October 31, 2003

Adaptation.

The Trial The Modern Word is staging what looks like a terrifically fun contest:

Imagine one of your favorite books has been turned into a movie, and write a review. The book in question may be any text - fiction, non-fiction, short stories, even a comic book; but it should be reasonably well-known. If it has already been filmed, be sure to compare the old version with the "new." You may feature actual directors and actors, or you may invent your own fictional talent. Be creative - let your review explore the cinematic possibilities of the text itself!

You've got until January 15, 2004, to send in 500 to 1000 words and they've got prizes. Books, of course, by the likes of Neal Stephenson, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Nick Cave.

The mind reels. I know that Jack Nicholson has always wanted to see Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King brought to the screen though he's getting a bit old to tackle the lead. Who would direct, you wonder. And what other directors could be matched with which authors? Darren Aronofsky and Richard Powers, maybe? Takashi Miike and Kathy Acker? (Hm, not so sure about that one.) Who could do something with DeLillo? And would he want it to be done?

More interesting stuff at The Modern Word: "Joyce Lost In Opryland: Labyrinthian Connections In 'Wandering Rocks' & Robert Altman's Nashville," by Jeff Mathewes, and, via the film and TV references page in the Pynchon section, a shortish update on Pynchon's upcoming guest "appearance" on The Simpsons.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:04 AM | Comments (7)

October 30, 2003

Elliot Smith, may he rest in piece

The SF Weekly's Garrett Kamps has published a nice piece on Elliot Smith, whose passing last week surprised me but not anyone who had seen him recently. Kamps rightly expounds on the tragedy -- which is not just the singer-songerwriter's suicide itself, but a culture that may have contributed to it. Reading the piece just made me wistful and sad about how people could just let someone waste away like that, but perhaps, as Kamps wonders, he was a lost cause. Either way, it's a piece worth reading. Why is this film-related? Well, anyone who caught the Oscars a few years back may recall, as I will forever, Smith's singing his Oscar-nominated tune "Miss Misery," looking frail and Goth, as he went head to head against Celine Dion's vomitaceous iceberg of a song. It was riveting viewing. I also saw Smith on stage in LA, back when he still looked relatively un-junkie-like, and it was his words that floated in the air, above all else, that transported me. He will be missed.
Posted by cphillips at 10:48 AM

Bay Area Viewing

Northern Californians, break out your calendars. Jonathan Marlow's got your appointments.

Satyajit Ray San Francisco filmgoers just got lucky. Extremely lucky, if you're fond of films made west of the Americas, east of Europe (and south of Russia).

The area's most beautiful theatre is currently hosting the most complete retrospective of Satyajit Ray's work that this country has ever seen. 28 features, two shorts (although strangely not the little-seen short Two) - two works in Hindi, the rest in Bengali. Ray, like Kurosawa, is better appreciated here than in his home country. It's a shame, really, because he was immensely talented (writer, director, composer, occasional actor, art director, sometimes camera operator). He unleashed Pather Panchali on the world in 1955, a fantastic first film by any standard and often credited as his greatest achievement.

Far from it. His Apur Sansar, the third film in the Apu trilogy, marked his first work with the great actor Soumitra Chatterjee (a collaboration that continued for thirty years until Ray's penultimate work, Ganashatru/An Enemy of the People). Together they made what the writer/director called his greatest motion picture, the amazing Charulata, which he adapted from a novel by Rabindranath Tagore. Apart, Ray created one of the finest achievements in cinema, Indian or otherwise - the landmark Pratidwandi/The Adversary. If you've never seen a Ray film (and, outside of a smaller retrospective several years ago, it would not be surprising if you haven't), take a trip to Palo Alto where, for eleven weeks, it is as close to Calcutta as California can get.

Meanwhile, if Japan is more to your liking, a substantial series that debuted a few weeks ago as part of the New York Film Festival moves west. Fortunately, two venues are hosting the screenings to honor the centenary Yasujiro Ozu's birth - folks on the east side of the Bay can pay a handful of repeated visits to the Pacific Film Archive, whereask audiences in San Francisco proper can attend a similar (yet smaller) selection at the Castro. The recent Vancouver International Film Festival, in the midst of a tribute to Ozu regular Aoki Tomio (star of Passing Fancy and numerous films of the 1930s), could not even secure a single print from this retrospective. We get essentially all of them, including his universally acclaimed classic Tokyo Story (considered by critics in the recent Sight & Sound poll as one of the ten greatest films of all time) and his silent rarity, I Flunked, But... (a fantastic college comedy set in the economically depressed Japan of the late-1920s which, if nothing else, shows the diversity of Ozu's abilities behind the camera). 35 films in all. Consider it a necessary education.

Shiraz

Shiraz

Last, and certainly not least, another occasion to spend far too many hours in the dark heads our direction this weekend. It could be said that a new festival starts in the Bay Area every week. The latest game in town, beginning its first annual event, is the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival. It would be easy to overlook this effort except for two key points. It is produced by 3rd I, an impressive organization that sponsors a number of ongoing film events showcasing works from countries represented by the overarching umbrella of "South Asia." Second, the programming for this two-day festival is quite remarkable. From Bollywood hit Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, starring screen legend Amitabh Bachchan and not to be missed, to Franz Osten's 1928 silent narrative film Shiraz (a highly recommended Indian epic featuring a new score performed live by musicians from the Ali Akbar College of Music); from the superb Arundhati Roy documentary DAM/AGE and the controversial, so-called "Fassbinder-esque" Flying with One Wing to the UK production Road to Ladakh, described by GreenCine's dear friend Phurba (writer of our Bollywood primer) as "a visually captivating film that centers on two completely opposite and lonely souls who are drawn together by a series of coincidences but torn eventually apart by faith." SFISAFF hosts an array of significant works, most never before screened in San Francisco. Festival events occur at the Castro and the Roxie. Consult the schedule at the site for exact dates and times.

informatively (and opinionatedly),
Jonathan Marlow

Posted by dwhudson at 9:18 AM | Comments (4)

October 29, 2003

Film Trivia Night

trivia01.jpg

Fresh on the heels of GreenCine's second Film Trivia Night we bring you a gossipy summary of the evening as well as a sampling of groovy photos (courtesy of Joe Fletcher and Dennis Woo) to give those of you who missed it some flavor. The night was a blast for everyone, and even though the questions were TOUGH people seemed to enjoy themselves. We gave out a DVD player to a lucky random winner (the odds were certainly better than in the California Lotto), as well as a bunch of free DVDs. The Make-Out Room, a very fun large, square-shaped bar right smack in the heart of San Francisco's Mission district. They have great music performances there, too. But on this one night, they were held captive by a band of film geeks.

Our very own Underdog (Craig) MC'd the trivia contest and did his best Alex Trebek imitation, but with his own kindly sarcastic bent. He capably handled the occasional good-natured heckler (when a participant wondered if the film True Lies would count as an answer in a Jamie Lee Curtis question, he wondered aloud if True Lies was the name of the documentary about Schwarzenegger's Gubernatorial campaign; at least seven people laughed).

mccraig.jpg

We had about 70 people in attendance and most of them seemed to want to be there. (A few of them were barred from leaving because... they knew too much. Sort of like The Firm, except with trivia.)

michelehelps.jpg

Hey, is that one of our GreenCine "shipping angels" helping a struggling player with the picture round? We're just too nice sometimes.

The categories were:


  • General Film Trivia (sample question: "Carol Reed's justly celebrated film noir The Third Man is based on a book by this author and is set in this European city. Name the author and the city in which it was set." Answers below);

  • Scary DVD Chapters, in which we took a few sample DVD chapters from scary movies and the contestants had to guess the movie they came from (sample question: The Frog brothers; Behind the sunglasses; Hunting the undead);

  • The Music round (one sample answer was Tenacious D and Jack Black) -- that round was admittedly rather difficult

  • The Picture Round (we chose 6 semi-challenging celebrity photos and people had to guess the person, and among the answers were Vivica Fox, whom most people guessed, and Pedro Almodovar, whom many people did not)

  • Oscars Trivia, always a favorite (sample question: "This director with the most Best Director Oscars won his final statuette in the 1950s. Name this prolific filmmaker");

  • And lastly, Horror Movie Trivia (sample question: "Theater-goers who attended the first run of a certain William Castle movie got their butts buzzed by motors attached to their seats. Name the flick.")

triviaplayoff.jpg

We've had two film trivia nights now, and for some reason, both have ended up in ties. Oh, God no, not the dreaded tiebreaker! And not just one tiebreaker, but two, in a sudden death round of film trivia the likes of which haven't been seen since Napoleon battled Czar Nicholas in a scintillating round of movie trivia in 1809. (For the record, Napoleon won in triple overtime on a music question.) And for those keeping score at home, it was a tie between the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers and Band of Outsiders (man, our players are hip!). They both got two out of three on the Name All Three Films in Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy question; and then Band of Outsiders took it with our ultra-tough (and, impressively improvised) final question: Name the Only Two Actors to Play Both Fu Manchu and Frankenstein's monster. Woo, that was a toughie.

But pretty much everyone who came, from the second place team on down to the, uh, teams way down there, got a prize, from free DVDs to t-shirts. We also gave out prizes for Favorite Team Name (Winners: tie, between HoboCop and Ralph Wiggums Eats P***y) and Loudest (HiKitty!). There was quite a free-for-all for prizes at the end, and even GreenCine employees got some free stuff. That's GreenCine's Jonathan Marlow on the right handing out goodies, and two of GC's finest, whose initials start with G and M but I won't say more, helping out.

triviafrenzy.jpg

We'll do this all over again within two or three months so you better start studying now. Our questions are challenging but fun, and everyone goes away happy, or at least sufficiently drunk.

(Pretend this part is upside down) Answers: Third Man Question -- Graham Greene and Vienna; Sample DVD Chapters question -- The Lost Boys; Oscar Trivia question -- John Ford; Horror Movie question: The Tingler. Tie-breaker answer: Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff.

Thanks to everyone who came and to all the GCers who helped out -- you know who you are.

Posted by cphillips at 10:21 AM | Comments (4)

October 28, 2003

Shorts, 10/28.

"What is appealing to American audiences is the exoticism: the totally fresh aesthetic of Chinese martial arts and the imaginary artistic conception. But that turned out to be mundane to Chinese viewers." Li Xun, director of the Graduate Programme of China Film Arts Research Centre, isn't talking about Kill Bill. Instead, the quote pops up in Felicia Chan's piece "Reading Ambiguity and Ambivalence: The Asymmetric Structure of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and right next door to it is a piece in which Quentin Tarantino does make a brief appearance as the distributor of "Wong Kar Wai's third and one of his most popular films..., the film that secured his international reputation as a hip, unconventional filmmaker."

Chungking Express

Chungking Express

Wendy Gan's "0.01cm: Affectivity and Urban Space in Chungking Express" also appears in the new issue of Scope, "an entirely free online journal of film studies edited by staff and students within the Institute of Film Studies at the University of Nottingham."

It appears every couple of months, and while it's usually got three or four of these big, chewy articles in there, there are also brief film reviews, which is fine, but really, the best feature of all is the mile-long page of book reviews. Over 30 reviews this time around, quick, readable and on books you probably won't find readily and accessibly reviewed elsewhere, books you really do want to know about, though you'll probably get around to actually reading only a few of each batch - if that many.

Via George Thomas, an interesting round-up, rather bloggish, actually, of recent reviews in Christianity Today. Jeffrey Overstreet's tagged on a provocative title as well: "Is The Passion More Violent than Kill Bill?"

"Let's call it Japsploitation." Oh, let's not. With a straight face, evidently, Christopher Shulgan rages against Tarantino and Sofia Coppola in the Globe and Mail. But Brian Ruh, approaching a similar stance in PopMatters, soft peddles it a bit, going for the lesser charge of "appropriation."

And then there's Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times: "Mr. Tarantino" is "the movie world's DJ, and Kill Bill is another one of his mix tapes."

Michael and Amanda are definitely looking forward to My Wife is a Gangster 2. For good reason, too, sounds like.

Today's must-read (and I'm not kidding, either; it's short, go read it): "DVD Player," by Paul Ford.

In comments here and at greg.org, Greg Allen points to Peter Greenaway's most recent version of his lecture, "Cinema is Dead, Long Live Cinema?" Just so you know. Also in those comments is a pointer to the House of Telcontar, where you can watch of clip of Viggo Mortensen's speech at the rally in Washington this weekend protesting the occupation of Iraq.

The Mirror Lars Iyer, via Harlequin Knights: "I cannot contemplate Mirror - I am not the spectator; the work does not lay itself before me. Above all, it does not let me see myself. Alexei, the child of the film is fascinating because I am seized by the fascination that seizes him as he gazes into the mirror.... We see the film with the blindspot which permits our sight..."

Gotta love Forbes. Choices for "Best Movie Blogs": Number One, with a bullet is Rotten Tomatoes. No, I didn't know it was a blog, either, but that's what a reliable business magazine is good for, isn't it. Enlightenment. Number Two is actually an excellent choice: Milk Plus. Three: DVD Verdict. Fine site. But posting reviews in reverse chronological order does not a blog make. Four: Rick McGinnis's movieblog. Well, it used to be one of the best, but he's been taking a break for quite a while. Don't get me wrong, we all need one now and then, and I look forward to his real return. Unfortunate timing for Forbes, though. And Five: Film Fodder. Actually, I'm glad to be reminded of those guys. They took a break at some point, and I'd forgotten. All in all, though, seriously: If you're looking to map a link cosmos from which you can start poking around for film-related blogs, naturally, we like our own list over there on the right, but an even better one is Jurgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky's guide at their World / Independent Film section of About. Because we're in there? Well, yes, sure. But also because they've very helpfully annotated their choices.

"While the [CBS mini-series The Reagans] is still almost a month away, it makes one wonder if Reagan partisans would be happy with any series that wasn't overwhelmingly laudatory toward the Gipper, even as the former president himself has acknowledged he had his share of faults." Most Plasticians think not.

"The MPAA is counting on your apathy. It's precisely because the [broadcast] flag seems, on the surface, so innocuous that the studios are having an easy time pushing it to regulators in Washington." But the PC industry and the EFF will stand up for our rights if, once again, we prove ourselves too dumb and lazy to do it ourselves, writes Farhad Manjoo. Also in Salon: Heather Havrilesky on what three upcoming TV shows tells us about "the fascination and ambivalence we have for the wealthy."

"Hark, a new genre has emerged! It's a bloody blend of secondary ed movie, prison flick, and western: the American high school massacre film." Howard Feinstein in indieWIRE. Also: Karl Beck previews MIX, the New York Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film/Video Festival.

"In addition to being the first woman to hold the title of head writer at SNL, [Tina] Fey is also the first female performer to become the face of a show that other female comics, including the original cast members Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman, have cited for frat-house hoo-ha." Virginia Heffernan in the New Yorker.

In Screen Daily: Dan Fainaru on Amos Gitai's latest film, Alila, "one of his least overtly militant and one of his most emotionally charged in a long time." Benny Crick on Francis Veber's Ruby & Quentin: "Even when we're reminded of gags past, Veber is a master at recycling situations in hilarious new configurations."

"[Peter] Bart's semifictional universe is populated by agents who lie to studios, studios who lie to the press, real estate agents who lie to super-rich home buyers, producers who bully, directors who bluff and publicists who despise the stars they represent." Hugh Hart on a short story collection due in November from the Variety editor. Also in the San Francisco Chronicle: talks to Robert Benton about The Human Stain. And his stars: "I have a number of relatives who have spiraled down in some way, and they could never quite organize life... (Kidman) talked and walked and did the thing of not quite meeting your eye, just like they did."

In the Guardian, Observer and the NYT:

  • "L'exception culturelle under threat as DVD sales and US blockbusters hit French films," reads the headline over a piece by Amelia Gentleman. But despite his name, Philip French has a very different take: "Is the DVD the most significant thing in movies since the coming of sound? More important than 3-D, the widescreen, the multiplex, the VHS cassette? Five years after its introduction, many people think so."

  • "Just for the record, Hana was 14-and-a-half when she wrapped Joy of Madness." Fiachra Gibbons meets the youngest filmmaker in the Makhmalbaf family.

  • "Right now, [Julien] Schnabel is deciding which film to make next." Sean O'Hagan ticks off the options. And while Schnabel reemerges from the gallery, Mike Figgis is heading into one, reports Liz Hoggard.

  • Anne Thompson on Peter Jackson's $20 million/20 percent of the gross deal with Universal. It's a shock to the system, but also "involves three people, three sets of services over almost three years."

  • Craig Taylor profiles Sarah Polley.

  • "'You're not from LA, are you, Bill?' I said. 'Hell no,' he laughed. 'Chicago - and back there it's already five o'clock. Cheers!'" John Patterson raises a few with William H. Macy.

  • Bernard Weinraub on Jack Valenti's last crusade.

  • Julie Salamon on documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus and her latest, Girlhood.

  • Neil Armstrong on why catering is tougher than you might think.

  • David Lynch is betting Transcendental Meditation can save the world, and he's evidently very serious about it, reports Paul Harris.

  • Simon Romero on a play reviving the memory of Cantinflas.

  • "What distinguishes her pictures from those of other major portrait photographers is a refusal in some part to seek out and divulge anything about a particular subject that you might not already surmise or know. It is visual shorthand that compels her instead." Ginia Bellafante on Annie Leibovitz. Another photographer, another slight. Cecil Beaton was not "a beautiful old man," surmises Janet Maslin, but he wasn't Mr. Nice Guy himself, either. On Marlene Dietrich: "She's a liar, an egomaniac, a bore, but she has her points."

  • Elvis Mitchell looks back on the Hamptons International Film Festival.

    Time Asia Bollywood Cover Fun, raucous chat in Time, and quite possibly more fun and raucous than Love Actually: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson and Colin Firth.

    Speaking of Time, it looks like we missed it by a week, but it's very much worth pointing out now that Time Asia has run a big, whopping Bollywood special recently. Now, in terms of background, a lot of it might not be new to you, but besides the bits of news you might not have heard about yet, there are interviews galore (Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Ram Gopal Varma, Rahul Bose and of course, the cover interview with "Bollywood's leading lady," Aishwarya Rai), a nice little browse called "10 Indian Films to Treasure."

    Online viewing tip. Very short, but heavens: A sword fight from Wiley Wiggins.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM | Comments (2)
  • October 27, 2003

    Halloween spirit.

    Eyes Without a Face "At the beginning of the current decade, there appeared two directions the horror movie could go," writes Liam Lacey in the Globe and Mail. "One was toward the art-house mental puzzles of films such as The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense. The other was lowbrow mockery of traditional horror, films like Scary Movie, Psycho Beach Party and Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th. The decision seems to have been: neither, as old-fashioned horror movies have won the night."

    Oops. If Lacey'd waited just another day or two, he'd have seen Scary Movie 3 pull in around $50 million this weekend, not only knocking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre down to second place but sending its earnings plunging 48% to a mere $14.7 million. Not that we watch box office returns around here like a hawk, but that is pretty amazing. And calls somehow (don't ask us how exactly) for a round-up of seasonal horror news in a single entry.

    For example. Among the many items Tagline is currently pointing to (including more online viewing than you have time for - but that's a good thing!) is Tiberius Furioso's top ten horror list; another from the Denver Post, found in The Age via Movie City News, where Ray Pride recently wrote, "Just as the credits to Scary Movie 3 ended, my date turns to me, says, 'Did we just see a movie?' (I could not come up with a worthy reply.)" But here's the really big list: Britain's Channel 4 viewers' "100 Greatest Scary Moments," with little interview clips and so forth.

    Anne Rice chats with NPR's Liane Hansen.

    "...until a thin stream of blood starts to trickle down her neck. The effect is profoundly shocking, in the way that Surrealist dream imagery aspires to be: we feel the sudden incursion of the irrational, the unspeakable, in the hushed precincts of sleep." Terrence Rafferty on Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face in the New York Times. Intrigued? You'll find three pieces on the film in the September 9, 2002 issue of Kinoeye (scroll down a tad).

    "I mean, look at Anthony Hopkins, he plays the other scariest human being on earth and then he goes and makes a romantic film with Miramax. Nobody thinks twice about that. They need to remember that with me." That's Linda Blair talking to Salon's Amy Reiter, who, moments earlier, asks the did-she-really-ask-that question of the week, "It's been quite a journey for you from The Exorcist to the Hallmark Channel, hasn't it?"

    And to wrap, a nostalgic return to Suck: "Final End III: The Third Final End."

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:11 AM | Comments (5)

    October 24, 2003

    Weekend.

    viggo.jpg You see a director's work, you pretty much know what to suspect of their personalities. With actors, it's different. Take the case Diane Ackerman describes in A Natural History of the Senses:

    I remember seeing Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, and thinking him astoundingly handsome. When I saw him being interviewed on television some months later, and heard him declare that his only interest in life was playing bridge, which is how he spent most of his spare time, to my great amazement he was transformed before my eyes into an unappealing man. Suddenly his eyes seemed rheumy and his chin stuck out too much and none of the pieces of his anatomy fell together in the right proportions. I've watched this alchemy work in reverse, too, when a not-particularly-attractive stranger opened his mouth to speak and became ravishing. Thank heavens for the arousing qualities of zest, intelligence, wit, curiosity, sweetness, passion, talent, and grace. Thank heavens that, though good looks may rally one's attention, a lasting sense of a person's beauty reveals itself in stages. Thank heavens, as Shakespeare puts it in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind."

    It's hardly news that Viggo Mortensen has rallied quite a bit of attention around the world with his good looks. Not to mention the talent, the calm, firm control with which he plays Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But what many may not yet suspect is that he has the vast potential to become ravishing - very, very ravishing - in the eyes of many more. In short, this is one helluva sharp guy. Zesty and sweet, too.

    At least that's my impression, having read the Scott Thill's interview with him today in Salon. For starters, the man has co-founded an independent publishing company. Did you know that? I didn't. What's more, Perceval Press puts out some rather ravishing-looking books, too, by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, by Mike Davis, for two examples, and for another, by himself. Books of photography and verse and a few other things I didn't know about him. I'd pull a quote from this interview, but I wouldn't know where to pull. Mortensen has his weighty, considered arguments on the state of the world, but he also knows when to crack a joke.

    So go read that while I tick off other recent interviewees: José Padhila in Movie City News; Jeff Bridges in the Guardian; Jim Sheridan with John Crowley, Roger Clark with Tobey Maguire and Jorgen Leth with Geoffrey Macnab, all in the Independent; John Sayles in the New York Times; Michel Gondry at MTV (via SXSW News Reel, which also links to a piece in the revived Red Herring on George Lucas's animation plans).

    Then there's the most entertaining read of the day, via cinema minima, Nancy Rommelmann's tale of how her job as a reader - in the Hollywood sense of the term, that is, if you're a screenwriter and an utterly unknown commodity, the first person you have to impress on your long journey towards what will most very likely be absolutely nowhere - turned into a job as a personal assistant. And how she got out of it.

    The Unofficial Milk Plus Canon: 1995-1999.

    The Tagliners have three questions for you.

    Wondering what's next? Like everybody else? Well, the screener ban ain't the half of it. If you're one of those pesky ahead-of-the-curve people, you'd better keep an eye on Brian Flemming. We've mentioned him before. Well, now he's really up to something.

    That said, there's something about Peter Greenaway's "Cinema is dead!" schtick that bugs the hell out of me. I can't help but suspect it's a conscious, and ultimately, gamble: some day, whether that day is ten years from now, a hundred years from now, ten thousand years from now, or hell, next summer, cinema, as we know it, will indeed be dead; and Peter Greenaway, right along with Godard, will be on record, dammit, shouting from their graves, I told you so! So, there. They've made their down payment on immortality. On the other hand, there is something worth chewing in both of their very different arguments. In the Guardian, Alex Cox does a good job of chewing. Also in the Guardian: Ryan Gilbey wonders what might have become of River Phoenix; Simon Louvish on the William Desmond Taylor case.

    By the way, Eugene Hernandez has the latest on that whole screener ban brouhaha at indieWIRE. Basically, for this year and this year only, some'll get 'em and some won't. And only VHS tapes. Some will be placated, presumably; others, like producer Ted Hope, won't: "Granting the privilege of screeners to Academy members only ignores the role that critics and the guilds play in helping to recognize and champion great work... The Ban must be waived for everyone who have participated in the privilege of screeners previously." Also in indieWIRE: 14 docs get grants; Mill Valley Film Festival round-up.

    Roger Lewis reviews The Pythons' Autobiography in the Spectator.

    Everyone's linking to this, but it is weird: "Jesus actor struck by lightning."

    Online fooling around tip. The Antiwar Game. Via Net Art News.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:40 PM | Comments (7)

    October 23, 2003

    Housekeeping.

    After yesterday's onslaught of "shorts" and a refreshing reshuffling of all those links over there on the right, there's plenty to catch up with, so we'll keep today's pointers brief.

    Der Golem

    Der Golem

    Today's find is the (relatively) new issue of Kinoeye, devoted, appropriately enough, given the season, to Mitteleuropean horror. Well, mostly. Wolfgang Staudte's The Murderers Are Among Us (1946) isn't exactly straight-up horror, but it is an exorcism of sorts: "Amongst the rubble and squalor that was the Soviet sector of Berlin in 1945, a new kind of cinema was being born, namely the anti-fascist film," writes Angela Palmer.

    Cathy Gelbin takes a deep bite into the real thing, tracing the roots of Jewish mysticism underneath Paul Wegener's Der Golem (1920). James Kendrick takes a look at that Danish "compelling oddity," Benjamin Christensen's Häxen, and Marcus Stiglegger scoots up a couple of decades to review a "Gothic horror fairy tale," Robert Sigl's Laurin (1987).

    It took three viewings, but Matt has come to a verdict on Kill Bill.

    In the Austin Chronicle: Louis Black explains why he's sticking to his guns, even as his "friends who know and love movies [have begun] to bemusedly question my championing of Tarantino," and previews Lemora. Marc Savlov tells the story of Don Coscarelli's adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale's novella, Bubba Ho-Tep and spins the Austin angle on Harry Knowles's new career. Shawn Badgley gets Kier-La Janisse, founder of the CineMuerte International Fantastic Film Festival to give her own take on eight films showing in the "The Best of CineMuerte" series next week at the Alamo Drafthouse.

    In the LA Weekly: Kudos to Ella Taylor. In the second story of the "Considerable Town" column, she tells the story of the screener-ban-prompted LA Critics' revolt: "We put the word out, assuming there would be a flurry of interest in the trades, followed by a thunderous silence. Instead we were besieged with calls from CNN, The New York Times, Fox News and others, while an Associated Press report guaranteed significant overseas interest. Things must be awfully quiet in Iraq." Brendan Bernhard: "Nothing you see on television this week will provoke as many contradictory thoughts and emotions as Terror in Moscow (HBO, Thursday)."

    In the Guardian: Giles Tremlett on "the most controversial thing to hit Spanish cinemas for years," Julio Medem's Basque Ball: the Skin Against the Stone.

    "Perhaps it is too early to speak of a full-fledged renaissance; Russian films have yet to acquire the collective regional cachet of, say, Iranian films. But Russian cinema is turning away from mimicry of Hollywood and sensationalist treatments of previously taboo subjects." Boris Fishman in the New York Times.

    Hollywood is currently experiencing the "early tremors of a graphic oral-sexual revolution," writes Rebecca Traister in Salon: "The results may be titillating, but the cumulative impact speaks less to shock value than to the way the film industry's portrayal of realistic sexuality is beginning to evolve."

    "For dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles, it is not up for debate - every new Rivette film has to be seen, at least once, preferably more - and The Story of Marie and Julien is no exception," establishes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. But: "Rivette's decision to return to his darker register of the past, after the sunny disposition of Va Savoir, may also dissuade newer converts. It is all unlikely to bother his fans."

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM | Comments (1)

    October 22, 2003

    Shorts, 10/22.

    Mark Miller's "Wachowski Brothers FAQ" in the November issue of Wired is good fun, though a lot of it may not be news to many. It's the accompanying piece on Dane A. Davis, the "audio effects guru" and " the ears of two industries" (movies and games), that's intriguing.

    Revolutions

    Davis, who heads up Danetracks in LA, won an Oscar in 1999 for sound effects editing on The Matrix, has recently done Reloaded and Revolutions, so this is interesting:

    Davis knows that sound design has a long way to go. "If you compare it to the visual world, we're still 20 years behind. CG imaging is just at the point where it's starting to look real." Computer-generated audio, however, continues to sound really fake. The solution, he says, is sophisticated audio software that, alas, remains a generation away.

    He wants to be able to tell a computer, for example, the weight, dimensions, mass and distance an object falls and achieve the sort of aural verisimilitude CGI is just beginning to master. Also in Wired: David Kushner on Ed Lake, "Fake Detective, defender of Hollywood babes," and briefs on the companies behind the trailers we watch and on Doug Chiang and his Robota project.

    Just caught up with Ian Whitney, who's got a terrific review of Kill Bill at Duell Lens - "It's the Ouroboros conga line of thievery. By revealing every influence of every influence, Tarantino makes it impossible to accuse him of anything except becoming the newest member of the long, valuable tradition of cultural larceny" - and who points to HKFlix.com's "Kill Bill Study Guide," breaking references down to eight separate categories, the last a sort of open source deconstruction project. To top things off, the "Guide" points at the end to the 42-page press notes from the official site.

    Another handy guide, but an odd choice of words from Planet Bollywood: "[F]rom the last week of October to the first few weeks of November, several big films are going to be mounted." Nine are blurbed. Just in time, a strike in the state of Maharashtra, protesting a ticket tax, has come to an end.

    Film Threat points to the International Cinematographers Guild site where you can see who IGC members have chosen as the most influential cinematographers, like, ever. Eleven in all, with 19 honorable mentions.

    Another good number: "Record-Breaking 55 Countries in Competition for Oscar." One of them is the Palestinian film, Divine Intervention. The BBC reports: "Palestine is not recognised as a nation but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to make 'an exception'." And for all the hoopla over the screeners - justified hoopla, mind you - the Informa Media Group has conducted a study and determined that, according to Chris Nuttall in the Financial Times, "The film business will not go the way of the music sector and suffer large declines in sales due to internet piracy."

    "When Madness and Genius, the first film from Ryan Eslinger, has its US premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival later this week it will mark one of the more assured debuts from an American filmmaker in some time." A solid endorsement from Eugene Hernandez. That celebrated festival opens today and runs through Sunday. Also in indieWIRE: Hernandez again: "A number of New York independent film companies have been quietly facing cutbacks and consolidation"; and Jeremy O'Kasick talks to first-time director Peter Hedges Pieces of April).

    Another festival definitely worth noting: The Three Rivers Film Festival, to be held for the 22nd time in Pittsburgh from November 7 to 23. One of the presenting sponsors is Pittsburgh Filmmakers, an independent institution that got rolling 33 years ago as a filmmaking-equipment sharing cooperative. Do check the highlights. Keywords: Buster Keaton and the Alloy Orchestra; The Forgotten; "an improv supergroup paying tribute to the landmark avant-garde films of Stan Brakhage"; and Pittsburgh punk, ca. 1980.

    Daragh Sankey passes along a few "stories n' jokes" Roger Corman recently told at a Q&A session. The one about the Fantastic Four is one of those incredible only-in-Hollywood stories.

    Jane Smiley in Salon: "Last night I saw the movie made from the book, The Secret Lives of Dentists, starring Hope Davis as me, Campbell Scott as my former husband, and several darling little girls as my daughters. Such an experience of déjŕ vu, Hollywood-style, is a rare privilege... The first time, I laughed from beginning to end... Last night, no one laughed."

    Jonathan Romney profiles Guy Maddin in the Independent.

    "How could such a thoughtful, deliberate, and precise journalist have gone so stupendously wrong?" Slate's Jack Shafer reviews the Gregg Easterbrook brouhaha.

    Kid Notorious

    "Some say genius is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. Maybe, but that is certainly one definition of the contemporary notion of cool: something or someone at once wrenchingly embarrassing and deeply admirable." Alessandra Stanley on Kid Notorious and the "enviable bravado and poignant vulgarity" of Robert Evans. Also in the NYT:

  • Laura Miller on how books and movies scare differently. See also: Another juxtaposition from Joshua Clover in the Village Voice.
  • Ben Sisario on Bang on a Can's cinematic accompaniment.
  • Laura M. Holson on what filmmakers trim to get an R rating rather than NC-17.
  • Peter M. Nichols outlines the four different endings available on the 28 Days Later DVD.
  • Mim Udovitch's NYT Magazine profile of Robert Downey Jr..

    And in the Guardian:

  • DJ Taylor on Gordon Williams, the man who wrote The Siege of Trencher's Farm, which Sam Peckinpah filmed as Straw Dogs.
  • Fiachra Gibbons on Bill Viola.
  • "Art nurtures the soul of a society." Robert Redford, extracted. Briefly.
  • Geoffrey Macnab visits Howard Shore, who must be escorting quite a few reporters through his studio in Watford, where he's putting the final touches on the score for LOTR: The Return of the King.
  • And finally, the story I just wish would go away. "Robert De Niro has been diagnosed with prostate cancer but is expected to make a full recovery." Let's hope that the next time we hear of it, it'll be about that full recovery.

    Fresh at Film-Philosophy: Aakash Singh on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Sheila Petty on Zhang Yimou: Interviews, edited by Frances Gateward.

    Long-time readers know we're fans. Cindy Sherman's The Complete Untitled Film Stills is out.

    Rob Nelson looks back on the New York Film Festival for City Pages.

    Screen Daily reviews:

  • Ermanno Olmi is "reaching new heights in his old age," proclaims Lee Marshall. Singing Behind The Screens is "a visually seductive and consistently original fable about war and peace, defiance and surrender."
  • "[T]he debut of actor Lee Kang-Sheng as writer and director indicates beyond doubt that he shares the visual and spiritual world of his mentor and friend, Tsai Ming-Liang, in whose films he has regularly appeared for the last 12 years." Dan Fainaru on The Missing.

    Infernal Affairs II

  • Infernal Affairs II "confirms the promise and prowess that writing-directing team Andrew Lau Wai-Keung and Alan Mak Siu-Fai showed in their earlier film," writes Patrick Frater.

    "October's first week confirmed that California doesn't merely have trouble distinguishing between facts of life and Hollywood fictions: it wants the latter to define the former." Johnny Ray Huston proposes a "recall-hangover cure": Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain's documentary, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Susan Gerhard talks to Kate Moses, author of Wintering, "a richly detailed imagining of Plath's last months," about that movie. Michael Musto attends a screening, by the way, nabs a quote from the star, and heads right off to gather more names to drop. Nobody does it better. Also in the Voice: Ed Halter on "Polish Bloc-Busters." Cute!

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:57 AM | Comments (2)
  • Hey, hey, anime.

    tokyo-godfathers.jpg Zac Bertschy's Fall 2003 Anime Preview Guide in the Anime News Network features introductions and reviews of first episodes for no fewer than 15 new series, the result of "ramped-up production in the Land of the Rising Sun" to meet increasing demand in the US.

    But if there's a star in the States this season, it's Satoshi Kon. Milk Plus's Shroomy, "just not a big fan of Japanese animation," almost skipped out on a showing of Millennium Actress. Would've been a mistake. Satoshi Kon's latest film to hit US screens and, almost simultaneously, the DVD shelves "has taken its place as my second favorite movie of 2003." His enthusiasm is shared by Patrick King, who reviews MA for animefringe:

    Here you go - the first and last bit of comparison to Perfect Blue. Millennium Actress does have the same sort of mix of fantasy (in the form of flashback sequences that draw other characters into them) and reality. However, where the former movie was tension-filled with a strong undercurrent of paranoia, this newer film conveys a more pure, excited feeling.

    Dillon Font can top that. He caught Satoshi Kon's next film, Tokyo Godfathers last month and proclaims it "one of the most amazing pieces of animation I have yet to set my eyes on."

    "If you enjoyed Kill Bill, you owe it to yourself to try at least a volume or two of Lone Wolf and Cub," insists AICN's Scott Green.

    And then, just for kicks, a few basic words in Japanese from Anime Adrenaline.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:06 AM

    October 21, 2003

    London calling.

    The Queen of Spades The London Film Festival opens tomorrow evening with Jane Campion's In the Cut and runs through November 6. PopMatters music critic Thomas Patterson calls the LFF "the centrepiece of the city's cinematic life" even though it can look "positively quaint, lacking the razzle-dazzle of Cannes, the prize-giving pizzazz of Venice and the overwhelming opulence of Berlin. Instead, the London Film Festival exists for that most novel of reasons - the pure love of film."

    Reason enough for a good portion of the November issue of Sight & Sound to be given over to the festival. The highlight of the coverage is probably Philip Home's interview with Martin Scorsese - not about Scorsese, mind you, but about Thorold Dickinson, the late director Scorsese admires considerably and whose centenary is being recognized in London with a conference, a series at the National Film Theatre and a screening of The Queen of Spades (1949), a film Scorsese calls "a masterpiece that ranks right up there with the finest films of the period."

    Besides a longish piece on In the Cut (and for more, Joy Press profiles Campion in the Village Voice, J. Hoberman reviews the film and recommends a companion read; the New York Press's Armond White prefers Porn Theater - I'm not just pulling that out of a hat; he's the one to compare the two: "One of these movies is progressive; the other is not"), S&S ticks off a LFF top ten and reviews S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold - giving me an opportunity to point you to Doug Cummings's entry on the damn good reason Panahi didn't bother trying to come to the NYFF this year.

    The London Times is the "title sponsor" of the LFF, so they've got quite a collection of related stories going, for example, interviews with film folk ranging as widely as Oliver Stone, Alejandro Ińárritu and Scarlett Johansson. She's in Girl with a Pearl Earring, you know, based on the novel, and it's fun to see that the Times is using their LFF portal to promote the sale the book and other LFF-related titles, e.g., The Bell Jar.

    Meanwhile, kamera.co.uk is taking this opportunity to look back at the 17th Leeds International Film Festival. "It may not have the glamour of the upcoming London festival or the flocks of international tourists that find themselves cinema bound whilst summering in Edinburgh," writes Graeme Cole, "but what Leeds represents is a chance to see the unseeable: the foreign films that don't get imported, the British films that don't get released, and all those one-off celebrations of cinema." And then to read about them. Do. These are blurbs on films you'll rarely find blurbed anywhere else.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:03 PM

    Go West.

    Nathanael West The 40th Anniversary Issue of the New York Review of Books is online. All of it, the complete issue. Now, that bit of news is only tangentially related to film, but knowing you like I do, I know you'll want to know. As it happens, this collection of articles includes Robert Lowell's February 1, 1963 statement on the founding of the NYRB, as well as two letters to Elizabeth Bishop, but also one quarter of one article that actually is related to film: Elizabeth Hardwick's appreciation of Nathanael West, author of four "stunning" novels, "American tales, rooted in our transmogrifying soil."

    And one of them, of course, is The Day of the Locust. "There are no screen stars in this Hollywood novel, but the city and the movies inhabit these settlers," writes Hardwick. She quotes two passages, and they are indeed stunning, especially the second - but since the first one so vividly captures my own impressions of LA (I've only been through a few times, only stayed at length once, in the late 80s), I can't help but pass along half of it:

    But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses... Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages.... On the corner of La Huerta Road was a miniature Rhine castle with tarpaper turrets pierced for archers. Next to it was a little highly colored shack with domes and minarets out of the Arabian Nights.... Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.

    In 1975, John Schlesinger shot a film based on the novel, with Donald Sutherland as Homer Simpson (that's right), Karen Black as Faye Greener and William Atherton as Todd Hackett, the east-coaster through whose eyes California appears so wild and strange. For a marvelously jolting look at a 1975 take on the 1930s, here's the poster.

    But most recently, West's Hollywood novel was invoked by our sharpest contemporary interpreter of southern California, Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear. Days after the Schwarzenegger juggernaut, he addressed in the question, "So are California's fat cats merely impersonating populist anger? With so little correlation between actual economic hardship (greatest, of course, in pro-Bustamante Latino and Black inner-city neighborhoods and rural valleys), what explains this astonishing mobilization of voter emotion, particularly in affluent white suburbs?"

    He does a fine job himself, naturally, but concludes:

    The last word about all this should, of course, belong to Nathanael West. In his classic novel The Day of the Locust (1939), he clearly foresaw that fandom was an incipient version of fascism. On the edge of Hollywood's neon plains, he envisioned the unassuageable hungers of California's petty bourgeoisie.

    "They were savage and bitter, especially the middle-aged and the old... Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize they've been tricked and burn with resentment.... Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies."

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:00 AM

    October 20, 2003

    Shorts, 10/20.

    Soon Yi and Woody Odd to clip from Annie Hall one day and then see a horrific hatchet job come down on Woody Allen straight from the editorial page of the New York Times the next. Granted, it wasn't the front page. That's been done. June of last year, when the NYT announced on its front page that it was kicking Woody off the pedestal it'd helped build for him. Soon after, Michael Wolff did an excellent job of noting the noteworthiness of the move, and then, in December, I took a second look within the context of an overall appreciation of a career that has stretched out longer and rockier than anyone might have imagined a few decades ago.

    Thing is, Maureen Dowd's lightweight quips are often amusing on a Sunday morning, in the way that I'm guessing Art Buchwald's used to be for our parents and grandparents. Naturally, they're more amusing when they're aimed at people who deserve them. But "What price perversity?" is an astonishingly harsh and over-the-top reaction to the notion that Woody Allen might write his memoirs some day. Just two points for now: One, Woody Allen and Soon Yi have been together for many, many years now. Is it not conceivable that there's actually something to this relationship above and beyond what Dowd deems perverse?

    And secondly, the book is not a bad idea. At all. More than a few publishers at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair evidently thought there might be something to it as well. Not only is there one helluva story there, obviously, but for those that need to be reminded, the man can write.

    Anyway, after reading another Sunday NYT editorial, it's a chuckle to run across this sentence in a Reuters piece on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's $29.1 million dollar weekend: "The better-than-expected opening ranks as the second-best for October, behind last year's $36.5 million (21.7 million pounds) bow of the Hannibal Lecter remake Red Dragon." At any rate, Slate's Bryan Curtis has got ideas as to why the original still works.

    You watch a film like Kill Bill and you realize that mainstream audiences aren't even blinking at subtitles anymore. Excellent. NPR's Susan Stone reports on the demand for translators, heightened by the release of foreign films on DVD. Also: Setsuko Sato on why Japanese-Americans see Lost in Translation differently than differently hyphenated Americans.

    The 32nd AFI Life Achievement Award? Meryl Streep.

    No screeners? No awards, announces the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

    The almighty Heather Havrilesky: "FX's Nip/Tuck and Fox's The OC and Skin have invited back the nighttime soap, and everyone is invited to the party: shady politicians, greedy wives, porn moguls, beautiful teenagers, real estate mavens and, of course, an innocent outsider, to be bewildered by the preciousness and egotism of the ultrarich." More Skin in the NYT and the Guardian, and while we're at it, let's run down what else is there and in the Observer as well:

  • Lydia Polgreen on "24-Hour Filmmaking."
  • NYT Book Review editor Charles McGrath's Sylvia piece.
  • The NYT's magazine scene guy, David Carr, on Shattered Glass and what it means for the New Republic. Speaking of which, Roger L. Simon has had a talk with troubled and troubling blogger, Gregg Easterbrook.
  • Karen Durbin on Elephant.
  • Like so many others, evidently, Ian Tucker meets Kevin Bacon.
  • John Leland on women in the movies "wreaking damage in ways previously reserved for the hairier sex."
  • Mark Kermode anticipates a list: "The 100 Greatest Scary Moments."

    The New Yorker Last week, I intended to riff on the New Yorker's movie issue, to pick up on a passage like this one...

    McKee became part of a great boom in screenwriting instruction which had its roots in the end of the studio system and the subsequent rise of the American auteur director: a screenwriter being one step from a director, and a director being God. The boom was further propelled by public knowledge of the multimillion-dollar fees paid to writers like Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black. Screenwriting began to look like the weak point in a wall standing between the people in the land of joy and self-fulfillment and the people outside...

    ...and go with something about one coast's take on another, but it never panned out. Instead, belated and brief pointers to Ian Parker's profile of Robert McKee, "a subversive who teaches tradition," James Salter's breezy recollections and Louis Menand's piece on Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, which opens with a fine synopsis of the Langlois Affair. These are accompanied by sidebar-ish snapshots of a sound designer, best boy, costume designer, composer, prop master and weapons coördinator (note the umlaut diaeresis [thanks!], in case you'd forgotten you were reading the New Yorker), all of which also offer, besides the entertaining nuggets on what these people actually do, titillatingly narrow glimpses of movies in production.

    "'Meg was a year or so ahead of Nicole,' shrugs Campion." Which, the director tells Fiona Morrow, is why she could handle In the Cut. Also in the Independent: Leslie Felperin talks to Laurence Fishburne about Schwarzenegger and the Matrix series and Morrow looks back on the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival.

    Online viewing tip. The Open Video Project.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:48 AM | Comments (4)
  • October 18, 2003

    Poets in their youth.

    Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes For a while there, still a student, I thought I wanted to be a poet. I wrote quite a bit and even managed to place more than a few poems in obscure literary journals here and there. The first time, actually, I must have been ten? Eleven? Twelve? Free verse for a children's magazine.

    I don't know why, but poetry had always been around. By junior high, I'd read The Bell Jar and dog-eared a copy of Ariel and then decided I preferred Anne Sexton. By the time Annie Hall came out, I already knew I wanted nothing more to do with the confessional school and knew to smirk knowingly when Alvy cross-examines Annie's apartment.

    ALVY: Sylvia Plath.

    ANNIE: M'hm...

    ALVY: Interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college-girl mentality.

    ANNIE: Oh, yeah.

    ALVY: Oh, sorry.

    ANNIE: Right. Well, I don't know, I mean, uh, some of her poems seem - neat, you know.

    ALVY: Neat?

    ANNIE: Neat, yeah.

    ALVY: Uh, I hate to tell you, this is 1975. You know that "neat" went out, I would say, at the turn of the century.

    So, too, for me, had America's mid-century poets. For drama, there was Donne. For diction, Eliot. And Stevens to pry the mind wide open. By the late 80s, James Merrill, and by way of John Ashbury, the poets looking for, as David Lehman puts it in the title of one of his volumes, An Alternative to Speech. And then you get old enough to realize that exclusion really isn't the best tool for carving out a personal canon. Robert Lowell was back in.

    But I still haven't come back around to Sylvia Plath. Even as she keeps coming back around to us. Just a few years ago, it was the release of husband Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters, and now, here she comes again, Sylvia. I was intrigued to learn in Diane Middlebrook's excellent piece at Alternet that Gwyneth Paltrow is no great fan, either. "The journals made her dislike Plath, she said."

    You can probably tell I'm not particularly looking forward to Sylvia and I'm wondering why director Christine Jeffs decided we needed this story on film. The knee-jerk cynical reaction, which, frankly, did come to me early on, would be that it's Oscar bait all around. It's hard not to think of The Hours, the movie that made me wish all that time, money and effort had been put into a depiction of Virginia Woolf's sparkling intelligence and wit rather than in her late and all but mute withdrawal from the world. AO Scott's admiring review has me withholding judgment til the film comes around over here, particularly since he's written so sharply about Lowell, but the final sentence - "The makers of Sylvia may, to some degree, have neglected this brilliant, unsettling and tragically foreshortened body of work, but they have not betrayed it." - suggests that it's probably worth holding onto my reservations.

    What can a filmmaker do with a poet? If she's looking for drama in the life, a little something more than a long denouement, she can choose a dramatic life, Lord Byron or Ezra Pound, something along that line. But if the poet warrants attention but hasn't wandered the world or made it new, what's left is the act of writing. And as Javier Bardem, who's portrayed a writer himself, said in our recent interview, "No, I think it's very difficult to portray painters in movies. Same with writers or artists in general because they have to explain how they create their things, write their music, paint their paintings, whatever. And it can be very boring."

    But it can be done, Middleton argues, pointing specifically to The Swimming Pool and, as an example of a cinematic portrayal of the impact a poem can have, Regeneration. So, here's a challenge to filmmakers out there. Just as an intriguing exercise. Steer clear of any drama in the life at all and find it in the work itself. Take, for example, a vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company who happens to write poetry on the side. If that doesn't sound particularly inviting, consider not worrying so much about Wallace Stevens as recreating a "mind of winter" on film.

    It shouldn't be as numbingly literal as Ron Howard's mathematical formulas unwoven from a necktie, but it could be as delightful as Julie Taymor's all too brief, all too few flights into Frida's imagination. We've seen the diaries of mad housewives now; let's explore other places poets want to take us.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:12 PM | Comments (3)

    October 17, 2003

    QT reveals all.

    Chiaki Well, a lot, anyway.

    I went out to dinner with Kinji Fukasaku and Kenta [Kinji's son] and I was going, "Man, I love this movie! It is just so fantastic!" And I said, "I love the scene where the girls are shooting each other." And then Kenta starts laughing. So I ask, "Why are you laughing?" He goes, "The author of the original Battle Royale novel would be very happy to hear that you liked that scene." And I go, "Why?" And he says, "Well, because it's from Reservoir Dogs!"

    If you read only one article, review, blurb or gum wrapper on Kill Bill, make it this interview with Quentin Tarantino, originally conducted by Tomohiro Machiyama for Japan's Eiga Hi-Ho magazine and now appearing in English at Japattack.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM | Comments (3)

    Shorts, 10/17.

    Steven Berkoff If you're like me, that face will be familiar to you but you won't be able to place it right off. It's Steven Berkoff, playwright and actor, and for its Friday Review cover story, the Guardian has excerpted little chapterlettes from his new book, Tough Acts. They're sketches, really, not quite full-fledged profiles of people ranging as widely as Joan Collins and Stanley Kubrick, and they're full of marvelously readable and unexpected observations, such as this one, of Eddie Murphy: "He is the perfect Brechtian. He stands outside his character and works it like a puppeteer."

    Also in the Guardian:

  • Xan Brooks on what the disappearance of the Hollywood ending says "about today's America": "This, after all, is the land of the second President George Bush, of 'Gulf War 2' and the ongoing, amorphous war on terror.... We are being bounced, in instalments, through the second, third and fourth acts of a neverending story."
  • More big picture thinking from John Patterson: "We live in an era in which all forms of bestseller or successful movie or TV show seem to rely to an embarrassing degree on forms that were at their high tide half a century ago."
  • Though their direct relation to film is weak, these three music pieces warrant mention: Tom Service on Gyorgy Ligeti; Maddy Costa on Chicks on Speed; and Skye Sherwin on Daft Punk's collaboration with Leiji Matsumoto, Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.

    We've got one happy and several unhappy Kill Bill-related pointers today. The good news first. Steven Rosen pays a fun visit to "Quentinworld" for the Denver Post. And the bad? It's ugly. Movie City News traces a controversy that began when New Republic blogger Gregg Easterbrook wrote some undeniably nasty words implicating Miramax's Harvey Weinstein and parent company Disney's Michael Eisner as "Jewish executives [who] worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence." That is, of course, taken out of context, which Easterbrook emphasizes in the apology which is currently his top entry. Along the way, however, Nikki Finke has fanned the flames at Jim Romenesko's Media News (currently blogging another letter from another outraged critic, though the complaint is a lot less explosive) and the battle rages on at Kevin Roderick's LA Observed blog and Roger L. Simon's as well.

    Meanwhile, David Poland outlines "exactly what is wrong with Ain't It Cool News, and has been for years." Namely: "They are alternately inside and outside the system - more and more inside as every day passes - and both studios and talent, looking to take advantage of the alleged teen cache the site carries, also play the game." Poland asks, "Are there any standards left?" Well, here's a question: Have Knowles and Co ever claimed to be journalists? Honestly. I haven't ever followed the site closely enough to know.

    Alex Abramovich was "charmed" by School of Rock, but was also left with the "feeling that the sight of our elders being afraid for our music, rather than of it, was a sure sign of something amiss." It's an interesting piece to read right alongside another in Slate from its deputy Washington bureau chief. About R.E.M.

    The 19th Annual Film Arts Festival happens in San Francisco from October 30 through November 2.

    Today's online viewing tip comes courtesy of M. Signalstation. With the DVD release of Millennium Actress just around the corner, the trailer for Satoshi Kon's next film, Tokyo Godfather, is now up. A friend of a friend of a friend writes that the film tells the story of three homeless people who find an abandoned child on Christmas Eve: "The key word in this movie seems to be the 'luck.'"

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:43 AM | Comments (2)
  • October 16, 2003

    Shorts, 10/16.

    Chelsea Girls
    In 1965, Warhol announced that he was giving up painting for filmmaking. It didn't stick, but you get the idea. Production at The Factory was shifting focus. In the literature on Andy Warhol's films, you'll see numbers ranging from a total output of anywhere between 650 and 4,000 individual works. In other words, a lot. And yet, even though Warhol approached filmmaking in very much the same way he approached painting, his films remain about as unknown and unpopular as his paintings are known and popular. The paintings are everywhere; the films are nowhere.

    That's me, actually, about a year and a half ago. And of course, that's changing. At the Austin Museum of Art, for example, the "Andy Warhol" exhibition will be emphasizing the films every bit as much as the paintings. For the Austin Chronicle, Jacqueline May talks to Andy Warhol Museum director Tom Sokolowski ("He will be seen as the defining artist of the second half of the 20th century. I don't see any of the things that he predicted lessening, just intensifying") and editor Louis Black recalls putting Billy Ondine up in his house in 1982, simply part of the package in those days for anyone who wanted to show The Chelsea Girls, Vinyl, The Loves of Ondine and the like.

    Meanwhile, on the west coast, one helluva program is being cooked up by Joel Shepard. "Ten Hours of Torment," Saturday, noon to 10 pm at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The Bay Guardian's Dennis Harvey asks Shepard, "When did all this start?" Turns out, Chelsea Girls has something to do with it. Also in the SFBG: Johnny Ray Huston looks back at Vancouver.

    "To cut to the chase, Robert Bresson's heart-breaking and magnificent Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) - the story of a donkey's life and death in rural France - is the supreme masterpiece by one of the greatest of 20th-century filmmakers." Well, there you have it. J. Hoberman, who also reviews "the ultimate underground movie, Star Spangled to Death, Ken Jacobs's epic, bargain-basement assemblage." Also in the Village Voice: Leslie Camhi on the New York Turkish Film Festival and Ed Halter on Jonas Mekas.

    From the horror, the horror dept: Doug Cummings's top ten. Beautiful, stylish films, all. And it's no surprise that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original 1974 shocker, does not make the cut. But it's worth a second look at the Austin Chronicle: On the eve of the opening of the remake, the paper is running Black and Ed Lowry's 1977 notes on the original.

    And to think it all started with a website. Harry Knowles, film producer.

    A terrific series continues, "Reality in Anime": the Tokyo Tower, vending machines, yukata, futon and tatami mats, K-cars, and most recently, Ferris wheels. Slate's Seth Stevenson is over there, too. What a tourist.

    Film-Philosophy looks east: Robert Castle, "The Radical Capability of Rashomon"; Dorota Ostrowska, "Sokurov's Russian Ark"; John Riley, "A (Ukrainian) Life in Soviet Film," on George O. Liber's Alexander Dovzhenko: A Life in Soviet Film.

    Ennio Morricone Remixes. Vol. 1. More info.

    Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival The Stranger: Nate Lippens previews the 2003 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

    In the Guardian and Observer:

  • Derek Malcolm meets Ousmane Sembene: "Whether he likes it or not, he is the African film-maker the west acknowledges above all others."
  • Stephanie Merritt catches up with Jim Sheridan.
  • Psychoanalyst Michael Brearley previews the Second European Psychoanalytic Film Festival.
  • Long profile of Lars von Trier by Damon Wise.

    Hot and heavy Kill Bill discussion going on over at Avary's Domain; Mick LaSalle's sly take; and Lola Ogunnaike profiles Lucy Liu. Also in the New York Times:

  • James Brooke on South Korea's "Sunshine Cinema."
  • Robert Mackey phones Ricky Gervais.
  • Jennifer Senior referees a chat between old friends, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman.
  • Julie Salamon meets novelist and screenwriter Peter Hedges.
  • Terrence Rafferty on The Hired Hand's place in the history of westerns.
  • Eric Taub on digital projection; David Pogue on why setting up a home theater is a pain in the ass.

    Leonard Klady: "Essentially, the true art of the industry has been taken out of the hands of the writers, directors and craftsmen who physically create moving pictures and put into the hands of the executives, businessmen and talent wranglers who make the deals."

    Hiroshi in the New York Press on players and "codecs, a truly mysterious subject"; plus DVD reviews from the NYP team.

    "We got him. (laughs) He was really nice." Via Fimoculous, news that Thomas Pynchon will be voicing himself on The Simpsons.

    Online browsing tip. Celluloid Skyline. Via Persistence of Vision.

    Online viewing tip. Explore Anonymous Content.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:07 AM
  • October 15, 2003

    Misogynist? Racist? Morally bankrupt?

    Now's an appropriate time to go back to Movies as Politics and read Jonathan Rosenbaum's take on Pulp Fiction, written almost exactly nine years ago. He opens by noting the boyishness of Quentin Tarantino, the "couch-potato savant par excellence," the homoerotic undertones ("guys doing guy things with other guys") and devotes about three paragraphs to the celebration of "racial verbal abuse within an elaborately and strategically muddled PC context," with specific reference, of course, to the umpteen times "nigger" is uttered, most often by Tarantino himself.

    Pulp Fiction

    And then, comes this:

    I hasten to add that Pulp Fiction is the most thoroughly and consistently entertaining Hollywood picture I've seen this year, brimming with energy, star power, humor, and ingenuity. It's only when I start to ponder the giddy moral vacuum that produces and validates much of its entertainment - and the dearth of wisdom or vision yielded by these kicks - that my enthusiasm starts to sour.

    Takes you back, doesn't it? You can almost feel the buzz again, emerging from the theater after two and a half hours, floating on a big jovial "Mygod, whattamovie!" bubble... and then, sitting over coffee or beer with friends, talking, feeling and almost literally hearing the air hissing out of it all.

    And here we are again. For Armond White, Kill Bill is, in short, a "movie that, in the end, simply continues Hollywood's white-supremacist conventions." But he isn't short about it. In his piece at Alternet, which originally ran at Africana.com, White opens with an assertion that goes more than a little over the top: Tarantino kills off Vivica A. Fox's Vernita Green out of revenge - not The Bride's, mind you, but his own, that is, for "the resounding flop of Jackie Brown."

    Defending Tarantino and his movies has never been a piece of cake, especially if you are, like me, white, male and a bleeding heart liberal to boot. But some accusations - such as the whole Reservoir Dogs-rips-off-City on Fire thing, usually made by those who quite evidently haven't seen a whole lot of Hong Kong action movies themselves - are easier to wave off than others. And this is certainly one of them. First, Jackie Brown may not have been the runaway box office hit Pulp Fiction was, but it was hardly a flop. Second, the idea that Tarantino somehow learned to never again "take a black person's emotional life seriously" is particularly absurd in the case of Kill Bill, a movie that - and here's where we get to the more worrisome bits, as far as I'm concerned - takes no one's emotional life all that seriously.

    In his own hand-wringing piece in the Guardian today, Jonathan Freedland notes that Tarantino "barely fleshes out his main protagonist, offering only a single word of motivation ('revenge'), and fights shy of offering anything so passe as a point, still less a moral." And here, we're in the same territory as White's more serious accusations. Tarantino's films are all a "postmodern" mish-mash, signifiers and fury, signifying nothing:

    He's not a black filmmaker the way some have claimed Bill Clinton was a "black" president. Tarantino has simply hoovered-up all the same pop trivia that had been consigned to the poor, urban class and serves it back as a demonstration of the success and approbation that can be had simply by forsaking such issues as social inequality, historically-determined class roles, genuine spirituality and injustice.

    For echoes of the same complaint, we can turn first again to Rosenbaum, wrapping up with a reference to "legitimate" parallels others have made between Tarantino and early Godard and...

    ...the director's determination to cram everything he likes into a movie. But the differences between what Godard likes and what Tarantino likes and why are astronomical; it's like comparing a combined museum, library, film archive, record shop, and department store with a jukebox, a video-rental outlet, and an issue of TV Guide. The fact that Pulp Fiction is garnering more extravagant raves than Breathless ever did tells you plenty about which kind of cultural references are regarded as more fruitful - namely, the ones we already have and don't wish to expand.

    I admire Rosenbaum as much as anybody (and for that matter, probably White as well), but do we really want to revive notions of high art and low? And does Rosenbaum really mean to imply that Godard, way back there in post-war France, bingeing on Bogart and the rest, was not slumming in Breathless?

    Freedland actually does a fine job listing the charges brought against Tarantino (though he doesn't seem to come to a conclusion he's all that comfortable with himself; which is fine. If he's like me, he doesn't go to the movies to be comforted). First, up: misogynist. Now, I haven't seen Kill Bill yet - it opens in Berlin tomorrow, and I'll probably catch it on the weekend - but, as I understand it, the protagonist is a woman. Who, yes, offs Vernita Green, but also carries a swift and mighty sword that fells more than a few men as well. And who sets out on her journey to kill Bill, not Jill.

    Racist? Pulp Fiction is indeed all about race, and, as it happens to turn out, it's Samuel L. Jackson's character who achieves enlightenment, albeit an appropriately comic sort of enlightenment, whereas his white counterpart does not and gets blown away.

    Moral vacuity? I'll hand the floor to Tarantino himself, talking to Mim Udovitch a few days ago:

    In Reservoir Dogs, the last scene in the movie is Tim Roth, lying in Harvey Keitel's arms. The cops are on their way to burst in, and if he shuts his mouth, in 30 seconds he'll be safe. But during those 30 seconds, he tells Harvey Keitel he's a cop. Many people in America and Britain ask why. I could never say, "Well, because he's a man of honor"; I just have to say, "Look, if you don't get it, I can't tell you."

    As for all three charges, my final argument would be: Watch Jackie Brown again, a film in which a black woman outsmarts everybody to set right, however temporarily, an immediate universe gone terribly awry. Morally speaking.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:09 AM | Comments (10)

    October 13, 2003

    VIFF's Dragons and Tigers

    A rather unique entry today. Sean Axmaker, a regular reviewer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer who most recently filed a marvelous report for us from Venice, looks back at the "Dragons and Tigers" program of the recently wrapped festival in Vancouver (September 25 to October 10).

    Last Life in the Universe

    In the world of film festivals there is Cannes and Toronto, Venice and Berlin, Sundance and New York, and then there's pretty much everybody else, and they are all trying to find something to make themselves unique. The Vancouver International Film Festival is one of those other festivals. Scheduled just a few weeks after Toronto and Venice, Vancouver is more concerned with providing a smorgasbord of high profile offerings for the local audience plucked from those two festivals than with competing for the sort of splashy world premieres that woo international critics.

    Vancouver also has that one unique program that makes it stand out. The "Dragons and Tigers" festival-within-the-festival has been nurtured by its curator and programmer - critic, historian, Asian film expert, and sometime film translator and subtitle writer, Tony Rayns - from its embryonic incarnation 14 years ago through its growth into the largest, longest running and most adventurous exploration of contemporary Asian cinema in North America. This year over 40 features screened, including over a dozen international premieres. Highlights include Kitano Takeshi's audience pleasing, humor-filled, blood-spraying remake of the classic blind swordsman action series Zatoichi, Tsai Ming-Liang's hushed elegy for the communal experience of cinema-going Goodbye Dragon Inn and Pen-ek Ratanaruang's meditative, black-humored drama of suicide and Yakuzas Last Life In The Universe (all of which had world premieres at Venice and North American premieres at Toronto), a tribute to Ozu Yasujiro actor Aoki Tomio (whose 65-year career was celebrated in clips and rare short film) and the international premiere of a hand picked collection of short comedies made for the cult Cop Festival phenomenon.

    Cop Festival The brainchild of Shinozaki Makoto (whose Kitano Takeshi bio-pic Asakusa Kid played at VIFF 2002), Cop Festival is a series of shot-on-video cop genre shorts directed quickly, cheaply, and tongue firmly in cheek by some of Japan's top directors. The quality varies widely, as does the entertainment factor (the novelty wears thin after a while, even with a series of familiar faces going to town on their own images); they all essentially seem concerned with the filmmakers having good time. The better entries include the delightfully playful Small Elephant Detective (from actor Tsuda Kanji), a video stop-motion story of a tiny stuffed toy elephant who follows up clues, tracks leads and grills suspects without uttering a word (the ominous way he raises his badge tells the suspects all they need to know), and Tanaka Yoji's brash Coming Out Detective, a feverish dream fantasy of a tormented cop with an unfortunate name and a non-stop barrage of gay puns and homoerotic gags. For the genuine oddity factor, Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Ghost Detective, which (according to Shinozaki) was shot in a mere three hours (and apparently edited in another three hours), shows horror maestro Kurosawa spoofing his own ghost stories: an undead detective (looking very much the pale, blank-faced mime in black jeans and turtleneck) corners a series perps and ends up scaring them all to death.

    On a more serious note, Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Bright Future was coolly received at Cannes in a cut version. VIFF, through the technology of DVD and video projection (there are no subtitled film prints of the director's cut), offered the international premiere of the original 115-minute version of his dreamy shot-on-video drama and reveals a minor masterpiece. Kurosawa does Imamura in the story of the unstable, easily confused young man Yuji (Odagiri Joh) who idolizes his brooding roommate Mamoru (Asano Tadanobu, whose gentle smile and black open eyes radiate a distant serenity) and becomes obsessed with his beautiful but deadly jellyfish. Beautiful but deadly is the theme that runs through the entire film: unspeakable acts are grounded in sacrifice and lead to second chances and opportunities for redemption, not just for Odagiri's impulsive child-man but also for Mamoru's lonely father (Fuji Tatsuya), who takes in the veritable orphan Yuji. It's no horror film, though there are ghosts (here, a specter becomes a nod of affirmation) and a serene school of fresh water jellyfish floating through the Tokyo canals, ghostly underwater angels of gossamer delicacy and a deadly sting.

    Vibrator The Japanese collection was particularly strong in all genres. Rayns introduced Hiroki Ryuichi's Vibrator as, "In my view, the best Japanese film of the year." The emotionally fragile Terashima Shinobu impulsively climbs into the cab of truck driver Omori Nao ("I want him. He looks good enough to eat," reads the intertitle, one of many that put us in her head) and hits the road. It's not so much a journey of self discovery as an escape that begins in harmless lies and casual (but tender) sex and ends up knocking away every support that props up her rickety self-image until she collapses in a psychic meltdown and builds herself up again with the tender cushion of Omori holding her firmly but gently. In addition, it's a marvelous trucker's tour of Japan's rural roadways set to a soundtrack of American and Japanese country rock. For the record, the title refers to the omnipresent hum of the truck cab.

    More searing is The Wild Berries, Nishikawa Miwa's sharp satire of the rot beneath the façade of politeness and togetherness in the modern family dropped through the trap door of Japan's modern economy. Father has lost his job but marches out to "work" everyday without a word to his family (he gets by secretly carrying bribes from his old company and borrowing from loan sharks), mother is pushed to the breaking point as she looks after her demented father-in-law, and schoolteacher daughter (still living at home) carries on a hopeless romance with a genial but passive co-worker more concerned with appearances than emotions. When the lies come crashing in, it's the disgraced son who comes to the rescue: a con man and petty hustler whose gift of glib saves the day in the midst of public humiliation. Nishikawa is cutting in her uncompromising portrayal - there's no phony sentiment or softening under emotional bonding - yet she has genuine compassion for these characters. It's akin to juggling broken glass without cutting her own fingers. Where she draws blood is in the film.

    Miike Takashi's Gozu is more evidence for the case that Miike is a major director content to goof on minor works. At 129 minutes, it drones on as a Yakuza underling (Sone Hideki) drifts through a surreal Yakuza Neverland called Nagoya, where the dead Yakuza are disposed of. In this case, the corpse of an insane gang elder inexplicably takes rises for a walkabout and Sone haplessly chases him through bizarre adventures involving a restaurant with a cross-dressing cook, an inn run by a matron who lactates enough to keep the local populace in bottled milk and a junk yard that doubles as a tannery for the tattooed skins of disposed criminals. Miike seems disengaged from entire scenes, then jump starts the film in a mind-melting finale, an insane, unholy marriage of Lost Highway, Jules and Jim, and his own Audition, highlighted by the most demented nightmare of coitus interuptus put on film.

    Resurrection of the Little Match Girl By all accounts, the previously released version of Jang Sun-Woo's South Korean video-game fantasy adventure turned mad mindwarp conspiracy Resurrection of the Little Match Girl features English subtitles so sloppy and slapdash that the game was indecipherable. Vancouver launched the world premiere of the newly re-subtitled version. It doesn't necessarily make sense of the long, strange trip but it does reveal the perverse pleasures of an insistently unfathomable film, beginning with the demented goal of the game that delivery boy and video-game nut Ju impulsively dials into. He has to make sure that the blank faced waif (Kim Hyun-Sung) freezes to death on the street (just like in the Hans Christian Anderson story) thinking warm thoughts of the winning player. Meanwhile, a colorful gallery of opponents (including a husky transvestite Lara Croft on a motorcycle) is working to save, seduce or otherwise stash her away for their own gain. Why? One of the many unanswered questions in this surreal tweaking of The Matrix. Ju falls in love with the virtual girl and flips the game on its head and the Little Match Girl turns into La Femme Nikita, taking destiny into her own armed and dangerous hands. Jang merges "fantasy" and "reality" until they are indistinguishable (if they even exist in the first place) and kicks out the action jams with a sneaky sense of humor, a flamboyant sense of style and a crazy collection of alternate endings that, win or lose, leave the player wondering just what really happened.

    Kim Ji-Woon, the director of the darkly satirical The Quiet Family and the farcical The Foul King, enters Hideo Nakata territory with A Tale of Two Sisters and proves himself an even more accomplished director of unsettling cinematic visions. With a coolly attenuated style that hovers at a distance to view the chilly relations between sisters Su-mi (the protective elder) and Su-yeon (the submissive, silent younger) and their frayed stepmother Eunjoo (Yum Jung-ah, whose try-too-hard politeness is both sympathetic and suspiciously icy) in a house haunted by past (mis)deeds that are never discussed, Kim captures a brittleness that threatens to snap as sublimated hatreds are unleashed in sharp words and increasingly hostile confrontations. It's hard to tell what holds more sway over the creepy doings of the house: guilt, ghosts (both eerie floating specters and a screamingly terrifying figure of rotting black vengeance that crawls under the cabinets) or sheer madness. The shadowy, suggestive images and unnerving silences interrupted by quiet footsteps, ticking clocks and squishy Lynchian soundscapes makes the haunting of this house so shiver-inducing that you don't really care, at least for the first 90 minutes. The frisson dissipates in the flashbacks of the third act, where the complex explanation trades the eeriness for an aching sadness, but Kim saves a few heart-grabbing moments to punctuate the back story. For all the contrived ingenuity of Kim's twisting screenplay, the final moments land on a solid emotional foundation that explains, enriches and reverberates back through the film.

    As unwieldy as the third act may be, A Tale of Two Sisters shows a developing sophistication for Kim. The same, sadly, can't be said for Bong Joon-ho, whose Memories of Murder is a thoroughly conventional take on the contemporary strain of frustrated cops and elusive serial killer thrillers. Bong's previous film, the inspired social satire Barking Dogs Never Bite, had real teeth. This overlong story of fumbling rural cops whose offhanded corruption gets a kick in the butt by an intense young detective from Seoul manages a few jolts (thanks largely to a thumping, percussive soundtrack) but no dramatic resonance, and Bong files all the interesting edges from his characters. Would that he had some of fearlessness Jang Jun-hwan exhibits in Save the Green Planet, a weirdly warped tale of a genial madman who, convinced that aliens have infiltrated Earth, kidnaps and systematically tortures the corporate CEO he's convinced is their leader. Made up of equal parts whimsy and dementia, Jang relentlessly pushes his story of madness, revenge and petty power plays to the limit: both victim and victimizer become more despicable as the film wears on and the tortures (many of them played with a darkly comic tone) stray further from the edge of sanity. All the furiousness doesn't really add up to anything and the kick at the coda is hardly original (the film is never quite as clever as it thinks) but there is grungy fun to be had in gizmo-laden art direction and the battle of wits between the boyish nutcase whose violent streak is sublimated in earnest explanations and the hardboiled corporate player whose survival instinct is matched by his tenacity.

    Save the Green Planet was one of nine films up for the "Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema," a special sidebar competition for first and second-time directors. Others in the competition include Royston Tan's 15 (Taiwan), a punky, punchy portrait of schoolkid nihilists. Slick and raw, and at times too insistent in its editorializing, Royston's film leaps through thumbnail snapshots of five kids (non-actors all) who have already written off their future and races with a headlong momentum and a jolting graphic style that favors pure experience over any reflection of how or why, or what's more, where the parents are in all of this. Yet for all of its expressive style (aping everyone from Wong Kar-Wai to Spike Lee) there is little connection or insight. It all becomes hollow, hopeless spectacle.

    Gina Kim's Invisible Light (South Korea) is all reflection and thoughtful observation. "Women are invisible in Korean films and it makes me angry," explained Kim at the film's initial screening. "They're not really invisible, but they are defined in opposition to the men. I wanted to make a film about women's bodies without men in the way." The two short dramas confront two women who have only a tangential connection but more in common than they realize: the bulimic Gah-in is so obsessed with her weight she can hardly leave her apartment and the married Do-hee finds herself pregnant by her lover and immediately bolts from her miserable marriage. The still, static takes of Gah-in's inertia gives way to a nervous handheld style that gets uncomfortably close to Do-hee by the finale. Kim, a former documentarian, is more concerned with being than doing and her relentless watching finally achieves an intimacy and immediacy.

    Uniform Sadly, I did not see the "Dragons and Tigers" winning film Uniform, from China's Diao Yinan. In his awards ceremony statement, jury member Scott Foundas (a critic for LA Weekly and Variety) called it...

    ...a first feature of remarkable maturity and accomplishment - a film that possesses a complexity in its characters, an economy in its storytelling and a texture in its imagery which many filmmakers don't achieve until much later in their careers, if indeed ever. Like other works by the "underground" film-makers of China's new generation, it is a film set against a society beset by industrial decay and urban despair, wherein a lost generation of young people are searching for their identity. But the concerns of this film extend well beyond that. It is, in short, a film about the masks we wear as people, and the way in which lies can sometimes bring us to a place deeper than truth. By unanimous decision, this year's Dragons & Tigers Award goes to Diao Yinan for his film Uniform.

    The other jury member were Choi Kwang-Hee (senior editor of Film 2.0) and Tomiyama Katsue (founder of Tokyo's Underground Film Centre and president of Daguerreo Press, Inc., publishers of Image Forum magazine).

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:41 AM | Comments (2)

    October 11, 2003

    Weekend Shorts.

    "If there's one movie that ought to be studied by military and civilian leaders around the world at this treacherous historical moment, it is The Fog of War, Errol Morris's sober, beautifully edited documentary portrait of the former United States defense secretary, Robert S. McNamara." So begins Stephen Holden's review in today's New York Times (see also: our interview with Morris).

    Rusk, LBJ, McNamara

    Memories of quagmires past: Secretary of State Dean Rusk, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.

    It's hard to imagine this administration willing to take advice at all...

    ... much less from a movie, but then again, if the Pentagon is wise enough to sit itself down in front of The Battle of Algiers, perhaps Condoleezza Rice, who's evidently just added Iraq to her portfolio following the manager-in-chief's reshuffling of his board, might pick up just one of the "Eleven Lessons of Robert S. McNamara" in the doc's subtitle. Holden, segueing from the Cuban missile crisis to the war in Vietnam, has one already picked out for her: "It was dumb luck, [McNamara] says, that averted a nuclear war. The lesson that came out of that experience is arguably the most useful of the 11: 'Empathize with your enemy.'"

    Probably a little too sagacious for the Martians in charge, I'm guessing.

    Well. To lighter matters, and look, isn't fall grand. Festivals programmed for movie-lovers rather than industry folk are unreeling, and on the weekend, you can actually catch an actor on the screen who isn't wearing tights and a cape. On the other hand, you may still have to contend with a Bruce Lee-inspired tracksuit.

    Let's pick up where Craig left off, then: Kill Bill, Vol. 1, known to many as Quentin Tarantino, Vol. 4. Critics are split far and wide, which I take to be a good sign. The nay-sayers' main complaint so far seems to be that for all the sound and fury, there is no there there. Slate's David Edelstein, who basically agrees but seems to have enjoyed himself anyway, gives the New Yorker's David Denby a friendly jab for the ennui-laden last line of his review, "I felt nothing. Not despair. Not dismay. Not amusement. Nothing." Edelstein: "Like many of my friend Denby's weary plaints, this sounds better when you read it with a French accent: 'Ah felt... nossing. Not ze despair... Not ze dismay... Not z'amuse-mon. Nossing.'"

    Interestingly, the positive reviews seem to be the longest as well as the most appreciative of the cinematic archives Tarantino's been raiding. As AO Scott points out in the New York Times, how much you like the movie "will probably depend on the extent to which you share [QT's] obsessions, on how much of a taste you have for the synthetic fusion cuisine that the director has cooked up." The LA Weekly's John Powers fits the bill and has turned in, to my mind (so far, of course; haven't seen the movie yet myself), the best piece on the film yet. As I read, nodding agreeably, he won me over right here: "Even as Kill Bill marks a clear advance in Tarantino's technical facility - other directors will be strip-mining his ideas for years to come - it's an equally clear retreat from the dawning maturity of Jackie Brown, which he doesn't seem to realize is his best and richest film." Other reviews of interest: J. Hoberman, Matt Zoller Seitz and David Thomson, trying to figure out, like most of us, how and why violence works on the screen.

    So what else is showing...

  • Mystic River: Clint Eastwood, interviewed onstage at the National Film Theatre in London; Lynne Duke profiles Sean Penn for the Washington Post.
  • Elvis Mitchell is surprised to find Intolerable Cruelty "an intelligent, modern screwball comedy, a minor classic on the order of competent, fast-talking curve balls about deception and greed like Mitchell Leisen's Easy Living and Billy Wilder's Major and the Minor."
  • For Salon, David Ng interviews José Padilha, the Brazilian director of Bus 174: "[T]he state is actively producing violent people by mistreating street kids."

    Lars von Trier's Dogville, which won't open until March, "is a lot more German than American," argues John Rockwell in the NYT: "What Mr. von Trier has really done in Dogville is to update his German influences from Wagner to the overtly unsentimental, anti-Wagnerian 1920's of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill." A discomfortingly appropriate segue: John Varoli's story on Der Untergang, a film depicting the fall of Berlin and shot in St. Petersburg: "One city posing as another is not unusual in the film industry. What startled in this case was that the capital of the Third Reich was set in this city, which lost perhaps one million people during a German siege lasting almost 900 days from Sept. 8, 1941, to Jan. 27, 1944. The word 'irony' was on everyone's lips."

    Festival round-up:

  • Jonathan Rosenbaum on what's left to screen at the Chicago International Film Festival, wrapping on the 16th: "In previous years the festival tended to cram most of its strongest films into the first week, but this year most of my favorites are playing during the second week."
  • For indieWIRE, Brandon Judell reports that the folks behind the New York Film Festival are quite pleased with the way things are going ("'There seems to have been a backlash against the backlash,' [director of communications Graham Leggat] says with a laugh"); and the NYT's trio of critics keeps right on filing.
  • The London Film Festival opens October 22 with In the Cut. In the Guardian, Libby Brooks talks to director Jane Campion and Peter Bradshaw blurbs a few of the fest's highlights.

    Days of Heaven

    Also in the Guardian:

  • "I had all kinds of wild offers at that time to be a movie star and I panicked. I was turning down things like Warren Beatty's Reds, that part of Eugene O'Neill [played by Jack Nicholson]. My agent was going crazy... Because it's like you are the hottest whore in town. Everybody wants you." John O'Mahony profiles Sam Shepard.
  • Michael Haneke, interviewed (and in the Independent as well).
  • Molly Haskell on "three great 'last chance' films": Jacques Becker's Touchez Pas au Grisbi, Vincente Minnelli's "gloriously moody" The Band Wagon, and of course, Sophia Coppola's "haunting" Lost in Translation.
  • Steve Rose ruminates on why "in the realm of action movies, samurai is all the rage."
  • The Tarantino quiz. (7 out of 10, but I was in a hurry.)

    The Stranger has unveiled its first annual Genius Awards and chosen stop-motion animator Web Crowell for the film category, even while suggesting the names of four other Seattle-area filmmakers to keep an eye on.

    Screeners update: indieWIRE runs the text of a fax studio specialty division heads sent to Jack Valenti, but reports that the MPAA is sticking with ban; David Poland insists that everyone stop whining, while Roger Ebert rails against the "Valenti Decree."

    In Midnight Eye, Tom Mes reviews Nasu: Summer in Andulusia and interviews director Kitaro Kosaka.

    "The dangers in tackling biopics are evident. There is always some relative or colleague on hand to impugn the motives of the filmmaker." Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent.

    The Pleasure of My Company Book news, oddly enough:

  • First, Woody Allen might write one. Of course, he's written several, but this one might be an autobiography. Reuters's Paul Majendie seems slightly more convinced it'll happen than the NYT's David D. Kirkpatrick.
  • The NYT's Janet Maslin and the Guardian's David Jays review Steve Martin's The Pleasure of My Company.
  • Michiko Kakutani reviews Barry Levinson's first novel, Sixty-Six, "a wordier, more pretentious version of his wonderful 1982 movie, Diner."

    Bollywood is "turning to smarter scripts, shorter shooting schedules and stricter budgets in an attempt to fight big losses and lure bored viewers," reports the AP's Neelesh Misra. Via indieWIRE's Focus, also currently pointing to Giovanni Fazio's ferociously furious review of Larry Clark's Ken Park in the Japan Times - still a hot topic at d/blog.

    Thomas W. Hazlett looks over to Berlin, the city that "ditched analog television, cold turkey," this summer. As a resident of Germany's capital (albeit one in a building that serves up cable as part of the overall rent package, whether you want it or not, so we were hardly effected), I can confirm Hazlett's description of the switch: a lot of hands were wrung at first, but once it happened, it was surprisingly painless and, as Hazlett writes, the "benefits were immediate." Hazlett argues its time for the US to get its digital ball rolling as well. Also in Slate: Timothy Noah: "Arnold Outpolls T3."

    Sandip Roy joins a slew of pundits who've suggested Arnold Schwarzenegger might learn a thing or two from Bollywood stars who've gone political. Roy points specifically to the up, down, then up again career of Amitabh Bachchan. Meanwhile, Canada worries Schwarzenegger may yank some runaway production back to his home state.

    The NYT's Alessandra Stanley praises The Office, the "postreality show" from the BBC, itself the subject of a cover package in the European edition of Time.

    And finally for the weekend, reviews from Screen Daily of movies it may be difficult to catch. Why? One, you might make a mental note; who knows, they may come around one way or another. Two, it's tough enough as it is to widen the angle of view out on over the cinematic landscape; we're still just scratching the surface of what all's going on out there. Denis Seguin is impressed by Aaron Woodley's directorial debut, Rhinoceros Eyes, winner of the Discovery prize in Toronto. Noemi Lvovsky stumbles with Les Sentiments, sighs Lee Marshall, but Dan Fainaru celebrates a box office smash in Korea, E J-Yong's Untold Scandal.

    Posted by dwhudson at 5:28 AM
  • October 9, 2003

    Spec this out.

    At the GreenCine Daily, we are all running around like headless chickens -- with David Hudson away for a few days, and Craig Phillips threatening to move to Canada, post-CA election. But we do have some fun stuff to share with you anyway...

    johnwaters.jpg

    Resistance isn't futile? The MPAA (Motion Picture Asses of, er, Association of America)'s decision to ban "for your consideration" screener copies which are sent to thousands of Oscar voters every year has ticked off many folks. The whole thing came about ostensibly to prevent piracy, but many indie filmmakers and distributors are suspicious that it was a move calculated to squeeze out indies from winning so many darned Oscars. Purposeful or not, it will definitely hurt the little guy, who depend on such screeners to get their films to voters who may not otherwise have access to them. Miramax, initially supporting the idea, now joins the ranks of smaller indies in opposing it. John Waters (left): "I think the studios are sick of the independents winning every award. I think the piracy thing is a smokescreen." (Thanks to Cinema Aficionado for the tip)

    Speaking of Miramax, the Quentin Tarantino opus Kill Bill is opening this weekend. Or should we say, part 1 is opening, since it has been Matrix-ized. The reviews in the States won't be out for a few more hours, but over in the UK, at least at the BBC Online, critics are evenly divided on it. Neil Smith says it's a return to form for QT: "All the trademarks of a QT work are here: an erratic, jumbled-up chronology, a superb soundtrack of forgotten retro classics, and an eccentric cast that combines hot stars du jour with familiar old faces." But Darren Waters rips it as a "shambles." And now it's up to the rest of us to decide if it kicks ass or just bites it. And that's it, more QT plugs for at least a day!


    I see dead tigers. Hey, According to Done Deal, one of my favorite reads of the past summer is being adapted into a movie, and I'm not surprised about any of it: Life of Pi, Yann Martel’s novel about an Indian boy becomes shipwrecked in the Pacific and is left to fend for himself on a twenty six foot life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra and a Bengal tiger (the latter being the key critter for him to worry about.) M. Night Shyamalan will adapt and (presumably) direct. Hopefully, there will be no baseball bats added to the storyline.

    And speaking of spec script sales (we're all about bad segues here at the GC Daily): Thought it might be fun to list some other recent script sales, while throwing in a wild card -- a fake -- to test your mettle. See if you can peg the made-up spec script sale in this batch:

    • The Akhnaten Adventure: A pair of Manhattan twins' new wisdom teeth hold secret powers understood only by their Uncle Nimrod, who explains to them that they are actually genies. Their powers are put to the test in Egypt, where they must fight against an evil genie.
    • Wonder Woman: The superheroine battles evil forces, and producer Joel Silver battles creative forces in this comic book brought to life.
    • Take Me to Your Leader: Sci-Fi Comedy. A NASA janitor accidentally launches himself into space, then falls back to Earth in Iowa, where everyone thinks he's an alien.
    • Stop Me If You've Heard This: Comedy about a man who loses his memory the day after he gets a promotion, has serious deja vu problems, and has 24 hours to solve who he is before he loses his job and his fiancee. Adam Sandler is in talks to star.
    • Hard Hearts: A bounty-hunting couple who must chase down their most dangerous prey while planning their wedding.

    Answers tomorrow!

    And this one's for real: Rumors have been circling that Dave Eggers' autobiographical book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is being turned into a movie and that it may be adapted by British author Nick (High Fidelity) Hornby, but Eggers' has final say on that. Universal is angling for this one, and Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don't Cry) may direct. As PlanetOut notes, it's been awhile since we've heard from her. Obviously this project has a ways to go, but I thought this was pretty interesting, if not staggering, news.

    This is staggering news, though, or at least, cool, coming to us courtesy of Kung Fu Cult Cinema, via the good graces of SignalStation:

    "Takashi Miike and Takeshi Kitano are currently shooting their team up project about a time period samurai movie. The cast list has been expanded with some very exciting names: Ryuhei Matsuda (Oshima's Gohatto and Toshiaki Toyoda's Blue Spring and 9 Souls) Yoshio Harada (Onibi, 9 Souls) rocker Yuya Uchida (known to Miike fans as the long-haired yakuza boss of Deadly Outla Rekka) Susumu Terajima (many Kitano and Miike projects) and Mitsuhiro Oikawa (the Chinese gang boss in City of Lost Souls).

    Oh yes, and two K-1 fighters, one of whom is the hulking American Bob 'The Beast' Sapp. This is clearly not going to be a conventional period piece..."

    Posted by cphillips at 1:23 PM | Comments (3)

    October 8, 2003

    Online viewing tips. 2.

    As a follow-up to the first batch, a second:

    Even if you've seen it a zillion times, the best trailer of 2002: Comedian.

    gone-with-wind.jpg

    Once you click this, you'll find yourself... ... listening to a This American Life program. Unless you're terribly interested in the first segment, scoot your dial 30 minutes in to hear a wonderful piece by Mark Shone. It wasn't until he'd moved from his all-but-native South to NYC that Shone understood why major movies that got everything else so right screwed up so terribly when it came to southern accents. "The South was a movie, a cartoon" to everyone outside it, he realized, with all variations on its multitude of accents invented by a British actress, Vivien Leigh. Listen to Shone's incisive critiques of the fake dialects of Keanu Reeves in Devil's Advocate ("Well, maybe that's too easy"), Dan Ackroyd in Driving Miss Daisy, Robert De Niro in Cape Fear ("The worst thing I'd ever heard") and the entire cast of Steel Magnolias.

    Curt Cloninger introduces both the commercial and noncommercial Flash work of Lew Baldwin for Rhizome's Net Art News.

    The Chaos Computer Club's Blinkenlights project is simply one of the coolest things ever anywhere; now, there's new video documentation.

    Route around spoon-fed news every now and then via sites like Free Speech TV, WorldLinkTV and Lulop.com.

    Years ago, many years ago, John Updike had a piece in Harper's arguing that the 60-second commercial is our contemporary equivalent to the cathedral of the Middle Ages. All that we know about the world is distilled to a single minute (which these days would actually be a bit extravagant; most ads clock in quicker). At any rate, our online viewing tips: The selection of the best new commercials at 'boards is a marvelous time-waster; for those feeling a bit nostalgic, 50 vintage ads from the80s.

    Digital Snow. Don't miss the excerpts.

    The Austin Chronicle profiles Powerhouse Animation.

    Children's animated screensavers.

    Thunderbirds are Go!

    Press Play On Tape, Copenhagen's premier Commodore 64 revival band.

    Lev Manovich, author of The Language of New Media, talks to keyframe.org about his Soft Cinema project.

    Plundering the Video Data Bank will turn up artwork by, say, Steve Reinke or interviews with the likes of Michel Foucault or Cindy Sherman and so on and so on.

    Stummfilm/Silent Movie. 5:40 min.

    "Cory McAbee is a storyteller, that's what he does, he tells stories. The kind of stories you wish you heard more of." The filmmaker, painter and musician makes for a fascinating subject in the second installment of Slowtron's Western State series. QT6 version highly recommended.

    "Can an Economic System be a Dictator?" asks Ricardo Miranda Zuńiga in PixelPress.

    Samples from shorts by Katsuki Tanaka.

    Yes, you've seen Lego movies, but have you seen the feature-length Lego version of Grand Theft Auto?

    Art is hell at the Kunstbar.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:02 PM

    October 7, 2003

    From the vault. 1.

    This summer, we took occasional breaks from the buzz with "summer readings," worthwhile reads that weren't necessarily newsy. I've finally come up with a name that'll allow us to go on with these excerpts and pointers, no matter what the season.

    Artist as Monster

    There can be no "positive aspect" to the moral, mental, spiritual, and physical transformations the men and women in Cronenberg's films seek, Beard insists, "no matter what Cronenberg may say." "These people are now experimenting, they have taken it upon themselves to invent new meanings for themselves, and to reinvent sex, to reinvent death, to reinvent love," Beard quotes Cronenberg on the men and women in Crash, who have found themselves sexually vitalized through their own mutilation. Forget it, Beard says: Look at what the films say, what they show, what they cannot turn away from, whether you can or not. The artist must lie, because even if the artist's work says there is no way out, the artist goes on living and making art—in other words, the artist must act as if his or her own discoveries are false. But a work follows the trajectory of its own drama; it generates momentum toward its own end. A film has its own fictive necessities, and so no matter what Cronenberg may say, Beard can say what, to him, the movies say: "Really nowhere in Cronenberg's whole cinema, and despite his repeated insistences to the contrary, is this transformation or reinvention anything other than appalling." If as a philosopher-filmmaker Cronenberg has locked humanity in a box, as a critic Beard will take away the key.

    Greil Marcus reviews The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg, by William Beard, Bookforum, Spring 2002.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:38 AM

    October 6, 2003

    Shorts, 6/10.

    A new issue of Senses of Cinema is always a major bump in the road for any cinephiliac just out browsing around. You won't be just clicking along on your way any time soon. Each issue goes deep and broad, and fortunately, you've got two months to catch up before the next one thumps down at the site. This time around, as co-editor Jake Wilson notes, if there is any single overriding idea that permeates the whole issue (and there rarely is), it might be found in the several and various approaches to the question of "what is cinema and what is not."

    senses.jpg

    Vague enough, then, but it's not a bad point of orientation as you page through pieces ranging from Deleuze to Bowie, Crocodile Dundee to Chinese documentaries, video art to Manoel de Oliveira, plus festival reports, an expanded book review section, 15 new director profiles, annotations and so on and on and on.

    Roger Avary proposes a well-intentioned but rather naive solution to the screeners problem: "What if the MPAA worked with a specific technology company (like, say, Apple) to create a specialized DVD player application that only played special DVD's of Academy films...?" But the question has generated several interesting comments in response, particularly those that begin to outline what all this would entail. The great tech cat-n-mouse chase has only just begun.

    The latest film director to turn to opera is Pedro Almodóvar, reports Richard Eden. Also in the Observer:

  • Terry Jones, whose frequent criticisms of Tony Blair have always had a Pythonesque flair, isn't cracking as many jokes as before: "As someone who attacks his decision to invade a country that was no conceivable threat to Britain, I do now understand why Tony Blair took his decision. By his own account he took it for no good reason at all - other than the vacuous, incoherent ramblings of a demagogue."
  • What does "Pythonesque" actually mean, anyway? John Fortune attempts an explanation in his review of The Pythons Autobiography.
  • "She's a beautiful artist, but she's uncompromising. But now she's just my hero. I adore her. I love her." Andrew Anthony gets Meg Ryan to say nice things about the director of her latest movie, Jane Campion. Amazing, isn't it.
  • Real-life couples in movies? "It's only a celebrity sprinkle on suburban wife-porn," argues Victoria Coren.

    Peter Conrad on a new book coming out, A Day in the Life of Andy Warhol. The day is in 1965, the photos are by David McCabe and the "chatty, wacky but strikingly perceptive text" is by David Dalton, "who in 1961 became one of the juvenile, adoring hangers-on for whom The Factory was a psychological refuge and also a cultish, heterodox church."

    Via the Guardian's Film... section, I guess it is: "Republic Dogs."

    Matt Clayfield has uploaded Dogs and Hypercubes, a "comparative exploration of both Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Alex Garland's The Tesseract": "The best art is aware of itself. Cinema that knows where it comes in terms of cinematic history... The best art knows where it has come from, and it knows [though perhaps to a lesser extent] where it is going." On a related note, "Magic Machines: A History of the Moving Image from Antiqity to 1900," via cinema minima.

    "Mr. Moore plays to the camera even when he's doing it on the page." Fair enough. At least the New York Times is actually reviewing Dude, Where's My Country?; the paper ignored Stupid White Men even though it was right there, on its own bestseller list for 59 weeks, becoming last year's #1 nonfiction book. Meanwhile, the Guardian goes right on excerpting.

    NYFF Meanwhile, the New York Film Festival is on, so the NYT critics are filing almost daily. Even better, these are festival, not multiplex films: Elvis Mitchell on Lester James Peries's Mansion by the Lake; Stephen Holden on Jan Jakub Kolski's Pornography.

    In yesterday's NYT:

  • Marcelle Clements treks to the Loire Valley to visit Claude Chabrol. Some assignments are pretty tough, but getting the truth out to the people makes it all worthwhile.
  • Mim Udovitch chats with Tarantino. So does David Ansen for Newsweek, by the way.
  • Is this "new cinematic realism" Carlyn James is on about really all that new? It's as old as the movies, actually, but we are seeing more of it in the mainstream recently. Back to Newsweek for a moment: Jonathan Darman talks to James Carville about the most prominent example of the moment, K Street; and about Carville's next role in a remake of All the King's Men, with a screenplay by Steve Zaillian.
  • Elvis Mitchell again on Denzel Washington, again, this time on his role as a cop. Again.
  • Eryn Brown reports on Electronic Arts relocating from Silicon Valley to Hollywood.
  • Alan Riding on Jean Cocteau: "As one French critic said of him: 'Very well known, therefore unknown.'"
  • Steve Young explains how he cobbled together the screenplay for Saving Jessica Lynch.

    Screen Daily's Dan Fainaru files from Pusan with a review of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Doppelganger; Lee Marshall reviews Khyentse Norbu's Travellers & Magicians, "the first feature film to be shot entirely within the secret and reclusive Kingdom of Bhutan."

    Leftish Japanese fans of Ken Loach will be keeping an eye on his reaction to receiving an award from "the most right-wing people in Japan."

    CNN runs an AP story on just how pissed off Ravi Shankar and Norah Jones are over Dev Anand's Song of Life, a Bollywood flick set to tell their story, though it's not supposed to be their story really, though, of course, it is.

    Online viewing tip. Exquisitemtv.com, via Fimoculous.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM
  • October 4, 2003

    Weekend Shorts.

    Dude, Where's My Country? Like docs? Think they can be, among other things, an effective means of getting word out on an urgent issue that wouldn't get out any other way? If so, you'll want to catch, and maybe even encourage others to catch Franny Armstrong's Drowned Out, the runner-up earlier this year at the San Francisco Film Festival for both the doc and doc audience award. In the film, prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy is, in a sense, a guide to one of the major crises in India, the building of the Narmada Dam, displacing millions who can't afford a voice of their own.

    But wait. How will you see it? Unless you've caught the full version at festival or the 45-minute cut shown on PBS, you can't. At least not until the DVD comes out. This is where the production company, Spanner Films, needs your help:

    We didn't decide to make a DVD because we're obsessed with the story and can't leave it alone (although we are and we can't), but because DVDs are now the primary means of distribution in the US, India and other countries. If we're really going to get the Narmada villagers' stories out as far as possible, we need to jump through just one last hoop.

    If you can't afford to make a donation on your own, maybe you know someone who can. Thanks to Steve Rhodes for passing along word of this call.

    On the other end of the doc economic scale, of course, is Michael Moore. First, though: Aren't you glad the Guardian is coming to the US? For years, Moore has been churning out bestselling books, going on wildly popular tours from coast to coast and yet went completely ignored by the spineless mainstream media until he started shouting at the Oscars. The Guardian, however, is running generous excerpts from his latest book, Dude, Where's My Country, and not just in its weekend edition, either. More excerpts are to appear on Monday and Tuesday. On top of all this is an accompanying profile by Gary Younge that helps get across to anyone outside Fortress USA just what a remarkable exception Michael Moore actually is. His ego, and occasionally, his rhetoric may get on your nerves now and then, but it's hard to read Younge and not be impressed all over again:

    He has equivalents on the right in America, such as the columnist Ann Coulter and the radio shock jock Mike Savage, but they have a rightwing administration, Congress and media to back them up. He has equivalents on the left in Britain, but they have a long-established liberal network and a public understanding of satire to sustain them.... Then, suddenly last year, he had lots of company. Stupid White Men became the bestselling non-fiction book of the year and Bowling For Columbine became a hit. Through them, he bypassed the cultural and political gatekeepers, and established a link with a huge swath of Americans whose voices were not being heard.... His detractors have branded his work "Chomsky for children", but my guess is that he would consider that a compliment. Chomsky reaches thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Moore reaches millions, maybe tens of millions.

    On to the paper that's done a fairly good job of pretending he doesn't exist: the New York Times. The Magazine this week is actually a terrific collection of piece that seem to question rather assert that there's a full-blown 70s revival going on in the city. AO Scott, for example, looks back a bit at portraits on film of the city in that now "wildly overstated" era, and then writes, "The recent revival of Wild Style at an East Village movie theater, just a stone's throw from the place where its final scenes were filmed, is only one example of a quiet but persistent cultural revisionism taking root among New York writers, musicians, filmmakers and artists, many of them too young to remember the bad old days they now embrace as a golden age."

    Also in the NYT on a day that usually sees no new movie content: Stephen Holden reviews Dogville and Elvis Mitchell previews "Yasujiro Ozu: A Centennial Celebration."

    Scott Thill interviews Richard Linklater for Salon.

    "Like TiVo on steroids"? That's one sub-heading in Evan Hansen's long, informative look for CNET at the future of DivXNetworks.

    "Linux dominates motion pictures more than anyone but studio insiders may realize. It has been used to produce more than 30 blockbuster films, including Lord of the Rings, Star Wars: Episode II, Harry Potter, Shrek, and Titanic," writes Robin Rowe for Tech News World: "It seems ironic that Linux dominates at studios known for building secret proprietary technology to gain competitive advantage."

    No kidding. Speaking of LOTR, though, Daragh Sankey's dropped a line, wondering how people will make it through special extended editions of Fellowship of the Ring, then The Two Towers, and then take in the premiere of Return of the King. Frankly, I do, too. Wouldn't it be better to see Return for the first time with a clear mind and fresh body? And for that matter, among other clear minds and fresh bodies?

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:49 AM | Comments (5)

    October 3, 2003

    Shorts, 10/3.

    The Corporation "New waves of cinema have come and gone, from countries we should be learning more about (at least before we start bombing them), but rarely have we heard those foreign voices on the vast majority of American movie screens." One powerful antidote is the film festival, writes Joshua Rothkopf in In These Times. Hardly news, of course, but the piece is refreshing in that it focuses on films shown in Toronto that ITT readers are going to find most interesting: The Corporation, for example, "a landmark two-and-a-half hour excoriation of the titular subject."

    Which also happens to be the highlight - besides the valuable brief reviews of the animated films he's taken in - of John Torvi's report from Calgary over at filmjourney.org: "It is arguably the most important film that I've seen this year." Editor Doug Cummings adds comments from Karen Neudorf who focuses on the Q&A with one of the directors, Mark Achbar: "He has been working for six years on The Corporation and figures he has one and a half years to go with promotions and festivals... He talked about making a 'kick-ass educational DVD' with a study guide to keep people engaged." That's what DVDs are for. Bravo, Mr. Achbar.

    Of course, there's nothing wrong with a little fun to spice up your education as well. Quentin Tarantino's plans for the Kill Bill DVD sound almost overwhelming. He tells Empire that he plans separate releases for Vols. 1 and 2, loaded with extras, and then, a huge double-volume package with a whole new set of extras. In case you missed the notion that this is Tarantino's magnum opus the first time around.

    Speaking of whom, in this week's Friday Review at the Guardian:

  • "You're making them laugh and then it's horrifying and they become a conspirator in your own sickness and that's really wonderful!" Yet another big fat Tarantino profile-slash-interview, this time around by Duncan Campbell.

  • Derek Malcolm previews a series of Krzysztof Kieslowski's films unreeling in London, focusing, naturally, on the Decalogue and Three Colors trilogy.

  • David Mamet: "For in American film the whites teach the blacks to play jazz; Oskar Schindler saves the Jews; in myriad films of the Pacific war, strapping GIs teach their little brown brothers, the Filipinos, to defeat the Japs."

    Audiences are flocking to opera productions directed by Doris Dörrie, but the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Eleonore Büning - no surprise here - is not amused. Melanie Hannon, meanwhile, argues with her German friends about dubbing.

    Rani Mukherjee and Ben Affleck, together at last? According to Planet Bollywood's Siddharth Srivastava, the movie may be Bombay California, to be directed by Dev Benegal, and yet another example of the sort of attempts at crossover hits we'll be seeing in the near future. But not in February, that is, not at the Oscars, reports the BBC's Zubair Ahmed.

    About those Oscars. The "no-screeners" debacle rages on. IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez reports that UA prez Bingham Ray called reps from all Indiewood companies together for an "unprecedented" meeting on Wednesday to come up with a collective strategy for salvaging their films' shots at awards in the wake of Jack Valenti's assault. And Movie City News has set up a special page devoted to coverage of the mess.

    "As the copyright battles get under way, Hollywood should keep its pants on," argues New York Times columnist David Pogue: "Illegal movie collecting will never become as casual or as rampant as illegal song collecting." Hm. I, too, am all for Hollywood keeping its pants on, but I'm not sure that argument will hold for long. Instead, we should point to what Napster and its clones were able to do a few years ago in creating an appetite for alternative music and demonstrate, if we can, that exposure to alternative cinema could have the same effect.

    Bright Young Things

    To read the Telegraph, you'll have to register - it's free - but it can be worth it at times. For one thing, the paper's unique conservative is great for laughs; for another, they occasionally nab an interesting contributor, such as Alexander Waugh, grandson of Evelyn:

    The presentation of Bright Young Things on our cinema screens this week is cause for national rejoicing, and for many reasons: gifted Stephen Fry - lost lamb no longer - has found his metier at last as a film director; at least two untested young actors (handsome Stephen Campbell Moore and comic Fenella Woolgar) will have launched successful careers for themselves on the back of it; Sir John Mills (95) can now retire with dignity on a high note - a cameo snorting cocaine - and the British film industry may now gaze down with pride upon the ashes from which it has only recently arisen.

    Screen Daily reviews: Peter Brunette on Mikael Hafstrom's Evil, Sweden's nomination for the Best Foreign Language Oscar; Frank Hatherley on Jonathan Teplitzky's heist movie Gettin' Square; Jennifer Green on Iciar Bollain's Take My Eyes and Lee Marshall on Edoardo Winspeare's The Miracle.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 PM | Comments (1)
  • October 2, 2003

    Rock-n-Shorts.

    Generally, we try not to go too overboard around here when it comes to any one particular movie, especially when it comes to films as blatantly commercial and widely covered as School of Rock. However. Speaking for myself, as a movielover, media junkie, former Austinite, and yes, fan of both the film's star and its director, when the Austin Chronicle comes along with a cover package featuring interviews with Jack Black and Richard Linklater, and then, for good measure, tacks on the editor's addendum addressing the long-term relationship between the Chronicle and Linklater, well, that's simply waving too many flags for me to ignore.

    blackboard.jpg

    It's not earth-rattling stuff, naturally, but there are some fun anecdotes and soliloquies in there. The point in the story of the film's production I find most appealing is that bit where writer Mike White and Black have their package ready, producer Scott Rudin is ready to go and, though several directors express interest, they know they need someone like Linklater to pull it over in the direction they know is right for the movie. I say "pull" rather than "push" because this is clearly a package that wants to be, is straining to be the sort of immediately forgettable formulaic pap popping up on multiplex screens by the dozens weekend after weekend. As David Fear writes in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, at heart, the plot is "the old sap magnet about a superficial dude who learns a few life lessons thanks to some screen-sassy kids, carbon dat[ing] comedywise somewhere around 1986." And yet no one I've heard from or read hasn't been won over, Fear included:

    But it is Black's spotlight all the way - his East of Eden, his Beverly Hills Cop. He takes his breakthrough moment and runs with it, and he's largely responsible for the guilty, giddy contact high buzzing around your skull afterward. Those of us who kept hope that he'd finally find something worthy of his peculiar chops can raise the devil-horn salute.

    Happy to.

    Moving on, the Guardian critics offer capsule reviews of the highlights of the Mill Valley Film Festival - worth scanning because, of course, many of these films are making the rounds at several festivals.

    Doug Cummings passes along "glorious news": Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers is headed back to the theaters in January and onto DVD, thanks to Criterion, in the fall of 2004. Should we thank the Pentagon for this revival?

    In the LA Weekly, a drama in two acts waiting for a third from Nikki Finke. First, there's her story on John Connolly, a freelancer a "now infamous" profile of Schwarzenegger for Premiere (wouldn't you know it's not at the site, far as I can tell):

    Since then, the 55-year-old New Yorker has spent all the weeks of this recall campaign looking even deeper into the background of the actor whose next role is disturbingly likely to be governor. Where the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, ABC, CBS, NBC, and those other supposed bastions of superior reporting (why bother to even mention Fox?) claim to have found next to nothing, Connolly tells LA Weekly he has found a lot.

    Enough for a book, evidently, which he'd planned to shop around right after the election in California on October 7. And he thought he had an agent, too. Finke's disturbing "Web Exclusive Update" quotes Connolly: "How do you go from 'Here’s a great American story and a big book' to 'I'll pass'? This is really somebody-got-to-somebody. That's what happened here." Surely there's another agent out there who's smart enough to smell a lucrative deal?

    Also in the Weekly: Greg Burk profiles Cliff Martinez, the composer who's scored several films for Steven Soderbergh.

    More profiles and interviews:

  • Peter Dinklage in the NYT.
  • Colin Firth and Denzel Washington in Moviehole.

    Wings of Desire

  • And while looking for the Schwarzenegger piece in Premiere, I stumbled across this email exchange between Glenn Kenny and Wim Wenders, followng the release on DVD of Wings of Desire, in which Wenders talks about how to record a running commentary, the DVD as "a valid format for home viewing," City of Angels, of all things (though Wenders defends it) and cinematographer Henri Alekan.

    Bharat Shah, "known as the King of Bollywood," writes the Guardian (brief reports, 1 and 2), has been sentenced to a year behind bars for not reporting what he's alleged to have known, i.e., that mob money was also flowing into the films he was financing. Shocking, isn't it. But: He won't have to do time because, basically, he's already done it. After his chat with the judge, he talked to rediff.com. He sounds relieved, but it may not be over: the Maharashtra government plans to appeal.

    And we'll wrap with Guardian, too: Sandra Smith scans the British film magazines and the online editors offer seven online viewing tips.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:46 AM
  • October 1, 2003

    Shorts, 10/1.

    Is fall the new summer? This isn't the first year this question has been raised, but the question seems more pertinent this time around than it has in a long, long time, particularly since the general consensus is that this was one really lame summer. And it's not just that there are some very big movies opening between now and Christmas. It's that they're event movies with a certain summery air about them as well. They're summer movies for grown-ups:

  • As if to emphasize the sheer eventness of The Matrix Revolutions, the release is going to be simultaneous to the very hour in 60 countries. (New posters via that story in Empire, by the way).

    Gollum

  • There's a new, very impressive trailer for the other trilogy wrapping up this fall, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

  • Kill Bill scores a feature in this week's Village Voice.

    Sci-fi, fantasy, action. In autumn. Plus, Revolutions has to be bigger and better than Reloaded and Return has to be the best of all three Rings films. And we don't even need to begin ticking off all the things Quentin Tarantino has to prove. Fall movies have always been better, of course; but this year, they have to be bigger, too.

    By the way, I've just got to quote Rex's full entry here: "EW's Kill Bill cover story this week contains a parenthetical quote from Tarantino about Memento: 'Good movie! But there's a hole, okay? And it's this! How, okay, does he remember... his own fuckin' condition?' This is why Tarantino still matters."

    "It's hard to think of any other movie release that has so clearly revealed the true class, race and moral divisions of contemporary popular culture." Armond White, once again pulling no punches. The release at hand is Scarface, and he's got a point: "Movie-fads like Memento, Fight Club, The Blair Witch Project were primarily white cultural events," whereas "the mainstream media has dismissed the re-release of this film as a 'minority' cultural event." But you cannot understand the last 20 years, White argues, until you get Scarface. Also in the New York Press: White on Clint Eastwood's Mystic River ("false to the American prole experience even while presuming to dignify it"), Matt Zoller Seitz on the A Mighty Wind DVD ("a smorgasbord of raw material"), plus his big, big feature on Bruce Campbell and Bubba Ho-Tep.

    The MPAA's new policy banning screeners for Academy members is infuriating just about everybody but the majors. A report from Eugene Hernandez in indieWIRE and commentary from Leonard Klady in Movie City News. Also at MCN: "Pupkin lives!" Gary Dretzka's modest proposal for Oscar Night.

    "Overstuffed programs in Venice, Montreal and Toronto have recently proved there is no such thing as a faltering economy in the movie business. Hundreds of new films are upon us like carrion birds, but why do the ones nobody will ever see again (or want to) reliably turn up in the New York Film Festival, and why are they always so lousy?" Oh, that Rex Reed. Also in the New York Observer: Alexandra Wolfe on Jamie Johnson's documentary Born Rich - sounds like you won't want to see this one without a healthy battery of rotten vegetables. To throw not at the film, but at the people on the screen.

    But speaking of the fest, teaser trailers for Gus Van Sant's Cannes winner, Elephant are out. Via cinema minima.

    Wonderful entry from Doug Cummings on Manny Farber.

    MovieMaker Generous online offerings from the edition of MovieMaker I'm afraid I would have missed if Matt hadn't mentioned it: Phillip Williams interviews Anthony Minghella and screenwriter Bart Gavigan. Jennifer M. Wood goes all techie with director Mark Decena, editor Tom McArdle and cinematographer Elliot Davis (though she finds the term "artist" more appropriate). Plus: Film festivals and schools.

    Laura Warrell surveys the gaggle of female Hollywood stars and spots right off what's missing: "good old sexual oomph." Think about it: Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow vs Susan Sarandon, Sigourney Weaver, Jessica Lange, Debra Winger. I do believe she's onto something. Also in Salon: Stephanie Zacharek: "Rock documentaries tend to cut their subjects down to size; The Kids Are Alright asserts that its subject can't be contained."

    Screen Daily reviews: Mike Goodridge on The Story Of The Weeping Camel and Jacob Neiiendam on November.

    Interesting descriptions of docs in the works, portraits of the original creators of Art Brut by Bruno Decharme (interview).

    Online viewing tip. Madonna and Mondino COPY & PASTE Guy Bourdin. Via Fimoculous.

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)