All posts by Lance Rutkin

What a Film Festival is Like

At night in downtown Austin, the Paramount theater blade lights the storefronts between 7th and 8th on Congress Avenue, the street that leads north to the red granite state capitol and south to the Colorado River. The blade, erected in 1930, when the theater was still owned and operated by Paramount studios and ran only that studio’s films, simply spells the name of the theater in incandescent bulbs, and dims each letter in vertical succession in an endless loop—an animation that, when compared to the intricate animations one can see on an LED display today, might be characterized as authentic or quaint, depending on your outlook. The building, painted dark red with white wood shutters on the second story, looks like it might stand in an old-west movie, or reenactment town, not in the heart of one of America’s booming tech hubs. The one-screen theater claims to screen up to 100 films a year, the screenings are never more pivotal than the one week out of the year when Paramount and Stateside, it’s next-door sister theater, become the center of the indie film universe for SXSW Conference (formerly just SXSW, without the ‘conference,’ still known locally as just “South by”).

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Son of Saul, Silent Hope

I can’t relay the intensity of Son of Saul accurately; you can only know by watching it, but, for the sake of the review, suffice it to say you witness hell. The film, by Hungarian director László Nemes, and winner of this year’s Oscar for a Foreign Language Film, follows Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a sonderkommando at Auschwitz. The sonderkommandos, a group of concentration camp workers, directed other prisoners into the gas chambers, removed the dead bodies, rummaged the remains, and burnt them. While piling the prisoners’ bodies, the kommandos find a boy who survived the gas chamber. The Nazis take the boy and smother him. Saul watches. Saul decides then that he must bury the boy with full Hebrew rites. Saul moves like a specter through Auschwitz to find a rabbi for a proper burial, caring not for survival, only for the honor of this dead boy. Continue reading Son of Saul, Silent Hope

Hail, Coen!

Hail, Joel Coen! Hail, Ethan Coen! Hail, the Coen brothers! Hail the Coen brothers not because their newest film, Hail, Caesar!, is a masterful work of art that captures the most illusive depths of the human experience. Hail the Coen brothers because they, unlike so many other directors, especially those who receive wide critical and cult acclaim, have the rare ability to change. Hail, Caesar! is not the brothers’ best work, though it is playful, funny, and wonderfully simple; what it offers is something far different from the cynicism of Inside Llewyn Davis or even the comical intensity of The Big Lebowski. This is what makes the Coen brothers great: their generosity. They constantly give us something fresh and new.

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Generally, I title my reviews with what I think of as clever word play on the movie’s title: “The Distasteful Eight” or “Nothing Grows From The Martian Surface.” But in the case of Charlie Kaufman’s newest film, the delightful, stop-motion, animated Anomalisa, I can think of nothing more clever than the film’s own title, nor more succinct or revelatory. But I’ll try not to give much more away here; the reason will become apparent quickly.

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The Distasteful Eight

At what point does violence in a movie become violence for its own sake? When does it become an ill-advised occasion to show off special effects, rather than a lens into the darkness of the characters’ souls and, by extension, humanity’s? I don’t think there are any definitive answers for these admittedly abstract questions; I think too much violence is something we recognize when we see it. I saw it in the first hour of The Hateful Eight, and that was the relatively tame part.

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A show whose politics are as progressive as Transparent always confronts the potential for indulgence. The showrunners’ own progressiveness can blind them. They can fall into a self-congratulatory hole, where once they dare to be politically savvy, they don’t bother to dare anymore. But Transparent, whose subject matter really is as progressive as they come, never stops daring. Rather than offering flat characters solely defined by their marginalization, we are given real people who struggle with their identity and who, like all of us, often feel unfulfilled, question themselves, and fear the future.

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In the Spotlight

Lance and Maggie are here to discuss Spotlight, a historic-thriller about investigative journalism and the evils of an institution. Named after a team of investigative reporters on The Boston Globe dedicated to the most intense and complex stories, Spotlight shares the riveting account of the team’s early 2000s investigation into Boston’s Roman Catholic Church. What starts as a piece on a single Catholic priest molesting children becomes a revelatory look into the repeated abuse of children by multiple priests in the Boston archdiocese, a tragedy made possible by the Church’s systemic cover-up.

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The Spectacular Spectre

It’s Kevin and Lance here, weighing in on Daniel Craig’s fourth, and likely final, stint as 007 in Spectre, Sam Mendes’ recent addition to the Bond franchise. The film centers on Bond’s search for the conspirator behind the murder of the former M (Judi Dench). Bond’s vendetta takes him from London to Rome, Austria, Tangiers, the middle of the Sahara, and into the arms of the lovely Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). During Bond’s search, C (Andrew Scott), the newly elected and data-crazed director-general of a branch of national security, eliminates the 00 program. Without much help from Q, Moneypenny, or the new M (Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, and Ralph Fiennes), Bond has to take down the mastermind behind the villainous SPECTRE organization (Christoph Waltz) with good aim, debonair looks, and classic Bond ingenuity.

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Tarantino is Coming

Tarantino is back, and so is my overzealous fanboyism for the now-infallible auteur. Tarantino’s past few movies haven’t lived up to Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, but who cares? They’re still much better–aesthetically (gotta love 70mm), conceptually, etc.–than 99% of the movies that get put out in any given year. The Hateful Eight’s bottleneck concept is definitely a call back to Tarantino’s first feature, Reservoir Dogs, but I’m pretty sure, just by it’s silliness, The Hateful Eight will not be a return to true greatness. Just a continuation of good, solid filmmaking. It looks like Tarantino just wanted to have fun making a good-looking movie, in which Samuel L. Jackson gets to grow out his beard, dress up as a cowboy, and shoot white people with big fake guns. And that’s more than all right with me.

The Hateful Eight will be out in select cities on Christmas; everywhere January 8.

South Park and Satire’s State of Affairs

Trey Stone and Matt Parker are now, without argument, American television’s foremost satirists. With Colbert gone the way of national late night and Stewart the way of retirement, we’re left with a crude cartoon about 4th graders to poke fun at an entire nation’s hypocrisy. Aptly, this season, the show’s 19th, is preoccupied with the function and relevance of its own genre: satire. With the national climate becoming growingly politically correct, the show asks: where does satire–thriving on the impolite or the outright offensive–fit in? And South Park, an equal-opportunity offender, answers with its unique brand of irreverent, sharp comedy.

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