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Q&A With New York Magazine Film Critic Matt Zoller Seitz, Author Of The Wes Anderson Collection

March 22nd, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published on March 14, 2014

Matt Zoller Seitz is the TV critic for New York magazine and and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism. A Brooklyn-based writer and filmmaker, Seitz has written, narrated, edited or produced over a hundred hours’ worth of video essays about cinema history and style for The Museum of the Moving Image and The L Magazine, among other outlets. His five part 2009 video essay Wes Anderson: The Substance of Style was later spun off into the hardcover book The Wes Anderson Collection. Seitz is the founder and original editor of The House Next Door, now a part of Slant Magazine, and the publisher of Press Play, a blog of film and TV criticism and video essays. He is the director of the 2005 romantic comedy “Home” and the forthcoming science fiction epic “Rabbit of the Sith.” He is currently writing memoir titled “All the Things that Remind Me of Her.” [via ROGEREBERT.COM]

PHAWKER: Please explain the premise of the book and how it came about and how you were able to secure Wes Anderson’s cooperation.

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: The Wes Anderson Collection started out a series of video essays called The Substance Of Style and that was a five-part series for Moving Image Source which is the online magazine of the Museum of the Moving Image and the purpose of the series was to explore the worlds of Wes Anderson’s style and look at the various pieces of art, particularly cinema, that had fed his imagination. To kind of lay it all out for you visually. I published that in March or April of 2009 and a little while later I got a nice email from Wes saying that he had seen it and appreciated it. And then not long after that I got a call from the editor of Abrams Books who had also seen it and had said ‘Hey, I want to publish a book on the films of Wes Anderson. Would you like to write it? And is there some way that we could almost make it like a book version of the series of video essays, which is to say very visually driven? The result was eventually the Wes Anderson Collection and it took a few left turns along the way but the basic idea of the book is a tour of the artist’s stylistic development over time. There are a lot of different elements and one is an interview with the filmmaker himself and the other is artwork, such as frames from the movie and images from other films that the artist has borrowed from and stolen from and otherwise used. The book is trying to look and feel like a Wes Anderson film.
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March 22nd, 2018


DEATH OF STALIN (Directed by Armando Iannucci, 107 minutes, 2018, USA)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITICThe Death of Stalin is a hilariously morose comedy based on the French graphic novel La mort de Staline by Fabien Nury (Les chroniques de Legion). Director Armando Iannucci (Veep) brings his razor-sharp eye for political satire to Stalinist Russia without skipping a beat in a film that is way more relevant than it has any right to be today. The director even opted to “tone down real-life absurdity” to make the film, which has been banned in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan a bit more believable. Assisted by the talents of such comedic geniuses as Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin and Jeffrey Tambor, The Death of Stalin is easily one of the funniest films of 2018.

The film is not only about the death of Stalin, as the title would suggest, but life under the dictator and the bumbling coup that would soon follow. When a scathing letter from a pianist paralyzes the dictator with a cerebral hemorrhage, it triggers into motion a bizarre chain of events that unleashes the blood thirsty ambitions of his Central Committee. Chief among them NKVD head Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), who was responsible for “The Great Purge” that killed almost 600,000 Russians who were suspected of being disloyal to Stalin and Mother Russia. When Beria finds Stalin lying on the carpet clinging to life in a puddle of his own urine, he commences plotting his own rise to power, before alerting the other Committee members, or even getting help. After pilfering Stalin’s desk for confidential files filled with blackmail-worthy dirt on his colleagues, he orders the Red Army out of Moscow, relinquishing their duties to the NKVD and sealing off the city. Surprisingly, Steve Buscemi steals the film with one of the best performances of his career as Moscow Party Head Nikita Khrushchev. He is charged with playing an intense game of cat and mouse with the Beria, who makes the mistake of underestimating the man’s ambition.

The Machiavellian game is then set into motion as each opportunistic member of the Central Committee arrives and immediately begins working their own angle to be the next supreme leader. The comedic vibe here is pitch black as the Committee simply stands around watching Stalin die while lamenting that there aren’t any decent doctors left, because Stalin had them all killed out of fear of being poisoned. It’s this kind of idiotic criminal complicitness that brings to mind the Trump administration and true to form the Committee spends the rest of the film scheming against one another as to who will be left to run the country after Stalin’s funeral.

As such, The Death of Stalin strikes a tricky tone, but it rings true. The events portrayed in the film happened 65 years ago, and that distance gives us the ability to laugh at this very dark chapter in this country’s history. Armando Iannucci succeeds in crafting a comedy that is equally hilarious as it is genuinely terrifying as we bear witness the absurd lengths men will go to not only save their necks but take complete advantage of a terrible situation to better their own standing.  While the film paints the political intrigue in shades of gloriously bleak gallows humor, the violence is portrayed in ways that are shockingly unfunny. It’s a dichotomy Iannucci uses to remind the audience that these bumbling characters — as funny as they may be — are still terrible human beings responsible for innumerable atrocities.


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CINEMA: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

March 20th, 2018

From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination. Opens June 8th in select theaters.

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March 19th, 2018

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Illustration by MARIO ZUCCA

THE RINGER: If you think about it, Bill Hader’s long and successful career can be traced back to the day he took his SATs—or, rather, the day he chose not to take his SATs. There he was, an anxious 16-year-old sitting in a classroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the time had come to make that first important step toward college by proving how well he remembered algebra and how many multisyllabic words he knew. “I put my name on the thing and everything,” Hader remembers, but the moment started to feel too big. The knowledge that with every bubble he filled in he would be actively determining his future was too much to handle. And so right then and there he decided: “Fuck it.”

“I got up and left,” Hader says. “The whole thing of like, ‘Here’s the thing you’ve been studying for, this is the moment, do or die,’ I just folded. This is just too intense and [I thought], ‘I just won’t go to college.’”

Minus a few semesters at the Art Institute of Phoenix and Scottsdale Community College, Hader stuck to that resolution. He moved to Los Angeles and got a couple of jobs as a production assistant on movies like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage and The Scorpion King, and then as an assistant editor on Iron Chef America. He joined an improv group at Second City’s outpost in Los Angeles to, as he puts it, “keep agile, keep creative.” One of the members of that group was Matt Offerman, brother to Nick Offerman (you know him as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation) and brother-in-law to Will & Grace’s Megan Mullally. Mullally is the reason Bill Hader became an actor, even though he “never wanted to be an actor.” (“I don’t know why people become actors. I don’t know why people do a lot of things,” he adds.) After Mullally saw him in one of the Second City shows, she called up Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live. A few months later, Hader was moving to New York City to be a featured player on SNL.

Sometimes, it turns out, skipping the SATs is the right decision. MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: The Crucifixion Of Meek Mill

March 16th, 2018

Illustration: Sean McCabe for Rolling Stone; Photograph: Karl Ferguson Jr.

ROLLING STONE: Judges in Pennsylvania have broad discretion over the length and terms of jail bids. “It’s not uncommon, with harsher judges, to see 10-year probations for lesser offenses,” say one veteran criminal lawyer who represents the poor in Philadelphia. “Brinkley’s the judge you’d least want to be supervised by. Any failure to live by her rules will be punished.” She isn’t the only judge to hang long leashes, but is, according to every lawyer I spoke to, the most needlessly severe. “She had a parolee before her who was nine months pregnant – and sent her off to prison to deliver,” says another attorney who asked that I not name him.

When Meek got out of jail in the summer of 2009, he appeared before Brinkley for status hearings. The theme of those sessions is best summed up by a recurring phrase of hers: You’re thumbing your nose at me. She uses it over and over again to describe small mix-ups – a scheduling snafu here, a missed phone call there. Meek would explain himself and apologize profusely, but nothing seemed to salve her sense of outrage. “All the opportunities I’ve given you,” she said in a typical broadside. “Each and every time, you’ve done something to indicate that you have no respect for this court.” Two years ago, he got the chance to talk to her in chambers, and hoped, out of earshot of the lawyers and reporters, to make her see how hard he was really trying. In February 2016, he came to court with his then-girlfriend, Nicki Minaj. The meeting in Brinkley’s chambers was not recorded by a court transcriber, and Minaj has declined offers to confirm Meek’s account; she and Meek broke up badly some months later. But there were several of Meek’s people in court that day (lawyers, executives from RocNation), and some of them spoke about what he and Minaj told them moments after the meeting.

“They were both in shock, saying, ‘We can’t believe what just went down,’ ” says Desiree Perez, the COO of RocNation. “The judge said, ‘I’m not really the monster you think I am. In fact, a lot of people look up to me.’ ” Then she asked them to do a song for her, a remix of the Boys II Men hit “On Bended Knee.” “Fucking Nicki busts out laughing, but I grabbed her leg, going, ‘Yo, this is my life here,’ ” Meek recalls. “I tried to tell the judge, ‘All respect, but that ain’t me. I’m a Philly street rapper, not a bubblegum dude.’ She says, ‘Fine, then,’ in a real sarcastic way. ‘Suit yourself.’ ”

Tacopina, Meek’s lawyer, rang his contacts at the FBI. Two agents came to Philly to talk to Meek. They asked him to wear a wire in front of Brinkley – just get her to out herself on tape and his long legal nightmare would be over. Meek declined. “In my world, that’s called snitching,” he says flatly. Instead, he served the year of house arrest, and got an additional six years of probation. In all, that comes to 14 years under Brinkley’s thumb. His original sentence called for 23 months. Between jail and house arrest, he’s done almost four years, and may spend that much again in state prison. MORE

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PHILADLEPHIA INQUIRER: The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office last year secretly compiled a list of Philadelphia police officers with a history of lying, racial bias, or brutality, in a move to block them from testifying in court. The confidential list of about two dozen was assembled by prosecutors on a special Police Misconduct Review Committee at the order of former District Attorney Seth Williams, sources familiar with the roster said. It was supposed to attack locally a national problem: police “testilying” — falsifying evidence, framing suspects, and lying about it in court. The list has not been made public, but the sources said it included Reginald V. Graham, who in 2007 arrested the rapper Meek Mill, whose jailing for violating probation on those gun and drug charges has stirred widespread debate about the fairness of the criminal-justice system. MORE

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HOT DOCUMENT: Unfinished Business

March 15th, 2018

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LAWFARE: The minority staff of the House intelligence committee released the following report on Tuesday evening. On Monday, the committee’s majority announced that it had concluded its inquiry into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. MORE

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GEEK SQUAD: How Captain America Got Woke

March 14th, 2018

Artwork by ALEX ROSS

It can be overwhelming to get into comics these days. Most characters are published for 50+ years so “start at the beginning” like you would a TV show is not always an option. A good starting point is to follow a specific writer’s run. This is an especially appealing option when a writer has established brilliance in a different field of work begins writing a comic. Acclaimed journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates has written Black Panther for two years now and will soon be writing Captain America. Captain America #1 drops on July 4th written by Coates with legend Alex Ross drawing the covers and Leinil Yu drawing the inside. Nothing much is known about the story except that the first cover do show classic Captain America characters Falcon, Bucky, Red Skull, A.I.M., Namor the Submariner, the original Human Torch, Baron Zemo and others. Coates’ background in political and social issues as a journalist will surely find its way into the work. Intriguingly, he has likened Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, to President Barack Obama. Like Obama, Steve Rogers reps all that is good and noble about the American Experiment but is not afraid to call bullshit when his country strays from its founding principle that all men were created equal. So if you’ve been curious to walk into a comic shop after watching dozens of Marvel films in theatres but unsure of where to start this is sure to be a good place. – RICHARD SUPLEE

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

March 13th, 2018

From Russia With Love


FRESH AIR: For more than a year now, journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn have been devoted to covering the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Isikoff was the first reporter to reveal that there was a U.S. intelligence investigation into Russian ties to a figure in the Trump campaign — Carter Page. Corn was the first to reveal the existence of the infamous Russia dossier, the unverified collection of reports alleging connections between the Trump campaign and Russia compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

Now, in their new book, Russian Roulette, the two men attempt to put all the pieces of the story together.”We start the book with Donald Trump’s trip to Moscow in 2013, when he really first forms this ‘bromance’ with Vladimir Putin,” Isikoff says. Isikoff notes that Trump’s 2013 trip to Russia for the Miss Universe pageant centered on a business deal: “He signed a letter of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow with a Putin-connected oligarch, Aras Agalarov.”

In 2016, Agalarov would later be one of the conduits for what was described to Donald Trump Jr. as an offer of help to the Trump campaign by the Russian government. The earlier potential deal for the Moscow Trump Tower fell through, Isikoff says, after the Obama administration and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. But Corn says that the stalled deal may help explain other elements of the story: “People have been trying to figure out for years the positive remarks that Donald Trump has made about Vladimir Putin … It’s almost hiding in plain sight that one reason he has for saying all these kind things about Putin is that he was always interested in doing business deals there.” MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Russian Roulette Excerpt

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BEING THERE: Flaming Lips @ Parx Casino

March 12th, 2018


ELECTRIC HORSEMAN: Wayne Coyne astride his mighty Unicorn last night

PREVIOUSLY: For someone who’s been a fan and a follower of the Flaming Lips for going on 27 friggin’ years—who was there when the acid hit the punk rock, when Jesus still shot heroin and priests still drove ambulances, back before she started using Vaseline, before clouds started tasting metallic, back before we realized the sun don’t go down, it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning ’round—going to Wayne Coyne’s house is, without exaggeration, like winning a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I amble up to the gate and cash in my golden ticket: Coyne’s cell phone number.

I peck out a text to announce my arrival, and before I can send it off, the gate swings open and the Wizard emerges, accompanied by a comely young lady who has, he explains, just finished gluing the crescent of glitter-rock sequins that semi-circle his right eye for the impending MAGNET cover shoot. (Although the photo shoot never materializes during my stay, he will continue to wear the sequins for the two days I spend with him, no doubt savoring the double-takes and poorly disguised sideways glances they elicit in the restaurants, bars and coffee shops we will frequent along the way.) He is dressed in a long, high-necked, blue woolen overcoat flecked with dog hair, fitted mustard-yellow slacks, tennis shoes and, despite the late-winter cold, no socks; this will remain his attire for the duration of my two-day visit, which, presumably, was the case long before I got here and will remain so long after I’m gone. The Wizard is the kind of guy who, when he finds an outfit that is the perfect mix of comfort and style, wears it until the wheels come off.

He smiles warmly, inviting me into the main house, where I am immediately set upon by a bitey, stranger-hating Chihuahua named Thor, who, by way of greeting, chomps down on my ankle and refuses to let go. This is not playful biting, this is “get the fuck out of my house” biting. It hurts and draws blood. If Coyne wasn’t here, I would drop kick Thor into next week. He is exactly no help.

“Oh, Thor, come on,” Coyne says, rolling his eyes, hands on his hips, with the tone of voice a parent would use to express his or her disapproval of a child making fart noises with his mouth at the dinner table. I grit my teeth and smile, pretending this is the playful nipping Wayne treats it as because I’ve only been inside his house less than a minute and it would, in all likelihood, be interpreted as rude for a 200-pound stranger to drop-kick a seven-pound chihuahua into next week in his own house. Actually, that’s not exactly true, this isn’t Thor’s house. Thor belongs to one of the myriad elfin bearded and bespectacled young men who toil in The Wizard’s dream factory.

“Let me get with my guys back there and tell them that the dreaded MAGNET reporter is finally here and I’ll get them set up on the things that we’re working on,” he says. “Come back, I’ll show you.” I finally shake loose from Thor’s death grip and follow Wayne through a series of spaceship-like hallways that lead to the laboratory in the back where the aforementioned bearded and bespectacled young men are working on the many, mad scientist-like experiments in brain-melting psychedelic retail and shock-and-awe marketing The Wizard is working on. MORE

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GEEK SQUAD: Who Is Cheetah?

March 9th, 2018



Director Patty Jenkins just confirmed that Kirsten Wiig has been cast as Cheetah in the upcoming Wonder Woman sequel. Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery of arch-nemeses is a bit more obscure than your garden-variety, friendly-neighborhood superhero. So who is Cheetah? Well, like many comic book characters from the ‘40s Cheetah look has morphed through the ages. Fans of the old cartoon Super Friends may remember her as an archaeologist in a cheetah onesie. But the character evolved throughout the years and the name has been given to a few different people. Currently Cheetah is a werecat-type person with enough super strength, speed, and claws to go toe-to-toe with the Gal Godot. She obtained this form and powers from the plant god Urzkartaga. This choice of villain might suggest a more Indiana Jones-type feel for the film because when Cheetah’s around an ancient artifact or temple of doom is never far behind. It also will fit easily into Wonder Woman’s current cover as a museum worker in last year’s Justice League. I personally can’t wait to see how they bring Cheetah to life. The special effects and costume department have their work cut out for them with the anthropomorphic baddie but if done right audiences will quickly forget the CGI crapfest that was Ares in the first film. – RICHARD SUPLEE

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LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD: Kurt Vile On Portlandia

March 9th, 2018

NOISEY: Over the years, Kurt Vile has proven pretty good at whatever he role he decides to fill, whether it’s shaggy solo folk singer, leader of a barn-burning rock band, a sideman in the War on Drugs, or a space-cowboy counterpart in duets with Courtney Barnett. Vile joins Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen on IFC’s final season of Portlandia, playing Brownstein’s personal roadie. MORE

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EXCERPT: From Russia With Love

March 9th, 2018

Russian Roulette


MOTHER JONES: The rest of the day was as hectic as the first: a press conference with 300 Russian reporters and more interviews, includ­ing one with Roberts in which Trump was pressed again about Putin. Do you have a relationship with Putin and any sway with the Russian leader? Roberts asked him. Trump was unequivocal: “I do have a relationship.” He paused. “I can tell you that he’s very inter­ested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today. And I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.”

Trump could barely contain his praise for Russia’s president: “Look, he’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s representing. If you look at what he’s done with Syria, if you look at so many of the different things, he has really eaten our president’s lunch. Let’s not kid ourselves. He’s done an amazing job…He’s put himself at the forefront of the world as a leader in a short period of time.” But Trump’s comments about a “relationship” with Putin were, at this point, wishful thinking. The word had spread through the Miss Universe staff that Trump fiercely craved Putin’s atten­dance at the pageant. In preparation for Putin’s possible appear­ance, Thomas Roberts and Mel B were taught several words in Russian to welcome the Russian president: “hello,” “thank you,” and so on. With her cockney accent, Mel B had trouble pronounc­ing the Russian words. She was told she had to get this right because Putin might come.

By late afternoon, Trump’s anxiety was palpable. There had been no word. He kept asking if anybody had heard from Putin. Then Agalarov’s phone rang. “Mr. Peskov would like to speak to Mr. Trump,” Agalarov said. Trump and Peskov spoke for a few minutes. Afterward, Trump recounted the conversation to Goldstone. Peskov, he said, was apologetic. Putin very much wanted to meet Trump. But there was a problem nobody had anticipated: a Moscow traffic jam. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands were in town, and Putin was obligated to meet them at the Kremlin. But the royal couple had gotten stuck in traffic and was late, making it impossible for the Russian president to find time for Trump. Nor would he be able to attend the Miss Universe pageant that evening.

Putin wanted to make amends, though. Peskov conveyed an invitation for Trump to attend the upcoming Olympics, where perhaps he and Putin could then meet. He also told Trump that Putin would be sending a high-level emissary to the evening’s event—Vladimir Kozhin, a senior Putin aide. And, Peskov told Trump, Putin had a gift for him. It was a crushing disappointment for Trump. But he quickly thought of how to spin it, suggesting to an associate that after the telecast they could spread the word that Putin had dropped by. “No one will know for sure if he came or not,” he said. […]

Trump was finally on his way in Russia. And shortly after the Miss Universe event, Agalarov’s daughter showed up at the Miss Universe office in New York City bearing a gift for Trump from Putin. It was a black lacquered box. Inside was a sealed letter from the Russian autocrat. What the letter said has never been revealed. MORE

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GEEK SQUAD: Girls Kick Ass

March 7th, 2018



Jessica Jones season 2 debuts on Netflix tonight. It’s been more than two years since the super-powered private detective Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) defeated the mind controlling rapist Killgrave (David Tennant). Killgrave dominates the first season’s plot with his ability to literally tell everyone what to do. So where does the show go after killing him off at the end of season one? Trailers suggest that Jessica will fight another person with her powers this season so one could expect a bit more action than the psychological thriller. But the mystery of how Jessica (and possibly others) got their power is still around to slowly unravel. What we know so far: she survived a car crash that killed the rest of her family and she woke up with super powers and paid medical bills. Her best friend, former child TV star and current radio host Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), is continuing her own character development into the hero Hellcat as she watches Jessica’s back. Despite a lack of powers Trish kicked her share of ass last season thanks to Krav Maga. Other than that expect Jessica to continue dealing with her PTSD from Killgrave’s abuse by constantly drinking and insulting everyone she comes into contact with. — RICHARD SUPLEE


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