April 30, 2004

More fests, more shorts.

Tribeca AO Scott preps New York Times readers for Tribeca on the day before it opens, outlining the festival's goals, hinting at his own opinion as to how well the organizers are faring on each of them, and then noting a few trends: "One of the themes that can be glimpsed amid all the hectic diversity is a kind of low-key, socially conscious humanism, often inflected with a quiet feminism, of the kind that has flourished recently among Iranian filmmakers and has taken root in Africa, Latin America and East Asia." The paper also offers a selection of highlights, about four or five films for each day of the fest.

Scott's an "important" piece simply by virtue of the fact that it's in the NYT, but to scratch the surface and get to the nitty-gritty what this festival's for and where it's going, turn to Eugene Hernandez's piece at indieWIRE; in sum, "many people in the local film biz are unclear about the goals and direction of the festival." Quotes, suggestions and specifics follow. Also at iW: Kerem Bayrak on the International Istanbul Film Festival and the overall revival of the Turkish film scene.

Boston Underground Film Festival

Cynthia Rockwell spotlights seven highlights of the Boston Underground Film Festival (May 6 - 10).

Anime News Network reports that Tsuji Naoyuki's 17-minute "Charcoal Art Anime," Yami wo Mitsumeru Hane (A Feather Stare at the Dark), eight years in the making, will be screened at this year's Director's Fortnight.

Michael Christopher files an opinionated report from the Philadelphia Film Festival for PopMatters. Also: Priya Lal tackles the question, "What does it take for an Indian film to become a successful 'crossover'?" (Related: Prashant Agarwal in the NYT.) And Michael Healey takes a good hard look back at Pulp Fiction.

Kubrick Bert Rebhandl tours the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the German Film Museum in Frankfurt (through July 4) for Frieze: "[T]he ongoing study of Kubrick's estate brings to light a trace of doubt in an oeuvre marked by visual confidence."

Brian Flemming on Walter Murch's talk at the LA Final Cut Pro Users Group earlier this year: "He's written an essential work on editing called In the Blink of an Eye, one of those books about one topic that, like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, transcends its original purpose and becomes a useful filter for considering a range of subjects." (More.) Also, an excellent entry in the Passion-as-indie debate ("The way The Passion has opened my eyes is that it makes me wonder what other unserved audiences are out there.") and an online viewing tip: "Trump Fires Bush."

For Slate, Dana Stevens (who, as Liz Penn, writes about My Terrorist at The High Sign) previews The Jesus Factor, a one-hour doc showing on PBS that examines George W Bush's evidently quite sincere fundamentalist beliefs. And "one of the most illuminating lessons"? "If you have the conservative Christian vote in an American election, you can dispense with almost everyone else." More from Alessandra Stanley in the NYT

Also in Slate: David Edelstein on Mean Girls and Jill Hunter Pellettieri addresses the question, Why all the teenage girls cluttering the screens at America's multiplexes all of a sudden? She sorts through the names and the flicks and explains: "The girl movies are low-risk, high-yield box-office plays," and what's more, "Hollywood has realized they don't need boys to come to their movies."

Wolfgang Petersen's Troy will have its premiere in Berlin on May 9 and last week I spent a few minutes before catching Kill Bill, Volume 2 watching three or four guys piece together the horse, supposedly the very horse, out of numbered chunks of styrofoam painted to look like wind-n-wave-worn wood. The thing's been raised inside the Sony Center and now awaits its big night. In the meantime, Mary Beard, a classics prof, traces the retellings of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey throughout cinematic history for the Guardian and Saffron Burrows offers breezy bits from her on-the-set diary. On another epic note, Dan Glaister reports that Mel Gibson will be producing Warrior, the tale of Boudicca who led the British resistence to the Roman invasion in around 60 AD. Also in the Guardian:

Zapata

Already excited about LOTR: The Return of the King coming out on DVD on May 25, DVD File runs three thorough interviews: Co-producer Rick Porras, production designer Grant Major and costume supervisor Ngila Dickson.

Still a favorite post among many favorites at blogs.indiewire.com: Wendy Mitchell's mix-n-match collection of Elvis Mitchell's metaphors.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:16 PM | Comments (5)

April 29, 2004

SFIFF: Five-Point Plan

SFIFF Jonathan Marlow proposes a few items for rethinking that, while they apply specifically to SFIFF, will also be of interest to anyone curious as to what sort of factors the organizers any festival must consider:

I do not expect these words to win me any new friends at the San Francisco Film Society (presenters of the San Francisco International Film Festival). However, this being the fifth film festival that I've attended in the past four months, combined with my experience working with other festivals (and with ready comparisons between this and the other events fresh in my mind), it seems advised that I present a brief plan for a seemingly necessary remodel of SFIFF.

None of these items are revolutionary. In talking with a few dozen attendees at the festival, each point was mentioned numerous times by someone other than myself.

1. Rethink the Management

I might as well address the most problematic item first. Admittedly, filling Peter Scarlet's position was a pretty tall task. In her first year, I gave Executive Director Roxanne Messina Captor the benefit of the doubt. She seemed to be an odd choice but, from what I understood, she was added to the organization to contrast Scarlet's skills (or, as some have stated, lack thereof). SFFS definitely needed someone with management strengths and, theoretically, Roxanne brings that to the table. Why, then, did a number of guests complain about the poor organization of the event this year? I was informed, back at the time of her hiring, that Roxanne had many high profile connections that would bring more money into the festival. Why, then (even in light of a poor economy), was it imperative that they cut their programming staff? Worst of all, Roxanne repeatedly fumbles the introductions of the many film she presents -- even from prepared notes. I've heard a rumor that much has been done behind-the-scenes to mend these (and other) inadequacies. Wouldn't it be easier to replace her? This isn't a personality issue. In private, Ms. Captor is exceptionally likeable and friendly. Perhaps she brings strengths to SFFS that are otherwise unnoticed in public. Regardless, as I continue my travels to festivals around the world, nearly every time I mention that I'm from San Francisco someone mentions Roxanne. The comments from these otherwise unconnected strangers are better left unprinted here.

2. Rethink the Venues

Leave the Kabuki. I'll admit that I've only lived in San Francisco for a little less than four years but, in that entire time (and probably earlier), Kabuki was known as the "home of the festival." This seems purely for the convenience of the festival and not for the pleasure of the audience. It could be argued, of course, that it is easier to get from one film to another if they're screening in the same multiplex. However, this venue is a nightmare (particularly since the event falls every year during the Cherry Blossom Festival -- more about that later). The Castro is the jewel of the city, theater-wise. For a variety of unexplained reasons, it is only used eight of the fifteen days. Next year, every effort should be made to secure the Castro as a SFIFF venue for the entire duration of the festival. Other single-screen venues should be considered as well (with particular attention to somewhat unconventional opportunities like the Herbst Theatre).

3. Rethink the Pricing

This year, tickets reached an amazing $12 (up $2 per ticket from last year). Granted, there are some breaks (members pay slightly less, of course, as do Seniors, Students, the Differently-Abled; weekday matinees are also reduced in price). Still, where do these dollars go? In nearly every case, prints are not paid for (although shipping can be significant expense; even so, it appears that there is a sponsor for that this year); hotel rooms and airline tickets are generally provided by the appropriate sponsors (although, outside of Delta, it isn't clear if they landed an airline sponsor this year); opening and closing nights, among other activities, are underwritten by events sponsors; the venues are generally donated to the festival (or they participate in some form of revenue-sharing); much of the staff is volunteer. For an event that last two weeks, these revenues support (in part) an organization that exists for another fifty weeks beyond. A very small part, actually, because the SFFS could only continue with a sizable member base and major donors. To put this in perspective, the recipient of the Mel Novikoff award this year is co-founder of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (otherwise known as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival). Should you be interested in attending that event, outside of paying for the opening and closing events, all screenings are essentially free. Naturally, I am not proposing that the San Francisco festival eliminate ticket prices entirely. However, I think it will be clear that attendance should be down this year, largely (in my humble opinion) because of ticket prices. If they need additional revenues, they need to improve their major donor strategies, not subsidize the festival on elevated ticket prices. Strange, too, that the pitch for membership this year is particularly muted. I've only attended one screening where it was even mentioned.

4. Rethink the Duration

Opening night falls on a Thursday. Closing night falls on a Thursday. Why? Conventional logic would suggest that a "Thursday closing" relates to the "Friday opening" of other films. In other words, ending the festival on a Thursday is more convenient for the available venues. It certainly isn't handy for the audience. Ending the festival on a Saturday or Sunday would allow for additional screenings of films in the festival. A similar decree -- screenings before 5 pm do not count as "second screenings" in my book. This is not to imply that most people keep "banker's hours" (although most people do). It merely seems a bit strange to invite a filmmaker from Australia for a single screening of her film at 1:45 pm on a Tuesday. If it's good enough to be in the festival, it should be presented at an hour when more people could actually attend.

5. Rethink the Dates

This last item might be impossible but it needs some consideration. As the nation's oldest festival, it should also be one of the most prestigious. However, take a casual look at the program. Of the 96 "new" features presented at the festival, only twelve (roughly 13%) are listed in the catalog as "2004" releases. Ten of the films even hail from 2002. The 77% remaining are 2003 releases (and only three films are premiering here). These figures are somewhat anecdotal. These films are largely all "new to San Francisco." Still, from a programming standpoint, it makes SFIFF a "festival of festivals," the (occasionally) best titles having screened elsewhere. One could argue that it hardly matters since most attendees of SFIFF haven't made an appearance at any other non-regional festival. The issue is more complicated, though. By occurring shortly before Cannes, several high-profile films are unavailable for SFIFF (the festival in Seattle has a similar problem in that it occurs in late-May, just after Cannes has ended -- with all programming decisions made long in advance of those dates). Instead, we're subjected to a number of films that are screening only a few weeks before their regular release date. If the San Francisco International Film Festival wants a better selection of films, it would be quite an improvement if it took place in June (prior to or directly following the Frameline Festival). In a city with as many competing festivals as San Francisco, it might be difficult to make a "sea change" as large as this. Other festivals would not be pleased with the 500-lb. gorilla changing dates. I still find myself returning to the same argument, however. Should the festival be planned around what is good for the audience or what is easiest for the staff?

I welcome any and all comments (and corrections to any factual errors above).

opinionatedly,
Jonathan Marlow

Posted by dwhudson at 11:43 AM | Comments (13)

SFIFF: Winners.

SFIFF 47 The award-winners were announced last night at the San Francisco International Film Festival and yet, with the exception of Brian Brooks's piece in indieWIRE on the atmo in the City as the fest winds down this evening and a brief one in the Moscow-based Mosnews on the short A Diary From the Next World nabbing an award, there isn't a whole lot of reportage on the prizes just yet.

But in the interest of getting word out and giving a virtual shout out to the winners, click below for the press release with its complete list.

47TH SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES AWARD WINNERS AT GOLDEN GATE AWARDS CEREMONY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 28, 2004

SKYY PRIZE WINNER – FIRST NARRATIVE FEATURE
SQUINT YOUR EYES (Poland), Andrzej Jakimowski, director
AWARDED $10,000

FIPRESCI PRIZE WINNER
THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL (Mongolia), Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni, directors

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
CHECKPOINT (Israel), Yoav Shamir, director
AWARDED $5,000 cash prize and Final Cut Pro Software from Apple

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – BAY AREA DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
GIRL TROUBLE (USA), Lexi Leban and Lidia Szajko, directors
AWARDED $2,500 cash prize and $2,000 worth of lab services from AlphaCine Labs

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – DOCUMENTARY SHORT
A LIFE TO LIVE (Poland), Maciej Adamek, director
AWARDED $1,500 cash prize

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – BAY AREA DOCUMENTARY SHORT
CRYSTAL HARVEST (USA), Annelise Wunderlich, director
AWARDED $1,500 cash prize

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – NEW VISIONS
PAPILLON D'AMOUR(Belgium), Nicolas Provost, director
AWARDED $1,500 cash prize

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – NARRATIVE SHORT
CHINESE DREAM (USA), Victor Quinaz, director
AWARDED $1,500 cash prize

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – BAY AREA NON-DOCUMENTARY SHORT
THE GREATER VEHICLE (USA), Robert Fox, director
AWARDED $1,500 cash prize

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – ANIMATED SHORT
THE WAY (South Korea), Jung Min-Young, director
AWARDED $1,500 cash prize

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – YOUTH WORK
FOUR SHORT FILMS ABOUT LOVE (USA), New Jewish Film Project, directors
AWARDED $1,500 cash prize

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – WORK FOR KIDS AND FAMILIES
CIRKUSTOUR (Denmark), Michael Varming, director
AWARDED $1,500 cash prize

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – TV NARRATIVE LONG FORM
SO CLOSE TO HOME (Australia), Jessica Hobbs, director

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – TV NARRATIVE SHORT FORM
LOT (Netherlands), Tamar van den Dop, director

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY LONG FORM
BAD BEHAVIOUR (Netherlands), Hilary Clarke, director

GOLDEN GATE AWARD – TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY SHORT FORM
A DIARY FROM THE NEXT WORLD (Russia), Oxana Barkovskaya, director

Posted by dwhudson at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)

April 28, 2004

Fests and shorts.

If you're planning on catching what you can at Tribeca or even if you're "only" interested in scanning blurbs on the films New York will be talking about over the next several weeks, the Village Voice provides a handy service, a "survival guide: a handpicked, literally all-over-the-map short list of the festival's 25 best, or at least most noteworthy, films. Unless indicated, all titles are without US distribution at press time."

Tribeca

Another guide, a day-by-day itinerary of events for May 1 through May 9, appears beneath a piece by Jake Brooks in the New York Observer in which, in his robust, gossipy and highly readable fashion, he makes the case that this is the year Tribeca "finally proves itself a viable marketplace for independent films."

Aaron's got a few tips for you, too, at Out of Focus.

There's news from Cannes, as Eugene Hernandez reports: "The lineup for the Quinzaine des Realisateurs, also known as the Director's Fortnight [May 13 - 23], was unveiled in France today by new artistic director Olivier Pere." Also at indieWIRE: Wendy Mitchell scans the lineup for the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, opening tomorrow and running through May 4, and Rania Richardson previews the Israel Film Festival, also opening tomorrow, but in LA and running through May 13.

In San Francisco, even as SFIFF is on the verge of wrapping, the San Francisco Documentary Festival is gearing up for four full days, May 13 through 16, of just over two dozen films.

Filmmaker will be presenting Brad Anderson's The Machinist at the Nantucket Film Festival in June.

On the DVD front, big news from Masters of Cinema: They're cooperating with Eureka Video, an independently owned distributor in the UK, to get an excellent selection of titles out on DVD. You'll find a few more details at filmjourney.org.

How does 8 Mile stack up against Purple Rain? Al Reid (who's on a roll all of a sudden, warning you off Van Helsing with his very next breath) knows. And he will tell you.

A Girl and a Gun is back from Europe, having caught three films while there but not on the plane, where the portable DVD players had 5" by 8" screens, about the size of his paperback: "I tried to imagine watching a film on the surface of the book, and decided it would be about as comfortable as reading a book on a theater-sized, or even television-sized, screen." Confession: I actually watched Lawrence of Arabia on one of those things. Same airline and everything. What can I say. It was the best film on offer.

Cinema Minima is looking for actors who blog.

The Saddest Music in the World

Back to the Voice:

Dennis Cooper has a fine long chat with John Waters about his art in BOMB.

With In America coming out on DVD next month, Gil Jawetz has an excellent reason to interview Jim Sheridan for DVD Talk.

Lew Rywin, who co-produced Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and Roman Polanski's The Pianist, has been found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 30 months in jail. It's all part of Poland's "worst corruption case in 15 years of democracy, a scandal that helped to bring down the centre-left government of prime minister Leszek Miller," reports Ian Traynor. Also in the Guardian:

  • Dan De Luce files from Tehran. The Lizard is a comedy that pokes a bit of fun at the clergy, albeit without poking too hard. Still, it's something of a breakthough and it's become quite a hit.
  • Charlotte Higgins somehow manages to file a decent-sized report on Sam Taylor-Wood's 107-minute film of David Beckham sleeping without mentioning Warhol even once. And so did London Times critic Richard Brooks back in January.
  • A couple of quizes: Hollywood stars on the London stage. (Ugh. 6 out of 9. Must follow the theater section more carefully.) Video directors turned movie directors. (7 out of 10. Sheesh.)
  • Sarah Boseley on producer David Puttnam's battle against chronic fatigue syndrome.

Last Exit to Brooklyn In the New York Times:

  • Hard to believe South Park can still make news and Virginia Heffernan seems as surprised as anyone: "Depending on whom you asked, that episode, 'The Passion of the Jew,' proved that the show's still got it or that it's made a comeback or that it's better than ever. In any case, it was good."

  • On another TV-related note, Bill Carter reports that Ted Koppel will read 530 names of US soldiers killed in Iraq on Nightline Friday night. For Movie City News, Gary Dretzka listens in on Koppel's analysis of where TV news has gone wrong. As for the upcoming program, Margaret Cho has a few related (and chilling) thoughts.

  • Hugh Selby Jr, co-screenwriter on Requiem for a Dream, based on his own book, has died at the age of 75. His 1964 collection of stories Last Exit to Brooklyn was adapted for a 1989 film directed by Uli Edel. Anthony DePalma quotes Selby, surprised as he was at the furor the book caused at the time: "These are not literary characters; these are real people. I knew these people. How can anybody look inside themselves and be surprised at the hatred and violence in the world? It's inside all of us." More from Eric Homberger in the Guardian; and Filmbrain has an excellent related entry.

  • Laurie Goodstein: "Word that the director Ron Howard is making a movie based on the book has intensified the critics' urgency. More than 10 books are being released, most in April and May, with titles that promise to break, crack, unlock or decode The Da Vinci Code."

  • Micheline Maynard on new programs theater chains are introducing that allow families with babes and toddlers to get out and see a movie.

You do read the cinetrix every day, don't you? Good. Just checking.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:16 PM

SFIFF: Doppelganger.

Craig Phillips on a North American premiere that screens once more tonight:

doppelganger-poster.jpg Kiyoshi Kurosawa's gleeful exploration of duality is by far his funniest film yet, full of the doses of humor it needs amidst all the dark allegory. He's used humor before certainly, but it was always subtle, way underneath the surface. An allegory about people mourning for someone else, or for themselves, Doppelganger's plot ostensibly centers on Michio Hayasaki (Koji Yukusho), an inventor (a modern take on the mad scientist?) who creates a mind-controlled robotic wheelchair for the disabled when his crazed doppelganger materializes, wreaking havoc on his life. The fun in this story about identity comes from trying to detect which version of the self we're dealing with in each scene as the story moves along - it's obvious at first, but it becomes increasingly, disturbingly difficult to tell. The evil twin scenario has certainly been done many times before, and the use of allegory in a horror film a not a new concept either, but what raises this above, say Multiplicity or Brian DePalma's Raising Cain, for instance (not that this film doesn't occasionally play like a Japanese version of a heyday-era DePalma genre subversion exercise), is Kiyoshi's deadpan touch and comic timing.

Doppelganger also really dives into the Ego vs. Id thing, exploring larger issues of identity, to great affect. The film is anchored superbly by Yukusho (who's been in enough Kurosawa films to qualify for permanent "director alter ego" at this point, but who also showcased his range in the popular Shall We Dance?), in a "finely calibrated performance" (the director's own words) - with additional support lended by the sweet-faced Nagasaku Hiromi, and the over-the-top Yusuke Santamaria as Michio's psychotic assistant. Although the humor and the thematic elements aren't new to Kurosawa either, this film feels like a turning point for him, a maturation of his work in that he's now confident enough to use comedic elements in the midst of telling a still rather dark story - much in the same way that All About My Mother and Live Flesh marked a similar transition for Pedro Almodóvar. A few scenes end with a disturbing crescendo of violence, be forewarned (in one scene, when Michio finally fights back against his devlish alter ego, beating him up, I joked, "Talk about a bruised ego, or is that a bruised id?" - luckily no one else was in the room except for my own double, but that's another story). But ultimately, there's a transcendental humanity at the film's core, ending on a (sort of) hopeful note. Doppelganger is a disturbing treat.

For more on Kurosawa, read GreenCine's interview with the director, dated March 3, 2004.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:09 AM

April 27, 2004

Filmmaker: Spring 2004.

Filmmaker: Spring 2004 Scott Macaulay's interview with Jim Jarmusch may not be online, but a healthy chunk of the Spring 2004 issue of Filmmaker is. For starters, Cheryl Dunye, a filmmaker herself, and one her interviewees appreciate to boot, talks to Melvin and Mario Van Peebles - primarily about Baadasssss!, itself an excellent way into a discussion of what their whole father-n-son relationship's been like all these years.

Though Before Sunset didn't win anything at the Berlin Film Festival this February, it was clearly a critical and audience favorite. Matthew Ross talks to director Richard Linklater.

The third interviewee is Morgan Spurlock, whose Super Size Me has been enormously well-received at a generous handful of festivals lately. Andy Bailey talks to the filmmaker and copyright expert Michael C Donaldson assesses the ways Spurlock and his team have cleverly tiptoed clear of what could have been a massive lawsuit.

There's a practical section called "No Budget 2004" with Jason Peterson learning from director Greg Harrison and DP Nancy Schreiber how to take $150,000 and make a film - like November - look like a million bucks. At least. Kevin Asher Green had a mere $10K at his disposal and yet his film, Homework, scored the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance; Scott Macaulay reports.

Also:

Posted by dwhudson at 9:12 AM

Reverse Shot: The Holy Moment.

Winter Light Introducing the Spring 2004 issue, the editors of Reverse Shot remark that one possible explanation for the prolonged and astounding success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ lies in the perception common in mainstream audiences that there are no or sadly few other movies addressing their spiritual concerns. But cinematic history, moreover, recent cinematic history is shot through with widely varying approaches to the most essential questions:

To quote André Bazin, who saw cinema's harnessing and recreation of life as representative of God's very act of creation, these are our "Holy Moments," passageways to understanding our universe through concerns of faith, wrestling with this life and the one after, seeking answers, dealing with uncertainty. In discussions of films from Bergman to Pasolini, from Sergei Parajanov to Woody Allen, we find that truly spiritual artistic works can either locate a greater divine presence or be haunted by its absence, that it's the search for meaning, rather than moral certainty, that connects the body with the spirit.

Besides two full takes on Gibson's film from Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert, the bulk of the issue is divided into three sections - "Presence," "Absence" and "The Search" - in which five or six films are each examined by various writers.

And then there are a dozen reviews of new releases and one DVD review: Julien Lapointe on Guy Maddin's Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:10 AM | Comments (1)

April 26, 2004

SFIFF: Four more days.

Jonathan Marlow on recent highlights at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the final sprint:

SFIFF 47 Four more days. Still a chance to see the Leth/Trier collaboration The Five Obstructions or the similarly disjointed (and Danish) Reconstruction. Still an opportunity to catch the riveting Grimm (starring the great Carmello Gomez) and the fantastic Doppelganger (in its North American premiere). Of course, there's plenty that has played and gone. For those readers outside of our neighborhood (the majority of you), here (in brief) is what you missed.

Documentary filmmaker Jon Else received his well-deserved Persistence of Vision award, entertaining the audience with tales of virtually every project between The Day After Trinity (which screened at the event) and his latest film-in-progress, a revisiting of the Oppenheimer topic by way of the development of the latest (certain to be fantastic) opera from composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars. Else gracefully received this "pointiest" of his awards without mention of festival Executive Director Roxanne Messina Captor's mispronunciation of his name - twice. How Else (pardon the pun) would it be pronounced? Expect an interview with Jon Else on the GreenCine main site around the release of his wonderful Sing Faster, coming to DVD in late-June from Docurama.

Dans la Nuit Tom Luddy generously introduced the dual Alloy Orchestra performances (for The General and Dans la Nuit), stating (to paraphrase) that it would be an unforgettable night at the movies. Some in the audience chuckled at the sentiment and yet, true enough, visiting journalist Jay Kuehner (of the great film magazine Cinema Scope said (to further paraphrase) that he felt Buster Keaton's performance really transcended the ages. He half-expected to see Buster outside the theater at the end of the screening - his portrayal seemed so alive and contemporary. As for French actor/director Charles Vanel's Dans la Nuit, while it might not be the major rediscovery that was suggested, it was still immensely enjoyable (in spite of its "twist within a twist within a predictable twist" plot).

Regardless, some of the best new films in the festival hail from our friends in France. From the wonderful That Day (and an appearance from charming star Elsa Zylberstein, who reported repeatedly how this was the worst organized festival she's ever attended); Rohmer's mannered-yet-compelling Triple Agent (in which, curiously enough, the "true story" part of the narrative is introduced in the final minutes of the film); the absolutely fantastic Since Otar Left (definitely the best debut film of SFIFF and worthy of some sort of recognition or, at the very least, US distribution); even the lovely-to-look-at Investigation into the Invisible World (though the Icelandic subjects grew tiresome and there are enough unsubstantiated ramblings to grow on this skeptic's nerves). Coincidence?

Taking Off Of the revivals not already mentioned, it seems a shame that Milos Forman's Taking Off is so little-seen. A fantastic performance from Buck Henry as a repressed middle-class father in New York and the great Lynn Carlin (of Faces fame) as his wife (along with an appearance by Kathy "Bobo" Bates in her first role), the film is a spot-on critical assessment of early-1970s American culture. Adjacent in importance (as well as alphabetically in the program), the otherwise unknown Temptress of a Thousand Faces (from Five Fingers of Death director Cheng Chang-ho) deserves a renewed long life on the art house circuit, midnight movie or not. Sadly, they don't make movies like that anymore.

Wednesday brings the Golden Gate Awards ceremony and, accordingly, a few brief words about the winners will follow on Thursday (along with my "five point plan" to fix the festival). In the meantime, sincere thanks are again extended to the already acknowledged (and justifiably so) exceptionally helpful Jason O'Mahony; a particular gratitude is owed to Brent Hall for a pair of last-minute tickets to the Trinity screening; praise is also due, as always, to Tim Etheridge and special recognition is necessary for the amazing woman that holds it all together, Hilary Hart. The programmers generally grace the spotlight, introducing the films and so forth, but these are the people (along with their compatriots in Guest Services) behind the scenes who are rarely mentioned for their essential contributions. There would be no festival without them.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 PM | Comments (2)

SFIFF: Wild Parrots

Craig Phillips on a very popular doc at the San Francisco International Film Festival:

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Judy Irving's lovely documentary about Mark Bittner, the "Bohemian St. Francis," and his flock of avian friends, does wonders for bird appreciation and education but just as much examines the effect nature, even in the heart of compressed urbanity, can have on the human spirit. If I didn't hate the phrase, "touches the heart" so much I'd say the film does in fact, surprisingly, touch the heart.

The non-native birds themselves are characters you get to know and appreciate and worry about, including Mingus, a rhythmically inclined chap, poor old blue-headed Connor (as in conure), who is ostracized by his cherry-headed pals, and Picasso and Sophie, a romantic pair who will make even the most cynical among us open up and say, "Aw..." But it is Bittner, the human guide through through these birds' travails, who centers the documentary, as the birds are a part of his salvation, his transformation. Essentially homeless for a long period of time, Bittner lives rent-free in a Telegraph Hill cottage, a ramshackle shack among that landmark San Francisco neighborhood's gardens and stairways. Keeping cages for some of the more domestic birds - who aren't pets, he emphasizes to a doubting Thomas who sort of confronts him at the beginning of the film - Bittner teaches himself everything he can about these birds and their subspecies, about their habits and needs, while learning much (as we do) from observing them over time.

And just how did these tropical birds end up in foggy San Francisco? The film explores the possible sources but rightfully doesn't attempt a final answer. The birds are a living urban legend, and Irving's film is already a graceful part of that history. Amusingly, the opening title is displayed in a Wild Rebels/Something Weird-ish 60s-era exploitation film font, which signals that the story is, as much as anything, about a sense of history - Bittner knows his - and where these birds might find a place in San Francisco lore. And at the end, there's a wonderful twist on Bittner's story that adds a layer of poignancy to the proceedings. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is an almost meditative little film that - even more than Winged Migration - makes one think more compassionately about birds and the people who love them.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:18 PM | Comments (3)

Shorts, 4/26.

Time's Richard Corliss, a long-time Bollywood fan, can't hide his hopes in a tentative prediction:

Bombay Dreams

The cultural stew is simmering and ready to boil over. Just as Indian food graduated from big-city exotica to mainstream international cuisine, Indi-pop culture could become a new part of American pop culture. It certainly has the energy and glamour to curry favor with more than those who favor curry. It might even gain the hipness it has in Britain - where, as Meera Syal, the original librettist of Bombay Dreams, boldly said, "Brown is the new black."

Corliss also profiles composer AR Rahman, who's scored around 70 movies: "By some counts, 150 million albums of Rahman music have been sold, which could make him the top-selling artist in recording history."

Also in Time, Corliss again, albeit briefly, on The Saddest Music in the World and, just as briefly, James Poniewozik on those other Canadians, The Kids in the Hall.

Back to Bollywood. For Outlook India, Saumya Roy on Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, who scored Kal Ho Naa Ho and "became the toast of an industry getting zippier and less self-conscious." Perlentaucher points to samples and Hamida Parkar's interview with the trio for the India Times.

And back to Bombay Dreams: Jesse McKinley reports in the New York Times on how the producers plan to go about marketing their Broadway show to the half a million South Asians within driving distance of NYC. Also in the paper:

  • Ten countries join the European Union on May 1 and, for all the other challenges this major expansion poses, Alan Riding argues there's this, too: "As Europe moves toward 'ever closer union,' unless it also communicates culturally, popular taste will become ever more American." Riding checks in on the state of several arts, and as for the movies, "three decades after the wellsprings of Fellini, Bergman and Truffaut, Europeans now rarely choose to see one another's films. In 2002, a good year for French cinema, 50 percent of the box office went to American movies and 35 percent to French movies, but only 4.9 percent to British films, 0.8 percent to German and 0.2 percent to Italian." But France is a special case. Spain's figures - 67 percent Hollywood, 15.8 percent Spanish - seem more representative of what's going on throughout the rest of the continent.

  • Wasn't all that long ago, the entertainment and tech industries were at each other's throats. Evelyn Nussenbaum conjures those days well and then reports on how things have changed: Hollywood and Silicon Valley are beginning to get along because they can't afford not to.

  • Sharon Waxman: "What do girls want? That's what panicky marketing experts and studio executives are asking themselves after a string of disappointing results for movies aimed at girls and young women this year."

  • Laura M Holson on Disney's in-house search for a new chief exec.

Chris Fujiwara sends over a hefty report from the Hong Kong International Film Festival; also at indieWIRE: "SFIFF Sizzles During Final Weekend," reports Brian Brooks.

The New Yorker's Rebecca Mead attends a screening of Town Bloody Hall (more), a doc DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus shot back in 1971, a record of a debate on feminism pitting Norman Mailer against Germaine Greer, Jill Johnston, Diana Trilling and then-NOW president Jaqueline Ceballos. A panel discussion followed the screening and a release on DVD is in the works.

Lauren Kern in New York: "Forty years later, [Bibbe] Hansen - daughter of Fluxus artist Al Hansen, mother of Beck, and, in her youth, one of the youngest members of the Factory crowd - tries to mimic the pose but can't keep from smiling. This is the first time she’s seen her screen test, and it's like watching an old home movie that happens to have been shot by Andy Warhol."

Again via the unmatched Perlentaucher, Uri Klein's praise in Haaretz for Arna's Children.

Space is the Place is showing in London, so Will Hodgkinson preps Guardian readers. Also in the paper: Why all the amnesia movies lately? Natasha Walter has a theory: "[O]ne of the things that keeps striking observers of American politics is the way that politicians are lost in their own pursuit of an eternal sunshine, in which they remain determined to keep their minds spotless, unencumbered by the past." Plus news that Sam Mendes will be adapting Jarhead.

Online viewing tip. Dreamworks' English-language site for Innocence. Hope it loads faster for you. Via Anime News Network.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM

April 25, 2004

SFIFF: Notes.

As a sort of birthday gift, Doug Cummings is treating himself to the San Francisco International Film Festival. But he's got good stuff for us, too. So far, he's written about Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn and Raoul Ruiz's That Day (C'est jour-lŕ).

Girl Trouble

Jennie Rose sends word on Girl Trouble, directed by Lexi Leban and Lidia Szajko. The doc screens again on Monday and Tuesday:

Juvenile justice? Think again. Of all those who enter the system, 28 percent are girls, yet only two percent of the juvenile system resources go to females. Girl Trouble tracks three girls' dealings with the San Francisco system: Stephanie, a 16-year-old single mother, Sheila, 17, and Shangra, 16. Through the SF-based Center for Young Women's Development, the girls get part-time work and, more importantly, much-needed mentoring and affection from Lateefah Simon. "We don't work with girls who are at risk," says Simon, the 24-year-old director of the center and a single mother. "We work with girls who are in-risk."

"We have no idea what life is like for these kids," says Stephanie's public defender, Jean Amabile. "Their worlds are very, very small. There are kids in San Francisco who have never seen the ocean, and the farthest you can get from the ocean is 7 miles in this city." With skillful editing and rare access to court room proceedings, the directors of this film have broken ground in revealing the system's treatment of juvenile girls.

You can also keep up with daily goings on at the fest via the Scoop du Jour.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

Shorts, 4/25.

In anticipation of the Edward Hopper exhibition opening in late May at the Tate Modern, Gaby Wood examines what his wife, Josephine Nivison, an artist in her own right, may have sacrificed for his career, and Philip French writes:

Hopper loved the movies. 'When I don't feel in the mood for painting,' he said, 'I go to the movies for a week or more. I go on a regular movie binge.' The cinema returned the compliment by turning to him for stylistic inspiration, and film noir became his great love and the area of his chief influence. He created a world of loneliness, isolation and quiet anguish that we call Hopperesque.... Voyeurism has been an unavoidable condition of urban living and moviegoing, and Hopper's pictures spy on people in uncurtained rooms. They are epiphanic moments in someone else's life, stills from a movie we can't quite remember.

Edward Hopper: New York Movie

Edward Hopper, New York Movie, detail

Todd Haynes is curating an film program to run alongside the exhibition and French's piece suggests which films might be featured. Also in the Guardian and Observer:

When the aliens arrive and ask us how we go about living our lives, let's all flatter ourselves and point them to this picturesque family tucked away in the Scottish Highlands: John Byrne, artist and writer, Tilda Swinton, actress, and their six-year-old twins, Honor and Xavier. See Edward Guthmann's piece in the San Francisco Chronicle and see if you don't agree. Also: Aidin Vaziri goes book shopping with John Waters and Delfin Vigil explains where 150 wigs for Hairspray will be coming from.

Caravaggio

Tilda Swinton in Caravaggio

More Tilda? Absolutely. Michael Martin interviews her for Nerve.

"He was a photographer really deep in his heart, although he was a good director. He was an incredibly intelligent man. I think the photography led by an edge, not by a lot but by an edge, and it shows. Every picture is like a painting." That's Joe Dunton, who supplied cameras and lenses to Stanley Kubrick in a recent interview conduced by Martin Behrman and observed by "wopizza." Via Coudal Partners.

Sean Smith and Devin Gordon preview the summer movies for Newsweek. Three (Web) pages, lots o' trailers.

J Hoberman traces the fascinating story of the critical and popular reception of High Noon since its premiere in 1952. "[T]he most celebrated western Hollywood ever produced" was written by blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and hated by überpatriot John Wayne yet eagerly embraced by Democratic and Republican presidents alike. Also in the New York Times:

  • Andrew C Revkin reports that NASA's rather rattled by the prospect that journalists might approach the agency for comment on Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow. Both Revkin's piece and Juliette Jowit and Robin McKie's in the Observer point out that environmentalists are split on just how to react to a film that's basically on their side of the global warming argument but whose science is evidently going to be about a plausible as the defeat of an alien civilization with a PowerBook. But whereas the Observer piece quotes most of them scoffing and scouring, Revkin notes that at least the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sees the movie "mainly as an opportunity, not a problem."

  • David C Thomas and Laurel Legler, the filmmakers behind MC5: A True Testimonial, could probably have a nice long heart-to-heart with Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields, the pair who've made End of the Century, a doc about the Ramones. As Bill Werde explains, the latter pair "say the movie has not been released after nearly seven years of work because of the very same tenuous relationships [within the band] they hoped to document."

  • Philip Gefter introduces a sumptious slide show of stills from Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World.

  • "The TriBeCa Film Festival has become one of the fastest-growing cultural institutions in New York." Rebecca Traister outlines more than a few reasons why.

  • Jennifer Senior talks to Tina Fey about Mean Girls. And other things. And there's more, too, from Hugh Hart in the San Francisco Chronicle and William Booth in the Washington Post.

  • We've heard this argument before but it doesn't hurt to hear it again, especially when it's spelled out as clearly and convincingly as it is in Elvis Mitchell's piece: The "old-fashioned, line-drawn animated feature" is dying a slow death thanks in large part to Pixar; but Pixar's films are successful not because they're computer-animated but because they tell great stories, "making awe and curiosity part of the plot without condescension."

  • Jehane Noujaim, director of Control Room, answers Deborah Solomon's questions with a keen sense of diplomacy: "I do think [Al Jazeera] have been misrepresented in certain ways, just as the American military has been misrepresented in the Middle East."

  • Leslie Camhi talks briefly with Julie Bertuccelli about Since Otar Left.

Granted, a book review you find at a bookstore is probably going to be a positive review. But over at Powell's, Chris Bolton convincingly justifies his enthusiasm for Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: The Shooting Script.

Via Movie City News, Johanna Schneller in the Globe and Mail: "The Alamo and its kin are a new hybrid, one that lures you in with rue and then knocks your socks off with triumph. They are war films that mutate into personal vengeance flicks just in time, so all that sad death can be avenged."

He may or may not be kidding about this whole idea of a novel called Starmageddon, but Toby Young's journal of a week in LA in Slate is a fairly fun read. SOMA

Heads up, courtesy of Cynthia Rockwell: The Boston Underground Film Festival, May 6 through 10: "Among other things, there's a short animated film called 'Son of Satan' based on the Bukowski short story that is pretty phenomenal. Demented and phenomenal, like all the films in the BUFF lineup."

Scott Macaulay's "Producing Bromides #s 1 - 4."

Online non-printable reading tip. The Film/Fashion issue of Soma, featuring Paul Bettany, Bai Ling, Usama Rasheed and reviews of The Return, Touching the Void and The Fog of War.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM

April 23, 2004

Shorts, 4/23.

Dark City Dames Now here's a way to spend a day in San Francisco. The Chronicle's Ruthe Stein tours locations that have appeared in classic noir films with French directors Emmanuel Carrere and Patrick Bossard and actress Elsa Zylberstein; their hosts are novelist Thomas Sanchez, SFIFF creative director Miguel Pendas and Eddie Muller, author of a couple of novels himself as well as books on noir and our own noir primer.

Vince Keenan's been reading his Dark City Dames, I'll note in passing, albeit primarily as a way to spotlight his site.

In the May issue of Sight & Sound:

Sean Spillane has a series of entries on Kill Bill you'll want to take a look at: An initial reaction, a game, thoughts on what the DVD might end up looking like and gory screencaps from the Japanese version of 1.

Over at Filmmaker, Scott Macaulay points to a petition urging MGM and Eon Productions to accept Tarantino's offer to direct the 21st Bond film, base it on Casino Royale and get Pierce Brosnan to do the character one last time; and Steve Gallagher passes along news that a director's cut of Donnie Darko with 21 minutes restored will premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Doug Cummings on Prisoner of Paradise and the Russian Nights fest in LA (heading to NY in October).

Evan Mather says he'll definitely be taking part in Stockstock, joining what must be around 400 other entrants. You can, too, you know. Deadline's June 15. And what is it, exactly? Katie Dean explains in Wired News.

Rania Richardson:

The current crop of self-distributing filmmakers is zeroing in on target niche markets to develop audiences for their films. Charming and articulate, the filmmakers of Robot Stories, Maestro, The Gatekeeper and Superstar in a Housedress are presenting their works to their own specialized communities and reeling in additional viewers using extraordinary marketing efforts. But would they do it again?

Also in indieWIRE:

  • Quite a bit on Cannes already, for starters. Brian Brooks's round-up of film folks' reactions to the lineup is probably the most fun; Eugene Hernandez notes a trend in the competition: first-timers; and Brooks reports on the Critics' Week lineup.
  • Nathan Friedkin scores the last slot in a hot workshop: "The Art of the Documentary Pitch: How to Turn an Idea Into a Reality." IW runs his diary.
  • The headline over Christopher Read's says it all: "Regional Report: Bay Area Filmmakers Thrive on Passion, Even When Funding's Low."

Studios, record labels and tech companies are teaming in the battle against pirates swarming university campus networks, reports CNET's Stefanie Olsen. Owen Thomas spins another Olsen story nicely at Ditherati, plucking a quote from Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and jesting that it betrays her "plans to digitize all of Hollywood's studios, at which point we can outsource it all to Bombay."

Another fun list at low culture: Cringe-worthy names for fake magazines edited by female movie characters.

"Not since the advent of the videocassette in the mid-1980's has the movie industry enjoyed such a windfall from a new product. And just as video caused a seismic shift two decades ago, the success of the DVD is altering priorities and the balance of power in the making of popular culture," reports Sharon Waxman.

Also in the New York Times:

  • An editorial - an editorial! - on our love of the DVD. Via the SXSW News Reel, a bit more, an update from the AP on the format wars that'll determine the future of the DVD.
  • Charles McGrath reports on the acquisition of around 2000 pages of F Scott Fitzgerald's "treatments, sketches, drafts, polishes, rewrites" that piled up during his miserable days in Hollywood by the University of South Carolina. Footnote to that one, via Metaphilm: Kelly Ann Torrance, arguing in Brainwash that writerly types are typing screenplays rather than writing fiction. Frankly, it's an unconvincing piece, but who knows, you may be interested.
  • David Gonzalez on Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist.
  • Alan Riding: "Protesting French actors and technicians, who prompted the cancellation of most summer arts festivals last year and forced the resignation of the French culture minister this spring, are now threatening to disrupt the Cannes film festival next month."
  • Nick Madigan reports that the LA County Department of Health Services is gathering the legal names of actors in the adult movie industry who've had sexual contact with the two actors who've contracted the HIV virus.

Gawker, by the way, hears that Elvis Mitchell may be leaving the New York Times. Via Out of Focus, where Aaron does not want to see this happen.

Chris Orr's "Home Movies" column at the New Republic is shaping up nicely; this week, two DVD reviews (Master and Commander and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and a list ("wisely unfaithful adaptations").

Reuters reports that, following Sony's bid for MGM, Time Warner may now be interested in nabbing the studio.

Ich, Kinski Cintra Wilson traces the life of Klaus Kinski: "If ego is what makes men miserable, then he was surely one of the most miserable men of all time." She leans quite a bit on his book, too, but for good reason: "Uncut is, for all its smut and overindulgence, one of the most compelling autobiographies ever written, and it should be required reading for anyone considering being an actor." Also in Salon: Scott Lamb talks to Seymore Butts, aka Adam Glasser, about the porn industry's HIV scare.

Two via Movie City News: Harvey Weinstein: Commander of the Order of the British Empire. And aren't these faux Web sites a little last decade? RegardlessDavid Ewing Duncan reports on another in the San Francisco Chronicle: Godsend: The site. The movie.

David Thomson: "There's no doubt about the fondness that existed between Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock - or between the novelist and short-story writer and the movies as a whole. They were good to each other, and du Maurier's books inspired several more films than those made by Hitchcock."

Also in the Independent:

  • Jonathan Romney on the remarkable Makhmalbafs.
  • Severin Carrell and Andrew Johnson report that Beyond the Rocks, made in 1922 and starring Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino, once thought lost, has been found.
  • Leslie Felperin talks to Daryl Hannah about the QT experience: "[H]e would work me until I was so exhausted I would fall asleep between takes, when they were setting up another shot. Then he would take pictures of me with the Polaroid, with disgusting things next to my face, while I was sleeping, and then print them up and wear them as a T-shirt the next day. Which he found really funny [laughs], even though it wasn't [laughs]. But he's also fun." Uh-huh.
  • Anthony Quinn: "[T]he dark-hued fatalism of Chinatown remains, 30 years on, among the peaks of noir cinema and probably the best movie of the 1970s."
  • And Andrew Jarecki picks his "Ten Best Auteur Films." You wonder if that's his headline.

Rachel Proctor May profiles a pretty nifty project in the Austin Chronicle, the multi-culti soap, Shades of Life. Also: Diana Welch previews a sort of LadyFest Texas preview; and Marc Savlov talks to John Pierson about Spike Mike Reloaded; he also notes that Pedazo Chunk, the video outlet run by Harry Knowles's sister and bro-in-law, may soon be expanding. Speaking of AICN, Mark O'Connell sends word that Tarantino plans to show both parts of Kill Bill, edited back together again, in Cannes on the last day of the fest.

Joshuah Bearman attends a release party for the Freaks and Geeks DVD package and reports back to the LA Weekly.

In the Village Voice, Michael Almereyda talks with Sam Shepard but not about This So-Called Disaster; instead, the subjects at hand are Terrence Malick and Bob Dylan. It's J Hoberman, then, who reviews the movie. Also: Michael Atkinson on William Friedkin's little-seen The People vs Paul Crump and Laura Sinagra on a series of South African films marking the tenth anniversary of Mandela's election.

Alternet's Emily Polk interviews Lisa Hepner regarding her directorial debut, Peace by Peace: Women on the Frontlines. Also: Todd Lillethun on Broken Wings and Stuart Klawans on The Blondes (a piece that hasn't appeared at The Nation's site).

Two more pieces pose the question, "Why zombies, why now?": Matthew Wilder's in City Pages and Aaron Hendren's in Film Threat with its amusing theory that it's all about Republicans.

Lia Haberman parses the nominations for the MTV Movie Awards for E!.

Friday Review: Kevin Spacey Kevin Spacey is the guest editor of the Guardian's Friday Review this week. As most movie gossip addicts have heard by now, he's in London anyway these days serving as artistic director of the Old Vic. So as you read his introduction to this issue, you realize he hasn't reached too far for material; but then, when you're in London, you don't have to.

Also in the Guardian: Dan Glaister reports that George Butler will be directing a doc based on Douglas Brinkley's book about John Kerry, Tour of Duty. As Glaister points out, the campaign season is shaping up as a tough one for George Bush, at least at the movies. First, the summer sees the release of Roland Emmerich's global warming disaster flick, The Day After Tomorrow. Then, in September, Tour of Duty and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911, followed soon after by John Sayles's Silver City.

In Slate Seth Stevenson spells out the logic behind American Express's "Webisode."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:16 AM | Comments (5)

April 22, 2004

blogs.indiewire.com

indieWIRE Just the other day, a friend in London dropped a line asking if I'd heard about this: http://blogs.indiewire.com. Yes, we'd caught wind of something along these lines in the works some time ago, but frankly, I at least didn't know it was this far along (though savvier GCers - and believe me, there are many - may well have).

In the meantime, managing editor Wendy Mitchell has given an interview over at Gothamist in which she points in a few directions indieWIRE might be headed with this idea, and suddenly, everyone's talking, though something large - whatever that may be; probably a link from the front door for starters - isn't supposed to happen until tomorrow. The cinetrix, for example, is skeptical, but already has a favorite of the bunch, Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock's. Our own favorite has to be Eugene Hernandez's because... he links to us. 'Sonly blogical.

But the truly not-to-be-missed take is Greg Allen's.

Truly. Go. Enjoy.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:03 PM

April 21, 2004

Cannes lineup.

cannes-logo.jpg There are at least three ways to take in the lineup for Cannes (May 12 - 23) unveiled in Paris today. By far the most amusing is Filmbrain's. Amusing but savvy, too; his choices of six highlights out of the total of 18 films in competition look pretty sharp from over here.

For the every-last-detail version, there's the official site itself; but for the clear-eyed and succinct overview, you'll want indieWIRE's, hands down.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:25 PM | Comments (6)

Senses 31.

"For this issue, we considered launching a wide-ranging investigation into the current state of Australian film culture," writes Senses of Cinema co-editor Jake Wilson, introducing the new issue, #31. "Then we realised this would bore everyone to tears." Why? Well, because it'd likely turn out to be "the same old song, and it's likely that anyone who cares will know the words already." In brief, the way funding's currently structured in Australia, to hear Wilson tell it, "auteurist" careers cannot be sustained. You make a film, make a splash and disappear.

yahoo-serious.jpg

Yahoo Serious

Fortunately, the same cannot be said of Australian online film criticism, or more specifically, Senses. And the April - June 2004 issue is, once again, plentiful:

Yes, that'll probably do until July.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:40 PM

SFIFF: SFBG

SFBG SFIFF Cover The ever-sharp San Francisco Bay Guardian film critics blurb the second week of offerings at the San Francisco International Film Festival, basically picking up where they left off in the last issue (and those previous blurbs are here).

How that issue managed to go unblogged around here I'm not quite sure, but the leisurely conversation among the SFBG's Johnny Ray Huston and Susan Gerhard and SFIFF guest programmer Roger Garcia (more here), doc filmmaker Jon Else (The Day After Trinity) and the prolific and wise B Ruby Rich about the current state of cinema is no less interesting this week than it would have been last week. Quite a lot of ground is covered and it's covered well, so get comfortable. The stand-out topics are the varying roles of festivals and home video these days in the wake of the decline of the art houses, funding documentaries and spots in the world where cinema seems liveliest at the moment, namely, the Middle East and Latin America.

Also:

By the way, the current issue also features Patrick Macias's brief chat with John Woo

Posted by dwhudson at 9:19 AM

SFIFF: Thus Far...

We last heard from Hannah Eaves when she'd just returned from SXSW in Austin. Now, from San Francisco...

SFIFF 47 First off, a big "thumbs up" to Jason O'Mahony at the San Francisco International Film Festival press office for his unerringly good-natured conversation and generous support throughout the beginning of the festival. It's easy to forget that film festivals run (relatively, at least in this case) smoothly thanks to people who put in hours well beyond the call of duty, largely for free.

Regardless, if the first weekend of SFIFF is any indication, we might be in for yet another "Year of the Documentary." Things are heating up (or melting down) in the Middle East right now and there are plenty of impressive docs screening at the festival to give us some alternative insights. Jehane Noujaim (co-director of the excellent Startup.com) visited with her new film Control Room which looks at the media's struggle with objectivity in the face of war. The film focuses particularly on Al-Jazeera which has taken verbal and physical abuse from both "sides" over the last few years since it became the first independent Arab news station. The characters in this film, from the US military liaison who wants to work on the Israel/Palestine issue after the war to the Al-Jazeera Senior Producer who would be happier working at Fox, are full of contradictions which makes for a very touching look at how we each decide for ourselves what is right or wrong. For further enlightening viewing on the Middle East check out Checkpoint and Route 181 (in its North American Premiere), both screening this week. Or, if it's indictments of US culture that you’re after, see The Corporation and the deservedly lauded Super Size Me, both also appearing shortly.

That Day SFIFF prides itself on its selection of French films (thanks to valuable input from Positif's Michel Ciment) and there are several forthcoming screenings of note. The insanely prolific Raoul Ruiz, director of over one hundred films, has created a dreamy French comedy macabre in Ce jour-lŕ /That Day. The film is part political allegory, part romance (with quite a lot of death thrown in - it is set in a quiet country manor, after all) and is carried along charmingly by lead actress Elsa Zylberstein. Zylberstein is in town with the film and, if Monday's screening is any indication, she will be answering audience questions with grace and perception. Other French "must sees" on the schedule are master Eric Rohmer's new offering Triple Agent (playing at SFIFF in its US Premiere), a period homage to Hitchcock's espionage thrillers, and French/Georgian co-production Since Otar Left, the first narrative feature by former Krzysztof Kieslowski Assistant Director Julie Bertuccelli. The latter is said by the Balboa Theater's Gary Meyer to be one of his favorites of the festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:49 AM

April 20, 2004

SFIFF: Notes.

Jennie Rose, who wrote our Women in Film primer and interviewed the Mau Mau Sex Sex gents for us, sends along a few notes:

Investigations into the Invisible World Investigation into the Invisible World

Part nature documentary, part something else altogether, this visually entrancing film from director Jean-Michel Roux about ghosts, elves, gnomes, sea monsters and extraterrestrials suggests nothing except that the interviewees - a druid, schoolchildren, healers, mediums, a film director and a policeman - may be more influenced by their landscape than the average Icelander. And who could blame them? Partially melted ice caps on the world's largest volcanic island are the film's most striking phenomena.

Coffee and Cigarettes

Outside of an appearance by Cate Blanchett, this is pretty much a very funny men's club, a feature length film full of ringers. It's a bunch of shorts edited together like a mixed tape - all rhymes, rhythms and symbols. Shorts titled "Cousins?" (with Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina), "Delirium" (Bill Murray, RZA and GZA), and "Somewhere in California" (with Iggy Pop and Tom Waits), it's a film about the space between all things, the "throwaway moments," says the director. I've been an admirer of Jim Jarmusch for Dead Man and Ghost Dog, but Coffee and Cigarettes goes back to the amateurish, playful style of Jarmusch's earlier films like Down by Law, and from the looks of it, was every bit as fun to make. Don't see this while you're trying to quit smoking.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:14 PM | Comments (1)

April 19, 2004

Shorts, 4/19

Moviemaker: Spring 2004 The Spring 2004 issue of that down-to-earth, Praxis-oriented magazine Moviemaker is up. Dig in:

  • Matthew Ryan Hoge tells Jennifer M Wood how he got Kevin Spacey interested in backing The United States of Leland though he'd only previously directed two indie features - and hadn't even completed those.
  • Wood also talks with screenwriter George Wing, cinematographer Steve Mason, editor Noman Hollyn and LA Film School Marketing Director Jennifer Landon.
  • Timothy Rhys wonders if Mark Cuban might not be spreading himself a bit thin: "He's the maverick owner of 2929 Entertainment and (eerily) the Dallas Mavericks, along with Landmark Theaters and HDNet Films (producers of digital video features budgeted up to $2 million) and chunks of Warner Bros. and Lions Gate. He also owns arthouse distributor Magnolia Pictures (Capturing the Friedmans), TV library holding company Rysher Entertainment (Sex and the City, Hogan's Heroes, etc.) and lots of other nifty stuff."
  • Travis Crawford talks methodology with Lars von Trier.
  • John Weidner: "And in the next instant, before I could stop them, three little words erupted like a mid-meal belch: 'I'm a hack.' I couldn't believe it, but yes, there... I'd said it." It's ok, John. I'm a blogger. There, I said it.
  • Saul Austerlitz: "Consider this an argument-starter, then; one critic's selection of the 20 greatest first films of all time."
  • Randee Dawn on the whole doc phenom going on.
  • Q&A with indie filmmaker Rick Schmidt.
  • And David Fear has a lively chat with Charlie Kaufman: "I honestly don't think I ever really knew the rules enough to break them."

The Image Factory Trying to get a handle on Japanese "cute culture," Kitty Hauser doesn't get much help from the two books she considers in the London Review of Books, Shoichi Aoki's Fruits and Donald Ritchie's The Image Factory: Fads and Fashion in Japan. What she does know is this: "Cute is not rebellious - at least not in any obvious way. It isn't cool. It doesn't seem to be about sex. It doesn't want to overthrow capitalism - cute is hooked on brand-names. It is cosy, not angry." She also recommends reading Sharon Kinsella, "whose writing on cute is free from the preconception that youth culture ought to be an authentic expression of individuality."

Also in this issue, Jonathan Lethem: "Marvel was complicit in my muddled yearning backwards... By the time of [Jack] Kirby's return, talk of Marvel's 'greatness' was explicitly nostalgic. Any argument, based on a typically American myth of progress, that our contemporary comics might be even more wonderful, was everywhere undermined by a pining for the heyday of the 1960s." And Thomas Jones: "Throughout his fifty-year career - his inglorious war record aside - Tintin was instrumental, time and again, in effecting or averting regime change in the world's many trouble-spots, especially in the Middle East and South America.... It makes you wonder whether Tony Blair isn't an old Tintin fan..."

In the Guardian and Observer:

  • Sanjiv Bhattacharya hears Michael Madsen tell him how much he dearly hopes his performance as Budd in Kill Bill, Volume 2 will re-start his career. Also: Vote on your favorite Tarantino film.
  • Peter Preston: "Whatever happened to those other English ingénues of the Fifties, the Diane Clares, the Carole Lesleys, the June Thorburns and Mary Ures? Some got married, happily or otherwise, and dropped out of sight; too many of them died. But Sylvia Syms believed in re-inventing herself long before Madonna. She has never stopped changing and working."
  • Perhaps only tangentially related to film (though the video for "Take Me Out" is pretty nifty), still can't help noting that Franz Ferdinand are the guest editors of today's G2.

Jonathan Yardley offers one of the first American reviews of Gielgud's Letters in the Washington Post.

"What he is doing will make a DVD look nearly as sharp and detailed as a 35-millimeter film print. It will produce images with six times the resolution of today's high-definition television sets. In video quality, it could turn home theater into a true rival of the neighborhood cineplex." By now, you've probably seen several pointers to Fred Kaplan's piece in the New York Times on the remarkable stuff John Lowry is up to at Lowry Digital. But everybody's pointing for good reason. Also in the paper:

  • Frank Rich: "As the Iraq war enters its second year, it has already barreled through at least four movie plots." The fifth? Could be "Apocalypse Now (if we stay and sink into the quagmire) or Three Kings (if we cut and run). Though perhaps not quite yet. The most apt movie for this moment just may be David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia."
  • Polls show Philippine movie star Fernando Poe Jr tied with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the race toward elections to be held on May 10. Raymond Bonner: "The poor often determine the outcome of elections in this country, with fraud and violence in strong supporting roles.... In the movies, Mr. Poe is the superhero, performing miraculous feats for the underdog. The poor, uneducated Filipinos think he can do the same for them, said [Asian Studies] Professor [Benito] Lim."
  • Sharon Waxman has the weekend box office numbers: Kill Bill, Volume 2's at the top with $25.6 million, but perhaps more significantly, sales of the Vol. 1 DVD approached twice that number: $47 million.

Lana's Rain

In or via Movie City News:

Via Perlentaucher, Umberto Eco in L'espresso on the profuse violence of The Passion of the Christ: "Ma non si puň chiedere troppo a chi vuole solo servirci uno 'steak tartare' con molto pepe e ketchup."

Online listening tip. John Waters reads from Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste. Via pullquote.

Online viewing tip. Via Bitter Cinema, Shiseido's TV commercials, from the 1960s to the mid-70s.

Another one. Trailer for Dead Leaves, via SignalStation.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:20 AM | Comments (4)

April 17, 2004

Weekend shorts.

Hiroshi Shimizu The release in recent years of five silent films Hiroshi Shimizu made in the 30s has led to a reassessment William M Drew explores in depth in the hefty new issue of Midnight Eye: "The aesthetic peer of his contemporaries, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Gosho, and Naruse, Hiroshi Shimizu in his silent films was a courageous witness to the experiences of his generation, creating works which are surely destined to take their place among the cinema's finest achievements."

The ME follows up with capsule reviews of eight Shimizu films and Jaspar Sharp's appreciation of the filmmaker's rediscovery by way of a review of Mr Thank You (1936).

Also in this issue:

In his review of Goran Gocic's The Cinema of Emir Kusturica: Notes from the Underground for Film-Philosophy, Brian Bernard Karl recommends finding Dina Iordanova's Emir Kusturica instead. More on Karl's preference in Kamera and Senses of Cinema.

Nick Wrigley in Masters of Cinema on "The Polarizing, Magnificent Cinema of Bruno Dumont": "I greatly admire his clean, organic approach and find his films intoxicating, indeed, utterly essential. This article is my attempt to understand why he legitimizes cinema for some and crucifies it for others."

Henry Samuel reports in the Telegraph on the split critical reaction in France to Catherine Deneuve's diaries, published as L'ombre de moi-meme (In the Shadow of Myself).

Doug Cummings cheers New Yorker's imminent release of Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped and Lancelot du lac on DVD and praises the new edition of the Time Out Film Guide ("by far the best collection of capsule reviews in book form that's widely available") and Satyajit Ray's musical comedy Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne.

Cine las Americas The Austin Chronicle previews the Cine las Americas festival (April 21 through 25). Even if you can't make it, the short reviews are definitely worth at least scanning. Also: Marc Savlov: "Robert Rodriguez's mid-March resignation from the Directors Guild of America is generating seismic repercussions, rumors, and rampant speculation in the Austin film community and pretty much everywhere else." And Marrit Ingman on the Freaks and Geeks DVD package.

Speaking of excellent short reviews, Philadelphia City Paper film editor Sam Adams and crew are back with over thirty of them, all highlights of what's screening this closing week of the Philadelphia Film Festival.

In the Guardian:

Wendy Mitchell passes along a few of the lovely anecdotes told during BAM's salute to Bill Murray on Tuesday night, reports on a screening of SNL alum Tom Schiller's Nothing Lasts Forever and rounds up a few more briefs for indieWIRE. Also:

To hell with the movies, Nikki Finke must have decided. There's too much else going down of far more import to ignore; throw in a few showbiz tie-ins and the column can still be called "Deadline Hollywood," but basically, this week, it's just a good, old-fashioned rant. As for what else is in the LA Weekly, glance below, but John Powers also gets in a review of Young Adam, while Ella Taylor reviews Prisoner of Paradise and Scott Foundas considers the career of Philip Kaufman on the occasion of this weekend's "Writer + Director: A Retrospective Tribute to Philip Kaufman."

David Poland guestimates earnings for this summer's releases.

"The United States, ensconced in the imperial parochialism of Hollywood and spoon-fed exquisite art-house morsels from the international festival circuit, has lagged behind the rest of the world in its recognition of India's cinematic supremacy," writes AO Scott. But the Cinema India! series, limited as it may be, "offers glimpses into a parallel cinematic universe, one that is complex and sometimes puzzling but at the same time accessible and welcoming."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Nick Madigan: "The nation's multibillion-dollar pornographic film industry virtually shut itself down this week after producers learned that at least two of its actors had been infected with the virus that causes AIDS." (Brian Flemming's been following this one.)
  • Charles McGrath on Hollywood Life: The Glamorous Homes of Vintage Hollywood, "a book of photographs by Eliot Elisofon, is a reminder of another time - when the stars were stars, and not just celebrities, and when they lived on an enormous stage set of their own creation."
  • Jesse Green on why this might be a good time for Disney to reimagine Mickey.
  • And Scott again, this time worrying that B-movies have become too slick for their own good.
  • Excerpts from Sylviane Gold's conversation with Michael Almereyda about his doc on the gestation of a play by Sam Shepard.

Via Rashomon, Roger Ebert's ten favorite novels.

Jonathan Rosenbaum revisits Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold: "[T]he simplicity remains and the resonance has grown."

In the Independent:

Online viewing tip. "Mistakes Were Made."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:04 PM | Comments (2)

Kill Bill still.

QT @ LA Weekly Love him or hate him, you do have to hand it to Quentin Tarantino for pulling off one feat increasingly rare in these focus-grouped, test-screened days: A major release that hasn't just split critics but has also sparked such widely varying reactions you can't help but wonder if they've all seen the same film. That's something, and it's something good. Enough, at least, to sample again a few of those first takes on Kill Bill, Volume 2, starting with John Powers in the LA Weekly, whose review of Kill Bill, Volume 1 last fall was by far one of the sharpest.

This time, there's less of a sense of needing to justify a defense of Tarantino's dare; he can just come right out and say it: "It's all out there now. And it confirms what some may have doubted: Quentin Tarantino is a lavishly gifted filmmaker whose every frame is alive with a passionate love for what movies can offer - movement and music, color and energy."

Powers also has a lively chat with Tarantino, who turns out to be an enthusiastic admirer of The Passion of the Christ and, of course, jam-packed-to-bursting with ideas on what he might do next.

Wiley Wiggins: "In a bizarre twist of post-matrimonial weirdness, the two best movies I've seen this year are Before Sunset and Kill Bill: Volume 2."

Over at A Girl and a Gun, an appreciation of Tarantino's rehabilitation of more than a few careers: "As long as Tarantino keeps populating his work with people and performances like this, I'll be there."

For Elvis Mitchell, writing in the New York Times, this may be "the most voluptuous comic-book movie ever made," but it also "in some ways feels as if its time may have passed; it seems like a film Mr. Tarantino might have made before Pulp Fiction."

Salon's Charles Taylor, who has, fortunately, racheted his opinion of Jackie Brown a few notches up over the years, nonetheless writes, "There's no doubt that Kill Bill is an epic, and no doubt of the skill that's often apparent. But what it leaves us with is awesomely trivial."

Slate's David Edelstein: "[T]he second part is, if anything, more perverse, the emotions heightened and the narrative tricks more shocking. Tarantino is a sadistic freak - but, unlike some other filmmakers I can think of, he wears it proudly."

Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger: "Simply put, danger is not in Thurman's acting range, and her opening stumbles foreshadow unfortunate things to come. Kill Bill Vol. 2 is not only not on par with its predecessor, it pretty much undermines Vol. 1, exposing Tarantino's grand revenge opus as a surprising failure." (Thumbs up on Dogville, though, from David Schmader.)

For DVDFile, Karen Idelson asks Uma Thurman ten questions. Leslie Felperin does the honors for the Independent.

As for David Carradine - Charles Taylor: "Thurman and Carradine are awfully good together.... They both have the same lanky, American frame, the same sense of sly underplaying" - we humbly refer you to Sean Axmaker's career-enveloping interview over at the main site.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:55 AM

April 16, 2004

SFIFF: Everyday People.

Craig Phillips previews Everyday People, showing tonight and Sunday afternoon; click title for exact times and theaters.

Everyday People Not as perfect as his Our Song, but almost as emotionally engaging, Jim McKay's Everyday People is an occasionally affected but ultimately rewarding drama set in a Brooklyn restaurant, a neighborhood institution threatened with extinction by impending development. The story takes place over the course of 24 emotional hours, following the lives of people affected by the restaurant's fate. The opening act is a bit clunky, more didactic and over-earnest than McKay's past work. Perhaps a victim of the film's origins - it was developed through a workshop process and inspired by a collection of real life American race-related stories - the first section merely serves to set up the character logistics; if you can forgive the occasionally preachy dialogue and afterschool special-ish feel, Everyday People will soon work its magic on you. This is Barbara Ehrenreich's America, a nation of people struggling to stay above the poverty line, the America you rarely see in film or television.

Like fellow indie auteur John Sayles, McKay has a gift for weaving in multiple character storylines with a sincere political agenda and a naturalistic style that makes one forgiving of its flaws. He gets the most out of his cast of relative unknowns, with especially memorable performances from Billoah Greene, charismatic and moving as a young man leaving for Howard University, and Bridget Barkan, achingly real as Joleen, the cashier and single mom who keeps alive the McKay tradition of offering portraits of young women with amazing depth and humanity. Less successful (although he, too, grew on me) are Jordan Gelber, about as exciting as potato salad in a key role as Ira, the owner who plans to sell the restaurant to upscale developers, and Stephen Axelrod as Sol, the ex-con dishwasher who's seen it all - he's probably "real" but I still found him grating. But in an ensemble piece like this, it's how well all the parts ultimately fit together that matters and here the actors' compassion for their characters comes through. Wrapped around a fine, urban-folksy score by Marc Anthony Thompson (who appears in the film himself), it all harkens back to early 70s-era Altman.

Shot by Russell Lee Fine (McKay's Girls Town and numerous other indie features) with a startlingly clear, composed eye, the film's loveliest scene may be its quietest, in which the young poetess (Sydnee Stewart) sits on a subway train observing the people around her; it's an almost transcendental moment. Everyday People is a warm, rich mosaic of a film that will just make you want to give it a big hug at the end. Made for HBO Films, it will premiere nationwide on HBO June 26.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:05 AM

April 14, 2004

Shorts, 4/14.

Jean-Luc Godard Jean-Luc Godard's Notre musique, blending fiction and documentary and set in Bosnia at the height of the war, will screen out of competition in Cannes this summer, reports Variety. The Festival itself doesn't know how to keep a secret: "The Festival de Cannes has prepared a surprise for Jean-Luc Godard at the screening." Hm. At any rate, this leads us straight to an online viewing tip, though it's probably best to let Filmbrain tell you about it.

"In the 1950s, giant bug and alien movies externalized Cold War paranoia about atomic power and communism. The late '60s and '70s horror flicks featured demonic children, literal spawns of Satan, while real-world youth countered culture." So why are zombie movies back now? Toni Nigro has a theory, laid out in Flak.

Matt Zoller Seitz has been thinking along similar lines, but he travels them a lot farther and longer. In a New York Press cover story, he notes that the opening of the new Dawn of the Dead "feels more uncanny" in the present moment than the original did in its own. And that's just a way in to a broader consideration of the whole post-9/11 cinematic menu: "Recent history has seeped into movies, and manifested itself in powerful, if mostly oblique, ways. With some overlap, the movies tend to fit into one of two categories: revenge dramas and religious pictures."

Then Saul Austerlitz previews the Cinema India! series; So does Nita Rao in the Village Voice, where Michael Atkinson looks ahead to another one, Forever Changes: Polish Cinema Since 1989: "[T]he series' best films belong to Jan Jakub Kolski, a disarmingly primitivist, Grimm-esque voice who made his first film, The Burial of the Potato (1990), immediately after the Communists' fall but whose bewitching vocabulary harkens back to the Mitteleuropa heyday of fairy-tale absurdism."

Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Motor City-based filmmaker John Walter's documentary, How to Draw a Bunny, is about at least three enigmas: fame, obscurity, and Ray Johnson... In Mayor of the Sunset Strip, director George Hickenlooper assembles the commercial rock doc equivalent of Johnson's pen-and-ink bunny family trees.

"Through bitter experience, the cinetrix knows better than to cop to politics on a film blog. She will merely point out that these are interesting times to watch Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene's film Ceddo." But the cinetrix also has news: Jules Dassin will be appearing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Saturday, April 17, following a showing of Rififi.

Lee Smith casts a critical eye on Jehane Noujaim's Control Room in Slate.

"It is Mr. Castro's ill-concealed fragility, more than his tyranny, that makes Looking for Fidel interesting," writes Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times.

In the Guardian:

Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye Todd Harbour has two pieces on Wes Craven in Kamera, one on The Hills Have Eyes and the other on Anchor Bay's Special Edition DVD. And Young Adam is already out on DVD in the UK; Charlie Phillips takes a look. Then Antonio Pasolini reviews Andrew Robinson's Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye.

Indie distributors are rethinking their whole approach to trailers, reports Rania Richardson in indieWIRE.

Brian Flemming on HD; and via Brian Flemming, Phil Hall in Film Threat on why it's been so hard to catch Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep.

Nick Hasted in the Independent: "Hip hop and Hollywood have become uneasy but inseparable bedfellows."

In or via Movie City News:

Posted by dwhudson at 3:12 PM | Comments (1)

Kill Bill, Round 2.

Kill Bill Vol. 2 With Kill Bill, Volume 1 out on DVD yesterday and Volume 2 in theaters on Friday, Quentin Tarantino's epic B-movie is splitting the critics and fans again. So far, it does seem that those who hated 1 also hate 2, maybe even more, while defenders are calmly comparing and contrasting the two volumes. J Hoberman, for example, in the Village Voice: "What's surprising is the atmosphere of sweet reason - relatively speaking - that distinguishes Kill Bill Vol. 2 from its bloody precursor.... Call it the ethereal yin to Vol. 1's visceral yang."

Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer: "Actually, people who stayed away from Vol. 1 because of its genre-dictated violence may find Vol. 2 so much fun that they'll want to catch up on Vol. 1."

The New York Press's Armond White doubts that: "The pop referents in Kill Bill might as well be product placements congratulating viewers on the mindlessness they bought in their youth. When Pulp Fiction came out, that neo-nostalgia seemed a sign of cultural development; some of us have been waiting for QT's next cultural advance, but he doesn't have it in him."

Writing in the City Pages, Terri Sutton wonders, "If I didn't catch the rush, what was the point of it all?"

Meanwhile, the New Republic has been launching online columns left and right now that they've got their blogs going. Chris Orr's "Home Movies" almost looks as if it were launched to smack QT and then... what? In the meantime, "Kill Bill, then, is less a movie than a dare, and like most dares its outcome is unfortunate." If that's too polite for you, "It is also pitifully thin, morally repulsive, and boring as hell."

The Cinecultist collects QT quotes she finds pitifully thin, morally repulsive, and boring as hell. Well, that may be a bit much, but QT is stomping on nerves over at Like Anna Karina's Sweater and Out of Focus, too.

Assuming a monster special edition is in the works, Drew warns against buying the Vol. 1 DVD (though renting it, we're sure, would be just fine).

Interviews with director and stars abound, but Stephen Hunt's with David Carradine for the Globe and Mail is one of the better reads.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM | Comments (6)

April 13, 2004

SFIFF: Preview.

Jonathan Marlow looks ahead:

SFIFF 47 Time once again for the elder statesperson of cinematic events, the San Francisco International Film Festival, to dominate the city for the next few weeks. Now in its 47th year, the oldest festival in America prepares to astonish audiences with 175 films from fifty-two countries. Craig Phillips, Hannah Eaves and I (among others) will provide the daily lowdown in these pages. For the moment, a few highlights:

After a series of missteps in recent years (three, to be exact, devoted to US directors and a particularly dodgy choice the year-before-last), the Film Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing goes to the great Czech (and less-great Hollywood) director Milos Forman. If you haven't seen Loves of a Blonde or The Fireman's Ball, you're missing two of the most magnificent films in Eastern European cinema. Naturally, with the success of Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, Forman is justifiably recognized as one of the great ones (and only the second Czech filmmaker to win the award). His forty-plus year career will be feted Friday, April 23, with a screening of his failed-to-age-well musical Hair.

The wonderful Chris Cooper makes an appearance two days earlier for a screening of Matewan and a brief on-stage interview, in recognition of his "brilliance, independence and integrity" as recipient of the Peter J. Owens award. If the name fails to register, think of the homophobic neighbor in American Beauty or the gap-toothed orchid thief in Adaptation. The selection of a Sayles film to celebrate Cooper's work is a wise choice, given that his first major exposure (and significant display of his acting abilities) was in Lone Star. He will soon appear in the writer/director's latest, Silver City.

This Friday, the Lubitsch classic Ninotchka gets a facelift when its remake, Silk Stockings, is screened and the remarkable actress and dancer Cyd Charisse will be present to introduce. While Stockings is no Band Wagon, it still never fails to bring a smile when Fred Astaire attempts to "tame the shrew."

Paolo Cherchi Usai: Silent Cinema A personal idol, film historian/preservationist Paolo Cherchi Usai will introduce a program of silent shorts from the George Eastman House collection when he is awarded the Mel Novikoff prize (April 26 at the Pacific Film Archive). As co-founder of the Giornate del Cinema Muto (known here as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival), senior curator of the motion picture department at Eastman House, associate professor of film at the University of Rochester and the director of the Selznick School of Film Preservation (with several books on the topic to his credit), he has done more for early cinema than nearly anyone else on the planet (with the exception perhaps of David Robinson, recipient of the Novikoff award in 1996, or Kevin Brownlow, now overdue for similar recognition). Short of venturing to Italy in October, this is your best bet to get a taste of the Pordenone program.

Initiated with an award to filmmaker/surrealist Jan Svankmajer a few years ago, the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision award goes to documentary great Jon Else this year, accompanied by a screening of his landmark The Day After Trinity (the day prior to Paolo's award but at the Kabuki). As DP on non-fiction works as diverse as Crumb and Tupac: Resurrection, his eye has guided plenty of notable stories, perhaps most magnificently on the Eyes on the Prize series. It is his work as a director, though, that remains largely unrepresented on disc. Fortunately, Docurama just announced the release of his fantastic Sing Faster.

Is it merely coincidental that programmer Roger Garcia has selected two new films from Hong Kong, one feature from South Korea and a classic Hong Kong/South Korean epic (from 1969) for the Extreme Cinema program? Roger clearly knows what he's doing. The most extreme films of the past few years are definitely coming from that neighborhood. Unusual for a late night series, all four are worth catching.

Following the fiasco with Sunrise last year, it's safe to see silents at SFIFF again. Keaton's The General will receive most of the attention but the must-see of the April 20 double bill is Charles Vanel's Dans la Nuit. Both will be accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra (who, in an earlier incarnation, were responsible for one of my favorite movie moments - their unforgettable score, and performance of same, to the little-seen Lonesome).

Capsule reviews for many of the 77 narrative features, 28 documentaries and 70 shorts will surface in the days to come. The opening film needs a few words now.

Coffee and Cigarettes

Jim Jarmusch will appear at the Castro on Thursday in support of his latest, the omnibus Coffee and Cigarettes. An odd choice for an opener, C&C features plenty of the titular substances and a bevy of stars (in order of appearance, Roberto Benigni, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and others) to discuss... nothing, really. Essentially, this is a series of shorts strung together with the actors theoretically portraying themselves. Or rather, distinctly odd versions of themselves. Presented entirely in black and white (although, even with the contributions of Frederick Elmes and Robby Müller, not as lushly as you might expect), the episodes feature few motivated actions (people arrive and, just as arbitrarily, disappear a few minutes later with the thinnest of rationales). Indeed, the repetitive format largely tires itself out (and the audience as well) until, seven segments from the start, Cate Blanchett appears with Cousins, in which she cleverly plays both "movie star" Cate and her "black sheep" cousin, Shelly. The few that follow (the Alfred Molina/Steve Coogan counterpoint Cousins? and the Bill Murray oddity Delirium, in which some of the earlier loose threads are reintroduced) maintain a certain level of interest, leaving the whole picture better off than it started. A relatively lightweight affair, not unlike the unreleased tracks from a "Greatest Hits" compilation - not too bad but not as good as Jarmusch's other material.

What else should you see? Regular readers of the Daily should remember a handful mentioned in other festival recaps. Memories of Murder, The Story of the Weeping Camel and Save the Green Planet have all come highly recommended. I am particularly fond of That Day, Doppelgänger, The Five Obstructions, Super Size Me, DIG!, Last Life in the Universe, The Saddest Music in the World and Reconstruction. Similarly, there are a handful that I missed elsewhere that I will not miss again - Control Room, Triple Agent, Goodbye, Dragon Inn and a number of the films mentioned above (a few of which I might see for a second time). If you need me, I'll be at the movies.

-- Jonathan Marlow

Posted by dwhudson at 2:45 PM | Comments (1)

April 12, 2004

Snorts and shorts.

Animal House The New Yorker's comedy issue is as it should be, that is, great fun. Tad Friend's got a theory as to why Harold Ramis has been so successful over all these years, why many of the films he's directed, co-written or both have influenced the current generation of comedy filmmakers. Watershed moments:

For Jay Roach, the director of the Austin Powers films, that movie was Groundhog Day in 1993. For Jake Kasdan, the director of Orange County, it was Stripes in 1981, and, even more powerfully, Ghostbusters, in 1984. For Adam Sandler, it was Caddyshack, in 1980. And for Peter Farrelly, who directed There's Something About Mary with his brother Bobby, it was Animal House, in 1978.

What Elvis did for rock and Eminem did for rap, Harold Ramis did for attitude: he mass-marketed the sixties to the seventies and eighties. He took his generation's anger and curiosity and laziness and woolly idealism and gave it a hyper-articulate voice. He wised it up.

What else? Ian Parker on how the Farrellys sold their idea for a Three Stooges movie set in the present; Earl Benjamin, the president of C3 Entertainment and the stepson of Curly Joe DeRita, remembers: "Pete and Bobby sat down, and then Pete looked at Lorenzo [di Bonaventura, head of production at Warner Bros. Pictures at the time] and he just said, 'Dumb, Dumber & Dumbest.' And Lorenzo said, 'Sold.'" Online follow-up: Amy Davidson gets Parker to explain again just what it is that the brothers are actually up to: "They're writing a new Three Stooges film: not a bio-pic, but a Stooges film, with new actors in the roles of Moe, Larry, and Curly, set in the present day." And evidently, Russell Crowe may be cast as Moe.

Also in this issue, Nancy Franklin previews Bravo's Showbiz Moms & Dads (two of the executive producers, by the way are Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato [The Eyes of Tammy Faye, etc.]); and David Denby left feeling nothing by Kill Bill, Volume 1, is just plain pissed off by Kill Bill, Volume 2: "The pop encyclopedist and video-store genius has become a megalomaniac, and the exhilarating filmmaker he might have been is disappearing fast."

Which brings us to a small bundle of related pointers. First and foremost, Quentin Tarantino, somehow undeterred by Denby's disdain, has not only been talking about an anime prequel, he's now also thinking out loud about a Volume 3.

Via Movie City News, Cindy Pearlman's interview with Uma Thurman in the Chicago Sun-Times: "'I do love how people keep bringing up how she is such a violent woman,' Thurman says. 'If you saw Mad Max doing the same thing, no one would blink.'" Unless, of course, he does it to Jesus.

David Ansen's review in Newsweek, neither whole-heartedly thumbs up or down: "There's no getting around the fact that Kill Bill is an adolescent wet dream, designed for those who relish movies not for relevance but for their cool moments." But then some cool moments are worth a month of Hollywood features, especially if that month is April. Anyway, Devin Gordon chats briefly with David Carradine and - unrelated to Kill Bill, of course - profiles Jennifer Garner.

David Thomson rambles a bit about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the Independent, but that's not really his point. Overall, he's in a foul mood, though not a darkly foul mood, and it's because "the movies we get each week are inert, archaic, dead, deathly and with far too little to do with our increasingly complicated experience." He lets on that his next book, The Whole Equation is "something like a sequel to A Biographical Dictionary of Film" and "is an attempt to trace what happened to excitement. And in great part it is a history of how business smothered art." Fortunately, he sees hope for renewal in the sort of thing his 14-year-old son gets excited about, which in this instance, happens to be Michel Gondry.

Also in the Independent, Jeremy Drysdale picks his favorite music movies; and the interviewees: Amanda Donohoe, Jonathan Demme and Aidan Quinn.

In the Observer, Simon Garfield interviews David Morrissey and Peter Conrad reviews Gielgud's Letters, edited by Richard Mangan.

Time's James Poniewozik explaining how DVDs are affecting present and future TV programming. Honorable mention in the explanation goes to Freaks and Geeks, out now as a "massive collectors' compilation" and "one of the most insanely complete TV artifacts ever." In the New York Times, Emily Nussbaum calls it "less a conventional DVD than a museum in CD form," but there's good reason, too: "[E]ven among good series that died young, Freaks and Geeks stands out.... Like My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks was a demographic tough-sell: a smart teen drama for an adult audience." Also in the NYT:

Posted by dwhudson at 8:14 AM

April 10, 2004

Weekend Spots.

TV This being the boring season for movies, cultural critics are turning their eyes to TV. Allen Barra, writing in Salon, argues that Deadwood and The Alamo are just what the doctor ordered: "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, and Wild Bill Hickok, Prince of Pistoleers, have, between them, been portrayed more than 100 times on stage, screen and television, but they had to wait until the western was supposedly dead to get their best representation."

At Alternet, via the American Prospect, Noy Thrupkaew recommends catching The New Americans on PBS: "Over the course of the seven-hour program, viewers become intimately acquainted with some of the human stories that underpin ever-fiercer debates over immigration in the United States."

Then there's reality programming, naturally, and the what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-us sort of punditry it sparks. Which is usually right on the money, yes, and someone has to do it, but still. At least Alternet's Holly Gail takes a healthy stance, equally distant from the show she zaps, The Swan and some of the more earnest participants in the "heated debate over whether television is our fairy godmother, the ultimate Big Brother, or just a boob tube." In Slate Dana Stevens argues that Starting Over is a tad less offensive.

Also in Slate, Dennis Cass has found yet another of irony's dead ends in Best Week Ever: "The knowing wink has become an annoying facial tic."

Frankly, none of it sounds as inviting as the early late night television Gary Dretzka over at Movie City News has been watching lately.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:30 PM

Victor Argo, 1934 - 2004.

Victor Argo, the actor who recently played Santiago, the owner of the cigar factory in Broadway's Anna in the Tropics, died April 7 at St. Vincent's hospital in Manhattan, according to his manager's office. The cause was lung cancer. He was 69.

Kenneth Jones, Playbill.

His gruff but loveable face will forever be synonymous with great New York cinema of the last three decades.

Filmbrain

Posted by dwhudson at 4:28 PM | Comments (1)

Carrie Snodgrass, 1946 - 2004.

Carrie Snodgrass
Carrie Snodgrass, the actress who was nominated for a best-actress Oscar for her performance in 1970's Diary of a Mad Housewife, has died of heart failure. She was 57.

Myrn Oliver, LA Times, by way of the Mercury News.

Perhaps one of the most chilling reviews of one of her performances comes from Pauline Kael:

Carrie Snodgrass returns to the screen in the role of Hester, Peter Sandza's lover and confederate; she's so pale and thin-faced that she's unrecognizable until one registers her eyes and hears that purring, husky voice of hers which seems to come out of furrowed vocal cords. Her plaintive, low-pitched normality helps The Fury to touch the ground now and then; fortunately, she goes out of the picture in a tense, slow-motion death-knell sequence that does her full honor.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:26 PM | Comments (3)

Weekend Shorts

"'I think it's a really interesting story along the lines of All the President's Men," said Amy Pascal, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. 'There's a real narrative drama in the material. We're going to see if we can develop a film out of it.'" The property at hand? Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies. Sharon Waxman reports in the New York Times; James Risen reviews the book in this week's Book Review; and the paper's running an excerpt and readers' opinions. Ah, if only the film could be in theaters by, say, October. The screenplay's half-written, after all.

PRESIDENT BUSH
Go back over everything, everything.
See if Saddam did this.

RICHARD CLARKE
Al Qaeda did this.

PRESIDENT BUSH
I know, I know, but... See if
Saddam was involved. Just look.
I want to know any shred...

The President leaves Clarke and an aide alone in the Situation Room.

AIDE
Wolfowitz got to him.

Also in the NYT:

  • "With the release on Friday of Kill Bill Vol. 2 Mr. Tarantino's grand design becomes clear: where the first part of his epic took place under the sign of the East, the second is largely devoted to the West - that is, the American and European traditions of revenge movies, particularly the American western." Dave Kehr charts the "Tarantino Universe," offering points of orientation for Vols. 1 and 2.
  • Elvis Mitchell gets Oliver Stone on the phone to talk about Looking for Fidel.
  • Laura M Holson reports that the likes of Peter Jackson, John Woo and Andrew Davis are getting into the video game business not just because it's fun but also because there's just as much money "or even more" in it.

Godzilla Karen Zarker introduces a special section at PopMatters: "Given the chance, who wouldn't invite him to the dinner table, as a hosting nation might invite an ageing, exiled, and fascinating tyrant. With armed guard standing by, of course... 12 writers, armed only with savoir-faire and satirical wit, take on the beast in 14 essays." That's right, fourteen. 14 essays on Godzilla. Also: Jesse Jarnow on Bob Dylan's on-screen persona(s).

Camille Paglia is always good for an argument, so if you're looking for one, via Metaphilm, here's another: "Post-structuralism and postmodernism do not understand magic or mystique, which are intrinsic to art and imagination." The expanded version of her 2002 lecture, "Living Literacies: What Does it Mean to Read and Write Now?," can be found at Arion.

"I don't watch my own films very often. I become so jittery and ready to cry... and miserable. I think it's awful." That's Ingmar Bergman, quoted from a documentary made for Swedish television, as reported by Tania Branigan. Also in the Guardian:

  • "I'm shooting in order to look." Maysoon Pachachi is also setting up an independent film school in Iraq.
  • Christopher Hampton, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Dangerous Liaisons and a special jury prize at Cannes for directing Carrington, ran into a decidedly mixed reception in Venice for Imagining Argentina. He doesn't particularly care: "What remains for me is the astonishing feeling of purposefulness and solidarity we all felt as we worked on the film - which meant that it was, and will always remain, whatever happens, one of the most unforgettably powerful experiences of my professional life."
  • David Mamet isn't wild about producers.
  • Warner Bros is helping environmentalists in Australia save the Tasmanian devil, reports David Fickling
  • John Banville gives Joe Eszterhas probably one of the most positive reviews of Hollywood Animal he's likely to get.
  • Andrew Pulver's "Adapation of the week": David Lean's Oliver Twist.
  • Suzie Mackenzie interviews Kate Winslet.

According to Planet Bollywood, if the movie business in India throughout 2004 is anything it's been in its first dozen weeks, the industry is in serious trouble.

Brian Fleming on the ClearPlay DVD player.

Paul Fischer interviews Toni Collette for Moviehole.

As if you needed another reason to love Team Cho. Lorene Machado, producer and director of Margaret Cho's concert films, is a Mac addict.

Shroom of Milk Plus files from the Wisconsin Film Festival.

For SuicideGirls, Daniel Robert Epstein interviews Lesli Klainberg, co-director of the IFC doc, In the Company of Women. Via the cinetrix.

More on film snobbery from Matt Langdon.

For indieWIRE, Lisa Bear talks to Bruno Dumont about Twentynine Palms.

To wrap with a couple of Easter reads, we need only turn to Slate. There, Alex Heard has a $5 billion idea he's giving away to Mel Gibson for free: "I'm joking about part of this - I don't want to hang with Mel; he scares me - but I do think he should make an End Times movie." And, somewhat related to Wednesday's entry, Chris Suellentrop identifies over half a dozen various Jesuses out and about these days.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:21 PM | Comments (5)

April 8, 2004

Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Film Festival The Philadelphia Film Festival, packed with nearly 250 movies, more than a few of them US and world premieres, opens tonight and runs through April 21. Philadelphia City Paper film editor Sam Adams introduces a hefty cover package with an admiring word for artistic director Ray Murray: "By cutting down on panels, parties and other non-film events, the PFF shaved an estimated $200,000 off its budget, while keeping programming robust."

And robust it is. Adams also talks with some of this year's honorees: Tobe Hooper; Graham Russell Gao Hodges, author of Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend; and via phone, 84-year-old Amos Vogel, the subject of Paul Cronin's documentary, Film as a Subversive Art.

The Paper then blurbs several dozen highlights of the first week of the fest as well as six more from the Festival of Independents program. Even if you're not in Philadelphia, that's some great browsing right there.

Festival footnotes: At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks scans the freshly unveiled slate for North America's biggest documentary festival, Hot Docs, running in Toronto from April 23 through May 2, and Hugo Perez includes a few early words - amusing ones, too, of course - from Michael Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11 in his review of the Full Frame doc fest in Durham.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:34 PM

Hungarians and shorts.

Kinoeye's new issue devoted to Hungarian film opens with Phil Ballard's interview with Béla Tarr. Question: "How do you respond to the American critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's reference to your work as 'despiritualized Tarkovsky.' Do you recognise yourself in that statement?"

Werckmeister Harmonies

Werckmeister Harmonies

Answer: "This is the opinion of Jonathan Rosenbaum. I don't know; it's his opinion. I haven't talked to him about these things. The main difference is Tarkovsky's religious and we are not. But he always had hope; he believed in God. He's much more innocent than us - than me. No, we have seen too many things to make his kind of film."

Also in this issue: Andrew James Horton on Tamás Sas's Apám beájulna (Dad Would Have a Fit) and Miklós Jancsó's A Mohácsi vész (The Battle of Mohacs) and Iván Forgács on Jancsó's early films.

More Béla Tarr: Eric Schlosser's interview in Bright Lights Film Journal, Fergus Daly and Maximilian Le Cain's in Senses of Cinema, and also in Senses, Gabe Klinger's review of Werckmeister Harmonies.

Ticket, a collaborative effort from Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach and Ermanno Olmi, is being shot in Italy.

Control Room, Jehane Noujaim's doc on Al-Jazeera, has won the Grand Jury Award at the Full Frame Documentary Festival, reports the AP.

A Dazed and Confused Special Edition DVD? We're there. Wiley Wiggins thinks it might happen.

Filmbrain does not love the Tribeca Film Festival, but there are just under a dozen films screening he'd like to catch anyway.

The cinetrix is a regular at the Harvard Film Archive (and has even daringly revealed when you might be able to catch sight of her there); one wonders if she also follows the backstage upheaval, as recently reported on by Camille Dodero in the Boston Phoenix: "The decision to reassign the HFA from its original academic branch, the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) - a clunky umbrella term for what is essentially an arts department - to the Harvard College Library (HCL) was a bombshell. As a direct result, HFA curator Bruce Jenkins tendered his resignation. A veteran VES professor quit a film-studies committee in protest. Worse still, rumors spread about the dubious future of the HFA's public film program."

John Penner's haunting recollection of Spalding Gray's performance on March 21, 2003, the day after the US invaded Iraq, is a deeply sad reminder that he had been dying, very slowly, very painfully, ever since that accident in Ireland. Also in the LA Weekly:

The Black Rider David Mamet, still bugged by reception of his play Oleanna: "Can real women be written by men? Well, who is to say? The terrible voices of that coercion known as political correctness cry - but they cry not for parity, let alone humanity. They cry for power." Also in the Guardian: Duncan Campbell on Marianne Faithfull's performance in The Black Rider, written by William S Burroughs and Tom Waits and directed by Robert Wilson; and Jerry Lewis tells Simon Hattenstone about the "miracle cure" that "has transformed his life."

The "Screens" section of the Austin Chronicle this week tips two hats to the Austin Film Society. Anne S Lewis talks to Mark Moskowitz about Stone Reader, part of the Texas Documentary Tour, and Marjorie Baumgarten previews the Contemporary Iranian Cinema program. Also: Marc Savlov on Austin's first Asian Film Festival (April 14 through 18).

Andy Spletzer in the Stranger: "Though it began as a reaction to the enormous Seattle International Film Festival, Satellites is growing into something much more important: a community." Also: Bradley Steinbacher on that "American history snuff film," The Alamo.

"There were many, many, many lunches, and I would get very excited and then nothing would happen." But the first adaptation of a book by Judy Blume, Deenie, looks like it really may be a go this time, reports Julie Salamon in the New York Times. Also: Elvis Mitchell recommends catching The Third Man in a theater if you can and Ben Brantley reviews the performances of John Lithgow and Sigourney Weaver in AR Gurney's play, Mrs. Farnsworth, "as polite and sweetly subversive a political attack as you're likely ever to come across."

Reviewing Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture and Siva Vaidhyanathan's The Anarchist in the Library, Farhad Manjoo focuses on Mickey: "While Disney benefited from the borrowing of previous works, the company now denies us the right to borrow from it. It has slapped together layers of law and code to tightly pin down what Lessig calls 'Walt Disney Creativity' - 'a form of expression and genius that builds upon the culture around us and makes it something different.'" Salon's also running an excerpt from Anarchist: "Will Hollywood, bolstered by the political power of the United States government, be able to dictate the form and format of distribution around the globe? What are the implications for local cultural forms if powerful media companies use law and technology to ossify their advantages?"

Henrik Hemlin suspects that Mario Bava may have had a hand in Giorgio Ferroni's Mill of the Stone Women and lines up a series of screenshots to back that suspicion up. Via Bitter Cinema.

Good question, Greg. Regarding Andrew Sarris's review of Dogville, "Did everyone used to have to equivocate so much for not hating movies by socialists?"

Posted by dwhudson at 8:12 AM

April 7, 2004

Wrath, mercy and shorts.

Bosch: The Last Judgment On Sunday, David D Kirkpatrick had a zeitgeist piece in the New York Times, "Wrath and Mercy: The Return of the Warrior Jesus." The references are pretty much what you'd expect: the bestselling Left Behind series of books and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, both genuine cultural phenomena. The balance of wrath and mercy is at the heart of a lot of great cinema, of course, particularly American cinema, and particularly that most American of genres, the western. You could argue that Clint Eastwood, for example, has made a career tipping the scales first this way, then that, probably most engagingly in Unforgiven.

And how about Lars von Trier? Absolutely, Victor Morton would likely argue. In 24fps, he outlines a case for Dogville as a break, even a "flip side" of Trier's "Golden Heart" trilogy, and he opens with Matthew 11:20-24, where we hear the "Warrior Jesus" at his most furious. Writes Morton: "Lars Von Trier's Dogville is about that passage. And it is not subtle - Nicole Kidman's character is named Grace. And Grace is rejected by the town. And the rejection of Grace brings damnation."

Also in 24fps, editor Gabe Klinger has translated a piece by Ruy Gardnier on Rogério Sganzerla's The Sign of Chaos, "[a]n antifilm, but most of all a terrorist film: it throws on the screen dramaturgically, with clinical cruelty and frenetic fervor, the apathetic climate that conditions the relationship between Art and the State in Brazil."

Jake Brooks tells an all-American story in the New York Observer: Get a job at AOL, steal celebrities' private data, stalk and hustle them, then get your tell-all published and your movie made! Ka-ching.

"[T]he funniest thing about this two-and-a-half-hour study of millionaire rock stars banging their heads for two years trying to make a record is that it might well be the movie of the year. I'm serious - and, believe it or not, so is the film." Rob Nelson on Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. Also in City Pages: Caroline Palmer talks to Steve Foley about his debut feature, Strange as Angels.

Anthony Kaufman in indieWIRE: "Chicago is an ideal place to host an international documentary showcase. Now in its second year, the Chicago International Documentary Festival (April 1 - 11), which is hoping to stake a claim to the growing nonfiction market as one of the largest such events in the United States, is hosting nearly 100 films all across the Windy City, weighted heavily with work from Eastern Europe, Russia, and films about Israel and the invasion of Iraq."

The Chicago Reader offers a fine guide to the films and to the city's Asian American Showcase, running through the 14th.

In Kamera:

In the New York Times, Elvis Mitchell introduces several films in the ongoing African Film Festival; and Erin E Arvedlund reports that US studios are combatting Russian pirates by lowering DVD prices.

"He didn't have to run away to join the circus - he grew up in one founded by his parents, Victoria Chaplin (Charlie's daughter) and Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée." Samantha Ellis profiles James Thiérrée. Also in the Guardian: Ian Black visits a cinema in Norway where the audience sits on reindeer skins and the screen is made of snow.

Via Movie City News, the Hollywood Reporter's Key Art Awards: Vote on your favorite posters, trailers and sites.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:48 AM

April 6, 2004

Shorts, 4/6.

Running on Karma The big winners at the 23rd Hong Kong Film Awards: Running on Karma was named best film and its lead, Andy Lau, won best actor. But that's not all, really. Cecilia Cheung, who appears in the film, won best actress, albeit for her role in Lost in Time, while director Johnnie To won, too - but for directing PTU. And Twins Effect took six awards, all in the sort of categories that make an inspired film a well-made one.

Jim Knipfel stares at a big fat pile of DVDs: "They'd come from different and unconnected sources; I had nothing to do with what arrived in the mail. It was a chance gathering of titles, yet they were all linked in some way. This excited me more than it should have." Also in the New York Press:

  • Hiroshi: "Got the new Jim Carrey flick, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's a DivX, but I've seen it in many other flavors, including mpeg and XviD. It looks and sounds great, only slightly grainy looking at full screen. Very watchable. If you want it, it's available in all the places you think it should be."

  • Armond White: "Pure entertainment like Shaolin Soccer is an endangered species. By 'pure' I don't mean goody-goody pomposity but a point of view unsullied by the nihilistic taste that has become the new sentimentality of hipsters and video geeks... As directed by horror film specialist Guillermo Del Toro, Hellboy gives off the stench of mediocrity, not sulfur."

  • Matt Zoller Seitz: "I believe that after 20 years of making movies, the Coens still don't get the acclaim they deserve." (The cinetrix would disagree ferociously, by the way.)

  • Mark Ames: "Big worked because most American men never really grow up - at least not until they've had their first stroke. Women, on the other hand, wake up to something awful by the age of 30."

Over at Filmmaker, Steve Gallagher passes along an alarmed word of warning from Jonathan Robinson, director of Every Child is Born a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas: The FCC is cracking down on PBS.

Also: Scott Macaulay recalls a performance by David Byrne, sort of a way way in to let you know he's looking forward to eight films or so.

A desk clerk in Amman: "Muslims are going to see it much more than Christians because they want to see the truth of how Jesus was tortured by the Jews." For Salon, Michelle Goldberg finds out how The Passion of the Christ is playing in the Arab world.

In indieWIRE, Ryan Mottesheard has a fine long talk with Kim Ki-Duk, Eugene Hernandez notes that things are going well for Margaret Cho's next concert film ("I named it 'Revolution' because we really need one right now") and Brian Brooks snaps shots at the post-"Evening with Sofia Coppola" party.

Matt Langdon employs a bit of simple logic to determine who the real film snobs are.

"Spinach cinema." Via Metaphilm.

I Vitelloni

Doug Cummings: "If I had to choose one aesthetic movement in film that I find the most personally invigorating, it would likely be neorealism."

Sharon Waxman profiles Ryan Gosling in the New York Times.

At Movie City News, Leonard Klady reviews The Alamo, "a rare instance where an American epic movie has dealt with the past in an intelligent and entertaining manner and with craft, insight and humor. It has the air of verisimilitude and its filmmakers pull off a deft sleight of hand in creating a heartfelt flag waver that doesn't stint in its observations of the folly of war."

"Is it about anything other than being cool?" Introducing "The Kill Bill Connection," a series at the ICA in London that includes The Doll Squad, Lady Snowblood, Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 and Thriller: En Grym Film, Steve Rose ponders Tarantino's attraction to these films and what he's done with them in his own. Related news item: "Quentin Tarantino has been talking up an animated prequel to Kill Bill and the prospect of a live action sequel to the samurai two-parter." (He also evidently wants to remake Casino Royale as Pierce Brosnan's last Bond film; which could very well answer Rose's question, as well as the one he really meant to ask, namely, What's cooler than bein' cool? Oh, and the Vega brothers movie may still be on...)

Also in the Guardian:

Grimm the Clown

Music DVD sales doubled last year, so there is hope for Folk Music of the Sahara: Among the Tuareg of Libya, reviewed in this week's Village Voice by Geeta Dayal. Also:

Online viewing tip, via Chuck's Blogumentary, Ralph Nader sings.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:09 PM | Comments (1)

April 5, 2004

Books and shorts.

The Essential Neruda "We are so close! We are now only two months and $26,750 away from getting the film to a 'rough cut' which we can present to distributors for the final funds." Sounds urgent, but also doable. The project at hand is ˇNeruda! ˇPresente!, directed by Mark Eisner, who's also edited a collection of English translations of the poems, The Essential Neruda, just out from City Lights. What's more:

Famed Chilean author Isabel Allende will narrate the story. She is fully committed to this project and will play an integral role in the movie's development. When Pinochet installed his military dictatorship in 1973, Isabel fled her country carrying only two books. One was Eduardo Galeano's classic political history, Open Veins of Latin America. The other was a book of Neruda's poems.

It was a bookish weekend. AO Scott didn't just go see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he went armed with a review copy of Stanley Cavell's Cities of Words:

[W]hether or not Mr. Kaufman has read Dr. Cavell, his latest movie confirms - and extends - the philosopher's notion that what is at stake in a certain kind of romantic comedy is also at stake in the strain of thought he calls "moral perfectionism."

To paraphrase (and, heaven knows, to simplify), moral perfectionism is the idea not that we can become flawlessly good, but rather that we can, by a combination of self-knowledge, luck and grace, get ourselves right and be true to those we love.

As Scott mentions, Eternal Sunshine brought Cavell to David Edelstein's mind as well.

Colin MacCabe's Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70 has come up around here an awful lot, but Gilberto Perez's essay in the London Review of Books is a little less than half about the book itself; the rest is an engaging, personal take on the films.

Definitely worth mentioning as well is Nicholas Lehmann's review in the New Yorker of Paul Starr's The Creation of the Media: The Political Origins of Mass Communications: "Starr, who has a practical acquaintance with the subject as co-founder of the liberal monthly The American Prospect... has roamed through a vast scholarly literature to produce a history that stretches from 1600 to 1941."

Nathan Lee's piece in the New York Times on "the fourth - and arguably best - screen incarnation of [Patricia Highsmith's] enigmatic antihero," Tom Ripley, is a sturdy bridge to news that's got more to do with film than books: "Whatever game was being played with a commercial release [of Ripley's Game], the outcome is that everybody lost - the audience above all." But of course, we do have the DVD. Anyway, also in the NYT

  • Stuart Klawans on Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic.
  • Frank Bruni reports on HBO's collaboration with the BBC to make Rome, a $75 million 12-parter set in the ancient world.
  • Alessandra Stanley on the Jesus docs coming up on TV this week.
  • In a piece on Stephen Chow, Dave Kehr quotes former director of the Hong Kong Film Festival, Roger Garcia: "I can't name any other actors in Hong Kong who are able to make the films they star in and control them. He's at the top of the heap."

George Carlin talks to Salon's Chuck Taylor about censorship in Ashcroft's America: "From dirty language to political speech doesn't seem so far of a leap once you get people used to the idea that a government body can do this."

Cities of Words Rob Nelson in Mother Jones: "Traveling by train, motor home, and car from New York City to Los Angeles, his trusty digital video camera in tow, Minneapolis-based filmmaker mark Wojahn stopped to ask more than 500 people of both genders, all colors, and every economic station, 'What do you think America needs?'" That's half the review right there, by the way, but it's a good excuse to point to What America Needs.

Aparita Bhandari in the Toronto Star: "[T]he Bollywood blockbuster is gradually losing its monopoly on the movie industry. A new genre is emerging that is more reality-focused and shot on much smaller budgets."

Our foreign language pointers this week, courtesy of Perlentaucher: First, "Fanny Ardant, 55 anni, in questa intervista esclusiva a L'espresso," with Giacomo Leso posing the questions. Then, Mikael Krogerus in NZZ Folio on a very tough film school in Poland.

"A collusion between Carradine and Tarantino has the air of inevitability." Nick Compton meets "The Legend," David Carradine, and has a nice long chat. Also in the Independent, word from Terry Kirby that both Pink and Renée Zellweger are slated to play Janis Joplin in duelling biopics.

Now that Terrence Malick has abandoned Che, Steven Soderbergh has stepped in to take over the project.

"Minear: Wonderfalls Felled."

"'I said to Laurel [Legler] and David [Thomas] all along, their journey has so paralleled that of the MC5,' says [Rob] Tyner's widow Becky. 'Now we're at the breakup of the MC5. The bully tactics, the pressure. It's almost cosmic.'" Susan Whitall reports in the Detroit News on why the film MC5: A True Testimonial has been halted on the eve of its release. Former band member Wayne Kramer explains his highly unpopular move.

The Hollywood Democrats are rallying behind Kerry, report Dan Glaister and Julian Borger. Also in the Guardian and Observer:

And finally, to wrap on a literary note, Neil Labute has another one of those uplifting, feel-good-about-yourself-and-the-world short stories of his in Nerve.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM

April 2, 2004

Shorts, 4/2.

Akerman: Bordering on Fiction Artforum loves a good excuse to slip something about the cinema into nearly each issue, and for April, the Centre Pompidou has provided the perfect excuse, a retrospective of films, videos and installations by Chantal Akerman. Here she is, saying lots to Miriam Rosen and to us, even while protesting that she can't:

You have to be very, very calm. When I edit, when I sense that I'm at the quarter mark or halfway through the film, I begin to screen it for myself, with my editor, Claire Atherton, with whom I've worked for years—almost by osmosis. We close the curtains, take the phones off the hook, and try to have a floating gaze, as an analyst might call it. And we say, "That's it!" Why? It's inexplicable. And that's why it's difficult for me to talk about it.

Also at the Centre Pompidou: "Did You Say 'Bollywood'?"

Today the "Green" in "GreenCine" is for envy. Though, of course, Greg Allen has actually earned the right to schmooze, whereas we... are still working on it: More from An Evening With Sofia Coppola.

The Atlantic is running Peter Ustinov's 1966 Albanian travelogue.

"I can't believe he's in there doing to my bathroom what he's done to the economy!" Ba-da-boom. That's Whoopi Goldberg's sitcom character expressing her displeasure at President W's use of her facilities in Jim Rutenberg's piece in the New York Times on how Hollywood writers and producers are daring just a little bit more to criticize the current administration.

"Some of the brightest and bravest work staged by modern French film-makers has its roots in British soil," argues Ryan Gilbey in the Independent. "Now, more than at any time since the late 1950s and 1960s and the dynamic beginnings of Free Cinema and the French New Wave, the two countries that Truffaut considered so incompatible have experienced a creative convergence." Also:

Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright and the other voices behind The Simpsons are striking for higher pay, reports Matt Born in the Telegraph.

The Guardian's Monster package ought to be pretty complete now. Having interviewed Patty Jenkins and Christina Ricci, they've now got Charlize Theron on the cover of the Friday Review. Also:

To wrap on an upbeat note on this Friday, Cindy Pearlman in the Chicago Sun-Times: "'He'd do a cartwheel over it and be very happy. I think the energy of souls reach out and touch us mentally,' Dan Aykroyd told GLARE. He was talking about his friend John Belushi, who was posthumously given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April Fools' Day."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:25 AM

April 1, 2004

Shorts, 4/1.

"Primer was the most exciting first feature by a US director at [Sundance] since Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko in 2001," writes Amy Taubin in her first "Art & Industry" column for Film Comment. "Heady is the word for the film, which doesn't yield its narrative in a single viewing. But even more compelling than the time-warped storyline is the way, visually, every shot has the surprise and intensity of a new idea." What follows is an interview with the filmmaker, Shane Carruth, 31, and evidently, very, very sharp.

Primer

Primer

Rouge updates: Yvette Biro's piece on Tsai Ming-liang now includes a discussion of Goodbye Dragon Inn; added to the Raúl Ruiz filmography: Palomita Blanca (a brief interview with Ruiz) and Responso (Adrian Martin). And there's a new book out: Raúl Ruiz: Images of Passage.

Greg Allen and Gawker look back on An Evening with Sofia Coppola.

Sharon Waxman, who wrote just yesterday in the New York Times on Paramount Pictures' plans to cut the "formulaic, B-grade thrillers" and get "back in the business of big, glitzy movies," today has a piece on what's going on at the opposite end of the scale: "A New York-based company is trying to take art-house movies to small cities around the country by relying on digital projection. The company, Emerging Pictures, has sent computer hard drives to theaters in five cities to coincide with the opening on April 1 of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC."

Scott Macaulay rounds up the latest on Charlie Kaufman's adaptation of Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly, currently with Richard Linklater attached to direct and incorporating Waking Life-style animation.

Sean Nelson may or may not have originally set out to review Hellboy, but he only gets around to the film itself in what's turned out to be a solid case: "Why Hollywood Can't Make Good Superhero Movies." As for Hellboy, you might turn to John Patterson's review in the LA Weekly

Plasticians discuss Shakuntala Santhiran's piece in Focus Asia on a potential revival of the Thai film industry.

A Good Lawyer's Wife Filmbrain is moderately interested in catching Shunji Iwai's Hana and Alice, but he was rattled to the bone by Im Sang-Soo's A Good Lawyer's Wife.

Two takes at Metaphilm on Being John Malkovich: Dan Hobart (related: Out of Focus and the Plasticians on MTV's I Want a Famous Face) and Tom C Smith (related: a history of philosophy).

And the Droogies go to... Kill Bill, Uma Thurman and it's a tie for Best Actor.

Dan Glaister reports in the Guardian on duelling Napoleans.

"I know they call The Ten Commandments The Sexodus ... But my ministry was making religious movies and getting more people to read the Bible than anyone else ever has." That's Cecil B. DeMille, quoted by way of Donald Curtis in Jon Mooallem's backgrounder in Salon on the traditional Easter favorite.

There's a nice bit in that one, too, comparing DeMille and Mel Gibson as believers and marketeers; Rashomon rounds up reactions to The Passion of the Christ outside the US (e.g., the West Bank); and points to Patriot Boy's clever letter to Wal-Mart congratulating execs for their decision to refuse to stock Robert Greenwald's Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War, even as they continue to carry Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.

The Cinecultist: "Three days in and this challenge - to watch a Made For TV movie every day this week - is starting to get a little brutal."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:02 AM | Comments (2)