Saturday, August 29, 2015

In Character: Bruno Kirby

Leonard Maltin once described the late, great Bruno Kirby as “the quintessential New Yorker.” A fitting title, given that many of Kirby’s most iconic roles were men who effortlessly inhabited that city. Much of Kirby’s career saw him juggling a balance in his characters. Men who were scary and funny, threatening and charming, all at the same time. Kirby didn’t play one-note. He gave his characters depth and notoriety. Yet, for some reason, Kirby’s acclaim still isn’t what it deserves to be. This man should be remembered with the greats, period.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Top 10 Matthew Libatique Films

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique knows how to make a movie move. The films he shoots are energetic, vibrant, alive – they move. Whether opting for a modern and handheld approach, or traditional and elegant compositions, Libatique’s films have a vigor that is undeniable. Perhaps best known for his frequent collaborations with Darren Aronofsky (all of which are listed below), Libatique is a stylish cinematographer with a great command of his craft. Certainly one of the finest American DPs in the game.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

In Defense of the Real Time Movie

Unfriended, a new movie in real time
Last night I watched two movies that, unbeknownst to me going in, were films that took place in real time. The first film was Cop Car, a thriller about two young boys who find an abandoned cop car in the middle of the woods, and do what most young boys would do in such a situation. The second movie was Unfriended, a digital thriller about a group of millennials who are harassed online, possibly by the ghost of a girl they bullied to death a year ago.

Friday, August 14, 2015

In Character: Jennifer Jason Leigh

From the onset of her film career, Jennifer Jason Leigh has played roles most actresses (of any age) would be terrified to play. Her characters are raw, addicted, abused, as naked emotionally as they are physically. Many of these roles are familiar character parts – The Town Slut, The High School Virgin – but Leigh has made these women unforgettable. In addition to the dangerous characters she inhabits, credit must be given to the arc of Leigh’s career. Very rarely do you see a non-independent film pop up in her filmography, let alone a major blockbuster. She’s carved her own path, done it her own way, and turned herself into one of the finest talents of hers or any generation.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Top 15 Songs that Should Be Retired From Movies

Some songs are used so well in certain movies, that filmmakers should write those tracks off, as they will never be able to use it better. With this list, I’m not highlighting tracks that are obnoxiously overplayed in films and TV shows, but rather, songs that were used to perfection in one movie, and should thereby be banned from every other film. I also chose songs that, despite being used flawlessly once, they are still used often today.

Example: after “Tiny Dancer” appeared in Almost Famous, it’s almost as if the song was retired from movies. It’s popped up on a few TV shows, but I can’t recall hearing it in a movie since 2000 (yeah, except you, Ted 2). Same with “Then He Kissed Me.” Adventures in Babysitting and Goodfellas had their way with it, and for the most part, the track has been left alone.

I hope you enjoy the list, and do feel free to share the tracks you think should be retired from films.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

In Character: Cara Seymour

Whoever Cara Seymour is playing – a scantly clad New York woman of the night, a turn of the century nun, a lowly London housewife – she’s playing it damn well. Seymour falls into her roles, adopting a look, a voice, a persona, that is different from any she’s played before. I’ve loved discovering her work over the past several years, with the roles below being among my favorites.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


I felt like an asshole watching Amy. The new documentary about doomed singer Amy Winehouse left me feeling disheartened, and sad, and cold. “It left me feeling cold.” That’s a line I see a lot in film criticism today. People often say it as if it’s a bad thing – “It left me feeling cold.” The problem with that line is that further explanation is rarely granted by the people who use it. After all, what’s wrong with feeling cold? Many of my favorite films leave me feeling cold. There’s nothing inherently “warm” to gain from Cries and Whispers. Or Shame. Or Deliverance. A documentary about someone as troubled as Amy Winehouse is not going to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Cold is to be expected here. But my time with Amy goes beyond cold. Watching the film, I felt like a participant in Winehouse’s death. I felt like I was watching someone die in slow motion, and that I was helping it happen.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In Character: Rebecca Pidgeon

David Mamet’s films are a drug. I watch one and the synapses in my brain start firing, demanding only one thing: more, more, more. Genuinely, I can’t remember ever watching just one Mamet film and letting that be that. I watch one, and a week later, I’ve rewatched them all.

Upon binging Mamet’s films for the past week, I took particular notice of one of Mamet’s staple actors, the great Rebecca Pidgeon. Pidgeon and Mamet have been married since 1991 and their fruitful collaboration has produced some truly excellent work. So, for the first time in In Character (125 posts and counting!), every role I’ll be discussing was directed and/or created by the same filmmaker, which is really a testament to the work Pidgeon and Mamet have made together.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

the Directors: Kathryn Bigelow

Roger Ebert said it best, Kathryn Bigelow is a master of stories about men and women who choose to be in physical danger. Choose is the operative word. The characters in Bigelow’s films always seek out trouble. Sometimes it’s their job to do so; cops, soldiers and secret agents are paid to place themselves in dangerous situations. Other times, Bigelow’s characters start trouble just for the hell of it. The through line of these characters is that they all become obsessed with danger. The thrill of the chase, the determination of discovery.

Of course, Kathryn Bigelow is the only female who has won a Best Director Oscar, but that’s not what makes her work so iconic. In her three decades plus career, she’s made films in all different genres. Her movies are all different, but, in some ways, all the same. That’s what makes a great director, a great director.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Top 39 Things I Love About Magic Mike (that no one talks about)

So the thing is, I love Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. The movie is a lot smarter than it has ever been given credit for, and in the wake of the release of its worthy follow-up, Magic Mike XXL (my review here), I thought it be fun to take a look back at the wildly misunderstood source film. For the most part, I’m going to focus on the technical aspects of the film – cinematography, editing, sound design – which are sadly rarely discussed.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Magic Mike XXL

The original Magic Mike was a phenomenon. Made independently with $7 million dollars of director Steven Soderbergh and star Channing Tatum’s money, the film grossed more than $160 million worldwide, but not without angering a great many people. From the beginning, Magic Mike was pitched as an all-male romp, based on Tatum’s experience as a teenage stripper in Florida. The film was marketed ingeniously, relying on the abs and asses of guys with names like Tatum, McConaughey, Pettyfer, and Bomer. The marketing objective was simple: get women in the seats opening weekend. And it worked, like wildfire. Theaters sold out, millions were made, and many were pissed.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In Character: Ann Dowd

Ann Dowd is having a moment. In the past two years alone she’s been featured in critically revered indies as well as some of the most popular shows on television. But diving into her filmography, it’s clear that Dowd has been killing it for quite some time (yeah, that’s her as Ton Hanks’ supportive sis in Philadelphia), she only just broke through recently. Here I take a look back at her career, from humble and humorous beginnings, to current career-best work.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Favorite Scene: Begin Again

Warning: Critical plot details are revealed in this post.

My first experience with Begin Again was under some of the worst viewing circumstances possible. It was on my birthday last year. I was flying back to L.A. after 30 consecutive hours of delayed planes, mile-long lines for flight exchanges, layovers that never ended, and airport workers “trying their best.” I was tired and pissed off and figured that Begin Again looked as good a film as any to help pass the time. I thought the film would be easy, silly, dumb – not worth the $15 to catch it theaters, but fine for free on a plane.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Top 10 Directors Who Edit Their Own Films

Editing is where the magic happens. It’s where you shape, explore, experiment – it’s literally where you find and make your film. But it’s also a damn tedious process. Because there are so many choices in editing, filmmakers often hire professional editors to help them craft their films. On rare occasions, directors will assume sole responsibility as the chief editor, thereby fully seeing their film to the bitter end. Below are 10 directors who took on the laborious task of editing their own films themselves. Ranking them seemed fruitless, so they’re presented here alphabetically.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Top 10 Vilmos Zsigmond Films

Vilmos Zsigmond has been one of film’s most influential cinematographers for decades. In more than 60 years as a working director of photography, he’s amassed 100 credits and been a go-to cinematographer for Brian De Palma, Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, Michael Cimino and many more. By pure coincidence, I wrote the majority of this post yesterday, which was Zsigmond’s 85th birthday. Here’s wishing him well by exploring some of his best work.