DVD Triage: Feb 28, 2012

Posting hasn’t been as frequent as I intended the past week or so, and I’ve got several things sitting on the back burner, but this time I have a fairly decent excuse. My site got hacked sometime last week, with some bad code inserted into a bunch of php files. I *think* I’ve gotten everything on this site cleared up, though I’m still working on a few of my other sites (thankfully most of them aren’t really in use right now – abandoned test sites and whatnot). If you clicked a link here and ended up redirected to a weird URL, I deeply apologize. Hopefully that doesn’t happen anymore. If you do notice anything weird going on, please let me know. In the meantime, here’s what’s out on DVD and Netflix Instant this week. As always, click through to Row Three for more detailed lists.

New Release Pick of the Week

The Myth of the American Sleepover
Of course Hugo is the obvious pick of the week, an excellent film to be sure, but why be obvious? You all know about that one already. I saw The Myth of the American Sleepover on a whim at a festival over a year ago, and it crept its little way right into my heart. An unassuming coming of age drama that utilizes its ensemble cast perfectly, the film has been on Instant Watch for a few months now, but if you don’t have Netflix or want a hard copy, here it is. Give it a chance.
2010 USA. Director: David Robert Mitchell. Starring: Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen.

Other New Releases

Catalog Pick of the Week

Scarlet Street Blu-ray
After the success of 1944’s film noir The Woman in the Window, Lang reunited with the cast from that film to make Scarlet Street, which I actually like a little bit better, if you force me to choose. Robinson is always solid, never more so than here, as a henpecked husband who sees Joan Bennett as a way to rejuvenate himself a bit, but she’s only playing him for the money she thinks he has.
1945 USA. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea.


Instant Watch Pick of the Week

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
Now an Academy Award-winning actor-director team, Michel Hazanavicius, Jean Dujardin, and Bérénice Bejo are no strangers to each other – they’re best known in France for their collaboration on a pair of spy parodies, of which this is the first. I haven’t seen these, but after the success of The Artist, I’m sure I’m not the only one curious to check them out. OSS 117: Lost in Rio is due to expire from Instant on 3/15, so for a couple of weeks, you can see them both.
2006 France. Director: Michel Hazanavicius. Starring: François Damiens, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.

Expiring Picks of the Week

Pictured films all expire on 3/1. Which is tomorrow.

DVD Triage: Feb 21, 2012

Here are the highlights of this week’s DVD and Netflix Instant releases. I’ve only included the ones that I chose as “picks of the week”; you can click over to Row Three to see everything – including a disheartening number of Netflix Instant expirations. Looks like the expiring Starz contract is being felt quite hard this month.

New Release Pick of the Week

Martha Marcy May Marlene
I didn’t make it out to see the Sundance darling psychological thriller about a woman struggling after leaving a cult, and I know it inspired some heated debates on the Cinecast, but I’m definitely still very interested in checking it out. Not only to see what the Olsen twins’ little sister can do (apparently a lot), but anytime John Hawkes is on screen seems like a good thing to me.
2011 USA. Director: Sean Durkin. Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes.

Other New Releases

Catalog Pick of the Week

Anatomy of a Murder: Criterion Collection
I often throw Criterion releases up here out of habit, because it’s usually worthwhile trusting Criterion, but in this case, I can actually wholeheartedly recommend this film – one of the best courtroom dramas ever made, with James Stewart going toe-to-toe with George C. Scott over a murder case with a self-defense plea. Oh yeah, there’s rape in there, too. Director Preminger was known for pushing the Hays Code buttons, and this is no different. Some great performances all around backed up by a fantastic Duke Ellington jazz score.
1959 USA. Director: Otto Preminger. Starring: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott.

Other Catalog Releases

Instant Watch Picks of the Week

Pretty slow week for new Instant Watches, so you might want to drop down and get in some of the expiring ones before they, well, expire. There’s a bunch down there that are well worth watching.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
I wasn’t too big a fan of this film (currently Brazil’s number one box office hit) when I saw it, but I think it would improve for me on rewatch. The all-out action I was expecting based on descriptions of the first Elite Squad film, which I still haven’t seen, is muted here, as the film focuses in on corruption in the police force. It still has its moments of quick-cut intensity, but the measured parts of the film probably deserve more credit than I originally gave them.
2010 Brazil. Director: José Padilha. Starring: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, André Ramiro

There’s no comparison between this film and the fantastic and extremely literary novel it’s based on, but that’s not how we judge movies, and after rewatching this not too long ago, I appreciated it for what it is on its own. Its dual story between academics and the Victorian poets they study doesn’t balance quite as well as it should, but Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam impress enough to overcome the rather bland turns by Paltrow and Eckhart.
2002 USA. Director: Neil LaBute. Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle.

Expiring Picks of the Week

Looks like we’re feeling the heat of Starz! departure from Netflix this month, as a whole bunch of stuff expires on the 29th, most of it Starz! content. There are also a bunch leaving on March 1st, so keep an eye out.

The Lady Eve (expires 2/28)
One of the few films I can rewatch over and over again (and easily my favorite of Preston Sturges’ comedies); I simply never get tired of Barbara Stanwyck’s dual performance as card sharp Jean and her refined alter-ego Eve Sidwich. Add in a hapless Henry Fonda, a cunning Charles Coburn, a suspicious William Demarest, and an exasperated Eugene Pallette, and more, and you’ve got one of the finest casts in classic comedy all at the height of their powers, and with a script to match them.
1941 USA. Director: Preston Sturges. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, William Demarest, Eugene Pallette, Eric Blore.

Bedazzled (expires 2/28)
Not to be confused with the terrible remake with Brendan Fraser, the original Bedazzled is a delightful slice out of London’s Swinging Sixties, with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook making a hilarious dry comedy team as the put-upon everyman Stanley and the Devil who gives him a Faustian bargain to get the woman of his dreams. Director Stanley Donen had a number of finest hours, and this is definitely one of them.
1967 UK. Director: Stanley Donen. Starring: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Raquel Welch.

In the Mood for Love (expires 2/29)
Director Wong Kar Wai has made a number of gorgeous-looking, wistfully romantic films, and none more so than this quiet tale of forbidden love between two people in adjoining apartments who gradually spend more and more time together while their respective spouses are away from home for long periods of time. It’s one of the most understated romances ever, so subtle at first it’s easy to miss what’s going on. But it’s achingly real and true. One of those films that when you watch it, you know it’s going to be with you for a long time.
2000 Hong Kong. Director: Wong Kar Wai. Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu, Tung Cho ‘Joe’ Cheung, Rebecca Pan.

Party Down (expires 2/29)
You might not expect Starz! to have hosted one of the best sitcoms on TV, but there it is. Underseen and canceled too soon, Party Down‘s milieu of a Hollywood catering company filled with managers dreaming of bigger things and aspiring actors waiting for the next big thing is ripe for comedy, and showrunner Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars) has the writing and cast to pull it off. Definitely check it out before it expires.
2009-2010 USA. Creator: Rob Thomas. Starring: Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Lizzy Caplan, Ryan Hansen,Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Jane Lynch, Kristen Bell.

Black Snake Moan (expires 3/1)
A blues-singing black man chains up a nubile white girl to prevent her from satisfying her nymphomaniac urges. Sounds like prime material for an exploitation film, right? Yet while this film definitely skirts those waters, it’s much, much better than you’d expect given the premise. It’s Southern Gothic through and through, but with a depth of character, emotion, and even story that sets it apart as one of the best surprises of its year.
2006 USA. Director: Craig Brewer. Starring: Christina Ricci, Samuel L. Jackson, Justin Timberlake, S. Epatha Merkerson, John Cothran Jr.

Film on TV: Feb 20-26

The Good, the Bad, the Weird, playing Sunday on IFC

This week’s Film on TV post is up over on Row Three. Quite a lot of good stuff, as usual, from TCM, with IFC and Sundance rounding out a very solid week. Here are my top five picks. This was an EXTREMELY hard week to only pick five from, though. Definitely click through to see what else is going on.

Strangers on a Train

Wednesday, Feb 22 at 8:00pm on TCM
Guy Haines is a tennis star all set to marry into a posh, loving family, if it weren’t for that pesky and annoying wife he’s already got – a problem that fellow train-passenger Bruno has a solution for: all Guy has to do is kill Bruno’s troublesome father and Bruno will take care of Guy’s wife. This criss-cross setup begins one of Hitchcock’s best films, full of memorable shots and set-pieces, not to mention one of the most mesmerizingly psychotic performances in all of cinema in Robert Walker’s portrayal of Bruno.
1951 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Patricia Hitchcock, Leo G. Carroll, Laura Elliott.
Must See

All the President’s Men

Thursday, Feb 23 at 12:15am on TCM
The Nixon and Watergate scandal is presented as a mystery almost, from the point of view of Woodward and Bernstein, the rookie Washington Post investigative reporters who broke the story. The film unfolds like a very good procedural, balancing the fact-finding itself with the roadblocks Woodward has to overcome at the paper because of his youth and inexperience. Not a showy film, but a really well-made one with excellent performances from Redford and Hoffman.
1976 USA. Director: Alan J. Pakula. Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook.


Saturday, Feb 25 at 2:30am on TCM
I love a good classic sci-fi film and this one hits all the high points. Radioactive material? Check. Mutant insects? Check. Scientists? Check. Nuclear paranoia? Check. Giant mutant ants (created by radioactivity left by atomic bomb tests in Arizona) start attacking people, first in Arizona, then to Texas and Mexico, and finally in the middle of Los Angeles. A team of scientists works with the police to take the monsters down. One of the better examples of the “atomic mutant” sci-fi films, of which there were many; it builds intensity perfectly (in fact, it’s at least half an hour in before you come close to finding out what’s happening, adding in a very welcome mystery element) and doesn’t spend to long on its obligatory romantic subplot.
1954 USA. Director: Gordon Douglas. Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Sunday, Feb 26 at 5:45pm on IFC
An utterly wacky and awesome Korean reimagining of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, with a somewhat hapless trio (okay, at least one of them is hapless) attempting to get to a treasure before a pair of conflicting armies prevent them. It is ridiculous, action-packed, and did I mention awesome?
2008 South Korean. Director: Jee-woon Kim. Starring: Kang-ho Sang, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Sunday, Feb 26 at 9:45pm on TCM
Perhaps the definition of Hollywood Gothic, with aging stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as aging former actresses. Davis was a child star whose glory was utterly usurped by sister Crawford as they grew up, making her bitterly long for their roles to be switched again. Add in a crippling car accident, psychological abuse, and delusions of continued fame, and you have an engrossing (and deliciously campy) cult film and possibly one of Davis’s best performances ever.
1962 USA. Director: Robert Aldrich. Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Wesley Addy, Maidie Norman.

Tunes Worth Hearing: January 2012

Most of my music posting ends up limited to the random music video I happen to come across when I’m in a posting mood and year end-lists. I still want to focus mostly on movies here, but I figured as I’m using Spotify heavily this year to try to at least listen through a whole bunch more albums this year, I could do a month-end post with the things I’ve discovered or enjoyed the most.

The one major caveat with music as opposed to movies is that music tends to jump around far more wildly on my lists than movies. Movies I can generally watch once and have a pretty good idea how much I liked it. My feelings towards specific music is far more variable, and depends a lot on how much I listen to it. Of course, if I really dislike something, I’m unlikely to listen to it again, but among things I like or love nothing’s ever set in stone. All I’ll say are these are all albums I’m enjoying now to one degree or another, and that deserves a mention in case you might like them too.

Also: ongoing Spotify playlist of my favorite songs of the year

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

The first album of the year that I’ve really loved, and after only a couple of listens, too. Usually it takes more than that, but this Swedish duo with their hippie-looking cover somehow snuck into earworm status almost immediately. The country-folksy thing doesn’t always work for me, but this is well within the indie style country folksy that I’ve grown to like. Beyond that, it’s got a touch of an almost medieval feel in cadence and intervals (at least in some of the songs – the title song in particular). And I love those close harmonies and epic orchestrations. Yeah, instant fan.

Watch video for “The Lion’s Roar”
Watch live performance of “Blue”
Listen on Spotify

Howler – America Give Up

This is just good old-fashioned rock. I didn’t even realize until I was just looking up videos for this post that these guys are apparently all 14 years old. Probably not really, but they definitely look young. Whatever, they make music that I can totally jam out to over and over. A scary number of the songs on this album have already made it on my ongoing Favorite Songs of 2012 playlist.

Listen to “Beach Sluts”
Listen to “This One’s Different”
Listen on Spotify

The Big Pink – Future This

I liked The Big Pink’s previous album, but I never quite listened to it enough for it to reach loved status, and I mostly remember the couple of singles off it. I’m getting the jump on this new one, and I quite like it as well. Some songs get a bit too “dance-y” for me, but for the most part, it’s bit anthem rock, and it’s pretty catch stuff.

Watch video for “Stay Gold”
Watch video for “Hit the Ground (Superman)”
Listen on Spotify

Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound

This video places these guys firmly within the quirky indie rock tradition, what with all the cut-out words and jumping around switching clothes. That’s all right with me! The rest of the album has the same upbeat feel. I only recently started listening to this one, but I imagine it will get a lot more play over the next few weeks and months.

Listen to “No Matter What You Say”
Listen to “Don’t Know How You Do It”
Listen on Spotify

Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy

I actually remember picking up a Nada Surf CD from the library when I was back in college and beginning to explore what different music was out there. I couldn’t tell you now which album that even was, but I enjoyed it without really latching onto it. When I saw this new one pop up on NPR’s First Listen, I figured I’d give it a try, and it’s also pretty enjoyable stuff. Definitely worth a listen, and I might go back and try out some of their older stuff again as well. Also, the title is awesome.

Listen to “Clear Eyes, Clouded Mind”
Listen to “Jules and Jim”
Listen on Spotify

Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur

Not always do I get into singer-songwriter type stuff, but Edwards quite reminds me of Kathryn Calder, the New Pornographers singer who came out with a solo album I liked very much a couple of years ago. Similar pure voice, solid songwriting backed up by some really nice and often very full orchestrations. I think Edwards has actually been around longer, but whatever. This may not stay high on my list as the months go on, but I do like it.

Watch live performance of “Empty Threat”
Watch live performance of “House Full of Empty Rooms”
Listen on Spotify

Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

I’m kind of split on this one – some of the songs (like the ones I’ve included below – you actually have to click through to YouTube for them; embeds are limited) are pretty awesome, with strong instrumentation of the type that makes me not mind when songs have long instrumental sections, and raw vocals that work with the music. Other songs sound like a mediocre alternative band from the ’90s. Plus, the whole thing is rather short. Still, when this album is good, it’s very, very good.

Listen to “Wasted Days”
Watch video for “No Future/No Past”
Listen to “Stay Useless”
Listen on Spotify

The Roundup: 18 Feb 2012

And another series back from very long hiatus (with a new name), and another well-meaning intention to do a better job of keeping up. I’d really like to do these every week, a task made more challenging and yet more fun by deciding to include more sections of links. The idea being that I can just keep this up as I read blogs and sites thoughout the week and have it all ready to go by the end of the week. Here’s hoping. As usual, most of these are movie-related links, but that won’t necessarily always be the case, and there are some music and gaming links in the subsections. Anything that’s a video will open in a lightbox, so you won’t have to go anywhere else to watch them.

Featured Links

For the Love of Film III: The White Shadow by the Self-Styled Siren

The For the Love of Film Blogathon is now in its third year, with bloggers focusing on a specific aspect of film preservation, with the intent to raise awareness and funds for the National Film Preservation Foundation. This year, the focus is on the recently unearthed early Hitchcock film The White Shadow, one of a few films Hitchcock assistant-directed under director Graham Cutts in the early 1920s. The funds raised will support the costs of the NFPF streaming the film (that is, the four reels of it that still exist) on their website for four months. I’ve actually seen the film – I was at the Academy screening the Siren mentions – and though it certainly isn’t among the best silent films you’ll ever see, it does have more than historical interest, and it has a whole lot of that. The blogathon goes live in May, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it then.

Hitchcock’s Most Beautiful Shot Ever by Joel Gunz, guest-posting at The Lady Eve

Speaking of Hitchcock, The Lady Eve has been hosting a whole series on Vertigo, with this close-reading of a single shot of the film one of the highlights. Guest poster Joel Gunz looks at the shot of Madeline standing under the Golden Gate Bridge in terms of composition and cinematography, as well as artistic antecedents and psychological readings. By the end, he’s explicated a lot about Vertigo as a whole, simply by analyzing this one gorgeous still. Makes me want to go watch the film again immediately.

Why Don’t the Critics, Oscar, and Audiences Agree? by Jim Emerson on scanners::blog

It’s almost a cliche at this point to mention that the films the end up on critical best lists (whether print critics or bloggers), the films that end up the year’s box office champions, and the films nominated for Oscars are pretty much three different groups of films. There may be some overlap here and there, of course, but by and large, the goals of each group seem to be irrevocably dissimilar. Jim Emerson invokes an article from Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir to explain a bit about the Academy’s point of view, and then points out that their nominations used to be more actually populist, rather than prestige-y the way it is now.

It’s An Honor to Be Nominated, But These Iconic Films Never Were by Wilde.Dash at Love and Squalor

Lots of Oscar-y type talk this week, and I doubt that’ll stop until after the awards are announced and everyone’s done dissecting them. Here the always entertaining Wilde.Dash highlights a bunch of films that are widely considered top-notch classics yet weren’t even nominated for Academy Awards. Some of these (2001, Psycho) absolutely appalling to me. Just goes to show you, these little statuettes? Not that big a deal in the grand scene of things.

Culture Warrior: The Importance of Honoring Motion Capture Performances by Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects

In a year when the Academy doesn’t nominate Andy Serkis for acing (perhaps because motion capture is too cartoony to go against live action) and doesn’t nominate The Adventures of Tintin for Animated Feature (perhaps because motion capture is too live action to go against animation), Landon Palmer discusses why mocap seems to be such a disdained technology – because the very idea of motion capture, which renders actors unrecognizable behind a veil of CGI, threatens the concept of celebrity upon which Hollywood is built. (To be fair, I wouldn’t necessarily argue that either of the “perhaps” clauses above are correct; but Palmer’s assessment of the threat of mocap is an interesting read.)

Pioneers of Animation: Ub Iwerks – The Early Disney Years by Brandie at True Classics

Everyone knows Walt Disney. But not everyone knows Ub Iwerks, who was with Disney almost every step of the way, from the very beginning when they were partners in Kansas City working on Laugh-o-Gram shorts, through the move to Hollywood and the creation of Oswald the Rabbit and Mickey Mouse. But Iwerks isn’t only Disney stuff – he also had many successful cartoons of his own in the early sound era. Brandie has the full story in two posts (the second part is here, and they’re well worth reading – just as Iwerks’ films are well worth watching.

48 Hidden Images in Black Swan by Sati at the Cinematic Corner

Even a single viewing of Black Swan reveals the constant parallels that Aronofsky is making between Nina and Lily, with their faces often morphing into each other for split seconds here and there. But Sati has gone through the film with a fine-tooth comb and screencapped a TON of trick shots that I certainly never noticed before. As you look through these, some will seem obvious (Nina seeing herself on the subway or the sidewalk, or Lily’s face swapping for Nina’s during the sex scene), but most of the things during the club scene I hadn’t seen at all. Kudos to Aronofsky for his attention to detail, and kudos to Sati for uncovering that detail.

In Character: William Fichtner by Alex Withrow at And So It Begins

One of the most memorable and consistently awesome “hey, it’s that guy!” actors working today, William Fichtner shows up all over the place, and he’s often the best thing in any movie he’s in. Like, oh, say…Drive Angry for example. And many, many others. Alex Withrow runs down Fichtner’s best roles in this entry into his ongoing series highlighting character actors (the whole series is worth reading).

Katie-Bar-the-Door Awards by the Mythical Monkey

Speaking of ongoing series, I’ve been away from the blog-reading long enough I didn’t even notice he was doing this until now, but the Mythical Monkey has been posting entries every day with his alternate Oscars for each year since 1927. The awards (named for his wife) were his original impetus for starting his blog, but he’s since gotten lost in the silent era – lost in the best possible way. But he recently decided to get these posted and out there, and I gotta say, these awards are awesome. I don’t necessarily agree with them all (though mostly in cases where I haven’t seen all the films in question!), but they’re pretty great to read through. He just posted 1970, and is taking a break, but the whole series is worth a peruse.

More links!

Sam Fragoso of Duke and the Movies asks us to choose between Howard Hawks or John Huston. I picked Hawks, but that’s a tough question!
Kim Wilson at the Classic Film and TV Cafe reviews Man in Grey, a little-known British film that sounds rather transgressive for its time!
Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence announces the March in March blogathon – posts about Fredric March, in the month of March.
Hollywood Reporter explains why there are only two Best Song Oscar nominees this year.
Ryan at The Matinee kicks off his Blind Spot series by watching John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Alex Withrow of And So It Begins runs down the entirely of Spike Lee’s career.
Wilde.Dash of Love and Squalor picks her 30 most anticipated movies of 2012. Some great stuff to look forward to, for sure!
Nicolas Winding Refn talks to The Playlist about Drive
Bonjour Tristesse reviews Dario Argento’s The Bird With a Crystal Plumage, and likes it quite a bit. One I definitely want to catch up with.
Monty at All Good Things counts down his favorite actresses – some great picks here! Love the Lombard love.

Trailers of Interest

(videos open in a lightbox)

Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress
Justin Kurzel’s The Snowtown Murders (though I think this one is better; so is the former name)
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Intruders

Max Payne 3
Far Cry 3

Cool videos

(videos open in a lightbox)

The ABCs of Cinema by Evan Seitz
The Knights Who Say Ni! Kinetic Typography by Evan Seitz
Salvador Dali on “What’s My Line”
Music Video: Jack White’s “Love Interruption” (from upcoming album Blunderbuss)
Music Video: YACHT’s “Shangri-La” (from album Shangri-La)
Live Performance: James Mercer singing “September” (from upcoming Shins album Port of Morrow)

News of Interest

Joss Whedon is writing a RomCom. Not my fave genre, but okay.
Netflix is developing an original series with Weeds creator Jenji Kohan
People are planning to remake Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Suspicion. WHY? Although, of all his films, those two are among the least untouchable.
Gina Carano lines up another action film: In the Blood. I’ll watch it.

Bonnaroo lineup is announced

Rockstar is bringing the original Max Payne game to iOS. Cool!
Touch Arcade reviews Beat Sneak Bandit, a new iOS game. I downloaded it; we’ll see what I think.