Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 Online Film Critics Society Award Nominees

by Tony Dayoub

From the Online Film Critics Society (of which I am a proud member):
The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick's exploration of suburban family life in the 1950's, received seven nominations for the 15th Annual Online Film Critics Society awards. The film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Malick), Best Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Cinematography.

Joining The Tree of Life in Best Picture are Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, Alexander Payne's The Descendants, Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive and Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Malick, Hazanavicius, Refn and Scorsese were joined in the Best Director race by Melancholia director Lars von Trier.

Drive was the second most nominated film picking up six mentions including the aforementioned Picture and Director as well as Best Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks), Best Adapted Screenplay, Editing and Cinematography. Brooks was nominated alongside John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Nick Nolte in Warrior, Pitt and Christopher Plummer in Beginners. In Best Supporting Actress, the nominees were Chastain, Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids, Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs, Carey Mulligan for Shame and Shailene Woodley for The Descendants.

Woodley and Mulligan's co-stars shared nominations in the Best Actor slate, George Clooney and Michael Fassbender respectively, who were nominated alongside Jean Dujardin in The Artist, Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Michael Shannon in Take Shelter. The Best Actress category features Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn.

Each year, the OFCS also submits nominations for Special Achievement Awards, granted only by a majority vote of the membership. This year, the Online Film Critics have selected two individuals, Jessica Chastain and Martin Scorsese, to receive special citations.

Chastain's tremendous and quality-filled output this year has brought her instant acclaim and recognition marking one of the most stellar debuts in recent memory.

Scorsese has long been a champion of film preservation and with his love letter to the cinema this year, Hugo, he continues to show his admiration for film history and the many pursuits to keeping those records alive.

The full list of nominees for the 15th Annual Online Film Critics Society Awards:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Movie Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close vs. We Bought a Zoo

by Tony Dayoub

Remember a few weeks ago when Sott Rudin, producer of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, made a lot of noise over film critic David Denby breaking a press embargo with his review (a positive one at that) of that film? Well, not that you care, but if you do, I have a theory. Rudin wasn't really annoyed with Denby. Over positive press Denby was giving what even the harshest of critics have deemed an adequate serial killer thriller? No, Rudin was actually staking out his position, disturbed at the thought that a similar incident would affect the Christmas Day opening of his problematic 9/11 tearjerker, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I've been biting my tongue to hold myself back from tearing into this awful, tone-deaf movie, fearful of breaking the media gag order in place since I first saw the film on December 8th. So, at least with me, Rudin's hissy-fit must have worked. Now that opening weekend has arrived I feel liberated, though, free to warn you, patient viewer, away from this irritating ham-handed exploitation of a horrific tragedy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Movie Review: Beginners (2011)

by Tony Dayoub

Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is a lonely graphic artist whose father has just died from cancer. He catalogues biographical events in still images, using references to history and popular culture as signposts demarcating one phase of his life from another. While he narrates Beginners, montages of these stills flash onscreen from time to time. It’s quite telling, though, that the catalytic event in the film — a conversation between Oliver and his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), in which dad comes out of the closet — is presented as an unreliable flashback in which Hal wears a purple sweater. Oliver admits his dad probably wore a robe instead.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

by Tony Dayoub

I was one of many who wondered about the wisdom of remaking a film which was an international phenom only one year after it played domestically. After all, there was no way a prudish Hollywood version would be able to dive into the depths of the type of depravity that the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel sinks the viewer into. As was the case with the American remake, Let Me In, though, David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo goes all in and maybe even further in both sexual explicitness and thematic scope. Surprisingly, it also provides further insight into Fincher's growing preoccupation with the breakdown of secrecy as a result of the increasing advances in information brokerage.

Monday, December 19, 2011

At the NYFF 2011

by Tony Dayoub

Here are some capsule reviews of films that played at the 49th New York Film Festival (NYFF11) that I failed to write about back in October, either because I didn't have the time to or just didn't see them. By no means should the short reviews be taken as an indication of the relative unimportance of these movies since many of these are among my favorites of the year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Criterion Christmas 2011

by Tony Dayoub

As Christmas bears down on us, some things have gotten lost in the shuffle due to the sheer number of movies I'm watching for awards voting and end-of—year lists. Fortunately, you, dear reader, seem to love such lists, allowing me to use them as a sort of catchall for any reviews I've fallen behind on. Consider this one a list of my top recommendations for Criterion's 4th quarter releases or, at the very least, a small Criterion Holiday gift guide.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

RIP Bert Schneider

Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson were strolling in Central Park. It was the early '60s, and both men were unhappy, for different reasons. Bert had risen quickly through the ranks of Screen Gems, the TV arm of his father's company, Columbia Pictures. At a tender age, he had reached the lofty perch of treasurer, and had been selected to head the division, but in a bit of reverse nepotism, his father blocked his further advance. Bert was frustrated and angry. Rafelson, meanwhile, had drifted from job to job. He felt he was too smart and hip for the work he had been doing, was cut out for better things.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blu-ray Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

by Tony Dayoub

Out on DVD and Blu-ray today, one of this year's best horror films, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is an update of the most chilling entry in the 1970s science fiction franchise. 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the penultimate film in the series, postulated a future in which domesticated apes turned on their masters after being organized by a once meek chimpanzee named Caesar (Roddy McDowall). For those familiar with Los Angeles history, images of rioting gorillas in a Century City set aflame still stir up uncomfortable parallels with what were then the recent Watts riots. Rise wisely avoids the racially tinged narrative of its progenitor and instead concentrates on the controversies attendant to animal lab-testing, zoological abuse, and the recent spate of chimp attacks in domestic environments.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a Worthy Remake Filled With Lonely Characters

by Tony Dayoub

The tall, athletic man introduced earlier in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as British Intelligence officer Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) walks into a class room and begins to write his name on the chalkboard. Only he does not write the name we’ve come to know him by. The typically garrulous young males attending the tony prep school remain blissfully unaware of their new teacher’s identity as he starts handing out the class assignment. But the viewer is all too keenly aware of who Prideaux is if only for the fact that we saw him shot in the back at the start of Tomas Alfredson’s film adaptation of the John le Carré novel. Is this a flashback? Or did Prideaux somehow survive the shooting? Prideaux’s mild demeanor belies his efficiency, a fact his students become aware of when a bird trapped in the chimney suddenly flies into the classroom in confusion. Prideaux rapidly pulls out a club from his desk drawer and swats the bird down to the ground where it continues to squeal in pain. As Alfredson directs the camera to capture the students’ horrified reaction, the sound of Prideaux beating the bird to death comes from off-screen...


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

American Movie(s)

The Criterion box set of a diverse group of films from a maverick production team of the late ’60s and early ’70s is way more than the sum of the individual movies it collects

by Tony Dayoub

Criterion’s latest box (available on Blu-ray and DVD), America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, is a wonderfully curated set that rewards both those unfamiliar with ’70s-era American cinema and those well versed in its behind-the-scenes accounts of the near incestuous repertory company that was at its vanguard. BBS Productions was led by producer Bert Schneider, director Bob Rafelson and former booking agent/manager Steve Blauner. As the studio system quickly faded away and America’s youth counterculture began to take hold, the independent BBS had virtual free rein from their partners at Columbia Pictures to produce films that often captured the malaise of the period, opening the door for mainstream cinema to incorporate an unprecedented realism. This freedom was earned chiefly by BBS’s success with some unlikely films like the existential biker film Easy Rider, or the elegiac The Last Picture Show.

What Criterion's box set demonstrates, with all the films presented together for the first time, is the cross-pollination that occurred between the producers, directors, writers and actors who worked on these films, collaborating to forge a new direction for American film that briefly put the responsibility for the art on the artists rather than on those bankrolling the productions. If one ignores the well-covered contributions by creative force Rafelson and directors like Peter Bogdanovich and Dennis Hopper, who virtually launched their careers with films that came to be considered the apex of their directing achievements, or familiar faces such as Jeff Bridges, Bruce Dern and Peter Fonda, who all experienced watershed moments in their respective professional paths while with BBS, there is still one surprising element to the story of the fabled production company. It is how former writer-producer Jack Nicholson emerges as a powerful talent — not just as an actor but as a director. All of this within five years, and all due to BBS.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Movie Review: Somewhere (2010)

by Tony Dayoub

As many of you have noticed, this blog has lain fallow since just before Thanksgiving. Initially, a vacation was to blame but recently, the cause has been the overwhelming amount of end-of-year movies I've had to watch (not a bad thing). In the next few days I hope to publish a few catch-up posts that will address all the movies I haven't had time to write about. Meanwhile, everything old is new again, especially if you weren't able to read it the first time. Many of you have complained about your inability to successfully click through to my work for Nomad Editions: Wide Screen. So now that the magazine folded I will begin reposting the columns I wrote for Wide Screen (in their entirety) to plug holes in my writing schedule. This review was originally published on 12/22/2010.

It's disappointing to conclude that writer-director Sofia Coppola’s latest, Somewhere, causes me to reassess her earlier film, Lost in Translation, in addition to her own potential as an artist. It's not that Somewhere is bad, or even dull. The strong performances by its two leads, Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning, along with Harris Savides’s handsome photography of a lustrous West Hollywood give one plenty to admire. But the superficiality of a tale rooted in the privileged director’s navel-gazing overwhelms the tender story of the relationship between a young actor and his daughter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ken Russell

by Tony Dayoub

What sad, unexpected news to return from vacation to. The passing of British director Ken Russell particularly touches me. As I shared with critic Carrie Rickey this morning, Russell was the first auteur I ever identified with, even before I was old enough to know what the word meant. As I matured, the flaws of excess in his work became more apparent to me. But Russell was nothing if not ambitious in his desire to take risks at the expense of being liked by the critical establishment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gone to Earth: A Conversation With the Self-Styled Siren

by Tony Dayoub

Sadly, my other gig at Nomad Editions: Wide Screen is finito. I have mixed feelings about this. At times, it felt a bit like an echo chamber writing for it because of the lack of access to reader feedback, the numerous problems that readers encountered in actually connecting to the digital magazine (is it a website, a mobile app, or something else?) and, most of all, what seemed like an almost willful lack of promotion by the management(who's in charge, Bialystock and Bloom?). In the coming year, as contractual limits on what I can reprint come to term, I plan on posting pieces I wrote for Wide Screen here, in full. This will give non-subscribers a chance to read some of my best work (thanks to some actual vetting by the great copy editors led by Susan Murcko—Matthew Zuras and his predecessor, Ruth McCann). I will always remember Wide Screen fondly for being my first paid professional writing position as a film critic. It gave me a chance to work alongside some wonderful writers like Simon Abrams, John Lichman, Kurt Loder, Vadim Rizov, and Karl Rozemeyer. I had the best editor in the world, Glenn Kenny, to shepherd me through the ins and outs of professional film writing. And I was honored to call the Self-Styled Siren—one of my personal heroines and an angel to many film bloggers—a trusted colleague.

Fortunately, the last piece to grace the cover of Wide Screen is a collaboration, my very first, with the Siren (aka Farran Smith Nehme). We discuss a relatively obscure Powell and Pressburger film, Gone to Earth (1950). I had never heard of it until she was kind enough to invite me to Miriam Bale's rare screening of a beautiful print at the 92Y in Tribeca. Head over to the Siren's place to read a few extended excerpts. I've posted one after the jump that supplements the ones she selected:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Now It’s Dark

From prose to poetry: the Blue Velvet: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray

by Tony Dayoub

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Blue Velvet, surely one of the most significant films of the last 25 years, is something rather ordinary for a movie with so many shocking and memorable images. It is the opening shot. Not the saturated opening shot of the red roses against the white picket fence of the film proper, mind you. I mean the fade up into the image of blue velvet flapping as if being blown by some mysterious wind. Composer Angelo Badalamenti’s timpanists roll right into the plaintive violins of his main theme, paving the way for a solitary clarinet repeating their melody. Initially, the clarinet’s crisp intrusion into the lushness of the violins is as transgressive as that of the film’s main character, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) into the nightmarish beauty of his sleepy hometown, Lumberton. But eventually, the clarinet blends in with the violins, achieving a harmonic unity not unlike the one the naïve Jeffrey does when he gets simpatico with the twisted underbelly of his innocent-looking small town and its frightening denizens.

The Chicago Way: Crime Story back on DVD for its 25th Anniversary

by Tony Dayoub

Clockwise from top: Stephen Lang (as David Abrams), Anthony Denison (as Ray Luca), Darlanne Fluegel (as Julie Torello), Dennis Farina (as Lt. Mike Torello)
On September 18, 1986, director Michael Mann (Heat) made good on his promising career in TV and film with the debut of his new period cops-and-robbers saga, Crime Story. Not only did Crime Story’s feature-quality production design live up to that of its TV antecedent, Mann’s stylish Miami Vice; Crime Story also fulfilled its aim to present a morally complex world in which it was often difficult to tell those who broke the law from those who upheld it. Set in 1963, the show explores the multiple facets of a young hood’s rise to power in the Chicago Mob through the viewpoints of its three protagonists. Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) is the pompadoured criminal quickly ascending the ranks of the “Outfit.” Lieutenant Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) is the cop in charge of Chicago’s Major Crime Unit (or MCU) who bends the law in the service of justice. And David Abrams (Stephen Lang) is the idealistic young lawyer caught between the two men and their obsessive cat-and-mouse game. Today, a little over 25 years since its premiere, Crime Story: The Complete Series (Image Entertainment) comes out on DVD. At press time, review copies were not made available, so it’s impossible to ascertain if any improvements have been made over the questionable video quality of previous iterations. But this short-lived series, an influential precursor to the well-written serials littered throughout cable this decade (i.e., The Sopranos, Mad Men, Justified, and others), is worth owning despite any potential issues with its digital transfer.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

UPDATED: Blue Velvet 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Giveaway

by Tony Dayoub

One of my all-time favorite films, Blue Velvet, is now available for the first time ever on Blu-ray. A week from today, I should have a review up at my other outlet, Nomad Editions: Wide Screen, where I'll focus on the 50 minutes of lost footage that appears on the disc as a bonus feature.

To celebrate this release, I am happy to give away a free copy of the new 25th Anniversary Blu-ray (courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.) to each of the first FIVE people who can correctly answer a question related to the bonus footage (hint: if you go back through some of my recent tweets you can easily find the answer). But first, the rules:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

RIP Cynthia Myers

by Tony Dayoub

Click for the uncensored version

“Russ had contacted Playboy’s publicity department in Chicago, specifically asking for Cynthia Myers. But even though he and Hef were old friends, the magazine didn’t seem to make an effort to put us in touch, or it just slipped off someone's desk. I’ve been told that I’m the prototype of a Russ Meyer girl. When we met, I said, ‘I guess I’m your kind of girl, huh?’ And he just gave out a big belly laugh and said, ‘I’m glad to finally meet you. Cynthia Myers--that’s a pretty good last name, isn’t it?’"

- Cynthia Myers, December 1968 Playmate of the Month, on her first meeting with the director who would immortalize her in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cap and his Howling Commandos

Ensemble support in Captain America: The First Avenger

by Tony Dayoub

One of the most unexpected pleasures of some of the recent crop of superhero blockbusters is how adjustments to period and setting have freshened up what was fast becoming a moribund subgenre. Nearly half of Thor takes place in the mythological Norse realm of Asgard. X-Men: First Class isn’t just set in the 1960s; it takes place in a jet-set imaginary ’60s right out of the 007 films. The backdrop for Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, the most recent of these films to come out on Blu-ray and DVD, is an art-deco-by-way-of-steampunk version of the ’40s not seen onscreen since Johnston’s last superhero film, The Rocketeer (1991). Such application of period and locale legitimizes what for many is an inherently childish class of film. (Personally, I prefer to think of superhero films as escapist but, nonetheless, my kneejerk stance when discussing one is to come out of the gate defending it.) This affords the filmmakers the ability to attract a higher caliber of actors or technicians while generally making it a tougher sell to general audiences. (2005’s noir-ish Sin City, based on a graphic novel series, comes to mind.) What it also does, though, is allow the knowledgeable helmer (such as journeyman Johnston) to have some fun with cinematic conventions, and not just the comic book in-jokes that have become de rigueur in these films.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Blu-ray Review: The Four Feathers (1939)

by Tony Dayoub

My first viewing of Zoltán Korda's The Four Feathers, the fourth adaptation of A. E. W. Mason's Kipling-esque novel, left me feeling a bit sour. Its depiction of the Arab and African followers of the jihadist Mahdi (affectionately nicknamed "Dervishes" and "Fuzzy-Wuzzies" by the red-coated British conquerors locked in battle with them) is a simplistic caricature at best. Produced by the director's brother, Alexander, the famous immigrant mogul who made it big in England, the movie seems to push the virtues of British imperialism the way you would expect coming from a stranger trying hard to assimilate into the political/economic establishment of the country he now calls home. A second viewing demonstrated something more subversive, however. But first, a quick summary for those unfamiliar with the film.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ghost Story

Samurai, sensuality and spirits haunt Criterion’s new Blu-ray, Kuroneko

by Tony Dayoub

Feudal Japan: A tracking shot through the woods carefully follows a pale woman wearing a kimono that glows ghostly white as she seemingly skims almost inches above a muddy path. A lascivious samurai follows on a horse trotting close behind her, accompanying her home to “keep her safe” from road agents while mentally working out the best method of having his way with her. When she comes to a puddle, she hops above it in a manner that approximates… flying? Or so the samurai imagines. He shakes off the hallucination. But then, she’s gone. The camera has lost her, too. As it slowly dollies up the path where she once walked, her voice comes from offscreen. Cut to the woman now standing at the side of the samurai astride on his horse. The silence is deafening when the wind isn’t blowing through the trees...


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Movie Review: Party Girl (1958)

by Tony Dayoub

Halfway through Nicholas Ray's Party Girl, the film's big baddie, prohibition-era Chicago wiseguy Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb), holds a banquet honoring one of his henchmen. Angelo is the type of street tough you'd expect to find in this opulent MGM picture, one which bears little resemblance to the kind of real-life thug he's meant to represent. Up until this moment in the film, the eccentric Angelo (who we're introduced to at a party he throws for himself after actress Jean Harlow, unknowing object of his affections, gets married) has talked the talk—all "youses" and "dat guys"—but hasn't really come across as very threatening. Even his crippled lawyer, the lame Tommy Farrell (Robert Taylor), is unafraid to openly admit he'll defend the creep, but he won't sit to eat with him because Angelo is a "slob." So Party Girl finally gets a bit of a charge in this banquet scene, where Angelo is awarding an employee with a trophy shaped like a miniature pool cue, before his cadence and demeanor begin to turn from complimentary to seethingly resentful. Anyone who's seen Brian De Palma's The Untouchables will figure out what happens next, for this scene surely inspired it—Angelo begins beating his flunky with the pool cue until the poor sap lays bleeding in front of his horrified confreres.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Courtesy of SLIFR: Dr. Anton Phibes' Abominably Erudite, Musically Malignant, Cursedly Clever Halloween Horror Movie Quiz

by Tony Dayoub

"Take my wife... please." Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd in The Tomb of Ligeia

And now for another capital questionnaire by that celebrated cinematic blogger, Dennis Cozzalio, up now at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Visit his site to post your answers. My answers appear after the jump.

Movie Review: Gun Hill Road

by Tony Dayoub

Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Gun Hill Road is a drama set in the Bronx's Puerto Rican community. It stars Esai Morales (La Bamba) as Enrique "Quique" Rodriguez, a recently released parolee finding difficulty reassimilating into life outside prison. His wife Angie (Judy Reyes) has mixed feelings about his return and is tentative in her one-on-one dealings with him. And Quique's friends on the street, still in the thick of criminal activities, represent an easy emotional refuge from his haunting experience in jail, an emasculation personified in the form of his gay son, Michael (Harmony Santana).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gothic Nightmares

A survey of British horror films on DVD and Blu-ray

By Tony Dayoub

Serena in Hammer's Vampire Circus

As the climate turns chilly, leaves fall away from skeletal trees and nighttime lasts just a bit longer, I’m always tempted to enjoy the run up to Halloween by binging on spooky films. In selecting a sampling of some of those horror films to share with all of you, I decided to focus on a cross-section of British horror films. Though this sample leans toward the more esoteric in theme, many of them feature very familiar monsters and are representative of the eroticism, gothic panache and propensity for colorful gore that characterizes screamers made in the UK...


Friday, October 14, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Pina

by Tony Dayoub

The weightlessness, violence, inertia and, yes, humor of dance all express themselves in Wim Wenders's exhilarating 3D dance documentary, Pina. You may be tired of hearing it from me, but I can't help it if the New York Festival keeps raising the bar. Pina is yet another candidate for best film of 2011. And the reason is plain: Wenders imbues an already kinetic subject with the kind of immediacy and depth that makes it transcend its stage roots to become gloriously cinematic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Epic Rivalry

Fifty-two years after its initial release, Ben-Hur arrives on Blu-ray in a 50th (?) Anniversary Edition

by Tony Dayoub

William Wyler’s Ben-Hur has finally made it onto Blu-ray in a special three-disc collection labeled as the 50th Anniversary Edition, despite the fact that the movie was actually released in 1959 (!?). Well, Warner Home Video’s mistake is our gain, since this gorgeous release is replete with all kinds of semicentennial-flavored goodness. In addition to the previous DVD version’s bounty of extras, the 1925 silent version of the film is again included, although it appears upgraded to 1080p high definition. New to the set is Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey, a feature-length hagiography that covers the star’s life offscreen with his family. They would frequently accompany him on extended shoots like the months-long lensing of Ben-Hur in Italy. The documentary is notable mainly for the extensive home-movie footage supplied by Heston’s family. Though perhaps of interest to completists, the Ultimate Collector’s Edition’s only additional extras are a hardbound book of the film’s production art and a hardcover replica of Heston’s personal journal. Otherwise, one can purchase the three-disc collection for a much lower price without all of the UCE’s stuffers...


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

by Tony Dayoub

Tense as it is, I still can't wholeheartedly get behind Martha Marcy May Marlene, writer-director Sean Durkin's first feature. The title refers to all the names used to identify the lead character played by Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of the famous Olsen Twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley). The movie unfolds utilizing a parallel story structure. One thread follows the protagonist's time as the member of a cult led by the creepily charismatic Patrick (John Hawkes). The other looks at her life after she leaves the cult and returns to live with her older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and Lucy's husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy).

Friday, October 7, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Shame

by Tony Dayoub

Shame is not simply the sex addiction drama it is being marketed as. More precisely it is a character study focusing on Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a lonely disconnected New Yorker moderately succeeding at imposing a controlled routine over his life despite an unusual neurosis. If Freud and Fassbender's other NYFF character, Jung, were to psychoanalyze Brandon and his equally detached sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), they'd find that, though each acts out in different ways, both are obviously reacting to a childhood in which they were exposed to sexual dysfunction. But director Steve McQueen (Hunger) wisely avoids diving into the murky waters of cinematic pathology, preferring instead for his audience to connect the various clues to Brandon and Sissy's background themselves. McQueen is more concerned with how that pathology plays out in the lives of his characters, relying heavily on Fassbender's talent for conveying the defeated torment of the introverted Brandon through what is largely a performance based on subtle gestures and inflection that the director catches by simply allowing his camera to get uncomfortably close and stay there as long as needed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

All’s Welles That Ends Welles

Citizen Kane finally arrives on Blu-ray, and a second Welles classic tags along

by Tony Dayoub

Orson Welles’ roman à clef, Citizen Kane, was once derided by defenders of its alleged subject, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Largely because of their efforts to prevent its release, Kane failed to gain any box-office traction when it first premiered. But over the years, as any film school student can tell you, it only grows more and more important in the cinematic lexicon. Maybe it is because it was Welles’ first film, yet it demonstrates an astonishing grasp of film technique, melding some of Welles’ stage skills with Gregg Toland’s cinematography to shape an epic story on a relatively meager budget. Perhaps it is because it was cast with the same Mercury Theatre company he had used in radio productions, actors like Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, and Everett Sloane, all of whom had never acted onscreen before. Or it could be that the film tells the quintessential American story about the rise and fall of a maverick entrepreneur whose success and failure is tied to his ability (or lack thereof) to connect with his friends and family on a human level, a popular archetypal saga told time and again in films like All the King’s Men or The Godfather movies...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: A Dangerous Method

by Tony Dayoub

On the face of it, David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, based on the play "The Talking Cure" by Christopher Hampton, seems like the perfect vehicle for the director's cerebral approach. In his films, Cronenberg is often accused of a detached, almost clinical, method of eliciting drama from circumstances in which the body turns on itself, i.e., The Brood, The Fly, and even less fantastic stories like that of Dead Ringers. So, at first glance, this story depicting the nearly filial relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his protege, Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), and its eventual rupture over their contrasting approaches to mental illness, seems like the perfect marriage of artist and material.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Melancholia

by Tony Dayoub

As the end of the world approaches, sensible Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sits with her sister Justine (Kirsten Dunst) fretting about the way they should meet their doom. "You want us to all be together on the terrace, singing a song, surrounded by candles?" Justine asks. "You want to know what I think of your idea? It's shit. We should all meet at the toilet."

"Sometimes I really hate you," says Claire.

I'm not being glib when I say that Lars von Trier's apocalyptic Melancholia essentially boils down to this scene. It's suspenseful, laced with acrid black humor, and it explores the way each of us might face our own mortality — albeit in rather extreme circumstances — through one of the most realistic depictions of a relationship between two sisters I've yet to see onscreen. Von Trier being who he is — half-genius, half-overgrown prankster — Melancholia is reflective of both his propensity for staging gorgeous cinematic tableaux (like the ones depicted in a couple of these stills) and his tendency for capturing realism through improvisation and inappropriate humor.

Monday, October 3, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: Sleeping Sickness (Schlafkrankheit)

by Tony Dayoub

On paper, the premise for Sleeping Sickness is intriguing. The first half of the film is largely seen through the eyes of Dr. Ebbo Velten (Pierre Bokma), a white German whose 20-year tenure treating a sleeping sickness "epidemic" in Cameroon is over. While his wife (Jenny Schily) has mixed emotions about returning home, Velten's feelings are best exemplified by the awkward relationship between him and their teenage daughter (Maria Elise Miller), whose time away at boarding school has sharpened her sarcasm to the point that they can cut through any pretense that Velten might conjure regarding his relationship to her or his mother country. Velten has simply become more African than European after his time spent there, mired in the continent's intricate customs and practices.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

NYFF11 Movie Review: George Harrison: Living in the Material World

by Tony Dayoub

I wouldn't call myself a hardcore George Harrison fan. But, as I get older, when anyone asks me the oft-repeated "Who is your favorite Beatle?" question, my response has increasingly been George. His passing touched me more than that of any star I can remember, and what I knew of the man or his work was relatively little. Perhaps it is because of out of the four, Harrison seemed to lead the most aspirational — and inspirational — life. His growing disdain for all of the empty trappings of fame was at odds with the fact that it was celebrity which facilitated the spiritual journey upon which he embarked. With equal parts of wonder and world-weary cynicism informing his every move, Harrison was a living paradox, as the title of this HBO documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World, alludes to. Still Harrison's lifestyle was one worth emulating, so it is no surprise that director Martin Scorsese, a man who himself has grappled with the dichotomy of the metaphysical versus the worldly, would be drawn to telling his story in this new HBO documentary.

Friday, September 30, 2011

September Blu-ray Capsule Reviews

by Tony Dayoub

My apologies for leaving this website barren for the past two weeks. After the heightened activity of the Blogathon — and before it picks up again here next week with my reviews of entries from this year's New York Film Festival — I frankly needed a break. I've still been receiving plenty of Blu-rays to review, though. Here are some capsule reviews of my favorite ones released this past month.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scenes from the Class Struggle in New Providence

The economics of Win Win, the wry recession-era comedy now out on Blu-ray and DVD

by Tony Dayoub

Win Win stars Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty, an attorney whose private practice focuses on care for the elderly. In the afternoons, Mike co-coaches New Providence High School’s wrestling team with his office mate Vig (Jeffrey Tambor). Stretched thin financially, Mike has started having panic attacks on his doctor-prescribed jogs with best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale). Mike’s money troubles inform his questionable move to take on the guardianship for his dementia-stricken client, Leo (Burt Young)...


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The X-Factor

How X-Men: First Class Made Michael Fassbender a Star

by Tony Dayoub

Just out on Blu-ray and DVD, X-Men: First Class is Matthew Vaughn’s clever 1960s-era spinoff from Fox’s popular mutant superhero franchise. Based on the Marvel comics created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, X-Men posits a world where the infinite variety of super-powered homo superiors, the next step in human evolution, are being persecuted by the increasingly suspicious homo sapiens — us. Though the initial two films helmed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) tied the mutants’ quest for acceptance to the same battle being fought by today’s LGBT community, X-Men: First Class backtracks to its most primal disagreement, the one between its two lead characters. Appropriately enough, the movie this time finds its thematic touchstone in the civil rights struggle: telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), like Martin Luther King Jr., believes humanity will only accept mutants through peaceful coexistence, at least as peaceful as it can be when fighting dastardly super-villains like Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon); Xavier’s friendly rival and master of magnetism, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), is closer in spirit to the more militant Malcolm X, who believed coexistence must be fought for “by any means necessary.” Lehnsherr, the man who would be Magneto, is automatically then a far juicier role, and for Fassbender, a star-making turn.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Movie Review: Drive (2011)

by Tony Dayoub

Awright, what movie did everyone else see? Because the overhyped Drive is a shallow film as hollow as its cardboard characters. Yes, I said "characters," with an "s." Not simply content to make his nameless lead character — the Driver (Ryan Gosling), we'll call him (as the press materials do) — a cipher, director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) populates his film with empty, soulless vessels doubling for actual people. There's the nice-girl-who-got-involved-with-the-wrong-guy, the older-version-of-our-lead-who-sports-a-symbolically-loaded-disability, the down-on-his-luck-ex-con-who-wants-to-get-out-after-one-last-job, etc. (If I'm not careful, this whole review may degenerate into a series of etceteras.) In this world, style overrides substance, surface trumps depth, and personalities are so thin that the existence of the story's players seems to cease whenever they disappear offscreen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

RIP Cliff Robertson

by Tony Dayoub

"The year you win an Oscar is the fastest year in a Hollywood actor's life. Twelve months later they ask, 'Who won the Oscar last year?'"
-The often overlooked, but never forgotten, Cliff Robertson, Oscar
winner for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Charly (1968)

Recommended Films - Picnic, Gidget, Underworld U.S.A., PT 109, Sunday in New York, Charly, J.W. Coop, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, Three Days of the Condor, Obsession, Star 80, Brainstorm, Spider-Man

Recommended TV - The Twilight Zone: "A Hundred Yards over the Rim" and "The Dummy," Batman: "Come Back, Shame" and "It's How You Play the Game,"

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nicholas Ray Blogathon Postscript

by Tony Dayoub

Happy Friday. You'll notice I put up a poll on the sidebar, in which I ask readers to pick no more than 3 of their favorite Nicholas Ray movies. Unscientific, I know, but it's just for fun. I was so busy during the actual past 4 days, the poll idea didn't occur to me. So I'll leave this up for a week and see what develops. Feel free to discuss in this post's comment thread.

Someone suggested it would be great if they were all in one post, so after the jump, I have gathered all the links submitted to me during the blogathon, plus a few I found on my own. Enjoy!

Born to Be Bad (1950)

by Farran Smith Nehme (aka The Self-Styled Siren)

The Siren has been wondering what it would have been like to kiss Nicholas Ray in 1950.

From this you should not deduce that the Siren has a crush on the man. She likes her sex symbols on the louche side, but not quite that louche. Still, as she watched Robert Ryan lay one on Joan Fontaine for the sixth or seventh time in Born to Be Bad, the Siren found the thought crowding out all attempts at more formal analysis. Back goes Fontaine’s head, way back, so far back Ryan could undoubtedly have told us whether she still had her wisdom teeth. Up go Fontaine’s arms as Ryan embraces some part of her that the camera is tactfully cutting off. Down comes Ryan’s mouth on hers, until you can see that he doesn’t part his hair. Just before the Siren started in on her Ray-kissing reverie, she was reminded of the morning that she was watching a backyard bird-feeder and saw a hawk close its talons on a chickadee, then fly off to have its own breakfast elsewhere...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Considering Ray Elsewhere in the Blogosphere - Day 4

by Tony Dayoub

Wow, I couldn't have timed it better if I tried. On this final day I received a bunch of first-time contributions from some of my favorite bloggers. These are the bloggers that I read and learn a lot from. So I highly recommend perusing through all of today's submissions.

In Re: Nicholas Ray

by Richard Brody

The first thing to say about the legacy of Nicholas Ray—the subject of an article by Patricia Cohen in today’s Times—is that, even in the absence on home video of some of his crucial movies, including “Johnny Guitar” and “The Lusty Men,” those that are around, such as “Bigger Than Life,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Bitter Victory,” “They Live by Night,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” and “Party Girl,” should suffice to assure that the legacy is recognized as one of the key artistic achievements in the history of cinema. The performances alone—James Dean’s in “Rebel,” Humphrey Bogart’s in “In a Lonely Place,” and, above all, Sterling Hayden’s turn in “Johnny Guitar” (perhaps the single coolest performance in all Hollywood history, the closest thing in movies to what Miles Davis was doing in jazz at exactly that moment) prove Ray to have been a director of a uniquely vulnerable and sensitive artistic temperament...


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Richard T. Jameson on Bigger Than Life

This entry is a bit unusual. Richard T. Jameson is a personal hero of mine. He was editor of what, in my opinion, is still the best run of Film Comment (1990-2000). He now writes for outlets like MSN Movies, Parallax View, and the Queen Anne and Magnolia News, which hosts his online movie magaine, Straight Shooting. We correspond occasionally, and he submitted a write-up on Bigger Than Life which I can't post any part of here because it was done as work-for-hire. But I can link to it, and it is worth a read.

Thank you, Richard.

Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Bigger Than Life (1956) and Its Influence on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

by Tony Dayoub

In his films, Nicholas Ray often contemplates the psychodynamic turbulence hidden behind facades of normalcy. Bigger Than Life, with its focus on the degradation of patriarch Ed Avery (James Mason) speaks to the repression which plagues the seemingly typical fifties nuclear family. In this way the movie looks forward to those of another director, David Lynch. Though Lynch has explored similar themes throughout his work, most notably in Blue Velvet (1986), it is in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me where Bigger Than Life's influence is most strongly felt.

Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Considering Ray Elsewhere in the Blogosphere - Day 3

by Tony Dayoub

Welcome to Day 3 of the Nicholas Ray Blogathon. We wrap up tomorrow, so today will be the last day I'll be accepting submissions (unless we've pre-arranged something). So keep them coming, and let all your friends know about the wonderful posts going up here from all corners of the web.

Here's what I've got today:

Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Hot Blood (1956)

by Tony Dayoub

Those who've wished Nicholas Ray would turn his eye for color towards that most saturated of genres, the musical, can see the result in Hot Blood. And it's... not that great. Coming off the success of Rebel Without a Cause doubtless allowed the often embattled director to pursue his creative whims unopposed. And in this case, he turned to a project on the Romani—more popularly referred to by the derogatory term of Gypsies—long enough in development that the majority of the research was done by Ray's first wife, Jean Evans, whom he had divorced in 1940. Hot Blood began life as the sort of ethnography that one might be able to place next to other works of his like 1952's The Lusty Men (about rodeo riders) or 1961's The Savage Innocents (the Inuits). Except that Ray's affinity for folk music and his burgeoning foray into color cinematography likely got in the way and muddled this romance up. "Good" and "bad" are relative, though. For Jane Russell, this was probably a "good" picture. For Cornel Wilde, this was probably a not-so-"good" movie. And for Ray, with plenty of flawed features to be found in his filmography, this was still most definitely a "bad" one. And to think, it's sandwiched right between two of his best motion pictures, Rebel and Bigger Than Life. Still, its influence can obviously be found in at least two ethnic musicals, West Side Story (1961) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971). I'd even argue that its presence is felt in a scene from the James Bond series, the lurid gypsy catfight setpiece in From Russia With Love (1963) (featuring a young Martine Beswick).

Since I've said about all I have to say on Hot Blood, let's look at its pretty screen captures, after the jump...

Interview with Author Patrick McGilligan

by John Greco

An excerpt:

...In 1951, Ray was divorcing Gloria Grahame, his second wife. His career seemed to be spiraling downward, becoming a Mr. Fix-It for Howard Hughes, working on films like "Jet Pilot," "Macao," "His Kind of Woman" and "The Racket." The one personal film that did come out of this period was "The Lusty Men," a work thematically right for Ray, with Robert Mitchum as an itinerant sensitive loser who comes to learn, you can’t go home again.


There was plenty of innovative use of the camera by Ray in this film. You write about how he strapped a 16mm camera on to a bronco rider giving us a view of what it’s like to ride a wild horse. There are plenty of other instances of his unique use of the camera which I find to be one of his most poetic.


Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

by Tony Dayoub

Rebel Without a Cause is one film of which so much has been written I hardly have anything new to contribute. Whether it's the legendary tales that have sprung up around the cult of its star, James Dean, the mysterious curse (proposed by some) which took its three leads' lives prematurely or the film's embrace of the explosive Method style of acting you can find a multitude of essays which pick the film apart from any number of perspectives. Continuing my look at the Nicholas Ray's work, I'd like to look at the director's collaborative relationship with Dean.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Knock on Any Door (1949) and Run for Cover (1955)

by Tony Dayoub

Two of the harder to find films to watch in Nicholas Ray's oeuvre both star future svengali to statuesque blonde starlets, John Derek (The Ten Commandments): the social conscience/proto-youth film Knock on Any Door, and the Western Run for Cover (now easy to view on Netflix streaming, albeit in the wrong aspect ratio). Knock on Any Door is both a precursor to Rebel Without a Cause and its opposite number. Its misguided juveniles are from the bad part of town and far enough down the road of delinquency as to be considered hopeless. Run for Cover is the last of Ray's Western trilogy which began with The Lusty Men (1952). (Ray's The True Story of Jesse James would come later and is quite different from his previous oaters). But as different as each sounds from the other, the fact that the two are tied together by Derek's casting is just one indication of how close Knock on Any Door and Run for Cover are thematically.