that films had been out for a very long time before they arrived there, and once their engagements were over nobody wanted to pay the cost of shipping the films back to the studios. In telling this shameful story, Morrison allows the images to speak for themselves. He avoids voiceovers or heavy narration choosing, instead to go with simple title cards, supertitles, and musical accompaniment from Alex Somers’ haunting score. Those who believe in fate might believe Morrison was born to tell this story and perhaps these reels were meant to surface only when he was around to share with the world. Those who prefer pragmatism will undoubtedly be captivated by this tale of progress and its relation to art, but both sides will agree that the stories contained here are nothing if not stranger than fiction.

Dawson City: Frozen Time is now in limited release. »

- Jose Solís

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Review: ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ Doesn’t Break the Mold

20 June 2017 4:00 PM, PDT

I mean, you know what you’re getting by now, right?

Did you see any of the other Transformers movies? They are all unified in sensibility of craft, story, and tone. The (toy) mold has not been broken for the latest installment, The Last Knight. If you are instinctually repulsed by director Michael Bay’s style or don’t care about giant transforming robots, this film definitely won’t change your mind, and I’ve no idea why you’d expect otherwise. Still, the series is a popular punching bag for critics, who perhaps torque their venom whenever it pops up because of the underlying knowledge that these movies only keep making avalanches of money, and they have no power over that.

That Transformers is treated as the Tiffany Trump to the critics’ Donald among franchises is curious to me. I can’t say I particularly like any of the films, »

- Daniel Schindel

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Daniel Day-Lewis Announces Retirement from Acting

20 June 2017 12:44 PM, PDT

Finally lending a bit of gravity and anticipation to his first collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson since 2007’s There Will Be Blood, a.k.a. many people’s choice for this century’s greatest film, Daniel Day-Lewis has announced a retirement from acting. From his spokeswoman, Leslee Dart, comes the word, which reads: “Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor. He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject.”

That, it seems, is that, despite my suspicion that he’s preparing for a role about someone who retires from acting (I’ll take my bow at story’s end) and the ceaseless speculation that’s sure to emerge in coming days, weeks, and months, no less so when said collaboration — for some time known as Phantom Thread, »

- Nick Newman

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Isabelle Huppert Has a Musical Past in New Trailer for ‘Souvenir’

20 June 2017 6:04 AM, PDT

It’s not a major film festival without a new film from Isabelle Huppert. While Cannes saw the premieres of Happy End and Claire’s Camera, last fall a handful of films starring the actress came to Tiff and one was the drama Souvenir. Directed by Bavo Defurne, the film follows her as a factory worker whose semi-famous past bubbles up when she begins a new relationship. Set for a U.K. release this month, a new trailer has now arrived.

We said in our review, “With some nice feel-good moments and a couple crippling defeats, Defurne allows his characters to evolve despite the abbreviated run-time of 90 minutes. So while the relationship is half-baked to a point–hormones running wild–both Liliane and Jean are three-dimensional. We empathize with each misstep, their quick-tempered rejection of the other rapidly replaced by coy looks of forgiveness. And we appreciate their undying support »

- Jordan Raup

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