February 28, 2005

Online viewing tip.

Wasp Andrea Arnold's Wasp, the winner last night of the Oscar in the category "Short Film (Live Action)," can be seen in full at Channel 4's site. Real Video, a little over 24 minutes.

And definitely recommended. Some might object that placing children at risk is the easy route to snatching an audience's immediate emotional engagement, but trust me, you've rarely seen it done quite this way; and what's more, it's not dishonest, either. There seems to be a mild bit of trickery at a crucial moment towards the end, but you'll be hoping it actually is. Otherwise, drawing outstanding performances all around, particularly from the girls, Arnold has created a disturbing and convincing reality that, while rooted specifically in Britain, simmers on quietly in just about every ignored corner of the world.

Via a highly appreciated tip.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:08 AM

Post-show shorts (and updates).

The full list of winners and a few early notes:

Million Dollar Baby The Guardian's Xan Brooks: "A genteel-verging-on-the-tedious Academy Awards saves its biggest shocks to the end.... First Eastwood pips Scorsese to the director award, then Million Dollar Baby adds insult to injury by being named best film.... For Scorsese it's an Oscar defeat snatched from the jaws of victory."

Rodney Welch [site]: "Look for a lot of TKO metaphors in tomorrow's headlines."

Defamer: "White trash cred expires after the first award, Hils."

The Movie Blog: "Give Rock a fairly respectable B- for his job."

Sharon Waxman and David Halbfinger:

For Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the founders and co-chairmen of Miramax who helped finance The Aviator the night was a bittersweet farewell, after a quarter-century run that racked up 249 nominations and 60 Academy Awards.

[...]

Underscoring the remoteness of this year's best picture nominees from mainstream tastes, Mr. Rock introduced a taped segment in which he interviewed mostly black moviegoers at a theater in an inner-city neighborhood here, asking them if they had seen movies nominated for best picture. None of them had. Asked if they had seen White Chicks a comedy starring two of the Wayans brothers, they said yes.

Also in the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley: "If only for the advertising revenue, television cannot afford to let the movie business sag, so all the networks pitch in to keep viewers tuned in - an act of self-serving generosity that falls somewhere between an Amish barn-raising and the government bailout of the S&Ls in the 1980s."

Cullen at the Hot Blog: "How seriously should we take this thing when the guy who hands out the Best Picture award takes the stage drunk?"

Update: "[I]t's weird to have Beyonce singing this French song when they have Johnny Depp's wife, an actual French pop star, right there." Monty Ashley, among the other Vidiots at TeeVee, Steve Lutz, Philip Michaels, Chris Rywalt, Lisa Schmeiser, Jason Snell and, just in time, Greg Knauss.

Another update: Cintra Wilson at Salon: "The neurotic, sphincter-clenched pacing, which was perhaps some accountant's idea of how to keep things moving, made the whole thing indigestible: kind of a cross between The Chronicles of Riddick and microwavable White Castle burgers."

David Edelstein at Slate: "Gil Cates is going to get a lot of kudos tomorrow. Fascists do make the trains run on time."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:11 AM

February 27, 2005

Pre-show shorts.

The Oscars at the Pantages In a lead editorial - no, seriously - the New York Times calls for the Academy Awards ceremony to play more like reality TV. Which, of course, would be a complete misreading of the evening's original allure if - it can only be hoped! - the editors' tongues weren't lounging lazily in their cheeks.

There's more: two op-eds, the first contributed by Michael Marmot, a prof who's studied how status affects longevity. Evidently, winners live longer. No one would want to belittle research proving that poverty is indeed detrimental to your health, but it is a surprise to learn in his piece that so much hardcore science has been devoted to the Oscars.

In the second, Conrad E Palmisano, president of the Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures, calls on the Academy to meet with reps from four of the largest groups of stunt performers and start talking about a stunt category.

Producers of the show have already done some clamping down, forcing Robin Williams to cut a number poking fun at conservatives' campaign against SpongeBob SquarePants. David M Halbfinger reports.

The Magazine features two dozen photographs by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, "Great Performers" chosen by the editors for contributing something unique and unforgettable to the movies in 2004.

Also in the magazine: Going by the trailer alone, Assisted Living looks like it may well deserve the awards it's already won. But, as David Grand writes, its making raises a few disturbing issues. Did the nonactors who appear in the film under their own names - many actual nursing home residents - understand what they getting into when they took on speaking roles?

David Thomson votes for Million Dollar Baby:

I would give it best picture, best director, actor, actress and best supporting actor - and best adapted screenplay too (it is by Paul Haggis from stories in Rope Burns by F X Toole). It is best picture this year by a mile, and its tragedy is a kind of harbinger of what may be a century of tragedies for the USA. More than the country can stand without turning violently to the right? Perhaps so. But The Aviator never grasps the root of failure, and Sideways elects to be whimsical about it. Eastwood's picture knows that the failure is a given, granted the obligatory pursuit of happiness.

Also in the Independent: Jonathan Romney spends quite a while contemplating the enigma of Isabelle Huppert.

The Oscars at the Pantages Paul Lieberman's backgrounder on Martin Scorsese's career is a reminder that the Los Angeles Times special section, "The Envelope," is worth one last check.

In the Observer:

Defamer's planning to blog the show live and there'll be a gathering of commenteers at the High Sign.

Online viewing reminder. If the show doesn't put you to sleep, there's Vanity Fair's webcam afterwards.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:47 AM

Indie Spirits. Awards.

Paul Giamatti accepts Pretty much a Sideways sweep at the 20th Independent Spirit Awards. The film nabbed one out of three awards to be had: Best Feature, Director, Screenplay, Male Lead, Supporting Female and Supporting Male. Scan the full list at IFP or head straight to indieWIRE, where Eugene Hernandez sets the scene and notes the quotables of the afternoon ceremony.

David Poland, who's happy for Paul Giamatti, notes that "every single category that had an Oscar nominee in it was won by the Oscar nominee." Already, he's eliciting quite a string of comments.

Meanwhile, the cinetrix forges on at the pace of what basically amounts to three columns a day over at Bravo and they all read like dessert. It's been a long, hard awards season, so carry on treating yourself through Monday.

Update: Aaron Dobbs saw every film nominated and explains in well-thought-through detail how he voted in each category and why.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:09 AM | Comments (1)

February 26, 2005

Weekend shorts.

Don't Look Now Jonathan Letham kicks off Nerve's special Film Issue with the provocatively titled piece, "Donald Sutherland's Buttocks, or, Sex in the Movies for People Who Have Sex":

This, to put it bluntly, is what I want.... films that install themselves... in my sexual imagination, by making me feel that sex is a part of life, a real and prosaic and reproducible fact in the lives of the characters, as it is in my own life, and at the same time makes me feel that sex is an intoxicant, a passage to elsewhere, a jolt of the extraordinary which stands entirely outside the majority of the experiences of the characters, as it stands in relation to my own experience. Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I want the paradox. I want it all.

"In recognition of Sunday's Academy Awards, The Smoking Gun offers this special tribute to Hollywood, the source of many memorable lawsuits, restraining orders, narcotics arrests, palimony beefs, divorce petitions, indictments, and other assorted paper-based entertainment."

With five Oscar nominations, it's a banner year for African Americans. For the mainstream press, J Douglas Allen-Taylor argues at Alternet, the only question that arises is, "[W]hat could black folks possibly have to be concerned about this year?... Among African Americans, however, [Jamie] Foxx's nomination stands out. And that is because Ray is a far different major-release movie than we have ever seen on American screens. In a combination of content, pace, and presentation, Ray is a black movie."

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar...

It's not every day you find an assistant professor of English expounding on the translation of Yeats's poems into Irish in a boxing movie on the Op-Ed page of the nation's premiere paper, but today is such a day: Wes Davis.

Also in the New York Times:

The Best of Youth

  • Manohla Dargis on the Oscars: "The event may be the ultimate in self-affirmation - we like ourselves, we really, really like ourselves! - but it reflects a larger conversation this otherwise publicity-driven industry does not always share with the rest of us."

  • AO Scott's utterly persuasive recommendation for The Best of Youth.

  • Lizette Alvarez profiles Sophie Okonedo, who "has been embraced [in London] as the new face of multicultural modern Britain."

Eu Su-ung chats briefly with Takeshi Kitano about Blood and Bones in the Chosun Ilbo. Via Twitch.

In the Guardian:

"Chess in the Cinema / Schach im Kino." Via Bitter Cinema.

Festivals:

Times Square Film Festival

Two more online viewing tips. The nostalgic bliss of Rappcats, Part 3. Also via Newstoday®: the finger puppetry of Lejo.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

February 25, 2005

More awards, more shorts.

Independent Spirit Awards 20 Who knew TV people could be so smart? Bravo, which'll be showing the Independent Spirit Awards ceremony tomorrow night (that is, after IFC broadcasts the oddly-scheduled show live), has made a spot-on choice for its AwardsMania blog: Let the cinetrix take it and run with it, now all the way through the morning after the Oscars. More fun than Sunday night's likely to be, for sure.

Dear Wendy Meanwhile, indieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez is in LA, talking to indie spirits behind the awards - and the parties. Also at iW: Jonny Leahan previews the mix of fact and fiction offered up at this weekend's True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri, and Brian Brooks reports that Wellspring has picked up Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier's already controversial Dear Wendy.

Even in Hollywood, awards fatigue has set in, reports Sharon Waxman. But that we knew. No, what stands out movie-wise in today's New York Times is the selection of films the critical triumvirate has chosen to review. This is supposed to be an off season for movies, but with the usual studio schlock running scarce, column inches are freed up for a Czech satire, a doc on elderly lefties, a Brazilian thriller, a "minor" Kiarostami and so on. Here's to late February!

"Flak would like to invite you to take a step back from the prestige factory with its first annual film also-ran awards, the Steak Knives... [honoring] those solid, A-for-effort films who were never considered to be in contention for top honors."

No getting around the Oscars, though:

  • Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "It's a constant wonder that, year after year, the world's slickest entertainment industry can crank out a TV show that's so often bloated and unwatchable."

  • The Telegraph's David Gritten has the numbers to prove that audiences are catching on, too - and switching off.

  • David Edelstein and Lynda Obst will be chatting each other up in Slate.

  • Ed Champion's predictions.

  • Dennis Cozzalio's.

  • The Guardian asks six critics who'll win vs who should. The whole silly thing's prettier as a double-page spread, downloadable as a PDF file. And if that's not colorful enough for you: "The Pitchers at the Oscars." And if all that's too colorful, Leo Benedictus tells the sad tales of eight who won an Oscar and then all but disappeared.

Also in the Guardian:

Jennifer Maerz in the Stranger:

The Other Hollywood

Enter Legs McNeil. The cofounder of seminal underground rag Punk magazine (which christened the genre and lifestyle) still has as his greatest legacy coauthoring the rock bible Please Kill Me - a book scoured a million times over for its details about the intersections of the early Detroit and New York punk scenes. Now McNeil has teamed up with writers Jennifer Osborne and Peter Pavia to peek into the world of cinematic sex with The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry.

[...]

Using text from firsthand interviews, federal wire taps, police reports, psychiatric records, court records, and journals, among other sources, the authors thread together five decades of illicit and erotic behavior - the composite of which is both humorous and scandalous, but overall the book paints a pretty grim portrait, albeit in a tabloid-style, Behind the Music kinda way.

Also: The "Onscreen" roundup includes Andrew Wright's review of Peter Watkins's La Commune and Sean Nelson reviews a pair of buddy pictures on DVD: Salt & Pepper and Mikey and Nicky.

Congrats to Michael Tucker and the team behind Gunner Palace for persuading the MPAA to overturn its original R rating and settle for PG-13. Movie City News has the press release.

And via MCN, Anne Thompson checks up on each of the studios' "indie" specialty units for the Hollywood Reporter.

Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei wrap up their excellent series of interviews at the Gothamist with the programmers at some of New York's finest repertory venues with a talk with Film Forum's Bruce Goldstein, also a partner at Rialto Pictures.

Exports are vital to the French film industry, but Asian and Latin American films are driving French fare out of the arthouses, reports Sheila Johnston.

Also in the Independent:

Berlinale FAZ Weekly translates Michael Althen's piece in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung celebrating the German award-winners at this year's Berlinale - and sketching once again festival director Dieter Kosslick's dilemma, that is, whether to invite stars or good films.

A better, heftier defense, one more critical of Germany's sourly critical establishment, is made in Die Zeit (and in German) by Katja Nicodemus.

Many writers have wondered in print just how much celebrity endorsements for worthy causes really help; but few have done so as well as Charlie Lee Potter in the New Statesman.

February has been Wilhelm S Wurzer month at Film-Philosophy.

Stop Smiling's DVD roundup.

Chris Gaither in the Los Angeles Times: "The days of promoting a TV show with a basic website are over. Network executives now are developing elaborate Web productions for many of their shows to create buzz, earn extra advertising dollars and, by strengthening viewer loyalty, keep ratings up."

Online viewing tip. Virginia Postrel's slide-show essay on George Hurrell.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:49 AM

Online viewing tip.

Making Little Terrorist From now until Friday at midnight EST, you can view five of the Oscar-nominated live-action and animated shorts at Salon:

Posted by dwhudson at 4:24 AM

February 24, 2005

Shorts, 2/24.

Res Res magazine's Holly Willis (see her brief intro to what's unfortunately a print-only piece on Thumbsucker in the current issue) has a must-read feature in the LA Weekly, taking stock of the current vogue for "motion graphics" or "broadcast design" and tracing its history from the credit sequences of Saul Bass and Pablo Ferro, through that of print renegade David Carson and titles designer Kyle Cooper to the more recent work of Mike Mills, Geoff McFetridge, Jeremy Blake and "small, relatively new shops such as Stardust, Colourmovie, Logan, Brand New School, Tomorrow's Brightest Minds, Blind, Traktor, twothousandstrong, Fuel, Belief, bangbangstudio and... Motion Theory.... For these new companies, the last five or so years have been an intense period of self-definition and discovery that has allowed for the freedom to re-define not only the world of commercial moving images, but the notion of work itself."

Related:

Renaissance Anyone?

Also in the LA Weekly:

  • Dave Shulman finds Tommy Chong remarkably resilient, considering all the crap he's been put through.

  • Nikki Finke previews Chris Rock's Oscar Night standup act. Related: In the New York Times, Frank Rich explains "why the people bringing you the Oscars have done everything possible to imply that Sunday's show will be so indecent that even the winner of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award may let loose with a Dick Cheney expletive."

  • Erin Aubry Kaplan on Diary of a Mad Black Woman: "It's official: The Chitlin Circuit, that modern road show of gospel plays made by black people for black people, has gone mainstream."

  • Ella Taylor on Downfall, which "assiduously shuns fresh interpretation, as if an imaginative or non-realist reading were somehow unholy or off-limits."

  • Remembering Hunter S Thompson: Finke, Marc Cooper and Steven Kotler.

Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams For Alternet, Ed Rampell talks to Donald Bogle about his new book, Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood, a history of what some have called "Harlem-wood": "When I first started writing about African Americans in the movies, I didn't have a really full sense of Black Hollywood as a place that's both mythic and real.... African Americans were really not free to live wherever they wanted to in LA. There were restrictive covenants that prevented homes from being sold to people of color. There was the East Side where blacks lived, and part of the West Side, and they kept moving further west. So, it's a real community that people had." Bogle also offers his take on this record year for Oscar-nominated African Americans.

Christopher Orr in Salon: "[Clint] Eastwood is the rare artist who has gone from being condemned as a fascist propagandist by the left to being condemned as a fascist propagandist by the right.... But while it's true that Eastwood's work, as an actor and especially as a director, has espoused a vague political philosophy - and one that has evolved over time - it has never been nearly as programmatic as either his admirers or his detractors imagine."

March in Austin? SXSW, of course. But this year, March'll also be Miike month as the Austin Film Society stages its "Bloodbath and Beyond: The Extreme Cinema of Takashi Miike" series. "With seven diverse films showing the director's fascination with the absurd, the grotesque, and recurring themes of obligation and brotherhood," writes Wells Dunbar in the Austin Chronicle, "the Alamo Drafthouse is also on board, highlighting eight of Miike's smaller features."

Also:

Aaron Dobbs introduces the fourth in a series of interviews for the Gothamist with film programmers: "Today we stay east of the East River, heading from Astoria, Queens to Fort Greene, Brooklyn and a visit to BAM and the BAMcinématek for a little chat with Florence Almozini."

At Bitter Cinema, Sean Spillane finds a "very interesting (and technical) piece on the restoration and imminent DVD release of the classic BBC productions of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass teleplays."

Film Pictorial: James Stewart and Simone Simon George Fasel remembers Simone Simon (more from Sean Spillane and the Cinecultist). Also: "The Film Comment Selects series closed yesterday with a terrific wind-up, Memories of Murder... In my judgment, the best new films that I caught in the series were all South Korean."

Which brings us to Koreanfilm.org:

  • Adam Hartzell on Kim Hong-joon's Jungle Story, a film that works if you're not expecting a generic rock movie.

  • Kyu Hyun Kim on screenwriter Kong Su-chang's directorial debut, R-Point, "an unabashedly political commentary on the suppressed history of Korean involvement in global armed conflicts, including the current entanglement in Iraq."

  • News, both very sad and very glad, via Darcy Paquet: Lee Eun-ju has committed suicide; four Korean films made between 1938 and 1941 have been rediscovered.

For the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams interviews Born Into Brothels co-director Zana Briski. Cindy Fuchs takes on the review, alongside Adams's for Godard's Notre Musique.

George Thomas on "the Sins of Vinod Pande."

Today's Tsai Ming-liang update comes via the indieWIRE Insider. The AP is reporting that he won't have The Wayward Cloud released in Taiwan if censors insist on editing it.

All Filmmaker's Steve Gallagher set out to do was alert us to the "Take No Prisoners: The Bold Vision of Kira Muratova" series at the Walter Reade in New York; but the entry turned into quite a story.

Oscars:

Oscar

  • Elbert Ventura for the New Republic: "The problem, of course, isn't that the Oscars are meaningless - we already knew that. The problem is that they matter."

  • "The Envelope" collects all related coverage in the Los Angeles Times.

  • "Awards Watch" at Movie City News.

  • The Guardian's special section and its two quizzes.

  • jp at low culture: "And the best actor who overcame career embarrassment is..."

Speaking of which. Jeffrey Wells anticipates the maturation of two careers: Ben Affleck and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Palladio is "an interactive movie about lust, greed, art and advertising" by composer Ben Neill and media artist Bill Jones adapted from Jonathan Dee's book and experienceable on March 4 and 5 at Symphony Space in New York.

Online viewing tip. ZZalger0n's "10 Ways to Install a Better Dad."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:10 PM | Comments (2)

February 23, 2005

Oscars and shorts.

Two cars, one night "[A]lthough it has been years since I've watched the Oscar broadcast, these two categories do reveal unexpected pleasures." Doug Cummings reviews a batch of nominated shorts, both live and animated: Gopher Broke, Birthday Boy, Ryan, Two cars, one night, Little Terrorist, 7:35 in the morning and Wasp.

Jim Walsh has been looking for an epiphany at the movies. Follow the quest in the City Pages. Also: Rob Nelson's "sequel to a remake," a chat with himself about the Oscars, and Matthew Wilder on Sidney Lumet: "What took him so long to walk down the Oscar aisle? Answer: He made too many movies."

Another excerpt from that Vanity Fair coffee table book, Oscar Night, this time from Dominick Dunne, who recalls the parties all the way back to his first in 1955.

Cheryl Eddy and Kimberly Chun present a "curmudgeon's guide to the Academy Award nominees" in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Also:

Days of Being Wild

Even indieWIRE's got Oscar commentary going on. Anthony Kaufman surveys the foreign entries and surmises: "Internationalism will be scarce in 2005: this Sunday's Oscar show will be as American as apple pie and Million Dollar Baby. That last-minute over-rated Hollywood entry in the contest not only sabotaged an easy sweep for The Aviator, but also killed off the best chances for a number of smaller flicks that should have garnered accolades."

Also: Brian Brooks reports that the Berlinale competitor many assumed would be the least likely to find a distributor for North America and the UK, Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now, has done just that.

In the New York Observer, Sheelah Kolhatkar writes up a quick profile of David Halbfinger, the reporter replacing Bernard Weinraub on the Hollywood beat ("ground zero in terms of writing about America," says Halbfinger) for the New York Times, a beat he'll share with Sharon Waxman. Exhibit A: Waxman and Halbfinger file a piece together today on how, before the Weinsteins leave Disney for good, they'll likely be flushing 22 movies out of their system and onto screens.

The end of Miramax as we know it is evidently a story it takes two to tackle. For the NYO, Jake Brooks and Anna Schneider-Mayerson present a piece far richer in detail, though exactly what'll happen to the films in the works, not to mention the dwindling number of current employees, remains a mystery.

Aaron Dobbs: "For day three of film programmer week at the Gothamist Interview we head across the East River to Astoria, Queens where those brave enough to leave the isle of Manhattan have the ability to visit the Museum of the Moving Image, formerly known as the American Museum of the Moving Image." Mr. David Schwartz.

Born Into Brothels Ray Pride at Movie City News: "In this catch-all February column, a lot on childhood and childishness, including Born Into Brothels, Nobody Knows, Constantine, Imaginary Heroes, Sky Blue, Son of the Mask, In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger, Bride and Prejudice, Vodka Lemon, Bad Guy and Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. Plus: an elegy for A Love Song for Bobby Long and a few notes on Diego Lerman's tasty Argentinean road movie, Suddenly, out on DVD."

George Fasel:

The revivals at the Film Comment Selects film series have been as spotty as the new films: Sam Fuller's two war films, Fixed Bayonets (1951) and The Steel Helmet (1950) are interesting in their fashion but not up to his best work; Le Pont du nord (my reactions here had its moments but not enough of them; Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) is an acknowledged work of satirical genius; and I couldn't squeeze in Barbet Schroeder's Mistress (1973) so can't offer an opinion.  But in the middle of all this is Alain Tanner's La Salamandre (1971), a joyous Swiss comedy (brought you up short, that bit, didn't it?).

Even after its restoration, Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate still can't get a clean break, writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Guardian. Not only was its DVD release botched, but a doc about its original unmaking, Michael Epstein's Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate, is being held to the festival circuit because "MGM is also charging Epstein such exorbitant rates for using Heaven's Gate clips that he can't afford to license them." Click the title, then "Download Katalog" for a four-page PDF file on the doc.

Lisa Lutz spent a decade of her life writing and rewriting a comedy that eventually premiered on September 11, 2001. And of course, disappeared immediately. "It is, however, available in Bulgaria and Vietnam." She tells her story in Salon.

Sean Spillane at Bitter Cinema: "Lost among the obituaries of the past week was the passing of 85 year old Irish actor Dan O'Herlihy."

"Why Save TiVo?" asks Steve Rosenbaum.

"Tags + Video = Bliss (Anarchy)." Chuck Olsen explains.

Don't click here unless you want to know every single little thing that happens in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. "Happens," of course, being a term used in its broadest sense. Via Jason Kottke, who's making a very brave move we should all support if we can.

Online viewing tip. "The Virile Man." Via Wiley Wiggins.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:36 AM

February 22, 2005

Shorts, 2/22.

Roszak: Flicker Darren Aronofsky is busily adapting Theodore Roszak's novel, Flicker; at Flickhead, Ray Young gives us a taste of what we might have to look forward to.

You may remember Jonathan Marlow describing the films of Owen Land as "the most promising discovery" of this year's festival in Rotterdam. In springerin, Christian Höller examines the work: "'The period before the after' undoubtedly describes the peculiarity of the filmic moment, which, as a free-floating, imaginary signifier, is already over at the very moment when it is captured. And this moment is one that structural film - and Owen Land as one of its initiators - has explored with consummate rigour, right down to the structure and substantial nature of its material."

Matt Clayfield: "It is telling... that Akira Kurosawa should be so drawn to the circle as a model for narrative structure in his films, particularly in regards to Seven Samurai (1954) , which is at once both his finest work and a perfectly realised treatise on the tragically cyclical nature of man's existence in the universe."

Geoff Pingree on Pedro Almodóvar in Cineaste: "While Bad Education may be his most intimately playful and privately self-conscious movie, it is also perhaps his most politically relevant." Also: Robert Sklar on Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate: "If you're going to tell a story about nasty, bad people scheming to take over the country, don't you have to consider that nasty, bad capitalists don't need to take over the country, they already own and run it - whoever happens to be President?"

How could I have missed this in the Berlinale wrap-up? David Lowery looks back on the highlights from the POV of a highly active participant in the Talent Campus. In words and pictures.

Another major oversight: Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay on The Beat My Heart Skipped, The Wayward Cloud, Tickets and what might have been his favorite, The Late Mitterand.

Also at or via Filmmaker: the New Directors / New Films lineup; Steve Gallagher on All About Lily Chou-Chou, "one of the most stylistically innovative and haunting films I have seen in quite some time"; Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei's interview at Gothamist with Film Comment editor-at-large and Walter Reade Theater / Film Society of Lincoln Center assistant director of programming Kent Jones.

But wait, there's more: Aaron and Lily's very next interview is with Lawrence Kardish, senior curator at MoMA's Department of Film and Media.

They Came From Within For the Journal of Religion & Film, Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare reviews Caelum Vatnsdal's They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema.

KinoShock, now also known as the Open Film Festival of CIS Countries and Baltic States, has turned 13, offering Gul'nara Abikeyeva an opportunity to assess the national cinemas of the former Soviet Republics and "the formal cultural unity of former Soviet space" in KinoKultura.

With major studios paying overdue attention to the burgeoning Latin American market, Perla Ciuk examines Warners' production contract with Alfonso Cuarón.

Also in the New York Times:

  • Michael Janofsky: "In a hotly contested awards race this season, several Hollywood companies have found themselves walking a tightrope, as they seek attention for films that are tightly wound around difficult social issues without alienating parties to the debate or seeming to exploit human suffering for the sake of a prize."

  • Alix Browne on Ridley Scott's perfume ad, "part of a burgeoning genre of cinema - the superlong commercial as short film."

  • Miramax and Disney: At long last, the end may be nigh, reports Laura M Holson. More from Claudia Eller and Lorenza Muñoz in the Los Angeles Times.

  • Sharon Waxman on the big gay marriage episode of The Simpsons.

The American Astronaut Michael Tully recommends watching The American Astronaut, catching a related live event and exploring the work of a few people responsible for it all.

Via Matt Dentler: Bryan Poyser and Jacob Vaughn, the director and producer, respectively, of Dear Pillow, are blogging and prepping for the Independent Spirit Awards.

JG Ballard on David Thomson's The Whole Equation:

Hollywood, a cluster of metal sheds in the shabbier suburbs of Los Angeles, itself a suburb of nowhere, has created what is virtually the first religion devoted solely to entertaining its congregation. Hollywood has taught us how to behave when falling in love, standing up for our beliefs, defending our families and seeking a better life. Most of us, mysteriously, have accepted its guiding hand, in countless ways of which we're largely unaware.

Also in the Observer:

Judy Bachrach talks to Michael Moore about the challenges of making Sicko. Also in Vanity Fair: Editor Graydon Carter tells the story - his story - of the VF Party in an excerpt from Oscar Night, and snapshots snapped the day of Annie Leibovitz's shoot for the cover of this month's Hollywood issue.

At Movie City News, Emanuel Levy asks, "How good are Oscar-winning movies, artistically?" And via MCN, Steve Meacham in the Age tours the world Peter Jackson's built: "Some Kiwi wags are calling it 'the other Jackson's Neverland.'"

In the New Yorker, Daniel Radosh reminds us that it's not quite a billion people who'll be watching Sunday night.

Morgan Spurlock goes LA all the way.

Newsweek's Devin Gordon chats with Eric Idle and Mike Nichols about Spamalot:

Gordon: I'm surprised to hear that you're still fiddling with the show. Are you dissatisfied with the standing ovations you've been getting?

Idle: Yes. We want them to be flying ovations. [Nichols laughs] We want actual liftoff. It's not good enough for them to be standing and screaming.

Nichols: It's not. It's vulgar.

Also: David Ansen on Gunner Palace: "There are sights in Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's eye-opening documentary that will confirm and confound both right and left."

Brandchannel presents its 2004 Product Placement Awards. Congrats to Apple for its Lifetime Achievement Award for Product Placement.

Steve Erickson in Gay City News: "[Agnès] Varda's last feature, The Gleaners and I, celebrated the French art of scavenging for discarded but useful objects. With Cinévardaphoto, she has combed through her own work, creating a discourse whose impact grows as it progresses."

Tsai Ming-liang To what extent is Tsai Ming-Liang's 25-minute The Skywalk is Gone a precursor to The Wayward Cloud? That's not a question Darren Hughes addresses directly, but his thoughts on the short film as it relates to What Time Is It There? and Goodbye, Dragon Inn suggest a few ways into the feature.

At the Harvard Film Archive from March 2 through May 9: Visions from the South: Korean Cinema 1960 - 2005."

The way Adam Hartzell describes Kim Hong-joon's ongoing video essay My Korean Cinema, it sounds like an intriguing Korean counterpart to Scorsese's My Voyage to Italy or A Personal Journey Through American Movies.

For Outlook India, Labonita Ghosh visits the set of Aparna Sen's 15, Park Avenue, a complex, many-layered drama in English about a schizophrenic woman and her troubled relationship with her family... currently being shot in Bhutan and Calcutta." Also: Sauma Roy on Indian Idol.

Also via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau": Salonaz Sami talks to screenwriter Wahid Hamed about adapting Alaa El-Aswani's novel, The Yaqoubian Building for the screen: "'I started reading - and instantly I fell in love.' To Hamed the novel tackles a very important theme: 'the discrepancy between the way people pretend to live their lives and the reality of how they live them'."

George Fasel on Bertolucci's La Commare Secca and Rivette's Le Pont du nord.

Salon's Downfall double feature: Andrew O'Hehir's review and Ida Hattemer-Higgins's interview with Rochus Misch, Hitler's bodyguard, courier and telephone operator from 1940 to 1945.

For the Independent, it's a Kevin Bacon double: David Thomson consideration of who the man might actually be and Liese Spencer's interview. Also: Simmy Richman meets Samuel L Jackson.

Dennis Cozzalio: "[Manohla] Dargis's writing has really become, for me, one of the high points of American film criticism, and her levelheaded [Sidney] Lumet piece is just one more reason why." Also: "DVD Commentaries You Should Actually Hear."

In Kamera, Colin Odell and Michelle le Blanc look back to Bergman's 1954 comedy, A Lesson in Love.

In the Village Voice:

Up and Down

In the New York Press:

Vince Keenan's found a new way to measure the passage of time.

Only barely film-related but juicy fun nonetheless: Apprentice-of-Nothing Greg Allen's tussle with the Christo generation.

Online viewing tip #1. Greg Gilpatrick's great, great, great video for Marbles' "Magic." There are excursions into 3D, but overall, this is the most elegant of flat space since the classic video for Prince's "Sign o' the Times."

we jam econo Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for the Minutemen movie, we jam econo, via the cinetrix, who also lets out news that Liz Penn has returned.

Online viewing tip #3. The video for Viva Voce's "Alive With Pleasure," via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tips, dozens of 'em, via Twitch:

Posted by dwhudson at 4:04 PM | Comments (4)

Wrapping the Berlinale.

Berlinale Before drawing attention to a few of the highlights of this year's Berlinale in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis maps its spot in the festival circuit: "Less glittering than Cannes, more relevant than Venice and considerably less Hollywood than Toronto, this is a film festival where history and politics do more than just converge on-screen at a comfortable remove; it is where movies sometimes come uncomfortably alive, with stories that blur the boundaries between the world on-screen and that outside the theater."

At indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez lists those award-winners once again; Zsolt Gyenge has a brief chat with Ken Loach and Abbas Kiarostami; and Dee Jefferson meets Ghosts director Christian Petzold.

Filmbrain still has mixed, albeit mostly frustrated, feelings about that one.

Sven Semmler's picked three personal favorites: Kakushiken oni no tsume (The Hidden Blade), Sekai no Owari (World's End / Girl Friend) and Riyuu (The Motive).

The Movie Review Query Engine has a page set up to collect reviews of the films that screened in Competition; so far, though, besides those for the American films, very few reviews have been gathered.

Nearly every major German paper has, by now, run a summing up. Opinions vary, but overall, there's a sense that, while everyone's still wild about festival director Dieter Kosslick, with this, his fourth run, the honeymoon is finally beginning to wane. The old frustrations about what sort of festival the Berlinale is supposed to be are coming back: Critics want to see a more politically and cinematically challenging selection of films in the Competition; sponsors and Chamber of Commerce-types want to see more stars (one sponsor even put this demand into words: "Glanz statt Substanz," "glamour over substance").

Kosslick forges ahead along an impossible tightrope, offering, on the one hand, Paradise Now and The Wayward Cloud, and on the other, in order to draw Cate Blanchett and Will Smith to Berlin, The Life Aquatic and Hitch. Short of a radical and very risky rethink, there may be no way out of this dilemma. When the grumbling dies down, though, I can only hope that it becomes clearer what all Kosslick has achieved in these few short years outside of the Competition programming trap: The Talent Campus, with its hundreds of burgeoning filmmakers from around the world mingling with the experienced and the lauded; the World Cinema Fund, steering worthy but otherwise hopeless projects towards realization; and, granted, thanks in no small part to the American Film Market's schedule shift, an exploding European Film Market.

Berlinale

Meantime, for those who either read German or care enough to run a page or two through Google:

And for those still in Berlin, Thomas Groh points to a series of films screened in the Forum section that will be shown again at the Kino Arsenal all this week.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:57 AM

February 21, 2005

Sight & Sound. March 05.

Sight & Sound: March 05 Kevin Conroy Scott has been meeting and chatting with Wes Anderson off and on over the past few years; here, he places The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou within the context of Anderson's previous films.

Asuman Suner considers Fatih Akin's Head-On, "not an easy film to pin down. Audiences seem to find it deeply disturbing, perhaps because it draws on cultural tropes that co-exist in an eclectic and volatile disorder."

Reviews:

  • Leslie Felperin on Kinsey: "For all the film's celebration of experiment and diversity - a biological certainty that Kinsey comes to understand through his study of the gall wasp - this is actually a very pro-couples, if not pro-monogamy, movie."

  • Ben Walters on The Machinist: "Given the crucial question of how much of the mise en scène originates in Trevor's paranoid imagination, it's tempting to surmise that he's simply watched too many films."

  • Roger Clarke on Tropical Malady, "a work of outstanding originality and power that comes nearer to the condition of the quest and the dream-state than any film in recent years."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:27 AM

Hunter S. Thompson, 1939 - 2005.

Hunter S Thompson
Hunter S Thompson, the "gonzo journalist" himself and acclaimed author of the The Rum Diary and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, has fatally shot himself. He was 67.

Jeremy Harrison.

Hunter S Thompson's best books, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, were, more than Tom Wolfe's or anyone else's, the best gauges of the pulse of those times. To pick them up and open them today is to still feel the heartbeat.

Allen Barra in Salon.

We all knew Hunter could go any day. What I expected was a headline like this: "Gonzo journalist shot by police after consuming hundreds of hits of LSD and attempting to paint murals on Aspen police cars" or something cool and strange like that. I guess I wanted an Easy Rider-type ending... a martyr who fought to the end.

Lono.

Presidential politics is a vicious business, even for rich white men, and anybody who gets into it should be prepared to grapple with the meanest of the mean. The White House has never been seized by timid warriors. There are no rules, and the roadside is littered with wreckage. That is why they call it the passing lane. Just ask any candidate who ever ran against George Bush - Al Gore, Ann Richards, John McCain - all of them ambushed and vanquished by lies and dirty tricks. And all of them still whining about it.

[...]

The genetically vicious nature of presidential campaigns in America is too obvious to argue with, but some people call it fun, and I am one of them. Election Day - especially a presidential election - is always a wild and terrifying time for politics junkies, and I am one of those, too. We look forward to major election days like sex addicts look forward to orgies. We are slaves to it.

Hunter S Thompson, covering the 2004 presidential campaign for Rolling Stone.

For more articles, pix, etc., by and about HST, see Christine Othitis Bennett's site, The Great Thompson Hunt; Bohemian Ink; and Salon's special section, which includes audio files of the 2000 Paris Review interview.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:39 AM

Sandra Dee, 1942 - 2005.

Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin
Actress Sandra Dee, the blonde beauty who attracted a large teen audience in the 1960s... died Sunday. She was 62.

Bob Thomas for the AP.

Ms Dee was probably best remembered for her portrayal of Gidget, a tomboyish California teenager who discovered the joys of surfing and boys in Paul Wendkos's 1959 film of the same name. The bright, chirpy Ms Dee defined a new kind of natural, sun-soaked innocence that America, and much of the rest of the world, quickly embraced as the radiantly healthy, outdoorsy essence of Southern California living.

In 1960 she married the singer Bobby Darin, her costar in the 1961 romantic comedy Come September, after a whirlwind courtship. The story of her marriage to Darin, whom she divorced in 1967 and who himself died in 1973 at the age of 37, was chronicled in Kevin Spacey's recent theatrical film Beyond the Sea, in which Mr Spacey played Darin and Ms Dee was played by Kate Bosworth.

Dave Kehr in the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:33 AM

John Raitt, 1917 - 2005.

John Raitt, the lyric baritone who created Broadway history as Billy Bigelow in the original production of Carousel in 1945 and Sid Sorokin in The Pajama Game a decade later, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88.... Mr Raitt retained a voice both sweet and powerful into his 80s and collaborated with his daughter, the singer Bonnie Raitt, on the road and in television specials.

Richard Severo in the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:31 AM

February 20, 2005

Synoptique. 7.

Vivre sa vie The new issue of one of the best-designed online film journals, Synoptique, is up and shot through from beginning to end with the memory of Susan Sontag. Designer Adam Rosadiuk has based the concept for this issue on the notes, underlinings and such that readers have left in library copies of her books: "[M]arginalia are the ruins of when a text made sense, before doubt and complication pushed the reader back to the text all over again."

Thirteen writers responded to Colin Burnett's call to "elaborate the importance of Susan Sontag to the study of film," among them, Adrian Martin, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Robert Sklar.

Craig Seligman's Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me leaves Catherine Russell almost bitterly unimpressed: "Yes, both women took the cinema seriously and provided foundational texts for its serious study, but Seligman is no help in assessing what their contribution really was. Perhaps there is another book yet to be written about these two remarkable writers, maybe by a writer who can leave his own persona at the door and stop worrying who he likes better, and if, because he really likes Kael better, that makes him slightly stupid."

And there are three new entries in Synoptique's marvelous Style Gallery, three new clips, each introduced by a quote from one of Sontag's essays. Three editors and William Beard, professor of Film/Media Studies at the University of Alberta, conduct a wide-ranging discussion sparked by the Gallery.

Synoptique 7

Students of Martin Lefebvre's graduate seminar on the problem of interpretation at Concordia University in Montreal present what Burnett calls "a Synoptique-style tribute" to Renoir's French Cancan on its 50th anniversary.

Also:

Posted by dwhudson at 10:14 AM | Comments (1)

February 19, 2005

Weekend shorts.

Nicholas Ray This summer, a two-disc special edition DVD of Rebel Without a Cause will be released, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the iconic death of James Dean. "Rebel still seems to be James Dean's show, but, in fact, it was the movie's director, Nicholas Ray, who was the real rebel behind the film," writes Sam Kashner in his robust profile of the director for Vanity Fair. "His fourth wife and widow, Susan Schwartz Ray, 53, wrote in her introduction to his collected lectures, I Was Interrupted: 'What was all the fuss about Dean when Dean was so clearly - to me anyway - aping Nick?'"

More on Dean, though, from Sean Macaulay in the London Times.

"Something that is just as important to me as the film, which is 72 minutes long, is that I'm also doing a 60-minute slide show." Crispin Glover tells the Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov what we can look forward to at SXSW. Also: Raoul Hernandez on Criterion's releases of two DVDs each for Jules Dassin and Jacques Becker.

Via a comment posted to Filmbrain's initial reaction to The Wayward Cloud, Andrew Huang's interview with Tsai Ming-liang for Taiwan News.

The Globe and Mail's Gayle MacDonald talks to Eva Ziemsen about her nearly completed short doc, A Conversation with Lars von Trier. Also, via the IFC Blog: John Adams interviews Agnès Varda.

Downfall With Alan Riding's mid-point review of the Berlinale on Wednesday focusing on Sophie Scholl and Fateless, AO Scott's review of Downfall and Julie Salamon's report on the controversy that film stirred up in Germany, the Second World War echoes all up and down the Movies section of the New York Times.

Also:

One of the last magazines you'd expect to run an Oscar special might be the New Republic. But there it is. And on the other side of the Atlantic, even the New Statesman's Mark Kermode weighs in.

David Poland says what needs to be said about this whole Chris Rock thing. Bravo.

More awards, via the cinetrix: the Box Office Prophets' Calvins and Nerve's.

The Sun When Aleksandr Sokurov was making The Sun, Nick Holdsworth paid him a visit and learned, among other things, what that fourth film in his power tetralogy will be: "a multi-cultural, multi-lingual extravaganza set in Vienna based around Goethe's Faust and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus."

Also in the Telegraph:

In the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum compares two films with plain messages to deliver about intolerance, Bob Shallcross's Uncle Nino and Wayne Wang's Because of Winn-Dixie.

With four films currently addressing the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Michela Wrong, author of I Didn't Do It For You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation, assesses the current political climate. Plus: Xan Brooks meets Don Cheadle.

Also in the Guardian:

"Winter's always the best time for little movies." Looks like Andrew O'Hehir's "Beyond the Muliplex" column in Salon really has returned with regularity.

Among the many things going on at Twitch:

Sin City

The Economist wonders how Bob Iger might run Disney; meanwhile, for Salon, Arianna Huffington reads DisneyWar.

In the Independent:

Godard's Masculine Feminine has Tom Hall wondering, "Where are the ideas in current cinema? Much like the public’s move to reality television programs, seemingly all critical thinking about social, political, and economic ideas has been shoved into the realm of non-fiction filmmaking."

Doug Cummings on Behrooz Afkhami's Gavkhouni (The River's End).

Matthew Ross at Filmmaker receives "an unexpected gift: On the Art of the Cinema, Kim [Jong-Il]'s absolutely bizarre treatise on good movies and revolution."

Baz Dreisinger in the Nation: "Set during Guyana's 1997 election, Thunder in Guyana is a deftly edited fusion of newssreel footage, photos and interviews with [former president of Guyana] Janet Jagan, her two children and her political allies."

Andy Klein takes measure of two rival Martin Scorsese DVD box sets for the LA CityBeat.

Turtles Can Fly David Chute: "From the opening shots of Bahman Ghobadi's visionary Turtles Can Fly - his third dramatic feature, after A Time for Drunken Horses (2000) and Marooned in Iraq (2002) - it is apparent that we are in the hands of a master." (More from Michael Tully.) Also in the LA Weekly: Ella Taylor on Constantine.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Johnanna Adorján interviews Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick and Kristina Merkner looks over a few of the German films that screened at the festival. Don't worry, both pieces are in English.

Edward Champion is back.

"Building a motion picture soundtrack from the component parts of other popular motion picture soundtracks is a great way to reward your audience for their previously exhibited good taste." Matt at low culture is certain that the "Inside Deep Throat soundtrack will, no doubt, be available in stores soon."

Online browsing tip. Newspaper ads for drive-in movie theaters in Wisconsin. Really. Via Rashomon.

Online listening tip. Stylus Magazine's MP3 blog, the Stypod, offers clips from the soundtracks for Dario Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plummage (Ennio Morricone), Lucio Fulci's Zombie (Fabio Frizzi) and Argento's Suspiria (Goblin). Via Bitter Cinema.

Online viewing tip #1. Estonian television commercials. Via the SF IndieBlog, which is chock full of great stuff: Michael Skurko takes Kumakiri Kazuyoshi around San Francisco, the IndieFest audience and staff awards and more.

Online viewing tip #2. The Daily Show's terrific segment on bloggers, via Fimoculous.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:07 PM

Berlinale. The Bears.

U-Carmen eKhayelitsha I suspected this jury would come up with a few surprises and it certainly has. U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, Mark Dornford-May's adaptation of Bizet's opera set in a South African township, has won the Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale. I can almost hear the collective "Oops..." being muttered among quite a number of critics, myself included, who opted for something else the morning of its press screening (in my case, breakfast with visiting GreenCiners).

The Silver Bears:

On the whole, the selection is not as controversial as it might have been if, say, The Wayward Cloud had received a nod in any category, and I would like to have seen Michel Bouquet recognized in some way for his phenomenal performance in The Late Mitterand, but there you go.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:16 AM | Comments (2)

February 18, 2005

Berlin Dispatch. 6.

Now that the last of the films of the 55th Berlinale's Competition has been screened, the International Jury must be furiously deliberating - or partying, and if they are, we can be sure to see Bai Ling's bare midriff in the German papers yet again tomorrow. Either way, they'll be announcing all the Bears, Silver and Gold, tomorrow. Meantime, catching up quickly, with more notes following the jump...

Sokurov

Sokurov clarifies his position.

The soundtrack for Words in Blue (also known as Fear and Trembling in the States) features a sincere songster and his guitar, a guy who goes by the name of Christophe - that's it, just Christophe - who sounds like some remnant of late-70s European radio, and fortunately, there are no subtitled translations of his lyrics. Undoubtedly, they're laden with sickly metaphors linking love and stars and candles or what not. Pretty much wraps up all you need to know about the film. Oh, there are moments. Vincent (Sergi López) is occasionally fun to watch as a teacher at school for the deaf and dumb. Clara (Sylvie Testud) has enrolled her daughter, Anna (Camille Gautheir), there, even though she's actually physically capable of hearing and speaking. But Clara's overly protective approach to raising her has given her more than a few ticks, while Clara herself is terrified of the power of words, you see. The explanation for all this neurotic behavior, when it comes, is almost as absurd as the story's resolution.


Wes Anderson Anjelica Huston says she's seen The Life Aquatic six times now and sees something new in it each time, enough to make her revise her overall take on the film. I don't doubt it. Even as I simply kicked back and enjoyed the trip through what Huston calls "Wes World" (though the guy two seats down laughing maniacally every single line did threaten to spoil it all), I knew fairly early on that I'd want to see this again at some point. I don't have a lot to add to much of what's already been written and would pretty much agree with those who argued in the CONVERSATION last month that, while this comedy might not be one of Wes Anderson's best films, there are several passages at least that are richer than they seem at first glance. Comedies tend to be underrated like that.

The film aside, Huston, Anderson and a radiant Cate Blanchett showed for the press conference. What I find striking about Anderson these days is how open and friendly he seems compared to the half a dozen or so filmmakers Armond White has called the "American Eccentrics," which I take as a sign of confidence. He doesn't seem as driven by some fear of being found out in the way that, say - as much as I love his work - Spike Jonze does. You probably know that his next feature is an adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but what I didn't know is that he's also been considering making a documentary on Fran Lebowitz, an intriguing proposition.

As one last note on this one, I just have to chime in with Armond White's cheer: "Billmurray! Billmurray!"


I was probably not as devastated or as physically affected by The Wayward Cloud as Filmbrain was, but the film was nevertheless directly responsible for my decision to write shorts rather than reviews on Wednesday night - which is to say, "stunned" is probably a better word. And fortunately, this blog format allows me to get away with capsules rather than proper reviews, but I'm not even sure I'm ready to encapsulate. If I were, I'd find something to chew on with regard to the easiest criticism I've heard lobbed at it so far, that is, the whole sexist thing, by raising the example of Catherine Breillat - but as much as I would like to map out my own thoughts on the very different ways Breillat and Tsai Ming-liang confront the exceedingly complex and disturbing dynamics of explicit sex on film, I still need more time and distance. Not to mention re-viewings of What Time Is It There?, for which Cloud is something of a sequel, and of course, Cloud itself.

For a director whose films have so little dialogue, Tsai Ming-liang is surprisingly talkative and your online viewing (or listening) tip for this entry would be the press conference (scroll down to Wednesday) that immediately followed Cloud's world premiere; besides Tsai Ming-liang himself encouraging us to take the thoughts the film might provoke in our own directions, it's marvelous to see the serious dedication to him expressed by his actors. The press booklet, an handsome object, is also a keeper, with short prose poems by Tsai Ming-liang on each page and a shot of him lying on a white bed, on his back, his legs spread, and between them, a watermelon, sliced in half, its giant sopping red meat gaping at the camera. It was probably taken as he set up Cloud's opening scene, one of a few in which Tsai Ming-liang seems to be daring the audience to become aroused. While there are clinical and deeply sad depictions of sex in Cloud, unlike Breillat, Tsai Ming-liang also recognizes - and explores - our conflicted reactions to porn, the ways our revulsion in the face of blatant exploitation slams up against the other parts of us getting turned on, however voluntarily or involuntarily.

The balance between these two impulses slowly shifts back and forth throughout Cloud. To back up, briefly: Shiang-chyi (Chen Shiang-chyi) returns to Taiwan and happens to meet up again with Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng). "Are you still setting watches?" she asks him. That's the first and last line of dialogue between them. Wordlessly, then, they strike up their relationship again; he keeps it a secret from her that he now earns a living performing in cheap porn flicks.

He'd like to keep these two lives separate, and yet an erotic strain to their relationship flares up after all. Unplanned and, with aching resonance, in a tucked away, florescent-lit porn section of a video rental outlet. The flame that might have remained "pure" (as suggested in a scene in which they fry noodles together) is immediately tarnished by the reminder of Hsiao-kang's self-exploitation - which, it must be added, is not strictly a turn-off for Hsiao-kang, as we see most explicitly in a scene in which he looks on as one of the more degrading solo performances by a Japanese porn actress is being filmed and, privately, that is, neither for the camera nor for profit, he performs for himself alone.

Wayward Cloud, for the press

Lee Kang-sheng, producer Bruno Pesery, Tsai Ming-liang, Lu Yi-ching, Chen Shiang-chyi.

As many times as Tsai Ming-liang stresses that he's pro-eroticism and anti-porn - he considers porn an "abuse" of the body - I am disturbed by a worrying element of what you might call an anti-sex-positive note in all this; I could be wrong and, like I say, need to see the film again, right on up to its horrifically fascinating final sequence. I will go ahead and add, though, that I'd really rather do without the musical numbers. I realize they're meant to deflate romanticized notions of love and perhaps some might appreciate the breaks in the intensity of all that goes on between them, but their clunkiness, however intentional, distracts from the far better-realized scenes of what I think of as the actual film.

But this is merely scratching the surface. I have pages of notes to return to eventually (written after the screening; I don't understand note-taking during), but in the meantime, Tsai Ming-liang:

In this age of consumerism,
is there anything that can't be sold for profit?
Nothing.
Music videos, adult magazines, romantic comedies,
phone-sex services, porn films, used lingerie,
social escorts, hookers, kidneys, chest hair.
Nothing except love.
Can you buy love?
Do you still believe in love?


This Charming Girl That's a question Jeong-hae (Kim Ji-soo) might well ask herself if her friends don't ask her first. Lee Yoon-ki's debut feature, This Charming Girl, comes off at first as a small slice-of-life sort of portrait of this quiet and barely perceptibly lonely woman, but it crescendos - without ever raising its voice. Slowly at first, through a series of hand-held snippets from her daily life, playing out almost exclusively at the post office where she works and the apartment where she watches TV alone, we come to realize that Jeong-hae has issues. Security, for one, what with her locks and alarms. When she eventually sees that the kitten she rescues from the yard at the foot of her bare and imposing apartment building isn't going to fill the hole inside, she takes a step that could lead to disaster.

I'll leave it at that other than to say that, when it eventually becomes available, I'd highly recommend Charming for an evening when neither Hollywood nor standard American indie quirk will do.


The answer to the question, "So, what's The Sun about?" is promising: Following Moloch, his film about Hitler on the verge of collapse, and Taurus, a portrait of Lenin gorging on power, Sokurov presents the third in what'll eventually be a tetralogy on the nature of power and its effect on individuals who wield it, focusing this time on Emperor Hirohito during in the last days of World War II, as he decides to renounce the centuries-old Japanese tradition of holding emperors to be direct descendants of deity and to accept the unacceptable: defeat.

The first half of the film does not bode well as far as delivering on this promise is concerned. The compositions seem off-kilter, the colors murkier than usual (there are an infinite number of greenish browns but there is very little actual black and no white at all) and the editing seems clumsy. Plus, it's hard to tell where this first half-hour or hour is going or if it's actually going to go anywhere at all.

But things pick up considerably about halfway in as Hirohito stops merely talking about what he has in mind and begins to act on it. Historical figures are infamously hard to portray - the actor has to nail what we already know and then pick it all up and take it some place new - but we've seen two outstanding examples of how to go about it during this festival: Michel Bouquet as François Mitterand, and now, Issey Ogata as Hirohito, who faces far more than mere film critics in taking on the role.


The Beat That My Heart Skipped is, in a way, all about Romain Duris's performance. To the great pleasure of the audience, he doesn't simply carry the film, he drives it. Sure, there are moments when he goes over the top, but that urge is inherent to the entire project, a remake of James Toback's Fingers and, I'd argue, one of those rare remakes that surpasses the original. Roars past, headlights flashing, horn honking.

Romain Duris

Romain Duris.

Again, given the nature of the other films in this section, you might chalk up some of my enthusiasm to sheer appreciation for a movie that, at last, moves. But it's not all swishy camerawork, fast cuts, thumping soundtrack and young Scorsese banter (though it's hard not to think of De Niro's Johnny Boy, watching Duris do a little dance before whacking his next whack). When the real estate gangster decides to give his true talent as a pianist a serious shot, the film builds to, for me, one of the great scenes of the festival in which two people confront each other in major speeches, each delivered in their own languages, neither of which the other understands - and each knows this - and both experience a minor epiphany. Great stuff. I won't explain, since the less known going in, the better.


The same - the less known, the better - goes double and triple for The Accused. I worry already that a twist in the plot will spill over to a twist in the film's fortunes, and that would be a crying shame. So I'll leave it at that and instead consider The Peacock and The Accused, directorial debuts for, respectively, a renowned cinematographer and a renowned editor, the two final screenings of the Competition (and this seems to be an odd Berlinale habit, saving some of the better films for the final days when much of the high-profile press has flown out and many of the marketeers have made their quota of deals), together.

The Peacock is a series of accomplished tableaus, both narratively and pictorially. In the foreground are two brothers and a sister. One of the brothers, the little thin one, as opposed to "Fatty," narrates here and there, while the sister (Zhang Jingchu) remains front and center. Just behind them are the parents, and behind them is the town that can pride itself on nothing other than at least not having to sink to the depths this family must, due to its relentless series of shames.

That, in part, is what makes it a fascinating "double feature" with The Accused, which is all about shame and humiliation as it's dealt out in one of the more western of western societies, Denmark. Here, it's not just that shame is not shared collectively; the collective seeks to lump it all onto one individual, just as the same social mores reward individual artists or entrepreneurs for collective achievements.

Beyond this juxtaposition, though, is the contrast between what a cinematographer looks for a film to be and what an editor needs a film to be. Gu Changwei can afford handing over to the audience the task of filling in the gaps of a post-Cultural Revolution epic, while Jacob Tuesen discovers pin-pointed spots within his story that the very same audience might miss if he didn't know precisely which shot needed what for every single subordinate clause and prepositional phrase to get its due.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:20 PM | Comments (3)

February 16, 2005

Short shorts, 2/16.

The stream of reviews from the Berlinale will pick up again, but it's high time to check up on the world outside Potsdamer Platz. If only briefly. Before getting real, though, you might be interested in knowing how three different sets of critics are scoring the Competition offerings so far.

Berlinale

  • Screen International is not only presenting a review or two a day, it's also asked nine critics, most of them European, plus one American and one Israeli, to score the films. A few of those critics seem to have disappeared or are opting for screenings in parallel sections. So the margin for error here is considerable. At any rate, the top three so far seem to be Sophie Scholl, The Hidden Blade and The Late Mitterand.

  • The Berliner Zeitung is polling three of its own critics and three more locals. Paradise Now leads. (Hotel Rwanda's scoring well, too, but it's not competing.)

  • Der Tagesspiegel is checking up with six of Germany's top critics. I consider this the most interesting of the three polls, so it's doubly interesting that, so far, Ghosts leads far and away.

Which brings me to a bit of festival coverage from elsewhere:

  • Filmbrain and I may disagree about Ghosts, this morning's quick between-screening topic of conversation, but rarely have I met anyone who's not only got such an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema but also the depth, intelligence and taste to know how to apply it. If you ever get the chance to chat over a cup of coffee (or two) with Filmbrain, grab it and remind yourself to shut up now and then and listen. His Berlinale Diary: 1, 2 and 3.

  • IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez sees the awards handed out for the short films.

  • Jody K Biehl interviews Paul Rusesabagina for Spiegel Online.

  • An Italian take on the festival from Cesare Balbo in L'espresso.

  • A few quick notes from David Lowery.

Portland Film Festival Of course, the Berlinale's not the only festival underway; there's also the 28th Portland International Film Festival running through February 26. ME Russell offers a handy (and highly amusing) guide to audience etiquette: "Mr. Do and Mr. Don't go to PIFF."

Hollywood Bitchslap's Scott Weinberg is already interviewing directors with films screening at SXSW next month.

Village Voice film editor Dennis Lim looks back on Rotterdam. Also, more Germans: J Hoberman on Downfall and Edward Crouse on Schultze Gets the Blues.

George Fasel's been filing from the "Film Comment Selects" series.

Kamera's Elke de Wit reports from last month's fest in Trieste.

Doug Cummings on The House is Black.

Another Reverse Shot trio turns in its reviews for indieWIRE: Turtles Can Fly.

Terri Sutton and Rob Nelson look back to porn in the 70s for the City Pages. More from Laura Kipnis in Slate.

NP Thompson's short wintertime takes.

A rave for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black from Namrata Joshi in Outlook India.

Anna May Wong Richard Corliss's fine piece in Time on Anna May Wong dates back to January, but I've only just caught sight of it now.

New at Koreanfilm.org: Perto Bertolin on Yu Ha's Once Upon a Time in High School: Spirit of Jeet Kune Do, Kyu Hyun Kim on Choi Dong-hun's caper film The Big Swindle, and via the site, Choi Heup for the Chosun Ilbo: "The death of a Japanese film collector could yield vital clues to the whereabouts of a surviving copy of director Na Un-gyu's classic 1926 film Arirang, believed lost in the Korean War."

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Max Goldberg recommends The Take.

Jason Kottke asks David Bernal about that VW/Gene Kelly commercial. Via Greg Allen.

January Magazine presents a special 75th anniversary tribute to Dashiell Hammett and his novel, The Maltese Falcon.

Joshua Adams in Flak on Arthur Miller.

The New York Post's Paul Tharp reports that Elvis Mitchell is now scouting for talent in NYC for Columbia. The cinetrix points to more, much more from Jake Brooks in the New York Observer.

By now, you'll have seen the New York Times's whopping Oscar package.

Oh, and the Baftas.

Online browsing tip. Egyptian movie posters. Via Bitter Cinema.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:40 PM

February 15, 2005

Berlin Dispatch. 5.

Berlinale Before catching up with another day at the Berlinale, two other sources of full coverage need to be mentioned. Contributors to the English-language magazine Exberliner are blogging daily from the festival; and thanks to a hook-up with with the festival's Talent Campus, indieWIRE is able to supplement its own coverage with reports from the Talent Press.

Meanwhile, a quick rundown of the day at the Competition and then more after the jump:

The Hidden Blade

Like The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade is based on selected tales from the popular historical fiction writer Shuhei Fujisawa. Once again, we're in the mid-19th century, the colors are subdued (yet subtly gorgeous) and the samurai warriors are coming to terms with their suddenly fallen status and shrunken incomes. For all the similarities to Twilight - and it's hardly surprising that Yamada and his producers would return to the world Fujisawa conjures, considering the tremendous box office success of Twilight in Japan as well as the Oscar nomination - there are certainly more than enough differences to justify Blade.

For one thing, Yamada plays up the effects of the edict from Edo demanding an embrace of certain western innovations; for the samurais, this means learning to handle guns and canons, march in formation and even pick up an English word or two. It's particularly through these scenes that Yamada adds a healthy dollop of humor, some of it even bordering on slapstick. At the same time - action fans beware - there is even less actual swordplay in Blade than in Twilight. Much less. We see Munezo Katagiri (marvelously played by Masatoshi Nagase) learn two swift moves, the "Devil's Claw," and of course, the "Hidden Blade," and then, he just might get a chance to use them. Once. That's it.

But obviously, swordplay is not the point here. Via the overarching love story and a bit of political intrigue towards the end, what we're offered is a window, occasionally frosted, onto a fascinating world undergoing irreversible changes.


As Ghosts opens, Nina (the worryingly fragile yet somehow haunting Julia Hummer, probably best known among German cinema fans as Jeanne in Petzold's Die innere Sicherheit [The State I Am In]) is picking up garbage in the giant park in the center of Berlin. This is evidently some sort of public services program, and later, we learn that Nina must be some sort of problem child, having been passed along from one pair of foster parents to the next.

Gespenster

There in the park, she sees a young woman being attacked; walks over to her. This is Toni, furiously (and winningly) played with clenched fists by Sabine Timoteo, and she doesn't have much to say about what's just happened to her. Even more than Nina, she's completely immersed in the immediate present, with seemingly no memory of any past, even that of just a few minutes ago, and no foresight or even desire for foresight into the future (though she does have a plan to catapult her life to the next level, namely, to be cast in what's probably some sort of reality show about girlfriends). Unlike Nina, she's in perpetual overdrive, most of it spent on getting herself out of the mess at hand she's created. When the girlfriend Toni was planning to audition with falls out of the picture, she taps Nina to fill her place. And since Nina's convinced that Toni is, quite literally, the girl of her dreams, she follows.

Meanwhile. A French couple of few words and many long pauses drives through the city listening to classical recordings (they have excellent taste, by the way) or haunts their hotel room. Pierre (Aurélien Recoing) is trying to ease Françoise (Marianne Basler) back into social life, but she's determined to carry on her quest for the daughter who was stolen from them in a supermarket fifteen years ago. When she spots Nina, she's convinced she's her long-lost Marie.

Nina is the only plane on which these two stories meet and she seems torn between two very iffy possible lives: with Toni as her lover or with François as her mother. But this outline barely does justice to Petzold's delicately unconventional approach to these stories (the second one inspired by his reading the Brothers Grimm tale, "The Shroud," to his daughter; a woman sees her dead child who tells her she cannot move on to the next world until she ceases her mourning). This is a film in which, at any given moment, it seems like not much is happening, really, and yet, not only is each scene engaging in multi-faceted ways, there's an odd suspense to the whole as well. It is a film on European time, not Robert McKee's.


I'm beginning to think that, having read and seen so many treatments of the rise and fall of the Third Reich, World War II and the Holocaust, I may have become overly harsh on films addressing this period that don't show me something new or reveal a unique aspect or argument that hasn't been considered a dozen times before. As Holocaust films go, Fateless is not exactly bad by any means. If you're looking to introduce a young person to history's darkest chapter, you could do a lot worse than Fateless (starting with Life is Beautiful), but you could also do better (Shoah might be a bit much all at once - or not - but in general, a doc is surely a healthier choice than any fictionalized retelling).

Fateless

Based on the book by Imre Kertész, who also wrote the screenplay, Fateless tells the story of Gyuri Koves, a teenaged Hungarian Jew who's ordered off a bus, led to an area where a hundred or so other local Jews have been rounded up, very few of them aware of what lies ahead, the trains, the camps, the deterioration to the point that he's presumed dead, the gradual recovery and return.

The film's strengths: Kertész's passages read as voice-over narration; the specifically Hungarian point-of-view, and remarkably, within that narrowish angle, the clashes between Hungarian Jews who differ considerably when it comes to the question of what it means to be a Jew; the liberation itself is especially poignant in that, because we're experiencing this through Gyuri and because he's so close to death by this point, we're not sure when it actually happens. Without any tangible turning point, things simply start to get better, albeit slowly. And then, at the end, the reminder that, for survivors, returning home meant facing a wall of misconception, misunderstanding and even resentment from those who'd experienced an entirely different set of hardships - and for Hungarian and other eastern European Jews, an almost immediate confrontation with another form of persecution from the Soviets.

For all these plus points, the film's problems are a bit more essential. Pathos does not need to be underscored by Ennio Morricone. In the same vein, director Koltai, an accomplished cinematographer who's worked extensively with István Szabó, has Gyula Pados manning the camera here. Following the overlong opening in Budapest bathed in oranges and sepia, colors are sapped out for the actual core of the film in the camps, leaving black, white, green and hint of flesh tones. This overly aestheticized approach reaches its apotheosis in one shot burned in my own mind now of a prisoner, sihouetted against a barbed wire fence, the rain splashing on the mud at his feet, the sky behind him a dark and murky soup of greens and grays. And piercing it is a slice of bright orange, the low sun. It's beautiful. But I'm sorry, there's something just plain wrong, even offensive, about a beautiful shot of Buchenwald.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:14 PM

February 14, 2005

Berlin Dispatch. 4.

With four Berlinale films to cover, let me give a rundown of quick personal takes and then elaborate after the jump.

Sophie Scholl

tip: Julia Jentsch

In the days leading up to this weekend's premiere of Sophie Scholl, Julia Jentsch's face was all over town - magazine covers, longish profiles in all the papers and, of course, on posters for the film. She'll turn just 27 later this week, but she's already made quite a name for herself on stage; a few years ago, she started slipping into TV roles, and then came the breakthrough in Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei (The Edukators), which, last summer, became the first German-language film to screen at Cannes in years and went on to become a relative hit when released domestically.

If both she and the film were American, critics would be talking about a well-calculated run for an Oscar. It's the sort of film that appears equipped with a ready-built shield against overly cynical criticism. Here's why: Sophie Scholl, her brother, Hans, and a handful of other students at the university in Munich formed a resistance group that wrote, printed up and distributed leaflets arguing that Hitler's war was insane and would result in bloody defeat for Germany. In February 1943, she and Hans were caught in the act, arrested, and with Christoph Probst, put on "trial," sentenced to death and executed, all within six days.

As Rothemund put it after the screening, the first generation after the war didn't want to talk about her and the second generation made her and the group icons; example: their story was adapted as Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose) by Michael Verhoeven in 1982. In his late 30s, Rothemund feels he's now part of a third generation eager to learn more about this chapter in German history without quite so much emotional baggage.

The first problem to mention and get out of the way is the score - the thumping contemporary beats driving the scene in which Sophie and Hans scramble to get the piles of leaflets in the halls of the university just don't work. The second and more important problem is a bit more complex. Today, I saw a poster for the film; the distributor's added a note to it: Screenings for schools can be arranged. I thought, well, exactly. The heart of the film is the interrogation by the Gestapo officer Robert Mohr (Alexander Held).

There's certainly nothing wrong with a film that's mostly talk, especially when one or more lives depend on its outcome, but since nearly all of this dialogue comes straight from the newly uncovered protocols, what we learn that's actually new is that so many of the arguments we've heard over and over between the human voice of ruthless authority and the courageous voice of the resistance to it were actually being made as the conflict was originally unfolding. But: Like I say, we've heard all this. There is a dramatic arc: Faced with a mounting threat, Sophie finds it within herself to see the farce through to its inevitably tragic end. But while Rothemund may have studied the protocols relentlessly, he seems to have overlooked the countless films dealing with the Third Reich that would have alerted him to a need for a fresh telling of the story.

As for Jentsch, she remains steadfastly true to her concept of the character: collected, innocent yet hardly naive, only showing fear and vulnerability out of the eyesight of the Nazis, strong. Oddly, there is not a lot of range on display here; Held is luckier, playing a man who struggles with a broader palette of inner conflicts. Fortunately, he makes the best of it, too.


Paradise Now Aside from the fact that Palestinians are extraordinarily rare lead characters in any film, there doesn't seem to be much of anything that sets Saïd (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) apart from anyone else in the West Bank town of Nablus. They work in a car repair shop, drink tea, listen to music; Saïd may have a thing for Suha (Lubna Azabal, seen just the other day in Changing Times), the daughter of a famous martyr who definitely has a thing for him, but Saïd seems reluctant to acknowledge any budding feelings either way.

And then we learn that Saïd and Khaled's day has come. They are to strap explosives onto their bodies, dress as settlers, go to Tel Aviv and blow themselves up. They've evidently known this day was coming all along; we (assuming we haven't already read about the advance controversy sparked by the film that would "a human face to the suicide bombers") had no idea.

What follows are the preparations, somehow more fascinating than chilling, though, of course, there's that, too. The short pep talk from the underground leader; the final meal, consciously echoing Da Vince's The Last Supper; the bathing; there's even a jolting moment or two of humor as Khaled bids his final angry farewells to a video camera. By this point, we've come to know these two guys pretty well. Khaled is the clown of the pair; Saïd, magnetically underplayed by Nashef, is the enigma with issues.

Like a well-planned heist, the day presses on. They know the sequence of events like clockwork; we, who don't, shudder but can't help looking on. And then, the moment the heist is botched: Saïd and Khaled are separated. The operation is called off, but Saïd is missing. Who will stop him before he either carries on alone or blows the cover of the whole network - or both? But that's only for starters. Each of the two men undergo a reexamination of their motives, their lives, and along the way, though Abu-Assad never gives his unequivocal endorsement of their original decision, his fiery anger bleeds through: If it weren't for the Occupation, none of this would be happening - that's the argument with which no one in the world of the film disagrees, despite all the quibbling about whether or not such gruesome sacrifice and murder is indeed the only option.

Clearly, the film is not going to have an easy road from here. Even the making of it was, to put it mildly, difficult. Abu-Assad decided to shoot on 35mm rather than digital video, meaning the crew was huge and highly conspicuous. Various Israelis and Palestinians alike were deeply suspicious of the project and threw roadblocks in the team's way at every turn. Not to mention all the shooting and rocket fire that's been part of daily life on the West Bank until only the last few days. But as Abu-Assad stresses, twenty years from now, this particular swath of events will be history, which is why it was necessary to boil the story down to essential moral questions. The film's power comes from its use of cinematic rather than verbal language to pose them.


François Mitterand, the late French president, must have been one helluva talker. If Robert Mohr's interrogation of Sophie Scholl has the dusty air of a textbook about it, Mitterand's erudite courtship, in a way, of a young writer during his final days lives, breathes and enthralls. The writer actually exists: Georges-Marc Benamou was, like Antoine Moreau (Jalil Lespert) in the film, a journalist called by the President (an astounding Michel Bouquet) to help him shape his memoirs. Frustrated with what Mitterand gave him, or rather, didn't give him to work with, the resulting book, on which The Late Mitterand is based, is a willfully semi-fictional account.

The Late Mitterand

The thing is, by this point in his life and presidency, Mitterand knew he was dying. He could forge his way through to the end of his last term, but the question of what the man who kept the European dream of humane socialism alive through fallout of inhumane communism's collapse and a period of burgeoning hypercapitalist globalization had done during the crucial years of the Vichy government during the Nazi occupation was clouding his legacy. Hence, the call to the potentially mandible young journalist. Whom he aims to win over with carefully measured doses of access and less carefully dolloped measures of charm. The degree to which Antoine will end up playing along is the ostensible dramaturgical turning point, but really, it isn't. All you want to return to Bouquet's President (the actual name is rarely mentioned, to great effect) talking, talking as action or reaction to this or that given situation (a birthday dinner, a bath and so on) until... like the real Mitterand, the President and his film overstays their welcome. By about half an hour or so.


Olmi's opening sequence for Tickets is neither here nor there, neither on the train or off. An old professor daydreams about the secretary who's arranged his train trip from somewhere in northern Europe, presumably, to Rome, and the overall effect is that of a 70s-era art-house item from an old European master who broke rules and gained a reputation a few decades before and is now striving to map out a spot for himself. In other words, there's a musty Zabriskie Point feel about it, only many, many years on, with a laptop and such to make it contemporary.

Abbas Kiarostami Fortunately, Kiarostami's sequence kicks in with its humorous confrontation over a mobile phone, the haggling over whose seat is whose, lingering portraits for which Kiarostami reveals an almost Fellini-esque fascination (the characters in his sequence, too, speak Italian), and a few shots, one in particular, he holds and holds and holds, though they never grow old. "Fans," he said at the press conference, may find this entry disconcerting, what with its relatively fast pace and all, but he found making it an enormously instructive experience.

Loach, in his depiction of Scottish supermarket employees heading down to watch their beloved Celtics play a game, has not only unwittingly made Tickets an obvious double bill with One Day in Europe; he's also given the overall project its most winning argument for wider distribution.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:15 PM

February 12, 2005

Berlin Dispatch. 3.

One Day in Europe One day in Europe indeed. Those following the Berlinale competition began the day in Ravenna, Italy, as portrayed in Stefano Mordini's Provincia meccanica (Smalltown, Italy), dropped in on the French family of André Téchiné's Les temps qui changent (Changing Times) in Tangiers and flew to four European cities via Hannes Stöhr's delightful comedy, One Day in Europe.

Stefano Mordini, whose background is in documentaries, has said he's drawn inspiration from John Cassavetes for his first feature, which is admirable and all, but Provincia is certainly no Shadows. Whatever he's taken from Cassavetes, it's not a driving desire (or maybe simply the ability) to probe his characters to discover what makes them tick or what ticks them off. For Mordini, simply looking at things through his handheld camera seems fascinating enough; as a result, long shots of Ravenna's factories at night - yes, very pretty - come off not as breaks in any dramatic tension, since there rarely is any, but as filler.

Weirdly, looking back on the film after the credits have rolled, one realizes a lot has actually happened, though it never felt like it as it was actually happening. The set up is loaded with potential: Marco (Stefano Accorsi) and Silvia Valentina Cervi) are raising their two kids the only way they're able to; they live for the moment and don't see much reason to worry about getting the kids to school, keeping house, that sort of thing. The kids love it; Silvia's mother and the local social worker don't. The inevitable conflict wrecks havoc in a series of unpredictable ways, and all in all, the film seems better in retrospect than it does while watching it.

Changing Times Téchiné also uses a handheld camera, but he and his cast have many more years experience making films, and it shows. Téchiné's got his reasons for making this film lighter on its feet than others of his have been; Changing Times, he says, "is about disorder in people's lives. The center is always moving," and he wanted to "get as close as possible to what was moving the characters." And they are: Antoine (Gérard Depardieu), Cécile (Catherine Deneuve), her husband, Nathan (Gilbert Melki), her son, Samy (Malik Zidi) and his current flame, Nadia (Lubna Azabal, who also plays her own twin, the more conservative and religiously dedicated Aicha).

Thirty years ago, Antoine and Cécile were lovers. She's moved on (obviously), but he hasn't. Even so, you couldn't quite claim that his sudden reappearance in her life is a catalyst for change since Cécile and the constellation of friends and family around her - as well as the city she lives in - are in constant flux to begin with. Underscoring Téchiné's emphasis on change is an odd little stylistic departure of a minute or so, an effects-laden sequence of cranes and bulldozers digging up and moving earth around, and in the background throughout, we see reminders of two ongoing migrations: European corporations into northern Africa and African laborers hoping to emigrate, legally or not, into Europe.

It's lovely, too, to see Depardieu and Deneuve not only together again (a nice touch: he carries with him a photograph of the two them, actually snapped on the set of an earlier film they'd made together; at the press conference, Deneuve couldn't remember exactly which one it was, but it may have been Je vous aime), but also allowing themselves to come to terms with their age on screen so openly and honestly.

One Day in Europe is further proof that German cinema is still on a roll, that the slew of titles that did so unusually well critically and commercially in 2004 was not a fluke. Watching and thoroughly enjoying Stöhr's episodic film, it occurred to me that perhaps the greatest improvements over so many of the German films of the 90s have been in the writing department. The technical know-how required to realize a screenplay has been in place for some time; but now, for a variety of reasons, the stories are better, opening up greater potential for their telling.

At any rate, One Day works as solid popular entertainment and it's a pro-European's dream of a film. By that I mean that many of the objections to greater political unity, such as the constitution recently outlined for the EU that'll be facing various forms of ratification in many member countries over the next few years, are brought up and laughed off: the cultures are too diverse, the languages too numerous, national identities will be lost. One Day counters by embracing diversity, showing the countless (and often hilarious) ways people will always communicate whether or not they speak the same language and revealing individual national characteristics - even stereotypes - to be alive, well and a rich source of ingenuity and humor.

The four episodes each revolve around a theft, real or faked, and this is one of the film's two related flaws; setting all four stories on one day, the day of the final game to determine the European soccer champions, is a great idea - soccer's an obsession throughout the continent and probably Europe's most potent unifier - but presenting variations on the same story, no matter how different, leads to a sense of repetitiveness, and secondly, this sense is reinforced by the simple fact that the last two stories aren't as fun as the first two.

Regardless, the English woman in Moscow, the German in Istanbul, the Hungarian in Santiago de Compostela and the French couple in Berlin are put through their comic paces to the obvious pleasure of the crowd at the press screening - and film critics and journalists, at least here in Berlin, hate to admit to each other that they're enjoying themselves, so the frequent and robust laughter is noteworthy.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:30 PM

February 11, 2005

Berlin Dispatch. 2.

Paul Rusesabagina and Don Cheadle With the opening ceremonies and attendant hoopla out of the way, the second day of the Berlinale was the first full day of screenings. Those following the Competition line-up were treated to three: Mike Mills's Thumbsucker, David Mackenzie's Asylum and Terry George's Hotel Rwanda.

Because that last one isn't actually competing and is due in German theaters in April anyway, I debated about trading its time slot for a film in another section, but instead found enough excuses for satiating my curiosity (chiming in with the spirit of this year's focus on Africa, for example), and heavens, I'm glad I did.

You'll already know all about Hotel Rwanda, so I won't dwell on the film itself other than to say, still shaken as I am, that I agree with the gist of Charles Taylor's review in Salon, particularly when he writes, "It's as good a political melodrama as anyone has made since Z.... It's also the kind of movie that, because it does not advance 'the art of the film' (God help us), may be ignored by some critics who prize aestheticism above all else." He touches there on a possible reason it's not competing, too; the Bears will be handed out, for better or worse, based on such considerations and the cinematic language of Hotel Rwanda is simply too plainspoken to go looking for awards on the festival circuit - with the hefty exception of its two lead performances. I'll reiterate what everyone right on up to the Academy has already agreed on: Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, the conscientious hotel manager who stumbles into his role as the last bastion of courage and decency in a country gone mad, and Sophie Okonedo, as his wife, Tatiana, are both in complete command as their characters whiplash between fear and joy, shock and disappointment, loss and relief and all points in between.

The big surprise at the press conference was that Paul Rusesabagina himself appeared along with George, Cheadle, Okonedo and producer Alex Kitman Ho. Yes, it was "strange, exciting, moving," to see this chapter of his life up on the screen, and all in all, the film is "90 percent truth." It's like ordering a good steak, he offered; you get the steak, yes, but a good chef will season it to bring out its true qualities.

More importantly, he emphasized the film's relevancy to the current situation in Darfur, where he and Cheadle have recently traveled in an effort to raise awareness that 70,000 have already been killed and yet the UN is still debating over whether or not to call this mass, systematic murder "genocide." But he's learned not to count on the international community to come to the rescue. Before the Rwandan genocide, he was so confident that the peace agreement that had just been signed would be honored, and if not, that the UN would intervene, that he flew from Belgium with his entire family back to the hotel in Kigali, which, of course, he'd never have done if he'd had the slightest suspicion that the world would leave 800,000 Tutsis to their fates. "I have completely changed," he said. "I'm a different person. I do not trust anyone anymore."

At the same time, both he and George insist that the film is not a two-hour "J'accuse!" There is no single party at which the film is aimed like a silver bullet. George reminded the hundred or so unusually attentive journalists on hand that the 800,000 were slaughtered one by one. There could be three or four hundred thousand perpetrators in all, caught up in a fever fed by the local media (especially radio). And as for the West, it's difficult to blame entire nations for inaction if they're ignorant of ongoing crimes; awareness has to come first, and it's that conviction that in part sparked the making of the film in the first place.


Natasha Richardson Asylum is a handsome psychological melodrama, in a way; screenwriter Patrick Marber (Closer) might have found a better generic classification for it, calling it a "romantic tragedy." Based on the novel by Patrick McGrath, what we have here is another period piece from David Mackenzie, set, like Young Adam, in the 50s, though the storytelling here is a shade more conventional.

It might also be called a "tragedy of manners," since the conventions of the 50s, particularly those of the upper middle class English, no less confining than those of the well-to-do Americans of the time (see All That Heaven Allows, for example, a film that wafts to mind here and there at certain points in Asylum), contribute mightily to the misery of Stella, a housewife expected to be nothing more, played with sincere dedication by Natasha Richardson.

Her husband, Max Raphael (Hugh Bonneville, who joked at the press conference that, right at the top of his CV, it reads: "Plays losers"; his role is similar to the one he plays in the Berlinale opener, Man to Man, "only without the mustache"), is a doctor who cares about nothing other than being promoted to the soon-to-be-vacated position of director of... the asylum, which he approaches with the innocence of a Jonathan Harker riding up to Count Dracula's castle.

He's not reckoning with rival Dr. Peter Cleave, played with obvious relish by Ian McKellen. To what extent, or rather, how early in the story Cleave, who specializes in cases of hypersexual deviance, engineers Raphael's downfall remains unclear, but Stella's unquenched desires play straight into his hand. He has just the patient for her (Marton Csokas, a blocky, Antonio Banderas-type, quite convincing) and she falls in mad, obsessive love with him. Tragedy ensues. Again and again. All in all, a diverting entertainment, but little more.


Thumbsucker At some point, perhaps when irony rose to its era-defining role, was then struck down but snuck back in again through the back door, all great ideologies of the late 19th and early 20th century petered out and we were left with: We don't know what's right from wrong, what works and what doesn't, but gosh, we'll just keep on keeping on, because, hey, and so forth. It's the post-everything philosophy captured at its best and brightest in the Marx Brothers scene in Hannah and Her Sisters nearly twenty years ago.

A generation of American filmmakers has specialized in variations on the scene, and Thumbsucker, Mike Mills's bid for entry into the class of Wes Anderson et al, which might some day be referred to simply as Bill's Kids, is, like Rushmore, a serial listing of possible answers to the question, What about the children?

Mills's winning strategy is to backpeddle the quirk factor a tad (but not too much) as he follows young Justin Cobb (Lou Taylor Pucci) while he tries on various answers to another question, How shall we then live? Highlights along the way would certainly include Tilda Swinton's Audrey, i.e., Justin's mother, and a few scenes here and there in which other actors get to show off what they've dreamed up about their roughly sketched-out characters, but that's about it.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:29 PM | Comments (1)

Arthur Miller, 1915 - 2005.

Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller, a titan of American theater who wrote Death of a Salesman and was revered as a playwright who spoke for the common man, has died. He was 89.

Mark Egan for Reuters.

"I can almost always tell what the political situation is in a country when [The Crucible] is suddenly a hit there," he wrote in Timebends. "It is either a warning of tyranny on the way or a reminder of tyranny just past."

[...]

In 1956, Mr. Miller was himself called to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.... Mr. Miller was applauded in Hollywood and in New York theater circles when he refused to name names, a courageous act in an atmosphere of palpable fear.

[...]

[I]n the end Miller captured Monroe's heart and she his mind. For most of the four years of that marriage, Mr. Miller wrote almost nothing except The Misfits, composed as a gift to his wife, who found herself increasingly tormented by personal demons and drug abuse despite a deep love for her husband.

Marilyn Berger in the New York Times.
The Arthur Miller Society.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:53 PM

February 10, 2005

Short shorts, 2/10.

Joe Leydon, who's handicapping the Oscars at his own site, for the HoustonPress:

Enron

Please don't misunderstand: Alex Gibney has no great beef with capitalism. Indeed, many of his best friends back in Summit, New Jersey, are investment bankers. But when Gibney looks at the prodigious rise and precipitous fall of Enron in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, the remarkable documentary that premiered January 22 at the Sundance Film Festival, the award-winning filmmaker sees the collateral damage of an economic system dangerously out of whack.

Ernest Hardy talks to Michael Edwards about his film, Runt, screening at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, which opens today and runs through February 21.

Also in the LA Weekly: Ella Taylor on Inside Deep Throat and Nobody Knows and David Chute on Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior.

Cara Anna in Salon: "I was a Bollywood stuntwoman."

For the Austin Chronicle, Eli Kooris tracks down seven Texans in Hollywood.

At IndieWIRE:

Berlinale Der Spiegel's take on the Berlinale (in English, lots o' pix).

Big Berlinale packages in German: Die Zeit, Arte, Der Tagesspiegel, die taz and Thomas Groh is blogging ferociously.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:30 PM

Berlin Dispatch. 1.

Berlinale Palast Arriving at Potsdamer Platz this morning, the first thing I noticed is that Franka Potente's hair is red again. Not the shock of red sprinting towards orange you're thinking, but more of a slick, glistening, purplish red, and there it was, up on the giant screen erected in front of the Berlinale Palast, where most of the films in competition are screened. That's not her in that shot, by the way; I whipped out my camera only in time to catch a journalist posing the last question in a quick press conference I'd somehow missed word of: the International Jury - which, to put it politely, is not exactly overloaded with heavyweights this year - struggling to answer vague inquiries as to what they'll be looking for in the 22 films in the running (at the last minute, Fateless, cinematographer Lájos Koltai's directorial debut, based on a novel by Imre Kertész, who also wrote the screenplay, nabbed the spot suddenly vacated by Chris Terrio's Heights).

As for the opening film of the 55th Berlinale, Régis Wargnier's Man to Man, it is two seemingly contradictory things at once. On the hand, in terms of sheer filmmaking prowess, it is, if you can believe it, not up to the standards of the opening films of the two previous years, Cold Mountain (2004) and Chicago (2003). On the other hand, though, it's a far more appropriate opener for this particular festival than either.

Man-to Man It's not just that Man to Man echos the themes of this year's selection across all sections (Competition, Forum, Panarama, etc.), namely, politics and Africa (sex is rumored to be a running motif as well, but we'll see soon enough; there's certainly no sexual energy in Man to Man, at any rate). It's more that the film has "noble project" written all over it, more fitting to the serious wintertime festival as opposed to those affairs of summer by the beach, and its selection could be read as a conscious step away from the Hollywood-by-way-of-Miramax openers past (that is, if festival director Dieter Kosslick hadn't admitted that he would like to have opened with The Aviator but its German distributor was too anxious to get it in theaters in time for the Oscar nominations). Instead, this year opens with a film anxious to make a statement, and for the first hour or so, it's difficult not to worry that we're slipping into similar territory as last year's disastrous competitor, John Boorman's Country of My Skull. Here we have another European filmmaker venturing to Africa and picking up a chapter of its history to illustrate the hideous consequences of European racism. But of course, noble intentions aren't always enough.

Fortunately, Man to Man picks up after that first hour as complications kick in and the story runs along more than one thin, predictable line at once. Briefly: 1870. Three Scottish anthropologists are determined to fill in the gaps of Darwin's recently published theory of the origin of the species by discovering the "missing link" between apes and humans. Based on anthropometry, the now-discredited idea that the size and shape of the skull determines intelligence, they decide pygmies must be it. That's where our story begins: One of them, Jamie Dodd (Joseph Fiennes), captures two pygmies, a man and a woman, and even as early as the ship voyage back home, he begins to suspect that there may be more to them than most dumb animals.

Until that inevitable emotional bond takes hold, though, we're still in Skull territory: fine actors, in particular Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas as the all-business-minded shipper, struggling with stilted dialogue and Wargnier's point-blank, standardized and quaintly old-fashioned direction (it's hard, for example, not to capture the beauty of a 19th century sailing ship, yet somehow, Wargnier manages) to find their way into a world that simply isn't there in any tangible sense.

But. Once the pygmies - the only truly riveting presences on screen, played by newcomers Lomama Boseki and Cécile Bayiha - get to Scotland and escape the anthropologists' make-shift lab, things pick up considerably and we leave Skull territory for the one mapped out by, among other films, Hugh Hudson's Greystoke, where much of the drama is played out on the faces of Victorians who cannot come to terms with the true nobility of nature they've stumbled upon in their voracious conquests (and too often, its overly romanticized mystery as well), which neither their science nor their religion has prepared them for.

It's in this confrontation of extremes (and by no means is it an exaggeration, as Iain Glen, who studied up intensively for his role as the most staunchly Victorian of the three scientists, pointed out after the screening) that what Fiennes called the film's "resonance in these days of rising fundamentalism" is most plainly (albeit perhaps too plainly) illustrated. Again, noble stuff. Not great filmmaking, but there are worse ways of getting warmed up.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:56 AM | Comments (1)

February 9, 2005

Shorts, 2/9.

Baise Moi Baise moi director Virginie Despentes has been blogging (in French) and remembers the film's star, Karen Bach, who committed suicide on January 28, leaving behind only empty pill bottles and a short note to her parents: "too painful." L'espresso's Emanuela Mastropietro reconstructs (in Italian) the last months in the life of the film's star. Via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau."

"I remember more of this movie than the previous hundred movies I've seen." William Drenttel starts a long and rich thread on La Jetée at Design Observer. Via Greg Allen.

DVD Talk's Chris Tribbey joins in on a conference call with Spike Lee to talk about the new special edition Malcolm X DVD: "It's an important part of American history and it has a great actor in his greatest role." Agreed.

Democracy Now!'s tribute to Ossie Davis, who wrote and delivered the eulogy at Malcolm X's funeral; Bill Gibron's in PopMatters.

That first one is via Alternet where, for those tired of debating about which way SpongeBob squares his pants, Dana Larsen offers up a new cartoon candidate for controversy: Popeye, for whom spinach may have been a counter-cultural metaphor.

Salut Les Cubains

IndieWIRE and Reverse Shot team up to offer three takes on Agnès Varda's Cinévardaphoto.

Also:

  • iW editor Eugene Hernandez reports on Emerging Pictures' plans to "roll-out its Digital Cinema Network in 12 cities this year, offering an array of programming, including independent films and international films and other content, ranging from film festival programming, dramatic performances, and concerts."

  • Stephen Garrett on Rotterdam: "Although the top winners were worthy, commanding features, 4 being an exceptionally bold, original vision of cultural decay, and The Sky Turns impressively using cinematography to convey the passage of time, the festival itself was not as strong as in years past."

  • Brian Brooks reads the results of the iW BOT and finds Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows still going strong.

For Wired News, Daniel Terdiman discovers that 24 hours on craigslist, screening at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival this weekend and on Tuesday, reveals that your neighbors are far more interesting than you might think. And at the SF IndieBlog, Elizabeth Elson describes how she came to make a film about "ponyplay," Born in a Barn.

At Twitch, Todd interviews Yasuaki Nakajima, who's directed After the Apocalypse, also screening at the SF Indie Fest (Friday and Saturday), and rounds up "A Flurry of Thai Film Sites and Trailers."

Timeliness isn't everything. Tom Giammarco launches Korean.org's best-0f-04 page.

J Hoberman seems to have enjoyed Inside Deep Throat well enough, but his review focuses on the phenomenon of its subject: "Newly re-elected, Richard Nixon declared war on porn. What goes around comes around: The source who helped Woodward and Bernstein nail the president to his Watergate cross was named for that movie. (But he who laughs last: Was it not the dinner-table-discussable Deep Throat that ultimately enabled Bill Clinton's impeachment?)"

Masculine Feminine Hoberman revisits another historical moment on the occasion of the revived Masculine Feminine: "Not since DW Griffith was knocking out a weekly two-reeler at the Biograph studio on 14th Street had there been anything to equal the 15-feature run that Jean-Luc Godard began with Breathless (1960) and ended, still accelerating, in the cataclysm of Weekend (1967)." More from Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press.

Also in the Village Voice, where the big news this week is actually the Pazz & Jop poll:

The New York Press's Armond White on My Mother's Smile: Marco Bellocchio's "visceral cinematic wit is in full force." More from Leslie Camhi in the Voice. Also in the NYP: Saul Austerlitz's cable viewing tips.

For the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a Valentine's Day cover story from Lynn Rapoport: "[A]t the moment, we're dealing with a rash of films that present views of romantic relationships ranging from wary to pained to jaw-droppingly pessimistic, with a few pit stops at bleak along the way.... One wonders, just out of curiosity - not to say wistfully or nostalgically - where the traditional date movie has wandered off to, and what exactly is filling the vacuum." Sidebar: Cheryl Eddy's five adaptations of Pride and Prejudice "you can't live without; make it six, if you find time to sneak in a reading of the novel itself."

Also in the SFBG:

Inside Deep Throat

  • Dennis Harvey on Inside Deep Throat, which "emerges as a multileveled narrative that says a lot about American sexual attitudes then and now, while also reveling in retro-70s pop kitsch," and The Man Who Left His Will on Film.

  • Eddy on Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, "a must-see for action movie fans," and Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine.

  • A few discs worth purchasing (or renting).

Now that it's beginning to sink in that the "War on Terror," open-ended and ill-defined as it is, will likely flame on for years, perhaps decades, Hollywood is getting with the program. César G Soriano and Ann Oldenburg report for USA Today.

Variety's Nicole Laporte: "The idea that newspapers don't accept advertising for NC-17 films has been a myth for a while now, yet not all papers' decency standards are equal, as demonstrated by the New York and Los Angeles Times's approaches to Universal's Inside Deep Throat, opening Friday."

Charles McGrath's taken notes at a recent panel discussion following the New York premiere of the doc. More from Marcus Baram in the New York Observer (scroll down).

Also in the New York Times:

Umbrellas

More on porn: It's driving the take-up rate of new technologies like HD DVD and Cell TV. Gary Dretzka has details at Movie City News, where Emanuel Levy takes stock of current film criticism, which, he argues, is "more democratic and pluralistic than ever before. No single critic today dominates the scene, or commands the respect and attention, that Sarris or Kael had at their prime in the 1960s and 1970s, the golden age of American cinema-and film criticism. That said, the overall quality of criticism has never been better due to the fact that most writers are graduates of film or journalism schools and so bring a sharper sensibility and deeper sense of film history to the their reviews."

In Kamera:

Morgan Spurlock seems to be having a blast as an Oscar nominee; take a look at his snapshots from LA.

MirrorMask Ken P has a long chat with Dave McKean about MirrorMask in FilmForce. Via the IFC Blog.

In the Stranger: Bradley Steinbacher on the Ozu retrospective and Andy Spletzer's Sundance wrap-up.

The Guardian knows Tanya Gold is on a roll.

Also:

  • Dan Glaister on how the Oscar Night producers are looking to keep the show from being so damn boring.

  • Charlotte Higgins on the re-release of Deep Throat.

  • Stuart Jeffries on the pact reportedly forged between Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith in which "they would appear to be trying for a third way between monogamy and infidelity - one that involves being faithful to one's married partner while allowing a kind of extramarital sexual licence that will not be allowed to destroy the relationship. Three words: good freaking luck."

Chris Gaither in the Los Angeles Times: "Yahoo Inc., the Internet portal created a decade ago by a pair of Stanford University computer geeks, is getting serious about muscling in on the entertainment business."

Zitty: Berlinale Here come Filmbrain and David Lowery. I'm ready. If you'll be in Berlin, too, for the Berlinale, opening tomorrow and running through February 20, you might want to check out the newly opened Transition Film Lounge.

Online browsing tip. "Ray Smith's "Bullitt Locations in San Francisco: April 1968, July 2002," via Bitter Cinema; and so is Michael J Weldon's investigation into George W Bush's past career as a Hollywood mogul (sort of) for Psychotronic.

Online toy. Via Craig Phillips, the Splendidiser at the Bright Young Things site. Example: "Carleton S. Fiorina, one of the simply dashing most powerful women in corporate America, was horridly asked to resign, the horrid company declared. Ugh, how morbid!"

And then there's more 70s-era porn chic: Online viewing tip #1. PETA's rejected Super Bowl ad. Via Fimoculous, where Rex is also pointing to Andy Baio's report on leaked screeners and "The Lucky Ones," an episodic ad campaign.

Online viewing tip #2, though not really until February 27: Vanity Fair's set up an Oscar page with odds and ends; but on Oscar Night, you'll be able to goggle the stars at the magazine's party via webcam. Also: Bruce Weber shoots Javier Bardem.

Online viewing tip #3. Videos supplementing the paper "The origins of scientific cinematography and early medical applications," via Wiley Wiggins.

Online viewing tip #4. "EPIC 2014," an eight-minute sci-fi-ish pseudo-doc featuring the "Google Grid," "MSN's newsbotster" and "Googlezon," all leading up to the eponymous übermedia entity. If it sparks your curiosity, iMediaConnection's Masha Geller talks to its creators, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:27 AM

February 8, 2005

SXSW. The lineup.

Naturally, you scan the full line-up at the SXSW site, complete with blurbs on all the features in eight sections, ranging from the Narrative Competition to 'Round Midnight.

SXSW Film Festival

At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks breaks down the numbers: 40 world and US premieres, including all eight in the Narrative Competition; and all eight entries in the Documentary Competition are world premieres. All in all, a hefty list; fortunately, we have about a month to look it over. The SXSW Film Festival runs from March 11 through 19.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:44 AM | Comments (1)

Senses of Cinema. 34.

Senses of Cinema As with the new issue of Offscreen, the 34th issue of Senses of Cinema opens with thoughts on the current state of cinephilia. Co-editor Michelle Carey's thoughts, specifically, and the occasion is the fifth anniversary of one of the very best online film journals, an occasion that certainly allows for one big hunky blockquote:

On the one hand, there is more cliched writing on cinema to be found on the internet than every before and Variety-speak (fine, even amusing, in its own context) has influenced it certainly for the worse. On the other, the fact of the cyber-critics allows for a more democratic response and potentially for more interesting and braver personal examination. And it is also true that cinephiles have come to look at cinema more critically. I think we are questioning more than we did five years ago. No contemporary film, even one that appears to be universally acclaimed such as Before Sunset and Million Dollar Baby, has been left uninterrogated. Film criticism in the early years of the twenty-first century is not dominated by any particular way of looking at the world in the way that, say, the late 1960s and 1970s were highly politicised (and many film journals overtly - even militantly - so). However, good writers today appear to be more engaged with the meaning of a film or its elements than writers and scholars were in the 1990s in the heyday of the rather dry cognitive film theory approach to cinema. Today they - you - seem to respond to films more passionately, more bravely and ultimately more personally than even perhaps in the not too distant past when Senses of Cinema began.

5 more Great Directors

Again, this issue is simply too rich and ample to reproduce the entire table of contents, but it should be noted that the annual World Poll is here, nearly 100 top tens, from Acquarello's to Alex Zubatov's. And besides the usual excellent collection of features, reviews and interviews, festival reports, book reviews, the addition of five essays to the invaluable Great Directors collection and so on, there are special sections on Filipino cinema and Dutch experimental film.

With all this and the new issue of Bright Lights, it's like having two great books on film to curl up with during these final weeks of winter.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:08 AM

Offscreen. Vol 9, Issue 1.

Susan Sontag: Kunst und Antikunst Offscreen unveils a new design and an issue dedicated to "the work and spirit of Susan Sontag." For openers, Colin Burnett, with all due respect, of course, takes issue with Sontag's 1996 New York Times piece, "The Decay of Cinema," arguing that new forms of cinephilia can actually take inspiration from Sontag's own writings. And Donato Totaro points a handy example, "Against Interpretation," quoting: "We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.... The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.”

Also:

Posted by dwhudson at 1:05 AM

February 7, 2005

Shorts, 2/7.

Benjamin Smoke Chuck Tyron on Benjamin Smoke: "[W]hat I found more interesting about the film is it's treatment of Benjamin's place within an Atlanta culture that itself seems to be on the verge of being lost."

Matt Clayfield weighs the dichotomies of Vertigo.

With the DVD releasing tomorrow, indieWIRE reruns Jason Guerrasio's talk with Greg Pak about his debut feature, Robot Stories.

Over at Maud Newton's blog, Emma has news of five literary adaptations in the works. For fun, match the director and the book:

1. Liev Schreiber a. Their Eyes Were Watching God
2. Alfonso Cuarón b. The Namesake
3. Darnell Martin c. Running with Scissors
4. Mira Nair d. Everything is Illuminated
5. Ryan Murphy e. The History of Love

Like I say, just for fun.

Dennis Cozzalio, who met John Vernon on the set of Animal House, remembers the actor who died on February 1: "He infused what could have been a simple cartoon characterization with real gravitas, real arrogance, the real frustration of "the establishment" as the first hiccups of 60s rebellion began to manifest in the rebellious hi-jinks of real-life college students whom the Delta Tau Chi fraternity very closely resembled."

"Over the course of the next hour, the motion accelerated into a full battle scene: men toppling onto one another, suits ripped off, children hoisted aloft, women crying and weaving through the carnage. The music escalated. 'Mosh pit!' a child shouted." Phoebe Hogan reports on the making of Eve Sussman's Raptus.

Also in the New York Times:

  • Hilary de Vries: "How difficult is it to play a mythic figure like Gabriel as opposed to, say, a soccer mom?" Tilda Swinton: "They're exactly the same, because no one you play is 'real.'"

Raging Bull

"They were strong and brave at a time when many Negro entertainers stood on the sidelines. Ruby [Dee] and Ossie were by Malcolm’s side, they were with Dr. King in Birmingham, Selma and the March on Washington, and never worried about the negative impact it might have on their careers." Spike Lee to Roger Ebert. Also via Movie City News, Christianity Today's top ten for 2004 and, in the New York Daily News, Alev Aktar's profile of Aishwarya Rai, who's about to star in a round of US features, John Clark's chat with producer Brian Grazer about Inside Deep Throat.

Speaking of which, Dave Itzkoff catches up with Harry Reems for New York: "I'm the thread to tell the story of social change in America." Also: Logan Hill meets Alan Alda: "Hawkish Hawkeye haters name-check him as a kind of flouncy, male Jane Fonda, despite a raft of devious, even homicidal roles - many of them Republicans."

Reviewing Rebels on the Backlot for Powell's, Gerry Donaghy finds so many errors he wonders if Sharon Waxman "spent a lot of time talking to all of the players, but very little time actually watching the movies she writes about."

In the Observer:

The Graduate

  • Who was the real Mrs. Robinson? Charles Webb, author of the book which became a film, then a play and is now about to become the subject of another film, won't tell David Smith, but he's interested to see what will come of Rob Reiner's Rumor Has It.

  • Dan Glaister profiles Graham King, whose "tiny Initial Entertainment Group has amassed 17 Oscar nominations since 1995."

  • Mary Riddell: "Euthanasia is the latest box-office draw, and, like cinema popcorn, it does not come in frugal helpings."

  • With Kevin Spacey reprising his breakout role in National Anthems at the Old Vic, Matt Wolf assesses 's tenure as the theater's artistic director so far.

Jeffrey Wells on the duelling versions of HG Wells's The War of the Worlds: "The notion of a Seattle-based, hip-pocket filmmaker beating Spielberg, Cruise and Paramount Pictures to the Martian punch is, at the very least, intriguing."

Andrew Pulver's Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Name of the Rose. Also in the Guardian: An extract from Jerry Stahl's novel, I, Fatty and Alison Powell's talk with Rodney Bingenheimer.

The Independent seems to be having linkage problems at the moment, but this comes through: David Thomson considers VW's remixed "Singin' in the Rain" a "vile transgression" but also only a symptom of a deeper problem.

David Denby in the New Yorker on Downfall: "German liberals need not fear: this human Hitler is just as disgusting as the iconic one. Yet I feel a certain exasperation in writing a description of what is, finally, an extremely literal-minded production."

Daren Fonda profiles BitTorrent author Bram Cohen for Time.

Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival For Hollywood Bitchslap, Jason Whyte blurbs his picks screening at the 11th annual Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival, through the 13th. More on the vitality of the Canadian scene at SF IndieBlog.

Filmbrain highlights the Asian selections in the "Film Comment Selects" series, February 9 through 24.

At indieWIRE, Shilpa Mankikar looks ahead to San Jose's fest, Cinequest, March 2 through 13.

James Israel finally gets a chance to look back at Sundance and write up his favorites. So, too, does Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker (with a follow-up on The Squid and the Whale). Macaulay also posts an email from Barbet Schroeder, forwarded by Ted Hope: A plea for awareness of the disappearance of Libération journalist Florence Aubenas.

Cinemocracy's been billboard hunting.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for last year's collection of Digital Short Films by Three Filmmakers (Sogo Ishii, Bong Jun-ho and Yu Lik-wai), via Todd at Twitch, where Mack reminds us that the three directors for the next round are Shinya Tsukamoto, Il-gon Song and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:42 AM | Comments (1)

February 5, 2005

Rotterdam Dispatch. 5.

From Paris, Jonathan Marlow looks back on the final days of the IFFR.

Film festivals, like relationships, are characterized by compromise. For every film that you see, there are dozens more that you will not. One lesson, learned early - the best films are the ones you're not seeing. You're left with the best of what you've seen and, if you are fortunate, that best is good enough.

Innocence

Take, for instance, Innocence by second-time helmer (and Gaspar Noé cohort) Lucile Hadzihalilovic. Beautifully photographed by Benoit Debie (Irreversible) with only available light, the film is essentially a pre-teen Picnic at Hanging Rock in reverse, set in a mysterious dance school populated entirely by missing girls. Although audiences at the event were not fully enthralled with the film, I would claim that the tale is the first work of allegorical storytelling since The Prisoner to successfully tackle questions of free will and man's place in society and perhaps the best film to indirectly address a young girl's flowering since Valerie and her Week of Wonders. Indeed, there is not much of a flaw to be found in Innocence, from the performances of the thirty schoolgirls to the audio design, a mix of natural sounds put to suspenseful use and the music of Janácek, whose Cunning Little Vixen is used to great effect.

Given the location of the event, the fest often provides an opportunity to see a few things missed elsewhere. Nobody Knows, Hirokazu Kore-eda's tale of four Japanese children abandoned by their mother, loosely based on an actual incident, has made the rounds elsewhere (the Mill Valley Film Festival being only one of several places it has earlier appeared). Despite convincing acting from the child actors, the film is a relatively predictable and unecessarily long affair. Not up to Kore-eda's earlier, exceptional work... or perhaps this is merely the reaction after too many screenings in too short a time.

Café Lumière Similarly suffering is Hou Hsiao-hsien's Café Lumière. Made to celebrate the Ozu centenary, this Café follows on the heals of Millennium Mambo, suggesting a slump for this otherwise great director. Appropriate for a film inspired by Ozu, the film begins and ends wth images of trains. Asano Tadanobu (also starring in Vital) portrays a used book salesman who records the sounds of trains in his spare time. His friend, the protagonist of the picture, is a young woman researching a long-forgotten composer. With these minor plot details, little is done. Like many films in the festival (including Nobody Knows), it marks an unfortunate trend in current cinema - the lack of an ending.

While this marked the close of screenings for this personal version of IFFR 2005 (before departing for a brief retreat before the Berlinale at the appropriately named Hôtel Langlois in Paris, renamed since appearing as a location in the recent remake of Charade), it was not without some apprehension (particularly in the knowledge of criticism I'll receive from friends for skipping the closing night film, Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle).

What of the films that will not likely reach American shores? This, above all, provides the primary rationale for this festival tour. Therein, a few words about a handful of obscurities. Some little-known and some that should stay unknown. Ever wonder what happened to Czech New Wave legend Jan Nemec? He's still "working" - his latest, Landscape of My Heart, is definitely a landmark in narcissistic filmmaking. Scenes of his heart surgery are intercut with otherwise unrelated footage of Air Force One landing and departing the Prague airport (the coincidental appearance of GW in the Czech Republic on the same day as the surgery provides the slim connection). Along with disconcerting images of womens' exposed midriffs (ladies roughly fifty years or more younger than the director) and an inept "score" by the filmmaker himself, this is one experiment better forgotten.

In addition to its strong Asian programming (and its thankfully weak selection of American films), the festival is also full of French titles and, naturally, Dutch films. One such example, Het Nysterie van de Sardine (The Mystery of the Sardine) is an inexplicable tale that waits until its final minutes to make some semblence of sense, narrowly fumbling possibilities of greatness in every scene. Regardless, it presents the perfect festival experience - the regional film unlikely to be seen or heard of again.

On the Marriage Broker Joke... Finally, the most promising discovery of the festival, thanks to IFFR's unusual dedication to uncoventional films. I've read about the work of Owen Land for years on Frameworks with no opportunity to see his films myself. Formerly known as George Landow, Land's shorts combine (for sake of reference only) the visual, lyric inventiveness of Kenneth Anger with the humor of George Kuchar in slices of brilliance. His On the Marriage Broker Joke and Wide Angle Saxon are slyly self-depreciating and full of wit, providing the purest moments of enjoyment during the entire festival. I only hope that these Reverence programs find other venues and rapturous audiences on its promised tour.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:42 AM

Rotterdam Dispatch. 4.

Hannah Eaves spotlights two of the better projects just screened in Rotterdam.

Panorama Ephemera In the multiple choice personality test that is a large part of Walmart's application process, the following question/statement appears: "There is room in every corporation for a non-conformist." The correct answer is, of course, "totally disagree." The systematic reassertion of this great American principal forms the backbone of Rick Prelinger's Panorama Ephemera. Prelinger is a film archivist, and his film is comprised of 64 self-contained film sequences, ranging from five seconds to four minutes in length, all presumably taken from his archive of advertising, industrial and amateur prints. The collection is obviously edited with intent and tells a type of story about America. Between amusing set pieces, we are told that if you don't keep your home painted and your yard clean you will burn in the inevitable Hell of atomic warfare. It's all very scientific, you know, and here are three sample houses burned together by a real atomic bomb in a highly controlled test to prove it. The other real danger, other than aberrant behavior, is complacency. It is repeated over and over again in different ways that, whether a parent or a child, as soon as you let your guard down something terrible will happen. In this way Panorama Ephemera stands as perfect evidence for some of the theories presented in Adam Curtis's must see The Power of Nightmares. The two would make a brilliant, if completely terrifying, marathon of a double bill.  

Agnès Varda's latest work, Cinévardaphoto, is a collection of three short films that all examine the power of photography in storytelling, history and our own understanding. The first, Ydessa, les ours et etc..., is the only new work of the three. It takes as its subject Ydessa, a Canadian artist and curator who has amassed for exhibition over 3000 historical photos that feature, in some way or another, teddy bears. Her obsession seems to have stemmed from a family photo, and she takes as her inspiration her parents' survival of the Auschwitz internment camp. If we were left to rely on Varda's commentary alone, combined with the exhibition itself, the film would be simply wonderful. Unfortunately, Ydessa, a fascinating character to Varda, does little but spout vague Manhattan art scene rhetoric. Perhaps this would work better for a foreign audience, but to North Americans, she's likely to come off as extremely annoying.

Ulysse The second of the films, Ulysse, won a César on its original release in 1982. In it, Varda revisits a photograph she took in 1954, as well the models and time period in which it was taken. In characteristic Varda fashion, what sounds straightforward in a synopsis is full of insight and philospophy in the telling. Navel-gazing often comes off poorly in experimental filmmaking (take for an example the awful Landscape of My Heart, also at Rotterdam). Varda tackles it with a sense of humor and some genuine enthusiasm for exploration, which is what makes many of her films so delightful.

Finally, Salut les Cubains (wonderfully translated as Hi there, Cubans) is a companion piece film made for a Parisian photography exhibit that was focused on post-revolution Cuba. It was originally made in 1964 and stands in this collection untouched, which shows that Varda must have a lighthearted love for the idealism of her youth. Essentially a joyous and dated propaganda piece, Salut les Cubains tells us just as much about the hope of France's Marxist movement as it does about Cuba. There are some interesting references to local painters, writers and musicians, which help to solidify this film's true role as a time capsule for both countries.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:08 AM

Rotterdam. Awards.

That Rotterdam Tiger Though the reels will keep rolling at the 34th International Film Festival Rotterdam through tomorrow, the major awards were announced last night. Click that magic word for comments from the various juries, but for now, a quick overview:

VRPO Tiger Awards:

Special mentions: Doan Thanh Nghia and Doan Minh Phuong's Hat mua roi bao lau (Bride of Silence) and Ho Yu-hang's Sanctuary.

TV5 Tiger Cub Awards:

Interlude

Special mention: Christian Angeli's Fare bene Mikles (Being Good at Mikles).

Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema Award: Ho Yuhang's Sanctuary. This seems to have been the only film to win more than one award.

Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique Award: Whang Cheol-Mean's Frakchi (Spying Cam).

KNF Award (from the association of Dutch film critics): Pascale Breton's Illumination.

MovieZone Award ("young people's jury"): Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin.

Arte France Cinéma Awards: Five Worlds, an omnibus film from five filmmakers from around the globe, and Mahamat Saleh Haroun's Daratt (Dry Season).

Prince Claus Fund Film Grant: Paz Encina's Hamaca Paraguaya.

Amnesty International - DOEN Award: Hassan Yektapanah's Dastaneh Nataman (Story Undone).

Posted by dwhudson at 5:44 AM

MovieMaker. Winter 05.

MovieMaker As veterans of Sundance 05 have been writing since last weekend, the state of the American independent film is in flux and there may be more than a little to worry about. Perhaps it'll come as a balm to anxious minds, then, this new issue of MovieMaker, with its list of the "best American indies of the 21st century so far." Introduced by Saul Austerlitz, the list of 20 is a reminder that, for all its sometimes painful transformations and playful flirtations with Oscar, the American indie did not die with the 90s; and besides, it takes time to know what lasts.

Meantime, onward. Michelle Devereaux has some solid advice for the present and future generation of indie filmmakers: "Choose festivals that not only have proven reputations, but also meet your individual goals.... Here's a highlight reel of some hidden festival gems, along with the demographics to which they tend to cater."

Niels Mueller recounts how he got The Assassination of Richard Nixon made.

Jessica Hundley profiles actor-writer-director Mike Binder.

Tools for lighting folk, recommended by Matthew Power.

Online interviews and profiles: Jennifer M Wood with Alexander Payne's writing partner, Jim Taylor, editor Amy Duddleston and director Curtiss Clayton; Bob Fisher with cinematographer Fred Koenekamp.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:08 AM

February 4, 2005

Blogs and shorts.

Love, Ludlow "Another Sundance treasure: Adrienne Weiss's "Love, Ludlow," wrote Roger Ebert a little over a week ago. "The screenplay by David Patterson makes these characters into distinctive originals, eccentrics right on the edge of being impossible." Patterson is also the film's executive producer, and so, is understandably disappointed that no deal for the film was nailed during the fest. What now? That's what Patterson's blogging about even now.

Soon to be blogging: Oscar Night producer Gil Cates, at Oscar.com. Chris Marlowe has more for the Hollywood Reporter.

Another one: The newly launched blog for Margaret Cho's Bam Bam and Celeste.

The site that used to be known as BadAssMovieImages.com is now RareMovieImages.com and, while the question of whether or not it's a blog now is best left to others, one fresh image per day is going up. On Monday, it was Anna Karina.

Last week, the magazine HP/De Tijd asked several Dutch filmmakers whether they think Theo Van Gogh simply went too far in his critique of Islam with his film, Submission - and what his murder might mean for them. The DutchReport translates.

Via Movie City Indie:

Jeremy Blake: Winchester

For indieWIRE, Liza Bear talks to Hirokazu Kore-eda about Nobody Knows: "What I wanted to show more was children's incredible stamina and lust for life and vulnerability and complexity - that's also an aspect of children that tends not to get acknowledged. And the vividness of children is easier to see when they're completely left to their own devices." His next film: "It will be a period piece set in the Edo era, 'Hana Yorimo Naho.'"

Filmbrain's take on the film: "A thousand and one dire films could easily have been made from this premise, yet Koreeda manages to avoid every possible cliché and pitfall (and there are many) in his take on events that actually did occur back in 1988... [I]t's one that shouldn't be missed."

The Nation: SpongeBob Richard Goldstein addresses the "Cartoon Wars" in the Nation: "[Conservative James] Dobson and his kind aren't really worried about cartoons turning kids queer. Their aim is to see that homophobia is free to operate, and one way to do that is to keep children from seeing gays as part of the human community."

"Historically, nobody has hated British cinema more than British film critics - except, perhaps, British academics, British film mandarins and the editors of British film magazines. And that legacy of contempt is still shaping opinions today." This isn't simply an amusing observation from Matthew Sweet; it's a situation that's got real consequences. Also in the Independent: Elaine Lipworth interviews Anjelica Huston.

Overlooked on Wednesday, somehow, but caught via Movie City News: Jake Brooks's talk with Eugene Jarecki about Why We Fight and other notes from Sundance.

When Mike Leigh was asked who among the "up-and-coming" filmmakers he'd like to talk to, he chose Lynne Ramsay, though, as he tells her, "I suppose, you're already there." Leo Benedictus introduces the chat. Meanwhile, Charlotte Higgins reports that Leigh will have a play at the National Theatre this year.

Also in the Guardian: John Patterson on Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey's Inside Deep Throat.

Stephen Dalton profiles Steven Soderbergh for the London Times.

Last Tango in Paris "I picked it now because I had planned to be a novelist and it's probably the movie that made me want to be a director, the first one that impressed me as being as complex as a book." Tod Williams tells the Telegraph's Sheila Johnston why he'd like to talk about Last Tango in Paris. Also: David Gritten interviews Alejandro Amenábar and Paul Gent looks back to The Gold Rush.

Slate's Bryan Curtis doesn't think James Cameron's interest in the deep ocean is as real as he'd like it to be; instead, he theorizes, the fame and "newfound decency" Titanic brought him has scared him away from what he does best, which, basically, is making spectacular genre flicks. But one could just as easily speculate in the opposite direction: Having conquered Hollywood, Cameron may have decided to concentrate on what he cares about more.

Greg Allen's found a sad but undeniably funny read in Blair Erickson's tale of working with Uwe Boll on Alone in the Dark - until he and his writing partner bail.

Online viewing tip. A commercial most certainly not directed by Werner Herzog.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 PM

Ossie Davis, 1917 - 2005.

Ossie Davis
Ossie Davis, the imposing, unshakable actor who championed racial justice on stage, on screen and in real life, often in tandem with his wife, Ruby Dee, has died. He was 87.

The AP.

Among the events Ossie Davis hosted just last year are a Tribute to Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the National Memorial Day Concert.

Radio interviews with Davis and Dee: John McCluskey in 2000 and NPR's Bob Edwards in 2001.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:07 PM | Comments (2)

Bright Lights. 47.

cheesy clip art boxing gloves It's a jolt to discover an Oscar issue of Bright Lights Film Journal. Surely, it wasn't intended that way, but there they are, the two main contenders, up top and large, Tony Macklin's interview with Clint Eastwood and Paul Brand's entertaining survey of Howard Hughes's Hollywood years. And they're reviewed, too: Macklin on Million Dollar Baby and Alan Vanneman on The Aviator.

cheesy clip art airplane More hopefuls appear in the "recent cinema roundabout" as well: Megan Ratner covers Vera Drake, albeit more from the perspective of Mike Leigh's oeuvre than Imelda Staunton's. Vanneman dislikes Sideways in the most amusing of ways and isn't exactly won over by Closer, either.

Beyond that batch, we venture into the BL territory we know and love. The chunkiest piece? It comes from Andrew Grossman, your brain's enduring personal trainer and champion close reader, whose monograph-length "The Rape-Revenge Film and Queer Theory," despite its global reach from Tsui Hark to Michelle Pfeiffer, is only halfway there yet.

The punchy notes are struck by editor Gary Morris in his intro, a variation on Beckett's "I can't go on. I'll go on," only played for laughs, and in his traditional round-up, "Little Stabs of Happiness (and Horror)."

What else:

Bright Lights Film Journal

Posted by dwhudson at 1:11 AM

February 3, 2005

Shorts, 2/3.

The Hero Sundance reports are still being filed, and again, the further away from the actual festival we move, the bigger the picture. Let's start with B Ruby Rich:

This year I was a member of the Dramatic Competition jury, charged with judging 16 American feature films. Inevitably at a festival, themes emerge. This time it was underage sex.... More and more, it seems the American dramatic imagination has curtailed itself, choosing to avoid the horrific events through which we are living today.... In documentary and foreign films, it was a different story.

Also in the Guardian:

  • Archie Thomas reports on Lars von Trier's experimental group project, The Advance Party for which three filmmakers "must make three different features, all using the same actors playing the same characters. They must also shoot in digital, on location in Glasgow, in six weeks."

  • Geoffrey Macnab on Kevin Keating's Giuliani Time, "a less-than-flattering portrait of the politician famous for his 'stop and frisk', 'broken windows' and 'zero tolerance' policies."

  • The Abbey Road film festival, March 19 through April 3.

American independent film may be floundering, writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir in his "Beyond the Multiplex" column, but films from elsewhere are more than taking up the slack: "In January alone, I saw five movies made in different corners of the planet, and each one was a mind-opening experience. Each reminded me of a contradictory law of cinematic physics: The film world gets more tightly connected all the time, but it's far bigger than we usually realize."

The LA Weekly has three Sundance stories to tell:

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm

Also, Nikki Finke: "Rarely has one article caused such a commotion on both coasts as journalist Bernie Weinraub's goodbye to the Hollywood beat in The New York Times on Sunday.... [W]hat oozes from it is the gunky notion that a journalist wanted to live like the people he covered here. And he isn't alone."

Marjorie Baumgarten does the Sundance honors for the Austin Chronicle; while she hits many of the same points you'll have seen by now - the tightrope walk between the corporate and the independent, the stupid JibJab trailers and so on - she then turns to how the Austinites fared and wraps with "Film Church," in which John Pierson "railed at the industry" one day and Elvis Mitchell "devised a new 10 Commandments of Independent Film (even though he offered only six – or maybe eight)."

Also:

Meanwhile, Rotterdam rolls on through the weekend and, for indieWIRE, Stephen Garrett files a report, focussing on the series, "Post Script Homefront USA."

It's in Rotterdam, too, that Caveh Zahedi's I am a Sex Addict has just premiered; Jonathan Romney turns in a review for Screen International (evidently the reviews are freely accessible for a few days though the news remains exclusively available to subscribers): "[W]itty, self-reflexive, often painfully revealing... Despite qualms, this provocative and courageous film raises serious questions both about sexuality and about the way people narrate their lives to others." Via Movie City Indie.

John Hiscock hits the highlights of an interview with Budd Schulberg in the new issue of Vanity Fair in which he describes how Brando was more than a little reluctant to accept the role of Don Corleone in The Godfather. A sidebar notes a few other might-not-have-beens. Also in the Independent: David Usborne on celebs, and in particular, Sharon Stone who use what power they've got in all the right ways; and Ed Caesar interviews Paul Giamatti.

Madrid M11 Greg Allen has made an intriguing discovery: Madrid 11M: Todos Ibamos en Ese Tren, a collection of documentary shorts which tell 27 different stories related to the coordinated bombings that took place in the Spanish capital on March 11, 2004.

Jennifer Allen in Artforum: "What is the relationship between artists and copyright law? Liam Gillick and Philippe Parreno offer some reflections on this topic in "Briannnnnn and Ferryyyyyy," 2004, a series of short animations riffing on that old cartoon staple, the cat-and-mouse chase." Also: Tom Vanderbilt on The Yes Men.

Most of the nation, not to mention the rest of the world, hasn't had the opportunity to see several of movies nominated for various Oscars, and that's worrying the ratings-conscious Academy, reports Micheline Maynard in the New York Times.

NP Thompson sneers at the Oscar nominations and offers respite: a short interview with Catalina Sandino Moreno and Joshua Marston, star and director of Maria Full of Grace.

Bitter Cinema is back - and how.

At the SF IndieBlog: A tour diary by Simon Safranek, director of The Myth, which is all about Nick Cave and his fans.

Twitch is working on an international DVD release calendar. Set that next to Masters of Cinema's, deplete your bank account keeping up, and you'll be one well-rounded cinephile.

Online viewing tip #1. Mark Vidler's "Paperback Believer." Via Fimoculous.

Online viewing tip #2. Mary Quits, nominated for a SXSW Web Award in the Best Blog category. Via Chuck Olsen.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 PM

February 2, 2005

Shorts, 2/2.

Cinema of Outsiders So how's American independent film doing? Sundance has come and gone and with distance - a couple of days worth, anyway - comes perspective. In the Village Voice, Dennis Lim offers "three tentative diagnoses, culled from a sampling of the fiction films." Anthony Kaufman adds up the numbers: "Dollar for dollar, Sundance 2005 broke records - and broke them early." And Rob Nelson covers the docs.

Nelson's piece for the City Pages is actually a lot more amusing; while you're there, Sundance adventure and Michael Tortorello on Game Over: "[W]hat makes this documentary so involving is that Kasparov is not only human but a staunch humanist."

Wrapping Sundance at Movie City News are Emanuel Levy, who also pulls back for an establishing shot of the state of the American independent film: "My biggest disappointment with this year's Dramatic Competition is the lack of prominent new voices representing ethnic minorities and disenfranchised groups. Historically, the most important artistic and political role of indies has been in fostering the cinema of 'outsiders,' the cinema of the 'Other America.'" And Ray Pride: "While the zookeepers of culture do 'tracking' on projects in various stages of development, one of the little-commented facts of this whole film festival/indie biz is that, in effect, the filmmakers are subsidizing the film industry, working on 'spec' through the production process of creating a feature film, rather than, say, a screenplay or novel."

Dennis Harvey's take: "Genuine excitement of an artistic rather than acquisitional nature was way harder to catch than the flu." But there is hope to be found in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, namely in Cheryl Eddy's enthusiastic preview of the "multi-flavored and -textured" 7th annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival, opening tomorrow and running through February 15. Click over to the SF IndieBlog for confirmation that the buzz is simply buzzier.

Back in the Voice, J Hoberman reviews Oh! Uomo - "The underlying question, of course, is, will these sights turn people against war?" - as well as Aliens of the Deep and The Nomi Song, "better at evoking a particular bohemia than at getting inside its subject's head."

Scott Eyman reviews Steve Pond's The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards for the New York Observer: "What Theodore White was to the making of the President, Steve Pond is to Debbie Allen's choreography."

At indieWIRE, Howard Feinstein interviews Lost Embrace director Daniel Burman, Anthony Kaufman talks to Fear X director Nicholas Winding Refn and Eugene Hernandez reports that we'll have a good shot at seeing that rediscovered Gloria Swanson and Rudolf Valentino film, Beyond the Rocks; Milestone will be releasing it.

"There is a new generation emerging in Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt and the Gulf. Their cinema is all about escaping from old traditions armed only with the camera and the pen. These were the ideas that drove cinema in the 1950s, and now they are becoming a reality." Magda Wasif, author of One Hundred Years of Egyptian Cinema, interviewed by Samir Sobhi for Al-Ahram Weekly, via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau."

Doug Cummings considers Bresson's influence on "one of the key figures of the New Hindi Cinema of the late-60s and 70s," Mani Kaul.

In the New York Press:

Nobody Knows

The International Buddhist Film Festival is underway in the San Francisco Bay Area; at Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell reviews one of the films it's featuring, Chung Ji-young's Beyond the Mountain. Also: Two reasons Kim Ki-duk's 3-Iron leaves him unsatisfied.

"Ask Manohla" lives. Manohla Dargis is already back and taking questions at the New York Times:

Q. What are your thoughts about The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 being excluded from the Oscar nominations?
- William Hronis, Easton, Pa.

A. All my thoughts about the (relative) exclusion of these two wildly overexposed films are happy - I'm very, very happy that I don't have to think about them past the end of this sentence.

"What's so interesting about the ocean?" Andrew C Revkin asks James Cameron, and the man has a damn good answer: "The deep ocean has the same surface area as all the continents of the planet put together. We've got five submersibles in the world that can reach those depths.... That's like exploring all the continents of the earth with five Jeeps." And that's just one of many solid reasons for boosting basic research into a vast frontier. Cameron's been going on about this for a few years now and the response has been, to put it mildly, inadequate. Perhaps Aliens of the Deep will spark more general interest.

Also in the NYT:

  • Dave Kehr's round-up of new DVDs is particularly interesting this week because Universal's release of Ray is particularly interesting: "[P]ush one button and the film unfolds in the 152-minute form in which it played in theaters; push another, and a substantially different movie appears, incorporating 24 more minutes of material that adds considerably to the film's rhythm, dramatic depth and complex, ambivalent vision of its subject."

  • Stephen Holden: "Once you've experienced Daybreak... it's unlikely you'll forget it." (More from Melissa Anderson in the Voice). Plus: "Assisted Living may be comedy, but its images of physical frailty are inescapably unsettling."

  • Dana Stevens on the "courageous but disorganized" Freak Weather."

Via Alternet, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman talks to Danny Schlechter about his doc, WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception).

ME Russell has a long talk with James L Brooks and learns that if Brooks could just get the rights to the songs, we may yet see not only the musical version of I'll Do Anything but also a doc about his experience making it.

"I drive a car now that, when you get in it, it smells like it's going to start." Rex Pickett, who wrote the novel Sideways, talks to Oliver Burkeman about how his life's changed "a little bit" since the movie.

Vanity Fair

Also in the Guardian:

  • Tanya Gold is truly irked by Annie Leibovitz's cover shot for the March issue of Vanity Fair, calling it "an homage to the blowjob values of 1950s Hollywood."

  • Sandra Smith offers - for free! - a guide to what to say about the Oscar noms.

  • Peter Bradshaw tours London's West End: "Any fastidious qualms about adapting films into plays are groundless; my cine-snobbery has been quite upended."

In Vanity Fair itself, Jim Windolf lays the groundwork for the May release of Revenge of the Sith - darker and yet featuring more shots and more special effects per shot than all the other Stars Wars pictures - and finds George Lucas almost sounding like he's glad it'll all be over again relatively soon: "From now on, I'm going to make movies like THX that nobody wants to see, that aren't successful, and everybody will say I've lost my touch. I mean, I love doing Star Wars, and it's a fun adventure for me, but I'm ready to explore some of the things I was interested in exploring when I was in my late 20s."

Jeffrey Wells enjoys Sharon Waxman's Rebels on the Backlot.

Can't find a story in English on this, but a few German papers are reporting that Karen Bach (Baise-moi) commit suicide last week.

Groundhog Day? Sure, why not. Metaphilm's actually rounded up a fine set of appropriate ruminations.

You may have heard something about a class action suit against MGM regarding something about the aspect ratios of their DVDs and may even have hoped there's a bit of cash or a free DVD or two in it for you. Not so fast, warns Matt Langdon points to pieces in the Digital Bits and DVD File that'll lower your expectations darn quick.

How about another best-of-2004 list? Planet Bollywood's Aakash Gandhi rounds up the top 20 musical highlights.

"Why did actor Cameron Mitchell - who co-starred with Fredric March in Death of a Salesman (1951), Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry A Millionaire (1953) and Shirley Jones in Carousel (1956) - end up in Grade-Z horror movies like Frankenstein Island (1981), Demon Cop (1990) and Jack-O (1995)?" Harvey F Chartrand investigates for Horror-Wood.

Via The Crime in Your Coffee, Michael C LaBarbera's study, "The Biology of B-Movie Monsters."

"To go to the cinema in your pajamas, stretch out your feet as much as you want and snuggle down into your pillow? That's not a vision [sic] with RUF-Cinema, the first multimedia bed of the future, it's every evening's reality." Via Boing Boing.

Online viewing tip for German-speakers. A report on the RAF exhibit at the Kunst-Werke in Berlin, viewable at freshmilk.

Online viewing tip for everyone. "Evil," a video for Interpol by Charlie White, via Wiley Wiggins.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:41 PM

Berlinale. Preview.

Dieter Kosslick sports a new T-shirt As he swooped into a press conference on Tuesday morning where a couple of hundred journalists were already anxiously leafing through the book-thick press release announcing the titles of all 343 films to be screened at this year's Berlin International Film Festival, all the names of all the members of all the juries, all the stats, cross-collated in all the nifty ways databases make possible, festival director Dieter Kosslick was, naturally, wearing a red scarf. As with Berlin's former mayor, Social Democrat Walter Momper, it's practically a trademark. But Kosslick was also sporting the most photogenic of recent additions to the Berlinale lineup: a t-shirt.

Yes, the Berlinale is making its first forays into merchandizing. Baby steps, actually. You'll be able to buy the shirt; there's also a mug and, for the kids, a teddy bear. Wearing the shirt.

It's an appropriately symbolic move, in a way. Because even though you can say of the Berlinale that it really is all about the films more emphatically than you can say that of a few other festivals, there's one story here that simply yells, "Lede!": The European Film Market is exploding. Anthony Kaufman had a good piece on this in indieWIRE a couple of weeks ago, but in short, now that the American Film Market has shifted to November from February, all winter festivals, and especially the Berlinale, are seeing a boost in market activity. Berlin's stats (referring to my book-thick release): 165 companies are represented this year, an increase of 38 percent over last year, peddling 530 films, an increase of 33 percent over 2004.

More on the films and other festival highlights after the jump.

One more note about the EFM, though. Because it's growing exponentially, it needs new digs. 2005 will be, as EFM director Beki Probst put it, a "year of transition," but by 2006, the dealmaking will carry on in what Kosslick quite rightly calls one of Germany's most aesthetically intriguing buildings, the Martin-Gropius-Bau.

As it happens, the venue is currently hosting the Stanley Kubrick exhibition (through April 11) and Kubrick will be a considerable presence (so to speak) at this year's Berlinale. The Retrospective this year - "Settings - Locations - Scenes. Production Design & Film" - will feature a good handful of Kubrick's works; Ken Adam, who designed Barry Lyndon and Dr Strangelove, will be interviewed live on stage on Valentine's Day and, on Wednesday, February 16, Kubrick's widow, Christiane, and her brother, Jan Harlan will be interviewed under the rubric, "Stanley Kubrick: Creating a World." Retrospective highlights are many this year, but I've got to mention the restored versions of Battleship Potemkin and Fritz Lang's Spione; naturally, there'll be live discussions related to these as well.

Stars will be out in force, all up and down the red carpet, of course, but among those giving lectures and on-stage interviews and such will be Walter Salles ("Composer and Director: Exploring the Collaboration"), Ridley Scott ("Designing Your Future"), Christopher Doyle ("Painting with the Camera" and "The Eternal Triangle" [which is production design, cinematography and costume design]) and Catherine Breillat ("Directing Sex"). Im Kwon-Taek will be receiving an Honorary Golden Bear (along with Fernando Fernán Gómez and Daniel Day-Lewis) and let's hope he'll have a few words as well.

Now then, the films. The main thing to be said for those who'll be able to make it is that it's easier this year than ever to sort out a schedule (and even book tickets) online, thanks to the new "Programme Search" service, but for those who're simply curious have time for nothing more than a glance, once again: The Competition (here and here), the Forum, Panorama, the Perspektive Deutsches Kino, Kinderfilmfest and Part II of the Selling Democracy series. Also noteworthy: Competition entry Paradise Now was co-financed by the Berlinale's World Cinema Fund.

Protesting Cinemaxx

Meanwhile, outside, employees of the German theater chain Cinemaxx very smartly took advantage of the opportunity of a gathering of a couple of hundred journalists to stage a modest protest. The issue at hand, in brief: There was a boom in movie theater-building a few years ago in all of Germany, but particularly in Berlin. Result: Too many theaters. Now the chains are battling it out and they're resorting to the methods most corporations resort to: cut personnel costs first.

So Cinemaxx employees are now earning 1098 euros/month, 25 percent below what economists deem poverty wages. Not only is Dieter Kosslick one of the most charming and entertaining festival directors you're likely to meet, his heart is in the right place as well. He made a point of stating in the conference that the Berlinale - which screens many of its films in the Cinemaxx on Potsdamer Platz - fully supports the employees' protests.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:26 AM

Rotterdam Dispatch. 3.

Quick takes on half a dozen features and two shorts screened in Rotterdam from Jonathan Marlow.

Clean The so-called "Maestros" continue to disappoint. Olivier Assayas's Clean gives the otherwise talented Maggie Cheung little to do as a widowed misfit trying to overcome her addictions.

Meanwhile, Claire Denis's L'Intrus shares an actor (the under-utilized Béatrice Dalle) but lacks the narrative straightforwardness of Assayas's work. Perhaps it requires a second viewing to unravel its labyrinthian plot. The film appears to concern a man, hunted by Russian agents, who escapes to the islands in the South Seas after a heart transplant to reunite with his long-lost son. Maybe. At least its lovely to look at, thanks to regular lenser Agnès Godard.

Writer and director Jia Zhang-ke fails to find a story in The World that lives up to its locale or his reputation. His first film shot with the approval of the Chinese government, it hardly lives up to his previous effort, Unknown Pleasures. Much of the action in the film centers around World Park, an amusement park that features the major cities of the world in miniature. When I briefly lived in Berlin in 1998, the city was said to be the largest concentration of construction sites in the world. The "honor" could likely fall on Beijing these days. Every frame away from World Park seems to be populated by cranes and construction crews - one of which finally proves a turning point in the meandering tale. The most touching moment actually hails from another film; in a chapter entitled "Tokyo Story," Jia presents two parents grieving in silhouette while music from Ozu's film plays in the background. Unfortunately, this is followed by an unexceptional cop-out ending of sophomoric aspirations. He does, at least, continue to invent. How outdated will text-messaging seem in only a few years? Yet, this fad introduces a series of fanciful animated sequences throughout the film.

The finest documentary screened thus far is Alias Kurban Saïd, perhaps the one true highlight of the event. An essentially perfect example of investigative reporting, it could be easily compared to the inferior The Stone Reader, similarly exploring the tale of a mysterious writer of a literary classic (although with more twists and turns than one of Borges's 'fictiones'). Impressively narrated by the great Bruno Ganz, the doc should be required viewing by all lovers of literature and history.

Tropical Malady Tropical Malady contains the most inventive use of open-ended narrative structure, promising still greater things from its director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Alexander Sokurov has two shorter enteries in the program, paired together. The first, Empire, takes the tale Sorry, Wrong Number as its inspiration. Despite a strong, Guy Maddin-like start, the whole devolves rather quickly into a maudlin affair. Meanwhile, the considerably more recent Diary of St. Petersburg is essentially a taped performance of Mozart's Requiem as stage-directed by Sokurov. Five cameras - seemingly five entirely different brands of video cameras, each balanced to a different "white" and indifferently focused - ineptly record the singers and the results are randomly intercut with shots of the unimpressed audience. The direction evidently consists of asking the singers to mill about aimlessly. With this one work, Sokurov supports the notion that he is the most inconsistent of contemporary directors.

Unexpectedly, the widely panned 2046 from Wong Kar-wai is the nearest to a great narrative film that the festival has to offer. Exceptional performances, lovely photography and an entirely different storyline than its Cannes version.

Next time, words on the great discovery of the fest - the films of Owen Land - and the finest second film of the festival, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's wonderful Innocence.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:51 AM

February 1, 2005

Rotterdam Dispatch. 2.

Rotterdam Hannah Eaves sends word from one of festival connoisseurs' favorites, the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Two Sokurov shorts before breakfast is something I cannot recommend, even in the most extreme of festival moments, particularly when one of them is a complete recording of Mozart's Requiem. About fifteen minutes in to the death dirge, the craving for coffee becomes unbearable. It was an interesting decision on the part of the Rotterdam Film Festival to include these shorts at all, two very disparate entries in Sokurov's largely patchy oeuvre. The first, a student film made in 1986 is a Bava-esque tale of a bedridden woman's neurosis and the audience's awareness her oncoming murder.

As for other festival highlights so far...

Oh, uomo Oh, Man, the last installment of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucci's First World War trilogy, is a testament to the hellish bodily damage wrought by war. With the help of the Trento History Museum and the Italian History Museum of War of Roverto, the images for this film come entirely from footage relevant to the WWI. Slowed to a pace more acceptable to the human eye, and lent gravity by their slowness, these images are here to remind us of the pain felt by the living survivors of war. There is also a considerable section devoted to the suffering of children, particularly from starvation . Those with kids of their own might not make it far.

The title here has a double meaning. The first is the standard, "Oh, mankind! Look at the terrible things that you continue to do." The second has more to do with the human body itself. Gianikian and Lucci choose to use footage found in medical archives that deals with both the colossal wounds explosives can render to the human body and, on the flip-side, the vast array of corrective devices and procedures we create to counter them. These problems run the full gamut, starting with the uncontrollable jitters of shell shock. There is an extended close-up of operative eye removal. The images of cosmetic surgery and limb replacement are particularly relevant now considering the prevalence of improvised explosive devices in Iraq. The phrase "Lest We Forget" is invoked on Remembrance Days all around the world, though for me, it always refers to the 11th of November at the 11th hour in WWI, during the battle for Ypres (inspiration for the famous poem "In Flanders Fields"). Films like this are essential viewing for a country, the USA, that seems willfully amnesiac.

2046 Wong Kar-wai's 2046 has reportedly gone through a significant edit since its notoriously belated appearance at Cannes. Wong could no doubt make three or four completely different movies out of the reels of film he's shot for this one. The version showing at Rotterdam, the final cut, is a piece of blissful, beautiful nostalgia for a time and place that never was. Though it's set in the 60s, it seems to occupy a (Philip K) Dickian world, not past, and not really future, either. The key to appreciating this film is that it is, despite Wong's protests to the contrary, a sequel to In the Mood For Love. Tony Leung reprises his role as Chow Mo Wan, a writer, now trying to get over his love for Su Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung). In a dirty hotel in Hong Kong and a gambling house in Singapore, he writes pulp fiction and fools around with some beautiful women. What matters is not whether Leung is playing the same person as in In The Mood for Love; it's whether he is the same character. It's this romantic melancholic, trapped in his memories and surrounded by graceful degradation, that lives on here as an archetype. This isn't the first time Wong has reprised characters in this way. Su Li Zhen could be any woman in a different time, a different situation, but still remain the same character - she's the woman that keeps Chow from being able to change, from escaping his past. Indeed, there is another Su Li Zhen (Gong Li) in this film - here a mysterious professional gambler with one black glove she never removes. Wong could easily follow any of the women here (Gong Li, Faye Wong, Zhang Ziyi) in another film, creating (to my delight) a labyrinthine, unending series of sequels.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:42 PM