Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

Scenes from the Class Struggle in the Criterion Collection

by Tony Dayoub


Multiple viewings of a movie can not only yield varied interpretations but, more importantly, whether the film itself can stand up to such readings. When I watch a movie as many times as I've seen Rosemary's Baby (1968) I like to imagine a richer backstory for its characters than Roman Polanski might have deliberately threaded into the text. In reassessing Rosemary's Baby via its recent Criterion Blu-ray (released in October), I decided to entertain myself by watching malevolent-looking John Cassavetes' sly performance as the often ignored Guy Woodhouse, Rosemary's husband. Just as a rudimentary reading of the Bible might cast the Virgin Mary's husband Joseph in a relatively thankless part, so might one measure Guy, who is essentially meant to stay out of the way as a maybe-witches' coven ushers in their horrifying answer to the Messiah, the son of Satan. But what would motivate Guy to sell out and collaborate with the group in the first place? We might find some clues in some of Criterion's other recent releases.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

by Tony Dayoub


Zero Dark Thirty begins with heart-wrenching audio recordings of 911 calls placed from inside the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. From there, the long awaited film about the manhunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden follows a rigid three-act structure that is one part Michael Mann-style procedural—in which we get to know a protagonist simply through process—and one part meta-analysis of how America once again lost its innocence, possibly for good this time. That director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal frame this film through a unique perspective rarely found in war films—that of a female—is the key innovation. Instead of attempting to duplicate the action beats of their last Academy Award-winning film, The Hurt Locker (2008), by predictably zeroing in on the SEAL operation to capture or kill Bin Laden, aka UBL, Bigelow and Boal open up the canvas to spin a sprawling tale involving everyone from CIA field operatives to their more political Washington-based intelligence counterparts, from suspicious informants to the most trustworthy of military officers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Deathtrap (1982) Debuts on Manufactured-on-Demand Blu-ray... That's Right, Blu-ray.

by Tony Dayoub


In a move which came to quite a surprise even to loyal fans of Warner Archive, the most prolific of the MOD (manufactured-on-demand) DVD labels, two of their most recent releases have debuted on Blu-ray. Gypsy (1962) had previously been released in anamorphic widescreen on DVD. In my opinion, the more interesting title is Sidney Lumet's clever Deathtrap (1982), which had only been released on full-frame DVD back in 1999. Based on a stage play by Ira Levin, Deathtrap's theatrical roots show fairly prominently. Literally a drawing room mystery, it's mostly set in one large, open study. The script is rife with mordant humor, and has a teeny-tiny cast anchored by Dyan Cannon (Heaven Can Wait), Christopher Reeve (playing against type while at the height of his Superman popularity), and Michael Caine, during one of his most fertile acting periods. The witty esprit-de-corps between the three actors is perhaps the best reason to recommend the film, a minor Lumet movie with a cult following due to this very reason.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

End of Year Mayhem: Deadfall (2012), Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook

by Tony Dayoub


I'm wading through about sixty-plus screeners (and counting) as we head into the end of year awards season. What I'm really saying is please forgive me for allowing the blog to lay fallow. With two kids to watch after while my wife is running our business and a hard deadline for voting for the upcoming Online Film Critics Society awards I've neglected the blog. I'm going to compromise a bit then and post some quick and dirty capsule reviews as I catch up on 2012 films (and if you're lucky, I may preview some as well... including one in today's post). The first crop comes after the jump.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is Lincoln Meant to Caution or Console?

by Tony Dayoub


It's a rare occurrence when a preview screening plays to a nearly empty house, but a preview screening of Lincoln that I attended last week did just that. It's not entirely surprising since it played in an Atlanta suburb. The schizoid nature of the metro Atlanta area is such that though the city proper is a stronghold of the African-American Civil Rights Movement (fully reflected in the diversity of its population), pockets of areas outside of the I-285 perimeter still have a lot of catching up to do. It was only 2 years ago that the Daughters of the Confederacy un-ironically set up a booth in my own suburb's annual Main Street parade. Things are changing, but not at the speed one expects. One week post-election and roughly one half of the country still feels steamrolled by the Democrats' top-to-bottom victory. And into this comes Lincoln, a movie centered on the enfranchisement of a subjugated people during the most divisive era of our storied history.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Illuminating Bond in Skyfall


by Tony Dayoub


We've come to expect a certain formula from the 007 movies, now numbering 23 with the release of Skyfall: opening stunt scene, sexy title sequence playing over a torch song, 007 on a mission where he first meets the bad girl, then the evil villain that keeps her and finally, the good girl before he fights the baddie to the death. Any freshness injected into the traditional outline has usually come through the recasting of James Bond himself (Daniel Craig is the sixth actor to play him in the official series) or by stripping the character down to his gadget-less essence so that the only thing he can depend on are his wits. In only one instance have we ever strayed close to knowing the man behind the facade. That was in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, my personal favorite and most underrated of all the Bonds, in which he gets married not because of any ulterior mission but because he has truly fallen in love. Things don't end well for Mrs. Bond needless to say. More grist for the cold, callous mill.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The History of 007

Since I've got Bond movies on my mind, here's an infographic sent to me by the folks at CableTV.com. There are a few mistakes here and there, but otherwise it's neat. Click to enlarge.

Infographic: The History of 007

Monday, November 5, 2012

You Only Live Twice (1967)

by Tony Dayoub


You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face

- You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming

One of the most arresting images of the entire James Bond series is the sight of Sean Connery, THE iconic 007, laying dead and bloody in a bed. The shocking scene occurs even before the opening credits roll on the fifth of the 23 "official" films based on the Ian Fleming spy novels. For this and many other reasons, You Only Live Twice is a watershed movie in the series. The Death of Bond is a potent trope that has and will be repeated again throughout the 007 series. Bond's death and subsequent resurrection not only foreshadow the handful of times 007 would be regenerated in the performance of another actor; they also look forward to Connery's departure from the role before returning to it in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and again in the "unofficial" Never Say Never Again (1983). Watching the schizoid You Only Live Twice—satisfying in some respects, frustratingly comic in others—is instructive in explaining why Connery was getting fed up with the series and how the Bond movies would eventually stray quite far from their source material before its triumphant reboot decades later.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dispersing the Cloud (Atlas)

by Tony Dayoub


Six distinct but loosely related stories are told during the nearly 3-hour running time of Cloud Atlas, the New Age-ey, science fiction-flavored romance directed by the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). The most compelling gimmick the film offers is its unique casting in which the principle actors in its ensemble play different roles in each of the stories. In this simple way (really only possible in film and theater), Cloud Atlas reinforces an idea explored in the 2004 source novel by David Mitchell, best described by the movie's pivotal character, Sonmi-451:
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.
The repetition of familiar actors influencing successive stories with varying impact is one of the most attractive ideas explored in Cloud Atlas. But it is also one of its most frustrating flaws because you soon find yourself scanning the periphery of every scene to see if you spot the next recurrence of someone changing his/her appearance to—not always successfully—blend in with the demands of the plot fragment at hand. It takes you out of the movie. It is undeniable, however, that Cloud Atlas—at over $100 million, perhaps the most expensive independent picture ever made—is a monumental achievement of some kind. What follows is my attempt to unravel some of the more distracting/confusing elements of the film... to create a liberating mini-guide, if you will. that should allow the viewer to more closely follow this fantasy's more pertinent themes.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Crime and Misdirection: Sinister (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


One of the easiest ways horror movies provoke a response from their audience is to put a child in jeopardy. Just think of all the films that immediately come to mind when you contemplate that last statement: The Shining, The Sixth Sense, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, The Exorcist. Sinister does this too. In truth, Sinister is not just a little derivative in its attempt to invert the expectations associated with this angle. But it's the way it uses our fears to misdirect us that make Sinister an engaging, and surprising, horror film... perhaps even one of the most frightening in years.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises comes to Blu-ray, 12/4

by Tony Dayoub



Warner Brothers just sent me some news to share with you, a brief video on the special features you can expect on The Dark Knight Rises Blu-ray Combo Pack. Among them are what looks like a Second Screen-style app that syncs up to the film and a feature that lets you explore all of the various iterations of the Batmobile. The Dark Knight Rises is out on Blu-ray Combo Pack on 12/4.

Courtesy of SLIFR: Professor Arthur Chipping's Maddenlingly Detailed, Purposefully Vague, Fitfully Out-of-Focus Back to School Movie Quiz

by Tony Dayoub


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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Other Side of Cinema: Argo (2012) and Seven Psychopaths

by Tony Dayoub


Argo does an outstanding job of establishing both its world and its central conceit in the movie's prologue. Intercutting between documentary footage and the type of comic book frames used in movie storyboards, director Ben Affleck establishes a key fact that will surprise younger viewers, the closeness of the U.S. and its one-time ally Iran in the years just before the dictatorial Shah was forced to flee the country during 1979's Islamic Revolution. Subsequent sequences depicting protesters overrunning the gates of the American embassy are evocative not only of the actual events they cover, but of the recent embassy protests in Benghazi, Libya where Ambassador Chris Stevens was assassinated. Much of what will no doubt fuel Argo's Oscar campaign—or its chances for Best Picture in the minds of Academy voters—is this prescience or timing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

NYFF50 Review: Native Son (1951)

by Tony Dayoub


In another time and place, 1951's Native Son would have been hailed as an impactful classic. But because it featured a mostly black cast acting out a black story, the film production had to travel to Argentina to recreate author Richard Wright's controversial 1940 bestseller. The book's Native Son is Bigger Thomas, a young black man pushed by his socio-economic circumstances into committing some serious crimes against whites, and even his own friends and family. When the film was finally shown here, censors had gutted it, cutting out all uncomfortable references to racial inequality. Viewing the restored edition playing at the NYFF, one can see the effect cultural denial and censorship can have on what might have otherwise been a landmark movie. In a world where the signposts and milestones of achievement that whites take for granted have been denied to African Americans, Native Son ends up being nothing but a lost artifact or, as a friend calls it, a curio.

Friday, October 5, 2012

NYFF50 Review: Berberian Sound Studio

by Tony Dayoub


You won't find one of the NYFF's most exciting discoveries playing in the cavernous Alice Tully Hall as part of the festival's main slate. Instead, you'll have to brave a trip to the Lincoln Center's relatively tiny Walter Reade theater to catch this gem as one of the NYFF's Midnight Movies, Berberian Sound Studio, a true festival sleeper if there ever was one. The intimacy is appropriate given that some might say Peter Strickland's small, imaginative movie is thin, spare. And they wouldn't be entirely wrong. Berberian Sound Studio is kind of a doodle, a loving tribute to the giallo, an Italian horror genre that often features a "normal" person slowly driven mad by phantasmagoric events around him.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

NYFF50 Review: Amour

by Tony Dayoub


I'm just starting to get to know the work of Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. But based on his films I have seen—2009's excellent but cruel The White Ribbon and the manipulative 2008 American remake of his own 1997 film, Funny Games—I've surmised that beneath the icy exterior his movies lies the sad soulfulness of a disillusioned humanist. His latest (and this year's Palme d'or winner at the Cannes Film Festival), Amour, is further evidence that Haneke doesn't so much enjoy pushing his audiences into uncomfortable territory so much as he feels compelled to do so, as if on a mission to promote greater understanding of the fragility of our human condition. Amour is one of the best films of the year. But it also demonstrates a punishingly clear-eyed resolve to uncover even the smallest minutiae concerning the merciless effects the end of one's life has on the decedent and all of her closest relationships.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NYFF50 Sidebars: Cinéastes/Cinema of Our Time & On the Arts

by Tony Dayoub


The NYFF continues this week with an extensive slate that includes a couple of interesting sidebars. The first I had a chance to catch a couple of screenings for is Cinéastes/Cinema of Our Time. It's a revival of a pair of documentary series produced for French television by André S. Labarthe in which notable film directors, both contemporary and classic, are interviewed for quite a longer and more in-depth session than audiences raised in the DVD-featurette-age might be accustomed to.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

NYFF50 Review: Frances Ha

by Tony Dayoub


You'd have to dig through Noah Baumbach's filmography, all the way back to Highball (pseudonymously credited to Ernie Fusco) in order to find as fluffy a trifle as Frances Ha. Not that there's anything wrong with that. At first glance, a slight, delicate character piece that is equal parts Brooklyn mumblecore, love poem and ode to New York, Frances Ha revolves around the not untalented Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the film with Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale). Not entirely by coincidence, Gerwig is also Baumbach's current main squeeze. The way Sam Levy's black-and-white cinematography showcases not just Gerwig but New York City recalls Woody Allen's Manhattan. And for a while I worried whether this was a sort of tribute to the latest incarnation of the "manic pixie girl" character actress that many younger film lovers, and at least some notable directors, often become infatuated with. The way Baumbach approaches Frances Ha, though, makes it much more than that.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

NYFF50 in Full Swing

by Tony Dayoub


With last night's gala opening screening of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, the 50th New York Film Festival is well underway. By most accounts a visually stunning adaptation of a long-thought unfilmable novel, Life of Pi suddenly jumps to the front of the Oscar derby despite its official release date (11/21) still being weeks away. I wasn't in New York for yesterday's press screening having returned to Atlanta last Sunday. But I'm okay with having missed it since apparently the effects-heavy film is still unfinished. Life of Pi aside, my coverage of the festival continues as I've seen a significant number of films I've yet to post reviews for. So keep coming back for about another week and a half for more on the NYFF50. After the jump, a few words on a couple of today's screenings.

Friday, September 28, 2012

NYFF50 Review: Hyde Park on Hudson

by Tony Dayoub


You would expect a film with a stately title like Hyde Park on Hudson to be the sort of movie one characterizes as "pleasant" or "charming." And in fact, it is both of those. But Hyde Park on Hudson is also quite extraordinary. Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill), whose work until now I'd characterize as yeoman, seems inspired by his subject in this film. Hyde Park on Hudson depicts a quiet summit held by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and King George VI (Samuel West) at FDR's upstate New York estate—as seen through the eyes of his distant cousin and secret lover, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Digging up The Hole

by Tony Dayoub


Though its release has been held up for three years in most parts of the country, Joe Dante's The Hole has garnered a limited theatrical release in 3D before its upcoming DVD/Blu-ray debut. Rated PG-13, The Hole is a creepy, funny film perfect for everyone from mature tweens to parents and the young at heart. On the scare-o-meter, it falls somewhere between the Goosebumps TV show and Poltergeist, two properties it's reminiscent of. Fans of Joe Dante (Matinee) should be particularly pleased to see the director of films like Gremlins and The Howling continue serving up scares while accurately depicting the sensibilities his young leads.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

NYFF50: Cinema Reflected

by Tony Dayoub


One of the small rewards of having attended one of the earlier weeks of festival press screenings this year is that I've had the opportunity to sample a great deal more of the NYFF Sidebar entries than I usually do. Among the sidebars that should hold more interest for cinephiles should be the one titled Cinema Reflected, showcasing "illuminating documentaries and essay films about movies and the men and women who make them." Though I had issues with both of the entries I watched, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out and Liv and Ingmar, I must keep reminding myself that these are not part of the festival main slate. So, at some level, they are diverting enough to merit a couple of showings at Lincoln Center.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Game (1997): Fincher Flips Mission: Impossible on Its Head

by Tony Dayoub


Long unavailable (domestically) in a proper home edition, David Fincher's unsung puzzle thriller The Game finally gets its due this week thanks to Criterion's shiny new Blu-ray upgrade of their own 1998 laserdisc release. The new Criterion release confirms that Fincher's film—and its hokey premise of a 1-percenter put through his paces in a punishing experiential game—plays as well if not better than it did when I first saw it theatrically fifteen years ago. After all, is there any way to watch Michael Douglas' shallow, well bespoke Nicholas Van Orton—a lonely investment tycoon with a pile of human debris (an ex-wife, a recovering addict for a brother) left behind in his wake—and not think of Mitt Romney? Especially in one scene where his car gets a flat, and he asks his ne'er-do-well brother Conrad (Sean Penn), "Do you know how to change a tire?" Van Orton’s investment banking career, the way he addresses his underlings, his slicked-back hair and expensive taste in suits . . . even his pinky ring, all reek of a privileged upbringing. Then there’s the long, powerful shadow cast by his late father. Van Orton’s similarities with Romney rob him of a little of the sympathy I'd normally reserve for a movie protagonist.

CONTINUE READING AT PRESS PLAY

Monday, September 24, 2012

NYFF50 Review: The Bay (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


The most surprising thing about the disturbing The Bay, the first of the New York Film Festival's new Midnight Movie entries, is the fact that Barry Levinson (Diner) directed it. Cobbled together from a wide range of digital video "found footage," The Bay draws on recent reports of parasitic isopods infecting fish just off the Jersey coast. As one recent report says, "There's a horror film waiting to be made about this thing." And so it has been—The Bay is a harrowing, nerve-jangling trifle from a once popular director all but written off in recent years.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Master (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


"Life is but a dream."

Waves ebb and flow, created by the wake a boat leaves behind. Jonny Greenwood's dissonant musical chords thunder loudly. The recurring image, and its changing relationship to the soundtrack, mark three distinct chapters in Paul Thomas Anderson's beautifully elliptical The Master. The first chapter introduces Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a sneering, gnarly, hunchback of a man, a variation of There Will Be Blood's upright Daniel Plainview. During World War II, Quell spends his time on a naval gunboat making moonshine. The women he dreams of during his shore leaves are not human beings but objects for him to jerk off or hump to, as he does with a sand mermaid his shipmates build on some Pacific beach.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

UPDATED: NYFF50 Review: Passion (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


Twenty years since their last collaboration, director Brian De Palma and composer Pino Donaggio reunite in their latest work, Passion. The reunion both recalls the virtuosic filmmaker's best period—the late 70s/early 80s—and revitalizes the career of a master, whose recent filmography's quality has been spotty at best. Redacted (2007) was an interesting experiment in utilizing found footage to tell a story about the Iraq war that collapsed under the weight of its propaganda-like liberal agenda (and I say this as someone who leans considerably to the left). And the postwar neo-noir, The Black Dahlia (2006), should have been a slam dunk for a director who's always shown an ease for crime stories, but instead, it felt oddly inept at delivering its admittedly sprawling, complicated plot. Not since 2002's Femme Fatale has De Palma manipulated his audience so boldly or so wittily as he does with Passion.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

After the Triumph of Your Birth

by Tony Dayoub


First films. You can usually lump them in one of two categories: watered-down retreads of a pick-your-genre kind of movie or amateurish stabs at revealing something personal (but not particularly interesting) about its creator. Jim Akin's first film is neither. After the Triumph of Your Birth is a beautifully photographed, ambitious foray into the American psyche, replete with resonant musical interludes featuring Akin, his wife Maria Mckee (formerly of Lone Justice) and star Tom Dunne. Fusing Paul Thomas Anderson's sense of the absurd with David Lynch's skewed perspective on Americana, Akin turns a hairy eyeball toward the disconnectedness of the archetypal loner encouraged by our popular culture.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Killer Joe

by Tony Dayoub


Sometimes, like a crooner scat singing his way around a time-worn standard, the sharpness of a filmmaker's instrument is best revealed in nothing more impressive than an old, reliable genre piece. This has certainly been the case with William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist). After a few misfires in the '90s, one of the most zealous of the enfants terrible to make their name in the New Hollywood of the '70s proves he's still capable of hitting some shocking high notes with his latest, Killer Joe. The second of two fruitful collaborations with playwright Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), Killer Joe is based on his first play. It's a seamy look at a greedy trailer park clan through the skewed but precise eyes of the film's titular corrupt police detective.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The 50th New York Film Festival

by Tony Dayoub

Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in Passion

I'm very excited to have been accredited to cover the New York Film Festival (NYFF) again, especially this year, in its 50th Anniversary. I can only go for a week since funds are limited (especially with the new business we opened earlier this year). I'm still finalizing travel plans, but I've zeroed in on a week with a more eclectic selection of films than I usually go for. This because I could not pass up a chance to see the U.S. premiere of Brian De Palma's latest, Passion, a remake of Alain Corneau's Love Crime. Other notable films I should have the opportunity to review include Barry Levinson's The Bay, Christian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, and more. So keep checking in for festival dispatches, early reviews, and more on this year's crop of NYFF films and awards contenders.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Transfiguration

Whistleblower films on DVD and Blu-ray

by Tony Dayoub


What is our attraction to movies about whistleblowers? Is it our admiration of one loner speaking truth to power when confronted with an injustice that person may have been a party to? Or is it our own distrust of the establishment, an inborn characteristic in the more rebellious of us, conscious of the way our own place in the world came to be when our forefathers overthrew the armed forces of their mother country? It's arguable whether the humdrum phone hacking scandal — which started with the News of the World and has embroiled everyone from its parent company's CEO, Rupert Murdoch, to talk show host Piers Morgan — registered much with the average American until the mysterious death of 47-year-old Sean Hoare. A former reporter for the British tabloid, Hoare was one of the first to expose the newspaper's questionable methods of acquiring information. Speculation immediately drifted towards some conspiracy angle despite Hoare's notorious abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Underrated: James Caan in Thief (1981)

by Tony Dayoub


[This is an entry in the TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Jill Blake of Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael Nazarewycz of ScribeHard on Film.]

Michael Mann had shown some early promise in the TV world as a writer for such classic crime shows like Starsky & Hutch and Vega$. But despite showing an easy familiarity with the criminal subculture borne out of the prison yard in his first telefilm, The Jericho Mile, it is still astounding to see how well he put together his theatrical directorial debut, 1981's Thief. It's an embarrassment of riches, featuring a propulsive score by Tangerine Dream, smart casting of novices who'd go on to bigger and better things like Jim Belushi, Dennis Farina, Willie Nelson, Robert Prosky (and if you don't blink, William Petersen), and effective use of little-seen neighborhoods from Mann's own hometown, Chicago. Watch his subsequent films, and you'll see these are the hallmarks of a formula he repeatedly returns to. But most of the success of Thief lies in the lead performance by James Caan.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quadrophenia (1979), Margaret (2011) and more

by Tony Dayoub


Sometimes, when things seem bleakest, you discover a reason to keep watching movies. 2012 hasn't been a bad movie year. But perhaps being mired in the ins and outs of my wife's new business has distracted me from seeing some of the very best it has to offer. It has certainly been harder to get out to the theater. And at home, I find myself gravitating to old TV series I'm fond of, a televisual comfort food of sorts, rather than catching up with some of the better reviewed 2012 offerings I've missed. Here are four recent offerings on DVD and Blu-ray which I mostly liked.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me at 20

by Tony Dayoub


Months before Twin Peaks' national TV premiere on ABC, its pilot debuted at the Miami Film Festival, where one reviewer correctly predicted its ultimate fate:
...the series may lay an egg on television because of its drawn-out and deliberate pacing, brutality, sex with violence and a hint of something else... something deadly, yet unseen and probably repulsive.
True enough in the long term. But short term, its first 6-episode season—in which FBI Special Agent Dale B. Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) comes to town to investigate the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee)—managed to enthrall the nation. The season finale, a cliffhanger in which Cooper is shot in the chest at point blank range by an unseen assailant, was sufficiently newsworthy to prompt Saturday Night Live to invite Maclachlan to host the show's 16th season premiere and propel the show's co-creator, David Lynch, onto the cover of Time magazine in anticipation of Peaks' 2nd season premiere. What are the chances either of those occurrences might ever happen again?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Nominees for Top 10 Films of All Time

by Tony Dayoub


Every decade, Sight & Sound polls critics and directors, arriving at a consensus to compile what some may call a definitive list of the top 50 movies of all time. The House Next Door polled its own writers (or at least those of us who weren't invited to contribute to Sight & Sound's poll) publishing each writer's alternative top 10 throughout the month of August.

My list was posted earlier today. After the jump, I give you a hint about what films you'll see over there, using screen captures that share a common theme. Leave a comment if you can guess what I'm going for, and name the movies I've selected (no fair peeking).

A link to my list is posted below the stills.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Winning IS Everything

by Tony Dayoub


Kimberly Lindbergs, film writer at the fantastic Cinebeats, invited me, friends of this blog (like Dennis Cozzalio and Jeremy Richey), and some other notable critics to participate in a sports movie symposium over at TCM's Movie Morlocks blog. There, Dennis says...
Sports movies tend to be too formulaic—not much else matters other than the build-up to the big, redemptive win—or too sloppily sentimental for my taste. And assaults on tear ducts are especially prevalent in baseball movies. Many who ought to know better seem convinced that because phony, manipulative movies like ███████████ or Field of Dreams get them all choked up, well, then they must be great movies.
Well, ███████████ is the movie I chose to write about. Because it does choke me up. And it is a great movie. And if you can't figure out what it is from the still above, go see what I have to say about it over at TCM.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE AT TCM'S MOVIE MORLOCKS

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


Given the tragedy in Aurora, CO, running a review of The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) on Friday morning just didn't seem right. It's the start of a new week, however, and many of you have had a chance to see the new film. I don't normally go in for spoiler warnings, but given the nature of this beloved franchise, here it goes: if you haven't seen the movie yet, READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Criterion Summer

by Tony Dayoub

Harriet Andersson in Summer with Monika (1953)

In the land of Criterion, the conversation at the moment is a quite funny non-debate (because the person who started it is wrong) over the aspect ratio of a release that isn't due to come out until October. But it eclipses some more relevant news. Namely, that Barnes & Noble is again hosting one of their biannual 50% off Criterion sales. If you are a heavy user of the tony Blu-ray/DVD label then now is the best time to stock up since, as you well know, SRP is usually between $30 and $40. And if you are willing to lay out +/- thirty bucks to become a B&N member, the thing practically pays itself off with the extra 10% off it garners you. The sale runs until 7/30. After the jump, a look at some of Criterion's most recent releases for you to consider.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Savages (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


On the worst end of the Oliver-Stone-is-batshit spectrum you get a dated movie like Natural Born Killers (1994), and on the best you get the sublimely absurd U-Turn (1997). The mediocre Savages plays it safely down the middle. Based on the crime novel by Don Winslow, Savages follows burnt out war vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and stoner-botanist Ben (Aaron Johnson), pot-growing partners who must safely recover their mutual lover O (Blake Lively), kidnapped by desperate cartel queen Elena (Salma Hayek) and her henchman Lado (Benicio del Toro) after the buddies rebuff an offer to merge. John Travolta plays Dennis, a corrupt DEA agent working both sides to his favor.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

by Tony Dayoub

So let's get the major criticism out of the way right now. Why reboot the Spider-Man series so soon? The dismal Spider-Man 3, overstuffed with dangling plot threads left over from previous films, only came out 5 years ago. But it isn't like the series couldn't recover from one crappy film. Rising salaries for its three principals, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco may be partly to blame. But why not just recast? Perhaps the aim is to rebuild on a better foundation. Whatever the reason is, the one thing that's certain is that Sony Pictures had to make a Spider-Man film pronto because, if they didn't, the rights would revert back to Marvel Entertainment and presumably its owner, Disney. Since Maguire and Dunst are getting a bit long in the tooth to realistically keep up the romantic histrionics in perpetuity, the reframing of the series with a younger audience in mind was assured. Hence, The Amazing Spider-Man.

Monday, July 2, 2012

2012 So Far: Midterm Top 5

by Tony Dayoub


We're halfway through 2012, and I thought you might be interested about the handful of films at the top of my best list so far. If I had to find one thing in common in all of these, I would say that each one has some impediment (not a flaw) which might make it difficult for audiences to embrace.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Magic Mike (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


Is there any actor out there whose skills as a performer have improved faster than Channing Tatum? Not since Tom Cruise went from pudgy hanger-on in The Outsiders to superstar in Risky Business has there been a slab of beefcake as underestimated as Tatum. While I all but wrote him off as the lead in 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I saw a glimmer of burgeoning talent when he played a dense but likeable hitman in Haywire and a mopey, outcast cop in this year's 21 Jump Street (just out on Blu-ray and DVD). In Steven Soderbergh's stripper drama, Magic Mike, Tatum carries a thin, vaguely familiar story to another level by sheer force of charisma, obliterating any thoughts that he is just a pretty boy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


If you're going to call your movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, then it damn well better be as surreal as its title suggests. Therein lies the underlying defect of the film. In its attempt to concoct a clever spin on both horror movies and historical dramas, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter forgets that it is, or at least should be, just a goofy exercise. That screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (on whose novel the movie is based) takes the exercise so seriously—even if director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) seems incapable of doing so—actually robs the movie of any measure of credibility.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Patang (The Kite) (2012) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


The lushness and spirituality characteristic of India has long been a source of inspiration for filmmakers. But with few exceptions, the sometimes reductive nature of cinema has proven ill equipped to capture the gorgeous country in all of its complexity. Movies like Slumdog Millionaire often come closer to depicting a squalor and cultural dissonance one could confuse with a type of neorealism but is in fact closer to a kind of "poverty porn." Two recent movies take up the challenge of illustrating contemporary India, and, though both are deeply flawed, it's not surprising that the one directed by an American of Indian descent comes closer to success.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


This weekend, if you want to see a movie about popular indigenous music, skip the ridiculous Rock of Ages. Instead, find out if Ice-T's new hip-hop documentary, Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap is playing in your local theater. Something from Nothing at once demystifies and mythifies its subject, padding its inquiry into the process of rapping (or more precisely, emceeing) with legendary tales of how some of the most notable names in hip-hop began their careers.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Prometheus (2012)

by Tony Dayoub


Who would have thought that Prometheus, Ridley Scott's triumphant return to science fiction, is not necessarily designed to evoke the picture it shares the most connective tissue with? 1979's Alien, only Scott's second film, was a horrific variation on the traditional haunted house movie trope in which a small crew of seven miners slowly gets picked off by an indestructible monster in the outer reaches of space. Alien's grungy, shopworn technology, its motley crew of unlikeable and all too human antiheroes, and the emergence of the spaceship Nostromo's whiny, female second officer as the film's lead were among the movie's innovative twists, spicing up a once moribund genre. Eventually, Alien inspired so many copycats it all seemed kind of old hat again. While ostensibly a tangential prequel—explaining a few of the more mysterious elements of AlienPrometheus takes off on a different course, one especially familiar to those of us around in the '70s.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman and Turn Me On, Dammit! (Få meg på, for faen) (2011)

by Tony Dayoub


At times it soars and other times it just kind of lays there, but all in all, Snow White and the Huntsman is a great deal better than I had been led to believe. It comes down to whether you are the type of viewer who can forgive a film's flaws if its visuals are as stunning as this movie's are. This is the second film this year to update the Grimm fairy tale. But Snow White and the Huntsman is a darker retelling than this year's kiddie-oriented Mirror Mirror, a lot more frightful and intense. Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Let Me In) and director Rupert Sanders (helming his first feature) run right at Snow White's derivative script, embracing its influences. However, it is unlike other films which wear their homages proudly on their sleeve, like, say, last year's Drive. That movie blatantly lifted from progenitors like Thief and The Driver to worse effect, highlighting its own inferiority if you will, while Snow White and the Huntsman improves on many of the concepts which inspired its production design.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nicholas Ray's Other Western

Run for Cover (1954) Finally Arrives on Blu-ray

by Tony Dayoub


Following on the heels of Nicholas Ray's notable Western Johnny Guitar (1954) and released just before his most famous film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Ray's other Western, Run for Cover, fits rather nicely between the two from a historical perspective, refining some of the tangential themes of Johnny Guitar (including the growing influence of McCarthyism) while also serving as a transition to the "troubled youth" subject matter explored in Rebel.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 So Far

by Tony Dayoub


2012 has been hectic for me. Us, I should say. Last month, my wife finally fulfilled a long-time dream to open her own dessert venue, Sweet Dee's Bakeshop, and business is booming. I've been doing my best to keep up with this blog, my Twitter feed, her business's Twitter feed and Facebook account, as well as Sweet Dee's new blog (starting next month). Aside from that, with her time being taken up by all the responsibilities a start-up entails, I've had to step it up in terms of caring for our two young children. Busy.

The cinema stops for no one, though. In theatres, summer arrived with the box office records smashed by The Avengers, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. It's one of only a fraction of the amount of films I usually write about here. It doesn't mean I haven't been keeping up with this year's films. (Well, maybe less so with indie or foreign movies because of how difficult it is to get to the local art houses in my few spare moments.) I've just been choosy with what I decide to write about. But with the two kids going to summer camp full-time next month, and my wife and I settling into a kind of groove with the new shop, I hope to see the pace pick up on this blog for the rest of the year.

Consider this (and maybe one more follow-up) a post in which I catch up and jot down some thoughts on some of these other films I wasn't too moved to write about immediately.