When The Hunger Games was released in 2012, as design critics we found its Francophile fashion, its Frank Gehry-inspired architecture, and its streamlined technology difficult to ignore—or admire. If this was the future, why did the Capitol look like the 1980s? Do we overlook evil if it’s not dressed up like Fascism? Where did Katniss get that perfectly faded housedress? Naturally, when Catching Fire came out last month, we had to go back for more.
Warning: spoilers from both books and both films ahead.
Read more. [Image: Lionsgate/Murray Close]
There’s a moment in Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass’s excruciatingly tense tale of the 2009 capture of an American ship captain by Somalian pirate, where the audience gets a rare chance to laugh. It’s probably not meant to come off this way, but after 90-ish minutes of nightmarish, shaky-cam time spent with Tom Hanks’s schlubby title character and his harried, emaciated captors, the appearance of square-jawed, capital-H Handsome Navy Seals onscreen sent at least a few of the people in my theater into titters.
The mood changes in other ways once these guys literally parachute in and then, spoiler alert, bring an end to the hostage situation. An aircraft carrier and a couple Navy destroyers assist; as Time’s Michael Crowley wrote, “you feel that the U.S. military has come to your rescue.”
Captain Phillips joins a host of recent, acclaimed, non-fiction films that leave viewers gleeful about the power of the United States’ national-security forces. Zero Dark Thirty documented the abuses, dead-ends, and bureaucratic bullshit that prolonged the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but its final third satisfyingly drove home just how smart and surgical the CIA and Seal Team 6 ended up being. Argo leapt back a few decades to show Ben Affleck’s covert agent as a personality-free avatar of competence who whisked a group of stranded Americans out of a hostile Tehran.
Read more. [Image: Columbia; Showtime]
Given current geopolitics, a movie called Homefront seems like it has to be about terrorism. But no; the Jason Statham vehicle pits him not against stereotypical evil Muslims or North Koreans (a la Olympus Has Fallen), but rather against stereotypical evil meth-selling “rednecks” (as the film calls them.) Rather than the War on Terror we get the War on Drugs, set in a backwoods Louisiana setting that nods to the rural grotesque of Deliverance,with banjo music updated to terrible pseudo-metal.
And yet, even though it doesn’t address post-9/11 anxieties in quite the way you’d expect, the film does key into them. The reason “homefront” resonates with the War on Terror is because the War on Terror, wherever it takes place in the world, is driven (again, especially post-9/11) by the determination to protect U.S. civilians. Homefront may be talking about meth rather than Osama, but on a deeper level it appreciates, and uses, the connection between home, family, and violence.
Read more. [Image: Open Road Film]
I’m not a racist. But I do have a race problem. I finally owned up to it as I was anticipating seeing 12 Years a Slave. In the weeks leading up to its opening in my state of North Carolina, I tried to think of with whom among my friends I could see this film. I have a number of racially and ethnically diverse friends and acquaintances who would love to see it, and yet, I knew I could only see this movie alone or with another dark-skinned person.
Though I was born in North America, I was raised in four other countries on three different continents. I speak English and French. I understand my Nigerian Igbo language. My family has married across ethnicities and cultures—I have in-laws of Arabic, Italian, and Indian descent. I always knew I was Nigerian-American, living between cultures and nuanced identities. But I never knew I was just black until I started spending my adult years living in America. Believe me, now I know.
This is hard to admit. I will hurt the feelings of people I love. But isn’t confession the first step to being reconciled?
Read more. [Image: Fox Searchlight]
Marty Williams is serving life-without-parole at California’s maximum security New Folsom prison. “It’s not the place that you see in the movies,” Marty says in the documentary At Night I Fly, available this week on video on demand. His experience, he says, is not defined by gang wars and rape, as most media depictions suggest. Instead, “this place is about isolation. It’s about the closure of the mind and the heart.” Prison is not excitement and violence and television drama. Instead, it’s the stifling of all those things. It’s not a story, but the refusal of stories, of meaning, and therefore of hope.
At Night I Fly is in part about trying to give inmates stories. Much of the film focuses on an arts in corrections program, where 20 or so inmates participate in writing workshops by sharing poems and stories and songs. Mostly they write about their time in prison, though they also talk about other issues. One prisoner reads a short, doggerel, but nonetheless seethingly bitter poem about his abusive mother. Another performs a lascivious, a cappella reggae-inspired ode to black women.
On Dec. 6, NBC will televise a live version of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, starring country singer Carrie Underwood. Yesterday, the world got its first peek at the production by way of a brand-new teaser trailer complete with rehearsal footage and commentary from the cast, which includes Stephen Moyer, Audra McDonald, and Laura Benanti, who insists that it’s not a remake, per se, of the Academy Award-winning 1965 film.
Rather, as Underwood puts it, it’s “a Sound of Music for a new generation.”
To some, this may seem like a fiasco and/or act of blasphemy waiting to happen. (Even I find myself inching toward that category.) But Underwood’s right that The Sound of Music has elements that can still transfix any generation of viewers. Indeed, one of the great things about The Sound of Music is the timeless appeal of its characters: The clumsy but clever nanny, the uncontrollable kids who are really just starved for parental affection, and the not-so-maternal stepmom-to-be are all figures pop culture still recycles and reveres.
There’s one Sound of Music character, however, whose archetype isn’t quite as common anymore: the strict, scary dad.
Read more. [Image: 20th Century Fox]
“You fought very hard in the games, Ms. Everdeen. But they were games.”
This is the warning offered to Katniss Everdeen by a frostily whiskered President Snow early in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the sequel to the 2012 franchise opener. But it works pretty well, too, as a critique of the first film and promise that this one will be better. Which it is: better directed, better scripted, better cast. Perhaps most important, Catching Fire does a more faithful job of capturing the grim vision of Suzanne Collins’s source novels than its rather tepid predecessor. This movie feels hungry.
To recap: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is a resident of District 12, an impoverished mining province held in thrall by a remote and tyrannical Capitol. Every year, in punishment for a past rebellion, the Capitol requires all 12 districts under its rule to supply two teenage “tributes”—one girl and one boy—to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised, to-the-death tournament with only one survivor. In the previous movie, Katniss was selected to represent District 12 along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a sweet young baker who also happened to be in love with her. Pretending to love him back, Katniss succeeded in engineering a scenario whereby both she and Peeta were allowed to survive the Games.
Which brings us to the present film. Katniss and Peeta, now celebrities as a result of their (genuine) win and (counterfeit) romance, are preparing to act as show ponies for the Capitol on a nationwide “victory tour,” when President Snow (Donald Sutherland) waltzes in with his warning. While most of the viewing public may have been taken in by Katniss’s show of love in the Games, Snow explains, he recognized it for what it was: an act of defiance. And he was not alone. There are embers of unrest flaring up across the districts, and many would like to hold Katniss up as a symbol of their rebellion. Anything she does that might encourage this association, Snow threatens, will result in dire consequences for her family and her district.
Thus are the stakes set: Be a good girl and no one gets hurt (at least, beyond the customary pains and privations inflicted by the Capitol). Be a bad girl …
Read more. [Image: Lionsgate]
Anyone obsessed with film title design will recognize the name Pablo Ferro. The artist disrupted conventions starting with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, where Ferro famously dwarfed all the leading cast and production names by making the “and”s, “with”s, and “the”s extra prominent.
His titling, crudely handwritten in both elongated and condensed letters, stood apart from the rest of the field. Ferro (b. 1935) went on to design titles for influential works including The Thomas Crown Affair; The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming; Harold and Maude; and Bound For Glory. He also reprised his Strangelove letters for Men in Black and Stop Making Sense. Using his inventive, fast-cut editing technique, the former comics artist and animator also created countless TV commercials, movie trailers, directed his own shorts and a feature length film, Me, Myself and I, with George Segal and Jo Beth Williams.
Now in Pablo, a documentary by Richard Goldgewicht available on DVD/on demand and coming to theaters soon, he gets his own time on screen.
Read more. [Image: Shoreline Entertainment]
1623, 2754, and 3622. These are how many murders took place in Juárez, Mexico, in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
18, 13, and 5. These are how many murders took place in neighboring El Paso, an American city within walking distance of Juárez, during the same years.
This is what viewers learn during the first ten minutes of Narco Cultura, a documentary by Shaul Schwarz about the effects of drug trafficking on Mexico’s northern border. And then the scene cuts to a band playing what sounds like polka music. Singers decked out in Polo shirts and aviators carry AK-47s, belting out lines like:
Sending reinforcements to decapitate
El Macho leads wearing a bullet-proof vest
Bazooka in hand with experience
Death is within
If you don’t understand the Spanish lyrics, the music sounds like it could be playing at a bar mitzvah or your grandma’s 80th birthday party.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
It’s easy to forget now, but the assassination of John F. Kennedy happened not in front of the eyes of the world but rather in front of only a few hundred onlookers in Dallas. For everyone else, it was just a media event—a profound and awful one, but a media event nonetheless.
Americans may have experienced the trauma of his death en masse through the new and exciting medium of television, but in the years since, the movies that have held a claim on it. Part of that is because the shooting made for exactly the kind of standalone event movies, not TV, exist to document. But also, the deep pain and unanswered questions that remain around Kennedy’s death demand the scope and size that only the movies, which people experience collectively in the dark, can provide.
Of course, the first filmmaker to give the Kennedy assassination the cinematic treatment was an amateur, a Dallas businessman named Abraham Zapruder, who did not know that he was making a film at all. He probably thought that the footage he shot on November 22, 1963 would disappear into his closet, only to emerge when he wanted to show his children and grandchildren how close he once stood to greatness. But despite his non-professional status, Zapruder deserves credit for his filmmaking acumen. In one unbroken shot, he captured the entire Kennedy experience: the president’s ability to connect with the public, his moment in the sun, his hidden vulnerability, and then his final, inarguable mortality.