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Home Video Hovel: No Retreat, No Surrender, by Craig Schroeder

6 Mar

Though the Blu-ray box art (put out by Kino Lorber), as well as the IMDb log line, would have you believe No Retreat, No Surrender is a movie about a young karate enthusiast (Kurt McKinney) going mano a mano with a Russian Jean Claude Van Damme, that is not quite the case. Other than an opening sequence, where McKinney and Van Damme share a furtive glance, JCVD (nor the evil-Russian storyline that he’s embroiled in) appear again until the sixty-seven minute mark of an eighty-four minute film. A categorical failure that it is cringe-inducingly earnest and astonishingly dull, No Retreat, No Surrender was never going to be remembered as anything but a joke but unfortunately—even judged against the generous parameters of trash cinema fandom—it doesn’t have a punchline.

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The Last Picture Show: Harold Ramis’ Year One, by Craig Schroeder

22 Nov

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The Last Picture Show is a recurring Battleship Pretension column that reviews and examines the last films of a given director, actor, cinematographer, etc. as a means of exploring their filmography as a whole.

When I began writing this column a few months ago, I was operating under an unspoken axiom that the films covered would complement the person’s overall legacy (granted, the second installment of this column was Wes Craven’s Scream 4, by no means a seminal masterpiece, but a film that certainly reaffirms Wes Craven’s earlier success). But in hindsight, that’s far too obtuse, giving the notion that a filmmaker is only as good as his or her most recent offering. For the sake of this column, I think it’s imperative to discuss how a cinematic legacy is affected (or not) by an outright awful adieu. Enter 2009’sYear One, an incoherent mess brimming with half-baked bits that are as distasteful as they are lame. It is also the final directorial effort of the late Harold Ramis.

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Peter and the Farm: Am I Depressed? Am I Doing Art?, by Craig Schroeder

3 Nov

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Peter and the Farm is an unnerving film, forcing its audience to confront the ugliness of mental illness in a way that is often unsettling (an opening sequence showing the unsavory particulars of the titular Peter shooting, bleeding, skinning and butchering a sheep is jarring, announcing that the film will not reduce its difficult subject matter into quaint euphemisms). Peter Dunning is a Vermont farmer who single-handedly operates Mile Hill Farms, a small organic farm that produces beef, pork, lamb, and produce to sell to local stores and farmer’s markets. He’s also an alcoholic, manic depressive with a barn-house filled with abandoned art projects. There’s nothing subtle about Peter’s life; but in presenting Peter without judgment or effulgence, the resulting film is one of the year’s best and it makes significant strides in understanding the mind of someone suffering from mental illness.

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Home Video Hovel: Patterns, by Craig Schroeder

26 Sep

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For Rod Serling, the creator of Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, pathos isn’t so much a creative tool as it is the main reason for creating. There’s hardly ever a moment in a Twilight Zone episode in which Serling isn’t offering a direct appeal to the viewer’s emotions or feelings, aimed directly at the audience’s collective super-ego. Serling’s work—while seminal and a personal favorite to me specifically—doesn’t often deal in subtlety or nuance. With Patternswritten by Serling (based on a teleplay he also wrote) several years before the Twilight Zone would premier—Serling doesn’t offer any of the science-fiction or horror tropes that would later define his career, but his affinity for painting the world as struggle between good and evil or right and wrong is in full effect.

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2. Philip Seymour Hoffman

10 Sep

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman
THE MASTER, CAPOTE, HAPPINESS, MAGNOLIA, DOUBT, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, A MOST WANTED MAN, STATE AND MAIN

If, in one-hundred years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is the way cinephiles measure the films of yesterday (please, please don’t let that be the case), then Philip Seymour Hoffman’s crowning achievement will always be his eponymous portrayal of writer Truman Capote. And while Capote is a fine film, Hoffman’s strongest work will always be his character studies, delving into roles less flashy than Truman Capote but roiling with suffering and self-doubt. From scene-stealing scumbags (see: Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley or Hoffman’s brief but captivating scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight), to meatier, more meditative roles (his inimitable work in The Master is the most apparent, though Hoffman’s enlightening performances in The Savages and Happiness have left an indelible impression on me), the specificity of Hoffman’s quirks (specifically, the oddly soothing, muted timbre of his voice) made him a character actor that could turn any archetype into a fully formed, recognizable person.

3. Daniel Day-Lewis

10 Sep

Daniel Day Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis
MY LEFT FOOT, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, GANGS OF NEW YORK, LINCOLN

The term “method acting” has become cynical shorthand, a phrase actors use when (not-so) quietly pleading to be taken more seriously. So much so, the term has begun to lose meaning, forgetting that method acting sees a performer embody their character, filtering daily routines and decisions through someone else’s. But among true method actors (the ones not mailing their condoms to co-workers), Daniel Day-Lewis has become the paradigm of an actor who’s “gone method”. And for good reason (if true, what Day-Lewis did to portray Christy Brown—famed Irish author born with debilitating cerebral palsy—in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot is nothing short of insanity). Daniel Day-Lewis’ commitment to rendering three-dimensional performances has led to some of cinema’s most prominent characters. He’s capable of taking potentially melodramatic characters (Bill the Butcher in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York) and molding them into something tangible and specific. Conversely, he can deliver an intimate study of a character whose legacy casts a nearly insurmountable shadow (Lincoln or the aforementioned My Left Foot).

Daniel Day-Lewis is in a fraternity of actors capable of delivering a character that no pen can write; in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis offered a performance that transcended the medium. Daniel Plainview is a character that will be mentioned in the same breath as The Wizard of Oz and The Godfather or Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles, the words and names that have become synonymous with cinema.

Oh, The Humanity! 2015’s San Andreas, by Craig Schroeder

9 Aug

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Oh, The Humanity! is a year-by-year analysis of cinema’s guiltiest of pleasures: disaster films. Exploring the blockbusters and spectacles about large scale destruction and humanity’s fight against forces beyond their control. And asking the question: was this the best or just the biggest?

Disaster films are an odd sort. Fun for obvious reasons: large scale destruction lends itself to exciting, explosive pageantry. Yet, disaster flicks are emotionally and psychologically cynical, manipulating the nearly universal fears of loss and devastation and using that as a substitute for character or thematic development (speaking in generalities of course, as there are some notable exceptions I hope to write about in future installments). Disaster films tend to be devoid of subtlety (again, exceptions forthcoming), but as a collective audience we keep returning to them for the promise of an action spectacle. 2015’s San Andreas is the perfect movie to begin this exploration of disaster films, flaunting many of the tropes that have come to define the genre: large scale destruction, impressive special effects, manipulative and thematically simple. It’s a bad movie, often impressive but never interesting.

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Monday Movie: Haywire, by Craig Schroeder

18 Jul

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Haywire is one of the best action films of the decade. Overlooked when it was released wide in 2012—possibly due to a January release date, the typical garbage depot for studio lepers and Oscar bait run-off—Haywire is a taut action-thriller, forgoing the bombast and histrionics of typical action films for tight choreography and bold, resourceful filmmaking.

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The Last Picture Show: Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, by Craig Schroeder

8 Jul

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The Last Picture Show is a recurring Battleship Pretension column that reviews and examines the last films of a given director, actor, cinematographer, etc. as a means of exploring their filmography as a whole.

 When Sidney Lumet died in 2011 he had averaged nearly a film a year in the time between his first (1957’s 12 Angry Men) and last feature. In one of cinema’s more prolific careers (illustrious enough to warrant this column limit itself to his more seminal works rather than attempt to examine every nuance in his filmography), Lumet’s final film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, is an inconspicuous thriller that snuck its way into theaters on the same weekend as high-profile Oscar lures Juno and Atonement (which combined for an insane—and fairly depressing—eleven nominations). And in a year that produced more prestige cinema than any year in my lifetime (sorry 1999 and a sizable portion of Battleship Pretension readers), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead doesn’t seem to hold its own in conversations about the best films of that year. But Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a slick, smart, gutting thriller; and more over it’s a summation of Lumet’s career long exploration of masculinity, morality and how the two frequently come into direct conflict.

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New to Home Video 6/7/16

7 Jun

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