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And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

“Just pretend like it’s a video game.”

-Candy, Spring Breakers

“Spring break forever, bitches.”

-Alien, Spring Breakers

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Nader and Simin have been married for over a decade. They have an eleven-year-old daughter, Termeh, and also live with Nader’s father, who suffers from severe Alzheimer’s and needs round-the-clock care. The couple is solidly middle-class, with a well-furnished apartment, two cars, and apparently steady employment. When Simin insist they leave the country for the sake of their daughter’s future, and Nader refuses to join her, Simin files for divorce. Read the rest of this entry »

Drive begins with a monologue, spoken over the phone, from its titular character, the otherwise nameless “Driver.” In it, he espouses his personal code for his job (which, inbetween stunt-driving gigs for movies, entails getaway driving for thieves). Shortly thereafter, we get a look at him in action, driving the getaway car during a nighttime heist in which he escapes police attention with robotic precision and skill. In this opening sequence, Nicolas Winding Refn establishes a well-explored archetype as the basis for his lead character, and proceeds to spend the next 90-odd minutes dismantling it piece-by-piece, revealing a character that is perfect on the surface but broken underneath.

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True Grit finds the Coen brothers in what is, in many ways, foreign territory: a straight-forward genre exercise, free of ironic sentiment, revisionism, or genre-bending, marked not by their own cynical vision and thematic conceits but rather by its strengths as a piece of storytelling. And this is compounded by the fact that, though it is ostensibly a re-adaptation of the original novel and not strictly a remake, it will inevitably be cast in the shadow of the beloved 1969 film starring John Wayne. However, given their remarkable ability to jump from one style to another – from stoner comedy to neo-noir to period parable et al – it should come as no surprise that the Coens succeed on this playing field as on all others.

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In his new psychosexual thriller Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky looks to Michael Powell’s 1948 classic The Red Shoes as his primary inspiration. In that film, a beautiful ballerina (Moira Shearer) is torn between her commitment to her art – driven to perfection under the firm and unyielding demands of a famed ballet impresario (Anton Walbrook) – and love. Pulled asunder by the opposing forces on either side of her, ballet ultimately destroys her. But while Powell’s melodramatic touch remains here, it’s layered with sexual tension, horror, and even comedy, giving it a far different (and more striking) tone than that film.

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Paranormal Activity 2, as much or more than any sequel I can think of, seemed primed to be a quick cash-grab that simply rehashed the formula of the first with superficial changes to keep things from getting stale. And, well, it more or less is. But it’s entirely forgivable because it manages to be better than the first anyway (which I thought was solid enough, albeit encumbered with enough flaws to keep it from being something truly special).

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Getting to the heart of Robert Altman’s 1975 masterpiece, Nashville, is a monumental task. Aside from its ostensible sprawl – how can I encapsulate the many ways in which its cast of over 20 main characters moved me so much? – Altman takes on so many subjects and targets that the film, as much as anything, leaves you breathless by the time its shocking climax rolls around. It’s at once an epic, an intimate character film, a satire of the 70s country music scene (and in equal measure – though some, including 70s country stars, would disagree – an appreciation of it), an examination and criticism of America’s celebrity culture (a “nation of groupies,” as one Playboy interviewer put it) and political culture. The scope of Altman’s film is stunning enough, but that he succeeds in bringing it all together into a rich tapestry that is funny, somber, tragic, and joyous all at once is what makes it such a treasure.

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Now that he’s largely confined himself to directing overblown period epics, it’s hard not to wonder at what point Ridley Scott decided to move away from science fiction, after directing, back-to-back, two of the best films the genre ever produced: 1979’s Alien (the greatest monster movie I’ve seen), and 1982’s Blade Runner. Perhaps it was the difficulty of making the latter – the studio interference, Harrison Ford’s attitudinal problems, the casting difficulties, etc. – that turned Scott off to the experience, though ironically he’s had just as much trouble getting films made in his vision in the ensuing years. Whatever the reason, it’s sad to watch a film as original, thematically rich and expertly crafted as Blade Runner and wonder what could have been had Scott continued to make science fiction films.

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In a career full of bleak and despairing films, Ingmar Bergman never made anything bleaker than Shame, his 1968 anti-war masterpiece. He portrays two civilians caught in the crossfire of a civil war, and by focusing the consequences of battle on those who must live with the effects, he makes as harrowing a statement against the destruction of war as any I’ve seen. It’s as lean and mean as anything in Bergman’s ouevre, and every bit as uncompromising.

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Of all the films I’ve seen, I’ve never quite seen anything else like Last Year at Marienbad. Many films defy easy explanations, but Last Year at Marienbad seems almost uniquely intent on existing for the very purpose of confounding its viewers – its labyrinthian narrative continually looping back on itself in a vague manner, toying with time and space and linearity so freely that it’s like trying to solve a puzzle. And yet for all of its challenges, it never becomes a chore of unwinding the plot or an act of intellectual heavy-lifting, because above all the film is about the mood it evokes.

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