Author: Piers Marchant

The Ballsiest, Awkwardest and Cryingest: Our Own Sundance Awards

Park City, Utah, stands about 6,900 feet over sea level. If you are used to, say, the 39 feet Philadelphia sits above the Atlantic, that’s a hell of a long way up. You feel this most walking from the outskirts of town — where the critics and press screenings are mostly ensconced — up the slight-but-treacherous-upgrade mile into the downtown area, where all the celebs, parties and nightlife take place. A couple of times I made this very trek while trying to talk on the phone and found myself unable to speak coherently for all the huffing and puffing I was doing. an apt metaphor for the distance between the Talent and the (digitally) ink-stained hoard that appraise them. Let’s not dwell on it. For this reason among a host of others, I pretty much kept it to the movies on this, my first visit to this annual American Indie showcase, and on that score, I wasn’t disappointed. Sundance 2015 may have been the usual mountainous smorgasbord of indie films, celebs, parties, very long lines, …

Four Money-Friendly Films and One Flat Broke Buster

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme. 1. Friends With Money (2006) Director: Nicole Holofcener Gist: Three longtime female friends (Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener), all of whom are married and quite wealthy, work to maintain their bonds while the fourth member of this tight-knit group (Jennifer Anniston), a cash-poor woman who used to be a teacher, quits her job and takes work as a maid. Currency: Income, earned or otherwise. The three wealthy women all get their funding from different sources: Franny (Cusack) is a stay-at-home mom sitting on a huge trust fund; Christine (Keener), is a successful TV writer; Jane (McDormand) is a fashion designer. Olivia struggles to make any kind of living whatsoever. Expenditure: Despite the trio’s wealth and success, their respective marriages are fraught with difficulties. Franny’s husband is an …

Four Pristine Films and One Covered in Filth

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme.  1. Mary Poppins (1964) Director: Robert Stevenson Essential Characters: Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), Bert (Dick Van Dyke), Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) Basic Gist: Into a mournful house of sad children living in disarray with their bored mother and cold, emotionally vacant father, comes the vibrant, sing-songy Poppins, who descends to the family on an umbrella, sings a great deal, and teaches the lot of them how to embrace life’s travails and flourish. Tidy Type: Physical and emotional. Poppins teaches the children how to clean things up and get organized — which notably makes them instantly happier — but also how to enjoy their lives, freeing their beleaguered father in the process. Cleanliness Quotient (1-10): A solid 8, though we’re talking emotional clutter rather …

Four Well-Coiffed Films and One Smooth Shaven Sci-Fi Flick

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme. 1. Amélie (2001) Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Gist: A sweetly innocent young woman (Audrey Tautou) moves to central Paris and takes on a life of selflessness and generosity in order to find love. The Hair: A ’20s-style bob, with fringe bangs. The Entanglement (Conflict): All her giving ends up taking away from Amélie’s ability to give to herself. Only when she learns to actively want things for herself does the possibility of love become reality. The Conditioner (Legacy): A timeless ‘do that still evokes the roaring, carefree spirit of the era that made it famous, it suggests a woman who enjoys a good time on the dance floor and doesn’t mind knocking a hair or two out of place in the process of throwing down …

Four Lovably Lo-Fi Celebrations and One Tech-Savvy Refutation

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme. 1. Brazil (1985) Director: Terry Gilliam Gist: In a sad Orwellian future adrift in bureaucracy, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) gets mistaken for a terrorist rebel and is ensnared in a would-be rebellion, while finally meeting and trying to protect the beautiful woman (Kim Greist) of his dreams. Offensive Technology: The whole damn system is a giant, bureaucratic disaster, with endless offices and committees and piles of paperwork that just confuses everybody and leads to glaring inefficiency and ineptitude. To make matters worse, the technology of the future is always breaking down at the worst possible moments, and seems barely functional when it does operate. Counter Argument: Not much to be said here. The future in Terry Gilliam’s brilliantly realized satire is a very familiar …

Four Very Giving Films and One Stingy Bastard

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme. 1. Adore (2013) Director: Anne Fontaine Gist: Two beautiful women who have been friends all their lives (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright), fall for each other’s sons (Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville) over the course of a single, tumultuous summer. Shared Benevolence: That would be the sons Ian (Samuel) and Tom (Frecheville). Simultaneously aghast and compelled, Lil (Watts) and Roz (Wright) cross social and moral boundaries in pursuit of their hearts’ desires, hanging the potential damage it could wreck to their friendship and the world around the boys. End Result: As you can imagine, things don’t go terribly well with this scenario. By the end, petty jealousies end up more or less blowing up everyone’s lives, and no one really gets what he/she might …

BONUS! 5 Extra Fabulous Female Directors Over 38

Since this week’s TueNight is celebrating 38 women over 38, we thought we’d take a moment to appreciate five spectacular female directors over that same age threshold. Our absolutely subjective criteria: That each of these talented women have made a minimum of two outstanding features in the course of their career, and are still actively working. Herewith, our 5 over 38.   1. Deepa Mehta Age: 64 Outstanding Features: Fire (1996), Earth (1998), Water (2005) Style: Lush, evocative, often gorgeously primal. Representative Scene: Early intriguing conversation between two burgeoning female lovers in Fire. Career Achievement: Born in India before becoming a Canadian émigré, her trio of films — known as the “Elements Trilogy” mentioned above — each having to do with major social reform in her native country, is considered a towering artistic accomplishment. Fearless and supremely talented, Mehta remains unafraid of stoking controversy: The last film in the trio, Water, was temporarily shut down by Hindu protestors, eventually forcing her to shoot it in Sri Lanka, but ended up earning her an Oscar nomination in the process. Her latest film, Midnight’s Children (2012), was a successful collaboration with the novelist …

Snubbed: 5 Glaring Academy Award Omissions

With the Oscars taking place this Sunday, we thought we’d revisit the list of nominees, now that the initial cloud of critical dust has cleared. Are we still as outraged about some of their omissions as we were when the nominees were first announced? Turns out we absolutely are, so herewith, five instances in which the Academy has inexplicably failed us yet again, from least offensive to most galling. 1. Best Actress Brie Larson in Short Term 12 Director: Destin Cretton Currently Nominated For: Zilch Why So Much: Well, the truth is, I might not have been the biggest fan of the movie as a whole, but Larson’s performance — daring, gritty and suitably disturbed — absolutely stuck with me months later. Far from a glamour role, it shows the serious chops of a young actress with a hell of a career ahead of her. What Gets Dropped: Judi Dench in Philomena. This is categorically not calling out Ms. Dench, who is excellent as always, but in a crowded field of strong performances, hers is …

Lost in Celluloid: One Critic’s Brief Cinematic Odyssey

When I was eight, my parents took me to a film in the Catskills on the behest of my cousins from New York. We were all together for a camping trip, and my cousin, Big Tony, at the time the chief of police of the Bronx, really wanted to see this particular movie. Naturally, it turned out to be wildly inappropriate for a child of my age. There were shootings, menacing doings around shipyards at night, harsh language, and one scene that put me over the edge involving our hero, bound to a chair, and an evil woman injecting him with drugs. I stuck it out (even then, a film critic’s instinct to stay to the bitter conclusion of a screening), but was miserable and freaked-out and went to bed that night crying and deeply unsettled. For years, I tried to solve the mystery of just what that film had been. I only distinctly remembered two elements: Some scene involving a shipyard and our hero skulking out of the bay of a massive boat under …

Movie Night: Four Films in Need of Aid and One Beyond Assistance

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme. 1. What Just Happened (2008) Director: Barry Levinson Essential Characters: Ben (Robert De Niro), an aging Hollywood producer whose career is on the wane; Kelly (Robin Wright), his estranged wife who may be having an affair with a screenwriter; Sean Penn (Sean Penn), an actor whose latest film leaves his character with multiple shot wounds on the bottom of a giant pile of coal. Gist: A maniacal Hollywood producer in desperate need of a hit tries to juggle the chaos involving his estranged wife and her new lover while attempting to get his most recent production off to Cannes on time with the proper edits. Help Needed: Ben needs many things quite desperately, but most of all he needs for his director Michael Wincott …

Movie Night: Four Studmuffin Films and One Stale Cronut

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme. NOTE: As a middle-aged hetero male, I felt at somewhat of a disadvantage with this week’s theme, so I quickly assembled a makeshift panel of intelligent, witty Gen-X women I knew (from Tuenight and elsewhere) and conducted a brief poll of what films they found terribly sexy, which greatly informed my process. As you can imagine, there were some deeply felt biases and startling omissions that gave us all pause. (Where’s Idris Elba?! No Daniel Day-Lewis?! And what, oh what, of Michael Fassbender?!) But in the end, there was at least enough consensus to compile this week’s film list. Herewith, four break-out sexy actors and their female counterparts, and one decidedly not. 1. Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise (1991) Director: Ridley Scott Essential …

Movie Night: Four Well-Aged Films and One Young Whippersnapper

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme.  1. Amour (2012) Director: Michael Haneke Essential Characters: Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) Gist: An elderly husband lovingly cares for his wife after a stroke leaves her increasingly deranged and enfeebled, and leaves him largely alone. Generational Conflict: The couple have a daughter, but — in a terribly French manner — largely ignore her in order to better concentrate upon themselves. As a result, Georges refuses to lean on her for support when his wife turns ill. Important Life Lesson: True love can extend throughout any circumstance, no matter how grievous. Also, enjoy your time with your partner as much as you can while you have it, as you never know when it might be stripped away from you.   2. Harold and Maude (1971) Director: Hal …

Four Films with Sage Wisdom; One, Well, Not So Sage

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme.  1. Moonstruck (1987) Director: Norman Jewison Essential Characters: Loretta Castorini (Cher), Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), Cosmo Castorini (Vincent Gardenia), Rose (Olympia Dukakis) Circumstance: Married more than 40 years, Rose knows her husband, Cosmo, is having an ongoing affair and is troubled by the implication. On some level, she can’t understand it, but feels pretty sure that it’s a way men stave off their creeping mortality. Advice Dispensed: Rose: “I just want you to know. No matter what you do. You are going to die, just like everyone else.” Result: Eventually, in front of the rest of the family at breakfast, Rose tells Cosmo he must stop seeing the other woman. He rises up menacingly, slams his hand down on the table, then sits back down …

Movie Night: Four Even-Keeled Films and One Very Off-Kilter

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here, is our fifth pick will actually serve to prove as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme. 1. After Hours (1985) Director: Martin Scorsese Essential Characters: Paul (Griffin Dunne), Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), and a cast of thousands Gist: Poor nebbish Paul, a midtown working schlub, thinks he’s suddenly hit the jackpot when he meets the radiantly beautiful Marcy, an artist who lives downtown in SoHo. On uncharacteristically spontaneous impulse, he agrees to meet her in artsy, peculiar SoHo for a date he believes will change his outlook. Instead, he gets deeper and deeper embroiled in an ever-more ridiculous series of events and subsequent misunderstandings that leave more and more people chasing after him. Balancing Act (1-10): Perfect 10. *SPOILER ALERT* By the end of the night, with various different factions trying to hunt him down, Paul ends up, er, dropped …

Movie Night: 4 Deeply Emotional Films & 1 Callous Comedy

In which we explore the filmic concerns of a given theme, and find new and novel ways of putting together yet another Internet-based list of movies. The wrinkle here is our fifth pick will actually serve as the counter argument, the best representation of the direct opposite of our theme.    1. The Elephant Man (1980) Director: David Lynch Essential Characters: John Merrick (John Hurt), Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) Plotline: Well, you have this poor, miserable man with an awful, face-and-body disfiguring disease who is literally a circus sideshow until he’s rescued by a kindly doctor and found to be a sweet and deeply caring individual. Only he still can’t escape the essential cruelty and intolerance of his fellow humans, even as he’s given a second chance. Particular Sensitivities: Emotional. Based on a real-life story, David Lynch’s first studio film treads upon extremely powerful themes. As absolutely nightmarish as John Merrick’s life has been, he remains such a wonderful human being, it’s almost unbearable to watch. Like a wildly abused dog who still sweetly wags his tail when …

The Best (& Worst) Films of 2013

It was a cinematic year that saw a singular devotion to the idea of survival — be it from a disabled yacht, cataclysmic space debris storm, or the alienation from your entire community of friends — which, I suppose can be analyzed any which way, but to this critic suggests the idea that no matter how grievous our world seems to be getting, how close we may be getting to the environmental and political precipice, our world is still worth fighting for, even if our chances of coming out the other side seem slim. To say nothing of all the sturm-und-drang concerning the fate of the Hollywood big-studio system itself, which suffered attacks from within, both from heralded indie-auteurs (Steven Soderbergh) and, perhaps, Tinsel-land’s most celebrated living director (Steven Spielberg) en route to a big box office year once again. Things might very well be broken, but there still seemed to be a fabulous glut of truly exceptional filmmaking going on all over the world (you go, Denmark!), which is to say, things might indeed …

Man Up! Finding Presents He’ll Definitely Dig

For the lucky few (and most of the young), the holidays are largely about the bountiful joy and spirit of the giving season. For the rest of us, they are a quagmire of impossible expectations, difficult family complexities, and the insidiously mind-breaking challenge of what to get loved ones. The best gifts, in my experience, come not from rote requests or jam-packed Amazon want-lists, but when you truly surprise someone with something they hadn’t yet realized how much they desperately needed. To that end, here’s a shortlist of possibilities for the males in your life, be they loving husband, SO, best friend, or father.   1. Wüsthof Breakfast Knife Trust me, dudes like knives. And this one, with super-sharp, deeply serrated edges cuts bread, meat, vegetables, and fruit rinds with equal conviction. One knife to create a perfect Sunday morning breakfast bagel, with a side of melon? Count me in. $60,  Amazon.com   2. Smith Dolen Sunglasses Where I come from — um, upstate New York — sunglasses make a statement about who you are …