Who doesn’t love the inexplicable, transportative moviegoing experience? I remember seeing Wim Wenders’ documentary about Cuban music, Buena Vista Social Club, and floating on that one for days. I thought I was going to see a concert film, but it took me to a place I’d never been before and did it in a unique way.
I’m also a tremendous science fiction fan, as this is the safest way, usually, to get audiences in “the zone.” (note – I hate the expression “the zone,” but sometimes cliches, even if they are the names of fad diets, work best.) When a movie dabbles on the edge of sci-fi and is able to take you in unexpected directions, that’s when I really start to get excited.
This week, taking a break from some of the more clear cut categories (e.g. “World War II movies”) I’d like to offer up some examples of movies that you wouldn’t at first consider as science fiction, but still take on (for me) the properties of good sci-fi. Some actually try to “pass” as sci-fi without any of the usual techniques (more on this in a bit) and some do precisely the reverse: have such a remarkable texture that they seem otherworldly.
Maybe this category is too heady or only makes sense to me. At the very least, I’m going to recommend eight titles you may want to check out. And no, I’m not including Tree of Life because that just came out! But I think you may have a sense of where I’m headed with this. . . Read More »
The Academy Awards are this Sunday and if you are anything like me you have a. . .mild interest in watching. Competition in the arts is, lets face it, a little silly. The Descendants and Tree of Life are both about troubled families, and are both brilliant, but how on earth do you compare the two?
But still, but still. . . the films nominated for major categories are almost always worth taking a look at. And some of ’em may have slipped under your radar. Hence this week’s feature on Recent Oscar Nominees You Probably Haven’t Seen.
To help narrow our focus, I decided to only pick Oscar nominees from the last 20 years. Since I normally select eight titles (I’ve been consistent, in case you haven’t noticed) I decided to do one from the Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Foreign Language and Animation categories. Sorry Best Original and Adapted Screenplays, we’ll get you next time. Read More »
Well fire and damnation, this week we’re all going to hell.
Nicolas Cage is riding to your local theater on a motorbike fueled by Satan and there’s little anyone can do to stop it. I’ve seen Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and, quite frankly, it ain’t good. That said, if I hadn’t seen it yet and twenty-five people told me it stunk, I’d still go. I love Crazy Nic Cage and I like fiery demons. What can I say, it’s something that speaks to me.
With Lucifer on the mind I figured this week’s column would be about Satan, Satanism, demons, witches, possession and whatnot. There’s a whole world out there beyond the obvious (fantastic) Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and the color-saturated visions of Dario Argento. Such as. . . Read More »
This friday Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness opens in New York and Los Angeles. It ought to have a decent run at art houses in select cities after that, particularly if it wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year. (If anything is poised to upset A Separation, it’s this one.)
In In Darkness, Holland, director of Europa, Europa and a few key episodes of The Wire, tells a fascinating true story of a group of Polish Jews who survived for over one year in a city’s sewer system. In the press notes she commented that, just when we thought we’d heard all the World War II stories, she discovered this one. It got me thinking that, yes, not only are there a number of great World War II stories out there that haven’t been told, there are already so many that deserve to be rediscovered by a new audience.
So, with that, let’s set the way-back machine to the madness of mid-century and check out some tremendous art that grew from tragedy.
We’ll kick this one off with one of the most depressing and difficult to watch movies I’ve ever seen.
For those that felt Schindler’s List candy-coated the horrors of the Nazi extermination camps, I offer The Grey Zone. No narrative film has more directly detailed the functions and living conditions at Auschwitz as Tim Blake Nelson’s story of a rebellious group of Sonderkommando. The Sonderkommando, if you don’t know, were the groups of healthy, young Jews who were kept alive and forced to aid the the machinery of death at the camp. Yeah, pretty bleak stuff.
The story of this impossible revolt (and there were others – check out Jean-Francois Steiner’s book Treblinka for a similar tale) is a fascinating portrait of bravery in the face of insurmountable odds and absolute evil.
Hope and Glory (1987); John Boorman, director
Okay, we need to lighten up a little bit, and quick.
Hope and Glory is told from the point of view of a ten year old boy who, despite a vague understanding of distant suffering, thinks World War II is the greatest thing that ever happened to him. School is constantly cancelled, the London blitz offers new destroyed houses to stomp around in and he gets to spend some nights sleeping in the subway station.
It’s hard to make the war seem fun without being flip but Boorman’s quasi-autobiographical tale does the trick. It features a wide and wonderful cast of characters, the full tapestry of British society that held that country together. Among my favorites, the men rejected by the fighting army but relegated to the secretarial pool, puffing their chests and reminding themselves that “we’re typing for England!”
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946); William Wyler, director
After the bullets fly and the flags are planted, the war still rages within the minds of the men who fought it.
Best Picture winner The Best Years of Our Lives was one of the first American films that showed the psychological damage done not only on the battlefield, but on the homefront as well.
Three men of different social classes meet after the war on their way back to a fictional midwestern city. Each finds it difficult to reintegrate into their previous lives. There’s drinking, flashbacks, marital regret, love affairs and adjustments to physical handicaps. The Best Years of Our Lives is basically soap opera, but it is striking to see such issues framed in the conventions of 1940s cinema.
The Best Years of Our Lives won a whole slew of awards, including a Best Supporting nod for “non-actor” Harold Russell, a war veteran who lost both of his hands. Don’t judge this movie too harshly by the clip shown above (one of the few I could find.) Once you get into it, it really is quite good.
Stalingrad (1993); Joseph Vilsmaier, director
Okay, back to the action.
It was Wolfgang Peterson’s 1981 masterpiece Das Boot that made it “okay” to root for Germans in a World War II film provided that a) we were on the side of simple soldiers caught up in the larger machinations of war and b) lots of Germans died. Stalingrad takes this formula and runs it head-on into the ice cold hell that was the Battle of Stalingrad.
Joseph Vilsmaier’s epic features sieges, tank battles, the horrors of penal colonies, assaults on civilians, survivalism and an examination of loyalty versus common sense. There were 260,000 men in Germany’s 6th Army who went to Stalingrad. 6000 returned.
Hello. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jordan Hoffman and I’m an old man. Well, not THAT old, but, let’s just say that for me the phrase “VHS or Beta?” was more than just an indie band, it was an actual decision.
After film school I worked in the development offices of a New York-based production company for a few years, then did some solid Web 1.0 work at About.com. Then I made two independent films, both of which are good, neither of which made me any money. Eventually I got back into the writing game, working at Hearst’s UGO.com for over four years and now I’m having a blast reviewing and writing about film for a number of different publications.
The fine folk here at /Film have allowed me this weekly column to put on my bifocals, peer into the rich history of cinema and make some recommendations that may be unknown to you.
Since the big release this weekend is the extremely entertaining Chronicle I thought it might be a good idea to think back to a time before Cloverfield or go deeper than The Blair Witch Project. Read More »