The Best Films to Watch Without Ever Leaving Your Bed This Week

Every Wednesday morning, I find myself whispering the old Beckett adage “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” to myself as I settle down into work. No matter how thrilling the day’s prospects may be, it’s that midweek slump that always seems to rear its ugly head in the worst way. But never fear, the hours are sure to breeze on by and soon it will be the weekend—one that happens to be rife with fantastic films both premiering and screening around the city, thanks to NYFF and various other retrospectives.

But in the meantime, what better way to spend an evening than curled up under the sheets enjoying the best of cinema—new modern masterpieces to wonderful classics—from the comfort of your bed? And with myriad options to choose from on Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes, the nightly decision of what to show in your private bedroom screening can prove a challenge. So to make your time easier, I’ve rounded up some of the best films available to stream, so peruse our list, get cozy, and enjoy.

Much Ado About Nothing (iTunes)

Playing out as a love letter to Shakespeare’s comedic tale of a merry war betwixt two lovers, Much Ado is brimming with charisma and sensual thrill. You don’t need to be a scholar of the bard to find yourself captivated by the story, with its silky smooth and velvety jazz-filled atmosphere, you’re eased into the film in a way that’s far from intimidating. Whedon infuses a conversational style to the story that makes it more accessible than any other Shakespearean re-workings in recent memory, adding to a charm that’s heightened by its phenomenal cast of characters.

Filmed in his own home in Los Angeles, for the director best known for hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers, Much Ado was a welcome surprise. The comedy feels like a breath of fresh air, a respite from major studio pictures that allows Whedon the freedom to let loose with a rapturous mix of refinement and playfulness. Much Ado may seem minimalistic in its production style, but that speaks nothing of the beauty with which it was shot and the wonderfully nuanced performances by its sprawling cast. 

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Simon Killer (Netflix)

Simon Killer goes deeper into Campos’s affinity for the disturbed male psyche with a film that’s rich in texture, tone, and color. It’s a dance between passionate aggression and emotional isolation that’s primal and fiercely enjoyable in its discomfort. Filled with stunning visual interludes like psychological cues that bring you closer into Simon’s sociopathic, music-fueled, and violently sexual world, the film is an optically and emotionally stimulating character study that packs a punch. No stranger to portraying morally unsound characters that walk the line between tantalizing and creepy, Corbet carries out Campos’s vision with a frightening possession.

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Shock Corridor (Hulu)

Haunted by doomsday visions, the mental hospital is a tabloid version of America — a place where war games and race riots are played out on the central corridor, a.k.a. the Street, as in Main Street. Or put another way, America is imagined as bedlam. At once compelling and incoherent, "Shock Corridor" was shot entirely in interior — the outside world only present as hallucination. It’s a movie that regularly, if unpredictably, breaks free from its narrative straitjacket and erupts into mayhem. Social pathology merges with individual delusion. The three witnesses to the murder are a guilt-ridden nuclear physicist regressed to age 5, a brainwashed Korean War traitor imagining himself a heroic Confederate general and the first black student to integrate a Southern university, who believes he founded the Ku Klux Klan and, in true split personality fashion, crafts signs directed at himself: "Black foreigners can’t breathe our white air and go to school with our white children."

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Something in the Air (Netflix)

Opening with the Blaise Pascal quote: "Between us and heaven and hell there is only life which is the frailest thing in the world," Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air takes us into a world of youth committed to the present. Going back to the year 1971, which he first explored with the poetic Cold Water (1994)—a film about the emotions of being a teenager—Assayas draws direct parallels between the two, yet where the former dealt in the abstract, Something is a more direct autobiographical look at his own memory of coming of age in that time. Paying tribute to those who inspired his own sensibilities as an artist, the film merges the person with the political, exploring the identity of youth in the aftermath of the May ’68 and the choices that inform our maturation into adulthood. It’s a film about the intersection of creative passion and ideological inclination, where self-discovery for the teenagers in the film, comes through their devouring of films, books, music, and art of the time—from the poetry of Gregory Corso to the music of Syd Barrett.

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Room 237 (iTunes)

Ascher’s Room 237 is not a film that asks us to hold any of its ideas as truths, nor does it present them as such. For how could we ever know the turth that lived inside the confounding mind of Stanley Kubrick? The Shining is a film that explores the maze-like complexity of the tortured mind’s unconscious, and takes our idea of the nuclear family and throws it in our face. And with Room 237, we’re left to question where subjectivity and art collide—was any of this really Kubrick’s intention, and where do my personal affinities transfer themselves into his world? Ascher presents us with these ideas in an invigorating way that makes us question not only our own understanding of the work but career of a man whose films have continued to baffle, excite, and penetrate our subconscious inqueries and desires for over half a century.

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À nos amours (Hulu)

Painful, beautiful, and discomfiting, À nos amours remains as startling in its honesty, its unique mix of savagery and delicacy, as it was in 1983. Next to it, most adolescent “rite of passage” films, with their predictable dividing lines and alignments of sympathies, look tame, even reassuring. François Truffaut, who had his own take on the miseries of childhood, and thus was perhaps the closest to Pialat in interests, admired him immensely, but from our vantage point, this late-blooming director was not one of the “new people.” Not just a late starter but a cranky outsider to boot, Pialat was never part of the nouvelle vague, had none of the collegial feelings or movement enthusiasms of a team player. And although he shared a revolutionary aesthetic, and was as adamantly opposed as they were to the tyranny of the “well-made film,” he was more interested in autobiography than genre. In a series of films, made and seen with difficulty, he explored his life and concerns in terms so uncompromising and so deeply felt that, though he was not easy to take in his own time, he has emerged like a prophet of the conflicts that are convulsing today’s families and relationships.

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The Bling Ring (iTunes)

In the past year we’ve seen myriad films about rebellious teenage behavior, youth in revolt against their mundane lives—from dangerously wild films like Spring Breakers to the more heartfelt coming-of-age stories like The Kings of Summer. As the inundation of social media and the  obsession with celebrity culture increases, it’s easy for young people to get sucked into the idea of fame and success as the ultimate goal. But what happens when you get there? What happens when you’re knee-deep in Paris Hilton’s leather Louboutin boots? How do we reconcile the aspiration of affluence with the reality that undercuts it?  But with The Bling Ring, Coppola’s kinetic fashion heist film based on the 2010 Vanity Fair article "The Suspect Wore Louboutins," we follow a group of reckless teens lusting after the sheen of materialistic pleasures.

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Leviathan (iTunes)

More easily comparable to the anxiety provoking and emotionally stimulating sensations of looking at the work of Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch while listening to a dark, metallic piece of music filled with pleasure and fright, Leviathan is almost inarticulate in its possession. As a sensory ethnographic investigation that leads you through the world of commercial fishing, the sum of the film is far more than one might expect. Having first premiered in competition at the 2012 Locarno Film Festival, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel‘s film has been entrancing audiences’ since with its entirely unique wordless wonder and gives the perspective of the fishermen but also echoes their own haunting experience out at sea through the interminable sense of unease. But this anxious perspective is matched by the most striking cinematography that’s shocking in its beauty as it casts a light on every perspective of the boat and blends colors like an impressionist painting being thrown against the waves.

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The East (iTunes)

Now more than ever, in a time where our personal sense of security is constantly in question and our beliefs are always on the line, we need films that not only speak to where we’re headed as a society but how it feels to exist in the world today. As we’re forced to assimilate to ever-changing and frightening state of things, the culture that we’re consuming should not only be a means of escapism to dull our anxiety but a reflection and a call to action, an inspiration for ideas that will fuel us. And with The East, Batmanglij has created a film that’s as intriguing as it is topical, as emotionally stirring as it cinematically thrilling.

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Weekend (Hulu)

With its pop art color scheme and two-dimensional characters, Weekend is less like a novel than a pamphlet, and more like a fairy tale than either. The presiding trope is Alice’s tumble down the rabbit hole. Weekend opens conventionally enough, like a Chabrol movie or a Balzac novel: a married couple, Corinne (Mireille Darc) and Roland (Jean Yanne), are planning each other’s demise with their respective lovers, and plotting together to help Corinne’s ailing father into the afterlife— maybe her mother as well, if she refuses to split the inheritance. But any illusion of melodramatic realism is quickly punctured in a scene where Corinne’s lover assumes the role of psychiatrist, sitting at a desk in a darkened office while Corinne sits on the desk in her bra and panties and describes a recent three-way with a different lover and his girlfriend, an orgy, involving eggs and a bowl of milk, loosely borrowed from Bataille’s Histoire de l’œil. The episode is a parody of Bibi Andersson’s emotionally overwrought “orgy monologue” in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, rendered flat and passionless by Corinne’s bored delivery, the camera’s slow zooming in and out in near darkness on the barely distinguishable figures, and swelling, “ominous” B-movie theme music that occasionally drowns out her voice. Godard establishes here an atmosphere of neurotic apprehension and narrative unreliability sustained throughout the rest of the film. “Is this a dream or did it really happen?” “I don’t know.”

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Tape (iTunes)

‘Tape” made me believe that its events could happen to real people more or less as they appear on the screen, and that is its most difficult accomplishment. To describe the movie makes it sound like an exercise in artifice: three characters, one motel room, all talk, based on a stage play. But the writing, acting and direction are so convincing that at some point I stopped thinking about the constraints and started thinking about the movie’s freedoms: freedom from idiocy, first of all, since the characters are all smart and articulate, and testing each other’s nerve and values. Freedom from big gassy meaningless events. Freedom from the tyranny of an overbearing soundtrack that wants to feel everything for us. Freedom from the expected.

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Fox and His Friends (Hulu)

Make no mistake, this is the real Queer as Folk, but for all of Fassbinder’s gripes with an elite gay culture’s many sexual hang-ups, Fox and His Friends is first and foremost a riveting evocation of social Darwinism in action (Fox is called "stupid and primitive" and the tagline that follows the film’s title on the Wellspring DVD of the film aptly proclaims: "Survival of the Fittest"). A mere child at heart, Fox is unconsciously rude to his elders and pounds his hands at the dinner table. His sweetly innocent behavior nonetheless brings shame to Eugen, who has no problems borrowing 100,000 German marks from Fox to prevent his father’s printing business from going under. And after Eugen and his elite family (they prefer Mozart to loud modernist composers and are easily mortified when Fox drops chunks of bread into his soup) successfully bilk Fox out of his entire fortune (embarrassing him by forcing him to work at their factory and then suggesting that his slave labor is his interest due), Fox returns to the earth, so to speak, after dying of a broken heart.

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I Killed My Mother (Netflix)

I Killed My Mother is determinedly quotidian, albeit suffused with betrayal and disappointment. Chantale, whatever we may think of her gaudy taste (some of the film’s best comedic moments come from her literally wild faux fur ensembles), is not the worst mother in the world, and sometimes, when she’s fiercely defending her son to his haughty boarding-school principal, she’s truly admirable. In the midst of the film’s arguments and disavowals, it’s easy to lose track of its dramatic core, which is less about adolescence than moving past it. “I love you,” Hubert tells his mother late one night. “I’m telling you so you won’t forget.” Though the fighting inevitably resumes, the unexpected tenderness of these words lingers on. Dolan knows that as Hubert passes into adulthood, this moment will seal itself off. Its intensity will fade, leaving behind just a few words and images, tokens to remind us of, but also to shield us from, the searing pain of the too-recent past.

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Side Effects (Netflix)

Because Side Effects is brilliant: a noir psychological thriller – like a 21st-century Marnie, or Rosemary’s Baby – that is also an acid satire on big pharma, the mental healthprofession and its terrifyingly powerful, priestly caste of doctors. There is a compelling lead performance from Rooney Mara who lays down the law with her presence. She demonstrates a potent Hitchcockian combination: an ability to be scared and scary at the same time, and Soderbergh’s film manages to introduce its effects in some insidious, almost intravenous way. Fear and fascination swam through my skull simply watching it. And the later scenes involving sex, lies and videotape will be especially involving for those on the lookout for recurrent authorial motifs.

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Picnic at Hanging Rock (Hulu)

"The film is just too damn impenetrable for its own good,” writes the Web-based critic Kevin Maynard. I’m sure he speaks for a lot of viewers, but of course if you could penetrate it, there would be no film — simply a police case, or an account of an accident. My idea of Australia has been fashioned almost entirely from its films, and I picture it as a necklace of coastal cities, from which depend smaller inland towns, surrounding the vast and ancient Outback — where modern logic does not apply, and inexplicable things can happen…Nicolas Roeg’s "Walkabout" touches on some of the same feelings as "Picnic at Hanging Rock." In it, a white girl and her brother are left abandoned in the wilderness when their father kills himself. They would quickly die, but are saved by an aborigine boy who, in an ironic reversal, kills himself after they all wander back to civilization. The suggestion in both "Walkabout" and "Picnic” is that aboriginal life cannot be sustained in cities, nor European-based life in nature, and it is intriguing that girls on the brink of maturity are the focal point in both films.

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Babette’s Feast (Hulu)

The quality of the film is, in the end, a spiritual one (which is why mention of Dreyer is merited). Since its release, critics have pointed out that the story is open to religious interpretation, which is fair, and fine, as long as one understands what is meant by this. Certainly, story and film are studded with religious references—to the Last Supper, to sacramental grace, to the importance of charity, and so on—but given that the milieu being depicted is religious, this should contain nothing to surprise us. Plainly, as viewers, we need to acknowledge a certain irony and genial good humor being directed against the narrowness of the village sectarians, while also taking the trouble to observe that the critique provided (such as it is) is congruent with broadly Christian sentiment. As in Ordet, there is puritanical Christianity and a more enlightened Christianity “of the body.” The feast given by Babette to the pious townspeople opens their minds to the notion that the pleasures of the senses aren’t necessarily sinful, but the satire involved here is very gentle, and it would be false to interpret the great sequence we are talking about as some simple endorsement of epicureanism. Actually, you could argue that the film itself resists interpretation because, as with the story, everyone already understands its essence.

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Persona (Hulu)

Shakespeare used six words to pose the essential human choice: "To be, or not to be?" Elizabeth, a character in Ingmar Bergman’s "Persona," uses two to answer it: "No, don’t!" She is an actress who one night stopped speaking in the middle of the performance, and has been silent ever since. Now her nurse, Alma, has in a fit of rage started to throw a pot of boiling water at her. "No, don’t!" translates as: I do not want to feel pain, I do not want to be scarred, I do not want to die. She wants . . . to be. She admits . . . she exists. "Persona" (1966) is a film we return to over the years, for the beauty of its images and because we hope to understand its mysteries. It is apparently not a difficult film: Everything that happens is perfectly clear, and even the dream sequences are clear–as dreams. But it suggests buried truths, and we despair of finding them. "Persona" was one of the first movies I reviewed, in 1967. I did not think I understood it. A third of a century later I know most of what I am ever likely to know about films, and I think I understand that the best approach to "Persona" is a literal one.

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Hunger (Hulu)

McQueen is renowned as an artist and winner of the Turner prize, and this is his first feature film. I came to it sceptically, having been alienated by his video-art work Deadpan (1997), which seemed to me an uninteresting and frankly supercilious appropriation of Buster Keaton. But Hunger shows that McQueen is a real film-maker and his background in art has meant a fierce concentration on image, an unflinching attention to what things looked like, moment by moment. There is an avoidance of affect and a repudiation of the traditional liberal-lenient gestures of dialogue, dramatic consensus and narrative resolution. This is a powerful, provocative piece of work, which leaves a zero-degree burn on the retina.

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Top 10 Films of 2013 So Far

Ignore the 12 month calendar, when it comes to movies, the year is divided into two seasons: before the fall, and after the fall. We get mid-level genre fare from January until May, along with a couple of second-tier blockbusters. Summer brings out the big franchise sequels, and a few well-reviewed indies as counter-programming. But any studio—large or small—that has a promising movie made with artistry and intelligence, usually holds it back till the unofficial beginning of Oscar season, heralded by three festivals (Venice, Telluride, and Toronto) that take place in early September.

In Hollywood wisdom, this is where anything aimed at adults begins the four month race toward Academy Award nominations—without which, box office prospects are considered severely impaired. So, what this means for moviegoers, is that for right months we bemoan the lack of anything good in cinemas, catch up on all the quality cable TV shows, then find ourselves scurrying to catch up with a sudden embarrassment of riches, many of which get lost in the hustle. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s the way things are, and hey, at least we get a few months when loving movies is not a zero sum game.  

And yet, 2013 has been a schizophrenic year. On the one hand, the multiplexes have been filled with the usual bloated lowest-common-denominator dreck, but on the other, indie movies have been much stronger than usual, and I can count at least 10 films released thus far that I would heartily recommend without reservation. So, without further ado, my personal best of 2013, at the unofficial half-way point before the quality onslaught begins.  

Honorable Mentions: Pacific Rim was dumb as a brick, and yet, a movie aimed at 12-year-old boys that made me feel (and cheer) like one. The Great Gatsby was an over-stylized mess, and yet a bold and unique interpretation of a classic text. Spring Breakers‘s hallucinatory fever dream eventually fizzled, and yet contained a balls-out brilliant performance by James Franco. World War Z was instantly forgettable, robbed of the novel’s socio-political satire, and yet an undeniably exciting thrill ride with some fantastically realized set pieces.  

10. Stories We Tell

While I wasn’t a fan of Sarah Polley’s first two directorial outings, there’s no denying the emotional power and skilled construction of her very personal documentary essay—which interweaves an entire family’s memories and secrets into a fascinating rumination on the various facets of  so-called "shared truths" and the different ways people construct narratives from the seen and unseen events of their lives.   

 

9. Mud

Though not as transcendent or mind-blowing as Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols’ third feature is a well-told, laid-back Southern yarn, that blends Twain and Dickens for a sweet yet unsentimental coming of age story set in the swamplands of the Bayou, as a young boy’s chance encounter with an ex-con brings his ideas and notions about love crashing into reality.  

 

8. Frances Ha

Like an episode of Girls directed by Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach makes his best movie since Squid and the Whale, with this rarest of beasts—a romantic comedy with no romance. Greta Gerwig creates a vivid, completely unique character, whose growth and maturation has, refreshingly, absolutely nothing to do with finding a man.  

 

7. The East

Brit Marling writes herself a great role in this smart, complex thriller set in a grass roots eco-terrorist cell. The moral nuances are embraced, the characters are believable and fully realized, the pace is exciting, and the themes urgent and relevant without ever being preachy.  

 

6. Blue Jasmine

Woody’s best movie since Vickiy Cristina Barcelona is a searing indictment of 1% entitlement, and in Cate Blanchett’s performance, contains the best special effect of the year. Her performance is a thing to be amazed by—a slow motion breakdown that is never less than utterly hypnotic, and no matter how despicable, still manages to somehow, strangely retain our sympathies due to its unavoidable, messy humanity.

   

5. The World’s End

Edgar Wright’s third and final film in the loosely connected "Cornetto Trilogy" (`after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) is hysterically funny, riotously entertaining, mind-bogglingly ambitious, and actually, genuinely about something: the dead end nature of nostalgia, the corporatization of culture, the effect of time on friendships, and the self-destructive yet utterly unique nature of the human ego, that sets us apart from all other species, animal or alien. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers beating up the The Big Chill after a dozen pints at a stand-up comedy night, The World’s End is two completely different films unapologetically smushed together to make something brilliant and unique, and the final ten minute epilogue is the most brazenly left-field and inspired ending I’ve seen this decade.  

 

4. Short Term 12

Depicting the lives of a young couple as they navigate a roster of damaged, abused kids in a foster care facility, this absolute gem navigates truly treacherous terrain and somehow manages to avoid cheap sentiment and predictability, achieving its own kind of clear-eyed grace without ever hitting a false note. Brie Larson is a revelation as a woman whose no-bullshit  compassion with her young charges conflicts with her struggles to heal her own past, but the entire cast does stand-out work in this hard-hitting, deeply humane, genuinely important film about the actual skill it takes to love others, and ourselves.

   

3. Upstream Color

Shane Carruth’s second feature after the Sundance-winning Primer, is one of the boldest American art films of this young century, that practically invents its own cinematic language. There are elements of plot, there are characters, but the narrative follows the logic of dreams and emotions, which, if you surrender to their flow, provide a truly unforgettable trip (in all senses of the word). I’m not sure I can tell you what it all means—it involves identity-theft, fear of intimacy, alienation, love, and ur… pigs—but it made sense to me at a deeply sub-conscious level, and there are images and scenes forever burned into my brain, that still have me in awe. An uncompromised work of art by a true visionary auteur—this is the future of independently financed, independently made, independently distributed film, that breaks the mold of all pre-existing cinema within the prevailing, and failing, current system. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece, pure and simple.

   

2. Before Midnight

The perfect end to a perfect trilogy. Richard Linklater’s third and final rumination on romance is one of the most mature, realistic, yet deliciously enthralling depictions of a long term relationship, beyond its characters’ fantasies and idealized expectations of what love should be. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are mesmerizing in their conversational dance around each other’s alter egos, who, after 20 years and sojourns in three European countries, reveal layers and complexities that most films daren’t even attempt. Before Midnight works as a great stand alone movie, but as the third part of a larger whole, completes one of the strangest and genuinely romantic cinematic experiments of all time.

   

1. The Grandmaster

Absolutely avoid the dumbed-down butchered version currently screening in US cinemas, head down to Chinatown or `yes.asia.com’, and buy the full, uncut, 130 minute Chinese version, in all its overstuffed, culturally specific glory. This jaw-droppingly beautiful movie is like Dr. Zhivago with martial arts, an elegiac tone poem for the honor-bound, highly coded world of kung fu before it spread its reach to the outer world. Ostensibly a biopic of Bruce Lee’s teacher, Ip Man, it is above all, another masterpiece from Wong Kar-wai, and like the rest of his oeuvre,  a highly stylized, achingly romantic mood mosaic about beautiful, heartbroken smokers, with the added bonus of the most hands down awesome fight sequences since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  

 

 

And that’s it for the first eight months. The rest of the year begins with a bang now, as I head down to the Toronto film festival. Stay tuned for thoughts on Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, The Past, Prisoners,  and many, many more, as we collectively forget the calamities on most studios’ slates, believe in a world where art and commerce happily co-exist, and let the fall feast of films begin.  

Daniel Hardy lives in a cabin in the woods, watches a lot of movies, and occasionally writes screenplays for a living. 

A Conversation With Director Zal Batmanglij on His New Film ‘The East’

Ever since the end credits rolled on Zal Batmanglij’s debut feature Sound of My Voice, I have been anticipating just what his next cinematic endeavor would offer. Upon seeing his first, I was immediately drawn to he and co-writer/actress Brit Marling’s brilliant simpatico and their shared affinity for storytelling that’s both beautifully poetic yet intelligently thought-provoking. And as two of the most interesting and wholly inspiring voices in independent cinema, the two have once again struck audiences with their new film, eco-thriller The East, which opened to rave reviews last week. 

Their seductive and haunting Sound of My Voice, captivated us with a style that amalgamated science fiction, psychological drama, high-concept thrill, and ethnographic study. "So much of what Brit and I have to do as writers is to go live,” says Batmanglij, understanding the importance of “living something authentic” in order to come back and tell an original story. And although the two have their own unique sensibilities as writers—Batmanglij with a zeal or creating stories that stem from the anxieties of the modern age as shown through a lens that exposes the mysticism lurking just beneath the surface, and Marling holding an ineffable quality existing somewhere between serene grace and fierce intelligence that allows us to be mesmerized by just about anything she does.
 
Now more than ever, in a time where our personal sense of security is constantly in question and our beliefs are always on the line, we need films that not only speak to where we’re headed as a society but how it feels to exist in the world today. As we’re forced to assimilate to ever-changing and frightening state of things, the culture that we’re consuming should not only be a means of escapism to dull our anxiety but a reflection and a call to action, an inspiration for ideas that will fuel us. 
 
And with The East, Batmanglij has created a film that’s as intriguing as it is topical, as emotionally stirring as it cinematically thrilling. The film follows Sarah (played by Marling), a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to come in contact with the harm they’ve inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group’s leaders (Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page) and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.
 
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Batmanglij, who has become one of not only my favorite new filmmakers but one of the most interesting interview subjects, to discuss the insightful reactions to The East, he and Marling’s creative process, and what a film like this means in today’s culture.
 
What’s been interesting to see with the film is how people have been reacting across the board. It’s not only young, more politically active people that have been responding well. 
Definitely. And older women love the movie—I think they connected to that idea of careerism versus being more human or softer and that balance. But young people really love it, like 13 to 19 year olds really connect with it, which I didn’t expect.
 
Well it’s a film about young people rebelling and doing something important in a way that’s actually intellectual or for a greater purpose than simply having fun.
There’s this idea now that rebellion is like play, but rebellion has always been rebellion, not play. Going on spring break isn’t rebellion, having a part at your parents house when they’re out of town is about the thrill of being antiauthoritarian, it isn’t just about the thrill of getting drunk for the first time. It’s funny how consumerism has sort of co-opted that of sex and drunkeness and debauchery as the things that everyone should want and stride for. That’s such a capitalist trick.
 
It might be more rebellious now to just stay in at the library.
Or be antiauthoritarian or against the status quo. One of Michael Haneke’s movies that I love is The Seventh Continent. Supposedly when it premiered at Cannes, the audience freaked out when they flushed the money down the toilet at the end. That idea was so anathema to people. That fascinates me, the idea of flushing money down a toilet bothers people more than murder bothers people.
 
Well, it’s also a more tangible concept, it’s harder to conceive of actually murdering someone.
I think people imagine murdering people more than they would imagine flushing their money down the toilet. It so breaks the illusion of everybody wanting to win the lottery. But back to your question, across the board, the movie played strong at Sundance and the Q&A had 95% retention and I thought: is this because of the actors? And then we showed the movie in Ann Arbor where it was just me and Brit. People started talking about the movie and afterwards came up to me and were like, "You know, the guy who poisoned the water in our town, he was in the audience and we kept looking over at him." And then this older woman was like, "So I came with my sister who always drags me to these movies, I don’t really like these kind of movies, I like comedies, and I don’t even watch movies in theaters." So I said, thank you and then she’s like, "But I saw your movie and I can’t get it out of my head, it’s one of my favorite movies I’ve seen in the last couple years because it’s asking questions, I just feel guilty about what I’ve been doing." And I was like, well, don’t feel too guilty—but that reaction was just so heartwarming. Then we went to SXSW  and had a similar reaction, and then from place to place—whether it was Dallas or Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco—people wanted to talk. It’s not so much about the movie but people want to talk about these issues—the corruption of pharmaceutical companies and how they’re being run by marketing rather than the bettering of people’s lives, corporate accountability, private intelligence, and is private intelligence really happening? And that’s a cool reaction.
 
With Sound of My Voice, because it was a smaller film, that operated on two levels—the grand concept and the intimate story. With something like Sound of My Voice or even Another Earth, you guys say, okay this woman might be a time traveler or you put an Earth 2 in the sky and you believe it because it’s rooted in something deeper and you’ve built the base for this story. You don’t need to necessarily show those things in detail to understand them as truth. But with this, because it was a bigger film you have the grand concept, the intimate story, but also the middle, more explainatory section of the film. Is that something you were aware of?
Thats interesting. As a writer, I always thought of Sound of My Voice as a single gear bike, like it had one rotation and you just had to pull off that rotation and you could do that rotation scene after scene if it was doable and that translated into the filmmaking—and the scenes were about claustrophobia or about faith. And then The East I always thought of it as three gears and you can create venn diagrams and do interesting things with it. So yeah, just trying to pull off all the math of the thriller and trying to make it thrilling and then in the shooting of it too, I was really lucky that I had amazing collaborators. 
 
Did you have an idea of who you wanted to cast in the film beforehand?
The script was its own litmus test—who wants to come and have an adventure with us. And right away people closed the script and were either like, not for me, or I have to do this. And we were excited to meet those people and we got lucky that they’re such good actors, the acting is really strong in this movie—like Julia Ormond had two days of work and she just shines. 
 
Were you all really close off set?
There wasn’t much off-set time, we were working six days a week. But on our one day off, we would actually spend a lot of time together. Alexander would cook for the crew and the cast. We liked each other but we were also learning from each other, I felt like it was a time of great discovery for people.There were these freegans I’d invited to come play with three other members of The East—I didn’t want extras or background, I get so offended by the idea of "background" actors. So there were three freegans and I remember they had each their own hotel room but instead wanted to all be in a room together, and I thought that was so cool. I think the actors were fascinated by that world, as were the freegans by the actor’s world and they merged together.
 
I know you’re very inspired by the political thrillers of the 1970s and that definitely comes across in this and knowing that going into it, felt like you were able to merge your cinematic affinities so well with something that was so modern. Were than any specific films you were looking to while making this?
I love Pakula, as you know, so I love The Parallax View and All The Presidents Men and Klute. But the funny thing is, I storyboard these movies as we’re writing the final draft but I never bring that notebook to set. We sort of throw it all out and let the soup come.Someone said that they thought parts of The East were really familiar and I thought to myself: really? I’ve been thinking about that and what it is, is that the thrill is familiar. 
 
But it’s not a cheap thrill, there’s a purpose and you’re connected. It’s thrilling because you care about these people and want to know what’s happening.
They’re poisoning a pharmaceutical board’s champagne with its own pharmaceutical, that’s not familiar.
 
When was the last time you saw that?
And when was the last time you saw a movie about a female spy who had a female boss? We never see that.
 
How do you and Brit go about working together, what is that creative process like for the two of you? I know that you had visited an anarchist collective while traveling and that sparked your desire to write this.
We couldn’t shake that experience and we also wanted to do a spy movie, so those two vines grew together. We’re like gardeners, we come to the garden and dig the soil, plant the seeds, and water it. Then we tend together. But it’s also about being kind to each other, you know, when  ideas are first starting they’re so weak, they’re like these little single cell organisms, they’re like amoebas and they’re gelatinous and you have to hold them really delicately like this little jelly fish creature and it goes from my hand to Brit’s hand. You just have to hold it and and it’s a very soft enterprise—it’s something that if you do with someone you don’t really trust it feels silly. And also, if you feel a lot of push back that little character or idea will die, so you have to create a space where you can do that back and forth with each other. It’s funny how it just starts growing and pretty soon it’s not in your control anymore. A character like Izzy did things all the time that I didn’t think she would do.
 
And what’s so great about The East is that the message is so strong and yet it’s not polemic, it’s there to spark thought.
In Philadelphia when we were showing the movie, for some reason a lot of parents brought their 13 or 14 year olds—or was it the teens that brought their parents. I don’t know how they found out about the movie but they started asking questions in tandem. And I thought wow, how amazing to start the trans-generational dialogue, I felt like the parents were really grateful that this dialogue had started. So I don’t think it’s as much about the film as much as its about the conversation that comes afterwards. I made the joke that you should see this movie with someone you’re sleeping with so you can wake up and talk about it. But it’s also a nice movie for parents and children to see together—older children and their boomer parents or younger children and their younger parents—because it’s a nice film to talk about and it’s about what it stirs up in us about accountability.
 
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Check out more brilliant posters for the film by Caspar Newbolt.

From Tony Scott to Yasujiro Ozu, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York City

Oh, "the rhythm of the weekend, with its birth, its planned gaieties, and its announced end, followed the rhythm of life and was a substitute for it." Yes, and as tomorrow marks another first Friday of summer, we’re reminded that although the weather may be shaping up and boy does the beach sure look tempting, there’s still plenty of good reason to hide in the cozy comfort of a darkened theater. And this weekend, cinemas all around the city are showing everything from rare prints to classics, sure  to please everyone’s cinematic palette. Whether you and your film-focused lover intend on spending the weekend at Film Forum for an Ozu fest for two or your heart’s set on running down to Landmark Sunshine at midnight to celebrate True Romance, there’s a huge and exciting range of films to choose from over the next few days. So I’ve rounded up the best of what’s playing in New York for you to peruse before kicking off your weekend of play. Enjoy.

 

IFC Center

Frances Ha
El Topo 
Alien 
Dirty Wars 
As Cool as I Am 
Jabberwocky 
Something in the Air 
The Twelve Chairs 
The Wall 
Upstream Color

 

 

Nitehawk Cinema 

Velvet Goldmine 
The East 
Stories We Tell 
Spaceballs 
The Iceman 
2001: A Space Odyssey 

 

 

Museum of the Moving Image

David Byrne in True Stories 
Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense 
Bjork in Dancer in the Dark 
Panel Discussion: Blacks and Latinos in Asian Martial Arts 

 

 

Film Linc 

Much Ado About Nothing 
Dormant Beauty 
The Thing
It Was the Son 
Nina 
The Face of Another 
Pretty Butterflies 
The First Man 

 

 

MoMA

Greenberg 
The 400 Blows 
Somewhere 
Man to Man 
Whatever Works 
The Yards 
Milk 

 

 

Film Forum 

Late Spring
Hannah Arendt
Floating Weeds
Bye Bye Birdie
Days of Youth
I Was Born, But…

 

 

Landmark Sunshine 

True Romance 
The East 
The Kings of Summer 
Shadow Dancer 
Fill the Void 
Much Ado About Nothing 

 

 

BAM 

Nostalghia
The Russian Winter
Frances Ha
The Great Gatsby
Before Midnight 
In the Fog

From the Coen Brothers to G.W. Pabst, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York City

Now that you’ve recovered from your Memorial Day festivities, it’s time for the weekend once again. And although we look to reach some tropical temperatures in the next few days, don’t go running to the beach just yet. There’s the entire rest of your summer to do that, so why not spend the afternoon in the cool breeze of a cinema? Or, if you’re really not that misanthropic, find yourself someone to attend one of the fantastic late night screenings happening around the city this weekend. With the brilliant and bizarre classics  from  Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Coen Brothers, and Orson Welles, to some of the best premieres of the season with Zal Batmanglij’s The East and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer, there’s certainly something to satisfy everyone’s cinematic appetite. I’ve rounded up the best of what’s playing in the city this weekend, so peruse our list, grab yourself some snacks, and enjoy.

 

IFC Center

Blazing Saddles
Frances Ha
Jaws
Something in the Air
Time Bandits
Upstream Color

 

 

Film Linc

Augustine
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
Microcosmos
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

 

 

Nitehawk

Frances Ha
The Iceman
Basic Instinct
Texas Chainsaw Part 2
Living in Oblivion
Pandoras Box

 

 

Film Forum

School of Rock
Becoming Traviata
Augustine
A Pig Across Paris

 

 

Landmark Sunshine

Sightseers
In the House
Fill the Void
The Warriors

 

 

Angelika Film Center

Before Midnight
Stories We Tell
What Maisie Knew
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

 

 

Museum of the Moving Image

Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come
The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre in Dig!
Neil Young in Greendale

 

Alexander Skarsgård on Exploring ‘The East’ and the Joys of Creative Freedom

Following his initial reading of Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s brilliantly-crafted eco-thriller The East, actor Alexander Skarsgard had a simple message for his agent. "I don’t care what else is coming up out there," Skarsgård said. "I want to work with these people." It wasn’t only a testament to their thought-provoking and thrilling script, it was a reaction to the energy that Zal and Brit possess about their work, a voracious appetite for storytelling and a passion for making films that truly mean something and speak to the world we live in. 

As one of the most sought after and versatile actors in Hollywood today, Skarsgård’s been on everyone’s radar this spring with a slew of films that showcase the poetic nature and striking talent wrapped inside his hulking good looks. So after seeing him as the desolate veteran and husband in Disconnect and the hapless bartender-turned-father-figure in What Maisie Knew, with Batmanglij’s film we’re shown a more exposed side of Skarsgard, as Benji the charismatic leader of anarchist collective The East. 

Telling the story of Sarah, we see Marling as a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to confront the harm they’ve inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group’s leaders, growing closer to Benji, and opening her eyes to the wrongdoings that so easily go unnoticed.

"He has a lot of poetry in his eyes," says Zal of Skarsgård, who brings Benji to life with a vitality matched by his hidden vulnerability.  "At the end of the film it just made me think about morality," Skarsgård says, "and what is okay about civil disobedience, breaking the law, hurting someone, and how far you’re willing to go." Last week I got the chance to sit down with Skarsgård—for the second time this month— at the Crosby Street Hotel to discuss his unique and wonderful experience working on the feature, the importance of creative exploration as an actor, and bringing Zal and Brit’s vision to life.
 
How did you first become involved with the film, and what attracted you to the project?
Well, I got involved the good old way. I was sent a script from my agents two years ago on the 4th of July. I was in San Diego with some friends and I read it and was just blown away. I thought it was such a great script—so intelligent and interesting and felt like an old school spy thriller from the 1970’s but relevant and an important issue. It really made me think about these issues. So I called my agents and asked to meet the filmmaker. I’d seen Sound of My Voice and thought it was beautiful, so I drove up to LA and met with Zal and Brit. They just have a phenomenal energy; you get very inspired by them. We met and talked and hung out for an afternoon and I just thought that I would love to work with these people. 
 
I’ve been enormous admirers of those two for a while now, and feel like not only are they extremely talented but such an important new voice in cinema. As an actor that must be exciting to discover.
Oh, absolutely. I walked out of that meeting and called my agent immediately.  I said, I don’t care what else is coming up out there, I want to work with these people.
 
How did you jump into helping develop Benji and get to know him?
I was on my way to New York to shoot What Maisie Knew and Disconnect back-to-back, so I met with Zal and Brit a couple of times. And then working on Benji, it was basically over the phone. Zal and I would talk and Brit and I would talk about him and the relationship between Benji and Sarah. It was a great process because they’re so open to the collaborative process of exploring it together, and at no point did I feel like there were egos involved or they were holding onto something because they wrote the script. They were very open to letting me explore and exploring it together and playing around with it—which made it very exciting on set when you have a director who loves to be surprised. 
 
Do you enjoy this kind of collaborative environment? I imagine that’s refreshing when plenty of directors are more closed off and really just want you to serve their vision.
It’s just more inspiring when you work with someone who makes you feel that there’s a creative freedom, where you’re allowed to follow your instinct. And sometimes that might change and I love those moments when you prepare for a scene and you work on it and you think about it and you have an idea of how the scene will play out and which direction it will go in and I love moments when it doesn’t and something will happen because it’s an interaction between you and the person you’re in the scene with and that energy. You feed off each other in a way and it changes and I love that and being able to go with it and have director that’s applauding behind the camera being like, "Go go go!" Its about creating a safe environment on set where people feel like they’re allowed to make mistakes or go in a direction and just free fall; that’s how you create moments that are interesting and unique because you’re not playing it safe and you’re not trying do exactly what you’re prepared to do. And Zal is definitely one of those directors who is extremely prepared and knows the story and knows the characters, but also loves those moments that happen.
 
You and Brit had such a phenomenal chemistry together. It must be great working with someone like her whose also written the script so she knows the characters completely inside and out.
But that’s what so interesting about it because Brit wrote it, but it was also like she didn’t write it for herself. She was a writer but then she took it on as an actress and she was also in that process of exploring Sarah and getting to know who she was . We would get together on Sundays and just play around with the scenes and talk about it. We’re very similar in that way, Brit and I. And it’s also a domino effect—you shoot a scene and its different than the way you planned it and that will effect the relationship and that will effect the following scene, so we would sit and play around with it. She also gets very excited when we’d discover things.
 
With a film like this you can tell that it was a very close set.
Yes, unlike any set I’d ever been on. It was a combination of the material—just such a great script and interesting story—and Zal and Brit’s energy. To have them on set everyday and their enthusiasm, everyone was so effected by that and felt it. Even the people behind the camera, everyone was so intrigued and so involved in doing their job—like telling the story and making this film to a level I’ve never experienced before, where a grip would come up at lunch and be like: "Alex that scene this morning, when Benji said that—what did that mean?" And even give me notes and I would love that. We were all in that together. When we weren’t on set we’d all hang out;  Zal and Brit rented a house and we’d all hang out there and cook and on weekends play around with the scenes.
 
Have you enjoyed seeing the array of reactions to the film as you’ve taken it around to different festivals?
We’ve had some really great conversations with people, and people get really engaged. What I loved about the script—and I hope we were able to capture that—is that it’s not didactic, it’s not preachy. It’s not about a girl who works for the big bad corporation and then she joins the bearded people out in the woods and she realizes they’re the good guys and it’s a Robin Hood story of her fighting with them.
 
It’s more complex than that.
Yeah, it has much more depth than that and is more complicated. Even within the group they don’t all agree, which I thought was very interesting and very real. If you look at groups like the Weather Underground, one of the reasons they imploded was that they didn’t all agree. Some of them were willing to go really far and hurt people or kill people for the cause and some weren’t and we wanted to capture that. We also wanted to end the movie with the feeling I got when I read the script, where it didn’t feel like they were shoving an opinion down my throat or propaganda,it felt like at the end of the film it just made me think about morality and what is okay about civil disobedience, breaking the law, hurting someone, and how far you’re willing to go. And to do that and combine that with a movie that’s actually entertaining and fun a great spy thriller with a love story, I think Zal and Brit did a phenomenal job with the script and that’s how I got excited. 
 
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See a New Set of Photos From Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’

Last year, when speaking to writer and actor Brit Marling about Sound of My Voice, we got to talking about the films that have informed us creatively and the longing to expose everyday life in an abstract way. "Like that moment in Three Colors: Blue when she’s dragging her knuckles across that stone wall or in Red when the bubble gum ad becomes like the metaphysical portal into how she nearly dies and meets the love of her life. A fucking bubble gum ad! I love that pairing," she said. "I think our generation has that desire. You see it in music now, too; there’s a kind of earnestness and deep desire for something romantic and honest, but also the possibility for something magical in the mundane. We’re all hoping there’s more to all of this that meets the eye, and I hope that’s true." And with her latest film, The East—which she stars in and co-wrote with the film’s director, the wonderfully talented Zal Batmanglij, they’ve once again have collaborated to create something both thrilling and emotional, relevant to our current generation and questions that plague our society.

Starring Marling, Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard, and Patricia Clarkson, The East goes as follows:

Someone is attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to consume harmful products they manufacture. An elite private intelligence firm is called into action and contracts ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective, The East, suspected to be responsible. Skilled, focused, and bent on success, Sarah goes undercover and dedicates herself to taking down the organization. She soon finds, however, that the closer she gets to the action, the more she sympathizes with the group’s charismatic leaders.

And with the film’s release later this month, we’ve already seen a trailer for the feature, as well as stills and posters. But now we get an even closer look at the film with a new set of photos—both on set and from the film—as well as a new featurette. The East is a fantastic second feature for Batmanglij and shows how truly talented he and Marling are at creating an enlightening and engaging narrative.

So if you haven’t been keeping up with the film, see HERE, HERE, and HERE for more on The East and catch it when it hits theaters May 31st.

 

 

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Watch a Thrilling New Trailer for Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’

Last week, we talked about the need for films that not only show us where we’re at as a society and where we’re going, but how it feels. Alongside that, came new stills for Zal Batmanglij’s upcoming eco-thriller The East, a film that speaks to the confounding nature of our generation with a voice that’s refreshing and unique. Brimming with kinetic energy and emotion Batmanglij’s sophomore feature was co-written with Brit Marling, the two exploring similar territory as their first film Sound of My Voice—investigation of identity, the allure of charismatic leaders, and questions of personal belief—but now tackling those questions on a larger scale. And with The East, Batmanglij has proven himself a filmmaker to be excited about, whose career feels important to our current independent cinematic climate with the desire to tell authentic stories that reflect what it means to exist in today. 

And with The East, we follow Marling as Sarah, a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to come in contact with the harm they’ve inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group’s leaders and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.

When I interviewed Marling last year, we spoke about the type of films we both enjoy and the films she intends to write, saying: 
 I think cinema can get at the ineffable and the metaphysical in a way that’s very special. If a play is 80 percent auditory and 20 percent visual, cinema is the reverse. There are moments in film that can get to a place beyond words. Literally things that cannot be described by language—language is too limited. I think that we’re always interested in those kind of endings, trying to arrive at a place after 90 minutes of storytelling just for one breathless moment where the film is articulating something that you’ve always wanted to say but there haven’t been words for. 
And with The East, we’re left in that breathlessness, questioning our own beliefs and struggling to understand just which way we should turn. So with that, today we get a new trailer for the feature that highlights the drama and thrill of the story but also exposes the emotional side of their journey, with brilliant performances by Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, and many more. Take a look below.

Go Deeper Inside ‘The East’ With More Stills From Zal Batmanglij’s New Dramatic Thriller

Now more than ever, we need films that speak to where we’re at and where we’re going, exposing now only how it is, but how it feels. As culture assimilates to what’s happening in our society, the art and entertainment we consume shouldn’t be purely escapism to dull our anxiety, but a reflection of what it’s like to exist in a time when no one quite knows where to hang their beliefs. "I feel tremendously lucky to be a filmmaker in this decade but it’s also daunting because nobody knows what the fuck is going on. We live in a strange, strange time," said director Zal Batmanglij, whose new film The East speaks the discontent of our generation and how we’re dealing with the issues that permeate our society. But rather than haranguing you, The East invites you in with its intriguing thrill yet feels and feels as immediate as it does emotionally stirring.

In Batmanglij’s sophomore effort, we follow Sarah (played by Brit Marling who also co-wrote the film), a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to come in contact with the harm they’ve inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group’s leaders and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.

And thanks to HitFix, we now have a new batch of stills from the film that give us a deeper look at the cast, which features Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, and Shiloh Fernandez. Take a look below and get excited for The East when it hits theater May 31st.

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