HIFF 2014: Opening Night

Words: Rob DeStefano

st vincent

St. Vincent (2014)

It’s time again to refill the Hamptons with some of that money that left with Summer. Locals continue to retreat once more, as film enthusiasts steal all parking from Westhampton to Montauk, for the 22nd annual time. Hamptons International Film Festival 2014 will serve up Fall’s hotly anticipated indies, titles bound for year end Oscar discussion, and smaller gems from around the world. There are director and performer panels, and if hearing from a man like Joel Schumacher (responsible for classics like The Lost Boys… and Batman & Robin) isn’t on your bucket list, then you can gorge on Rowdy Hall’s brunch. Past openings included Jeff Who Lives at Home and Kill Your Darlings; this year they decidedly went wider with St. Vincent. David Nugent, the festival’s artistic director, introduced St. Vincent with unbridled enthusiasm, claiming that when he found it at Toronto, it turned his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day into a spectacular one. To each his own. read more

Review: The Guest

Words: Rob DeStefano


The first Saw hit theaters in 2004, igniting a torture porn fever that perpetuated annually for six years – yes, there are seven installments for those counting. Throughout this near decade reign of brutal horror, similar iterations filled Jigsaw’s sabbaticals: Hostel I through III, The Human Centipedes, Captivity, The Collector, The Family Stone. This gore pileup eventually exhausted itself, forcing filmmakers and public interest to recoil from gritty, claustrophobic bloodletting and experiment with the nostalgic, in both atmosphere and storytelling. This is most evident in last year’s monster success, The Conjuring, set in 1971 and capitalizing on a good old-fashioned haunting; the trend continues with the release of its prequel, Annabelle. Turning the clock back in similar fashion, Ti West’s The House of the Devil revels in its 1980s spirit, attracting critical acclaim and bolstering the young director as a genuine genre talent. This push into the past garnered success with Berberian Sound Studio (an awarded festival favorite) and even Paranormal Activity 3 (a 1988 bewitchment that reinvigorated its franchise’s box office earnings). New to this conversation, and most important to it, is director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett, the duo responsible for 2013’s You’re Next. Their latest is The Guest, a present day film that’s steeped in an 80s aesthetic, is reverent to early horror, and is the kind of contemporary rendition we’ve needed. read more

October Release Schedule

Words: Rob DeStefano

October, an optimistic improvement of this year’s September.

October 3

Gone Girl

gone girl

Time-tested, critic-approved: When David Fincher makes a movie, you see it. His adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller should fit snugly in his world of dark fiction. As entertaining and expansive as some of his projects can be, his fascination with simple human nature and how it drives or destroys relationships has remained the subject of his lens. Coming off the heels of The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl makes complete sense. The concern is the story’s non-linear and alternating narration, which does not make for an easy conversion to the big screen. Luckily with Flynn providing the screenplay, we shouldn’t see the novel’s unflinching character study or endless tension sacrificed.

Learn more about Amy Elliott Dunne. read more

Dawn of Justice: WTF Update

Words: Rob DeStefano


I join the majority when I say that I am, now more than ever, skeptical of this DC comics amalgam, helmed by the notorious Zack Snyder. If Man of Steel wasn’t enough to deter you from ever looking at a red cape again, the unlikely Ben Affleck addition was sure to raise skepticism for its sequel. These warnings were followed by a flurry of bizarre posters, the superheroes standing in the middle of – I still don’t know, volcanoes? Man of Steel was a tonal disaster, the camera work suggesting a gritty and grounded story, the story suggesting the opposite of something grounded. The latest Batmobile phtograph confirms that this movie will bring us only farther away from Nolan’s trilogy. The proportions on this vehicle are quite telling: tiny, impractical headlights sized against an obstructive turreted Gatling gun. If the one hour city desecration scene from the first installment didn’t scream “Aggressive directing,” this new weapon fixture should fire the message right into our skulls. On discussing this highly “anticipated” superhero merge, Snyder might have stated, “I’m going to make it Bat Shit Crazy! (…Bat…Get one of the screenwriters over here!)” Meanwhile, Nolan is off directing something of substance, hoping, “Gee, I hope no one uses Bat Shit Crazy in front of Zack.” And the people at craft services are starting to realize that the production designer can’t stop watching Dante’s Peak. That’s all for now. read more

Trailer Talk: The Guest

Words: Rob DeStefano

the guest

Last year’s release of You’re Next was an enormous treat for genre fans. It knocked off a few of the horror niches, serving up home invasion, slasher, and revenge, ultimately proving to be a clever subversion. Director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett continue their teamwork with The Guest, and by the tagline alone – “Be Careful Who You Let In” – it doesn’t seem to wander too far from their previous film. The trailer suggests a vengeful justice to bullying and lots of inexplicable machine gun rounds. With a noticeably larger budget, I’m curious to see what Wingard dishes out this time around. From the preview alone, I think it’s safe to say that he’s retained his appreciation toward violence, wit, and style.

Opens: September 17, 2014

Now Streaming: Don Jon

Words: Rob DeStefano

don jon2

Platform: Netflix

Choose your streaming wisely, check out our pick of the week.

Child stars. They make you want to break out in song, “I’m writing a letter to daddy!” Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? showcases two former actresses who have fallen victim to the Hollywood fame of their younger years, leaving them aged and at the mercy of unattainable dreams and disillusioned talent. Aside from reoccurring roles on “Dark Shadows” and “Roseanne,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt became known at age fourteen during the extended run of TV’s “3rd Rock from the Sun.” He then went on to gain leading man status in films like Brick, 50/50, and Looper. Now at thirty-three and with a diversified collection of films under his belt, he attempts to juggle the tasks of starring in, writing, and directing his first feature. The inevitable question springs to mind before starting Don Jon: does he have the talent to execute each of these jobs? Or will he fall victim to a generalized case of nepotism and be destined to echo Baby Jane Hudson’s famous diddy? Maybe the young director deviously references this very concern when his eponymous character sits in a movie theater and states in voice-over, “I don’t understand movies.” Luckily for us, this is not the case. read more

NYC Movie Roundup: September 6, 2014

Words: Rob DeStefano

Summer blockbuster season is over, but it’s still too warm for Oscar releases, so what the hell is worth seeing in theaters right now? Here’s our weekend guide to prevent you from aimlessly scrolling through Netflix – it is about time they expand their selection.

IFC Theater
323 Avenue of the Americas, New York 10014

Pick: Starred Up


Don’t let the director David Mackenzie’s previous filmography turn you off (I’m looking at you Spread, starring Ashton Kutcher). Starred Up is an entirely captivating prison thriller, tracking the incarceration of 19-year-old Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) by means of his acquaintanceship with a ruthless officer, a peace-pushing therapist Oliver (Rupert Friend), and his estranged, fellow inmate father Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn). O’Connell delivers an explosively aggressive and troubled performance – he’s absolutely perfect in the role. The film knows exactly how to add just the right amount of stylish flare without ever bogging down its core.

Why the big screen treatment? An intense ride that is best experienced in a theater’s setting. Watch its trailer.

Showtimes: Saturday & Sunday September 6/7: 12:35pm, 3:30, 9:55 read more

Review: The One I Love

Words: Rob DeStefano

Seeing Double This Year?

Minor spoilers ahead.

In March of last year, a terrorist attack on the White House trapped the President and his particularly heroic guard, resulting in a fight for survival: the fate of the great nation resting on the broad shoulders of these two men. Four months later, June of 2013, a terrorist attack on the White House trapped the President and his particularly courageous guard, resulting in a fight for survival: the fate of the great nation resting on the sturdy shoulders of these two men. This year-in-film has not yet echoed additional iterations of Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down, but trends in story or thematic investigation are not uncommon in the medium. While those two action films serve as loud, unmissable examples, the filmmakers of 2014 have decided to expertly spiral into identity crisis, some of which express a clear proclivity for doppelgangers.

Confronting this notion since his earliest work, Polanski’s adaptation of Venus in Fur is one continuous and devilish charade between opposing sexes, and by the film’s end, it’s hard to differentiate the two, despite their most pronounced variances. The Jake Gyllenhaal platform, Enemy, and Richard Ayoade’s steampunkish The Double, both allow their central figures to square off against, themselves. And on a larger scale, this summer’s disciplined blockbuster, X-Men: Days of Future Past, addressed this self-inspection by way of time travel: what would you tell your younger self if you came face to face? Despite dealing with similar agendas, and being released in a near successive fashion, all of these films retained genuine singularity, both in their narratives – the vessels for the inner skirmishes – and in their visual execution. Slightly expecting The One I Love to flirt with sameness or prove exhaustive, my assumptions were dismantled. read more

Review: Enemy

Words: Rob DeStefano


A library with no late fees encourages movie hoarding: sometimes five movies for five months. There was this one particular dust-collector, an unknown titled The Exploding Girl that came with a nested surprise. About halfway through, the camera briefly, though almost deliberately, isolated an actress. She was a friend of mine. Granted, it was a non-speaking role, but what was she doing here? She wasn’t “in the business” nor had she any aspirations to become a performer, at least not to my knowledge. Bumping into someone at the grocery store? A common phenomenon. Picking up a movie you’ve never heard of and finding a friend in it? Startling, confusing, and comical.

Now what if I saw myself on the screen? That would probably remove the humor from it. What might be more unnerving than the multitude of questions I would have is the singular answer behind it all. This is the set-up for Denis Villeneuve’s latest feature, Enemy, which puts his character through a psychological nightmare in search of some maybe unattainable truth. The sinister external world, reflective of a character’s inner turmoil, has been a common thread in his previous films. But unlike the strict plot structure that gave support to frayed morals in Prisoners, for example, Villeneuve now takes a strong dive into encompassing ambiguity, making Enemy more of an experiment than a taught and full-fledged mystery.

The collaboration between Jake Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve continues, with the actor playing Adam Bell, a history teacher who seems to have no real connection to his students, and an even more distant rapport with his girlfriend Mary (Meleanie Laurent). A coworker, who apparently has no regard for Adam’s film queue, recommends Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way – a cleverly ominous title. Lo and behold, Adam breaks from his mundane schedule (a quiet dinner with Mary followed by routine sex that always seems to end with interruption) and rents the movie. Right before the credits hit, he notices a bellhop character who is identical in appearance. Adam snags the actor’s name, Anthony St. Claire, and a parallel story begins to unfold. Anthony lacks Adam’s staggering stride and broken confidence; he drives a motorcycle, is married to his expecting wife Helen (Sarah Gadon), and loves blueberries, not the conventional ones, but the organic ones that he can use in his post-workout smoothie. “Damn it, Helen! You bought the wrong blueberries!” Adam resorts to amateur sleuthing to track down this doppelgänger and find an answer to this cosmically unexplained event. read more

Sunday Morning Playlist 1.19.14

Words: Devin Kelly

Lately I’ve been imagining Sunday mornings in different cities. Lazy Sundays in Paris, New Orleans, smaller cities where people don’t show themselves. Here are five songs for a Sunday in a different place than the one you are waking in, five songs that hopefully let you daydream your way into a better place, and then back again.

Belle & Sebastian – “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John (feat Norah Jones)”

This song is an old guilty pleasure of mine, and it takes me somewhere, though it’s hard to pinpoint the place. Somewhere outside, sipping a hot drink, reading in the morning, watching people go by. Wake up to this and let the light in, and then maybe play it back at night when you’re trying to go to sleep. read more

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