February 28, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Looking at this year’s Best Picture nominees, I realized that while I had liked three, nine out of nine had made me tear up—including The Wolf of Wall Street. Fellow movie criers will understand. Especially for those of us who might hesitate to cry in the light of day, there is a singular pleasure to letting tears flow, even—or maybe especially—when what’s happening on screen is really stupid. I come by this honestly. My father refuses to see any movie in which a child dies.
This outpouring of emotion is not limited to the cinema; after watching Audra McDonald and Norm Douglas perform “Bess You Is My Woman Now” in the recent revival of Porgy and Bess, my mom and I were so overcome that we had to skip the second act and go get a drink across the street. And the list of songs I can’t listen to dry-eyed is so long that I’ve had to quarantine them in their own Spotify playlist. But movies are the biggest culprit.
The first movie that made me inconsolable was Dumbo—“Baby Mine,” of course, after he’s been taken from his mother—and the second, I believe, was Chipmunk Adventure, after the baby penguin is taken from his mother. My brother and I both sobbed so loudly in Land Before Time (after the baby dinosaur is taken from his mother) that we had to leave the theatre. Thank God we were never exposed to Bambi. (My mother, traumatized to realize that she was “Man,” resolved at age five to spare her own kids the same shock.) Read More »
December 24, 2013 | by Nick Antosca
All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!
My favorite movie of last year—the best movie of last year, I would argue—wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards. It wasn’t even part of the conversation. That’s because the movie is Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. You might think I’m just being ironic, that I’m taking pleasure in saying what no one else is saying. The latter may be true but the former is not. This movie is a secret masterpiece.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is a movie Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and Shivers-era David Cronenberg might make if they teamed up to shoot a Bourne knockoff in Louisiana on a shoestring budget. This thought experiment works even better if we imagine Gaspar Noé dropping by the editing room later on.
The actual director, John Hyams, has a distinctive voice and style. He and his cinematographer, Yaron Levy, create a nightmare-scape of blighted semisuburbia through which the hero drifts like a damaged samurai, occasionally getting sucked into maelstroms of berserk, finger-hacking, foot-severing violence. The compositions are beautiful. The cheapness of the sets only enhances the lush and lurid atmosphere; everything seems hypnotic and dreamlike. Interiors look like Gregory Crewdson photographs and exteriors look like William Egglestons. This is not your standard VOD action movie. Read More »
December 19, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
When you think about it, there are not many Christmas-movie heroines. But then, nobody ever put Barbara Stanwyck in a corner—and with Christmas in Connecticut’s Elizabeth Lane, she gave us a character who was tough, smart, and irrepressibly modern. Christmas in Connecticut is not a great movie. I thought I loved it until a few days ago, when I forced a friend to sit through it with me and realized I only really liked the first twenty minutes before it gets farcical, and not the parts on the boat or the hospital, and that I absolutely loathe the smarmy love interest, played by the fatuous Dennis Morgan, and any scene involving his smirking face. Nevertheless, this is my Christmas movie recommendation.
For those who have not seen it, here is the premise: Elizabeth Lane is a 1945 Martha Stewart type, a domestic goddess who writes a regular column in a popular women’s magazine about her idyllic life with her husband and baby on a Connecticut farm. But Elizabeth is a fraud: in fact she’s a tough-minded career woman living in a tiny Manhattan apartment with the proverbial oven full of shoes and a restaurateur downstairs neighbor (the ubiquitous S. Z. Sakall) who provides her recipes. One day her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) decides it would be a swell PR move if Elizabeth were to host a war hero at the farm, and invites himself along for Christmas. Needless to say, hijinks, subterfuge, romance, and a series of different borrowed babies ensue. There’s also a stuffy fiancé who’s obviously not long for this world and a tiresome subplot involving the sailor and a nurse.
All that aside, Elizabeth is a nifty character. Barbara Stanwyck was incapable of playing anything but smart and sexy, and even when Elizabeth is at her most clueless—and she's placed in all kinds of humiliating situations—she’s never ditzy; you just get the impression she has better things to do with her time than make flapjacks. While one would rather not invoke Sex and the City, it cannot be denied: the character is a proto-Bradshaw, except the stakes are higher and the cynicism is naked rather than dressed in designer cupcakes.
We tend to think of the crafts revival as a nostalgic response to the chaos of modern life; clearly, we’ve been idealizing the domestic for a long time. Christmas in Connecticut juxtaposes the “ideal” woman with the pragmatic, wartime reality, and in the end the latter is far more attractive. Casting Stanwyck—the ultimate noir femme fatale—in such a role was counterintuitive, but it’s what gives the movie its pizzazz: you don’t really want her to change, let alone end up with either of the dud suitors with whom she is presented. Yes, the uptight architect is clearly not for her and would try to clip her wings. But at least he knows who she is; the awful war hero has fallen in love with the ideal, and you’re not left feeling good about the situation.
But for all its silliness, the film was saying something real (advertently or otherwise) about changing roles, domesticity, and the dynamic of men and women. It’s a story that, in the right hands, could be reanimated for the Etsy generation in a thoughtful and intelligent way. Unfortunately, in 1992, it was remade starring Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson, and Tony Curtis. It was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
December 11, 2013 | by James Hughes
During one of the most lucrative Thanksgiving weekends in Hollywood history, moviegoers hooked on the Hunger Games franchise once again embraced the vision of a populace preoccupied by blood sports. Millions more Americans stayed home and skirted family small talk while zoning out in the flat-screen glow of football coverage. Before NFL collisions in HD and murderous YA fiction in IMAX colonized our culture, a short story published in Esquire in 1973 anticipated the blitz on both fronts. William Harrison’s “Roller Ball Murder” forecasted a future where corporations have replaced all governments and world armies, and nationalism is exorcised at ultraviolent roller derbies. The games keep the people in line, so long as they’re tuned into what Harrison presciently dubbed “multivision.”
When I came across Harrison’s obituary in the October 30 edition of the New York Times—he passed away in Arkansas, at age seventy-nine—it was printed just below the obituary for the late Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Allan Stanley. Seeing the two notices printed in such proximity, the name that leapt to mind was Ontario’s own Norman Jewison, a lifelong Leafs fan and the Oscar-winning director of In the Heat of the Night and Fiddler on the Roof. In 1975, Jewison adapted Harrison’s story for the screen and encouraged him to write the screenplay. The result was Rollerball, an underappreciated seventies curio that was revived briefly in the wake of a regrettable remake in 2002. The overlooked original still packs a punch. Read More »
November 7, 2013 | by Magdalena Edwards
When I first traveled to Rio de Janeiro to research all things Elizabeth Bishop, in 2002, I did not understand how or why everyone—from university professors to taxi drivers, artisans, artists, and entrepreneurs—had something to say about a poeta norteamericana. I quickly learned that I had to spend less time explaining why I was in Brazil and more time listening to stories and parsing through advice on how to find the things I might be looking for, new clues to understanding Bishop’s creative period in the country with “too many waterfalls.” And when I went to Petrópolis to look for the house, a Fazenda Samambaia, that Bishop shared with her Brazilian lover Lota de Macedo Soares, the architect of aristocratic means who envisioned and built Rio de Janeiro’s Parque do Flamengo after New York’s Central Park, I am proud to say I made it as far as the front gate. I knocked and the housekeeper cracked it open and said that the lady of the house was not at home, she was traveling abroad and there was no way to allow me inside, not even for a quick look at the garden.
It turns out that Bruno Barreto has a story, too, of what led him to make Reaching for the Moon (2013), a film about Bishop and Lota inspired by a bestselling book that was first published in Brazil in 1995. Bruno’s mother, Lucy Barreto, one of the film’s producers, has long loved Bishop’s poetry and once met Bishop and Lota at a lunch in Samambaia, years ago; she, Barreto’s mother, was the one who bought the rights to Carmen L. Oliveira’s bestseller Flores raras e banalíssimas: A história de Lota de Macedo Soares e Elizabeth Bishop, a novelistic account composed with details from personal interviews and much archival research. At first, Bruno Barreto was not interested in telling Bishop and Lota’s love story, and then something clicked. He wanted to make a film about loss. Read More »
September 10, 2013 | by Scott Spencer
Here’s what happens when Hollywood makes a really bad movie out of your novel. You cringe, you pretend you don’t care, you laugh when they play the bad movie’s theme song at weddings you attend, and you wait for the whole thing to pass. And when it finally has, when your book has at last outlived the bad memories and associations of the first movie and it is making its leisurely literary way out in the world, without any connection to the bad movie, someone decides to make an even worse movie out of it.
I wrote Endless Love between the years 1975 and 1979, beginning it as my first marriage unraveled. In that stretch of time, I lived on unemployment, house-sitting for semifamous people in their isolated country houses in New England towns too small to have things like post offices. When my unemployment ran out I moved back to New York and worked for a small publishing company owned by a drug addict. I married again and I became a father and I sold my book for what was a small sum in those days and for what today wouldn’t buy two courtside tickets to a Knicks game. The marriage was good, the baby was great, and the book succeeded to the point where I had to take to my bed with a mysterious crippling illness. Eventually, it was diagnosed as sciatica, which couldn’t even begin to disguise itself as anything other than a nervous system overload. Read More »