Felissa Rose in Sleepaway Camp

Sleepaway Camp

Ah, summer camp. Softball games, capture the flag, nightswimming, and life-changing boating accidents. Not to mention killer bees, child molesters, maniacs in the shower, and one kid with a whole lot of baggage, if you know what I mean. Sleepaway Camp is a slasher movie, and it depicts lakeside Camp Arawak as a pressure-cooker of hormones and teenage flop sweat. Into this fetid milieu step Ricky and Angela, teenaged cousins united by tragedy: a boating accident that killed Angela’s parents and sibling [...]

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Evilspeak

Evilspeak

Consider the pig. Pork is damned near a gourmet food these days. Celebrity chefs will serve you layers of pork belly wrapped around potatoes, figs, even pineapple. They’ll dip bacon in chocolate, infuse it in vodka, or drape it across an ice-cream sundae, resplendent in its brown glory. Your local organic market probably sells artisanal bacon cured with dark, fine-grained muscovado imported from Mauritius and flavored with angel farts and faerie dust. The recent cinema has also celebrated the pig, [...]

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Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves can make you queasy from its opening moments, when director Lars von Trier’s name appears with the title superimposed over it, the title card swaying gently on screen as if it were photographed at sea. The effect is less subtle on home video than it is on a big screen, where you’re not as aware of the edges of the frame, but the message is the same: suddenly, you’re adrift, unmoored, alone.

Set in Scotland during the 1970s and [...]

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Elizabeth Olsen

Gojira, Gilliam, and R.I.P. Gordon Willis

Godzilla left me more or less cold. I could barely find enough to say about the latest Hollywood franchise reboot to fill up a Letterboxd diary entry. And yet smart people waxed rhapsodic over the damned thing. What am I missing? I see a film with a few exceptionally clever moments and technically brilliant CG work that never finds its narrative footing. Not as scary as War of the Worlds or as much fun as Jurassic Park, it doesn’t measure up to even second-tier Spielberg. And as gloomfests go, it doesn’t squeeze the cheer out of the room anywhere near as effectively as a Christopher Nolan pic.  I didn’t dislike it, exactly, largely because it does many things right. It even gets some of the hard stuff right. (Godzilla as hero was totally the way to go this time around.) But it gets some easy things wrong — first and foremost by putting the single blandest character in its homo sapiens line-up front and center — and never works up a real head of steam.

Mariel Hemingway and Woody Allen

Mariel Hemingway and Woody Allen in Manhattan

R.I.P. Gordon Willis, ASC. The cinematographer behind the camera for The Godfather, The Parallax View, Annie Hall, Manhattan, and more has passed. He got that dim, shadowy look for The Godfather by deliberately underexposing film and not pushing it quite enough in processing to make up the difference. (“A lot of cameramen work to increase the quality of the image,” he said at the time, “but in this specific case I’m working to decrease it.”) You can see much of his finest work on really good Blu-ray versions — the latest Godfather reissues and the Woody Allen films are top-drawer — but the indignity of a revisionist HD transfer of All the President’s Men that he described as “all fucked up” tarnishes his legacy. (“You call these [home video] guys, it’s like talking to a head on a stick,” he memorably told Jeffrey Wells.)

Terry Gilliam is making his Don Quixote movie again. This per Variety, which reports that casting has begun anew. (Robert Duvall and Ewan McGregor were set to star in the previous incarnation of this project, and of course Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp were attached once upon a time.) Good luck, old buddy.

Those Ennio Morricone concerts in New York and Los Angeles have been canceled.

Ullmann. Bergman.

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan

Twin Peaks, Criterion, David O. Russell, etc.

Twin Peaks gets a Blu-ray release. I was kind of enraptured the first time I noticed that Netflix was offering HD transfers of old Twin Peaks episodes among the vintage trinkets on display in its junk shop of the cinematic mind. I kept myself from watching too much because I figured a proper spinning-disc release had to be in the works — and here it is. Crazy as it might sound, the assemblage of all 29 episodes of the original series (including the international version of the pilot, which wrapped the show’s central mystery up all tidy-like in the final few minutes of screen time) is not the real draw for Lynch diehards. Nore is the mere inclusion of the theatrically released prequel, Fire Walk with Me, that special. No, the siren’s-song of this overstuffed set is the arrival of an hour and a half of Fire Walk with Me deleted scenes. The existence of that footage was widely publicized before the film came out on DVD and, as I recall, New Line Home Video investigated the possibility of a massive special edition before crushing fan hopes with a relatively bare-bones release back in 2002. Well, it’s all coming now. The project seems to have been officially announced on Tumblr and Twitter (above). Of course. I remember this seemed like a pretty poor excuse for a movie when I saw it at what I remember as a pre-release midnight screening, but I’ve watched it since then and it has aged well. And if you buy Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery from Amazon, Deep-Focus.com gets a kickback.

All That Jazz

All That Jazz

Criterion announces August titles. Will anyone have the money to buy them after shelling out for the Twin Peaks and Werner Herzog boxed sets in July? Anyway, here’s the line-up: Latter-day John Cassavetes picture Love Streams, Alfonso Cuaron’s NC-17 Y Tu Mamá También, Almodóvar’s NC-17 Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Átame!), Imamura’s Vengeance Is Mine (a longtime Criterion favorite dating to the days of laserdisc), and Bob Fosse’s lacerating self-portrait All That Jazz are all coming soon to Blu-ray and DVD. I haven’t seen the Imamura, and I’m sure I was too young and callow for Love Streams to make an impression when I saw it in the 1980s, but my clear favorite from that bunch is All That Jazz.

I’m not a big David O. Russell fan. Still, I always see his movies. And I find interviews with him pretty interesting since there is something genuine about him. I like the part most of the way through this one with Terrence Rafferty, for the DGA, where he seems to get bitchy and defensive — not so much about the questioning, I don’t think, but rather about what he thinks the questioning reveals about the way people think of him as a director.

Jezebel selects nine films that pass the Bechdel test in 2014.

Harrison Ford has been offered a role in the Blade Runner sequel. (Oh, how I choke on those words: Blade Runner sequel.)

Elizabeth Moss. Katharine Hepburn.

Elizabeth Moss

Elizabeth Moss

[via a dame like me]

Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco

Grace of Monaco, Missing Reels, etc.

So Grace of Monaco is apparently a big loser. In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw’s takedown says it’s “so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire risk.” Other reviews are more kind; in Variety, Scott Foundas calls it a “cornball melodrama,” and for Vanity Fair, Jordan Hoffman allows that it’s “entertaining and watchable,” if ridiculous, which sounds like a grudging endorsement to me even though the subhead calls it “bad.” A writer for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang,  describes a screening punctuated by guffaws from the assembled critics. In Time, Richard Corliss at least defends Nicole Kidman’s titular performance (if only David Thomson were at Cannes this year!), but the bottom line is there are seven reviews at RottenTomatoes.com at this writing, and none of them are “fresh.”

James Gray on his influences. Man, director James Gray is a terrific interview. Intelligent, respectful, and fairly candid. On the occasion of the release of his The Immigrant, Steve Erickson talked him up about all the different films he swipes ideas from, from Rocco and His Brothers to A Short Film About Love. Stephanie Zacharek reviews The Immigrant, which is getting a very limited release: “In today’s movie-marketing climate, The Immigrant probably has too much feeling for its own good. But anyone who cares about movies, and about what movies can be, should try to see it on the big screen.”

Classic film specialist Farran Smith Nehme, aka The Siren, is publishing her first novel. Do you work at a bookstore or are you somehow otherwise engaged in bookselling? If you can figure out a way into Book Expo America, the annual industry trade show that takes place  at Manhattan’s unlovable Javits Center, why not show up on Thursday morning and pick up a signed galley of Missing Reels? It’s by New York Post film critic Farran Smith Nehme, perhaps better known online as blogger Self-Styled Siren, and it’s coming from a real publisher, film-friendly The Overlook Press. It’s set against the backdrop of the New York repertory movie-theater scene in the late 1980s; the synopsis reminds me a little of the Theodore Roszak classic cult-film yarn Flicker, but maybe with a happier ending! She says she’ll be signing books around 11:30 a.m. at the Overlook booth; in my experience you may or may not be able to get your hands on a galley if you miss the event.

Billy Wilder, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon.

Billy Wilder, Shirley MacLaine, and Jack Lemmon.

From Irma la Douce (Wilder, 1963).

[via chained and perfumed]

Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson

Persona

In early 1965, under the influence of the French New Wave, half dead from pneumonia and subsequent antibiotic poisoning, and depressed by more than just the view from his Stockholm hospital bed, Ingmar Bergman cobbled together some ideas for a small movie about two women. Addled by the administrative headaches of his position as the head of Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre–and probably discouraged by the frosty reception that greeted his recent comedy and first colour film, All These Women–he felt a [...]

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Nastassja Kinski

Cat People

Amid the American horror boom of the late-1970s and early-1980s, when everything old was new again and once-dormant studio properties like Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe Thing from Another World, and The Fly were suddenly valuable franchises, the script for a remake of Cat People, one of the most subtle of all horror classics, somehow ended up on Paul Schrader’s desk. Why Schrader? Dumb luck, mostly. Certainly he had no great love for the source material, a 1942 horror film directed by [...]

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Nastassja Kinski

Tess

In the annals of feel-bad literature, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a corker, pitting natural beauty and goodness against a battery of opposing forces–the church, the aristocracy, modern technology, human avarice–and finding beauty debased. It was a loaded area of study for Roman Polanski, who adapted it as a Hollywood artist in exile, working in France rather than nearer the book’s setting of Wessex, England, for fear of his deportation to the U.S. on rape charges. Just as Polanski’s bloody Macbeth has [...]

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Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel, a robot, and Farrah Fawcett

Saturn 3

There are bad movies and there are tantalizingly bad movies, and Saturn 3 is the latter–the type of bad movie that tickles the imagination and demands an explanation. On first blush, there’s nothing unusual about it. Released in 1980, it was clearly trading on the post-Star Wars mania for sci-fi movies. The casting of Farrah Fawcett, at the time a big star, was a reasonable commercial gambit. And the release of Alien a year earlier certainly explained the idea of a monster movie set in [...]

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Klaus Kinski

Crawlspace

I’m pretty much on board with a horror movie about a creepy landlord who stalks his college-aged tenants, waging a low-level terror campaign against them by deliberately releasing pests into their living spaces. If he’s a sadist and a serial killer who keeps souvenirs of his victims (by which I mean body parts in jars), that just seems to go with the territory. If he’s also a hardcore Nazi sympathizer with a daddy fixation and a concentration-camp victim locked up [...]

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Inside Llewyn Davis image

Inside Llewyn Davis

My Letterboxd review of this one, written while I stood at the corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue, waiting to grab some chicken and rice directly after a screening, reads like this: “The Ballad of the Unlikeable Protagonist: Coen Brothers’ Greatest Hits (CBS 2013).” I couldn’t figure out on short notice what else to do with Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s maybe the first Coen Bros. film that seems to settle into sampler territory — it has the frustrated creative protagonist from Barton Fink, the Odyssey references and period-music revivalism of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the John Goodman character role from, well, several of ‘em. And its folk-singing wannabe title character really is a piece of work. Abrasive, overly serious, and a mite noxious in his sense of entitlement and estimation of self-worth, frustrated New York folkie Llewyn Davis is the epitome of problematic artistic temperament — a lost cause from square one.
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pod

John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness

The first of two low-budget films that John Carpenter wrote pseudonymously and directed in and around downtown Los Angeles in the late-1980s, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is one of the creepiest movies ever made. Underrated at the time by critics who called it “cheesy” (Vincent Canby) and said “[it] stinks” (Richard Harrington), Prince of Darkness was clearly made fast and on the cheap, and it’s roughly crafted by Carpenter standards. Still, it’s a triumph of mood. Filling out a [...]

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00274

Autumn Sonata

By 1978, Ingmar Bergman was in trouble. The director had fled his native Sweden two years earlier after an arrest on charges of tax evasion. (He would be completely exonerated in 1979, but his mood was no doubt grim until then.) He visited Paris and Los Angeles, then settled in Munich, where he would shoot his first English-language film, the 1920s Berlin-set The Serpent’s Egg, a Dino de Laurentiis co-production co-starring David Carradine and Bergman stalwart Liv Ullmann. The Serpent’s [...]

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Adrienne Barbeau and Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing

Do you find monster movies that revolve around damsels, décolletage, and men in phony rubber suits pathetic or endearing? If the latter, you may well find room in your heart for Swamp Thing, an old-fashioned creature feature that already seemed anachronous when it hoisted itself up out of the mud of early-1980s genre cinema. As movies like Alien, Altered States, and Scanners put a grim, often grotesque spin on ideas about biological transformation, Wes Craven–surely one of the grimmest of [...]

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Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Mia Kirshner and Don McKellar in Exotica

Exotica

When Exotica debuted at Cannes in 1994, Atom Egoyan had already earned a reputation for curious, low-key explorations of memory and alienation. His Family Viewing, Speaking Parts, and The Adjuster leaned on video as a kind of metaphor showing how relationships become dependent on individual frames of reference that each move in only one direction — how one person’s blank tape is another’s cherished memory, or how one person’s pornographic display is another’s lifeline. Exotica represented Egoyan’s commercial breakthrough in part because he found an enticing venue for those observations. It’s one of the most fundamentally despairing movies that I know, and yet there is in the precision of its craft, the bravery of its conception, and the depth of its empathy something fundamentally uplifting.

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Still from You're Next

You’re Next

At a certain point about a third of the way into the home invasion thriller You’re Next, in which a wry indie comedy about a dysfunctional family gathering is interrupted by a wry indie slasher picture, a meathead sitting in the row in front of me started applauding. It was a slow clap. On screen, a man wearing a lamb mask had just punched a woman, hard, the force of his blow pushing her through a window. The meathead chuckled appreciatively before putting his hands together for the psycho. The woman crawled on the broken glass until the man in the mask pushed the sole of his boot into the top of her head, his axe following the arc of a golf swing before finding its mark. The meathead tittered delightedly about this and muttered something that I chose to ignore.

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Netflix Doesn’t Care About Movies

Why We Still Need Blu-ray

We were entertaining at Deep Focus World Headquarters the other night. We had a friend over — not just a fan of oddball cinema (you should have seen her face light up when she spotted my Blu-ray copy of Lifeforce) but also a certified lover of accordion music. We didn’t have time to go full Holy Motors, but we did decide it would be fun to screen just the amazing Entracte, in which Denis Levant leads a band of accordionists through a church. Since I’m lazy, I dialed the movie up on Netflix instead of leaving the couch to hit the Blu-ray library. And as I was scanning forward through the movie, saying something like, “I don’t know why I even buy Blu-ray Discs anymore,” I noticed something very odd.

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Q

Q

Writer-director Larry Cohen makes exploitation look easy. His iconic Black Caesar was basically a remake of Little Caesar with a black cast; his mutant-baby flick It’s Alive amplified the generational rift created in families by the social revolutions of the 1960s and early-1970s to horror-movie proportions. Cohen is so commercially savvy that his screenwriting career has continued, in earnest, into the 21st century, placing projects like Phone Booth, Cellular, and Captivity at the Venn-diagram intersection between high-concept appeal and low-budget [...]

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"Since 1994"