MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

Wilmington By Mike WilmingtonWilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVDs: The Campaign

My name is Mike Wilmington, and I approved this review. Are politicians whores? Are movie comedies whorehouses? Are whores and poets and comedians the great unacknowleged legislators of mankind—and East Canarsie? Then why don’t they all get together and count votes more often?

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Wilmington on Movies: Cloud Atlas

I loved it. And for once, I’m speechless. But I promise to get to it at greater length, next week. It’s a movie, after all, that can probably be watched repeatedly, and discussed endlessly. It’s divided the critics — some are fervently pro, some contemptuously con — in a way that usually only the more interesting pictures can and do. It’s long, it’s complex, and it violates about half the rules for a big-budget big-audience movie, while following (and triumphing in) about half the others.

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Wilmington on Movies: Chasing Mavericks

Jonny Weston has curly-frizzy blonde locks and a ripped torso and he even does most of his own surfing. But he also has amiable but vacuous pretty boy looks that suggest blonde actors like Troy Donahue or Christopher Atkins — that summon up less a great, driven surfer on a date with destiny than a male model with a date at the Santa Monica pier. I’ve seen Weston at least one other time recently, in the lousy behind-the scenes porno industry movie About Cherry, but I can barely remember what he did in it. I can and will remember him in Chasing Mavericks. But that’s mostly because of his role, and because he’s playing, at least part of the time, with those incredible waves — the awesome rolling towers of water and spray and curling doom that better men (and women) than I am, conquer or fall before.

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Wilmington on DVDs: Blade Runner

Blade Runner was one of the two favorite movies of a girl I loved once named Marji Sirkin, a friend with whom I laughed and played and watched movies, and whom I watched slowly die of Hodgkin’s Disease two decades ago in a much sunner, smoggier. and even sadder, Los Angeles. She looked, I thought, like Moira Shearer crossed with Tina Louise. We had fun. She watched Blade Runner and Beauty and the Beast and her other favorites over and over again. She wanted to be a film editor. She was working her way through UCLA Film, and she had won an award with one of her student films (about the dangers of cigarette smoking).Then her body’s clock began to stop and it was painful for her to walk, and her beautiful red hair fell out.

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Wilmington on DVDs: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; Quantum of Solace; Secret Beyond the Door

I didn’t read the book — and believe me, I never will — but it seems to me that the only way you could possibly make an entertaining show out of a title and a concept as dumb as this, is to do it as a five minute sketch for “Saturday Night Live,” maybe starring Will Ferrell as Lincoln, Tina Fey as Mary Todd Lincoln and Adam Sandler as Adam, the vampire. Get in and get out, fast.

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Wilmington on DVDs: Magic Mike; The Little Shop of Horrors

   MAGIC MIKE (Two and a Half Stars) U. S.: Steven Soderbergh, 2012 (Warner Bros.)   The art and commerce of striptease — at least as we see it in director Steven Soderbergh and producer-star Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike — is entertainment in a very elemental (let’s say “stripped down“) form. The performer takes off her/his clothes…

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Wilmington on Movies: The 48th Chicago International Film Festival Awards

48th CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL   Holy Motors Holy Motors, Leos Carax’s  surreal French fantasy-drama-thriller-romance (and then some) about a chameleonic actor and his weird limousine journey through nearly a dozen alternate lives, was the big winner at Friday night’s award ceremony for The 48th  annual Chicago International Film Festival. Carax’s film, his first since…

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Wilmington on Movies: The Sessions

The Sessions (which was called “The Surrogate” when it played at Sundance) carries us through Mark’s determination to have a sexual life, to his decision to hire a sex surrogate — Helen Hunt as the real-life surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene — and their sessions together, in a motel room, facilitated by Mark’s caretaker Vera (Moon Bloodgood) and an inquisitive desk man (Ming Lo). Alone together in the bare-looking motel room, Cheryl tries to teach and gentle him into his heart’s desire. It’s not easy.

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Wilmington on Movies: Sinister

These home snuff movies are creepy and ragged-looking. The real-life scenes are creepy stylized horror stuff. And the professional reality makes the amateur “reality” movies look spookier. (Kudos to cinematographer Chris Norr for the way he lights both of them.) Derrickson, who also directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the overblown 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, works with Norr to keep everything shadowy and grim and unsettling — never more so than when we witness those murders, especially the one in the tree.

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Wilmington on DVDs: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson makes pictures that are like big beautiful whimsical toys, few more than this. He and his co-writer, Roman Coppola (son of Francis) swim out into a dream and a storm, and they wave to us. The children behave like….grownups. The grownups behave like children. (I said that.)

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Wilmington on DVDs: That’s My Boy; Chernobyl Diaries

  THAT’S MY BOY (One and a Half Stars) U.S.: Sean Anders, 2012 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) Say one thing for Adam Sandler: He isn’t afraid of looking like an idiot on screen. Or a boor. Or one horny dude. Or a comedian who doesn’t give aadamn what the some critics think of him. More…

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Wilmington on DVDs: Avatar

  PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW Avatar (Four Stars) U.S.; James Cameron, 2009, 20th Century FoxAvatar, James Cameron’s planet-shaking, moon-rocking, eco-boosting, dragon-riding new science fiction fantasy epic-and-a-half, may not be a perfect movie. But it’s sure as all blazes an incredible movie-going experience. Cameron’s long-time labor of love and money is a genre-movie knockout, a technological marvel, whose…

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Wilmington on DVDs: Strangers on a Train, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

This classic portrayal of murder, guilt, transference and homoeroticism is one of Hitchcock‘s best: a superb film noir adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s classic literary thriller, with an amazing performance — blood-chilling, hilarious and strangely moving — by Walker as Bruno, that charmingly twisted rich boy who won’t take “no” for an answer.

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Wilmington on Movies: Seven Psychopaths

That’s sixteen characters (and one Shih Tzu) altogether, including the four psychopaths we already mentioned. You’ll just have to figure out who the other three psychos are yourself, or wait until McDonagh shows one of them in the movie, and flashes the title “Psychopath One” (or whatever) on screen. There are some surprises. But I’d go see a movie with any three of the seven actors playing actual psychopaths in this one, in a trice. Or a movie just with Chris Walken and any two others, even the dog.

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Wilmington on DVDs: Prometheus

  PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW Prometheus (Also 3 or 4 Disc Blu-ray Combo Packs) (Four Stars) U. S.: Ridley Scott, 2012 (20th Century Fox) I. PART ONE, THE SET-UP John Hurt, anyone? Prometheus is Ridley Scott’s first science fiction movie since Blade Runner three decades ago, and a prequel of sorts to his first…

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Wilmington on Movies: Frankenweenie

Two of the best things horror-comedy prodigy Tim Burton ever did were a couple of black and white cartoons he made for Disney back in the early ‘80s, when he was a lad in his 20s. One of them, Vincent (1982), was the tale in rhyme of a little boy who adored Vincent Price. Narrated in his inimitable evil-ish sneer by Mr. Price himself; it was a critical hit, and deserved to be. (I remember seeing it in a theater in the early ‘80s, with mingled bemusement and delight — and filing away Burton‘s name in my noggin.) The other gem, the black and white stop-motion featurette Frankenweenie, was a Frankenstein parody set in a black-and-white sit-commy stop-motion suburb, about a child named Victor Frankenstein who revives with electricity his dead pet dog.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Master

I watched an hour of The Master, and decided that (along with IMAX), that was one of the main ways I wanted to look at movies from now on. The Master catches the ’50s as well as most of the great color movies of and about that decade—Vertigo, Some Came Running, Written on the Wind, A Star is Born, and of course, Rebel Without a Cause. It’s an expose’ of the Eisenhower era, but it’s also a 70mm poem to it.

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Wilmington on DVDs: Peace, Love and Misunderstanding; Red Lights

    PEACE, LOVE, & MISUNDERSTANDING (Two and a Half Stars) U.S. Bruce Beresford, 2011 (MPI Home Video) In Peace, Love & Misunderstanding — a cinematic salute/love ballad to the survivors of the ’60s — Jane Fonda plays Grandma Grace, whom you might describe as a permanent ambassador from Woodstock Nation. A devotee of sex, drugs…

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Wilmington on DVDs: Dark Shadows

    DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW DARK SHADOWS (Three Stars) U.S.: Tim Burton, 2012 The original TV “Dark Shadows” was a hell of a soap, a classic of ‘60s-’70s pop/trash culture. When you watch it today, you can almost hear a ghostly backdrop chorus  of  Nixon and McGovern speeches, Walter Cronkite reporting the Vietnam…

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Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin