Every week, With a Little Help from Our Friends highlights the best pieces of writing on film, television, and literature published around the Internet. Please share if you like what you see.
For your reading enjoyment …
During Halloween season, horror movies are everywhere — on cable, in theaters, and in endless marathons you curate for yourself at home. But what makes scary movies tick? What sort of techniques do directors use to make you scream? Here is a broad overview of those techniques, using 13 classic horror-movie scenes.
It would take a bit of effort and some fairly tortuous reverse engineering to see “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” which continues in limited release this week and expands next week, as anything but a departure for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, or Alejandro G. Iñárritu as his current incarnation is called. Indeed, formally it’s almost the Platonic opposite of his previous films, seemingly unfolding in one breathless, unbroken take and moving ever forward in time in a manner that, compared to the shifting perspectives and jumbled chronology that characterize the majority of his films, feels refreshingly linear.
In Gina Prince-Bythewood’s latest, “Beyond The Lights,” Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Noni Jean, a rising pop star struggling with the demands of show business and fame. When she falls for a police officer primed for a career in politics (Nate Parker), both their families object. Mbatha-Raw, who will next be seen in the Wachowskis’ “Jupiter Ascending” and Will Smith’s upcoming NFL concussion drama, was just nominated for a Gotham Award for her performance in the contemporary love story. She made time to talk to Shadow And Act about the process of becoming Noni Jean.
There’s a strange paradox at the heart of Laura Poitras’ landmark documentary Citizenfour: The film fearlessly exposes some of the most urgent truths about modern privacy and civil liberties, with unusual unimpeachability. But the information is presented with such startling immediacy, it’s hard to believe it’s real. By now, Edward Snowden is a household name, and the damning information contained in the classified documents the former NSA contractor leaked in June 2013 have become common knowledge. Yet Poitras’ documentary, informed by a degree of access that wouldn’t seem possible if the film didn’t explicitly detail how it was achieved, galvanizes this historical moment into a narrative worthy of the news it broke.
Brilliant men don’t have time for girlfriends. Women are needy creatures who will ultimately hold men back from reaching their desired greatness. At least that’s what so many movies about brilliant men would have you believe. The latest such film, Whiplash, follows an exceptionally talented drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller), whose instructor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), is cruel and abusive. The film itself is a wonderfully compelling look at their relationship, the cost of ambition, and the extent to which a person must push himself to be the best. But it’s vastly underdeveloped where its lone woman character is concerned.
Arrow Video is a UK-based label known for releasing forgotten genre gems and cult classics onto DVD and/or Blu-ray, and they’ve been doing so since 2009. Their titles run the gamut from well-established horror films (The Beyond, Phenomena) to action masterpieces (Lady Snowblood, Battle Royale) to cult comedies (The ‘Burbs, Big Trouble in Little China) to the mad, sleazy, little-known genius of Island of Death, and the one constant between them all has been Arrow’s commitment to producing exciting, worthwhile and frequently self-restored releases for movie fans old and new.
The clown community has a bit of a PR problem right now. First there was a freaky-deaky clown harassing people in a small California town. Then American Horror Story: Freak Show returned and brought with it a nightmarish clown. Halloween season is always a metaphorical tiny car surprisingly full of literal scary clowns, and there’s the ongoing problem of the Insane Clown Posse.
Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson first entered the film scene with 1996’s “Bottle Rocket,” which began life as a short film shot in Dallas, Texas, three years earlier, when Wilson and Anderson were recent college graduates living in a small apartment not too far from downtown. L.M. “Kit” Carson, a Dallas-based filmmaker, actor and screenwriter, took them to Sundance and helped teach them about filmmaking and the film business. I asked Wes if he’d talk about Kit, and he and Owen wrote this together
Genre filmmaking has a reputation as a man’s field. That goes for audiences as well as filmmakers. To the novice, it’s easy to see why. For a long time women’s bodies have been used to titillate male adolescent horror fans — shrieking, squirming, disposable ciphers. Academic studies of gender and horror cinema such as Carol J. Clover’s 1992 book Men, Women, and Chain Saws and female-fronted films changed the landscape of the genre, proving women could terrify audiences just like men, and that women were watching — but also craving stories they could relate to. The popularity of horror heroines like Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien proves the need for women who aren’t simply victims. But there’s room for all types of narratives and characters for, about, and by women — including the Freddies, Jasons, and Michael Myers of the world. Here, we discuss 50 horror films directed by women that feature a range of tropes and ideas. In our current cinematic climate, where only five percent of studio releases have a woman behind the camera, we hope you’ll support more women making movies that scare the hell out of you.
Love & Basketball came out 14 years ago, and it’s never really disappeared. Just this past September, rumors swirled about a sequel after a (fake) movie poster hit the internet, compelling the film’s male lead, Omar Epps, and writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood to officially debunk the story on Twitter. That same month Roxane Gay hosted a Love & Basketball screening and discussion with its auteur. In an October interview with Lena Dunham, the two writers geeked out over the movie, and in November, Prince-Bythewood will release Beyond the Lights, her first film since 2008’s The Secret Life of Bees, which is sure to inspire more fond reminiscing about her breakthrough.