February 27, 2004

Alties and shorts.

Uncovered A day before the Independent Spirit Awards are parceled out and two days before we learn five seconds later than Billy Crystal who's won which Oscars, Alternet unveils the winners of the Alties: "The battle for cinematic domination in the 2004 Altie Awards was fierce, with a field of movies as diverse as any in recent memory," announce the editors. The winner of the "Big Award" probably won't come as a surprise, but you'll definitely want to see which films have nabbed awards with names like "Truth to Power," "Best 'Feel Bad' Movie" and "In the Spirit of Catherine Deneuve." Particularly heartening:

Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War, Robert Greenwald's bold documentary unmasking Bush administration lies, took top Altie honors for the "Truth To Power Award."... As much as people loved Uncovered, many also marveled at the unique distribution methods the Greenwald team used to bring their indie doc to a wide audience. "Important not only for its content, which history will confirm and current events already are, but for the [MoveOn.org] 'underground' house party distribution method," Mike Dixon wrote. "This gets my vote for the sheer guts and marketing of this film through nationwide house parties," voter Noel Hermele wrote.

Speaking of the Oscars, though, that's precisely what David Edelstein and Lynda Obst, "a producer of $100 million movies and an accomplished writer and an A-list partygoer," are doing over at Slate. Edelstein is also a regular reviewer for NPR's Fresh Air and a quick check at the site shows that Diane Keaton is a guest today, followed by replays of two interviews with Bill Murray; Sofia Coppola and John Waters are listed as guests for upcoming shows.

Cocteau's Hands Tim Dowling slips a few amusing words into the mouths of the likely Oscar winners. Also in the Guardian: David Thomson, who calls the Academy "one of the great shams of modern times" in the Independent, contrasts Jean Cocteau the director with Cocteau the screenwriter on the occasion of the retrospective at the National Film Theatre in London. And, in the wake of front-page controversy, calls for resignations and that sort of thing, Andy Humphries, writer and director of Sex Lives of the Potato Men, vigorously defends his film from the attacks from "middle-aged, middle-class film critics."

Back to the Oscars and the Independent for a moment. Geoffrey Macnab offers background on how the four nominations for City of God have left "the Academy's foreign-language committee looking very stupid indeed" and Charlotte O'Sullivan lists the "ten worst Oscar winners."

Sign along with David Poland's Miramax Songbook 2004.

"This has been the cleanest, most aboveboard, most decent Oscar race in years," writes Sharon Waxman in the New York Times: "And the most boring." We turn, then, to Elvis Mitchell: "[T]he significance of the Spirit Awards is not in their ability to predict winners of the Academy Awards, but in their ability to hint at the future of film."

Also in the NYT, Stephen Holden previews the "Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan in 18 Films" series at MOMA.

Curtis Sittenfeld in Salon: "There are other reasons why Dirty Dancing is the best girl movie ever made, and other reasons why its fans are so passionate, but the defining one is this: Dirty Dancing's basic proposition is that it's entirely reasonable for a moderately attractive young woman to find love with a smolderingly hot man."

Sholay

The "monsters of kitsch are dying," laments Soutik Biswas at the BBC. He's referring to the "gargantuan, hand-painted cinema posters [that] were an integral part of the cityscape" in Indian cities. A quick gallery. Perhaps there's hope for the painters, after all, via individual commissions.

The Nation will go for weeks without allowing us non-subscribers a peek at Stuart Klawans's reviews, and finally, along comes one freely available, and what's the film at hand? The Passion of the Christ. My initial reaction was a hissed "Rats!" but hold the phone - it's a fine read:

However much you might play at seeing his work as just another movie, Gibson has gone outside the normal bounds of show business and into the territory of America's religious absolutists: John Ashcroft having himself anointed with oil, gay-hating lawmakers attempting to write Leviticus into the Constitution, antiabortionists shooting to kill, generals declaring holy war against the Muslim infidel. Our country has a great, great many such people who do not consider their convictions to be open to discussion... The ever-boyish and ingenuous Gibson, with his simple faith, has made The Passion of the Christ as a gift for these people.

A blog that does just that: Reviewing Entertainment Weekly. Via Fimoculous.

Online viewing tip. Via Chuck's Blogumentary, several amazing clips from CBS and ABC news broadcasts in 1968. Scroll down for the rancorous face-off between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:24 AM | Comments (1)

February 26, 2004

Bests and shorts.

Jeff Reichert opens the new "Year in Review" issue of Reverse Shot with a bang, claiming that Kill Bill, Volume 1 "should be the standard-bearer for the first decade of the 21st century." It's an interesting argument, one that gets especially meaty in the last paragraph on Tarantino and The RZA, but I'm not sure it's a winning argument. Regardless, even if the top ten RS editors eventually end up with isn't exactly full of surprises, the issue itself is thick with fresh takes on films you'll want to think about again one last time before this Sunday evening well and truly puts 2003, the year in movies, to rest.

To the scourge of the present. "I don't know about you, but I was sick of Mel Gibson's Jesus movie about six months ago." Nonetheless, John Powers opens the LA Weekly's Passion package with an excellent piece rooted in perceptive observation: "With The Passion of the Christ, our modern secular culture has bumped against a homegrown explosion of fundamentalist belief. Where the Singaporeans and French confront such an issue by banning Muslim head scarves in public schools, Americans do it by talking about a motion picture."

Scott Foundas sees the film as pure blockbuster, but not particularly bad on those terms, while what bugs Ella Taylor is that "Gibson shows himself medievally, ardently, not to say sexually addicted to violence, to a degree that far outstrips what we know of the period's excesses." Also in the LA Weekly:

Greendale

Marjorie Baumgarten talks to Young as well for the Austin Chronicle. Also in this week's issue, Courtney Fitzgerald: "During my hunt for the Austin gaffer, I kept hearing Smiley's name. He'd either gaffed or 'juiced' (as an electrician) on Dazed and Confused, Waiting for Guffman, four Robert Rodriguez films, and '35 or 40' other projects from his 20 years here in what Smiley calls 'the velvet rut.'"

The SXSW Film Conference and Festival 2004 is beginning to look mighty inviting. Among the highlights:

Elvis Mitchell, who usually attends as well, has a piece in the New York Times today on the state of black cinema. The occasion is "the widest opening of an African-American-theme movie ever" for Barbershop 2: Back in Business.

Via Movie City News, a story Susan Wloszczyna and Anthony DeBarros on a USA Today study suggesting that critics have more influence than many (well, than I) would have thought:

On a four-star scale, for every half-star the critics awarded, the box office rose as much as $26.5 million... Critical opinion was a more important indicator of box office performance than a host of other factors, including how much the film cost to make, its genre and whether it starred an A-list actor. The only other variable as important as critics: the number of theaters in which the movie played.

Ron Mwangaguhunga really wants Bill Murray to win that Oscar.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:30 AM

February 25, 2004

Arts and shorts.

velazquez-meninas.jpg

"Where theatricality and real life mix - that, to me, is more interesting than the lavish theatricality that Barney does," Eve Sussman tells New York (Click "Top 10 to Watch" and browse... slowly... to #4). The comparison only comes up, in fact, because she's worked with the same composer Matthew Barney worked with on his Cremaster series, Jonathan Bepler. Sussman will be presenting a ten-minute loop entitled 89 Seconds at Alcazar, inspired by Velázquez's painting Las Meninas, at the Whitney Biennial. Also of interest will be #7, Aïda Ruilova, the video artist who's featured her mentor, Jean Rollin, in one of her works. More Sussman; more Ruilova.

Paul Laster's snapped some shots at the opening of the "John Waters: Change of Life" exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Also via Artnet Magazine: "The $12 million independent biopic Modigliani, starring Andy Garcia as the iconic tubercular painter of early modernist Paris, has completed filming (in Romania)... the pot-boiling art-romance also features the French actress Elsa Zylberstein as Modi's mistress Jeanne Hebuterne, the British-born Iranian standup comic Omid Djalili as Pablo Picasso (who is painted as Modigliani's rival in the film) and supermodel Eva Herzigova as Olga Koklova, Picasso's first wife."

The movie event of this Ash Wednesday, of course, is Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and you've already heard more than enough about it. So, very selectively:

Here's a Twin Cities event well worth plugging and Peter Ritter plugs it well: Hollywood 2004, this year's edition of an Oscar-viewing night. "Since it started 17 years ago, as an informal get-together in someone's living room, the event has earned more than $1 million for the Minnesota AIDS Project and associated charities." Also in the City Pages: Matthew Wilder on honorary Oscar recipient Blake Edwards.

Koi Mil Gaya

"Saturday, Bollywood hit Koi Mil Gaya swept what are known as India's Oscars, bagging the Filmfare Awards' best actor title for heartthrob Hrithik Roshan as well as the best film and best director honours for the film based on the friendship between a mentally challenged man and an alien." But Newindpress asks, "How rewarding are Bollywood awards?"

For Central Europe Review, Igor Pop Trajkov interviews Serb filmmaker Srdan Golubovic (Apsolutnih sto [Absolute Hundred]).

In the Guardian, Natasha Walter asks Gurinder Chadha, Beeban Kidron, Alison Peebles and Patty Jenkins, "What is stopping women making the sort of films that take the highest honours?"

In the New York Times:

Online viewing tip. Fun spoofs of the MPAA anti-piracy trailer and site: RespectBootleggers.org.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 PM

Enstamped.

Robeson Stamp Via Alternet, William Jelani Cobb in Africana.com on the recently unveiled Paul Robeson commemorative stamp, the 27th in the Black Heritage Series:

The catalogue of Robeson's achievements is incredible, but his demise, amid allegations of being a communist in the 1950s, is almost a metaphor for the experience of black heroes who have been enstamped by the US Postal Service.... Asked by a committee member why he didn't simply move permanently to the Soviet Union, Robeson famously replied: "Because my father was a slave and my people died to build this country and no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?"... With a sitting President who tells the world, "you are either with us or against us," endorses secret military tribunals, and condones eavesdropping on confidential discussions between a person and his or her attorney, it's almost impossible to ask whether the Robeson stamp is tribute or hypocrisy.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:48 AM

Never Die Alone

Never Die Alone As Black History Month draws to a close, we've just introduced a primer on Black Cinema at the main site and, spotting my admiration for Spike Lee, Jonathan Marlow wondered if I might be interested in a few comments he nabbed during Ernest Dickerson's Q&A following a screening of Never Die Alone at Sundance. Absolutely.

On DMX:

DMX was a pussycat; he was cool to work with. I think we had a great atmosphere on the set. We had enormous support from (producers) Alessandro (Camon) and Mark (Gerald). I always try to have a family atmosphere on my set. The job is hard enough, you may as well have a good time while you're doing it. I think in his other films, they were so big that he was just moved to the side until he was needed and he felt out of place, but he felt a part of Never Die Alone. He showed up. On other movies there were days where he didn't show up. But he did show up every day for us.

On the other actors:

Clifton Powell's been around for a long time. He's one of those guys you see in a lot of movies and you always go, "I've seen that guy before, where did I see him?" He's a solid, dependable actor. Michael Ealy, this is one of his first films. He did Barbershop before this and he did Barbershop 2 and I think he's a great. Reagan Gomez-Preston used to be on a TV show, The Parent 'Hood, so I think Robert Townsend played her father. Jennifer Sky, who's been around for a while, she plays Janet, but there are some new faces [in the film].

On the tight production schedule:

Well, we went one day over schedule, 19 days. We had five-day weeks. But we had a lot of 16-hour days.

A few comments from DP Matthew Libatique:

We had a lot of time at the beginning of the day. It was intense; we didn't really stop working. At that schedule, we would typically have five scenes to do in a day. We'd have to shoot, try to get eight pages done, and it was hectic, you know, sometimes it was a kind of stream of consciousness thing, just keep moving.

To which Dickerson says, comparing filmmaking to running in front of a train:

If you slow down, you die; if you stop, you die; if you trip and fall, you die.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM

Jean Rouch, 1918-2004.

French filmmaker and ethnologist Jean Rouch was buried yesterday in Niamey, Niger.

jean-rouch.jpg

Remembrances:

Cinéma vérité is a term so frequently used that it is sometimes forgotten that the main instigator of both the label and the style was the ethnological filmmaker Jean Rouch... Rejecting both the idealism of Robert Flaherty and the didacticism of Joris Ivens and John Grierson, Rouch aimed for the immediacy of television, without its superficiality. He believed that the camera's intervention stimulated people to greater spontaneity, expression and truth without asking them, as in the American Direct Cinema, to act as though the camera was not there.

Ronald Bergan in the Guardian.

His best-known films, The Mad Masters and I, a Black, made in the 1950s, presented not only a new ethnographic view of Africa to French audiences, but also demonstrated to new wave directors like Jean-Luc Godard what could be done with a hand-held camera. Although he also ran the Cinémathèque Française in Paris from 1987 to 1991, Africa was always Mr. Rouch's first love.

Alan Riding in the New York Times.

In the landmark Chronicle of a Summer, Rouch and his co-director Edgar Morin asked Parisians the simple question, "Are you happy?" The answers created a stunning document of contemporary life in the city.

Eugene Hernandez in indieWIRE.

I still remember how uncomfortable I felt watching Les Maîtres fous (The Mad Masters, 1955) in college. The images of Hauka priests undergoing spirit possession were terrifying but also sort of funny and strange. The film provoked a heated discussion: Was it racist? Was it anti-Colonialist?

Matt Haber in low culture.

After studying me for a while, the legendary filmmaker embraced me as if he were my uncle. He was attentive to the point of walking me to a taxi and giving strict instructions to the driver. Then, with a friendly but hard punch to my chest, he sent me off to my field work.... Did his documentary films "penetrate the intimacy of daily life as it is really lived," in the words of his colleague Edgar Morin? Did they make inroads in the "cinematic catalepsy" offered us by conventional, big-studio productions? Big words, tall orders, perhaps false questions. Rouch did what he loved doing, and it was inspired, fueled by passion and not without consequence.

Salut!

Edgardo Krebs in the Washington Post.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:25 AM | Comments (1)

February 23, 2004

Shorts, 2/23.

"Very, very few people ever ask me about the film as a film," Errol Morris tells Greg Allen. And in response to Greg's first question, Morris refers to Michael Bierut's entry on The Fog of War at Design Observer. The politics of the film have been well hashed out in just about every publication imaginable; Greg's interview, then, is especially valuable in that he's gotten Morris to talk - in free verse, no less - about the imagery some reviewers have had problems with (the dominos, the spreadsheets and so on) as well as about the influence of The Thin Blue Line and the themes that have run throughout all his films: "This interplay of fate and chance, / of the inexorable and the capricious."

The German Cinema Book It used to be so easy to place a German movie. As Angelica Fenner writes in Film-Philosophy, "The broader categories of Weimar cinema, Nazi cinema, the New German cinema, and more recently, Post-Wall cinema, conveniently correspond to significant political regimes and social movements in the broader history of the nation." A little too easy, a little too obvious. And so, the "long-anticipated reterritorialization of German cinema historiography" is now underway, its current status neatly measured in one collection from the BFI, The German Cinema Book.

Following a focus on British film in January - Bob Davis on Hitchcock's Marnie, Trevor G. Elkington on a collection of essays on Greenaway, Florian Grandena on Jacob Leigh's The Cinema of Ken Loach: Art in the Service of the People and Jonathan Wright on British Social Realist Film - February is all about the Germans. Joel Freeman argues that it's what's not there in Fritz Lang's M that makes it so powerful and Peter Ruppert reviews a book that argues that what Wim Wenders has been up to all these years is exploring "the possibilities of a cinema without the need for stories, or, more accurately, a cinema in which stories provide the minimal framework for the presentation of images."

Back to the Brits. "For those who think that British film history begins and ends with Danny Boyle and drawing room comedies, The League of Gentlemen (1959) is a timely reminder of the inventiveness and charm that typified British cinema culture in the early 1960s, providing a tutorial in clever plotting and sturdy acting along the way," writes Ben McCann and Colin Odell and Michelle le Blanc review another Basil Dearden film, All Night Long. Also in Kamera: Robert Williamson reports from the 2nd Bankok International Film Festival.

Via Tagline, Kevin Smith tells all about his upcoming Green Hornet project. To hear him tell it, here's what Harvey Weinstein answered after Smith gave him an outline but told him it was all much more than he could handle: "This is too good. I'm not letting you back out of this. It's time you grew up and pushed yourself by trying something different than all the talky flicks. You can do this. We'll surround you with an amazing support team. You're right to be scared - but it's a good fear. It's the kinda fear that's gonna make you try harder." Also: Smith's interview with Tom Cruise.

The Alien "Quadrilogy"? About sex, of course. A new piece by Jonathan MacDonald at metaphilm.

"As much as we may think we're too sophisticated to believe in anything as corny as old-fashioned heroism, few of us are beyond its grasp," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. Audiences have embraced Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander, Nathan Algren in The Last Samurai and Aragorn and Eowyn in LOTR: Return of the King and yet liberals remain squeamish and suspicious of the very idea...

...all too aware of how the terms of heroism have been hijacked and harnessed into the service of conservatism and conformity. Politically speaking, heroism has become conflated with the idea that "might makes right." It's much more democratic, in theory at least, to walk softly and carry a big stick, particularly one that you have little intention of using. But true heroism - the sort that Jack Aubrey represents, as opposed to the kind that's designed with photo-ops in mind - has very little to do with kicking ass.

The Seven Year Itch "The Hays Code is gone and definitely not lamented, but the sexual tension of The Seven Year Itch lives on." While Plasticians weigh that statement, Laura Picard reminds us that the mentality that brought us the Code in the first place is alive and well.

Scott Green's latest "AnimAICN" column is huge again.

In the Guardian, Observer and New York Times:

  • In what makes for a sort of companion piece to Tom Charity's in Sight & Sound on the two versions of John Cassavetes's Shadows and the arguments they sparked, Ray Carney tells the suspenseful tale of how, after a 17-year search, he finally found the long lost first version.

  • The NYT sits "two film critics of different generations, Stuart Klawans, of The Nation, and his younger colleague Nathan Lee, of The New York Sun," down to talk about Blow-Up.

  • John Patterson on death in LA, Eurotrip's entertainingly stereotypical Europeans and Americans - and his run-in with Ben Stiller.

  • Steve Rose interviews Tony Leung Chiu-wai.

  • How much of an impact on the real world do movies actually have, wonders Janet Maslin.

  • Harriet Lane profiles Charlize Theron.

  • Laura M Holson tells that long hard story behind Exorcist: The Beginning, basically resulting in Morgan Creek financing two movies, one directed by Paul Schrader, the other directed by Renny Harlin: "What Mr. Schrader said he would like to do is show each film side by side in theaters. 'The question is, did they make the wrong film the first time or the second time?' he asked. 'I think the audience would like to judge.'"

  • Fred Schruers predicts movie mogulhood for Jennifer Aniston.

  • Stephanie Merritt meets Martin Freeman, the guy who plays Tim in The Office.

  • A panel of 'xperts - Observer film critic Philip French, columnist Anne Thompson, producer Stephen Woolley, director Kevin Macdonald and Sandra Hebron, artistic director of the London Film Festival - pick their Oscar favorites.

  • AO Scott on Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, which, "in spite of its politically fraught setting and enough full-frontal nudity and uncut sexuality to revive the moribund NC-17 rating, does not plant itself in the midst of a culture war combat zone. It's not The Passion of the Christ. But the responses to it, whether rapturous or dismissive - my own was decidedly rapturous - , have been unusually passionate, and it seems to be one of the few recent movies that live up to the cliché: you either love it or hate it." Jonathan Rosenbaum, though, who remembers the summer of '68 in Paris, where and when he became friends with novelist and screenwriter Gilbert Adair, doesn't hate it, exactly, but he sure doesn't love it, either.

  • Sharon Waxman reviews Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures and the NYT offers a brief opening excerpt.

Speaking of which, for Roger Ebert, and by way of Movie City News, Christine Vachon lists the ways Biskind got it wrong, at least as far as her own appearances in the book are concerned. A pattern is emerging in criticism of the book: Biskind doesn't love these movies the way he loved the films he wrote about in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

La Mala Educacion

For indieWIRE, Brian Brooks reports that Pedro Almodóvar's La Mala Educacion (Bad Education) will open the 57th Festival de Cannes on May 12; also, the WGA and SAG winners.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:17 AM | Comments (1)

February 20, 2004

Books and shorts.

Spike Mike Reloaded On the occasion of the release of Spike Mike Reloaded, Eugene Hernandez talks with the author and "shepherd of the early films of Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, and Michael Moore, among others," John Pierson - and with Smith, who's written a new foreward - about the revisions, about Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures, of course, and about Miramax ("Any producer who was scared of selling a film to Miramax at this year's Sundance because of the stories in Biskind's book is a complete idiot," says Pierson) and getting out of the US for a while. For a little perspective. He's got a busy US schedule now, though, kicking off in Austin next month. Also in indieWIRE: Hernandez remembers Sarah Jacobson.

Godard at 70 Another book, another program. At MoMA, tonight: Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70. I've just started reading Colin MacCabe's book, by the way; just a few chapters in. He makes some pretty grand claims right up front for Godard's place in the western canon. For example, if Dante's Divine Comedy "signals the beginning of a recognizable European culture; it is not an exaggeration to say that Histoire(s) du cinéma marks its end." I'll try to keep an open mind.

Caryl James takes on a whole slew of books all at once in the New York Times: Carrie Fisher's The Best Awful, Steven Bochco's Death by Hollywood, Biskind's Pictures, Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood Animal, Martha Sherrill's My Last Movie Star, Hilary de Vries's So 5 Minutes Ago, Bruce Wagner's Still Holding and Elisabeth Robinson's The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters. And she brings news of another:

Mr. Weinstein's fictional personas are multiplying. His own company, Miramax Books, has acquired The Twins of TriBeCa, a roman à clef written by Rachel Pine, a former Miramax assistant, who turns Harvey and Bob Weinstein into the fictional Phil and Tony Waxman. Published reports describe the film company in the novel as venomously close to Miramax, with bullied employees driven to the edge of sanity and a Gwyneth figure swanning through. Cynics in the publishing and film industries have speculated that Miramax bought the novel (scheduled to appear next year) not to promote it but to bury it; Miramax Books says there is no six-feet-under plan.

I'd bet they aren't fibbing, either. At what point does malicious gossip turn into the stuff of legend? Right about now, it seems. If you're in the biz and don't have a Harvey-threatened-me story yet, you'd better hurry. Besides, as Pierson tells Hernandez in that indieWIRE piece, the reason you want to make a deal with Miramax right now is, "You could never pick a better time to have them release your film while THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!"

Also in the NYT:

  • Mel Gussow and Sharon Waxman both approach the sticky issue of awarding proper recognition to Kátia Lund for her co-direction of another Miramax movie, City of God. Fernando Meirelles, nominated for an Oscar in the Best Director category, seems to handle the situation with honesty and a certain amount of grace.

  • In the Magazine, Deborah Solomon tells Roy Disney's story. And the NYT has now set up a special section: "Bidding for Disney."

  • Roberta Smith on Douglas Gordon, an artist who "appropriates and manipulates moving images with the same voracity with which the artists of the 1980's snatched still photographs from the culture at large. He also uses films the way that Jasper Johns once used targets and flags: because they are, as Mr. Johns famously put it, 'things the mind already knows.'"

    Lotte Jacobi Photographs

  • Grace Glueck on the exhibition "Focus on the Soul: The Photographs of Lotte Jacobi." Here's her portrait of Peter Lorre.
  • "My interest in cinematography has nothing to do with narrative," Jeff Wall, a personal favorite, tells Jan Estep in Bridge. When asked what he thinks of art video: "It is cinema and ought to be treated as cinema."

    Steve Gallagher on Yang Fudong at Filmmaker (where you'll also find four amusing lyrical parodies of top Oscar noms).

    George Pendle in Frieze on Bruce Connor, who created "a rich language of visual puns from old newsreels, documentaries and show reels that, as well as engendering genuinely funny experimental films, also allowed him to gain effects that were as emotionally resonant as they were deeply complex."

    Via metaphilm, Patton Dodd's take on Sundance in the Revealer: "I don't know that I met a single religious filmmaker or saw a film by someone who subscribes to any doctrine, but for those looking for it (perhaps only me), religion hung in the air and flashed on the screens, at twenty-four frames per second."

    The Economist briefly surveys nearly a century's worth of Jesus movies.

    Marc Savlov talks to both Errol Morris and Philip Glass about The Fog of War. Also in the Austin Chronicle: a guide to Austin's film and media arts groups and that Turkish Star Wars.

    Warren Curry reviews Kitchen Stories and interviews director Bent Hamer for CinemaSpeak.Com.

    The March issue of Sight & Sound is up. Besides reviews of The Barbarian Invasions, The Human Stain and 21 Grams (Benicio Del Toro is on the cover), James Mottram reports from the set of Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss and Tom Charity... well, let's let him introduce this one:

    Forty-five years after it screened at the Paris Theater in New York City, John Cassavetes' Shadows (1958) received its European premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, on 24 January 2004. This may come as a surprise to those of you who thought you'd seen the film - but that was Shadows (1959), which as we shall see is quite a different animal.

    The Armenian Film Festival, featuring over 20 films by and about Armenians, opens today and runs through Sunday. Also in San Francisco, The Fourth World War, a powerful and timely doc narrated by Michael Franti and Suheir Hammad, opens tonight and plays through Thursday at the Victoria Theatre. "As beautiful and global as humanity itself," says Naomi Klein.

    Milk Plus is taking nominations for its Droogies.

    Speaking of awards, a handful are to be given out at the end of the month and Jessica Winter assesses the odds for the contenders in the running for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, the supporting roles and a catch-all misc. list of odds. And Oliver Burkeman has a little fun with the contenders' strategies. Also in the Guardian: Nora Ephron tells the story behind When Harry Met Sally. If you like the movie, you'll like the piece; if not, not.

    Nikki Finke in the LA Weekly on the whole Comcast-Disney thing: "How come no one has noticed that the major combatants in this fight are all rich kids, specifically sons of fathers with wealth and influence and power? It's their playground brawls that usually spell bad news for poor shareholders - not to mention the addition of humongous debt on corporate books and the loss of millions of dollars in goodwill write-downs."

    Vanity Fair Hollywood 2004 "The cinetrix has succumbed to her annual indulgence and picked up the Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair. How she loves to hate this issue with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. She reads it straight through and looks at all the ads." And then explicates what's actually going on in that cover shot. Ah, the VF Hollywood issue. For the last few years, a personal ritual has me picking it up moments after I first set foot on US soil, on my way from Berlin to SXSW. Alas, I'll not be going to Austin this year, which means it'll be days, possibly weeks before I get my hands on the 2004 issue. This year is not getting off to a good start. At any rate, more on the issue from Peter Howell in the Toronto Star.

    Alternet's Jessica Lyons says goodbye Sex and the City: "It's time to move on, or at least, move to Paris."

    Roger Avary has a word to the wise among his fellow screenwriters and screenwriter wannabes: "...please, for the love of God, PLEASE, stop writing on your laptop at the local coffee franchise. You may think you look cool with your iBook or Dell, but the truth is you look like a total dork."

    Online viewing tip. Via Fimoculous and greg.org, Michel Gondry's video for Steriogram's "Walkie Talkie Man."

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:27 PM

    Hollywood to Asia: Shall We Dance?

    My Sassy Girl The following remakes are already done deals or well on their way:

  • Infernal Affairs: Martin Scorsese directs, Brad Pitt probably stars.
  • My Wife is a Gangster: With Queen Latifah.
  • Shall We Dance?: Wrapped and set for an August release, starring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere.
  • Hi, Dharma!: MGM's bought the remake rights for $300K and five percent of the box office.
  • Tell Me Something: Fox's got the rights.
  • My Sassy Girl: Rights went to first to DreamWorks for $750K and four percent; now Madonna's company, Maverick, holds them.
  • Phone: DreamWorks again.
  • A lot of this is culled from Roger Clarke's excellent piece in today's Independent, "Why Hollywood is brimful of Asia." Clarke proposes a series of answers. For one thing, it's a trend US producers, ever wary of original ideas in the first place, feel they have to be in on following the success of The Ring, the remake, of course, of Ringu. Second, sales of these rights are actually sustaining some Asian production companies, particularly in Korea, in what might otherwise be dire times. Most of all:

    But there's another good reason why Hollywood has just gone crazy for the East. It's called China. Warner has recently done a deal to open multiplexes all over the People's Republic, and Rupert Murdoch has for many years now made little secret of his desire to get a piece of the action there.... Within 20 years, huge parts of Hollywood will be committed to making films specifically for the Chinese market, and some Hollywood studios are already experimenting with making actual Korean films with no obvious cross-over potential. It seems entirely possible that a Chinese media company will eventually buy a studio such as Universal Pictures, or even Disney.

    Which throws yet another angle on Comcast's bid, doesn't it.

    Also in the Independent today:

    Silence could fall today on the sets on some of the highest profile movies to be made in Britain in recent years. Despite the fact that 2003 was the British film industry's best ever year a financial crisis threatens to pull the plug on projects starring Jude Law, John Malkovich and Johnny Depp.

    Louise Jury explains.

    And: Nick Hasted meets the Polish brothers and Fiona Morrow interviews Benicio Del Toro.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:30 AM | Comments (2)

    February 18, 2004

    Welles and shorts.

    Welles in Profile Once again, Orson Welles. "The most lavishly gifted Hollywood director of his generation, this all-around showboat both lived and dramatized the self-serving Promethean spectacle of the outsize artistic temperament laid low by the constraints of commerce," writes J Hoberman in the Village Voice.

    The occasion for spelling all this out again, for the roundup of six more voices on the films themselves, and for yet more from Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press, is an appropriately gargantuan retrospective at the Film Forum, starting Friday and heading well into April.

    Speaking of programs you may or may not be lucky enough to get to, "Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893 - 1941" at the HRC in Austin looks pretty amazing. Rachel Proctor May previews the series for the Austin Chronicle.

    Charlize Theron's performance in Monster is evidently a love-it-or-hate-it piece of work. For AO Scott, it warrants claiming in the New York Times (where you'll surely have seen that big Oscar Special by now) that, along with Sean Penn's portrayal of Jimmy Markum in Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, Theron's Aileen Wuornos is "evidence that we are living in an extraordinary period, one we will eventually look back upon as a golden age of screen acting." But for Armond White, writing in the New York Press, it's a mere "gimmick" and an "exaggeration" that "allows middle-class reviewers to patronize the characterization as a representation of the wretched underclass. In fact, Theron's misguided sympathy with Wuornos' rages... coincides with specious actorliness. It's the kind of empathy that crawls out from under a rock."

    A copy of Entertainment Weekly in hand, Stephen Reid explains why he's already dreading the summer of 2004.

    Via Alternet, American Prospect contributing editor Noy Thrupkaew on why Robert Altman's Tanner '88 "succeeds where that stinker K Street didn't."

    More Altman: In the New York Review of Books, Joan Acocella writes at length about why she doesn't love The Company but doesn't hate it, either.

    Doug Cummings on Diary of a Country Priest.

    On The Battle of Algiers: Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger and Susan Gerhard in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, where Cheryl Eddy discovers Damon Packard's Reflections of Evil, Robert Avila reviews Osama and Dennis Harvey approves of Bent Hamer's "writ-small portrait of gently funny, well-observed, moderately eccentric humanity," Kitchen Stories.

    Flashback to Rotterdam: Thessa Mooij in Kamera and Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly.

    The Economist on why the DVD is both Hollywood's saviour and greatest threat.

    Yes, we're late, but in case your head's just now clearing after a fun fest, too, the Bafta winners and brief commentary by John Ezard. Also in the Guardian and Observer:

    Summer Phoenix
  • Polly Vernon meets Summer Phoenix, "26 years old, an established feature on the edgy, indie flick scene, a pianist, a purveyor of vintage fashions, fiancee of Casey Affleck (the cooler brother of Ben), whose child she's expecting in May, and most famously of all, younger sister of Joaquin and the man who the Hollywood establishment routinely refers to as the 'tragic' and/or 'late' River Phoenix."

  • Emma Brockes finds Carrie Fisher doesn't need much prompting.

  • Geoffrey Macnab talks to literal fellow traveller Alberto Granado about his ride with Che Guevara, the one at the heart of The Motorcycle Diaries.

  • David Mamet on heroes. In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, by the way, Josh Kun visits the postproduction studios where Mamet is putting the final touches on Spartan: "I warn him that when I see him next, I will want to talk about Jews, about David Mamet the Jew." And he does just that.

  • Tania Branigan on the role cinema might play in defanging the conflict between India and Pakistan.

  • Peter Conrad reviews Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood Animal.

  • Seven online viewing tips from Kate Stables.
  • Larry David in the NYT on Bush's service in the National Guard.

    Ruthe Stein talks to Peter Biskind about those Down and Dirty Pictures for the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Recent interviewees in the Independent: Naomi Watts, Ray Harryhausen, Sean Penn and Bernardo Bertolucci.

    Ron Rosenbaum gathers "verbal icons" from Zoolander. Also in the New York Observer: Woody Allen knows when to hold 'em; he's turned down a $23 million bid for his 40-ft-wide townhouse in Manhattan, reports Gabriel Sherman.

    Katha Pollitt and Andy Serwer have read David Denby's American Sucker and are now exchanging email. Also in Slate: Hilton Als dines with Tilda Swinton.

    Via Movie City News, Chen Kaige, Andrew Cheng and Doug Chan talk to the BBC about the state of Chinese cinema.

    Back to the Voice:

    Chinese Poster
  • Abouna. Laura Sinagra meets filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and Michael Atkinson reviews the film.

  • Ed Park on MOMA's Im Kwon-Taek retrospective.

  • Leslie Camhi on another retro, "John Waters: Change of Life," at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

  • J Hoberman is all over this issue, not only reviewing The Magnificent Ambersons, as noted at the top, but also Jean-Claude Brisseau's Secret Things and books: Taschen's Chinese Propaganda Posters: From the Collection of Michael Wolf and photojournalist Li Zhensheng's Red-Color News Soldier.
  • And finally, lots of online viewing to catch up with:

  • Brian Flemming keeps adding to his library of extras for his terrific Nothing So Strange, now out on DVD.
  • dv cinema.
  • And Evan Mather's not only completed the animated title sequence for My Big Fat Independent Movie, he's got a fresh batch of new shorts as well.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:46 PM | Comments (5)
  • De-tweaking Star Wars.

    Fans will know by now that, after years of fanning and dousing rumors, Lucasfilm and Twentieth Century Fox have announced that the original Star Wars trilogy will be out on DVD after all. September 21. Special Editions only. From internal GreenCine email:

    Craig Phillips:

    Not surprising that Lucas doesn't want us to see his pre-tinkered (original) versions, but a little annoying. And since he's on that track, can't we get the de-Ewok-ified version of Return of the Jedi?

    Return of the Jedi

    Return of the Jedi

    Dennis Woo on the "suckiest parts of the Special Edition version of the original Star Wars":

     
  • Mos Eisley "reimagined" as a bustling zocolo. It's a boring frontiertown, dammit!
  • Greedo shoots first. Nuff said.
  • Han Solo hang-time with Jabba. Terrible CGI work, Jabba looks like he's been on Atkins. Kills the pacing of the Mos Eisley sequence. Random appearance of Boba Fett at the tail-end of the scene is just annoying.
  • Luke/Biggs conversation while Luke is on the way to his X-wing at Yavin-4. "And the stories I could tell you!" "Nothing can stop us!" Erg.
  • CGI on the "lock S-foils into attack position" sequence. New version shows random movement on vessels, making the Rebels look unprofessional. The original version looks a bit more mechanical but suggests the Rebels are working with precision.
  • Star Trek VI-style explosion of the Death Star. Cooler effect but strangely kills the drama of the uniform tinkle-tinkle explosion.
  • On the plus side, the CGI on some of the X-Wing/TIE fighter dogfighting over the Death Star is much more energetic - Wedge really looks like he earns his wings. But the CG is mixed inconsistently with old footage - R2-D2 is not color-corrected in various cut-away scenes.
  • I'll bet you younguns have met people who know this much about Lord of the Rings.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:39 PM | Comments (4)

    It's never too late...

    9 Souls ... to make a "Best of 2003" list. In fact, the longer you wait to assess a year, the more you benefit from that proverbial hindsight, as 68 participants in the Mobius Home Video Forum poll could tell you. Fascinating results. Kill Bill edges out LOTR3; demonlover at #8; Running on Karma, for heaven's sake, at #12.

    Editors and contributors at Midnight Eye have just now turned in their lists as well. Most commonly mentioned as the best Japanese films of 2003 seem to be Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Bright Future and Toshiaki Toyoda's 9 Souls.

    Midnight Eye also invites your votes and in this issue is Jaspar Sharp's interview with Yudai Yamaguchi and new reviews of films and books.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:35 PM

    Two from Bollywood.

    Maqbool Macbeth by way of Bollywood? Absolutely, according to Time's South Asia bureau chief, Alex Perry: "Bhardwaj's extraordinary adaptation works because the themes of ambition and contrition, politicking and deception fit seamlessly into modern Indian life." He also chats briefly with Maqbool's star, Irrfan Khan.

    Different movie, different interviews, and I find the whole thing oddly compelling: Sort of an E!-like video report on the making of Khakee, with occasional splashes of English.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:32 PM

    Good and evil, slugging it out.

    The Passion of Christ Christopher Noxon, writer of one of the earliest (and still, one of the best) pieces on Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, opens another in Salon with a bang:

    Mel Gibson is on the TV, squinting straight into the camera, talking about ... me.

    No, wait, this is even weirder: He's talking to me.

    And he's pissed.

    Gibson then went "ballistic" on him, right there on Fox, back around the time his article appeared in the New York Times Magazine, and Noxon is still wondering, "So which is it: Is Gibson a master marketer or a conspiracy-minded ideologue? After a year of reporting on and following this remarkable story, I still can't decide."

    The enigma has taken to airwaves most recently in an hour-long talk with Diane Sawyer and Heather Havrilesky casts an amused but far from smirking look. Gibson on evil: "It's the thing you can't see. I'm a believer, by the way. So if you believe, you believe that there are big realms of good and evil, and they're slugging it out." Havrilesky: "He's talking about Disney and Comcast, right?"

    Meanwhile, at Movie City News, David Poland calls - quite rightly, it seems, too - for the firing of FoxNews.com reporter Roger Friedman (background) and Gary Dretzka's mind boggles at the media blitz.

    For those who can't afford to subscribe (or simply won't), Matt Langdon - who also has excellent entries on documentaries and recently released DVDs, by the way - helpfully excerpts a LA Times piece on Jim Caviezel, who plays the Messiah and is a devout Catholic himself.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:30 PM | Comments (1)

    February 16, 2004

    Wrapping the Berlinale.

    Fatih Akin The last echoes of the Berlinale resonate throughout all the German papers today; a lot of it is inside baseball stuff, and I'll spare you, but the excellent Perlentaucher, the indispensible feuilleton digest, has come across one bit in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung I just have to pass on.

    When Fatih Akin bounced up on stage to collect his Golden Bear, jury prez Frances McDormand is said to have leaned over and whispered to him, "Your film is really rock 'n' roll." In a piece that's not online, FAZ critic Michael Althen comments:

    Whoever's experienced the wonderful actress in Laurel Canyon will know that this sentence from her mouth is just about as valuable as the award itself. After all, when was the last time a German film won such praise? Rock 'n' roll is everything German cinema usually isn't: strong, energetic, forceful, loud, with rhythm in its blood. Akin can definitely nail that sentence over his bed post.

    If you're interested in learning a bit more about Akin and his film, Deutsche Welle Eleonora Volodina has a short chat in English with him.

    And finally, indieWIRE. They've been all over the Berlinale this year as well and, as the 54th edition wraps, Eugene Hernandez gathers festival director Dieter Kosslick's thoughts on the future and reviews the awards. I'm only just now catching up with the terrific reviews and news...

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 PM

    Berlinale Forum, 2/15.

    Koktebel Cory Vielma at the Forum, Sunday, February 15:

    It's all over. Yesterday saw the final screenings of the Berlinale as well as the presentations of the final awards. It has been a very unique journey for me since February 5. It's actually rather grueling, mentally and physically, to spend around 13 hours in the dark watching movies all day every day. Then, to write the capsule reviews before trying to grab a few hours of sleep with images from the day's films still floating around in my head... just to get up and do it again the next day. Very exhausting indeed. Overall, though, this was a very rewarding experience. I made some great new friends in the other members of the jury, and of course, I saw many fantastic (and not-so-fantastic) films. I hope my quick little diary has been entertaining at least.

    And now, the truth about yesterday: I managed to catch only one film, that being Koktobel (Roads to Koktobel) from Russian directors Boris Chlebnikow and Alexej Popogrebskij. Taking place sometime in the recent past, the film follows a father and his 11-year-old son on a journey with little-to-no money across Russia to Koktobel, where they intend to visit the boy's aunt. When the boy can't take traveling with his father anymore, he strikes out on his own to find the town on the Black Sea coast. This is a slow-paced movie, but it never drags. The characters are well-developed, the performances are strong and the cinematography is consistently beautiful. All in all, a well-made, warm and personal film, and a pleasant way to conclude the fest.

    Cory and the Jury

    Cory, backed by his fellow jury members, announces the winner.

    This was followed by the presentation of the Berliner Zeitung's Readers' Jury award. As I predicted, there were no major upsets and the prize went to Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf's Dealer. The choice was a real toss-up in the jury between Neverland and Dealer and, after hours of debating and arguing, we finally settled on Dealer. While this was by no means my favorite film of the festival, it has some undeniable artistic merit, and I'm happy for the young director.

    Now to readjust to normal life again. This was an experience I'll never forget, and I thank the Berliner Zeitung for selecting me for the jury, and I also want to thank Jonathan and David at GreenCine for asking me to write this diary.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 PM

    February 15, 2004

    Berlinale Forum, 2/14.

    Cory Vielma at the Forum, Saturday, February 14:

    The second-to-last day of the festival began with Final Solution, a documentary from Indian director Rakesh Sharma about the ongoing Hindu-Muslim conflict in the Gujarat region of India. It begins with the massacre of 59 Hindus on board an express train and follows the violence its wake. This is one very frustrating and infuriating film to watch, but not because it's poorly made - quite the contrary - it is a very powerful, detailed film. The frustration lies in following the circle of eye-for-an-eye violence built on a solid foundation of mutual hate and intolerance. The cycle has no beginning and no end, and neither side will be satisfied until there is a final solution. (This film, along with many others perceived as critical of the Indian government, was recently rejected by the Mumbai International Film Festival, prompting a protest by over 60 filmmakers you can read more about in Outlook India - dwh.)

    hava-aney-dey.jpg

    Hava Aney Dey

    It was a quick train ride to Potsdamer Platz for a viewing of Hava Aney Dey (Let the Wind Blow), another Indian film, this time a fictional drama about a group of lower class high school-age young men living in Mumbai and their struggles to find jobs and love within India's rigid caste system. Like Final Solution, this film also deals with Hindu-Muslim relations, albeit in subplots. The young actors are all quite good, and the story seems pleasant enough until the completely unexpected, literally explosive finale.

    Back to the Delphi for the final film of the day: a 45-minute experimental film from American director Ken Kobland called Buildings and Grounds. The film is divided into four sections, all of which can be interpreted as commentary on man's impact on the planet. The first part takes place in cityscapes, the second in bleak industrial wastelands, the third in desolate, garbage-strewn countryside and the fourth in a meatpacking factory. Throughout, there is a wide variety of music, from Mexican pop to classical to wild jazz, as well as text, printed and spoken, from various sources, including dialog lifted from the films of Fellini and Tarkovsky. The effect is a rumination on both the inner self and the universal consequences of man's devastation of Earth. The images are often nearly motionless, and consistently intriguingly composed.

    It was then finally time for the jury to make a decision. We argued passionately for more than three hours and finally came up with a winner. It will be officially announced Sunday night, so I don't want to ruin the surprise, but barring a serious upset in tomorrow's screenings, the Leserjury prize will be awarded as decided this evening.

    Bis dann, Cory.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:03 AM

    February 14, 2004

    Berlinale Competition, 13, 14 + the Bears.

    So Gegen die Wand (Head-On; see also Thursday's entry) wins the Golden Bear. The International Jury, headed up by Frances McDormand, has also awarded Silver Bears to El Abrazo Partido (Lost Embrace; this is the Jury Grand Prix, sort of a second-placer) and to Kim Ki-Duk for his direction of Samaria (Samaritan Girl). The Silver Bear for Best Actress is a tie: Catalina Sandino Moreno for Maria, llena eres de gracia (Maria Full of Grace) and Charlize Theron for Monster. Silver Bears also go to Daniel Hendler for Embrace, the entire ensemble of Om Jag Vänder Mig Om (Daybreak) and Banda Osiris for Best Film Music for Primo Amore (First Love). And here's a list of all the awards; there are plenty.

    Jury Photos

    Photos are taken, first of the jury, seen here, and then of most of the actors and directors who come to Berlin, which are then signed and hung in the Berlinale Palast

    There was quite a bit of talk about Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss when it screened yesterday, talk suggesting that it would be a strong contender for an award, maybe even the award. Sorry to see this critics' favorite leave the festival empty-handed. But it's interesting that, for all the films this year that have dealt with immigrants and their journeys, two of the most talked up films, the actual Golden Bear winner and Loach's film, focus on the second generation, the children of immigrants who've set up lives in their adopted countries. In the case of Ae Fond Kiss, it's the tightly knit Pakistani community in Glasgow we learn about; how hard they've worked to establish roots in a city that doesn't want them and about how conservative Muslim traditions are carried on - including arranged marriages, the crux of the plot. Casim, played by first-timer Atta Yaqub, falls for the piano teacher at his younger sister's school, a spritely Irish blonde played by Eva Birthistle.

    Ken Loach

    Ken Loach was thronged after his press conference

    The plot is conventional but Paul Laverty's screenplay is smart, engaging and informative all at once and Loach sticks right with that story, telling it straight and strong. Casim's parents, of course, object absolutely to this affair and have already arranged to have his future wife flown in from Pakistan. If Casim doesn't break things off with Roisin, his family will break with him. It's not an uncommon dilemma, no, but again, it's all in how the stakes are raised and the screws are turned tighter and tighter; you'll have a scene, for example, in which the lovers realize how truly miserable they'd be without each other followed by another in which we learn that the family of the man Casim's older sister was to marry has called off that wedding because they consider Casim's family shamed. Roisin isn't in quite as tight a fix, but there is a subplot focusing on a bigoted priest forcing her out of the Catholic school where she teaches (since she's "living in sin") which peaks in an amazing face-off between the two.

    Both Laverty and Loach were as admirably outspoken at the press conference as you'd expect them to be. Laverty explained that the seed of the story was planted by his time in the US at around the time of 9/11 when Muslims were being demonized and he heard American leaders say things on television like, "God is not neutral in this conflict." Loach politely asked permission to take a few minutes to talk about the plight of the Kurdish Ay family in Glasgow, who have been held in detention over a year in Scotland before being shipped of to Germany where they're expected to be deported to Turkey where, as Kurds, they can expect less than a warm welcome. No one objected and we all listened as he calmly denounced the racist immigration policies of the UK and Germany as racist. Hear, hear.

    Triple Agent Eric Rohmer is now 83 and unfortunately in such poor health at the moment he couldn't come to Berlin as originally planned. It was amazing to me to overhear, as the press streamed out of its screening of Triple Agent, comments like, "But that was mostly just people talking." Who are some of these people newspapers, radio stations and so on are hiring to review movies for them? After two dozen films in over 40 years, more than a few of them very much on the map, Rohmer has, you know, something of a reputation and you'd think a film critic would have even a vague idea as to what might be expected from an Eric Rohmer film.

    Anyway. Yes, Fiodor, a former general in the White Russian Army, and Arsinoé, his wife, a Greek and a painter, do quite a lot of talking in Triple Agent. As we listen in, there isn't quite as much for the eyes to be doing in the meantime as there is in, say, The Lady and the Duke (except for the costumes which his producer, Francoise Etchegary, assures us are painstakingly authentic and very costly). But what Fiodor and Arsinoé are talking about is pretty intriguing stuff. It's 1936, we're in Paris among exiles and Fiodor is a spy, openly so (and rather immodestly, too, though in a charming sort of way). What we, along with his wife and everyone else, can't figure is who he's spying for - ultimately, that is, since he naturally has the Whites, the Soviets and even the Nazis believing at various stages that he's working for them. The film has been dubbed a "thriller," but I think that, considering contemporary expectations, that's a relatively misleading term; a mind-tingler, maybe, and a mildly entertaining one, too. Agent isn't one of Rohmer's strongest films, but I certainly enjoyed it.

    Like Daybreak, Sylvia Chang's 20 : 30 : 40 follows three separate stories that overlap only in a few brief moments. But 20 is far lighter fare, packing a few warm laughs here and there in its meandering tales of three women in Taipei aged 20, 30 and 40. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff and about as pleasurable a snapshot of life in the city as you could wish for, but not a whole lot more.

    The last screening of the Competiton was just thing for an early Saturday morning. 25 degrés en hiver (25 Degrees in Winter) probably scored more laughs than any other film in the running. Belgian director Stéphane Vuillet actually starts things off on a heavy note with the early dawn deportation (and here we are again) of illegal immigrants. But the van is jumped by a group calling themselves the Anti-Deportation League and Sophie, a Ukrainian played by Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite, is one of two women who makes the getaway (the others are caught and presumably shipped off after all).

    25 Degrees in Winter Credits, and then we meet the lively center of the film, Miguel, wonderfully played by Jacques Gamblin. He's got a daughter, Laura, and this young child actress is amazing - and beautiful as well; Vuillet can't resist allowing his camera to gaze at her at length during musical bridges between sequences. She received a considerable amount of acting coaching from Carmen Maura, who plays Miguel's mother. A series of delightful coincidences throws these four together in a yellow van that goes toodling around Brussels in a frantic series of errands, all intended to patch up one leak or another in each of their lives. Great fun.

    So that was the Berlinale this year, or at least the main program. The first overall reflective assessments are all over the papers this morning and most agree that the 2004 edition turned out to be a fine one after all, though certainly not outstanding. A bumpy start, followed by welcome surprises - though again, no stunners. As I scan the final polls in Screen International and two similar collections of ratings-by-points charts in the local papers, it looks like the critical favorites are, in no particular order (I'm not going to pull out my calculator), Intimate Strangers, Lost Embrace, Monster, Before Sunset (everyone got ticked off at the Americans after three consecutive days of Cold Mountain, Something's Gotta Give and The Missing, but look at that), Ae Fond Kiss, Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow, and of course, the fresh winner of the Golden Bear, Head-On. Director Fatih Akin said he was rattlingly nervous about how his parents would receive the film. This'll help.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:46 AM

    Berlinale Forum, 2/13.

    Cory Vielma at the Forum, Friday, February 13:

    So, last night, I attended my first big party of the festival, "big" being the keyword here. The invite-only shindig took place in the beautiful, enormous, super-classy Volksbühne, an old East German theater that played host to at least 500 people, probably more. Every room had a different music and mood going on and there was free alcohol everywhere I turned. I assume there were a lot of hot shots there, but I wouldn't have recognized them. I did overhear a lot of conversation snippets - "production costs versus distribution costs" or "we've already secured Actress X for our next picture," that sort of thing. I'm sure there were a lot of deals cut and hands shaken. I loaded up on the free alcohol (have you ever noticed that free beer tastes much better than beer you pay for?) and stumbled up Schönhauserallee to my home and I immediately conked out.

    neverland-hearst.jpg

    Friday the 13th started with a bang. I know that yesterday I said that Jarmark Europa was the best documentary in the festival, but that is because I hadn't yet seen Neverland: the Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army. This is an incredibly fascinating, stirring, electric documentary about the SLA, the radical revolutionary group best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. Of note, I found it particularly interesting that the impetus for the group's formation was a political atmosphere in America much like that of today - the US was involved in a never-ending, unjust war, there were millions of jobless people and the ultra-conservative government was virtually ignoring the Constitution, stomping all over Americans' rights with impunity. The doc follows the sometimes well-meaning, sometimes extremely confused and impulsive, sometimes accidentally brilliant maneuvers of the group to its violent, bloody end. The superb use of archival footage and interviews as well as the masterful editing combined with the stranger-than-fiction nature of the story make for a truly excellent film. Documentaries (and indeed, dramas) as totally thrilling, enthralling and enveloping as this are truly rare. My new favorite of the fest! Bravo!

    In stark contrast to Neverland was Paradise Now, a shaky, unfocused (often visually, always thematically) wannabe home movie mish-mash of non-ideas, awful camera work and random shots and cuts. In fact, if someone invited me over to show me this thing as an actual home movie, I'd ask them why they had wasted my time. This film is easily the worst film I have seen in the festival. It is so terrible, in fact, we, the (entire) jury, stood up and walked out en masse after less than 30 minutes.

    On today's roller coaster, the next attraction was Status Yo!, the debut film from young German filmmaker Till Hastreiter. It was easily - by far - the rowdiest crowd and Q&A session of the entire Forum program. Since it takes place in Berlin, it was like a private hip-hop party with the entire crowd hooting and hollering for familiar faces and locations. It is a playful, fresh and fun semi-fictional look at Berlin's hip-hop subculture whose storylines range from a graffiti artist's hunt for the (mythical?) great white subway train to a giant party getting planned and thrown in one day's time and a straight-up love story on the side. Despite a few extremely implausible plot points near the end, and a fairly long (too long?) running time, it is a very entertaining debut that throws many exciting ideas into the mix.

    Only two days left, and who knows what'll happen? The jury was once all but united, but we have since fragmented. It will be an interesting fight to the finish, with a few clear front-runners, but no universal favorite.

    Stay tuned for the carnage. Cory.

    Posted by dwhudson at 5:15 AM | Comments (2)

    February 13, 2004

    Berlinale Forum, 2/12.

    Cory Vielma at the Forum, Thursday, February 12:

    Just home from another five-movie day, and with just enough time to jot down a few notes before I hit the big film fest party!

    Jennifer Reeves's The Time We Killed is an experimental, impressionistic film shot in high-contrast black-&-white. It is abstract but there is a structure here, a story of a shut-in living in New York City from around the time of the 9/11 attacks to 2003. Through various photographic means, voice-over, poetry and wonderfully experimental sound collage, the filmmaker manages to give a somehow personal, intimate look into the main character's psyche.

    Jarmark Europa Jarmark Europa is a documentary about the Jarmark Europa bazaar in Warsaw, Poland, one of eastern Europe's largest regular bazaars. The film offers a clear-eyed, sympathetic view of two women who travel from their hometown of Penza to sell the goods they've smuggled over the border from Russia. Their lives revolve entirely around the bazaar. I have seen many, many documentaries at the fest and this is definitely the best thanks to the interesting, engaging subjects, director Minze Tummescheit's willingness to truly get to know the subjects, and the focused, evenly paced structure.

    Al'lèèssi... une actrice africaine (Al'lèèssi... an African Actress) is a documentary about a very well-known actress in Niger named Zalika. She got her start in the mid-60s, acting in a wide variety of big hits in Niger, but is a cleaning woman today. She's lived a colorful and interesting life, but is a slightly stand-off-ish interviewee, perhaps due to her current work situation. Some of her movies are unintentionally funny when viewed today; for example, Le Retour d'un aventurier from 1966. It is in French (which I don't speak) with no subtitles, so I can't be too precise when it comes to the plot details, but I can tell you that it is a western that takes place on the African plain. Retour features such good old generic western scenes as veil dancing at the pub and roping giraffes (yes, I said roping giraffes).

    Prawda O Schtschelpach The fifth and final film for me today was Prawda O Schtschelpach (All the Truth About Schelps). Russian director Alexej Muradow's film begins with three old friends meeting at a morgue to pick up a dead body and continues throughout the rest of the day (and night) as they get more and more drunk and run into more and more unusual circumstances. Parts are quite amusing (albeit not laugh-out-loud funny) but I have to admit that I didn't really understand what was going on most of the time. Maybe it would make more sense if I spoke Russian and knew more about Russian customs, but then again, maybe not. Not a bad film, just confusing.

    Until tomorrow, when I have a party report as well as a movie report. Cory.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM

    February 12, 2004

    Berlinale, Competition, 2/10, 11 + 12.

    Die Nacht singt ihre Lieder Things have definitely picked up in the three days since the last update on the Competition at the Berlinale, so let's get right to it.

    The two German entries might be an interesting way into the batch. While they're both love stories of sorts, Die Nacht singt ihre Leider (Nightsongs) and Gegen die Wand (Head-On) couldn't be more different, and for that matter, neither could their directors. Romuald Karmakar, 39, never met his Iranian father; his mother is French and he attended a German school in Athens. In the 80s, he embraced punk and the underground cinema scene in Munich and played Hitler in his first Super-8 film in 1985. Ten years later, the breakthrough, Der Totmacher, a 110-minute interrogration of serial murderer Fritz Haarmann by a psychology professor. Based entirely on the actual protocol.

    I'm getting into all this to lay the groundwork for the wildly split reception of his film, Nightsongs. Karmakar does not make films for easy consumption and the screening was downright bizarre in that many journalists - those that didn't walk out, at any rate - spent an hour and a half laughing at this film and then arguing with Karmakar at the most aggressive and angry press conference of the year. I'm talking about both sides; Karmakar must have sensed the animosity in the room because he came right out swinging and it didn't take long for the shouting to begin.

    First, the film itself. It's based on a play by the renowned Norwegian writer Jon Fosse. It's hard to know what the snickering journalists expected, really; they wouldn't even have had look Fosse up to be forewarned that he's no Neil Simon, but simply might have kept the title in mind: literally, "The Night Sings Its Songs," as a married couple repeats lines again and again, as lines and whole conversations return like refrains in varying contexts. The husband is played by Frank Giering, an actor Karmakar calls one of the best in Germany right now, and I'd rush to agree. As his wife, Anne Ratte-Polle gave me the creeps, but then, she's supposed to.

    Karmakar was asked what he thought about the walkouts and the laughter. He brushed off the first as to be expected to a certain degree, whereas for the second, it's not his role to tell you which lines are meant to elicit laughter (and clearly, many are) and which not. In general, he sees a crisis in current cinema. To the great pleasure of the journalists who defended the film - many of them among oldest in the pack, interestingly enough, veterans who reminded the crowd that Fassbinder and Godard were initially scoffed at as well - Karmakar noted that journalists see way too many American films these days (a comment he later clarified: too many Hollywood films; there are, of course, some very fine American filmmakers). The overall numbing effect, which seeps into the narrative form of German television and film as well, is to limit any openness to any different sort of cinema. It's bad enough that the public expects to be spoonfed; far worse the supposedly discerning eyes of the critics have forgotten how to discern.

    As for my own opinion, the one word that comes to mind to apply to Nightsongs is unfortunately so run-to-the-ground it's lost nearly all its meaning, but I would call it "interesting" in the fullest sense of the word. While Fassbinder comes to the mind of others, I kept thinking of Alain Resnais. Nightsongs is no Last Year at Marienbad by any means, but if the very thought of the comparison intrigues you, check this one out if and when you get the chance.

    Fatih Akin is part of the second generation of Turks in Germany who've forged a new identity and culture, complete with its own music, media, fashion and so on, neither completely Turkish nor German, though Akin himself would rush to add that in terms of citizenship, he is, absolutely, a German. Now 31, his breakthrough came in 1998 with Kurz und schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock); many worried that he was going commercial with Solino in 2002, but Gegen die Wand is his follow-up and what an exhilarating return to what even he calls the "Fatih Akin film" it is.

    Gegen die Wand

    Gegen die Wand (Head-On)

    This is one of the most alive and lively films in Competition, thanks evidently to Akin's semi-improvisational approach and thanks most definitely to the two leads, Birol Ünel as Cahit and newcomer Sibel Kekilli, who plays a girl from a conservative Turkish family in Hamburg. She wants out, she wants sex, she wants to get high, to do what she wants whenever she wants. Whenever she's tried to get out, her brother finds her and beats her.

    Cahit's situation: Depressed and depressing and yet in a ferociously amusing way. Until he rams his car into a wall. At the hospital, he meets Sibil; she's just slashed her wrists. And she has an idea: If he marries her, she'll his place clean and stay out of his way and her family will leave her alone. A marriage of convenience for both, in other words. They'll live their own lives and most certainly will not fall in love. Well. Yes, it happens, but it's the journey not the destination (which isn't as predictable as it might seem at first) that makes this a favorite with press who hooted and cheered as Akin and his cast entered the press conference. Two German films, two directors, two receptions, night and day.

    The Before Sunset Team The same could be said for the American films that have screened these past few days. I have to admit, as something of a Richard Linklater fan, Before Sunrise, which won a Silver Bear nine years ago, is the one feature of his I haven't seen. Meant to catch it before the festival since I knew Before Sunset was coming and just never got the chance. But that does mean, for what it's worth, that I can tell you whether Sunset stands on its own. It does. Gloriously.

    Linklater was quoted in some story that ran before the premiere as saying something along these lines: If you liked these people in the first film, you'll love them in this one; if you didn't like them, you'll hate this film. Well, it took me about half an hour or so to decide whether I liked Jesse and Celine. First off, I'm not exactly big on Ethan Hawke. His whole faux Beat-n-Bohème thing rubs me the wrong way and the film opens with Jesse giving a reading in a bookstore in Paris. Of course it's Shakespeare and Company. And Celine's on an activist kick these days, so Julie Delpy gets to say admirable things about what American consumerism is doing to the planet and so on and the whole time you're trying to decide whether all this they're saying is supposed to be as superficial as it sounds. Probably, but to varying degrees for Hawke, Delpy and Linklater, all three of whom have been trading ideas about this sequel almost since the wrap party for Sunrise.

    But they won me over, all three. Linklater keeps the compositions simple and straightforward, throwing an enormous weight on his two actors and both hold up exceedingly well. By the time we reach the last scene, I, like most of the theater evidently, was practically floating. In the last shot, Delpy gives us a look that had us all and snap! to the credits, eliciting whoops and thunderous applause. Though a few critics have dissented, this is one of the best reviewed films so far in the program.

    If you followed Sundance at all, you already know that Joshua Marston's Maria, llena eres de gracia (Maria Full of Grace) is one of the most talked about indies this year. I don't have much to add to the praise it's already won other than that from the moment Maria agrees to become a "mule," smuggling heroine from Columbia to the US, there's a palpable sense of dread and fear that's hard to shake. Marston, clearly a hard and thorough worker, said at the press conference that it was actually relatively easy to research the lives of many real "mules"; what was more difficult was getting into the head of a 17-year-old girl. But Catalina Sandino Moreno, who plays Maria, and the other female actors (the festival sparkles with great female performances this year, and this is just the second mentioned so far from a first-timer) helped tremendously in rehearsal. Two noteworthy notes: The bodies of 400 mules have been repatriated in the last 20 years; Don Fernando, the "Columbian Mayor of Queens" in the film is played by a man who does precisely that and countless other favors for Columbians in New York in reality.

    I'm trying to think of one kind thing to say about The Final Cut and can only come up with: Nice set design and, yes, that Tak Fujimoto sure can take pretty pictures. Otherwise, the anticipated first feature from the supposedly hot young director Omar Naim is just plain all-round bad. Poor Robin Williams. Though I still keep my tiny flame of hope for his career alive, others have been down on him, sometimes unfairly, for too long now. This won't help. I'll fan my embers and wait for Terry Gilliam's Brothers Grimm.

    Kim Ki-Duk

    Press conferences are also broadcast live on large screens in front of the Berlinale Palast. Here, Kim Ki-Duk declares he hopes he wins nothing.

    At his press conference, Kim Ki-Duk emphasized that Samaria (Samaritan Girl) stands in direct opposition in nearly every way to Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring. The criticism that Asia is under-represented in this year's program has been voiced often enough, but if there were to be only one or two slots left for Asia to fill, tapping Kim Ki-Duk to fill one seems a fashionable choice if nothing else. But taken out of the context of his other work, it's hard to say that Samaria should have been the film to carry the light from those far shores to Berlin. All in all, I was more impressed by the contrast in the personalities of the famously iconoclastic director and his lead actress, Kwak Ji-Min. Just as one example, when Kim Ki-Duk said he hoped his film wouldn't win any prizes (if it did, it'd be a sign that he was becoming too conventional), the girl who'd been so shy up to that point leaned into the microphone and interrupted: "I want to win a prize."

    The grand tradition of cinema from Rumsfeldian Old Europe is alive and well. I've seen it with my own eyes in two very different films, Cédric Kahn's Feux Rouges (Red Lights) and Theo Angelopoulos's Trilogia: To livadi pou dakrisi (Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow).

    Red Lights is a wonderfully nostalgic pleasure, a French thriller that does everything an American thriller wouldn't. Scenes Americans would tighten or toss altogether are precisely the scenes Kahn chooses to linger on. Kahn remembers when thrillers could not only thrill but do a few other things at the same time as well. Make us wonder how and why we've become so dependent on automobiles, for example, and what's more, have us count the ways cars have made our lives more miserable, not less. Or how the telephone can be used to deliver just one tantalizing bit of information that calls for nothing other than yet another phone call. Based on a novel by George Simenon, with effective use of music by Claude Debussy, Lights is an hommage not so much to any particular filmmaker but to an entire period it's oddly hard to date but would lie three or four decades back. And in France.

    Weeping Meadow

    Every single shot of Weeping Meadow is an admirable piece of work. Angelopoulos would wait for weeks for the sun to go away so he could capture it with its washed-out colors, its off-whites and blacks. And for all the work put into it, every single shot gets its due and much, much more. Dramaturgically speaking, you're going to have to make some mental notes that last a while if you're going to connect the dots. I'm not sure, if I were Greek, I'd be all that thrilled that Angelopoulos has set out to capture the definitive history of modern Greece on film with his proposed trilogy, but as far as the first installment goes, it's unarguably picturesque for all its horrors. Forging tragedy into pretty tableaus, though, seems troublesome in ways I'll want to contemplate at some point... after this festival wraps.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:19 PM

    Berlinale Forum, 2/11.

    The Devil Breaks My Heart 10 Years Later Cory Vielma at the Forum, Wednesday, February 11:

    Wednesday began with two more movies from the "Real Stories form a Free South Africa" section of the program: The Devil Breaks My Heart 10 Years Later and Home. Devil focuses on four young, poor men ten years ago and now. It paints a fairly bleak picture because of the fact that so little has changed for them in the intervening ten years. One is facing jail time, one drinks all day with his friends - partially out of fear of going outside into the violent, crime plagued streets - and one survives on the meager amounts of food he and his family can grow on their farm. Only one has progressed from his childhood, living a comfortable life as a member of the South African national rugby team. When he visits his old hometown, he's a hero - everyone knows him, waves and shouts his name. Does this mean that, born to poverty in South Africa, one has a one in four chance of breaking out of it?

    Home focuses on a family in the violence-ravaged town of Bhambayi. Ten years ago, the Apartheid government kept this tiny town in constant fear. Nearly 11,000 lives were lost here alone and the inhabitants are still recovering today. Although it is still a very poor area, things are looking up, with government subsidized building developments and a lot less violent crime. Overall, these are two sobering, honest views of modern South Africa.

    Agadez Nomade FM is another documentary out of Africa; this time, it's Niger. It's about a small town made entirely of mud buildings and the local radio station, the movie's namesake. The colors are beautiful burnt oranges and browns and, while the imagery is fit for a postcard, there is no real beginning or end, no clear narrative or direction, in fact, no structure whatsoever. Which is why I found it worthwhile only for the cinematography.

    Out of the Forest The fourth documentary of the day came in the form of a stirring, fascinating, thought-provoking film by a pair of Israeli filmmakers. Out of the Forest focuses on the town of Ponar (in Poland before and during WWII, now in Lithuania) and the diary of a Polish man living there during those nightmare years. Ponar was the site of more than 100,000 murders (most of victims were Jews) by SS troops in the time between 1941 and 1944. There is no archival footage and there are no photos from the period; instead, the film relies on sensitive interviews with residents of the area, the few miraculous survivors, people forced to help the killers and so on. No one is willing to take any responsibility for anything that happened, of course, with everyone placing the blame firmly on everyone else. Though the film offers few answers, it raises several provocative questions, including, naturally, the crucial one: "How did this happen?"

    The perfect anecdote to such a heavy documentary was the Japanese film that followed. Hard Luck Hero is a hyperactive, ridiculously fast-paced, sugar rush of a movie. It begins with a cook being forced into a kickboxing match against a national champion. When he accidentally wins the match, the film steps on the accelerator and never lets up. It follows three parallel stories to their final, literal collision. Very funny at times, it'll leave you exhausted, feeling something like a sugar crash.

    The day concluded with Dealer from Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf. Dealer is an overlong, contrived drama following the life of a drug dealer. Every deal he meets blabbers on and on in a pretentious, pseudo-philosophical tone (with very looong pauses between sentences). The film strives for a heady, intellectual atmo but never breaks away from the superficial. The cinematography is moody and dark, with every scene bathed in a pale blue light. The lighting and pacing suggest the filmmaker is heavily influenced by Tarkovsky's Solaris, but where Solaris raised several existential questions worth raising, the only question I had after Dealer was, "Why is every shot a tracking shot?" I have already heard a bit of buzz about this film, and it has all the earmarks of a real buzz-generator, so I have to give it a pre-emptive "over-rated."

    Well, the fest may be almost over, but there are still almost 20 films for me to see. Bis dann, Cory.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:16 PM

    February 11, 2004

    Senses 30, Bright Lights 43.

    I'm running behind on covering the films in Competition at the Berlinale, but there's a bit of a break tomorrow afternoon and a lot to catch up with, so do check in.

    Meantime, a new issue of either Bright Lights Film Journal or Senses of Cinema would be well worth breaking the current relentless flow of text from Berlin for, but new issues of both at practically the same time makes you want to run out and stop traffic.

    lars-von-trier.jpg

    Lars von Trier

    Senses 30 is top-loaded with its annual World Poll. Writes co-editor Jake Wilson, "While it's likely that by this point in the year readers will already have encountered numerous 'best of 2003' lists, we feel our own compilation still serves a useful purpose, particularly in drawing attention to little-known or undervalued films." Which is one of the many reasons we revere Senses in the first place, isn't it. Besides the features, book reviews, festival round-ups, "Great Directors" database (there are six new additions) and special sections, such as the one this time around on "Perversion."

    Not a topic Bright Lights would ever sweep under the carpet, either. Issue 43 poses the question, for example, "Lars von Trier: Pornographer?" But it's not all Film als Subversive Kunst, of course. Bert Cardullo gets Stanley Kauffmann to reflect on 40-year+ career that proves sly wit can and often will outrun mere effrontery.

    But back to Lars von Trier for a moment. In tandem with the film festival in Berlin, countless galas and discussions and exhibitions have sprung up, among them a black-tie sort of affair now in its second year, this whole Cinema For Peace initiative which decided to give this year's award to LVT but declined to play the taped acceptance speech he delivered in lieu of his presence. Via Screen International, a mere snippet what LVT would have said if he could:

    Dear Peace Committee! Thank you for the Peace Prize! I believe in peace just like you. And we peace believers see it as our noble task to make everybody in the world to feel the same.

    But not everybody in the world wants to. The people of the world are two tribes living in the desert. One tribe lives in the country with the well in it. The other lives in the country beyond.

    The tribe in the country with the well in it wants peace. The tribe in the country beyond doesn't want peace - it wants water!

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

    Berlinale Forum, 2/10.

    Cory Vielma at the Forum, Tuesday, February 10:

    After the unseasonably warm weather last week, we thought we were sliding into spring here in Berlin. As it turns out, that damn groundhog screwed us and it's been snowing like crazy all day. But, after nearly cracking my tailbone on the slippery stairs outside the Delphi, I made it back to Prenzlauer Berg safe and sound. If you were here, you would know by my red, glazed eyes and slurred speech that I saw four more films today:

    El Tren Blanco (The White Train) is a documentary about paper scavengers in Buenos Aires after the political and social devastation of Argentina's financial collapse. You can see the pain in their eyes as these hungry, desperate people resort to any means at hand to scrounge up enough money for food. It is a sad, harrowing account and reminded me at times of the recent documentary Dark Days about underground dwellers in NYC, in that both take place primarily in the dark and the subjects of each have similar survival methods.

    Dotkni mnie

    Dotknij Mnie

    From the Polish directing team Anna Jadowski and Ewa Stankewicz comes Dotknij Mnie (Touch Me), a grainy, confusing drama shot on video. I think one of the main goals of the film is to be shocking and, while there are some creepy characters and depraved situations, the shocks simply pack no punch. Also, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic or even fleshed out, so I found it hard to care when something happened to them. The film focuses on a loser cop obsessed with a woman he met on a call and two mean, bored, out-of-work actors. Nothing much happens as the story meanders and drifts aimlessly from dirty apartments to sleazy strip clubs to back alleys to an ending that left me thinking, "That's it?"

    Campfire, directed by Joseph Cedar, is a very kind, warm melodrama set in Israel in 1981 and follows the lives of a woman and her two teenage daughters one year after the death of the husband. The youngest daughter is molested by some classmates while at a bonfire and her name is slandered. But she remains strong, and it is through this strength that the mother finds the power and will to love again. Campfire is competently made and heartwarming, but plays out a little bit like an after-school special or an episode of a Jewish Wonder Years.

    The day wrapped with Yun De Nan Fang (South of the Clouds), the story of a retired man who has dreamed for 40 years of vacationing in Yunnan, near Tibet, and finally lives out his dream. Perhaps because this was the 24th film I've seen since Thursday, or perhaps there really wasn't enough substance to bite into, I found this film so slow it almost invited my mind to wander elsewhere.

    Tomorrow is another six-film day. Wish me luck. Cory.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:17 PM | Comments (2)

    February 10, 2004

    Berlinale Forum, 2/9.

    Cory Vielma at the Forum, Monday, February 9:

    Well, I may not know what day it is or where I am, but I do know one thing: I smashed my previous record of four movies in a day with a walloping six movies today. It went a little bit like this:

    Amos Vogel: Film as a Subversive Art The first two films were documentaries from the "Real Stories from a Free South Africa" portion of the Forum lineup. The first was called Through the Eyes of My Daughter, by director Zulfah Otto-Sallies from Cape Town, and focused on a year in the life of her 15-year-old daughter, Muneera. Guess what? Muneera could be a teenage girl virtually anywhere in the world. She wants a cell phone for her birthday, is bratty and rebellious, and wants to wear clothing more revealing than her father will allow. It is a personal account (almost to the point of single-minded selfishness), as well as a chronicle of the filmmaker's discovery of her own daughter.

    The second film from South Africa was called The Meaning of the Buffalo, by animal photographer Karin Slater. The director began by trying to learn why the inhabitants of Lekgophung - a very small, very poor, very dry village - call themselves the Balete (Buffalo) People and subsequently adapted the buffalo as the town mascot. Unfortunately, no one can remember. All they know is that they are proud to be Buffalo People - simple, honest people living off the land. This is a beautifully shot, moving portrait of life spent in this small village waiting for rain.

    Another documentary followed: Dying at Grace, a look at five terminally ill cancer patients at Grace Hospital in Toronto. If you are wondering what happens when you get to know - and like - five people and then actually watch them draw their last breaths, I will tell you: You spend two and a half hours crying. Is it voyeurism? Is it exploitation? Is it good documentary making? It may be a little of each, but I do know this for sure: Dying at Grace is extremely blunt, bleak and emotional.

    Film as Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16 tells the story of the a very intelligent, funny and colorful man who virtually single-handedly brought experimental film to the US through his extremely adventurous programming at Cinema 16 in NYC. The cinema was active for, coincidentally, 16 years, beginning in the late 1940s, and was instrumental in starting many famous (and not-so-famous) careers, including those of Roman Polanski, Maya Deren, Agnes Varda and many more. Amos Vogel's passion for experimental film and lust for knowledge of all sorts comes through vividly in this solid, entertaining documentary.

    B-Happy B-Happy, from Chilean director Gonzalo Justiniano, was the first non-documentary of the day and was also an exciting, fresh surprise. It is the darkly comic but somehow hopeful story of a 14-year-old girl and the seemingly endless string of tragic events that follow her. Throughout, the film retains a sharp sense of humor and a dreamy, playful quality almost like a bizarro version of Amélie. The performances, in particular that of first-timer Manuela Martelli in the lead role, are excellent throughout. I really liked this film for its humor, performances, cinematography, music, overall tone... Ok, pretty much everything. In fact, I think this is my favorite of the 20 films I have seen so far in the fest.

    As promised, the day ended with Infernal Affairs III. III is not nearly as violent as II and, despite considerably fewer criss-crossing plots, is much harder to follow. It includes many more romantic and dramatic elements and, over all, I found it much less entertaining and engaging than II.

    If anyone needs me, you know where to find me: Delphi Theater, balcony, first row.

    Until tomorrow, Cory.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:32 PM | Comments (2)

    February 9, 2004

    Berlinale Competition, 2/8+9.

    Two days since the last update, we're just about at the halfway point in this year's Berlinale. 11 of the 23 films in Competition have been screened and murmurs are beginning to rumble under the surface: Where's the film that'll blow us away? We haven't seen it yet, or at least I haven't.

    Tim Roth, Bai Ling and Hans Petter Moland

    Tim Roth, Bai Ling and Hans Petter Moland

    Last year, Michael Winterbottom's In This World, the film that went on to win the Golden Bear, was the very first film in the Competition to be screened; no matter what you saw afterwards, great or awful, you knew you could already chalk up a unique cinematic experience for the 2003 edition of the festival. In my opinion, and seemingly in more than a few others' as well, a few good films have been screened, but no great ones. Yet.

    For example, Screen International launched its "Festival Watch" poll today in its daily Berlinale edition. Nine critics from nine publications ranging from, say, Sight & Sound to one from Estonia I hadn't heard of before (a good thing!), peg each film with stars: One star for "poor," two for "fair," three for "good" and four for "excellent." So far, no film has scored four stars, whereas I would bet cold hard cash that at least two had by this point last year. In case you're curious, the film weighted with the greatest number of stars is Patrice Leconte's Intimate Strangers, which I find mildly surprising. It's a fine film, yes, but nothing that'll have you phoning home with news of something exciting and different to watch out for. The film ranked lowest is Country of My Skull, and I'm afraid I couldn't argue.

    It is still a little early to start lining them up, but for myself, I'd say that among the best of the bunch so far would be Daybreak and two I'll get to in a moment, Beautiful Country and Lost Embrace. Following close behind for me would be Intimate Strangers and In Your Hands. I'll place The Missing here because I have mixed feelings about it; on the one hand, it gets pretty hokey at times, but on the other, there were sequences that had me rivetted to my seat like no other so far at the fest. Falling below the line of approval would be The Witnesses, Skull, First Love and Your Next Life. Unfortunately, I had to miss Monster, though I don't plan to miss any others in Competition. For what it's worth, the reviews over here, as they were in the States, have been mixed.

    Evidently, I like Beautiful Country considerably more than a whole lot of other festival attendees and reviewers. That's fine. I've heard and read their arguments and they've failed to convince me that this isn't a very fine film indeed and certainly worthy of a healthy theatrical run in the US and around the world. The idea for the film came from Terence Malick, a good solid start in my book. Malick also wrote the original draft of the screenplay and, after seeing Aberdeen, decided (along with producer Edward R Pressman) that Hans Petter Moland was just the director who could bring the epic journey of a young Vietnamese man from his homeland to America to the screen - for a mere $5 million. Though Moland likes to joke that if you want to make a film set in the Far East and the States, the obvious thing to do is call in a Norwegian, straight across the board, Malick was absolutely right.

    Beautiful Country

    Beautiful Country

    I had no idea the budget for Beautiful Country was that low until after I'd seen it, so that figure came as something of a shock. This is a big film in all sorts of ways, one that has at least a few of us defenders betting already that it'll win one Bear or another when this festival wraps. And it's only natural that comparisons with In This World, admittedly a superior film, would come to mind: Both films are about emigrants seeking a better life in a distant country they know next to nothing about; both films depict disastrous run-ins with ruthlessly exploitive people smugglers; in both films, the nadir of the journey occurs on a boat; both suggest - not argue outright, but suggest - that the countries these emigrants leave are actually more beautiful than the ones they finally reach.

    But comparisons can stop right there. Blending documentary and fiction, Winterbottom's was a very different sort of project. Beautiful Country is a story loosely based on the experiences of many Vietnamese, but takes a different stylistic tack entirely. Binh, played with strength and grace by first-timer Damien Nguyen, is the son of a Vietnamese mother and an American father, a GI during the war, and as such, he ranks just above the animals on a farm in the breathtakingly beautiful Vietnamese countryside. He then learns that his status is about to be demoted yet another notch and sets off in search of his mother, now a servant in a house run by a rich and cruel family in Ho Chi Minh City. Perhaps you can tell already that life in Vietnam, while certainly appealing to the eye, is not romanticized by any means. A series of misfortunes leads to a spontaneous decision: Binh must leave Vietnam, his five-year-old half-brother in tow.

    What follows is episodic, yes, but it doesn't feel that way because relationships among the characters - Tim Roth as an emotionally dead ship captain and Bai Ling as a woman who'll buy whatever she deems necessary with her body - bridge and overlap the geographical scene changes. Binh's ultimate goal becomes finding his father and, since he's played by Nick Nolte, whose participation in the film is most definitely not going to go unmentioned in any future marketing campaign, it's not revealing too much to say that Binh eventually finds him. When he does, though, all clichés are handily avoided and several expectations are confidently undercut. One of the many admirable attributes of the film is the way it sharply contrasts the ideal of "America," still pervasive around the world, and the reality.

    There were a few remarkable moments at the press conference worth mentioning, and by the way: Here's as good a time as any to emphasize that if my brief comments on these sessions arouse interest in them, there's nothing exclusive or privileged about them at all. You can watch all or any of them any time you like. At any rate, Remarkable Moment #1 would have to be the Moland's reaction to praise for the film from a French journalist. The screening for the press yesterday morning was the first time Beautiful Country had been screened anywhere at all; the print had just been flown in from the lab in Norway (and the actors, in fact, had yet to see it themselves). Well, Moland, clearly physically and emotionally worn down by the tight deadline, broke down. His baby had just received its first compliment.

    Bai Ling comforted him while he pulled himself together again, but little did she know she'd be at the center of Remarkable Moment #2. A Chinese journalist stood up to ask a question, started speaking in Chinese and just went on and on. The press pack grew restless, a few calling for him to sit down, but Tim Roth waved them to keep quiet. By the end of his short speech, the man had broken down in tears. Bai Ling, taken by surprise at first, but then clearly moved, translated: The journalist was expressing his, well, joy at seeing Bai Ling, who'd run into trouble with the government for her taking a role in Red Corner, doing just fine, career-wise and otherwise. There's no news of her in China these days. He'd simply been saying how happy he was for her.

    In Your Hands Forbrydelser (In Your Hands) is the second-to-last film to have been officially ordained part of the Dogme 95 "movement" before the "Dogmesecretariat" closed its doors in 2002. Of course, it hadn't been completed yet, but here it is, Dogme #34, and director Annette K. Olesen has dutifully obeyed all the restrictions. She claims they actually gave her a certain freedom as she made Hands; for example, she would have been tempted to have music swell up here and there, but of course, she couldn't. Not allowed. What she could do, though, was concentrate on her story and its characters, and what's more, shooting on location meant shooting in an actual women's prison.

    The story briefly: There are two new arrivals, two new women at this prison, Anna, a priest, and Kate, a prisoner. Oddly enough, this is a fresh start for both. It's Anna's first real assignment and Kate was having a hard time of it at the prison she's just come from. Hope is in the air, and all is pleasant and underplayed enough to have you wondering for quite a while, actually, if this is going to be all there is. But Kate seems to have some sort of supernatural powers she doesn't completely understand while Anna, clinging to her own beliefs in the supernatural, can't come to terms with Kate's. As Olesen says, reality eventually overcomes all optimism in this story by its end. It is an engaging story well told, but I wouldn't call it devastating as many, in fact, have.

    Daniel Burman El Abrazo Partido (Lost Embrace) has the advantage of being the comic relief after a couple of days of solid heaviness and, for making good use of it, was indeed embraced by audiences today. There's a story, but it doesn't matter much. Embrace is more about a sense of place and character and would actually make a delightful play. Set in the Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires, and even more tightly, mostly within a run-down mall, the film has a protagonist, Ariel, played with dry humor by Daniel Hendler, surrounded by, you know, quirky characters, most of them played by amateur actors. Director Daniel Burman goes in for a shaky camera with lots of zoom, but the overall effect is light rather than dizzying. Most of the humor is verbal, though, and it's remarkable how well it comes across to those of us who don't speak Spanish. Again, a tribute to the amazing cast which features, it should be mentioned, Yiddish singer Rosita Londner as Ariel's grandmother.

    The first "Boo!"s of the festival were heard as the credits rolled for Primo Amore (First Love). Someone shouted, "Zeitverschwendung!" ("A waste of time!"). Someone far more kind suggested later in conversation that the film might have made an interesting short. He has a point. I also couldn't help but wonder if people were objecting so vigorously to the film when what really infuriated them was the idea at the core of it, derived, mind you, from a true story: A man attracted only to very thin women forces the woman he falls in love with to lose weight to the point of very seriously ill health. Even if that's so, it still doesn't make the film worth your while. I will say, though, that director Matteo Garrone made a few interesting choices here and there. I particularly liked a scene of close-ups of the two lovers who were completely out of focus while the background of rolling hills was sharp as you please. I was then doubly interested when Garrone said that it might capture just how much this pair has detached itself from the real world or it might be the woman's daydream; he didn't know himself and found both interpretations legitimate readings. But for all that, Amore is a trying exercise.

    La vida que te espera (Your Next Life), from Spanish director Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, his sixth film at a Berlinale, isn't nearly as abrasive or objectionable, but it isn't overwhelmingly winning, either. Its greatest pleasure is probably its setting, the Valle de Pas in northern Spain where a farming community still lives as they have for centuries. So you get a period piece, in a sense, with the occasional convenience of a truck or scooter. There's a murder (the guy had it coming), there's a love story with shades of Romeo and Juliet, there's double-crossing and a bit of pining for the old ways. It all goes down smoothly but is just as quickly forgotten.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:03 PM | Comments (1)

    Berlinale Forum, 2/8.

    Dopo mezzanotte Cory Vielma at the Forum, Sunday, February 8:

    It was a snowy and rainy day here in Berlin, perfect for taking in four movies. The day began with a light and breezy Italian romantic comedy from director Davide Ferrario, Dopo mezzanotte (After Midnight). A woman sets off running from the law (for a very comical reason) and ends up hiding out in a film museum where she meets the Buster Keaton-obsessed caretaker who lives and works there. He is so obsessed with Keaton, in fact, he models his entire living quarters after Keaton's homes in his films. Naturally, while hiding out there, the woman and the Keaton fanatic grow close, prompting questions in the woman's mind about her relationship with her boyfriend. Thanks to the ghost of Keaton, the film features heavy dollops of slapstick in addition to a barbed jab at Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. All in all, it's nothing more than fluff, but it is well-made, entertaining fluff.

    Niwatori Wa Hadashi Da, (Barefoot Chicken) sports a plot so hokey it would make the Apple Dumpling Gang blush. What starts as a goofy comic drama about a family of separated parents and their disabled son soon turns into a ridiculous caper about stolen cars and police espionage. Since the child is disabled, of course, he can remember every number he ever sees, (just like Rain Man!) especially license plates. He gets wrapped up in the stolen car scheme, there're a lot of shouting and poop and pee jokes, I couldn't take any more and left early. A film to avoid.

    The pain continued with Zwölf Stühle (Twelve Chairs) from German director Ulrike Ottinger. I think the intent was madcap fun, but it was neither madcap nor fun. Zwölf Stühle begins with a mother using her last breath to tell her son that she had secretly sewn all of her precious gems into the upholstery of one of the family chairs, which, of course, they no longer own. Thus begins nearly three-and-a-half hours (and oh, it felt longer) of the son searching high and low for the chairs and subsequently ripping them apart. Most distracting to me was the way the film lacked any sort of commitment to any time period. At one point, there's an earthquake, which is referred to as the "Great Quake of 1927," but all of the clothing, furniture, houses and manners suggest the late 1800s. The problem is multiplied by the appearance of modern cars and trains, telephones and graffiti (of Batman, no less!). I can't help thinking that this film should half been half the length, but even then, it would still have been incredibly dull.

    Infernal Affairs II

    The day ended on a high note, with a screening of Infernal Affairs II. Having never seen the original, I have nothing to compare it to, but II is a tense, taut cops and gangsters story from Hong Kong directing team Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. There is a brief introduction before the deceit and double-crossing start flying fast and heavy. It seems everyone is playing both sides of the game, pitting even husbands against wives. This is a stylish, violent thriller with spider-web story lines twisting and spinning all the way to the last second. Not to mention that it features one of the most surprising murder scenes I can remember, causing me and the rest of the audience to actually gasp audibly and flinch in our seats. I'm sure the bloody, back-stabbing fun will continue tomorrow, when I see III.

    Til then, Cory.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:50 PM

    February 8, 2004

    Rotterdammerung.

    Rotterdam Poster Jonathan Marlow recalls the highlights of Europe's other major wintertime festival:

    For the regular "festival tourist," Rotterdam has remained, for years, something of a holy grail. Its proximity to Sundance on the calendar (and the Berlinale, for that matter) never made attendance a practical choice. I remember, while working on the 2000 Seattle International Film Festival, finding a copy of the IFFR catalogue in the office. I was immediately attracted to their off-beat selection of lesser-known features and a surprising selection of non-narrative/experimental works. It seemed like the perfect festival for my unruly tastes.

    I was right. With outgoing festival director Simon Field (after eight years at the helm) promising that this 33rd fest would be something special, I committed myself to the irrational expedition east. Particularly important was Field's selection of Raul Ruiz as a "Filmmaker in Focus" (Ken Jacobs was similarly feted). I can count on one hand the individuals (alive, that is) that I admire and Ruiz ranks easily among them. Considering that the festival presented the opportunity to see more than a dozen of his films that I've merely read about in addition to new works by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Miike, Jacques Rivette, Kenji Fukasaku and Michael Winterbottom, how could it miss? It didn't.

    But first, a primer on the Netherlands. There is plenty to like about the International Film Festival Rotterdam. All of the venues are within walking distance. The hub at De Doelen is conveniently located near the Centraal Train Station. All of the theatres are relatively comfortable - good seats, good sight-lines and good sound. The schedule is plotted with few overlaps so it is possible to see films at a variety of venues without difficulty, even with only a few minutes between screenings. With the number of concurrent events (as many as 24 screenings, counting those for the press screenings, going on at any moment), there is nearly always something worth seeing and the theaters are usually not too full. You can drink in the cinema (Heineken, brewed and bottled in nearby Amsterdam, and Grolsch being the options of choice, generally).

    Now the bad. Nearly everyone smokes. Constantly. The lobby of nearly every venue is a virtual cloud of carcinogens. Evidently, no one believes in queues here, either. If you want in, if you want to buy something, if you're trying to escape, you'd best be prepared to politely push your way to the front. Also, it's winter. Prepare to be cold (even more so, surprisingly, than at Sundance). As with the rest of the EU, and with the value of the dollar being kept artificially low, everything is more expensive than it should be (particularly more so than five years ago when I lived in Berlin, for instance).

    But back to the films. Typically, there was some inspired programming by the staff. Zero Day screened back-to-back with Gus Van Sant's Elephant (both inspired by the Columbine shootings). King Hu's Dragon Inn played with Goodbye, Dragon Inn, the latest from Tsai Ming-liang. Little-seen, The Exiles screened before Los Angeles Plays Itself (and a pairing that was featured earlier at the Vancouver International Film Festival, LAPI features several sequences from Bunker Hill-set Exiles). The Cremaster cycle was presented in it entirety, in sequence (quite a relentless, hard-to-imagine marathon).

    Berenice

    Berenice

    The crux of ambition, however, was the impressive aforementioned Ruiz retrospective: 17 features and three shorts, granted only a sliver of his work (he's made over one hundred films), but a fair selection of theatrical releases (from the well-known, Time Regained, to the little-known, such as The Blind Owl), theater pieces (Berenice), dance work (Mammame), documentary (Great Events and Ordinary People [Des grands événements et des gens ordinaires: Les Élections), pseudo-documentary (the fantastic The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting [L’Hypothese du tableau volé], new work (including the world premiere of a film completed specifically for the fest, Responso, and his latest of the fest circuit, That Day) and even his first completed film - Three Sad Tigers (Los Tres Tristes Tigres, from his days in Chile. From all of this work, what can we learn? Like his City of Pirates (La Ville des pirates), his films are equal parts genius and absurdist, compelling and frustrating. His oeuvre is uneven, intentionally so. Like no other filmmaker, he is not afraid to take chances. He is not afraid to fail. Every moment presents a cinematic opportunity and none should be wasted.

    As prolific as Ruiz clearly is, there are new aspirers to the throne. Both Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike had two new films in the program (and, amazingly, Miike has yet another in the Berlinale). For Kurosawa, Bright Future (premiered at Cannes) and Doppelganger (the opening film at Pusan, the first Japanese film so honored) display clearly why he is the finest Japanese director working today. Both were shot on video (although only Bright Future noticeably so), allowing Kurosawa seemingly more liberties with effects under his limited budgets (used with exceptional affect in Doppelganger). In the latter, Yakusho Koji (appearing for the sixth time in a Kurosawa picture) stars as a brilliant scientist plagued by his mischievous double, punctuated by acts of unexpected violence in classic slapstick style. For Bright Future, due for release in the months ahead by Palm Pictures, the deceptively simple plot is difficult to describe. In essence, it concerns an unexplainable murder in the midst of a mysterious migration of jellyfish into Japanese waters. A similar migration (in this case, sea otters) occurs in Miike's Zebraman, one of several visual references to other films (Ringu and Kurosawa's Kaïro are similarly quoted). As a superhero film gone amok, Zebraman is entirely entertaining for much of its duration. Unfortunately, Miike insists on interfering, inserting his usual tricks into the proceedings. Worse still, his difficult Gozu (roughly translated as Cow Head, currently featured in the San Francisco Indie Fest) is a mess. A fine beginning (with a yakuza hit man that sees an enemy in every object) and a bizarre ending (featuring two perverse sex sequences in quick succession) with not much else in between except a tiresome effort to shock.

    Memories of Murder As such, the best Asian films at the fest arrived from earlier festival appearances. Doppelganger, of course, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring (and to think that Kim Ki-duk made the awful The Isle just a few years ago), Last Life in the Universe and (I am told) Memories of Murder remain the highlights. Disappointments include the Korean box office failure Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (a piss-poor wire-fu virtual video game); Battle Royale II: Requiem (credited to the legendary Kenji Fukasaku, who died before filming began, but basically written and directed by his son Kenta), an unremarkable retread with a bizarre pro-terrorism angle; The Missing (winner of the VPRO Tiger Award, oddly enough) by Tsai Ming-liang regular Lee Kang-sheng, best described as "Tsai lite"; Sogo Ishii's Dead End Run, essentially three twenty-minute shorts on a similar theme strung together, has its moments but isn't quite of the caliber of his earlier work.

    The most troublesome aspect of this new crop of films from outside of America is the decidedly anti-American content that lingers in the background. It isn't as if these feelings are unjustified. In BRII, for instance, several dozen countries are written on a blackboard and the question is asked, "What do these have in common?" They were all countries that the US had bombed in the last half-century, thus pointing to the true side of our supposedly peaceful nature. At least a half-dozen otherwise unrelated films contained dialogue that was decidedly angry about the Bush administration and our roughshod foreign policy. This was the subtle effect. Less subtle was a program in the festival entitled "Homefront USA" (almost entirely culled from American filmmakers, no less), with numerous shorts and feature-length presentations such as The Unamerican Film Festival, This Ain't No Heartland and the J. Hoberman-curated "George W. Bush: Superstar?" Naturally, there is no surprise that these feelings are out there. It is merely enlightening to see such a great quantity of ill will finding a home in so many motion pictures.

    Of course, there are films from other countries, too. The best of the rest, then? Jacques Rivette's L'histoire de Marie et Julien is an elegant ghost story and one of the few films in recent memory that gets better as it goes along. At two-and-a-half-hours, if only it "got along" a little quicker (although, for Rivette, this running time could almost be seen as sprightly). If only the casting was a little better (protagonist Jerzy Radziwilowicz doesn't always appear to even be in the same movie as the always lovely Emmanuelle Beart but perhaps that is the point) and the thread of a blackmailing plot is never filled in. Still, these are minor problems in an otherwise engaging film.

    Michael Winterbottom's latest, the futuristic Code 46, bears an identical trait. Tim Robbins seems miscast as a corporate detective who inexplicably protects (and subsequently falls for) doe-eyed Samantha Morton. Perhaps it's the detail that Robbins is 6'5" and Morton is 5'3" (or perhaps it's the nearly twenty-year age difference) but the combination is mismatched from their first moment on screen together. Morton is terrific; Robbins (like his similarly miscast turn in Human Nature) appears to be sleepwalking. Still, in Winterbottom's sure hands, the film is never tiresome and the premise consistently fascinating (ending, in some sense, in its final frames back in the territory of his last film, In This World). Mother issues and genetic memory have rarely been combined so efficiently.

    Let me be among the first to declare, contrary to Roger Ebert, that The Brown Bunny does not suck (except for one infamous scene in particular, literally). This re-edited version is evidently less dull. It's still dull, naturally, but the film seems now to read as a latter-day Two-Lane Blacktop, a misanthropic road movie. Only, Two-Lane Blacktop is a masterpiece. The Brown Bunny is merely a sophomore slump for Vincent Gallo after his excellent debut Buffalo 66 (which should serve to remind folks to credit co-screenwriter Allison Bagnall - her terrific directorial debut Piggie can currently be seen on the film festival circuit).

    Finally, since the festival is in Europe, there are still a few titles ("Hollywood product," for lack of another phrase) that surfaced during the festival. Old hat for us, brand new for them. School of Rock, anyone (which I fortunately caught on the flight back to the US)? I finally took this opportunity to see 21 Grams. No one should mistake good performances (justifiably recognized with Oscar® nominations) for a good film. Running your chronology through a blender does not make your movie "deeper." Instead, it diffuses any emotional impact that the tale might have and acts as in ineffectual narrative crutch. Of course, you're invited to disagree.

    -- Jonathan Marlow

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:43 PM

    Berlinale Forum, 2/7.

    Cory Vielma at the Forum, Saturday, February 7:

    Only the third day, and my ass is already really starting to hurt. But that's beside the point. The point is: Today I saw four movies in the same day, so let's get to it.

    First up was Dieses Jahr in Czernowitz (This Year in Czernowitz), a documentary from German filmmaker Volker Koepp. It is ostensibly about people from Czernowitz, a city in the old Bukovina province of the Austro-Hungarian empire, since split, with Czernowitz going to Ukraine and much of the rest to Romania. Koepp sets out to catch up with those who have emigrated from the area, but unfortunately, the result is a rambling, unfocused work made up mostly of talking heads, talking about nothing in particular. The film is not helped by the large role given to Harvey Keitel whose mother immigrated to Brooklyn from the old country. He's a terrible interviewee, frequently talking over other people, and speaking very slowly to people who don't understand English... all in all, a meandering 134 minutes to nowhere.

    Jumalan morsian

    Jumalan morsian

    A beautiful film out of Finland followed: Jumalan morsian (Bride of Seventh Heaven) is a folk legend told by an aging grandmother to her blind granddaughter. It takes place on the Finnish tundra and, perhaps because of how foreign the landscape looks to these western eyes, it has a quiet, magical quality. The photography, performances and music are wonderful throughout, perfectly complementing the touching story.

    Folle embellie (A Wonderful Spell) is a French film by Dominique Cabrera. The story is set, presumably, during World War II, in France, and follows a group of escapees from an asylum as they travel the countryside looking for food. The portrayals of insanity are as predictably "look at me, I'm insane" as one would fear (think William Peter Blatty's The Ninth Configuration), and that really detracted from the film for me. The circular narrative has the characters walk for weeks only to arrive exactly where they started. There are a few surprising, surreal elements, and some vividly cruel scenes involving animals that should probably have PETA up in arms. Also of note: the music is ridiculously inappropriate and often overpowered several scenes.

    Finally for the day, Darkness Bride, from Chinese directors William Kwok and Wai Lun, is a haunting, strangely suspenseful, totally unpredictable film. The cinematography is excellent and features beautifully saturated, rich, dark hues accenting reds, browns and blacks. It starts off as a story about three people (a woman and two men), all in love with each other. One of the men mysteriously disappears and the others search high and low to find him. Eventually, they are reunited in a big, dirty industrial city with rows of nuclear reactors outside their apartment window. Upon meeting a new woman in the city, things take several strange turns for the worse. Because of the many unexplained elements in the film, as well as the amazingly stylized art direction and photography, I think this film will stick with me for a long time.

    But for now, I must catch some sleep before taking in four more movies tomorrow.

    Posted by dwhudson at 10:51 AM

    February 7, 2004

    Berlinale Competition, 2/7.

    Vinko Bresan Vinko Bresan (that's him on the right) says that the novel Alabaster Sheep, on which his new film Svjedoci (Witnesses) is based, tells its story straight. A linear narrative, in other words, and I can't help but think his film would be many times stronger if he'd followed that line. But he's chosen instead to look at a series of events as if they were laid out on a map; he'll tap his pointer here, then there and revisit a handful of spots too many times far too long with too little new information gained to make the going back again worthwhile. When done well, when done for a reason better than simply for novelty's sake (particularly now that the novelty has well worn off), disjointed narratives can do wonders; but if they don't, they can literally tear what might otherwise have been a fine film to pieces.

    That said, some of Bresan's formalistic choices are impressive. The opening shot, for example, which clocks at just a few seconds under six minutes and, like the most famous shot of its kind, the one that opens Touch of Evil, gives us a sense several very different things going on at the same time within a relatively limited geographical space. We know immediately that there's a war on - tanks rumble around a town square - and we know that someone has died - a man is laid out in his coffin in the room of one small house - and that someone else might soon - a car with three very quiet, very angry young men lurks the narrow streets of a Croatian town. The murder indeed happens, and soon, we're snipping here and there and learning in bits and pieces why; and that the life of a little girl, a witness, is at stake.

    There are individual scenes and set-ups that are quite powerful in their evocation of the everyday effects of the war between the Croats and the Serbs in the early 90s, the war that moved like an infection from one piece of former Yugoslavia to the next throughout that decade. But each time we go back to the scene of the crime, hear the same siren and the same lines from the investigator, that power is defused and it takes too long for an 88-minute film for it to accumulate again (only, of course, to be defused again a few minutes later).

    Bresan's intention is to draw attention in Croatia to a subject few want to think about there, namely, the war crimes committed during that war. On both sides. Facing them, he argues, will be the first step towards real reconciliation, which is why he looks forward to the film opening in Croatia on February 25, why he was glad to see it play at the Belgrade film festival and, to a certain degree, why he cast a Serb to play the staunchly pro-Croatian mother of two brothers, the younger one who commits the crime and the older one who must fix it.

    John Boorman John Boorman has been pondering similar issues. Country of My Skull is a noble endeavor that very unfortunately falls flat. Two reporters, Anna (Juliette Binoche) and Langston (Samuel L. Jackson), are assigned to cover the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Despite her father's objection to the end of Apartheid, Anna, who's also a poet, by the way, sees great hope and possibility in the Commission; Langston, sent over by the Washington Post, would rather see the whites get what's coming to them. They meet, they argue, and guess what. But the affair can't last; we can see that coming, too.

    The film has its moments, but they are few and far between. About the worst that can be said about the film is that it's particularly the moments in which we are supposed to be deeply moved that seem the most contrived, even occasionally embarrassing. Because the crimes, of course, were real and were truly horrible, but Boorman tries to work our tear glands like faucets. Black South Africans tell their stories to the Commission; the whites, if they tell the whole truth about what they did and can prove that they were following orders can ask for and receive amnesty. Boorman is right to say, as he did today, that this is probably the most effective way to deal with the aftermath once the shooting stops (if it ever does) in places like Northern Ireland and the Middle East; if only his film could have convincingly shown how and why rather than take a sort of TV movie plot-by-numbers approach.

    The best thing that can be said about the film (and a few other films as well) is Juliette Binoche. She's somehow found a character in this screenplay and nurtured it to life, all on her own, seemingly; Jackson, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be on either her wavelength or Boorman's. Country is a film you wish would work, would go out into the world and let a thousand Commissions bloom, but it's not too long after the opening credits that you realize you're going to have to settle for a lot less.

    Ron Howard After last night's circus of a press conference with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, you could easily have expected a minor replay this evening when Cate Blanchett appeared with Ron Howard to talk about The Missing. Instead, though the press room was just as jammed (well, almost), it was one of the calmest, most collected and downright smartest press conferences the Berlinale has seen in a long while.

    Cate Blanchett No matter what you might think of Howard as a director, this is a decent guy who clearly works very hard to do the best he can. He does his homework and gets it in on time. Ask him a question about the representation of the Apaches in The Missing - go ahead, he's prepared. Besides reading up a storm, of course, he worked with an anthropologist, spoke with Apache elders and went over the screenplay with them with a fine-toothed comb. He'll recognize a debt to The Searchers, of course, but will assure you he didn't consciously make his movie as an hommage; besides, his favorite John Ford is My Darling Clementine.

    And then Cate Blanchett. It's not too many actors who'll take a few minutes to expound on their theories of one of the essential differences between American and Australian culture (very briefly, whites in North America captured the center of their continent but whites in Australia have failed every time they've tried). Or talk at length about what they gleaned from the diaries of pioneer women for their character. And so on. Fortunately, only one questioner brought up the cold hard fact that she was absolutely stunning this evening. Though that's what the entire room was thinking.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:06 PM

    Berlinale Forum, 2/6.

    Capitalist Manifesto Cory Vielma at the Forum, Friday, February 6:

    Today began with not only the weirdest film I've seen so far in the festival, but probably one of the weirdest films I have ever seen (and I have seen some weird films - trust me). I am talking about Capitalist Manifesto: Working Men of All Countries: Accumulate! This film relied heavily on repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Nearly every scene repeated as many as five or six times (I lost count). Sometimes they were different each time around, sometimes not. The dialog was limited to a very few phrases, repeated endlessly, at times in one scene. A scene as simple as someone walking through the frame might seem to take a lifetime since it would cut and go back in a sort of "two steps forward, one step back" kind of way. The film has its own logic, wherein what seems initially like total nonsense eventually comes together to make some sort of grand statement against capitalism. The only film I can think of to compare it to would be Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis, and it's actually nothing like it at all. All in all, watching Manifesto was very... challenging and gave me a raging headache; but I appreciated the effort.

    Next up was Fan Chan (My Girl) by a team of six directors from Thailand. Though it was quite a hit over there, I can only recommend it if you're a fan of sweet, sentimental, heart-warming, coming-of-age movies like Billy Elliot. I am not, so I absolutely had to stick around for something to cleanse my palate.

    The palate cleansing came in the form of Il Vento, di Sera (The Wind in the Evening), the first feature from Italian director Andrea Adriatico. The film begins with the murder of an innocent person caught in the crossfire of a political killing. From there, it follows the grief and sorrow of his live-in boyfriend over the course of that night in the sudden void left by his boyfriend's death. It is gritty and real and emotional and, once again, sees the ghost of Cassavetes hovering over the proceedings; but ultimately, it left me wondering what the point was.

    Still, the fest is young and I'll be seeing over three dozen more films in the days to come.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 PM

    February 6, 2004

    Berlinale Competion, 2/6.

    Though this is the Berlinale's second day, only two films actually in the Competition have screened so far: Om Jag Vänder Mig Om (Daybreak), the debut feature from Swedish director Björn Runge, and Patrice Leconte's delightfully understated comedy Confidences Trop Intimes (Intimate Strangers).

    Daybreak

    Jakob Eklund, Pernilla August and Daybreak director Björn Runge

    I'd planned on skipping Something's Gotta Give, showing out of competion, in order to catch a film, any film that'll be hard to find once the Berlinale's over, but then, once I heard Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton would both show up at the press conference, appearances I surely did not want to miss, I opted for studying up by actually watching the movie they'd be talking about.

    But let's start at the beginning of the day, that is, with Daybreak. First impressions are that, on the one hand, stylistically, it could have fit right in with last year's program with its Dogme-influenced handheld wooziness, but on the other hand, not so much thematically in that last year's batch took those loose cameras to places like Afghanistan, the remnants of Yugoslavia and the mines of China. Daybreak tells three stories of three mid-life crises in Sweden, a country most think of as one of the healthiest and most developed on the planet. But the news from Björn Runge is that all is not well in Sweden.

    There's a peculiar, often comic but ultimately very moving desperation in nearly every character in Daybreak, which takes place over 24 hours, morning to morning, a vital turning-point sort of day for the protagonists of each of the three stories: Jakob Eklund and Pernilla August portray a couple who learn, stripped layer by stripped layer, that not only their marriage but their very lives are charade; a bricklayer is jolted into reordering his priorities when he's contracted to barricade an aging couple in their own home; and Ann Petren plays a divorcee who goes off the deep end only to... but let's not give it all away.

    What makes the film click is the way each story careens from revelation to revelation, whipping your sympathies from one side to another and back again. Runge, a seasoned TV director in Sweden and a great admirer of Cassavetes, originally planned this one for television as well, with five stories instead of three. His honing is undoubtedly the right move, giving the characters room to reach out and surprise us. Eklund in particular praises Runge's approach: Whole scenes were talked through, flexed and rehearsed beginning to end and then performed that way as well, with cinematographer Ulf Brantås acting, as Runge puts it, as a "documentarian." The resulting reality, revealing a smudgy, not often seen side of Sweden, is convincing: These lives are shot through with misery that comes to a head one long night that ends with just enough hope. No more, but no less.

    Leconte and Bonnaire

    Patrice Leconte and Sandrine Bonnaire

    Confidences Trop Intimes begins with a premise so promising that part of the suspense, at least for a while, involves wondering whether the film can possibly keep up with it. Where will it go from here: A woman on her way to her first appointment with a psychoanalyst walks through the wrong door and ends up spilling her marital problems out into the ear of a tax advisor. The good news is that Leconte keeps enough questions afloat to keep the plot bubbling along nicely while the film's real strength lies in performances of Sandrine Bonnaire as the troubled, mysterious and occasionally child-like Anna and Fabrice Luchini as the introverted yet dryly witty William. As for the rest, the compositions are as tasteful and confident as you'd expect from Leconte with the only surprise being just a tad more use of a handheld camera than usual for him.

    During the press conference, Monsieur Hire was brought up more than once, and indeed, Leconte readily admitted the similarities; in fact, he's declared a self-imposed moratorium on stories about self-enclosed men learning to unwind a bit. We can be glad he got this one out of his system first, though.

    Jack applauds Diane

    Photographers jostle and get jostled in the struggle for a decent shot of Nicholson and Keaton

    As with Cold Mountain, I don't have to tell you much about Something's Gotta Give you don't already know. Briefly, I'll just say that the first one begins strong and dissolves into predictability before wrapping with a scene so damn corny the journalists I saw it with had no qualms about laughing right at the face of the screen while the second began with a first half-hour or so rocky enough to make me consider sneaking into a different screening after all - before Nicholson and Keaton's complete investment in the characters won me over and swept me along to the bitter end.

    The press conference that followed was one of those events you go to major festivals for. There you are (speaking of corny), in the same room with actors you've practically grown up with, whom you love unconditionally, and there they are, facing a rowdy throng of wide-eyed fans with pens and cameras and recorders, gushing with appreciation, though only one out of ten or so can express it in the form of a halfway decent question. It'll come as no surprise, I'm sure, to hear that Diane Keaton was a bit freaked - "There are so many of you and so few of us; it's weird, it's so fucking weird" - while Jack Nicholson took the helm in isn't-she-great-folks sort of way: "She can be so funny, and the next moment, it's this. And it's real!"

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:55 PM

    Berlinale Forum, 2/5.

    Cory Vielma is a member of the Berliner Zeitung Reader's Jury which'll be taking in 43 films from 23 countries in 10 days, all part of the Forum program at the Berlinale. Over 250 readers of the Berlin daily applied for one of nine seats on this jury and we couldn't be happier for him, and frankly, for us as well, since he'll be filling us in on how it's going:

    34th International Forum of New Cinema, Day 1, Thursday, February 5.

    hazaaron.jpg

    I wish I could stay that the first film started the festivities with a bang, but unfortunately, it was more of a whimper: Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (A Thousand Dreams Such as These) from Indian director Sudhir Mishra is a love triangle of sorts between one woman and two men, all from an upper-level caste. The story takes place in India between 1969 and 1977 and, besides the love triangle, Mishra tries to cram in a critique of Indian politics under the firm rule of Indira Ghandi, an examination of the Indian caste system and the story of the radical Naxal party. Perhaps the problem was trying to fit too many issue into the two hours-plus running time. I found the dialog stiff and the editing clumsy. Had the film been 30 minutes shorter, I believe it would have been stronger.

    Next up, at a nearly empty press screening, was a documentary shot on digital video by Dutch filmmaker Louis van Gasteren called De Prijs van Overleven (The Price of Survival). It's an extremely personal and emotional tale of a concentration camp survivor, his family and their life once he left the camp. Most interesting to me was the way it examined the endless waves of grief and pain that emanate from one survivor's tale. The waves devastate not only his and his children's lives, but also his children's children and so on down the line. The film also focused on the way the survivor never really left the camp in his own mind. His pain, mixed with his feeling of camaraderie with other survivors combined to make a potent stew of misery and fear in his household. His wife felt the pain as though she had been there herself, and his children's faces were molded to permanent frowns. It was a powerful hour-long film that left the audience utterly silent with the occasional exception of heavy sighs.

    Auswege The final film for the day for me was Auswege (Sign of Escape) the first feature film from the young Austrian director Nina Kusturica. A tale of three (otherwise totally unconnected) women living in highly abusive relationships, Auswege is a solid, unflinching work that looks intently not only at the women and their abusive mates, but also at the virtual non-reaction of those close to them - and how these attitudes perpetuate further abuse. The sheer honesty of the portrayals of abuse are bring Cassavetes to mind. The performances are brave and strong throughout, and the script is informed, empathetic and well-written, punctuated with a few very poignant scenes and a "you are not alone" message for victims of domestic abuse. It is a strong debut, and hopefully signifies good things to come.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:50 PM

    February 5, 2004

    Shorts, 2/5.

    Cold Mountain opens the 54th Berlin Film Festival tonight. Yes, it's a strange choice, just as Chicago was last year. Why are these bombastic Miramax things heading up the wintertime festival that prides itself on being, well, if not exactly the anti-Cannes, the deadly serious counterweight? Because the point of these openers, screening out of competition, isn't so much to set the tone as to party, to get festive. They're glamour magnets, too (though it looks as if Nicole Kidman, who'd promised to come, won't), and that means press, which in turn draws visitors.

    Cold Mountain

    Berlin's big-time tourist events are the Marathon and the Love Parade, drawing around 100,000 and 750,000 people into the city, respectively. The Berlinale pulls in only tens of thousands, but they stay longer and spend more (the average tourist, reports yesterday's Berliner Zeitung, stays 2.3 days and spends 417 euros; a Berlinale visitor hangs around four or five days and spends 200 euros/day). Those numbers have to stay up to justify government subsidies. So while it's bad news that Kidman won't be here, it's good news that Jack Nicholson already is.

    But enough of that for now. More tomorrow or Luke Harding in the Guardian yesterday. To segue into the shorts, as it happens, Greg Tate has a terrific piece in the Village Voice on Cold Mountain that wraps with this on Kidman:

    It's almost like something out of a damn Marvel comic: The whitest woman in the movies by day is an African American mama figure by night. If anybody needs to deal with slavery in a film, it's her. If [Anthony] Minghella hadn't punked out on the subject, Kidman's chops and racially involved social life could have allowed her to work wonders with the material.

    Also in the Voice: Joy Press on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Tanner '88 (more, with clips, from Dana Stevens in Slate); Rob Nelson and Joshua Rothkopf on Sundance; and a prolific J Hoberman this week on John Cassavetes's Shadows, Polanski's The Tenant, The Dreamers and The Return.

    Anatomie de L'enfer

    The critic truffle-snuffing for trends might call it the New French Extremity, this recent tendency to the willfully transgressive by directors like François Ozon, Gaspar Noé, Catherine Breillat, Philippe Grandrieux - and now, alas, [Bruno] Dumont. Bava as much as Bataille, Salò no less than Sade seem the determinants of a cinema suddenly determined to break every taboo, to wade in rivers of viscera and spumes of sperm, to fill each frame with flesh, nubile or gnarled, and subject it to all manner of penetration, mutilation, and defilement.

    And James Quandt, writing in Artforum, does not approve.

    The February issue of Sight & Sound is up. Features: David Thomson lines up The Searchers and The Missing and Dave Calhoun tentatively argues that, thanks to Siddiq Barmak's Osama and the whole Makhmalbaf family, there's hope yet for Afghan cinema.

    Cheryl Eddy picks out the freaky date movies from the SF Indie Fest schedule and she and two more San Francisco Bay Guardian critics pluck a few more highlights as well.

    Rex Reed remembers Ann Miller in the New York Observer:

    She couldn't sing like Judy or swim like Esther, but they couldn't machine-gun tap, either. She loved the spotlight, she loved the attention, she loved the camera, and she loved to dance. I once took her to a Fourth of July picnic with an American Revolution theme on a farm in Bucks County and, to the delight of the guests, she danced all the way across a cornfield and into the barn draped in the stars and stripes of the American flag, calling herself "Betsy Ross on steroids." God, she made me laugh.

    And Scott Eyman reviews Hollywood Animal. Speaking of which, Bryan Curtis performs a public service: "In Slate's continuing effort to save you from reading big, long books of questionable merit, we have assembled a guide to Eszterhas' juiciest bits."

    The other book: Kimberley Jones on Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures. Also in the Austin Chronicle: Anne S Lewis talks to Bill Lichtenstein and June Peoples about their doc, West 47th Street, and Kate X Messer has a brief chat with Doug Wilson about Trading Spaces.

    Charles Mudede previews the Seattle Arab & Iranian Film Festival for the Stranger.

    "'Has there ever been a movie about actors who turned rapper to get acting work?' We laughed. We were like, 'Yeah, ha ha ha... Hey!'" Kate Sullivan in the LA Weekly on the making of a film called Fronterz.

    Mel Gibson's slicing a controversial scene from The Passion of Christ, reports Sharon Waxman in the New York Times. Also: Bernard Weinraub on Natalie Wood.

    A 4-disc Collector's Edition Broken Saints DVD is on the way.

    The debut feature from German music video director Philipp Stölzl (Madonna, Pavarotti, Garbage), Baby, hits German screens at the end of the month.

    Online viewing tip. Compiler//01.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 AM | Comments (6)

    February 4, 2004

    SF Indie Fest.

    San Francisco now has so many film festivals, micro and macro, that it's become a challenge just to keep track of them, yet alone attend them all. A few years ago, Jeff Ross and his companions started a micro event: the SF Indie Fest, sort of a Slamdance to the SF International's Sundance. After some growing pains, the 6th annual fest kicking off tomorrow and running through February 15 boasts 35 high-quality features and a slew of fine shorts.

    Revengers Tragedy As Ross told the SF Chronicle's Walter Addiego, the festival remains true to its humble grassroots origins. And this year's fete boasts a damned amazing mix. Ross said many of the films seemed to be about "issues of power and control - both personal and institutional - and the varied responses to this pressure, which include rebellion, rejection, defeat and, on occasion, slipping into madness."

    Some of the most intriguing movies on the schedule:

  • Revengers Tragedy, a new film from Alex Cox, whose post-Repo Man and Sid & Nancy career has been spotty at best. But we're always happy to see him try again, and this one sounds totally wild - a sci-fi-horror-comedy hybrid based on Thomas Middleton's 17th century Jacobean play. Cox, writes the Seattle Weekly, "finally returns to form after nearly 20 years."

  • The results of the "Duel Project": Two Japanese filmmakers challenged each other to make a film in a confined setting about a duel to the death between two characters. Yukihiko Tsutsumi's 2LDK (FilmThreat: "As sick and twisted, and hilarious, as any movie in recent memory") faces off against Ryuhei Kitamura's Aragami and indie fest moviegoers are asked to declare the winner.

  • A new Plymptoon - and Bill P will be there, too.

  • Gozu, from the frenetic film factory that is Takashi Miike, was originally intended as a straight-to-video toss-off but wound up at Cannes instead.

  • Consumerism goes horribly, amusingly awry in Value-Added Cinema, a montage of product placement shots from 70 different movies compiled by Steve Seid, curator for the Pacific Film Archive, and Peter Conheim of Negativland.

  • A new Johnny To, Running on Karma, starring Andy Lau, a romantic comedy, no! detective film, no! metaphyiscal exporation;

  • And the biopic Bettie Page: Dark Angel.

  • There's also a surprising amount of horror at this year's fest, but perhaps that's a reflection of the times.

    Posted by cphillips at 10:13 AM | Comments (4)

    February 2, 2004

    Shorts, 2/2.

    "A pop-py kind of musique concrete, grounded in the French cabaret scene" is the way Marc Weidenbaum describes the tunes of the lively old ladies in Les Triplettes de Belleville as he introduces his wonderful interview in Disquiet with Benoît Charest, who scored the picture.

    murnau-sunrise.jpg

    Jonathan Rosenbaum: "In more ways than one, Sunrise triumphs as a masterwork of thought and emotion rendered in terms of visual music, where light and darkness sing in relation to countless polarities: day and night, fire and water, sky and earth, city and country, man and woman, thought and deed, good and evil, nature and culture."

    Also in the Guardian and Observer:

  • Though Michael Winterbottom "has recently had 'a worrying number of retrospectives' for someone who is still only 42," writes Geraldine Bedell, he is still "a director that people find hard to place - or, at least, that distributors assume people will find hard to place."

  • Ryan Gilbey claims that Groundhog Day "has emerged as one of the most influential films in modern cinema - and not only on other movies."

  • Jeremy Dyson explains why, when he was young, a "disproportionate number of the finest examples of the supernatural horror film were British productions."

  • Will Hodgkinson sorts through CDs, DVDs, prints and such with Mike Figgis.

  • B Ruby Rich: "The Oscars, you see, are the ritual that I love to hate." Matt Wolf, meanwhile, claims the best-pic noms this year are "consistently, tiresomely blokeish."
  • Speaking of which. Newsweek's David Ansen and Jeff Giles conduct a big roundtable Oscar discussion with Sofia Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson, Anthony Minghella and Gary Ross... before the Oscar nominations were announced. Also: Jennifer Barrett talks to Siddiq Barmak about Osama.

    For indieWIRE, Erica Abeel talks to Andrey Zvyagintsev about his multi-award-winning film, The Return.

    "Movies that delve into the Bible or that explicitly offer up interpretations of its teachings and stories can always expect, and can easily be accused of provoking, the most divisive and virulent kinds of controversy," writes AO Scott about you-know-which movie. And he reminds us, "It was not always as it is." Also in the New York Times:

  • "There is as yet no clear front-runner in the so-called Hollywood primary," report John M Broder and Bernard Weinraub.
  • "Viacom is nearing a decision to spin off its Blockbuster video-rental business," comes the word from Andrew Ross Sorkin and Geraldine Fabrikant.
  • By walking away from Disney, Pixar CEO Steve Jobs "is becoming the personification of the digital media mogul," writes John Markoff.
  • Robert Levine on Ice Cube.
  • And Terrence Rafferty on Bernardo Bertolucci: "What makes him so frustrating, so fascinating and finally so indispensable is a quality he shares with the radiant, randy, spoiled children of his films: he isn't afraid to wear his heart and his head (and occasionally other organs) on his sleeve."
  • Festival roundup:

  • Stephen Garrett for indieWIRE: "No other major festival is as conducive to moviegoing as the Rotterdam International Film Festival, where winter doldrums are cast away under a rainbow of cinephile's delights." The winners. (More soon.)

  • Losing Walter Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries to Cannes clearly bugs Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick (though he's quite amusing on the subject). Still, as Scott Roxborough reports for Reuters, a last-minute admission helps make up for it.

  • Global Lens, "New Cinema from the Developing World," through February 14 at the the California Film Institute in San Rafael.
  • "If I confine myself to a couple of episodes per evening, I can get through the whole disgusting saga in less than a month, and so leave a decent interval before I start again." Clive James in the Times Literary Supplement on The Sopranos. In the Washington Post, John Maynard takes a look at the way "TV-on-DVD" is changing the way viewers watch and networks program.

    "Défendre un rôle est essentiel pour un acteur." Jack Nicholson answers Denis Rossano's questions in L'Express. Via Perlentaucher.

    Via Movie City News, the Sydney Morning Herald's Garry Maddox has several illustrious actors, set designers, writers and so on react to a recent self-deprecating comment on the role of the director from Wim Wenders; and the Super Bowl ads.

    But here's another online viewing tip. Thanks for the Memories.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:22 AM | Comments (2)

    Those books again.

    "One person's gossip is another person's interesting personal history. To understand personal films you have to understand what those people are like." Peter Biskind explains to David Bowman in Salon why Harvey Weinstein is his Moby Dick while Robert Redford is his Tina Weymouth. As for the "White Whale" himself, he brushes off the book pretty much as expected in an answer to one of Jeffrey Ressner's questions in Time.

    Hollywood Animal A Joe Eszterhas double feature: Duncan Campbell in the Guardian on how he's cleaned himself up, followed by an extract from Hollywood Animal, and Anthony Lane's review of the book in the New Yorker. The crux:

    He may no longer inhabit "this deadly suckhole of a town," but his pride will not allow him to stand back and consider the things that he has wrought. The trouble with Basic Instinct and Showgirls, one of which made four hundred million dollars while the other could barely cover its outlay on nipple rouge, is that both of them are more fun to read about, and joke about, than to watch.

    In the same issue, David Denby, who's got a book out himself, you know, reviews Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:18 AM | Comments (1)