Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, a thoughtful examination of one of our most reliable actors; a word of warning about politics and media; and two tributes, one in words and one in pictures, to two music icons.
Joyce Millman on the legend and legacy of Aretha Franklin.
The Queen of Soul died Thursday morning at age 76, leaving behind a deep library of powerful soul, gospel, and blues. Music critic and essayist Millman tussles with who she was and what she meant, via some of her best music and moods.
Aretha’s music is godly, lusty, turbulent, ecstatic, glistening. She spans musical styles and decades, while always remaining Aretha. She is the Queen of Soul, the reverend’s daughter, the woman who shows other women how to demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T, whose voice gave voice to torrential grief at Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral and soaring joy at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration… Aretha is the soul of black America, she is the soul of America, period. She is soul music, and the music of the soul. Aretha, simply, is. And will always be.
Photographer Kevin Mazur on shooting, and geeking out on, Madonna.
As one legend passes, another pushes forward. Yesterday also marked the 60th birthday of the one and only Madonna, and over at Getty Images’ FOTO blog, Mr. Mazur tells the story of how he went...
Adriano Rodrigues’s life could have ended on March 14, 2014. “I was hit by a drunk driver going over 100 mph in 40 mph residential zone,” the artist and photographer writes on Bored Panda. “I was diagnosed with TBI and PTSD… It’s been almost five years since the accident and I still have issues trying to articulate myself. I discovered neon UV photography in my last semester in college and I developed a unique way to express myself.” In other words, that near-death experience was a birth for his art, which is showcased in his remarkable new photo series “Blü.” Its creation was simple: Rodrigues filled his bathtub, and used his neon UV lights to create startling images using simply the water, his model, and her make-up.
Every great crime movie has the moment when they know the jig is up. The walls are closing in, the cops are on their trail, that knock hits the door and they know – it’s all over. It was fun while it lasted. They almost got away with it.
It’s tempting to think of the past month or so as that moment for users of MoviePass, the subscription service that offered moviegoers the opportunity to see one film per day at the getting-away-with-murder price of $10 per month. But we must be more accurate for this scenario; the last month has turned MoviePassers into Ray Liotta in the “May 11, 1980” sequence of Goodfellas, sweating through an extended, paranoid fever dream. Is it over? How long do I have? Am I imagining things? Yes, wear your lucky hat to the theater, I don’t know if it’ll let us check in! Are those helicopters following us?
The trouble started on the evening of July 26, when MoviePass users around the country lit up social media with reports that the service was down. The company issued a maddeningly vague explanation, but the truth came out quickly enough – they had straight-up run out of money, and had to take out an emergency loan to keep the lights on. CEO Mitch Lowe issued a statement the following day that framed the outage as a technical issue – “We have handled the issues on the back-end“...
It’s another catch-up week here at the disc and streaming column, so we’ve got a lot to recommend this week, from a giant mega-blockbuster to a tiny indie drama, from a musical bio-documentary to a knockout border Western, plus new-to-Blu catalogue titles and a pair of killer Elmore Leonard movies on your streaming subscription services. Settle in:
Out of Sight: Just in time for its 20thanniversary, Steven Soderbergh’s flawless adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s marvelous crime novel makes its way back to Netflix. Soderbergh hadn’t been up to much when the picture came his way in the mid-‘90s; he’d yet to find a project that even approached the impact of his debut film, sex, lies, and videotape, and had wandered into a wilderness of mostly unseen indies. But Out of Sight gave him a shot at a comeback, and he nailed it: armed with a witty script by Scott Frank (who also adapted Get Shorty) and a crackerjack cast, Soderbergh came up with a slick, fresh, sexy, breezy entertainment that mated his experimental style with Leonard’s spiky characters and intoxicating, unpredictable narrative.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Get Shorty: And, conveniently enough, Prime just returned this broad, fast, and uproariously funny 1995 Leonard adaptation from director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) to their streaming catalogue. Frank’s script is aces and John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito are top-notch in the leading roles, but as with any Leonard work, the juice is with the supporting characters — in this...
In his riveting memoir A Prayer Before Dawn: My Nightmare in Thailand’s Prisons, British bareknuckle boxer Billy Moore tells the true story of how his addiction to drugs landed him in the infamous Klong Prem prison (aka the “Bangkok Hilton”), where he found himself fighting for his life — literally, as a competitor in the Muay Thai prison boxing circuit. Moore’s book was first published in 2014; now it’s been adapted into an electrifying feature film, directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire and starring Joe Cole, so Skyhorse Publishing is reissuing the book in a new tie-in paperback. It’s out now; you can buy it here, and check out our exclusive excerpt below.
THE BOXING TEAM
The prison boxing team trained hard, very hard. Every time I tried to enter the gym I was told to go away. “You no welcome,” said a tired, old-looking Thai trainer who called himself the Black Superman. Whenever I approached he would rush over to lock the gate and block my entrance. I just stood outside and stared through the fence, watching the guys sparring.
I pleaded with them to allow me to train. I couldn’t understand why they were so reluctant to let me box, or even work out. It had to be because I was a foreigner.
“Hey, let me in,” I shouted, but the blank faces that stared back told me the answer was going to be no. “Hey, ajarn,” I shouted. The ajarn, or teacher, was the guy...
There’s so, so, so much good TV right now, it’s impossible to watch all of it – so imagine trying to make the time to turn great TV into great art. Luckily, our friends at the pop culture-savvy Gallery1988 in Los Angeles have a whole team of artists on the job, and this year’s edition of their big “Idiot Box” show is chock full of inventive images inspired by the likes of GLOW, Stranger Things, Twin Peaks, High Maintenance, Silicon Valley, and many, many, many more. It closes Saturday, so we’ve selected a few of our very favorite pieces from this standout exhibition.
Hey there, are you tired of summer yet? Ready to be done with the endless parade of sequels and explosions and sequels to movies about explosions? Well, good news: this month’s indie slate is packed, with exactly the kind of personal dramas, character comedies, and informative documentaries your summer brain is starving for. Here are the stand-outs; mark up your calendars accordingly.
RELEASE DATE:August 1
DIRECTOR: Susanna Nicchiarelli
CAST: Trine Dyrholm. John Gordon Sinclair, Anamaria Marinca
“Look, my life started after the experience with the Velvet Underground,” she insists. “I’d rather we talked about the present.” It’s a refrain, in interview after interview, for Nico (Dyrholm), and to writer/director Susanna Nicchiarelli’s credit, she does what Nico asks – focusing on the last two years of the experimental songstress’s life, a portrait of an icon’s twilight. In doing so, she captures the grind of a faded musician’s grind of road life: cars, interviews, and gigs, running of the fumes of one’s former fame. Dyrholm is extraordinary in the leading role, utterly credible; she carries off both the enigma and the history, much of which is carried in her eyes. Those eyes have seen things. (She also does the singing herself, and quite convincingly.) Nicchiarelli is less successful at filling in the secondary characters in Nico’s band, and we’re never that interested in them anyway; our focus is on Nico, and 1988 is as wary and lived-in as its subject....
This week’s best new disc release is the much-awaited reunion of the star, director, and writer of Young Adult– an equally complicated movie, just as underappreciated upon its theatrical release. (Catch up with it, you won’t regret it.) Netflix, meanwhile, is streaming the harrowing new documentary from the directors of The Hunting Ground, along with a pair of worthwhile recent releases; Amazon and Hulu have last year’s sadly ignored reteaming of the director and star of Short Term 12; and FilmStruck is offering up one of the more inspired double-features in recent memory.
The Bleeding Edge: The latest from the Hunting Ground and Invisible War team of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering leans a bit too hard on the tropes of the activist documentary, and some of the filmmaking is a little dodgy. But the story they’re telling and the information they’re imparting is vital enough to render those concerns secondary. Their focus this time is the medical device industry, and the alarming lack of regulation over it; there was no FDA control of devices until 1976, we’re told, and the loophole of “pre-market approval” – in which new devices can be grandfathered in if they’re similar enough to previous ones, no matter how safe those devices proved to be – is an exception that’s become the rule 98% of the time. The Bleeding Edge alternates that history with the stories of those who are suffering under the side effects of a handful of poorly tested devices, and their descriptions of their conditions are...
The phrase “Kama Sutra” is something of an easy punchline these days (particularly in our inexplicably puritanical culture) – and one often deployed by people who’ve never even bothered to read and/or peruse the work in question. Luckily, our friends at the Folio Society are filling that gap, with a gorgeous new limited edition of the Hindu guide for living, complete with gorgeous (and, let’s be real here, hot) new illustrations by Victo Ngai. They’re only publishing 750 hand-numbered, signed-by-the-artist copies, and they cost a buck or two. But if you need some encouragement, take a look at our exclusive gallery.
Like, it seems, most people on Twitter who watch movies, your film editor undertook the admittedly enjoyable task of revisiting the entire Mission: Impossible film franchise in preparation for the release of its sixth entry, Mission: Impossible – Fallout. It’s something of a whiplash-inducing experience, as so much of the series to date has flown in the face of continuity; each film was the work of a different director and usually a different writer (or writers), and each film introduced a new villain, new female lead, and new skeptical boss for the series’ hero, Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise. In fact, Cruise and co-star Ving Rhames are the only constants in every picture (and even Rhames only makes a cameo in the fourth entry).
But around the time of 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the films began to settle on something of a house style, via the contributions of third entry director (and producer of each subsequent film) J.J. Abrams, and marking the third appearance of co-star Simon Pegg, and the second of Jeremy Renner. Renner’s absence from Fallout is a bit of a disappointment, as it’s otherwise the most direct sequel in the series to date – marking the return of not just the previous picture’s writer/director (Christopher McQuarrie), but its villain (Sean Harris), its bossman (Alec Baldwin) and, best of all, its kinda-sorta romantic interest (Rebecca Ferguson).
As usual, the plot is somehow both simple and maddeningly complicated. The Apostles, a splinter cell of The Syndicate...
This week’s new disc offerings are mighty bleak – the biggest title of the bunch is Ready Player One, easily Steven Spielberg’s worst movie (it’s not even close), a loud, noisy, self-congratulatory mash-up of video game, Transformers movie, and wax museum. The only disc worth recommending is a new Criterion edition of a Powell and Pressburger classic, so the rest of your recommendations this week are catalogue titles recently(ish) added (or re-added) to your streaming subscriptions services. Enjoy!
Gone Baby Gone: Quick, what do Ben Affleck and George Clooney have in common? Yes, they’re both traditionally handsome leading men who crossed over from acting to directing – but more importantly, neither multi-hyphenate has yet to direct a film with the ingenuity and energy of their first. Here, Affleck adapts Dennis Lehane’s crime drama with intelligence and precision, soaking in the Boston atmosphere (yes, that much is expected, but still) and showcasing stunning performances from his first-rate cast, including brother Casey, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Michael K. Williams, and Oscar nominee Amy Ryan.
An Education: Director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Nick Hornby adapt Lynn Barber’s memoir of her teen years in Twickenham, London in the early 1960s, and her romance with a man nearly twice her age (played here by an eerily convincing Peter Sarsgaard). It’s a film that understands the many complex transactions of such a relationship — and how our protagonist (Carey Mulligan, breathtakingly good) comes out of it stronger and, for...
After a brief sabbatical last week, we’re back with an extra, over-stuffed edition of your weekly viewing recommendations, and it’s a doozy: your film editor’s favorite movie of 2018 thus far, two spring theatrical hits, two must-see indies, two A+ documentaries, three new additions to the Criterion Collection, and a wild ‘70s Western making its Blu-ray debut.
ON HBO GO
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind: The title of Marina Zenovich’s bio-doc isn’t just a vague promise (or a clever callback to an early stand-up bit), but the picture’s M.O.; it opens with a discussion on Inside the Actor’s Studio about how, precisely, Mr. Williams’ quick mind works, and spends its running time less interested in the blow-by-blows of his career than in understanding the insecurities that drove him, and what remedies they required. There’s plenty of good stuff for fans – Zenovich frequently bypasses familiar material in favor of rare clips, outtakes, home movies, and other treats – and the strand concerning his friendship with Billy Crystal is genuinely touching. Sure, the style is rote, but Come Inside My Mind does the most you can ask of a film like this: it approaches a beloved public figure, and leaves you feeling like you know them better afterwards.
ON BLU-RAY / PRIME VIDEO
Bull Durham: A new addition to the Criterion Collection, in which sports comedy specialist Ron Shelton (White Men Can’t Jump, Tin Cup), a former minor-league baseball player himself, nails the feel, sound, and even the smell of a farm team...
Last summer, our friends at the pop culture-dedicated Gallery1988 mounted a charming exhibit celebrating the toys of Mattel. It went over well, so like any big summer blockbuster, now there’s a sequel. “Mattel 2018” includes pieces inspired by such classic toys as Masters of the Universe, M.U.S.C.L.E. Men, Magic 8-Ball, Polly Pocket and Barbie. It runs through July 14th, and if you’re in L.A., you should definitely check it out – but we picked out some of our favorites for those who can’t make it.
A new month has dawned, so there are new movies to be seen on your subscription streaming services; we’ve plucked out a lesser-known gem from each. On demand and disc, we’ve got a big spring comedy and quietly effective political thriller. And finally, Criterion has unleashed (just in time for Barnes and Noble’s big 50% off sale) the must-have movie buff box set.
The Voices: In which charming ol’ Ryan Reynolds is a likable guy who’s trying to romance a nice girl at work… oh, and his dog and cat are prodding him to add to the considerable stash of body parts in his apartment. This is a serial killer movie unlike any other, in which gleefully anything-goes director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) bounces a Day-Glo production design and a cheery tone against the darkest undercurrents of her story — not for the sake of cheap irony, but to underscore how we see violence on screen, and in our lives. The Voices is an exhilarating movie – primarily in its stubborn refusal to play it safe.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Our Nixon: After the Nixon administration toppled, the FBI confiscated over 500 reels of home movies shot by “the President’s Men” — specifically, John Erlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin. For over 40 years, they sat in a vault; in this 2013 essay film, documentarian Penny Lane (Nuts!) combines that remarkable footage, along with extended interviews, news footage, and audio from the notorious Oval Office tapes to create a compelling, witty, and acidly funny...
There’s no reason to beat around the bush here – this summer’s big movies have been a pretty sorry lot, with the likes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and Ocean’s 8 ranging from disappointing to repugnant. And it’s not like you can always depend on an indie movie to make up the difference (keep in mind that, by definition, Gotti is an independent film), but your odds are certainly better. Here are a half-dozen we’ve pre-screened and approved for your consumption:
Sorry to Bother You
RELEASE DATE: July 6
DIRECTOR: Boots Riley
CAST: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews
The Coup frontman Riley’s social satire is something like a hipper Idiocracy, but without the necessity of the futuristic setting – it’s set right here in our dumb, dumb present. Or something like it; he constructs a corporate world, full of slogans, rules, and legends, and then has a great time blowing it all up. Which is not to imply mere anarchy, as this is a filmmaker with (refreshingly) a lot on his mind, from the use and misuse of race in the workplace to the power of unions to Trump-era normalization of hopelessness. Like Idiocracy, it runs out of steam in the back third, when it eventually has to give in to the requirements of conventional narrative. But even then, Riley is serving up provocative imagery and whip-smart dialogue, creating one of the most...
If you’re one of your younger readers, you may not know about the “Pee-Chee All Season Portfolio,” but if you went to grade school in the heartland any time in the 20th century, there’s a pretty good chance you had (or wanted) some. The yellow folders, illustrated by Francis Golden, were a school supply standard, a simple design that featured students engaging in sports and other extracurricular activities, with helpful reference charts on the inside (and, of course, pockets to hold your loose school papers).
Alex Campos, a regular contributor to our favorite pop-culture art spot Gallery1988, was inspired by the iconic design, and created a new series based on a bunch of classic video games – and some Jim Carrey movies. “Everything’s Just Pee-Chee” ends its run tomorrow, but don’t panic if you haven’t made it over; we’ve selected a few of our favorites from the collection.
Last year’s highest-grossing movie hits Netflix this week, but you’d think they’d hide it away in shame BECAUSE ONLY SJWS LIKE IT. Also, a “minor” Scorsese that’s better than most filmmakers’ “major” work hits Prime. And on disc, we’ve got a new low-budget sci-fi/horror wonder and Criterion releases from the two pillars of cinema: Ingmar Bergman and John Waters.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Rian Johnson’s eighth entry in the Star Warssaga has somehow become its most controversial, and of course it has; it’s easily the best movie in the series since Empire Strikes Back, and perhaps the best entry period. But it’s also doing something that proved upsetting to super-fans: rocking the boat of their precious canon, turning preconceived notions inside out, and daring to not always take this swashbuckling silliness all that seriously. That Johnson does it with more visual flair and personality than most tentpole filmmakers even attempt is apparently incidental, but it shouldn’t be; this is a film of breathtaking images, captivating characters, and masterfully executed action. It’s great pop filmmaking, full stop.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Shutter Island: Adapting Dennis Lahane’s novel into a jittery suspense flick with some grimy Freudian twists, director Martin Scorsese follows this twisted story’s frayed thread all the way to the tough, borderline nihilistic end. Frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio does some good, tricky acting as a protagonist whose reliability is often in question, while Michelle Williams is heartbreakingly good as the woman who haunts his...
It started, as most terrible things do, with a tweet. Gotti, the new biopic of New York mob boss John Gotti, was released to about 500 theaters on June 15 (after its planned December 2017 bow was cancelled ten days out). It didn’t officially screen for critics – always a good sign – though a few caught it at its Cannes kinda-sorta premiere, a muted affair in the festival’s smallest venue that, it was widely speculated, the fest granted to co-star/co-executive producer John Travolta in exchange for his participation in a pair of higher-profile events. Those critics weren’t impressed, and Gotti debuted on Rotten Tomatoes with a rare 0% aggregate score. A few days later, the tweet appeared.Audiences loved Gotti but critics don’t want you to see it… The question is why??? Trust the people and see it for yourself! pic.twitter.com/K6a9jAO4UH — Gotti Film (@Gotti_Film) June 19, 2018
“AUDIENCES LOVED GOTTI,” insists the online ad campaign. “CRITICS PUT OUT THE HIT. WHO WOULD YOU TRUST MORE? YOURSELF OR A TROLL BEHIND A KEYBOARD?”
At first blush, this sounds like the kind of “We did it for the fans, not the critics” nonsense that even as beloved a figured as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will trot out when their new movie tanks. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the function of the critic, which is not to reflect popular taste but (put as simply as possible) to present opinion...
BAMcinemaFest, which kicks off its tenth year tonight, has become a real money- and time-saver for New Yorkers – it saves you the expense of traveling to the spring film festivals, instead bringing the best of those fests to Brooklyn. This year’s slate includes the New York premieres of new films from the directors of Winter’s Bone and The Wolfpack, plus a dizzying array of four-star indies from Sundance, SXSW, Full Frame, and True/False. It all starts tonight with the bonkers opening night movie Sorry to Bother You (our Sundance review is here) and continues through July 1st; here are a few titles we heartily recommend.
Leave No Trace (Centerpiece)
Will (Ben Foster) and daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) have been living off the grid for longer than we know, and the fascinating early sections of the new drama by Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik are mostly concerned with their rituals and routines: how they live in the woods, dependent only on each other, running occasional discovery “drills” that amount to games of hide and seek, but with much higher stakes. One day, inevitably, it’s not a drill – and after a period of separation, they find themselves living a life of something like normalcy. It punctures their bond, ever so slightly but irrevocably, and the push-pull of retreat vs. adaptation provides Granik with her juicy central conflict. Foster’s performance is a model of control (he spends much of the film totally...
This week’s must-stream is a tiny movie, but worth seeking out: one of last year’s best documentaries, a quiet portrait of an average family’s struggle. On the new release shelf, we’ve got spring movies from Steven Soderbergh and Armondo Iannucci. And this week’s robust catalog crop includes a blaxpoitation fave, an Oscar-winning doc, an inside-Hollywood drama, a Spanish marvel, and a deluxe box set from one of the finest comics of all time.
Quest: Director/cinematographer Jonathan Olshefski spent eight years, from 2008 to 2015 (the Obama years, in fact; Obama/Biden signs cover the neighborhood early on, and the elections provide useful guideposts to the chronology), with the Raineys, a fairly typical North Philadelphia family that, in that time and before it, face a number of everyday trials and tribulations. There are money troubles and addiction demons, there are tragedies in their pasts and quite nearly one in their present. But they don’t complain and they don’t despair; they carry on, pausing only to be thankful for what they have, and who they are. Epic in scope yet modest in execution, it’s a film with much to say (without ever explicitly saying it) about class and race in America, and about family, and its small miracles. (Available 6/19.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Unsane: The latest from director Steven Soderbergh plays like a stealth act of film criticism – it’s fully aware of the tropes of this particular subset of thriller, and spends its running time toying with our expectations...