Best Movie Songs
Published on April 2, 2012 by Sara Foss

Paste Magazine has put together a pretty good list of the 20 best songs written for the movies. I was happy to see Aimee Mann's "Save Me," off the excellent "Magnolia" soundtrack, at number five,  and Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me) at three.

Click here to see the list.

A "Hunger" For Death and Ratings
Published on April 1, 2012 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

With the hype surrounding The Hunger Games, it’s not surprising that Battle Royale, the 2000 Japanese film where kids must kill each other to win a competition, was recently released on Blu-ray.

While The Hunger Games has been criticized as nothing more than a copy of Battle Royale, the concept of death serving as entertainment has been the plot of many films. There’s The Running Man, Death Race 2000, which spawned a remake and a sequel, and my personal favorite, Series 7: The Contenders, a brilliant portrayal of a televised death sport as just another form of reality TV.

Of course, these films – and many more – raise the question of why people are drawn to movies that portray death as a form of entertainment in the future. Obviously, part of it is a nod to periods of history where people were entertained by executions and gladiator battles. These films also toy with the knowledge that we enjoy some forms of entertainment today where there is serious violence and a possibility of death.


The MPAA and "Bully"
Published on March 29, 2012 by Sara Foss

Most cinephiles hate the MPAA, the secretive, studio-controlled board that provides movie ratings; I know I do.

Anyway, the MPAA's decision to slap the new documentary "Bully" with an R rating is prompting protests, mainly from critics who believe the documentary should be viewed by teens and older children, and that the content considered problematic - bad language, mainly - isn't exactly going to shock the nation's youth, who have heard it all before.

One of the more interesting discussion of the issue is between Salon critic Andrew O'Hehir and film critic Tim Grierson. As much as I think "Bully" probably doesn't deserve an R rating, I kind of agree with Grierson's take on the matter: In making its decision, the ratings board followed its own stupid guidelines, which hopefully will be gotten rid of, because they're stupid, but in the meantime, do we really want the MPAA making exceptions based on some vague concept of which films are important, and which are not?

Visit Criticwire to read the whole discussion.

Also good is this interview with Kirby Dick, who made the terrific documentary "This Film is Not Yet Rated," which looks at how the MPAA makes its decisions and the secretive nature of the board. Key findings: The board doesn't mind violence, but is leery of sexuality, particularly of anything that could be viewed as unconventional, such as homosexuality and even women's sexuality.

The Week also provides some links here.

"Bully" comes to Albany in April. I will most likely see it, because it interests me and because I hate the ratings board. Take that, MPAA!

Two By Criterion
Published on March 28, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over the past couple months, I've worked my way through two sets of films released by the Criterion Collection, the premier DVD releasing company in the country. The sets introduced me to two filmmakers I was mostly unfamiliar with: Pedro Costa and Aki Kaurismaki. 

Let's start with Pedro Costa, since he's the filmmaker I delved into first. Criterion released three of Costa's films in a box set titled "Letters from Fontainhas," after the Lisbon slum where the films are set. The Portuguese director cast residents of the Fontainhas in key roles, and although the first film, "Ossos," is structured around a fictional story, while the two later films, "In Vanda's Room" and "Colossal Youth," are an unusual hybrid of documentary and fiction, with the residents largely playing themselves, or at least versions of themselves. Many of the residents are impoverished and addicted to drugs, and hail from the island of Cape Verde.

Costa's films are good examples of the burgeoning slow cinema movement, though the term is so broad as to be almost meaningless. Movies in this genre tend to feature long takes, contemplative (some might say boring) silences, stunning scenery and locations and relatively thin plots.


Watching "The Lorax"
Published on March 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "The Lorax.

Here's an excerpt: 

"When I learned that a Lorax movie was in the works, I got really excited.

After all, who doesn’t love 'The Lorax'? The book, written by the great Dr. Seuss, was extremely popular at my old summer camp, and I used to read it to kids on a regular basis, along with 'The Stinky Cheese Man' and 'Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.'

'The Lorax' is a charming and fanciful story, but it is sadder and more serious than the other Seuss books that have been adapted for the big screen, such as 'Horton Hears a Who!' and 'The Cat in the Hat,' with an underlying message about the dangers of ecological catastrophe, and the importance of taking care of the earth.

In some ways, 'The Lorax' struck me as a potentially risky film. Would audiences really flock to a story about a weird little creature who warns about the dangers of cutting down all the trees?"

Click here to read more.


Watching "A Separation"
Published on March 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Iranian film "A Separation," which won the Oscar for best foreign film.

Click here to read it.

Watching "Pina"
Published on March 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the Oscar-nominated documentary "Pina."

Here's an excerpt:

"The new Wim Wenders film 'Pina' was nominated for an Oscar in the best documentary category, but calling 'Pina' a documentary really doesn’t do it justice, or come anywhere close to describing the unique and transporting experience of watching it.

The movie is an homage to German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009. She and Wenders had been planning to collaborate on a film that would depict four of her works using cutting-edge digital 3-D technology, and her death prompted the director to shift gears. 'Pina' features extensive footage of the four works Wenders and Bausch selected, 'Rite of Spring,' 'Cafe Müller,' 'Kontakthof' and 'Vollmond,' as well as archival footage and testimonies from the dancers in Bausch’s company, Tanztheater Wuppertal. There are also excerpts from unnamed pieces, where one or two dancers perform in unusual, mostly urban locations — an elevated railway, an industrial site, a park.

You don’t need to know very much about modern dance to enjoy 'Pina' (I know next to nothing about it), but if you actively dislike it, this film probably won’t be your cup of tea. Unlike a conventional documentary, the film doesn’t provide a lot of information — viewers seeking hard facts about Bausch are better off surfing the web. What Wenders wants to do is pay tribute to Bausch as a creative spirit, and to immerse viewers in her work. He often films the dancers’ movement up close and from unusual perspectives, which, along with the use of 3-D, the hypnotic soundtrack and Wenders’ typically sharp eye for location and color, helps contribute to the feeling that the dance is unfolding all around you."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Film Capsules
Published on March 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about some recent films I've watched, mostly on DVD. The list includes Harmony Korine's Gummo, and the new Studio Ghibli production "The Secret World of Arrietty."

Click here to read more.

The Case For "How Green Was My Valley"
Published on March 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

I was hanging out in the podiatrist's office the other day, and decided to flip through a back issue of Entertainment Weekly while waiting for my appointment. One piece, in particular caught my eye - a list of the worst Best Picture winners ever. Much to my surprise, the first film listed was John Ford's 1941 film "How Green Was My Valley," about a close-knit Welsh mining family.

"How Green Was My Valley" is often maligned for beating "Citizen Kane," but here's the thing: It's a great movie. As great as "Kane" is, I feel that "How Green Was My Valley" is more rewarding on an emotional level. Of course, I didn't expect much from the film before I saw it, because people are always rolling their eyes and grumbling about how "Citizen Kane" should have won the Oscar. Fine. But I don't think it deserves to be lumped with "Gandhi" and "Shakespeare in Love" on a list of Oscar misfires.

Apparently, I'm not the only person who thinks this. Over at the website Observations on Film Art, Kristin Thompson explains why "How Green Was My Valley" deserves more respect, and even suggests it might be better than "Citizen Kane." Apparently, Thompson was inspired to defend "How Green Was My Valley" after reading the same EW piece I did.

Click here to read Thompson's essay.

A 3D Menace
Published on March 6, 2012 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

It’s difficult to understand why anyone would want to see Jar Jar Binks in 3D.

Nevertheless, George Lucas is giving the movie-going public that opportunity with "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D." A lot of ink has been spilled criticizing the first installment of the Star Wars prequels. But the bottom line is that "Phantom Menace" simply doesn’t lend itself to multiple viewings. This may explain why Lucas had to add something new – 3D – for this re-release.

There’s no doubt it’s a monumental task to produce anything that stacks up to the classic Star Wars trilogy, which can be watched over and over. But "Phantom Menace" doesn’t even stack up to the slew of little-known movies released in the late 1970s and early 1980s to cash-in on the success of Star Wars.

There are several movies from this period that can be watched multiple times, even if it’s just to gather a few friends to enjoy a fun B-movie. Two sci-fi films from this period that definitely fit this bill are "Message from Space" and "Laserblast."


Watching "A Dangerous Method"
Published on March 6, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new David Cronenberg movie "A Dangerous Method."

Here's an excerpt:

"'A Dangerous Method' is one of those movies that seemed like it was made for me. The film is about the relationship between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Russian psychologist Sabina Spielrein, and it was directed by David Cronenberg, whose films have long explored issues of repression, violence, desire and identity. Where a lesser director would give this rich material the standard biopic treatment, I expected Cronenberg to approach it with his usual eye for the subversive, and knack for crafting perverse and fascinating set pieces.

Much to my surprise, 'A Dangerous Method' is much closer in spirit to a traditional biopic than the Cronenberg oeuvre. Which isn’t to say it isn’t well made, and interesting. It just wasn’t the wild psychosexual tour-de-force I was expecting, that’s all."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Greatest Character From "The Wire"?
Published on March 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

Grantland invites you to pick.

The answer, according to my friend Judy, is obviously Omar. But you can make a case for others. I mean, what about Bodie? Or Snoop?

The Frankenweenie Trailer
Published on March 1, 2012 by Sara Foss

One of Tim Burton's first projects was a short film called "Frankenweenie," about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life. It was released in 1984. And it's pretty good.

Much to my excitement, 2012 will see the release of a Burton-directed feature film called "Frankenweenie." A remake of his short film, it will be filmed in 3D and black-and-white and will feature stop-motion animation. Which sounds AWESOME.

Anyway, here's the trailer:

Watching "The Iron Lady" and "Albert Nobbs"
Published on February 28, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "The Iron Lady" and "Albert Nobbs."

Click here to see what I thought.

My First Movie Experience
Published on February 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my first movie experience.

Click here to read it.

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