The Hammer to Nail Awards
Published on February 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

If you find the Oscars bloated, pompous and disgusting, you might find the film website Hammer to Nail's list of the best films of 2011 refreshing.

The awards go to American independent films produced for $1 million or less, and you can find intriguing titles such as "Pariah" (opening this week in Albany) and the excellent "Martha Marcy May Marlene" among the winners.

Click here to see the whole list.

My Oscar Picks
Published on February 24, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I provide my Oscar picks.

Click here to read them.

Pirating Movies
Published on February 22, 2012 by Sara Foss

This post, by Mike D'Angelo, has generated some controversy within the film community. 

Why the uproar? Because D'Angelo admits that he pirates movies. He writes:

"... I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about it, frankly. When I was given the opportunity to pay a reasonable fee to rent, I happily did so, and was more than willing to kick in the Blu-ray surcharge that both sites imposed. Now that that option has been withdrawn, my non-piracy choices are (a) spend $30 or so to purchase a movie I don't (in most cases) wish to permanently own, or (b) not watch the movie. Neither of those is acceptable to me. Furthermore, I can't see how my downloading these films is depriving anybody of income, since I delete those I don't love immediately after viewing them and buy physical copies of those I do love—or, if I can't afford them right this second, add them to a wishlist. Either way, I watch the file and then nuke it. The only films that I've downloaded illegally and then burned to disc are The Arbor and Godard's A Married Woman, and that's only because there's no Region 1 Blu-ray of those two titles. (I don't have a region-free player.)

I don't pirate movies out of some sorry sense of entitlement. I pirate movies because at the present moment I know of no other means of watching a high-definition copy of an older film without buying it outright. And that's ridiculous."

I don't believe in pirating movies, but I can see where D'Angelo is coming from, and if I was in a similar position I would be tempted to do the same thing. But I'm still finding most of what I want to see through Netflix and GreenCine, and I don't have a Blu-ray player, so I'm still able to watch pretty much whatever I want to watch without doing anything illegal.

Watching "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"
Published on February 21, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the Oscar-nominated "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," which I enjoyed a great deal, and also "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," which I didn't like nearly as much, but didn't hate, either.

Click here to read my piece.

Who Picks the Oscars?
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Why are Oscar voters so stodgy?

This post over at Gawker provides some clues.

What! No Cable?!
Published on February 15, 2012 by guest author: Lesley Foss

I moved in with my boyfriend John last summer, and after many talks we decided we would skip a cable package and bill. I will admit that for me this was a hard decision. I love TV. I love mystery shows, comedy shows and yes, it’s true, I love reality TV.

Not shows like "The Bachelor." I’ve never gotten into "The Bachelor" or "The Apprentice," but I do confess to liking ALL the "Housewives" shows on Bravo and I even like "Jersey Shore. Yet at the same time I enjoy reality shows like "Survivor," "Pawn Stars" and "Top Shot."

How would I survive with no cable at the apartment? I mean, there is the Internet, and I can catch shows a week after they air, which is fine with me. John had another solution to my problem. He already had Netflix streaming. I could go on and get all sorts of TV shows. I could get older TV shows that had aired years ago or I could get current TV shows, just not the current season. To me that sounded fabulous! Shows with no commercials! What’s not to love?!


A Year Spent Watching Romantic Comedies
Published on February 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

I enjoyed this essay over at Jezebel in which the author, Chloe Angyal, reflects upon what she learned while writing about romantic comedies for her doctoral thesis.

The romantic comedy is my least favorite movie genre, but there are some good ones, and Angyal makes a compelling case for why the genre matters.

Watching "The Artist" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Published on February 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review two new and Oscar-nominated movies.

Click here for more.

Oscar Movies
Published on February 8, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer short reviews of the Oscar-nominated films "Warrior" and "A Better Life."

Click here to read them.

Joining the "Mystery Team" Cult
Published on February 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to write mystery stories.

These stories channeled Scooby-Doo, the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Three Investigators youthful sleuth genre and spooky ghost stories. We were the main characters, and our hobby was solving mysteries. Our home base was a treehouse. Early models were fairly simple, but later designs incorporated crow's nests, zip lines, an underground bunker and a moat. The name of our club: The Mystery Gang.

I've never completely left the Mystery Gang behind, and so I was undeniably intrigued when I learned about a barely-released 2009 film called "Mystery Team." Absurd and ribald in equal measures, the film focuses on a trio of teenagers who never outgrew their mystery gang phase. Now seniors in high school, they still monitor a wooden booth in the front yard, waiting for neighborhood "clients" to pay them a dime to solve everyday mysteries involving stolen pies and missing cats. They are ridiculous, and even their parents regard them as a bunch of losers. Not long after the film opens, they are asked to sole a real live mystery by a girl who claims her parents were murdered.

"Mystery Team" was created by members of the Derrick Comedy group, and it's a strange little film, with gags involving magnifying glasses, hoboes and slingshots. One highlight is a trip to a gentlemen's club to look for clues; the trio don tuxedos and monocles and speak with patrician accents in an attempt to pass for gentlemen. I suppose there are people who wouldn't find such jokes very funny, but I was practically rolling on the floor. At times, I felt as if "Mystery Team" had been made for me personally - as if someone had broken into my trunk, stolen all my Mystery Gang stories, and developed an adult script based on the goofy scribblings of an elementary school student in the 1980s.


Watching "War Horse"
Published on February 1, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the new Steven Spielberg film "War Horse."

Here's an excerpt:

“'War Horse'” is a big, emotional, sentimental film, but I liked it anyway. It’s a throwback, but a good one, and director Steven Spielberg earns its tears honestly, by crafting a compelling storyline, creating vivid characters and filling the screen with evocative and expansive images.

'War Horse' is an old-fashioned movie about war and animals and men, but it’s also a little stranger than it might initially appear. The film opens in rural England, at a horse auction, where a disabled and hardscrabble farmer (Peter Mullan) outbids his nasty landlord for a beautiful thoroughbred. His wife (Emily Watson) was hoping he would return home with a useful plow horse, and demands that he do whatever he can to get his money back, but her son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine) begs to keep the horse, and promises to train him to plow. These early scenes pave the way for a lovable yarn about the bond between a boy and his clever horse, but the film switches gears when the farmer decides he SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! needs money, and sells the horse to a kindly Army captain. The horse, named Joey, is then sent off to war, where he spends the bulk of the film, passed from caretaker to caretaker. Unsurprisingly, the film’s final sections bring the film back around to Albert, now a soldier on the front, and still searching for his beloved horse.

This synopsis makes 'War Horse' sound like nothing I’d ever want to watch in my life, but the film’s open-hearted sincerity, the conviction of the performers, and the unusual storytelling technique won me over. I appreciated following Joey on his journey, and meeting the various men, soldiers and children who grow to love him. Most of the film’s characters are kind and decent, and a scene late in the film, where English and German soldiers call a temporary cease-fire to free Joey from barbed wire, seems to be Spielberg’s way of pointing out the folly of war, and the common humanity of the soldiers who wage such wars."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Jean Rollin, on DVD
Published on January 30, 2012 by Sara Foss

I've only seen one Jean Rollin film, 1975's "Lips of Blood." But it made a huge impression, and I'm excited to hear that Kino International is releasing five Rollin films on DVD this week. 

"Lips of Blood," a dreamlike and haunting erotic vampire story, is among the five. The other titles are "The Nude Vampire," "The Shiver of the Vampires," "The Iron Rose" and Fascination." (Notice a theme? Rollin specialized in horror, and vampires in particular.)

Anyway, the Rolllin DVD set has generated some interesting commentary. Here are some links:

Dave Kehr in the New York Times

Sean Axmaker at Parallax View

Budd Wilkins at Slant Magazine

After "The Wire"
Published on January 29, 2012 by Sara Foss

I've been slowly working my way through the television series "The Wire," and although I'm not quite finished with it (I'm about halfway through the final season), I think it's safe to say that it's one of the greatest TV series ever.

News involving "The Wire's" cast and crew always interests me, and last week I was excited to read a Washington Post story about Sonja Sohn, the actress who played Det. Shakima "Kima" Greggs. According to the article, Sohn has remained a presence in Baltimore, where the show was set, and has a charity, called ReWired For Life, that works with troubled youth from the city.

The story is pretty interesting, especially if you're a fan of "The Wire." Click here to read it.

Rolling Stone recently ran an interesting article about Felicia Pearson, who played Snoop on "The Wire," but it doesn't appear to be online. But it's definitely worth seeking out.

The Greatness of "Dazed and Confused"
Published on January 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

Richard Linklater's 1993 film "Dazed and Confused" is one of my favorite movies.

Even though it's a period piece, anyone who's ever been to high school will find something to relate to, at least a little. Now A.V. Club film critic Scott Tobias has added the film to his New Cult Canon, writing:

"Yet as funny and pleasurable as it is, Dazed And Confused isn’t like Cheech and Chong, Harold and Kumar, or any of the straight-up pot comedies with premium re-watch value. Amid all those good vibes, there’s a melancholy tone that’s been curiously denied as the film’s cult following has amassed. Though no artist can dictate or control how their work will be received, Linklater’s film is about painful rites of passage: the ritual hazing of freshmen; the quarterback who moves effortlessly between cliques, wrestling with a decision that will turn his teammates against him; the nerd who starts a fight and loses, badly, rather than resign himself to being “an ineffectual nothing.” In every case, these are kids who feel penned in by tradition and expectation, whether they’re warily submitting to the business end of a shop-crafted paddle or forced to sign a bullshit clean-livin’ commitment statement in order to lead that championship season."

Click here to read the entire piece. And if you haven't seen "Dazed and Confused," rent it immediately.

Thoughts on the Oscars ... and "Mission Impossible"
Published on January 24, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I provide my thoughts on the Oscars, as well as the new "Mission Impossible" movie.

Click here to read it.

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