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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: The frustrating sci-fi drama “Terra Nova” finally shows signs of life

Stephen Lang and the dinosaurs: Those are the only two reasons to watch Terra Nova. And that’s depressing when you consider that the Steven Spielberg-produced science fiction series is the most expensive show on TV right now, and that it’s still considered a long shot for renewal even though more worthy network shows — including NBC’s Community and ABC’s Pan Am — have effectively been canceled.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 23, 2011 12:16 AM
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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: Will HOMELAND turn into another THE KILLING?

It was probably only a matter of time before the executive producers of Homeland, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, reverted to their roots on Fox’s “24,” eroding a lot of the goodwill that this show has built up. I’ve described last week’s episode, “The Weekend,” as the most perfect hour of TV drama I’ve seen since the Mad Men episode “The Suitcase,” and I stand by that rave. Unfortunately, a viewer’s endorsement can be undone by problematic twists, and I have a sinking feeling that’s what just happened on Homeland.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 23, 2011 12:02 AM
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VIDEO ESSAY: Never Before, Never Again: Henson and Oz; A Muppet conversation

EDITOR'S NOTE: To mark the opening of Jim Henson's Fantastic in July 2011, Matt Zoller Seitz and Ken Cancelosi created Never Before, Never Again: Henson and Oz, a video essay which describes the nature of that long and fruitful collaboration between Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Press Play is re-posting that essay in light of the release of Jason Segel's new directorial effort, The Muppets. Given the length of their 27-year collaboration and their creative influence on the culture, it makes the argument that they should be considered a comedy team on the level of Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. In addition, we are publishing a discussion between the essay's creators. They discuss the curious fate of the Muppets since Jim Henson's untimely death and the challenges director Jason Segel faces in resurrecting them.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz and Ken Cancelosi
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  • November 22, 2011 5:43 PM
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  • 1 Comment

Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear at 20

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear is first and foremost a work-for-hire directing job; this doesn’t make it a lesser film, simply a movie he didn’t attach himself to from the beginning. Released 20 years ago this month, Cape Fear was the bookend to that other thriller released earlier in the year, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Yes, 1991 saw America’s top two filmmakers try their hands at psychological thrillers – adult horror stories, really – and the results were movies that wiped away the last remaining residue of ‘80s exploitation – mechanized shocks designed to elicit robotic responses. With Lambs, Demme, who had up to that point made a name for himself as the most humane of American directors, used his training from working for Roger Corman to execute an unrelenting serial-killer thriller. What made the movie special was Demme’s refusal to sacrifice humanity for easy scares. He turned the platonic doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and F.B.I. trainee Clarice Starling into one of movie history’s unlikeliest love stories. Even when dealing with monsters like Hannibal the Cannibal or Buffalo Bill, Demme was incapable of seeing then as just monsters. He had to locate their humanity. With Cape Fear, Scorsese left behind his comfort zone of big-city streets to tell an intimate story of a seemingly normal family imploding. His ongoing exploration of sin and guilt – whether it is ever too late for a man who has done wrong to be saved – courses through every frame of Cape Fear. Both films were big hits, but while Lambs became a zeitgeist movie complete with a character cementing a permanent place in our collective imagination, Cape Fear might be, in hindsight, the more disturbing of the two.
  • By Aaron Aradillas
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  • November 22, 2011 10:19 AM
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  • 2 Comments

PICTURES OF LOSS: THE DARJEELING LIMITED, directed by Wes Anderson

About a year-and-a-half after my father died, I was at the Ohio Theatre (a former Loew’s movie palace in Columbus, Ohio) waiting for a screening of To Kill a Mockingbird to begin when I mindlessly reached for my inside jacket pocket. I seldom wear the navy blue blazer I had on, and I suppose I was curious to see what old to-do list or movie program I might find stuffed in it. What I found instead was some unused Kleenex tissue, neatly folded in the shape of a square. “What was that doing there?” I thought at first.
  • By Peter Tonguette
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  • November 22, 2011 10:14 AM
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  • 7 Comments

PICTURES OF LOSS: HEREAFTER, directed by Clint Eastwood

Joan Didion says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” In the months after my father died, the story I told myself was that I could write as I always had, about movies and movie directors, and that this would, in fact, serve as a useful distraction from my grief. I was certain that my professionalism would see me through this terrible time.
  • By Peter Tonguette
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  • November 21, 2011 1:44 PM
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  • 1 Comment

VIDEO ESSAY: Searching for the Muppets

When Jim Henson died in 1990, at the age of 53, there was reason to fear that the Muppets wouldn’t live on without him. They did. Since Henson’s death, Muppets have appeared in three major movies, a short-lived TV series, a few TV specials and several direct-to-YouTube videos. They’ve inspired toys, calendars and postage stamps. And now they’re poised to hit the big screen yet again, in a movie written by and starring Jason Segel.
  • By Jason Bellamy
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  • November 21, 2011 1:35 PM
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PICTURES OF LOSS: Introduction

Ever since I began writing professionally about film, my father nearly always read what I wrote. Yet it was only recently that it hit me: Before he died in January of 2010, the last article he read by me concerned the death of a parent, and most of the films I have thought to write about since then concern losses like my own.
  • By Peter Tonguette
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  • November 21, 2011 1:24 PM
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  • 0 Comments

SLIDE SHOW: Woody Allen's greatest films

Woody Allen, whose career will be celebrated next week by PBS’ documentary series American Masters, has been making films for so long that it’s a wonder the program didn’t profile him sooner. With 47 directing credits, 68 screenwriting credits, and let’s-not-even-start-totaling his Oscar wins and nominations, he’s a gray-haired machine who gets more done in a decade than most artists accomplish in a lifetime.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • November 19, 2011 2:50 AM
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  • 1 Comment

Eastwood's "J. Edgar" takes few risks with its controversial subject

You'd think Clint Eastwood would be the right guy to direct a movie about J. Edgar Hoover. After all, who better to tell the story of the 20th century's most influential law enforcement officer, the man who wrote the rule book on fighting crime only to disregard those rules when they prevented him from getting his man, than Dirty Harry himself? Or, to be less obvious, what would the man responsible for White Hunter Black Heart, A Perfect World and Million Dollar Baby — movies about men who defied authority, be it Hollywood, the law or God — bring to the life story of the man who held authority over the country for nearly 50 years? Alas, Clint Eastwood's stately biopic J. Edgar is a frustrating experience. For nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes we are held captive by the possibility of a major revelation or insight into a man whose obsession with cataloging every single detail of a person's personal and professional lives foretold the collapse of privacy. We get hints, intimations and suggestions of darker urges that shaped Hoover's behavior, but nothing concrete about the man's personality, and no attitude whatsoever toward his actions. Eastwood mistakes vagueness for ambiguity and puts us in the position of being armchair psychiatrists.
  • By Aaron Aradillas
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  • November 18, 2011 9:15 AM
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  • 0 Comments

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