10 Memorable Closing Shots

by Jake Pitre

There is a particular art to a final shot. Every shot in a film is important — it’s one that didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, so it is inherently significant, though perhaps not extraordinary. Any one of these shots can be truly dazzling in any number of limitless ways. But a film’s final shot requires special consideration. How do you want to leave your audience? How can you summarize what you’ve been trying to say, or should you even try? What do you want people to remember?

James Gray’s most recent film, this year’s The Immigrant with Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, is a great film for many reasons, but it has been rightfully celebrated for its gorgeous, show-stopping closing shot. Without giving it away, one half of the screen is a mirror, the other a window, and there is so much being said in this one brilliant shot. It’s a shot people will remember, as they consider Ewa’s journey going forward, and the fact that hers is one story among many. It’s such a perfect shot that it got me thinking, so here are some of my favorite final shots, excluding some of cinema’s most celebrated ones like those in 2001: A Space OdysseyThe ShiningPsycho, and Casablanca.

Obviously, some spoilers follow.

Click here for Jake’s full list.

Beyond Blaxploitation: A Few Words on James Earl Jones

by Adam W. Hofbauer

As the story goes, “Blaxploitation” began in 1971 with the success of Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song. The low-budget, X-rated film’s popularity inspired Hollywood to cash in on exploitation films featuring black characters in urban situations. But if we separate Blaxploitation from 1970s black cinema, and recognize both as far more diverse than they are usually given credit for, we have to travel further back in time to find an origin point. And there are few better years to begin than 1967.

The Watts riots and the assassination of Malcolm X both occurred less than two years before, cultural tuning forks depleting the optimism of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Black Panthers were not yet a year old, and yet their birth seemed a natural progression of the era’s growing political nihilism. Martin Luther King Jr. would be killed before the summer of 1968. Robert F. Kennedy would survive him by less than two months. In Hollywood, the old system was failing before the new generation; petulant kids the executives couldn’t understand. The monolithic studios were gone, and the modern blockbuster wouldn’t swim into existence for another ten years. In the interim, creative forces were sparking everywhere, black voices ready to be heard.

Click here to read the rest of Adam’s piece.

REVIEW: Coldwater is Impressively Executed, Until It’s Not

by Anna Tatarska

In Coldwater, indie visual sensitivity and genre intuition unexpectedly meet. The effect is, surprisingly, a rather classic, but skillfully – and tastefully, despite the graphic content – executed drama that tracks the painful blossoming of maturity during a crisis of authority and morality.

Grade: C+

Click here for the rest of Anna Tatarska’s review.

Netflix Weekend 8/15: Lars von Trier and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by Kevin Ketchum

This week I’ll be highlighting a filmmaker whom I have a much more complex relationship with than previous entries: Lars von Trier. Anyone who knows me know that I’m often hot and cold on his work, feeling that at his best, he’s transcendent, and at his worst, he’s insufferable. His last three films, the self-titled “Depression Trilogy”, often serves as a perfect example of this quality, producing a literal mixed bag of thematic exploration, and more or less capture everything that he believes in. Those three films are AntichristMelancholia, and Nymphomaniac.

Click here for Kevin’s full Netflix column.

Future Panic: Temporal Anxiety in 2014 Films

by Charles Bramesco

In her 2006 text “Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image,” film theorist Laura Mulvey carefully maps out the medium’s obsession with death. Celluloid degrades, film preservation provides a finite but eternal life to dead people, and home-viewing offers the deeply discomfiting ability to bend the film to your will through pause, rewind and fast-forward — all of this is to say the medium’s relationship to time is a complex one. On a cursory glance, it would seem that the top-shelf cinema of 2014 shares Mulvey’s preoccupation with the passage of time. Many of this year’s critically-acclaimed arthouse pictures, as well as a handful of big-budget studio endeavors, have cast an anxious eye towards the future while lamenting an increasingly remote past.

Click here for Charles’s full piece.

REVIEW: The Expendables 3 is a Smooth, Predictable Remix of Past Action Films

by Anna Tatarska

“We’re like children with arthritis,” Sylvester Stallone joked during a press conference in Cannes earlier this May. No offense to the youth, but not many of us “kids” would not be able to do half of what the kick-ass grandpas are doing in The Expendables 3, the latest installment in the franchise, even after months of solid workouts. Despite adding a bunch of muscular, tanned newbies, The Expendables 3 still stands on the wide arms of a whole battalion of legendary action genre heroes. And it is an experience as expected as it is enjoyable.

“It started with a kiss” is how romantic stories often take take off. This one starts with a blast – a classic, blow-it-all-up action sequence with all the fancy props an action-genre fairy godmother could provide. A speeding train, humongous guns, a bit of fist-fighting, and a helicopter dancing in the air swiftly as a well-trained ballerina are all here, leading to a spectacular explosion that ends the reign of doom. The good brutes win, as they always do. But this is just the beginning of their problems. As usual.

“We’re like children with arthritis,” Sylvester Stallone joked during a press conference in Cannes earlier this May. No offense to the youth, but not many of us “kids” would not be able to do half of what the kick-ass grandpas are doing in The Expendables 3, the latest installment in the franchise, even after months of solid workouts. Despite adding a bunch of muscular, tanned newbies, The Expendables 3 still stands on the wide arms of a whole battalion of legendary action genre heroes. And it is an experience as expected as it is enjoyable.

“It started with a kiss” is how romantic stories often take take off. This one starts with a blast – a classic, blow-it-all-up action sequence with all the fancy props an action-genre fairy godmother could provide. A speeding train, humongous guns, a bit of fist-fighting, and a helicopter dancing in the air swiftly as a well-trained ballerina are all here, leading to a spectacular explosion that ends the reign of doom. The good brutes win, as they always do. But this is just the beginning of their problems. As usual.

Click here for the rest of Anna’s review.

Blu Ray Review: Muppets Most Wanted

by Josh Spiegel

In 2011, Jim Henson’s Muppet characters roared back onto the big screen after more than a decade away with Disney’s The Muppets, a moderate box-office success that played on the nostalgic effect of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and co. spending time together again. It’s been less than three years since that film opened, winning a Best Original Song Oscar in the process, but the Muppets still felt the need to convince audiences of their worth with the follow-up Muppets Most Wanted. (The original title, referenced in the bouncy opening number, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” wasThe Muppets…Again, which isn’t a marked improvement, but…literally, the characters champion that title in the first song, and then we get this one instead.) It’s perhaps a bit painful to revisit this joyous and goofy movie on Blu-Ray, because guess what? It turns out the Muppets were right to feel the need to reassert themselves; this film made just over $50 million domestically and floundered with critics.

And yet, in many ways, Muppets Most Wanted is an improvement over its predecessor, precisely because it allows the Muppets to take center stage. (The 2011 film is enjoyable, no doubt, but it turns the original Muppets into supporting characters.) Here, though there are a bevy of cameo performers and three main human actors, they’re all on the sidelines.

Film: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: B+

Click here for Josh’s full review of the underrated Muppet movie.

REVIEW: Life After Beth - Brains, Brains, and No Brains

by Andy Crump

Watching Life After Beth feels an awful lot like watching square pegs being jammed into round holes. On paper, all of the film’s bits and pieces make sense: a dead girlfriend, her insufferably pining boyfriend, shady parents, a case of inexplicable resurrection, a subsequent spree of zombie hijinks. But few of them end up satisfyingly fitting together, no matter how hard the cast and crew try over 80 minutes. The results aren’t bad so much as pitiable. You wish that someone would do the courtesy of performing a mercy killing and putting the film out of its damn misery.

Grade: D

Click here to read the rest of Andy’s negative review.

Five Ways Robin Williams Changed My Life

by Alexander Huls

The role of a teacher, in Dead Poets Society, always struck me as a perfect one for Robin Williams. After all, what is a teacher—like an actor—but someone whose gift finds its natural habitat in front of attentive observers, practiced within the rigidity of one-to-two hour periods? And what is a greatteacher—like a great movie star—but someone who sees their abilities and influence extend beyond the confines of four walls and brief time periods and into the day-to-day lives of those blessed with them? 

It’s certainly what happens to the students of Robin Williams’ Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society, a film about the ability of one teacher, with an extraordinary gift for understanding and inspiring, to change people’s lives forever. Keating’s wisdoms and encouragements are absorbed like seismic existential shifts in the personal autobiographies of his students. It’s an ability Williams himself possessed to uncanny effect. 

As an actor, Williams was always too big to stay trapped on the screens he appeared on. Not just because of his five-Red Bull rat-a-tat-tat energy, but because—even at his most manic—he felt too familiar, too well known to us to be someone limited to a television or theater screen. They couldn’t contain him. He spilled outwards and inward, leaving us to carry his movies, their sentiments, and—most of all—him with us all the years. 

Click here for Alexander’s full retrospective of the great actor.

REVIEW: Ragnarok is a Middling, Wannabe Indiana Jones Adventure

by Josh Spiegel

The new Norwegian film Ragnarok wants very badly to be a modern-day Indiana Jones story, but ends up feeling slightly more enjoyable than the SyFy Movie of the Week. (“Better than Sharknado 2!” may not be a desirable pull-quote, but there you are.) Its heroic lead is a rakishly handsome guy who works as an archeologist and literally tells someone else that a priceless artifact they’ve just found belongs in a museum. Unfortunately, while this movie has its heart and spirit in the right place, the execution is somewhat middling. Ragnarok is at its best when presenting helicopter shots of the beautiful vistas of Norway, the forests and lakes and everything in between. The handful of characters–there are only 12 speaking roles, two of which only appear in the ominous prologue–who walk through those vistas, however, are aggressively, blandly familiar.

Grade: C-

Click here to read the rest of Josh’s review.

REVIEW: Dinosaur 13 is a Middle-of-the-Pack Doc That Could Have Been So Much Better

by Dan Schindel

Given that this is the age of Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time, it’s safe to assume that, at one point or another, all of us went through a phase where we were fascinated by dinosaurs. I know I was, and I remember how during this time, I learned about “Sue,” a 65-million-year-old skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex that remains one of the most complete fossils of that species to be discovered. But, as is the case for many things on the public record, there was an entire history behind the excavation of Sue that was never even hinted at by any educational materials or museum placards. This information wasn’t hidden by any means — the controversy in question made appearances in the nightly news for years — but now it is simply ignored. And the reason for this is that even paleontology is not free from insidious corruption.

The first 20 minutes or so of Dinosaur 13 are devoted to breathless enthusiasm. The team that discovered Sue talks about the unlikely chain of events that lead to their stumbling upon the fossil. Pete Larson, the team’s leader, gushes over the excitement as they excavated the skeleton and realized how beautifully intact it was. Sue itself is built up as a character, the paleontologists explaining how details in the fossil demonstrate how the T. Rex lived. This is the only way the doc really distinguishes itself stylistically. It may be bad science to anthropomorphize dinosaur bones, but it’s an excellent way to get us to care about who ends up with them. Sue, it seems, had a violent life. And after resting for tens of millions of years, new unpleasantness was about to be visited upon its remains.

Grade: C+

Click here to read the rest of Dan’s review.

History of Film: Lawrence of Arabia

by Omer M. Mozaffar

All of them. Forget all the other movies ever made. David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia is the reason we go to the cinema. All the great works of art take us somewhere; this movie is one of the greatest objects in the greatest of crafts. Every time we face a screen, to watch television, to watch a picture, we hope to recapture what this film gives us. Choose blasphemy by screening the movie on a small cell phone and we will see a fantastic story about a transforming man. Watch the film on the largest screen we can find — with a corresponding sound system — and we will transport to a world of excitement, mystery, humor and drama. Every frame, every movement, every note in this film is a thing of ambition and beauty.

Click here to read the rest of Omer’s piece, part of our Top 10 films of the 1960s.

REVIEW: The Trip to Italy Puts Too Much On Its Plate

by Daniel Carlson

The Trip, which began life as a 6-episode BBC series and was subsequently cut down to a feature for festival and home video distribution, was a study in contrasts. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon played lightly fictionalized versions of themselves as two actors constantly swinging between light and dark, friendship and insecurity, comfort and panic. Each one’s success seemed to introduce a note of doubt in the other’s voice as they traveled together to visit a series of restaurants throughout Great Britain. One of the most interesting contrasts happened in the real world: the movie about two men feeling out of touch with the modern world found success with a viral video. A clip of Brydon and Coogan exchanging dueling Michael Caine impressions has received more than 2.8 million views to date, which feels like more people than actually saw The Trip stateside.

That’s the kind of bit that demands repetition, though, which is why we have The Trip to Italy. Once again, Brydon and Coogan tour a number of high-end restaurants and chat aimlessly about career and relationships, but they also trot out another Caine competition over one of the lunches. It’s a funny enough exchange — they jump off from The Italian Job and wind up riffing on The Dark Knight Rises — but it also feels perfunctory and a little embarrassed in a way the original one didn’t. That’s actually the defining emotional mode of the entire film this time: charming but determined, willing itself from punchline to punchline with gritted teeth.

Grade: C+

Click here to read the rest of Daniel’s mixed review.