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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: TV’s unconscionable spectacle

The scariest, most disgusting show on television isn’t American Horror Story. It’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Bravo’s unscripted series offers that horror movie gimmick of showing you unlikable people doing ill-advised things that you can’t prevent no matter how loudly you yell or curse at the screen. But because the characters are — in the physical sense, at least — “real,” and the world-shattering plot twist at the core of this season was telegraphed to the audience long in advance, what might otherwise seem a guilty pleasure seems instead a travesty, as depraved a spectacle as anything that has ever appeared on American screens.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 5, 2011 4:04 AM
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  • 0 Comments

SLIDE SHOW: Martin Scorsese’s greatest movies

This has been quite a year for 60-something American filmmakers. Terrence Malick, who started directing in 1973, created the year’s most divisive conversation piece with “The Tree of Life.” Woody Allen, who started directing in 1966, had his biggest financial success with “Midnight in Paris.” Steven Spielberg, who directed his first feature-length movie 40 years ago, has two blockbusters coming out this month, “The Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse.” And Martin Scorsese, who made his directorial debut in 1966, has had another success with “Hugo,” a film history-conscious 3-D art film for kids that finished second to “The Muppets” at the box office during its opening weekend and was just named film of the year by the National Board of Review. It’s as good a time as any for a Best of Scorsese list — as if I really need an excuse!
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 2, 2011 10:00 PM
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Joe Swanberg's CAITLIN PLAYS HERSELF defies expectations and categorization

There’s not much nuance to the discussion around Joe Swanberg’s films. You either think the amazingly prolific director’s the second coming of Ingmar Bergman and the French New Wave or a sexist softcore sleazebag. No other member of the mumblecorps generates so much heat, even if Andrew Bujalski or Aaron Katz’s films aren’t universally liked. At a Q&A in Brooklyn two months ago, I asked Swanberg why he thinks his work is so divisive. He pointed out several possible reasons – shooting entirely on video (although he’s far from alone there), acting in his own films – before settling on the fact that he puts his libido explicitly into his work. That sex drive is usually but not always directed towards beautiful young women. However, Swanberg has also filmed himself masturbating for real, and his forthcoming film, The Zone, an update of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, depicts a mysterious bisexual stranger.
  • By Steven Erickson
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  • December 2, 2011 11:39 AM
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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: On “Weed Wars,” drug clichés go up in smoke

“I run a family business, and the business is cannabis,” says Steve D’Angelo, a central character in Discovery’s new series “Weed Wars” and the co-founder and executive director of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, which distributes medical marijuana to almost 100,000 customers. D’Angelo’s matter-of-fact statement sums up the tone of this series, which treats the Harborside Heath Center as just another family-owned (albeit nonprofit) business, ultimately not too different from a veterinary clinic, a hair salon or a tattoo parlor.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • December 1, 2011 7:53 PM
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GREY MATTERS: How "Lifeforce" and "Mean Streets" saved my sanity

In 1986 an M.T.A. bus ran the light on 42nd Street and smashed into my face, sending my body hurtling about 15 feet until it crashed into a mailbox and the cement. My nose was crushed to the side of my face and gushing blood, my skull cracked, my knee and leg broken.
  • By Ian Grey
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  • December 1, 2011 8:49 AM
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  • 11 Comments

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: When great TV shows disappoint

As regular readers know, I sometimes fall head-over-heels in love with promising new shows, and when they deliver a problematic or outright bad episode, it’s disillusioning. I tell myself it’s the nature of the beast — that it’s hard to make just one great half-hour or hour-long episode, let alone 10 or 12 or 26 in a row. The law of averages has to catch up eventually. But that doesn’t change the fact that a show that once seemed to have excellent judgment suddenly made what felt like out-of-character or flat-out stupid choices. A botch-job episode can make you wonder if you were right to like the show in the first place. At its most misjudged and tone-deaf, a bad episode of an otherwise terrific series can emphasize flaws you were previously inclined to overlook. It can even make you second-guess the things you praised in the past.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 30, 2011 1:15 AM
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RECAP: The man’s world of BOARDWALK EMPIRE

On one hand, yes, oh my God, oh the humanity, poor Angela Darmody (Aleksa Palladino), rest her soul; what a ghastly exit. Philadelphia gangster/butcher Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe) avenged a botched assassination attempt by Angela’s husband, Jimmy (Michael Pitt), by invading the Darmodys’ seaside house and putting Angela and her girlfriend down like livestock. It was obscenely dark, and I mean that as a compliment. Violence that’s supposed to mean something — to feel “real” and hurt the spectator — can’t be clean, abstract or comic bookish. It needs to have that ’70s movie nastiness, and this killing definitely had it. It reminded me of the murder spree that ended Boys Don’t Cry, with the bodies on the floor and the bloodstains on the wall. Horrifying.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 28, 2011 1:27 AM
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  • 1 Comment

VIDEO SLIDE SHOW: The Muppets' greatest hits

After Jim Henson’s death, the Muppet troupe spent a couple of decades wandering the pop culture wilderness, trying but mostly failing to get in touch with the magic that once fueled their popularity. They got a big step closer two winters ago, when “Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody,” their first hit viral video, debuted on YouTube. This week they’ve got their first big-screen hit in almost three decades, “The Muppets,” written by and co-starring comic actor and Henson obsessive Jason Segel. “It bumbles along episodically from one thing to the next — hey-ho! — and captures the spirit of Henson’s ‘Muppet Show’ admirably,” writes my colleague Andrew O’Hehir.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 27, 2011 3:54 AM
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Jason Segel's THE MUPPETS proves it's time for Kermit & Co. to pack it in

In his effort to revitalize the brand, Jason Segel exposes his fondness for the Muppets as boldly as he exposed his naked body in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. No hidden agendas here, The Muppets is packed with full-frontal nostalgia that suggests not just Segel’s desire to relive the magic of yesteryear but also his fervent belief that the Muppets’ charms can cast an equally powerful spell today. The Muppets, which Segel co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller, opens with an outright appreciation of The Muppet Show and the not so subtle implication that Segel spent his childhood feeling as if the Muppets were part of his family. If you’re a hardcore fan and realize how much the brand’s spirit has strayed from its roots since Jim Henson’s death in 1990, this is exactly the kind of opening you want to see, and it’s equally encouraging when, not much later, Segel’s Gary and his brother Walter (a Muppet performed by Peter Linz) break into song. The film’s rousing opening number, “Life’s a Happy Song,” captures some of the cherished Henson-era optimism and sweetness in its title alone, and the lyrics have a casually playful absurdity to them that feels just right. But the capper is a massive dance routine at the end of the song, when the citizens of Smalltown, USA, come flooding into the frame to form a leg-kicking, jazz-handsing chorus, creating a spectacle that would rank among the all-time greatest Muppet moments if not for one small problem. None of them are Muppets.
  • By Jason Bellamy
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  • November 26, 2011 7:15 PM
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  • 10 Comments

PICTURES OF LOSS: A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER NEVER CRIES, directed by James Ivory

This last one is going to be hard to explain. Bear with me. It all goes back to a book of short stories by Gordon Lish called What I Know So Far, and the question, “Why do I think so often about What I Know So Far?”
  • By Peter Tonguette
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  • November 25, 2011 10:19 AM
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  • 0 Comments

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