With the United States and the Taliban negotiating to end their eighteen-year conflict, archivists at Afghan Film, the nationalized filmmaking company, are conserving and digitizing reels not yet destroyed or decayed since the civil war began in 1992, according to The Washington Post. After taking over Kabul in 1996, the Islamic militants, enforcing the strictest interpretations of religious modesty, banned music and motion pictures to keep women’s faces from appearing onscreen with uncovered hair, lusting for a leading man. Actor Mamnoon Maqsoodi says Afghanistan cherishes movies because they function as a coping mechanism in a rich culture devastated by decades of war.
Because of Google, YouTube, and Netflix, the temptation for actors to audition with overly imitated monologues has never been more accessible, according to Backstage. Instead, contributor Suzanne LaChasse advises her readers to first learn about performers with a similar casting type, researching their screenplays without watching their films, and then to read the entire script to contextualize the speech with the rest of the story, since acting is storytelling. Finally, LaChasse writes that her audience should find more “active” dialogue which encourages another character toward a clear objective, as internal monologues can be too often sentimentalized and a role is more arresting when the deliverer is advocating for a cause.
Sometimes, the book is better.
Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Pet Sematary (2019) is available on Amazon Prime, and if you don’t know what to watch next, this one is better left alone.
An adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name by Stephen King as well as a remake of the 1989 Mary Lambert cult classic, the supernatural horror film was released to a mixed reception. Just fifty-seven percent of critical reviews aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes are positive.
Doctor Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) relocates from Boston to Maine with his wife, Rachel Goldman (Amy Seimetz), daughter, Ellie (Jeté Lawrence), and son, Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie).
New neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) warns the family about the pet cemetery in the local woods, where children bury their dead animals in the hope that they will come back to life, even if demonic forces are at play.
Once tragedy strikes the Creeds, Louis is faced with the opportunity to play God, and must live with the consequences of it.
The movie is not without its redeeming qualities. As an adaptation and a remake, it is confronted with scaring the audience as horrifyingly as did the original, and it does so through its own edits to the twist and turns in the source material.
For example, the denouement harkens back to Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007), one of the superior King interpretations.
Otherwise, the picture is a mediocre and forgettable affair. The pacing is better suited for King’s literary medium, which is empowered to internalize the themes of death more vigorously than the cinematic arts can articulate.
Pet Sematary isn’t so much an embarrassment against its production team as it is a waste of the viewer’s time.
They just need to let it die.
Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) was released forty years ago this May, and since then, the Hollywood extraterrestrial has evolved into something more scientifically feasible than the xenomorph, according to Business Insider. Before CGI, science fiction films in the 1950s and 1960s dressed actors in alien costumes, and because sci-fi is often an allegory for society’s fears, these humanoids are almost always hostile, even though physicist and author Sidney Perkowitz says no lifeform is evil for the sake of itself. With mosquitoes carrying viruses farther due to climate change, and filmmakers concerning themselves more with box office figures than scientific accuracy, Daniel Espinosa’s Life (2017) realistically posits that alien life will be discovered microscopically, but still villainizes it.
With the thirtieth anniversary for the release of Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape (1989) come upon us, the time is now to revisit the filmmaker’s feature-length narrative debut as well as its place in cinematic history, according to The Independent. It was the first independent film to succeed as much as it did, winning the Palme d’Or for a twenty-seven-year-old Soderbergh, the youngest director to do so, and grossing a hundred million worldwide on a million-dollar budget. Not only that, but it also laid the foundation for Soderbergh’s career, with his eclectic genres ranging from mainstream to arthouse sensibilities.
It gives this critic pause when a director writes and stars in their own work. Cinema is a collaborative medium between diverse photographic, musical, and dramatic artists synthesizing their respective talents into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
A temptation factors into the equation for filmmakers to indulge in narcissistic wish fulfillment when they emulate Orson Welles and presume themselves to be better actors and screenwriters than, well, actors and screenwriters.
Keeping all that in mind, how does Billy Bob Thornton fare?
If you don’t know what to watch next, Thornton’s Sling Blade (1996) is available to stream on Hulu. It is an adaptation of George Hickenlooper’s short film, Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade (1994), which Thornton also scripted and performed in.
The drama picture snagged Thornton an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, in addition to a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Thornton plays Karl Childers, an intellectually disabled Arkansas man who is released from the state mental hospital after killing his mother and her lover when he was twelve years old with a sling blade.
He lands a job at a repair shop in his rural hometown, where he befriends Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black), a boy the same age as he was at the time he committed double homicide.
Karl becomes an eyewitness to the abusive relationship between Frank’s mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday) and her boyfriend, Doyle Hargraves (Dwight Yoakam).
Thornton’s writing Oscar is well-merited, for his dialogue characterizes the cast who deliver the lines with as much life as it does the setting in which they stage themselves, and his narrative galvanizes the Faulknerian tone behind his Southern Gothic mood.
Thornton’s acting is no less forceful. Karl Childers is an ambitious, uncomplimentary performance, demanding of Thornton not only to change the way he looks and speaks, but also to invest in this unlikely hero a sympathy which conflicts against the violent crime he’s guilty of.
And he directs a powerhouse out of Yoakam as well, though for as loathsome a villain as you are like to see on the screen.
But as intense as these portrayals are, there’s a reason Thornton’s direction wasn’t up for an award. His final cut is a reel of “master shots,” with entire scenes taking place in a single frame so nothing can be edited out.
To direct is human. To edit is divine.
Thornton’s notorious anal-retentiveness cramps the pacing at times, for modern audiences most of all, who are seasoned consumers of media propelled along by myriad cuts.
All in all, Thornton is an exception to the rule of self-obsessed authorship, and Sling Blade is an exceptional movie.
Beginning August 16, Criterion Channel will spotlight eleven films Barbara Stanwyck made between 1930 and 1934 before Hays Code-era restrictions censored the silver screen, according to Fox News. Imogen Sara Smith, the historian hosting the marathon, says Stanwyck (born Ruby Stevens in 1907 Brooklyn) was orphaned at the age of four, dropped out of school as a thirteen-year-old, performed for speakeasies at fifteen, became a Broadway star five years later, and found work in Hollywood in 1929. The actress did not retire until her late seventies, with more than eighty movie and television credits to her name when she died from congestive heart failure in 1990.