January 20, 2007

Weekend shorts.

Le Pont des arts "A Baroque theater director and fifty-something American expatriate in France, [Eugène] Green has directed four oblique, tender and smart-alecky, charmingly pretentious films," writes Ken Chen in a longish piece for Film International. "These films have a calm sealed quality, like science fiction movies that only coincidentally take place in our own universe."

Jim Emerson enjoyed "Contrarian Week" at scanners so much, he's calling for a Contrarian Blog-a-Thon for the weekend of February 16 through 18: "Make your own contrarian argument for/against a movie or a specific moment in a movie or a filmmaker's work or a whole genre if you want to. Just make sure you build a real argument (with examples!) rather than a crackpotty ad hominem attack." Andy Horbal has a list of more up-n-coming Blog-a-Thons.

Somewhat related to contrarianism, though, the IFC News not only has a fun idea for a collective feature, they've also come up with the perfect title for it: "Gagging on the Kool-Aid: Cult Films We Just Don't Get."

Also: "You could down a trough of Gogol, Kafka and Buñuel and still not come up with an absurd domestic apocalypse as simple and disconcerting as that of Emmanuel Carrère's La Moustache," writes Michael Atkinson, who also reviews Mouchette: "In Bresson's no-nonsense hands, this grim fable becomes a pantomime stations of the cross, so completely focused on sensuous details, ethical interrogation and the fastidious lasering-away of movie bullshit (like acting and action) that it comes close to the simple thrust of a medieval Christian icon." More from Steve Erickson at Nerve and Marcy Dermansky.

I Served the King of England Via the Literary Saloon: "Contemporary Czech cinema began with the novelist Bohumil Hrabal," writes Steffen Silvis in a review for the Prague Post of Jirí Menzel's latest adaptation (you may remember that Closely Watched Trains is based on Hrabal's work as well), I Served the King of England, set to compete in Berlin. Silvis: "Though Menzel has formulated an interesting narrative structure to contain Hrabal's marvelous excursiveness, and has invented a handful of striking visual solutions for various scenes in the text, the whole seems soulless." Related: Waggish reviewed the book in March 05.

Well put, Looker: "That Woody may be an artist of merit, as opposed to a Bergman-and-Fellini-fetishizing gag-man who hides his shallowness behind talented actors and artful cinematography, is a notion that didn't seem plausible for me again until reading [David] Rakoff. Plus he's got wild, fascinating ruminations on all kinds of things, from George Sanders's suicide note to Viva's mockery of Nico to Drew Barrymore's nipples. His blog is a must-read, from start to finish."

"[H]opefully the currently touring Rivette retrospective will allow Paris Belongs to Us, and Rivette's later masterpieces the chance to assume through wider consensus their deserved stature in cinema history," writes Jeff Reichert. "By his second film, The Nun..., Rivette had easily surmounted the problems of his first feature, and delivered not only the first of many great works but one of the most seminal films of the Sixties." Also at Reverse Shot,Danielle McCarthy on Dreamgirls.

David Bordwell on a particular sort of shot: "I started to call it mug-shot framing, but I found that art historian Heinrich Wölfflin had called it planar or planimetric composition. I went with 'planimetric' because that term suggests the rectangular geometry so often seen in these shots." Related: Online listening tip. Annie Frisbee talks with Bordwell for Zoom In.

"Film is generally at its best when it recognises its roots in modernism, i.e., when it rejects conventional notions of realism, disengages from bourgeois values, and questions the primacy of narration," argues Ronald Bergan in the Independent. But: "Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are increasingly seeing the avant-garde abandon the cinema for the gallery - a shift made possible by the digital revolution."

Also: Indies and the studios alike are going all New Agey, suggests Geoffrey Macnab; and Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood survival guide.

An Unreasonable Man You get a sense of just how very contentious the mere mention of Ralph Nader is in Nick Schager's review of An Unreasonable Man, balancing quite fairly between the adoration and disdain evidently revealed in the doc.

Also at Slant, The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume 1 is a "long-overdue presentation for the valuable fragments of Anger's outlaw poetry," writes Fernando F Croce.

"Movie ratings help shape the culture." A New York Times editorial tips a hat to Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated in recognition of its possible influence on a decision by the MPAA to reform the ratings system. "[Dan] who inherited the system from his predecessor, deserves credit for pushing for these changes. He says there are likely to be more reforms ahead, which is good, because there is still more to be done." Bilge Ebiri has Dick and Rated producer Eddie Schmidt's response to the new measures at ScreenGrab.

Also in the NYT:

  • "Siberiade is not as sublimely Homeric as it is grippingly melodramatic and visually extravagant - a sort of Slavic Gone With the Wind filmed under the mystical influence of Andrei Tarkovsky, the visionary Russian filmmaker with whom [Andrei] Konchalovsky occasionally collaborated as a screenwriter," writes Dave Kehr. "The pleasure of this kind of epic filmmaking lies in the gradual accumulation of details and the slow drawing together of plot strands, until the grand design is finally revealed."

  • "You might think it would be difficult to fashion an entertaining account of the life of a polyester manufacturer, even a fictitious one," writes Andy Webster. "But the Tamil director Mani Ratnam, known for intelligent political dramas, has done so with Guru, an epic paean to can-do spirit and Mumbai capitalism."

  • Manohla Dargis on Dam Street: "Like any number of Chinese films that make the festival rounds, it offers a portrait of alienation in a post-Mao world as believable as it is grim, grim, grim."

  • Matt Zoller Seitz: "[Azazel] Jacobs's approach is descended from a long line of minimalist filmmakers, from Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot's Holiday) up through Jim Jarmusch (Mystery Train), but The GoodTimesKid dances... in its own sweet style." Also premiering at the Anthology Film Archives is Two Wrenching Departures, Ken Jacobs's "elegy for two... friends, the cameraman and co-director Bob Fleischner (Blonde Cobra) and the performer Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures)." More from Ed Halter in the Voice, Andrew O'Hehir in Salon and from Paul Harrill.

  • Doug Aitken's sleepwalkers "is an outstanding example of what might be called archivideo or videotecture," writes Roberta Smith. That said: "Where Mr Aitken usually touches on an implicitly social turbulence, his first public art project in the United States largely reflects the glamorous, sealed-off and elitist sheen that has become endemic to urban life, especially in Manhattan." More from Aileen Torres in the New York Press.

  • "For three days this week, French and foreign researchers came together in a conference sponsored in part by the National Library of France and the University of Versailles to dissect and psychoanalyze, criticize and lionize Ian Fleming's debonair creation." Elaine Sciolino reports from Paris: "Titled 'James Bond (2)007: Cultural History and Aesthetic Stakes of a Saga,' [cute!] the conference - France's first scholarly colloquium on James Bond - was aimed at developing a 'socioanthropology of the Bondian universe.'"

  • Matt Zoller Seitz on The Hitcher: "The remake preserves many of the original's notorious set pieces, including a showstopper in which the cab and trailer of an 18-wheeler are used as a torture rack. The mix of mystical solemnity and chain-reaction slapstick suggests a Road Runner cartoon directed by John Woo. This is the kind of film in which the heroes often have the evildoer dead to rights but fail to pull the trigger, ostensibly because they're prisoners of bourgeois morality, but really because if they did the smart thing, the film would be a short subject." More from Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times.

  • "Older people and the younger, at times under-age objects of their desires are appearing on screen in almost every combination, in literate films whose target audience seems to be aging, upscale baby boomers," observes Caryn James. "But sometimes there is a huge gap between what the filmmakers intend and the way even a sympathetic audience may respond."

  • David Carr, the Bagger: "Independent bloggers can laugh all they want about the imperious posture of the mainstream media, but I and others at The Times have never been more in touch with readers' every robustly communicated whim than we are today. Not only do I hear what people are saying, but I also care."

  • Laura M Holson: "As YouTube, with the backing of Google, becomes a powerful force in the media world, Hollywood studios and other entertainment companies are trying to figure out if it is friend or foe."

David Edelstein in New York: "Many talented directors have a Breaking and Entering in them, and some - like Anthony Minghella - have the misfortune of being successful enough to have it green-lit."

Gone to Earth "Gone to Earth is Wuthering Heights reimagined as an Aesop fable," writes Bilge Ebiri, remembering a "Forgotten Film" at ScreenGrab. "Like so many of Powell and Pressburger's films, it gives us a world where the magical and the mundane coexist - we can get an earthy depiction of a turn-of-the-century carnival one minute, and then hear the Faerie Music whispering in the trees the next. (This is, after all, the same filmmaking team that took an homage to Chaucer and set it during WWII.)"

Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door:

There's surprisingly little naivete in Salesman, and not a rube in sight. Customers and vendors have no evident illusions about what's really being bought and sold: a false sense of spiritual/social confidence, framed in materialist language that's blasphemous by definition. In Salesmen door-to-door Bible salesmen are doing God's work, all right, but it's not the God of the Old or New Testament. It's the God of money as enshrined in America's true gospel - the assurance that ours is an egalitarian, capitalist meritocracy, a level playing field where the best man wins. The film's frank skepticism toward this cherished myth makes it one of American pop culture's greatest statements of doubt, on par with its spiritual forerunner, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and its descendant, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross.

Also: "She was sexy because she was attainable; not only was she within reach of your grasp, she'd grab you herself, slam you down on the bed and screw you unconscious. And then she would take your wallet." Odienator's kind of gal, that Barbara Stanwyck. John Ashbury's, too, you may remember. Odienator introduces an annotated list: "I could say that today's '5 for the Day' is a celebration of the versatility of Ms Stanwyck, but that would be a lie. It was merely an excuse to spend time in the glow of her gaze, imagining what would happen if I could jump into the screen and answer it."

And Travis Mackenzie Hoover on Claire Denis's Vers Mathilde.

"The details of the case are grizzly and often perplexing - Neo-Nazis, circumstantial evidence, media bias - and it's best to allow the events to unfold through [director Wayne] Ewing's reportage and not divulge the nuances here." Instead, reviewing Free Lisl: Fear and Loathing in Denver for Stop Smiling, James Hughes rouses interest by focusing on the instigator of a grassroots movement for justice: "[Hunter S] Thompson's ability to kick up dirt on his home turf was something worthy of our attention. He was a vital, if diminishing, resource for alerting the young to the dawning of the New Dumb and bracing them for the hatred that can be stirred by unchecked power." Also, the Frontline documentary Hand of God.

And also at Stop Smiling, Nick Davis:

In truth, [Spike] Lee's requiem mourns not just a city but a country, or an idea of a country. Over and over, interviewees of all races and classes - as well as Lee himself, in his full-length DVD commentary - express their furious astonishment that these "Third World" images originate in what the director plaintively dubs "the mighty, mighty United States of America." Midway through, When the Levees Broke scrutinizes some tempting analogies between the havoc wrought in the Gulf Coast and the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Beyond the disparate physical scales of these nightmare scenarios, afflicting 16 square acres of Manhattan as against 90,000 square miles of Louisiana, the psychic and political questions that burst through those levee walls are of an essentially different order, not "Why do they hate us?" but, given our obligation to examine Katrina's ruinous aftermath as a fundamental betrayal of a people by their own country, "Why do we hate ourselves?"

More from Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Nobelity, writes Andrew Gumbel in the LA CityBeat, "doesn't make our new century seem an especially reassuring time to be alive. But it does offer some sobering lessons. And [filmmaker Turk] Pipkin, to his credit, manages to maintain some sort of optimism throughout."

Boxer's Omen David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back: "As someone who is regularly exposed to some pretty outlandish films from every era and every country, and a fan of the horror genre, I feel the following statement should carry some weight: Boxer's Omen is one of grossest, most flat-out nasty films I have ever seen."

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul "is not a good movie," writes Vince Keenan. "It's actually kind of boring. But after a while it began exerting a peculiar fascination."

Godfrey Cheshire on Letters From Iwo Jima and The Good German:

Dramatically turgid and stylistically precious (both are in shot in arty monochromes), the films confuse soft-headed "revisionism" with historical incisiveness and honesty. Rather than offering clear-headed examination, they trade in moral relativism and end up saying - if you bother to parse their meanings - that there was no real difference between the Americans who fought WWII and their enemies. And this brilliant insight comes off as a product not of intrepid analysis but of fashionable attitudes - woozy "humanism" on Eastwood's part, facile cynicism on Soderbergh's.

Also in the Independent Weekly, Zack Smith on Pan's Labyrinth, "easily one of the best fantasy films of the last five years, and one of the year's best films, period."

"The film year for me has been just the opposite of what it has been, apparently, for some others," writes Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic. Sketching a list of favorites (rather than "bests"), he's "found eighteen films that are decisively and memorably of value to an intelligent viewer.... Eighteen! People who read more novels and see more theater than I do these days will know if they encountered eighteen equally interesting books or plays last year." This is tacked on at the end of a review of The Good German, by the way: "I could have managed to bear all the film's shortcomings if it weren't for Clooney."

Bharat Tandon in the Times Literary Supplement on Forest Whitaker's performance in The Last King of Scotland: "[I]t is a mark of his assurance that, even as an audience struggles to reconcile the film's gruesome later stages with where they started, this is inescapably the same Idi Amin at whom they were so ready to chuckle harmlessly an hour before." On the other hand, Vanessa Walters in the Guardian: "[O]nce again Hollywood's racist beast has been duly sated." More from Stephen Howe at openDemocracy.

Time Out and Direct are collaborating on a new series of articles by directors. So far, Stephen Fry looks back on what some of the best directors he's worked with as an actor have shared ("Quietness is one thing, perhaps a surprising thing at that") and Franc Roddam recalls working with Harvey Weinstein on K2.

Confession of Pain Matt Riviera finds it "no surprise" that Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Confession of Pain "should arrive front-loaded with infernal hype. Unfortunately, this A-list team doesn't deliver, and it may take another remake for the potential of this half-decent script to be fully realised."

"What makes A Battle of Wits more interesting than some of the Chinese epics that have been more visible for Western audiences is that Jacob Cheung is more interested in the relationships between his characters than in any displays of technique," writes Peter Nellhaus.

"Set in the waning days of the Los Angeles punk scene, Border Radio is the first feature by Allison Anders," writes Dennis Lim in a piece for the Los Angeles Times on "this charmingly scruffy movie... a valuable time capsule and as much a milestone in the history of American independent film as sex, lies and videotape or Clerks." Related: Wyatt Doyle calls it "a fittingly low-key elegy, not only for a musical phenomenon captured at its sunset, but also for a uniquely collaborative approach to filmmaking." Via Susan Arosteguy.

Also in the LAT:

Gerald Peary reviews Chris Marker's The Case of the Grinning Cat and exchanges email with Andrew Bujalski.

Also in the Boston Phoenix: "Feeling vindicated perhaps by the recent changes in the ideological landscape, Hollywood and the Academy might be inclined to settle into their least appealing stereotype as ineffectual limousine liberals," writes Peter Keough, introducing his predictions for the Oscar nominations. "That would explain why Babel appears to have a lock on a Best Picture nomination. So too does Bill Condon's Dreamgirls. Like the Condon-scripted Best Picture of 2002, Chicago, which confectionized issues of class and capital punishment into inert razzle-dazzle, Dreamgirls transforms the thorny issues of race, power, and culture in the 60s into an inoffensive minstrel show. How can it miss?"

And Tim Meek talks with John Dau, one of the subjects of God Grew Tired of Us: "Violence in Darfur is still severe, but for now there is peace between the north and south. Dau notes the situation's tenuous nature and points to 2011, when the South Sudanese will vote to unify with the north or secede. 'I will go back to campaign to secede. Be independent. That will cut off the problem,' he says. 'Let's live side by side as neighbors.'"

For Slate's Dana Stevens, a second viewing can't change her mind; Notes on a Scandal is still "a movie that clomps soddenly where it should scamper nimbly." Related: In the Guardian, Ed Pilkington profiles Zoë Heller, who wrote the book, and asks other authors about seeing their books adapted.

Ace in the Hole Jeff GP at the Six-Reel Shuffle: "Ace in the Hole is a nasty Frankenstein of a picture. Characters are yanked from behind the private eye desk, Venetian blinds and ocean-side mansions of film noir and thrust into the even more nihilistic, more cynical world of politics, money and the most cutthroat of them all, journalism." More from Eric Kohn at the Reeler and from the Self-Styled Siren: "This film is bitter medicine even in 2007."

At PopMatters, Violet Glaze traces the ways the lives of Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, while starting similarly, led to such different ends.

Michael Brunton for Time: "[B]rought to you by Channel Four, the same company that last year controversially imagined Bush's assassination in The Death of a President, Britain's PM comes under fire in The Trial of Tony Blair - another installment of what some might consider wish-fulfillment TV." Related: Paul Rogers at openDemocracy on Blair's legacy.

"[A]t best Zhang [Yimou]'s ambition only evokes [Chen Kaige's] The Promise," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "And yet Curse of the Golden Flower has enough cinematic wonder to be recognized as Zhang's masterpiece anyway."

For Christopher Orr, writing in the New Republic, The Illusionist "is simultaneously obvious and opaque, a riddle that unravels too easily in some respects and not at all in others."

"I happened to watch Children of Men again last night and I was suddenly struck by its resemblance to Apocalypto," writes Doug Holm.

"Forget the youthquake," advises Time's Richard Corliss, noting that the latest Harris poll places John Wayne in the #3 spot in a list of America's favorite movie stars. "Whatever Wayne represents - the Old Testament God, a Mount Rushmore face with a permanent scowl, the craggy soul of Frontier or Sunbelt America - he has made the list in each of the Harris poll's 13 years, and he's figured in the top three slots eight times. It's as if the People's Choice Awards kept picking Elvis as favorite singer."

Verfolgt Signandsight translates Liane von Billerbeck's profile for Die Zeit of Maren Kroymann, whose performance in Verfolgt, is garnering praise from German critics.

LOAD, Issue 5, is all about the movies. Downloadable PDF.

Xan Brooks talks with Emily Watson, Richard Linklater, Simon Channing-Williams, Julian Fellowes, Todd Field, Alison Owen, Elizabeth Karlsen and Donald Ranvaud about what it's like to be suddenly swept up in Oscar's hoopla.

Also in the Guardian:

  • Steven Poole on Jack Sullivan's Hitchcock's Music: "By the end he has thoroughly justified his opening gambit: 'One cannot fully understand Hitchcock's movies without facing his music. Music is an alternate language in Hitchcock, sounding his characters' unconscious thoughts as it engages our own.'"

  • Peter Bradshaw's ten favorite music moments.

  • A new report from the UK Film Council shows "a big leap in the amount being spent on making movies here," reports Mark Brown. What's more, 2007 "could be the most lucrative yet for the British film industry, largely because, from this year, the Treasury will offer up to 20 percent tax relief for small budget films and 16 percent for films costing more than £20m."

  • "It's unnerving to see the beauties of one's youth submitting at last to time's ministrations," writes John Patterson, who's just seen Venus. "But there's no denying that venerability grants a great deal of unanticipated suspense to the material."

  • Laura Barton interviews Patti Smith.

  • Ryan Gilbey: "I have decided to become Goof Warrior, waging a war on the goof-spotters and their unnecessary nit-picking, and trying to suppress the feeling that outwitting them may in fact be more tragic than goof-spotting in the first place."

  • Toby Young and Gareth McLean on Brits in LA.

  • Andrew Mueller: "There is something about terrible movies that inspires affection in the way that unlistenable records and unreadable books do not."

Reviewing The White Hell of Pitz Palu at the Siffblog, David Jeffers explains the phenomenon of the "Mountain Film," which, during the 20s, "served the German cultural identity not unlike Westerns did in the United States."

Once Upon a Girl Brendon Bouzard at Reverse Shot: "New to DVD from self-styled 'Criterion of smut' Severin, and originally released by something called 'The Producers Releasing Organization International,' Once Upon a Girl packs Judy Canova-worthy hillbilly hyuks, mind-raping perversity, and splendidly dysfunctional cartooning into a baffling 80 minutes."

"Each individual top 10 list is like its own steeplechase through the international canon." Time's Lev Grossman pages through The Top Ten. Books, that is.

I do believe Darren Hughes has found the quote of January 2007.

Different topic entirely: "It's like the orange from the old logo is haunting the new logo. Payless is haunting itself." From Emily Votruba's conversation in n+1 with AS Hamrah.

Tim Gray at CIO Today: "Skype Founders Unveil YouTube Killer."

Online browsing tip. Fwis interviews Vintage and Anchor Books Art Director John Gall. Click the covers.

Online fiddling around tip. Matt Dentler points to the Antidote-Waite-Smith Motion Picture Tarot Deck.

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Posted by dwhudson at January 20, 2007 5:40 PM