Movies

Advice for Escaping Film's Winter Doldrums

No need to despair and go watch Identity Thief when you can stay home and rent a Luis Bunuel flick.

First released in 1970, Tristana is one of the masterpieces of Spanish director Luis Bunuel's astonishing late-life creative spree after his return to Europe from exile in Mexico. Newly out on Blu-ray from Cohen Media in a handsome-looking restoration, the movie is such a bracing antidote to the slop playing in theaters that I almost broke down in grateful whimpers when the UPS guy handed it over. A week when a botch like Oz The Great And Powerful is No.

Schindler's List, 20 Years Later

How does the film, which defies routine criticism in many ways, hold up?

AP-Photo/Douglas C. Pizac

Universal has just brought out a 20th-anniversary Blu-ray edition of Steven Spielberg's Holocaust movie, Schindler's List. Don't blame whoever got stuck writing the box copy—"Experience one of the most historically significant films of all time like never before," and so on—for a certain awkwardness about how best to strike the celebratory note. The package is also notably stingy with the undignified extras that usually tempt consumers to repurchase a beloved classic, but what were you expecting, a blooper reel?

Gleefully Hate-Watching the Oscars

You can complain all you want about the Academy Awards, but admit it. They're fun, and the griping is nearly the best part. 

AP Photo/ Reed Saxo

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Why Liberals Make Better Political Pop Culture than Conservatives

An image from the libertarian animated film "Silver Circle"

In my ongoing quest to reach across the aisle and foster bipartisanship, I come to praise Jonah Golderb—yes, that Jonah Goldberg, the author of "Liberal Fascism" and innumerable appalling columns, for what he writes in the Los Angeles Times, in which he recoils at the suggestion by some of his brethren that they need to buy a movie studio and start churning out conservative films:

There's a difference between art and propaganda. Outside the art house crowd, liberal agitprop doesn't sell. Art must work with the expectations and beliefs of the audience. Even though pregnancies are commonplace on TV, you'll probably never see a hilarious episode of a sitcom in which a character has an abortion — because abortion isn't funny.

The conservative desire to create a right-wing movie industry is an attempt to mimic a caricature of Hollywood. Any such effort would be a waste of money that would make the Romney campaign seem like a great investment.

There's something Goldberg doesn't mention, which is that when they've tried this kind of thing in the past, conservatives have failed miserably. The problem isn't that pop culture isn't a good way to influence people's political beliefs, it's that when conservatives have tried to use pop culture for those ends, the results have been almost uniformly awful. What was supposed to be funny wasn't funny, what was supposed to be thrilling was boring, and what was supposed to get your toes tapping and your head nodding produced nothing but derisive laughter.

You Can't Lip-Synch a Hip Shake

Beyoncé's new documentary Life Is But a Dream marks a brief pit stop during her rise to world domination.

AP Photo/ David Drapkin

AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn

Did Jodie Foster Just Come Out?

Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP

On Sunday night, as Jodie Foster accepted her Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes, made an awkward and extremely peculiar speech. No one seems to be entirely sure what she was saying. Was she retiring from acting? Was she coming out even though she didn’t actually say she’s a lesbian—and even though she’s made out-ish comments and gestures in the past?

Media Violence versus Real Violence

In the days since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on violent movies and video games (in particular, for some reason, Natural Born Killers, a film that came out 19 years ago and was actually a critique of the media's obsession with violence), a number of people in the entertainment industry have been asked about whether their products contribute to real-world violence, and they've seemed extremely uncomfortable answering the question. Actually, they seem to have no idea what the answer might be. As it happens, this is a question that has been studied extensively, although the research is a bit ambiguous and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worthwhile to go over just what evidence there is for the assertion. So if you're a Hollywood big shot, read on so you'll have some idea what to say next time the question comes up.

To Stop Rape Culture, Ring the Bell

Very few men are rapists. Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing. 

What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists.

An Inescapable Truth

In the Oscar-nominated The Gatekeepers, Israel's domestic spymasters make the price of occupation clear.

As I watched The Gatekeepers in a small hall in Jerusalem, three thoughts kept repeating in my mind. The first was that if the new Israeli documentary were showing on prime-time television rather than in tiny cinematheque auditoriums, the country's vapid election campaign might morph turn into an urgently needed debate on the occupation. The second was that once the film opens in U.S. theaters on February 1, its interviewees—former heads of Israel's Shin Bet security service—will probably not be invited to speak before certain "pro-Israel" groups in America, the kind that conflate support of Israel with silencing criticism of Israel policies.

Fracking versus the Boondocks

Promised Land bills itself as an environmental movie, but it’s far more concerned with preserving Dan Barry-esque small-town America mythology.

Making Liberal Hearts Bleed in Anytown, U.S.A.

What is the purpose of didactic movies like Promised Land?

Political issues come and go, but message movies never change. Thanks partly to a relatively novel subject—fracking—and partly to an elliptical set-up, Gus van Sant's Promised Land, written from a story by Dave Eggers by its stars, Matt Damon and The Office's John Krasinski, varies from the norm only in fooling you for almost half an hour into thinking it actually might be up to something interesting. Too bad the movie turns into the same Ibsen for Idiots combo of a burning deck and a stacked one that was creaky when Jane Fonda was just another lonesome gal with a few New York modeling gigs to her credit.

Making Liberal Hearts Bleed in Anytown, U.S.A.

What is the purpose of didactic movies like Promised Land?

Political issues come and go, but message movies never change. Thanks partly to a relatively novel subject—fracking—and partly to an elliptical set-up, Gus van Sant's Promised Land, written from a story by Dave Eggers by its stars, Matt Damon and The Office's John Krasinski, varies from the norm only in fooling you for almost half an hour into thinking it actually might be up to something interesting. Too bad the movie turns into the same Ibsen for Idiots combo of a burning deck and a stacked one that was creaky when Jane Fonda was just another lonesome gal with a few New York modeling gigs to her credit.

Condemned Love

Amour, Michael Haneke's latest film, is a horror story with a foregone conclusion.

Courtesy of Sony Classic Pictures

Don’t be fooled by the possibility of a kinder, gentler Michael Haneke. It would be easy to let down your guard given the title of his latest, gruelingly good film, Amour, and the release poster’s image of a beautiful, aging woman’s face cupped by loving hands. But Haneke has made a decades-long career out of crafting haute horror stories, and old habits die hard. As do the habits of Amour’s octogenarian couple, struggling to hold on to routines as if that could stave off the inexorability of death.

Don't Put Flowers on Hollywood's Grave Yet

Film could be headed for a renaissance instead of its long-predicted journey into the blockbuster night.

AP Photo

This has been a fertile year for people to lament the decline of movies. In fact, two of the most distinguished critics around—Davids Denby and Thomson—more or less proclaimed in 2012 that the jig was up for film as an art form. Since one of them is 69 and the other is 71,  the "Après nous, le déluge" side of this might strike skeptical readers as a mite self-involved.

Zero Dark Thirty: Homeland's Prequel?

In both cultural depictions, September 11 is a wound that never heals.

Courtesy of Showtime

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty opens to blackness and the sound of a conversation that we immediately know is real. Trapped on a high floor of a tall building engulfed by fire, a young woman says, “I’m going to die,” while the emergency responder at the other end of the phone tries to reassure her otherwise. “I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” she keeps repeating, her voice already becoming unmoored from her few years on this earth and pitched at some impossible place between hysteria and resignation. The emergency operator keeps promising help; both women understand it will never come. We understand as well because this is the 11th of September 2001. When the call disconnects, we hear the operator mutter under her breath, “Oh my God,” and nothing in the movie that follows will be as wrenching as these few seconds in the dark; the next two and three-quarter hours are haunted by this prologue that can’t be undone or rectified, just avenged.

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