October 31, 2005

Halloween shorts.

Not Coming to a Theater Near You concludes its "31 Days of Horror" series with a bang, or rather, seven bangs: "Our tastes in horror - as this feature may or may not pronounce - vary greatly, so, in an effort to both educate each other (and to offer our readers an unexpected treat), we have opted to recommend each other films, to either highlight one of our favorites, or to experience something we may not otherwise see."

Frightmare At Dumb Distraction, Micah files his 31st review of a horror flick for the month: Frightmare, "a bloodsplattered cannibal flick that proves once again, the family that eats together, stays together."

Mindjack's "Vital Horror: 20 movies for the strong-stomached and open-minded."

Dennis Cozzalio presents "en sure to churn you and burn you, my favorite horror films, laced with enough asides to get you thinking about other movies that might inspire just as many frights, should these not sate your need for nightmares..."

At Hollywood Bitchslap, David Cornelius dredges up loads of overlooked horror.

Now that's gross: "Hollywood.com's Top 25 Highest Grossing Domestic Horror Films of All Time." Via a justifiably pissed off Karina Longworth at Cinematical, where - and this is far more fun - Kim Voynar presents "seven of our favorite horror films, summed up in haiku."

Lance Norris's "Ten Scary Movies" at Cinema Minima.

Edward Douglas interviews Kiyoshi Kurosawa for ComingSoon.net.

At Cinema Strikes Back, David Austin reviews the first installment in Showtime's Masters of Horror series: "The strange thing about this episode, Incident On and Off A Mountain Road, is that except for the presence of [Don] Coscarelli regular Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man of Phantasm fame), you'd never know you were watching a Coscarelli film." And for SuicideGirls, Daniel Robert Epstein talks to the series creator, Mick Garris.

Logboy: "Argento, more than any other director in my life, touches my subconscious in a way that's strangely thrilling and always leaves me feeling like I've just survived a nightmare." Also: Twitch's Todd will be a programmer for the After Dark Film Festival, launching in Toronto next fall.

Leonard Klady weighs in on Saw II's big opening weekend at Movie City News. More from Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times.

Heather Havrilesky scans scary TV at Salon.

Matt Langdon's rounded up a few horror movie poster browsing tips at Rashomon.

Online listening tip. NPR: "Bobb Cotter, author of The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography, takes us into the world of characters like El Santo and Blue Demon, and their silverscreen battles with fantastical monsters and villains."

Update: Online listening tip #2. Ed Champion's trailer for Halloween: Washington.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:11 AM | Comments (2)

The Voice at 50, part 2.

"In the internet age it's difficult to convey how vital and exciting the Voice was to those of us scattered across the country during the Vietnam era who felt that there was something happening somewhere and the Voice was bringing us the rough word," writes James Wolcott in a brief but excellent appreciation. I want to revisit the 50th Anniversary issue because a generous batch of archival material's gone up at the site that truly is worth noting. For example...

Jonas Mekas in 1959:

Pull My Daisy

The two most modern and most intelligent American films, John Cassavetes's Shadows and Robert Frank's and Alfred Leslie's Beat Generation, are still not released, and my praising them here wouldn't amount to much, since you cannot see them. But these two movies are so far ahead of all Hollywood and independent films that once you've seen them you can no longer look at the official cinema: you know that American cinema can be more sensitive and intelligent.

Stephanie Gervis Harrington in 1964: "The only fear Lenny Bruce has is 'of running out of carfare to the Supreme Court.'"

John Wilcock in 1965: "In the past few months Andy, assisted by poet Gerard Malanga, cameraman Buddy Wirtschafter, script-writer Ronald Tavel, and the ubiquitous photographer Billy Linich ('foreman' of the East 47th Street 'factory'), has been making at least one full-length movie per week." Related: Roberta Smith in 1982 on Basquiat.

Robert Christgau in 1978: "Perhaps the way to understand it is this: Rather than a working-class youth movement - potentially revolutionary, proto-fascist, or symptomatic of the decadence of our times - punk is a basically working youth bohemia that rejects both the haute bohemia of the rock elite and the hallowed bohemian myth of classlessness."

Walter Kendrick in 1981: "Yale's new Gang of Four has no label."

J. Hoberman in 1987: "Capping a trend that's been percolating for most of the decade, a new obsession with the strangeness - even the Otherness - of the American heartland characterizes a remarkable number of recent movies.... The true godfathers of Shopping Mall Chic are Errol Morris and Jonathan Demme, both of who came out of left field in the mid-Carter years to meet heartland mishegas heads-on — in part by dramatizing 'true stories' of bizarre success and pathetic failure."

C Carr in 1992: "[T]he energy that moved from Paris to New York, from West Village to East Village, from Old Bohemia (1830-1930) to New Bohemia (the 60s) to Faux Bohemia (the 80s) has atomized now into trails that can't be followed: the 'zine/cassette network, the living-room performance spaces, the modem-accessed cybersalons, the flight into neighborhoods that will never be Soho."

X Hilton Als in 1992: " At table number 25, Sylvester 'Spike' Lee, filmmaker, sat alone, making notes in his agenda at the time of the first public (but very private) screening of his long-awaited epic, X, a film that, having been nearly 10 months in the making, and with a $33 million budget, has generated more advance publicity, criticism and debate than any 'bio-pic of a slain leader' (as Variety termed it) since Conspiracy became a movie nexus."

Michael Feingold in 1993: "Angels in America is the best kind of political play. Rather than take an orderly stance on a specific set of issues, it treats politics as a connected and conflicting set of impulses, a moral soup in which we find ourselves swimming."

Julian Dibbell in 1993: "They say he raped them that night.... Call me Dr. Bombay. Some months ago — let's say about halfway between the first time you heard the words information superhighway and the first time you wished you never had — I found myself tripping now and then down the well-traveled information lane that leads to LambdaMOO, a very large and very busy rustic mansion built entirely of words."

Ann Powers in 1994: "Suicide, especially one as violent as Cobain's, is the loudest possible invocation of silence; it's a perfectly clear way of turning your life into a mystery."

Michael Musto in 1999: "The film goddess looked fit to eat a dwarf. 'First of all, where the hell is the light?' she bellowed in the semidarkness... Then he says, "She doesn't need an introduction," so I'll introduce myself. I am Anita Ekberg!'"

Eric Weisbard in 1999: "Once upon a time there was Generation X. I do mean once. In the World Almanacs I grew up with - kind of a pre-web thing - a generation is 20 years, maybe 25. We got three."

Dennis Lim in 1999: "Malkovich, Jonze and Kaufman are gathered in a midtown hotel suite, and observing the three together, you're amazed that their collaboration proved so cohesive - they don't even seem to be from the same planet."

James Hannaham in 2002: "[S]ince both Martha Stewart-brand whiteness and ghetto-fabulous negritude are in remission, the culture is now giving mad props to black nerds."

And excerpts from 50 years of book reviews.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:55 AM

Shorts, 10/31.

"Hi, Caveh. I'm Darren, and this is my attempt to make sense of how and why I reacted to your film as I did."

"Films made in the era before anyone thought seriously of reducing and broadcasting them to mass audiences can feel like revelations when returned to their natural setting," writes Brian, who's catching screenings of original nitrate prints these days.

A Scanner Darkly Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly has been previewed in Houston. Quint's got two reviews at AICN.

Dumb Distraction's Micah and Cinema Strikes Back's Blake meet Eli Wallach in Austin.

There's a "war" going on between Hollywood and South Korea, reports Barbara Demick in the Los Angeles Times. At issue is a law requiring South Korean cinemas to show homegrown films 146 days a year. Of course, some credit the law with the recent resurgence of Korean cinema both at home and abroad.

Marcello Paolillo interviews Paradise Now director Hany Abu-Assad for Ioncinema.com. Also via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?: J Hoberman in the Voice on the Library of America's edition of James Agee's Film Writing and Selected Journalism: "Agee was not writing the history of cinema but the history of his times."

Gregg Goldstein chats briefly with Christine Vachon in the Hollywood Reporter.

Newsweek's got a Narnia package.

Interviews in the Guardian: Fred Schruers with Jake Gyllenhaal and Barbara Ellen with Keeley Hawes.

Smoking in the movies. David Thomson has some random thoughts on the subject in the Independent.

Ray Pride presents his takes on six new films and five DVDs at Movie City News.

Todd Carter at PVR Wire: "TVHarmony.com has released a new version of its AutoPilot software that supports converting TiVo-recorded shows into a format that's compatible with the new video iPod. It also works with Palm devices that can view video." Via Slashdot.

Online viewing tip. Channel Frederator: "We're packaging together some of the world's coolest and funniest cartoons and sending them straight to your iPod each week." Via Drawn!.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:28 AM

October 29, 2005

Weekend shorts.

Samurai Rebellion Criterion launches its new online publication, Focus, with Chuck Stephens's "in-depth look at the five-decade-long career of the versatile and venerable leading man, chanbara icon, and Japanese screen legend Tatsuya Nakadai." Also new at the site: Chris D on the origins of "a new kind of samurai hero" in the 60s.

2006: X previews the year in Korean film at Twitch. Also: Part 2 of "The Guinness Book of Korean Cinema."

Grady Hendrix rounds up a giant batch of reviews of recent films from Asia. He's also found a new trailer for Johnnie To's Election.

So Alex Cox is blogging. Ben Slater's found the link and recalls his own Alex Cox story.

Ray Young at Flickhead: "As with many authors, the cinema is inadequate and ill-equipped for Lovecraft: his passages beckon the eye to pore over sentences and savor those subtly shifting hues of darkness, moods and tones that extend beyond the aperture's reach.... All things considered, The Call of Cthulhu certainly has its heart in the right place. And by the end, with its hints of Caligari and the Mabuse films, one can only wonder: what would Fritz Lang have done with HP Lovecraft?" Also: Seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time: "I've yet to see a film that touched me in quite the same way. It wasn't about being 'grossed out'; it was a lesson in flesh, bone and sanity."

Even as he reviews Where the Truth Lies and interviews Atom Egoyan, David Lowery's taking in Halloween movies as well, starting with The Innocents.

Citizen Spy Travis Miles: "Both an aesthetic goldmine and an invaluable educational tool, Unseen Cinema will likely stand for decades as the definitive audiovisual resource for students and acolytes of the early American avant-garde." Also at Stop Smiling: Brandon Holmquest on Michael Kackman's Citizen Spy: Television, Espionage and Cold War Culture.

The Reeler has a very serious bone to pick with Robert Christgau, re: New York Doll. More on the film from Greg Allen and, in the NYT, Stephen Holden.

Meanwhile, at the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore tells M Night Shyamalan, who's been raging against collapsing windows, to shut up.

"The biggest post-Soviet film blockbuster packing the country's multiplexes is a bloody tear-jerker about a topic many Russians would rather forget - the 10-year war that resulted in the Soviet Union's messy withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989," writes Sophia Kishkovsky from Moscow. The movie is Company 9: "For many here the film also is apparently read not only as a metaphor for Russia's Chechen quagmire, but even for the very collapse of the Soviet Union."

Also in the New York Times:

The Passenger

In his "Beyond the Multiplex" column for Salon, Andrew O'Hehir meets Gidi Dar (so does Sharon Waxman in the NYT and Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly), reviews Paradise Now (so does J Hoberman in the Voice, Armond White in the New York Press, Steve Erickson for Gay City News, Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat and Noy Thrupkaew for the American Prospect) and offers quick takes on Innocence and The Passenger.

For the NYP's Matt Zoller Seitz, Shopgirl is "probably the only Hollywood movie in recent years that seems hell-bent on reminding us that real love isn't like what you see in Hollywood movies."

Vue Weekly: The Squid and the Whale Both the Vue Weekly's Paul Matwychuk and the Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Adams talk with Noah Baumbach about The Squid and the Whale.

Michael King talks with Secuestro Express writer and director Jonathan Jakubowicz and producer Elizabeth Avellán. Also in the Austin Chronicle: Spencer Parsons on An Angel at My Table.

Claire Zulkey interviews Chris Milk, who's directed videos for Kayne West, Courtney Love, Audioslave and Modest Mouse. Via Coudal Partners. Related: Nick Rombes on two recent music videos.

Billy Bob Thornton: Hobo At PopMatters, Dave Brecheisen talks with Billy Bob Thornton about his new album, Hobo.

Antonio Pasolini interviews Carlos Reygadas for European Films. Related: Reygadas tells the Telegraph's Sheila Johnston what so impresses him about Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant and Robert Hanks reviews Battle in Heaven in the Independent.

At Cinematical, Robert Newton interviews The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio director Jane Anderson.

Ray Pride interviews David Strathairn at Movie City News.

The Onion AV Club's Noel Murray has a quick talk with John Carpenter.

Darren Aronofsky has signed to direct an episode of Lost. Michelle Kung has word at Popwatch, Entertainment Weekly's blog. Via Chris Barsanti. John Borland at CNET on the shows "alternate reality games."

Dead as a Doornail Alan Ball's next series will be based on Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series, notes - no, exclaims - Joe Brown at the San Francisco Chronicle's blog.

Reed Johnson hears Mel Gibson talk a little about Apocalypto, the film he's working on in Mexico: "The movie will employ relatively unknown actors along with hundreds of extras and will utilize Mayan dialect." Also in the Los Angeles Times: Henry Chu finds Fernando Meirelles back in Brazil, working on two smallish films.

Gerard Gilbert also talks with Meirelles in the Independent. Also: "Some now see Major Dundee as a botched trial run for later Peckinpah glories," writes Geoffrey Macnab. "Nonetheless, this is a substantial movie in its own right, boasting arguably [Charlton] Heston's finest screen performance." Plus, Laura Tennant takes her daughter to an audition and Nicola Christie talks collapsing windows with Steven Soderbergh.

In the City Pages, Matthew Wilder catches Marcel Ophüls's long essay-movie The Troubles We've Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime, the first half of which "made me sure Ophüls had lost his marbles... Luckily, the second half finds Ophüls back on his meds and up to the kind of associative yet disciplined filmmaking that is his trademark."

Lloyd Schwartz in the Boston Phoenix: "Val Lewton's films are about as close as Hollywood films ever got to being poetry."

Mike Russell uses his blogspace to expand on his Oregonian reviews of Saw II (more from Laura Kern in the NYT), Prime (AO Scott) and Three... Extremes (Dave Kehr and Dana Stevens).

Capsule reviews of all sorts of things: Ryan Wu and Rick Curnette.

Why doesn't Jonathan Coe own of copy of David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film? "Because he's so rude about Billy Wilder."

Also in the Guardian:

Chelsea Girls

Woody Allen's back in London, reports the Times. Also: Ian Johns looks back on The Last Emperor with Bernardo Bertolucci.

Jay Allen Sanford goes "Underground With the Celebrity Dead" in the San Diego Reader.

Variety declares awards season officially open.

Transamerica Online browsing tip. The Haunted Mansion: Secrets. The history, the art, the works behind the Disneyland attraction. Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Online fiddling around tip. "A soundboard is a collection of dialog snippets from a movie that you can use to make prank calls," explains Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing, pointing to these. Also: the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive Project.

Online listening tip. Caty Borum, producer of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, on Your Call (10.27.05). Related: Matthew Ross at Filmmaker.

Online viewing tips, round 1. About 400 of them, actually. Google Video is hosting an archive of interviews conducted for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; scroll down for the names. Via Steve Monaco at City Pages' Culture to Go.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Noteworthy trailers: Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (trailer), The Libertine (trailer), Show Me (trailer), Transamerica (trailer) and, hosted exclusively at Twitch, the trailer for Zoetrope.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:41 PM | Comments (3)

Weekend lists.

The Cinematheque As if the Cinematheque's "Top 10 Project" weren't interesting enough - and with individual contributors ranging from Chris Fujiwara to Jaspar Sharp to David Ehrenstein to Fred Camper and on and on, "interesting" is an understatement - at Cinemarati, aquarello doubles the fun by listing his ten favorite directors, a project which "proved to be more soul-searching that I thought, deeply rooted in something that reflects more on you as a person than on the filmmaker whose work appeals to you." Chiming in there: Dan Jardine, Nick Davis and Daniel Jensen.

That number, 15, is getting around. Girish takes a fresh approach, listing his favorite filmmakers and their films of the last 15 years.

Tom Hall picks six movies that scare him most. In Paper, Michael Jurin names his and, in the Seattle Times, Mark "Rotten" Rahner has a few Halloween rental suggestions.

The Film Snob's Dictionary A dictionary is a list of sorts. Following a pan of Jarhead, thoughts on King Kong running three hours (related: Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter on the DVD) and on what sort of movie Munich may turn out to be, Jeffrey Wells previews The Film Snob's Dictionary, "an immaculate, whip-smart read," and excerpts eight entries, from "Farber, Manny" to "Sarris, Andrew."

That's via Ray Pride who, at Movie City Indie, points to anther list from the "Best of Nashville" issue of the Nashville Scene, where we find Jim Ridley's entry, "Best Chance to Put Nashville Filmmakers on the Globe: O'Salvation!."

The Telegraph picks its top twenty childrens' films; SF Said: "[G]reat children's cinema can move the mind as well as the heart." And Benjamin Secher asks a fifth grade class to make a list of their own.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM

Fests and events.

Tab Hunter Confidential As noted in connection with Jonathan Marlow's interview with Eddie Muller at the main site, the prolific author will be appearing with Tab Hunter at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco on Tuesday to sign copies of their new book, Tab Hunter Confidential, and to introduce a screening of Polyester. Then on Wednesday, the rarely seen Gunman's Walk and the more often seen Lust in the Dust will be screened at the Balboa.

Canana, a production company founded by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, is cooperating with the Morelia International Film Festival on a traveling documentary fest, reports Jonny Leahan at indieWIRE.

Wiley Wiggins is at Cinemuerte, in Vancouver through Halloween.

The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas looks ahead to a series based on David James's The Most Typical Avant-Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles.

In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland picks out the highlights of the UK Jewish Film Festival and Doug Bolton previews Future Cinema.

"The best is yet to come." James Christopher and Wendy Ide in the Times on the London Film Festival.

In the Voice, Michael Atkinson previews the series, "A Moving Camera: Kenji Mizoguchi," and Melissa Anderson has a few words on "New French Connection."

Marc Savlov previews the Austin Asian Film Festival (November 3 through 6) in the Austin Chronicle.

3rd I South Asian Film Festival: San Francisco, November 11, 12 and 13.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:36 PM

October 27, 2005

Haifa Dispatch. 1.

David D'Arcy looks back on the Haifa International Film Festival, offering insights into Israeli film culture and takes on films that may never make it outside the country. He also notes, "In the interest of full disclosure, I was a member of the 'Golden Anchor' jury, which awarded a prize from a selection of 'Mediterranean' films."

Haifa International Film Festival Years before the state of Israel was founded, Haifa was Palestine's principal commercial city, thanks to an industrial port that the British built there in the late 19th century. Now Haifa has been overshadowed by Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but it remains a charming and livable city on hills that arise above the Mediterranean, and a place where Jews and Arabs live together in relative peace.

Haifa, where the festival which ended on October 26 celebrated its 21st year, is not the best-known film festival in Israel. Jerusalem has that hallowed status, as it has just about every other hallowed status. But it is an event with a strong local audience that catalyzes life in the city, with performances and food in a plaza in front of the theaters. It is also the place where you can see the annual production of Palestinian films - one-stop shopping, as it were.

Another opportunity at a festival like this one is to see films that don't make it to the major festivals. These tend to be films that only Israelis will see, if even they get a chance to see them. Most but not all of them are comedies. Not all of them are good.

Comrade A case in point is Comrade by Eyal Shiray. The film starts out as a family drama about Ilan, a teenager with a stern intolerant father who leaves home and flees to join his sister in Haifa. He seems to be struggling with all the problems of the early stages of puberty, spying on his sister Dalya in the shower and retreating into a small room to masturbate. She's a few years older and seems to have come through her own sexual awakening, the worse and the lonelier for the wear.

Enter another lonely malcontent, the bald eccentric Avram, a scrappy communist who spent years in the military and is now bivouacking in a squat in a neighborhood coveted by real estate developers. Avram befriends the two teenagers with his humor and his defiance of authority. Avram is played by Assi Dayan, the well-known actor and director who is also the son of the former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. He's nothing if not irreverent, and he hams it for everything it's worth.

That defiance goes a lot farther than I anticipated from anything made in Israel. (The rest of the audience was less surprised than I was, since the film is adapted from a book that was an Israeli bestseller.) When contractors approach Avram's fortified flat, where Ilan has also taken refuge, the old fighter fights back with rocket-propelled grenades, destroying two trucks. He then shoots at anyone who hasn't run away. It's hard to take seriously, but it still is armed violence - in the middle of an Israeli city. Haifa, we should note, hasn't been bombed much, which explains the shock after the one bombing two years ago of a restaurant owned jointly by Jews and Arabs which killed 15 people.

Is Comrade terrorism humor? Americans might have treated it with indignation, but the Israeli audience around me laughed out loud, especially when Avram mocked the official bureaucrat-ese speculating on the events unfolding - "a hostage situation, on the part of a gunman with an agenda that we know little about."

Eventually Avram dies in an auto-da-fe organized by an explosives commando - this part drew a little less laughter from the audience - and the children return to their ordinary lives, chastened, as you might expect, by the experience. Yet if you believe the film, terrorism is still a joke when it's carried out by a cartoonish guy who's mad as hell and can't take it any more.

It's hard to imagine that too many Israelis will see this one, even though Assi Dayan is a bona fide Israeli star. It's even harder to imagine that any Americans will ever see Comrade. This film won't even make it to Jewish film festivals in the US, which seem ready to show anything Israeli. Perhaps this one is too Israeli. This time the awkward satire on terrorism is as politically incorrect as you can get.

Belly Dancer Politically incorrect in a slightly different way was Belly Dancer, by Marek Rozenbaum, which also premiered at Haifa. Among other things, it's a crime thriller. Israelis to whom I spoke kept referring to Belly Dancer as a B-movie, although so few movies are made in Israel that "A" or "B" status can't mean much.

The story centers on Debbie, a radiantly pretty Jewish girl with a prodigious talent for - you guessed it - belly dancing. We're alerted to violence on the horizon when we see that Debbie's manager, Yaki, is a gangster. Then we learn that the bar in which Debbie dances is owned by a low-level hood, Goldie. It's also hinted that there might be some social satire in the mix when we meet Yossi, a pudgy accomplice who has now joined a yeshiva.

Yaki (played by a former Israeli male super model) cheats gloatingly on Debbie. After he's jailed for his role in the trio's burglarizing of a diamond merchant's Judaica collection , Debbie gets her revenge and starts an an affair with Goldie. The two lovers then hide the stolen Judaica in her parents' rural village, but they're betrayed. It seems that the informant is the oafishly pathetic Yossi, who is shot for his dishonor. Then the two retreat into religion - Goldie grows a beard and reads the Torah, and Debbie tries belly-dancing in a conservative ultra-Orthodox costume. If you think that's hard to believe, you're right. I won't give away any more of the story.

The film seemed absurd to me, yet a few of my Israeli friends saw a critical logic in the mess. The key was religion, they said, and the film targeted the practice among orthodox religious groups of recruiting "penitential" criminals and thugs. "Even a lot of these rabbis are thugs," I was told. Now we know. But we probably won't know more, since it's unlikely that Belly Dancer will spend more than a week or two in Israeli cinemas.

Frozen Days More promising in Haifa was the modest film that won the prize for Israeli features, Frozen Days, which follows a young woman's search for a prospective lover she's met online through the icy halls of an empty shopping mall. The no-budget black-and-white thriller is cinematically inventive - that's unusual for Israeli films, which all too often seem to tailor their images to the television screen. Oddly, that's where this film was destined until it played at Haifa. Maybe that's being reconsidered now. It's an encouraging beginning for Danny Lerner.

The Haifa Festival was also the venue for the Israeli premiere of Paradise Now, the much-seen, much-discussed Palestinian film by Hany Abu-Assad about suicide bombers (which began as a script supported by the Israel Film Fund). I had seen the film in Berlin, where it was received as a courageous unprecedented look at a previously unexamined subject. At the New York Film Festival, the press seemed to think it was realism. In Haifa, the notion that Paradise Now was realistic made people laugh. In fact, the entire film did. The Israelis I spoke to weren't indignant at the humanizing of middle class alienated young men who became bombers. What they kept citing was the comedy of two bombers dressed in business suits, the "men in black" who couldn't get the camera to work when they filmed their pre-suicide  manifesto. Hope (or at least tolerance) through humor? Stay tuned.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:12 PM | Comments (2)

Victory.

Pasolini "November 2 will be the 30th anniversary of the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini," writes Doug Ireland, "and to commemorate his disappearance, DIRELAND is proud to publish here, for the first time ever in an English translation, a major Pasolini poem, 'Victory.'"

The poem is translated by Norman MacAfee, a poet and author himself, who also introduces the poem, first telling the story behind "an image that sums up Pasolini's approach to culture and history" and declaring "Victory" Pasolini's "Pasolini's last great poem. As he wrote it, he was making The Gospel According to Matthew; his attention shifted to filmmaking and the poems became sketchy." Then, after a few final notes, he unleashes the poem itself.

Pretty powerful stuff. Who now is writing poems, singing songs or making films with the fury of Pasolini's "j'accuse!" even as, at the same time, he mourns and celebrates?

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 PM

October 26, 2005

The Voice at 50.

The Voice in 1990 We'll see soon enough whether the Village Voice has just written its own eulogy or, as the bravest optimists would have it, is preparing to turn a new leaf with its 50th Anniversary Special. Either way, J Hoberman reminds me why I subscribed to the weekly as long as I lived in the States and, before it began appearing online, would trek to the nearest Amerika Haus once I moved to Germany to read it (and other papers and magazines, too, of course), week after week.

"[Jonas] Mekas was an inspired propagandist; [Andrew] Sarris was a gifted pedagogue." Myself, I was too young to have been aware of Mekas's enthusiasms before he left the Voice in 1974 but, soon after, as a teenager, I became an addict (in Texas, natch) during the reign of Sarris and watched with fascination as he took sniper fire from younger writers one or two columns over until he, too, was gone.

"The first review I was assigned," writes Hoberman, "in late 1977, was David Lynch's Eraserhead, then playing to audiences of four and five at the Cinema Village. And where else" could he "have reviewed Todd Haynes when he was working in Super 8 or Wong Kar-wai before his movies played above Canal Street?"

Where else indeed. "There's been an erosion of space and an imposition of format, but I'd like to believe that this readership is still there and that the commitment remains." So would we all. But if Hoberman were starting out today, he'd probably be writing for his own blog and hoping that the pennies from the Google ads cover the cost of bandwidth.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:08 AM | Comments (2)

October 25, 2005

Shorts, 10/25.

The Call of Cthulhu At Boing Boing, Xeni Jardin hears a rave from Craig Engler of Scifi.com for The Call of Cthulhu.

"How does anyone begin to encapsulate the audacious, manic, insightful, resonant, humane, and allegorically loaded tone of the epic work - the quintessential "anarchy of the imagination" - that is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's adaptation of Alfred Döblin's thirteen chapter, Weimer Republic-era German Expressionist novel Berlin Alexanderplatz?" As you might expect, Acquarello does an awfully good job of it.

Ray Pride rounds up a "cornucopia of Walter Murch items" at Movie City Indie, including the motherlode, FilmSound.org's Murch collection. Then, over at Movie City News, Ray's current column is huge and all-encompassing.

Are We Alone? The Stanley Kubrick Extra-terrestrial Intelligence Interviews is a book coming out in the UK next month collecting interviews Kubrick conducted with 21 scientists in 1966 for what was to be a prologue for 2001 - until Kubrick realized that the film was pretty darn long as it is and cut it. The actual film is still missing, reports Anthony Barnes, and you can bet the search is still on.

Also in the Independent: "From Louisiana and Pakistan, we have suddenly had a destruction show that should satisfy any fan of 'disaster' movies," suggests David Thomson. "There are some things so real that if they are fabricated on screen, our souls may be damaged in watching - unless the creative integrity is large." And Kevin Jackson meets Lindsay Duncan.

Antonioni and Nicholson "I didn't know it at the time, but it was the most vivid filmmaking adventure I've ever had," Jack Nicholson tells Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. That adventure was The Passenger. Recalling the mid-70s:

"My friends and I would go to the art houses expecting to see a masterpiece every week — and we did," he recalls. "Whether it was Antonioni, Kurosawa, Godard, Fellini, Satyajit Ray, Truffaut or Bergman, we knew we were in good hands." Asked why those films spoke to his generation, Nicholson explained: "Because they took risks - it was the breaking of the form that excited us. Today we have cheap, smart indie movies, but it's not the same thing. Antonioni didn't feel that he needed to get every single point across right away. Today we're just slaves to melodrama."

"Whatever happened to Maria Schneider?" asks Martha Fischer at Cinematical of Nicholson's co-star in The Passenger before pointing to John Clark's answer in the New York Daily News.

Darren Hughes: "In celebration of its 15th anniversary, the IMDb has invited its editorial staff to submit their Top 15 Lists: 1990 - 2005. Never one to pass up an opportunity to obsess for a few days over such a challenge, I've put together a list of my own - a list joyfully free of editorial imposition, meaning that I can stretch and/or ignore even the most basic criteria/rules. For instance, my Top 15 includes close to 30 films."

Tim R joins the fray: "These 100 choices are going to be the films I simply couldn't live without, not the ones I think I ought to like."

Meanwhile, Premiere lists the "25 Most Shocking Moments in Movie History." Also via Movie City News: John Clark in the San Francisco Chronicle, talking with Tim Burton about his Batman movies, and Jack Malvern in the London Times, reporting that March of the Penguins director Luc Jacquet is pretty pissed his film has been hijacked by conservatives and proponents of "intelligent design."

Life of Pi Jean-Pierre Jeunet will direct an adaptation of Yann Martel's bestselling, Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi, reports the BBC and just about everyone else. Also: "The Libertine and Mrs Henderson Presents have received the greatest number of nominations at this year's British Independent Film Awards."

BRAINTRUSTdv interviews Peter Friedman: "Initially, Roger [Manley] wanted to make a documentary about mana objects, and I wanted make an essay about belief as the essential building block of the mind. The result is Mana: Beyond Belief."

Roberta Smith notes that the exhibition My Hand Outstretched: Films by Robert Beavers at the Whitney through October 30 "effectively adds Mr Beavers's name to the list of innovators - Andy Warhol, Joan Jonas, Yvonne Rainer, Michael Snow and Jack Smith - who in the 1960s and 70s pushed film beyond its boundaries, toward painting, sculpture, performance and installation art."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Major Zeman battled criminals and foiled subversives... [in] one of Czechoslovak State Television's most popular serials. An unswerving Communist, Zeman pleased party leaders, galled dissidents and entertained ordinary Czechs, who still watch reruns," writes Matt Reynolds. Now young producers want to revive the character, but with a twist: He was a spy for the West all along. Some laugh at the very idea, Reynolds reports; others find it offensive.

  • Daphne Merkin's big profile of Diane Keaton in the Magazine: "Everyone I talk to agrees that Keaton's talent has been strikingly underused and that the situation is more a reflection of the film industry than of her place in it." Amen.

  • Dave Kehr on new DVDs.

  • Ellen Maguire, briefly, on first-time directors over 40.

  • Laura M Holson on how the line between movies and games is blurring.

Chuck Tryon on The War Within: "I was reminded of Don DeLillo's fascinating essay, 'In the Ruins of the Future,' in which DeLillo argues that the advantage of the terrorist is his ability not to see these faces ('this is his edge, that he does not see her'). I'm not sure that I agree with DeLillo anymore, and for reasons I can't describe precisely without giving away the film, I believe The War Within complicates DeLillo's arguments."

Nuit Noire Last month, David D'Arcy wrote here that Alain Tasma's Nuit noire, 17 octobre 1961 "reminds you of the officially-condoned horrors of the recent past, and focuses your attention on present horrors." Now that the film is being released in France, it's stirring quite a debate, as Jason Burke reports in the Observer: "For some, Nuit Noire is an overdue attempt to throw light on a shameful episode; for others, it is an unwarranted slur on a glorious imperial history. The bitter division reflects deep fissures in modern France, pitting the young, the left and millions of immigrants and their children against older, white, conservative nationalists."

Also:

Today's excerpt from an interview in Stop Smiling's "Auteur Issue": James Hughes with Robert Altman.

For Creative Screenwriting, Jeremy Smith talks with Richard Kelly about writing Domino. Related: Blake rounds up Southland Tales news and interviews at Cinema Strikes Back.

New York Doll "New York Doll, a rather low-key documentary bio of the former New York Dolls bassist Arthur 'Killer' Kane, is more admirable for what it isn't than what it is," writes Nick Pinkerton in the first of three takes from the Reverse Shot team at indieWIRE. More on the film and other related projects from Richard Cromelin in the LAT.

Sylvie Simmons: "When Keven McAlester, a former music journalist, decided to make his first film, You're Gonna Miss Me, he chose one hell of a subject: Roky Erickson, singer with the 13th Floor Elevators, the Texas band credited with inventing psychedelic rock." Also in the Guardian: Pascal Wyse talks with Mike Mills.

Members of the band playing at the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Jarvis Cocker and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway. Karina Longworth has more at Cinematical. Related: Posterwire.com considers varying approaches to marketing the film in different foreign countries.

Pablo Villaça expected to hate Brazil's official national entry in the Oscar race, 2 Filhos de Francisco (2 Sons of Francisco), but it's won him over. He explains how at MCN. More from Michael Gibbons at indieWIRE, where Eugene Hernandez the 58 titles competing for Foreign Language noms.

Iran is clamping down on "American and other films that promote Western culture," reports the AP.

The Simpsons are heading to Egypt. In the Al-Ahram Weekly, Hicham Safieddine wonders if this is going to work. Via Perlentaucher's "Magazinrundschau."

At Twitch, X presents "the first part of a long piece on the 'Guinness Book of Korean Cinema' and all its fun facts and anecdotes," and Todd has NoShame's 2006 release schedule.

At Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell reviews two films that screened at the Pusan Film Festival, Zhang Lu's New Currents prize winner, Grain in Ear and Hwang Byung-kuk's Wedding Campaign.

Three... Extremes "So here it is, an arena rock type film event for lovers of Asian cinema." Eric Campos reviews Three... Extremes at Film Threat.

Central Park Media is now offering anime for the video iPod, reports Peter Cohen for Playlist. But you don't need a video-enabled iPod to watch their hentai. You'll notice, by the way, that BlueCine is GreenCine's new door opening onto alt.porn, filmed erotica and more along that racy line.

The Pioneer, "NYC's smallest movie theater," launches a blog: Inside the Pioneer.

"Great critics are rare birds; rare birds, though, need a welcoming aviary, and the zookeepers are not on the lookout for such special - and specialist - breeds of plumage any more." Yes, Michael Coveney's complaint in Prospect has mostly to do with the UK press and with theater, but still. On a related note, somewhat, Ben Yagoda in Slate back in August on freelancing: "I'm done."

Double Plus Ungood.

Online browsing tip #1. Border Film Project. Via Brooke Singer at Eyebeam's reBlog.

Online browsing tips #2 and #3. Movies Wallpapers. Also via Wiley Wiggins: "Glue Sniffing and Pills."

Online viewing tip. Steve Rosenbaum's justifiably celebratory post regarding Inside the Bubble's rise to #5 on iFilm's "Most Downloaded Documentaries of All Time" list sent me there - where I also found Jarhead-related interviews and clips.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:37 PM | Comments (2)

Fests, 10/25.

Cave of the Yellow Dog The Reeler files a terrific report from the Hamptons International Film Festival, which wrapped on Sunday. Steve Rosenbaum was there, too, catching docs mostly, and so was Tom Hall. More from Corey Boutilier at independentfilm.com and Brian Brooks at indieWIRE - and then, Eugene Hernandez: "Byambasuren Daava's follow-up to the The Story of the Weeping Camel was the big winner of jury awards at the 2005 Hamptons International Film Festival. Cave of the Yellow Dog nabbed the Golden Starfish Award for best feature, as well as the best cinematography and best score prizes."

Jette Kernion's Austin Film Festival diary at Cinematical: 1 and 2. More from Brian at Cinema Strikes Back.

Empire blogs the London Film Festival. Via Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:47 PM

Any means necessary.

Wild Diner Films "Can an indie filmmaker side-step the entire Hollywood and Indiewood distribution culture and mechanisms... and make a living through self-distribution?" asks Sujewa Ekanayake, who's about to try something along these lines with his own film, Date Number One. "Just as Fugazi and Ani DiFranco do in the music world, it may be possible for one or more filmmakers from a given film project to make all the money they need for a given period of time through working on distribution of that project."

"At a time when audiences are ebbing, piracy is threatening profits and at-home downloading takes gas mileage out of the movie-going equation, a company that helps filmmakers and audiences find each other on the Internet may be as natural a step in the evolution of cinema as portable DVD players or reserved seats." Well, we'd certainly agree. But as Chuck Tryon writes, this New York Times piece by John Anderson, whose forthcoming book is I Wake Up Screening: What to Do When You've Made That Movie, "is basically a 1,300 word advertisement for IndieFlix, a new online resource for distributing independent films, but it still looks like a pretty cool service."

There are a few problems with the piece, though, as a friend points out via email. IndieFlix's "idea is identical to CustomFlix (which was recently purchased by Amazon) - on-demand DVD-R duplication... The writer of this article implies, or even flat-out states, two entirely incorrect things. First, this is a new idea. I particularly love the end quote: 'It's also good,' she added, 'to see other companies sprouting up that offer a similar deal. It validates what we are doing and how quickly the world is changing.' Sprouting up? Like, two years before they launched? Second, he notes that this is a 'skip direct-to-video' step. It's still direct-to-video. The 'skip' would be video-on-demand, of course."

IFC Meanwhile, at the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore asks, "Does a paradigm shift in the woods?" The bits she points to:

  • Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter: "Rainbow Media Holdings is moving toward the first day-and-date releases of independent films in US theaters and video-on-demand." As Alison notes, Rainbow is IFC's parent company, but Thompson seems to have broken the news to her and the gang.

  • "What has prevented the studios from closing the video window is simple: Wal-Mart." At Slate, Edward Jay Epstein explains how the retailer plays hardball with Hollywood - and why the game won't last long.

  • IndieWIRE and Empire have updates on what's cooking at The Weinstein Company.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:17 AM | Comments (2)

October 24, 2005

"Eulogy for the Alt-Weekly"

Village Voice As the now very, very well-to-do David Schneiderman announced this morning, "Village Voice Media and New Times have agreed to a merger that will create an alternative media company with award-winning newspapers in seventeen cities in every region of the country."

But Jeff Chang (of Can't Stop Won't Stop fame) cuts through the crap: "It is now the Clear Channel of alt-weeklies." His entry today, "Eulogy for the Alt-Weekly," at his Zentronix is a must-read, bare-bones history of a great chapter in American journalism - and criticism - that is now pretty much over.

Via Evan Derkacz at Alternet's Peek.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:13 PM | Comments (5)

Midnight Eye. Samurai.

Samurai Books.jpg Well, "samurai" isn't the first word to leap to mind when you hear Shinji Aoyama, but much of the rest of the new issue of Midnight Eye cuts that way thematically. The "Round-Up," for example, is a "Rebel Samurai" special, the occasion being Criterion's release of Samurai Spy, Sword of the Beast, Samurai Rebellion and Kill!.

From Tom Mes's review of Alain Silver's The Samurai Film and Patrick Galloway's Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook (more), you'll find a link to Nicholas Rucka's "Samurai Cinema 101" of last year.

Robin Gatto argues that "if 'auteur directors' are to be found in artistic resistance to commercial dominion, then [Kenji] Misumi [more] deserves the right to be labeled an 'auteur.' His best jidai-geki display an elaborate visual language whose semi-abstraction often defied the commercial law of the time, which was to shoot entertainment pictures as fast as possible."

Then there are the reviews:

  • Tom Mes on Eiichi Kudo's The Great Killing, "one of the finest examples of how directly the chanbara spoke about what was going on in the streets of Tokyo during the 1960s."

  • Mes looks at a new one as well, Year One in the North, which sees director Isao Yukisada "unimaginatively tracing the contours of what he thinks an epic should look like."

  • And Mes reviews Aoyama's latest, Eli Eli Lema Sabachtani? - not a samurai film, but rather, a "07-minute meditation on how noise music can save mankind from certain doom, especially when played really loud."

Which brings us back to Nicholas Rucka's interview in which he asks Aoyama about the influence of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and about his own technique; and, when it comes to his reputation as a maker of "dark" movies, Aoyama insists he keeps trying to make a comedy, "but it never happens. I wonder if there's something in me that's stopping this?"

Posted by dwhudson at 9:57 AM

Kamera. Murch and Marker.

"If any one name is synonymous with excellence in sound design, then it must be Walter Murch." Yep. And it makes him the perfect interviewee to wrap up Peter Cowie's series of talks on sound for Kamera. Two standout paragraphs: the one on how the brain is "wired" for sound and vision and the one on the impact of 2001 and Seconds on the way Murch watches - and listens to - movies.

Catherine Lupton: Chris Marker Harlan D Whatley's quick take on Catherine Lupton's Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, which "captures the life of one of the world's most talented documentarians." It is, in fact, a frustratingly short review, so I went looking for more and found Lupton's paper, "Chris Marker: In Memory of New Technology," at what turns out to be a marvellous site to browse, silverthreaded. Reminds you of the days before web design became standardized and sites could still surprise you.

But back to Kamera:

Posted by dwhudson at 5:44 AM | Comments (2)

October 22, 2005

Weekend shorts.

For the Sydney Morning Herald, Garry Maddox reports on a collection of eight short films French producer Marc Obéron is putting together "to dramatise the United Nations's Millennium Development Goals." The directors on board so far: Jane Campion, Shinya Tsukamoto, Robert Altman, Jodie Foster, the Taviani brothers and Gaspar Noé, who's "shooting a film in July about the fight against AIDS in West Africa's Burkina Faso."

The Long Good Friday That's via Movie City Indie, where Ray Pride also points to Allan Koay's conversation with Tsai Ming-liang for Malaysia's Star, Shawn Levy's long talk with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the Oregonian and to Time Out's announcement that the results of its poll of London readers is in and their favorite London flick by far is John MacKenzie's The Long Good Friday.

Sukhdev Sandhu in the New Statesman on Workingman's Death:

[Michael] Glawogger's elegiac and revelatory documentary shows in the most visceral fashion imaginable that, for all the recent attention paid to the phenomenon of call-centres or various forms of offshore commerce, a great deal of work in the developing world is still of the back-breaking, life-threatening variety. It is tempting to compare it with the still photography of Sebastiao Salgado; however, where the Brazilian tends towards a numeric approach - focusing his lens on swarming masses of migrants and labourers - Glawogger prefers to point his camera at smaller groups of workers in order to emphasise their hard-won solidarity.

"The one thing I'll claim, in all modesty, is that I brought the word auteur into the English language. That's all. People in America had never read what the French actually said." Annie Nocenti "moderates" an interview with Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris in the "Auteur Issue" of Stop Smiling, which has put an all-too-brief excerpt online. In fact, here at least, Nocenti doesn't get a word in edge-wise. Also: Josh Tyson reviews Marlon Brando and Donald Cammell's Fan-Tan.

Filmbrain: "From its disturbing opening all the way to its enigmatic conclusion, Innocence is a daring, brave, wholly original film that can be described as an almost somnambulistic experience - and one that lingers for days." More from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times ("The line between cinematic art and exploitation has rarely seemed finer and nervier, at least in recent memory") and Steve Erickson for Gay City News.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Sam Peckinpah made a lot of westerns, obviously, and westerns in disguise, a little less obviously, writes Steve Boone: "But [Bring Me the Head of] Alfredo Garcia only reads like a western; it plays like the saddest, strangest 'hood movie ever made." Analysis (and spoilers, by the way) follow, and then: "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia offers young urban filmmakers torn between exhilarating Scarface/Grand Theft Auto-style genre nihilism and Boyz N the Hood sentimentality a different way to approach the reality of the streets, the housing project, the jailhouse."

Vince Keenan attends a screening of The Birds and listens in on a Q&A with Tippi Hedren: "For years, directors and producers came up to me and said they'd wanted me for a role, but Hitch wouldn't allow it,' she said. 'The worst was when I found out that François Truffaut had wanted to cast me. I'd never heard a word about it. That one hurt.'"

At Twitch, Canfield interviews horror director Gary Sherman. Also, Todd: "Chicago's Facets and California's Tidepoint Pictures - no strangers to the foreign film world already - are teaming up to create Asian Edge, a new DVD label focused on, you guessed it, edgy films from Asia."

With The Fall of Fujimori, director Ellen Perry "intrigues, perturbs, and asks many questions, but provides few answers - an approach that will likely provoke viewers into scurrying to find out more about the underreported story of Peru and its self-anointed savior-turned-strongman," writes Noy Thrupkaew in the American Prospect. Via Alternet.

Eugene Hernandez has five questions for Susan Kaplan, director of Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family. Do watch that trailer.

Also at indieWIRE: Anthony Kaufman: "Paradise Now is poised to become the biggest Arabic-language film ever released in the United States." And Eugene toasts Bob Berney.

Company 9 At Cinematical, Martha Fischer points to Peter Finn's piece in the Washington Post on Russia's latest blockbuster, Company 9. But if you're in a hurry, Martha's nailed the essentials. Also: Tim Biro reviews Jericho's Echo, a doc about Israeli punks and their takes on politics.

Jason Scott, whose most recent doc is BBS: The Documentary: "I've been coy enough for too long. The next documentary I am working on is about Text Adventures, or Interactive Fiction. It is called "Get Lamp". It has a introductory website (GETLAMP.COM) and I've been noodling with it for about 3 years." Via Waxy.org.

Nick Rombes: "Why does a student today need to be told how a movie or a video game 'works its ideology on you' when the movie or game itself can't wait to confess this fact?" Also: "I know others have mentioned this before, but the similarities between Cronenberg's History of Violence and Jacques Tourneur's film noir classic Out of the Past (1947) are eerily beautiful."

In the Independent Weekly, Godfrey Cheshire considers Junebug and Loggerheads, both made in North Carolina and both about the state's "people and culture, and the filmmakers' feelings about their native state. Genre-wise, however, the films are crucially different." And David Fellerath talks with Loggerheads director Tim Kirkman.

After 15 years of stop-n-go, an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is finally on its way, directed by Spike Jonze and based on a screenplay by Jonze and Dave Eggers. Charles Flemming checks in and briefs us on the versions that might have been. We can probably safely assume things have turned out for the best. Also in the NYT: AO Scott on American road movies: "If nothing else, these movies serve to remind us that we inhabit an endlessly photogenic nation. But they also acknowledge the anxious distance that the film industry perceives between itself and the rest of the country."

"And so it was at Tina Brown's own version of a high-school cafeteria: the brains, the cool kids and Claire Danes, all mixing happily, awkwardly, in one tight space. Suzy Hansen attends one of those New York things for the NY Observer and eventually gets around to profiling the Shopgirl.

North Country Is this the first Q&A format interview Slate's ever done? Pamela Paul with North Country director Niki Caro. And David Edelstein: "North Country is powerful and then some," while "Shopgirl is sadly vacuous, with a sadly vacuous center." (AO Scott would disagree.) Also: The problem isn't that Cameron Crowe puts his mother in his movies, both literally and figuratively, argues Sarah Hepola; it's that he's too nice to her when he does.

"60s amazing because / a poet could make films / then in the 70s be assassinated." Norman MacAfee's "The Coming of Fascism to America" in Jacket, via wood s lot.

"Both Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck equate journalistic integrity with accuracy and see compromise as a necessary part of working in the mass media," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader. "The films themselves also frequently engage in compromise, lying shamelessly and sometimes unnecessarily about some matters yet trying to be scrupulously accurate about others. I suppose this inconsistency could be rationalized as poetic license, but the desire of both movies to combine poetic generalizations with prosaic specifics creates more confusion than clarity."

Stuart Klawans's latest reviews in the Nation: Paradise Now, "as well researched and responsible a movie as we're likely to get about the who, how and why of Palestinian suicide attacks," The Squid and the Whale (no handy quote, but he approves) and, briefly, the "nastily efficient" The President's Last Bang.

In Norma Barzman, Duncan Campbell's found quite an interviewee: "How many memoirists would be able to write: 'I was more excited meeting Picasso than I was in Princeton in 1940 when my then husband, Claude Shannon, introduced me to Einstein.' She became pals with Sophia Loren while Ben was writing the screenplay for El Cid, and the photographer Robert Capa stroked her pregnant belly for good luck on his way to a night of gambling."

The Red and the Blacklist That memoir is The Red and the Blacklist, and she's currently working on a second volume, The End of Romance. More on the first at Democracy Now!.

Also in the Guardian:

Matt Clayfield: "I sincerely think that, even if I'd not just finished watching the entire series of Firefly and was thus in a slightly more objective position to comment, I'd still be calling Joss Whedon's Serenity the best film I've seen at the cinema all year."

Harold Lloyd Josef Braun in Vue Weekly: "To watch the films of Harold Lloyd in the 21st century is to be both presented with an illuminating document of American culture in the heady days of opportunity of the 1920s and to be supremely entertained by a comic talent whose best work remains truly timeless in its power to thrill with its audacity, invention and derring-do."

Geoffrey Macnab offers a brief consideration of Billy Wilder. Also in the Independent, two new interviews: Emma Bell with Lars von Trier - and David Gritten has a long profile in the Telegraph - and Roger Clarke with Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter.

Matthew Hayes marvels at the Nollywood phenomenon in the Globe and Mail: "Nigerian government officials now see the industry as a crucial component of the economy." (Related: "I Go Chop Your Dollar," via Screenhead.) Via Movie City News, where J Rentilly interviews Shane Black.

More on Protocols of Zion: Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat and Steve Erickson in Gay City News.

Daniel Robert Epstein talks with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer director John McNaughton for SuicideGirls.

Mike Mills tells the Telegraph's Mark Monahan why he finds Ordinary People "subversive."

Amos Posner writes an open letter to Oliver Stone in PopMatters.

In the Los Angeles Times:

  • Reed Johnson profiles Mexican filmmaker Eva Aridjis, whose "voice as a writer is humane, smart, worldly and armed with a dead-on sense of humor that never strains to be edgier-than-thou."

  • Richard Hilburn: "Unlike so many actors in biopics — including, some would say, Jamie Foxx in Ray — [Joaquin] Phoenix [in Walk the Line] never seems to be just imitating a subject. Instead, he takes liberties in evoking him as the film weaves together the contradictions of [Johnny] Cash's life (from drug addiction to spiritual awakening). The result: a character whose emotional center seems somewhere between Phoenix himself and Cash."

  • Susan King meets Kurt Russell.

Big Lebowski T-shirt

Dakota Fanning, writes Scott Foundas, "commands the screen with a natural authority and full-bodied sense of character that elude most of her contemporaries (and a good many performers several times her age). Not since Jennifer Connelly and Diane Lane first appeared on the scene has the career of a child 'star' looked this promising." Karina Longworth rounds up Cinematical covering their Fanning and, back in the LA Weekly, Foundas reviews Dreamer, "a case study in how an unrepentant formula picture can be made to seem like it has nothing to be sorry about."

Also, Ben Quiñones: "Danny Trejo has appeared in about 100 films, usually playing the perfect bad guy." His story's told in Joe Eckardt's documentary Champion. And Ella Taylor on North Country.

Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter: "[A]s the new kid on the studio block, [Bob] Iger is swiftly emerging as the Hollywood executive most likely to lead the charge into what former studio chief-turned-Internet entrepreneur Barry Diller calls 'the radical revolution' that will continue to rock Hollywood over the next 10 years."

Hardly anyone makes movies in Tennessee, even when a movie's ostensibly set in Tennessee. But, as Jim Ridley reports in the Nashville Scene, that may soon change.

John Rogers was in a linking mood the other day:

Six degrees of Mithun Chakraborty, courtesy of George Thomas.

Looney Tunes Hidden Gags Online browsing tip. Looney Tunes Hidden Gags. Via Drawn!.

Online listening tip. Recent guests on Fresh Air: Steve Martin (actually a rerun from 2003, but still) and George Carlin.

Online viewing tips #1, #2 and #3, all via Coudal Partners: Nate Harrison's projects (in particular, Can I Get an Amen?), Delicatessen's projects (in particular, Tempo di cottura) and macTV Videocast (in particular, Jed, a music video made on an Apple II).

Online viewing tip #4. Do They Know It's Halloween?, via pscholtes, who's also got a North Country roundup at the City Pages' Culture To Go. More from Manohla Dargis in the NYT.

Online viewing tip #5. The preview for Trapped by the Mormans. Via Joe Brown at the SF Chronicle's Culture Blog, where Karen Reardanz is furious that Fox has shut down a local Joss Whedon musical.

Online viewing tip #6. The trailer for Emmanuel's Gift.

Online viewing tip #7. The trailer for New York Doll. Via MCN. And via La Depsressionada, more from Carlo McCormick in Paper.

Online viewing tip #8. The teaser for 5-25-77. Via Screenhead.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:20 PM | Comments (2)

Lists.

Whether it's a matter of warming up for the end of the year or, since so many of them are horror-related, there certainly are a lot of lists out there all of a sudden.

See the Sea The IFC News team puts together a different sort of list of scary movies, "nine favorites that will never be called 'horror movies' but that will scare the pants off you all the same," while at the blog, Alison Willmore gathers more lists. The ones that've gone as yet unmentioned here: at the Onion AV Club, Scott Tobias's "Decade of Underrated Movies" and the collaboratively compiled "Underrated List (bands, cartoons, you name it); and "Boston.com's Top 50 Scary Movies of All Time."

And at Cinematical, Kim Voynar puts together a list of the spookiest houses in the movies.

This is as good a time as any to note that it's still October, meaning both Not Coming to a Theater Near You and Micah at Dumb Distraction are still reviewing a horror film a day.

The Mindjack guys aren't going to stand by and watch the IMDb celebrate its 15th on its own. Bests of the past 15 years from Donald Melanson, Ian Dawe and Jeffrey M Anderson.

In part because he was saddened to see Nathaniel R's list of favorite actresses of the 00s draw to a close, "I need to fill up the hole it left, and I'm inspired to do something similar, writes Nick Davis. Thus, the countdown begins: "Nick's Picked Flicks," the "100+ Movies I Most Love to Love." It's going to be quite a ride.

Dennis Cozallio tallies (and tallies) the results of a summertime quiz.

Cable network OCN celebrates "The Power of Korean Movies!: 10 Young Leaders"; HanCinema lists 'em.

And a list of a different sort from Grady Hendrix: "The Golden Horse nominations are in, and Johnnie To's Election is leading the pack with 11 (count 'em - eleven!) nominations. Kung Fu Hustle is the runner up (10 nominations) and Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times got nine noms." Full list, with the occasional comment, at Kaiju Shakedown.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:55 PM

Events and fests.

Celebrating Ray Pather Panchali turns 50 this year, and the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Collection at the University of California in Santa Cruz is celebrating tomorrow with a lecture and screening. Aseem Chhabra has a backgrounder on the new restoration of the film for India Abroad.

The Austin Film Festival (blog) runs through tomorrow, and of course, the Austin Chronicle's picked its highlights. Brick (site), a noir set in a high school, screens tonight; Marc Savlov talks to writer-director Rian Johnson.

The Austin American-Statesman's AFF package naturally features a list of highlights but also three conversations about comedy: Chris Garcia talks with Harold Ramis and Buck Henry and John DeFore talks with Judd Apatow. Via Matt Dentler.

Brian sends in a first report for Cinema Strikes Back.

Jette Kernion's rounded up more goings on in Austin at Cinematical.

Acquarello is looking forward to the series, "A Luminous Country: Celebrating Norwegian Cinema" (November 12 through 29 at the Walter Reade), though he's disappointed the "thoughtful and elegant documentary, The Man Who Loved Haugesund," won't be part of it.

Richard Rushfield is blogging the Hollywood Film Festival for the Los Angeles Times.

"If Toronto's behemoth of a fest now embodies North America's market-obsessed view of cinema," writes Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, "then Vancouver - thanks to programmers Tony Rayns and Mark Peranson - is the art form's heart beating in the dark, a friendly and intelligent site where economic caste systems aren't so dominant." More from David Walsh at WSWS.

Also in the SFBG, Cheryl Eddy talks with Shannon Lark about the local Halloween events she's got a hand in, such as Re-Animator of the Dead.

In the Boston Phoenix, Gerald Peary recommends "New York Stories: The Films of Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin" at the Harvard Film Archive.

Return to Busan: At Koreanfilm.org, Darcy Paquet, Adam Hartzell and Aynne Kokas offer various views on various moments of this year's Pusan International Film Festival and Adam, by the way, reviews one of Lee Man-hee's films not shown at the fest, The Marines Who Never Returned. HanCinema's got pix of the fest.

At indieWIRE:

Virginia Film Festival

Updates on the London Film Festival from the Times of London and Guardian.

It's been called "Europe's answer to Sundance": The European Independent Film Festival is slated for March 22 through 25 in Paris and may head out to other parts of the globe from there.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:33 PM

October 21, 2005

Guy Debord Cinéaste

Guy Debord Cinéaste Javier Arbona at Archinect: "Word is out of a new release of Guy Debord DVDs (along with a fifth volume of his letters) ...as well as a new website: www.guydebordcineaste.com."

This is a major online viewing tip, by the way. Enter the site and click "video" wherever you see it, or simply go straight to the bonus section. Arbona's got links to more background as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:16 PM

Marc Levin and the Protocols.

Francine Taylor meets Marc Levin, probably best known for his 1998 film, Slam, to talk about his latest, Protocols of Zion. Should note, too: Aaron Dobbs has interviewed for the Gothamist; Levin is blogging; and the film opens today in NYC and LA before expanding over the next few weeks.

Marc Levin waits outside a UCLA theater for a screening of his latest film to end so he can join the audience for a Q&A. A few people approach and introduce themselves, myself included, and find him cordial and welcoming. His hair may be gray, but Levin eagerly converses with everyone around him with a youthful enthusiasm. Only a few people trickle out of the theater at the end; most wait to hear Levin speak.

Protocols of the Elders of Zion The seed for Protocols of Zion was Levin's encounter, post-9/11, with a New York City cab driver who, like many, was thoroughly convinced that no Jews had died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Levin talked the cabbie into having coffee with him and discovered that the cab driver, defending his beliefs, referred to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. First published in Russia over a century ago, the Protocols, claiming to document a Jewish master plan to take over and rule the world, were used as propaganda to stir up anti-Semitism. With a jolt, Levin realized that this largely forgotten, discredited and dismissed document was back - the world was changing again. As a child, he'd grown up pretty much isolated from anti-Semitism, as opposed to his parent's generation, marked as it was by the Holocaust.

Levin's interest in film was sparked in the 60s by the French New Wave and films such as The Battle of Algiers. "As a kid in the 60s, I was kind of in the middle of it all," Levin says. He realized early on that film was more than entertainment - it was a way to explore thought, culture and what people believed. It was a "way to change the world." Following a few film classes at Wesleyan University, Levin literally fell into an apprentice film job at a studio in NYC where Woodstock and Gimme Shelter were being edited. Walking in to an interview, ready to take on any kind of entry level job, Levin was handed a few film canisters and told to deliver them to the lab. He'd been mistaken for a messenger, so that's what he did for a few days before the man delegating the errands asked him, "Who are you?"

Levin's projects have grown very organically from his interests and his desire to explore human nature, and each one seems to raise new questions, spark new ideas for further projects. Protocols evolved naturally, beginning with that cab ride, on through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and all along the way, Levin was driven by a desire "to simply make sense of it all."

He's one of those rare filmmakers who shifts freely between fiction and documentary films. That said, he notes that this is "a golden age when documentaries have been redefined," citing last summer in NYC when ten documentaries were playing simultaneously in major theaters. Even with the internet, cable news and 500 channels, "there is an opening in the market place for kind of a synthesis of ideas. Almost an op-ed."

Protocols of Zion Levin is currently developing a narrative feature, Jihad in Jersey, which grew out of his work on Protocols. There was something about the energy of the young people in Patterson, New Jersey that caught his interest, in particularly, young Arab Americans, passionate about their beliefs, living in a suburb, yet minutes from New York City. Levin recalls talking with them outside an Arab American restaurant, then being taken to someone's house where an older relative was peeking through the curtains at him because she'd had never seen a Jewish person before. With this film, Levin aims to delve "deeper into one person's soul." In Jihad in Jersey, the protagonist will be a "non-believer" in a world of "true believers."

The day following the Q&A, I interviewed Levin at Le Meridian Hotel in Los Angeles. I was interested in learning how the film had become something much more personal for Levin, to the extent that he claims that he doesn't think he could "expose himself like this again." At an "assembly" screening of Protocols (that is, in the early stages of editing), editor Ken Eluto maintained that the film sorely needed some emotional balancing to counter the often vitriolic responses Levin was presenting and suggested using some original footage shot during research of Levin's father, Al Levin. Marc Levin points out that he's regarded in France as the "anti-Michael Moore" - nothing against Michael Moore; he's simply seen as a distinctly different kind of documentary filmmaker. But Eluto pushed him to get more involved in front of the camera on this one, to be more open in his responses to people, rather than take the traditional role of stepping back and observing.

One audience member at the Q&A questioned the validity of the sometimes "sensational, Jerry Springer-esque quality" of the people interviewed for the documentary and whether including them is really an effective method of evoking rational discussion. Levin responds that he doesn't think the extreme attitudes displayed in the film are rooted in mere ignorance, but are worthy of deeper exploration on varying psychological levels. For example, the concept that some kind of ignorance and fear becomes "flipped from the inside out."

As far as how the project affected Levin, he believes that, on one hand, it reinforced an "abiding mistrust of organized religion" that he's had for some time. "Sometimes I wonder if more have been saved by God or slaughtered in the name of God. The toll is millions - not just Jews, but Catholics fighting Protestants, Sunnis against Shiites, Hindus against Siks." It's a tad ironic, then, that the experience of making Protocols has changed how he personally regards his own Jewish identity; he says he's become more familiar with and deeply connected to Judaism. "And yet amongst all races and religions, there are also so many unknown courageous heroes and martyrs who struggle for the age-old ideals of peace, justice and love," Levin adds.

Levin regards Protocols of Zion as only half a film; the discussion it encourages would be the other half. He maintains that the film itself does not have a set conclusion. "I've come to embrace the cabalistic epigram that 'the questions are the quest,'" he explains. "It's effective for me," Levin concludes. "This is why I thought it was valid. Not complete. Not perfect. But valid."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:12 AM

October 20, 2005

Senses of Cinema. 37.

Rolando Caputo & Scott Murray take an unusual yet refreshing approach to the editorial that opens Issue 37 of Senses of Cinema, yet open, as usual yet no less refreshing, with a piece on Australian cinema. Jonathan Dawson interviews Sarah Watt, the writer and director of Look Both Ways, and Andrew S. Gilbert, who plays Phil in the film.

L'Age-d'Or Bruce Hodsdon's piece on surrealist documentaries reads like a terrific primer on an "extended checklist" he's working on.

There's a section on US cinema in the 70s and one on Robert Towne:

  • Greg Ng: "Network is an example of a hugely successful and critically acclaimed feature film that offers a critique of television, ideology, radical chic and the consequences of American-led post-war capitalism, whilst being funny - no mean feat, and something only barely achieved in the current day by the likes of Michael Moore, et al."

Europe:

Mon Oncle

Features:

Il Gattopardo

Noel King discusses Canadian cinema with Blaine Allan.

Seven festivals and five books are reviewed and five new names have been added to the Great Directors database: Alan Clarke, Yílmaz Güney, Joris Ivens, Mitchell Leisen and James Whale.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:20 AM

October 19, 2005

Kubelka and Vertov.

Peter Kubelka "With a filmography that is only 63 minutes long, avant-garde master [Peter] Kubelka (born in Austria in 1934) has progressed film by his metric and metaphoric montages, which are attentive to tactile qualities and mechanics that are exclusive to film," writes Michelle Silva in the introduction to her interview with Kubelka in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Since the 1950s, Kubelka has remained a committed proponent of film as a pure medium, leaving an indelible mark on international film history and culture, establishing the Österreichisches Filmmuseum in Vienna, then cofounding Anthology Film Archives in New York City in 1978."

The occasion of the interview, in which Kubelka insists that cinema will survive "because it has a heart core which cannot be replaced by any other medium" and that "the imitation of cinema is definitely not what the digital medium can do, should do, and will do," is a series of lectures and screenings continuing at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley tomorrow, and then, on Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. And it should be mentioned that the San Francisco Cinematheque has a hand in all this as well.

Should be mentioned in part, too, because putting these programs together and getting them on their feet in even just a few cities costs money - and getting them anywhere outside the limits of a major city would simply not be financially feasible. Kubelka's right, naturally: films do need to be seen projected on a screen in a dark theater. But if you're living far and away from a cinematheque, second best is better than none. And second best is DVD.

That makes a new DVD series, "Edition Film Museum," produced by the afore-mentioned Austrian Film Museum in cooperation with other German-language film museums, all the more valuable. The first title's just out: Dziga Vertov's 1930 film, Entuziazm (Simfonija Donbassa), which, as the back cover reads, "was praised by artists like Charlie Chaplin, was subsequently forgotten, and rediscovered by the avant-garde movement of the 1960s."

What's doubly interesting is that Peter Kubelka has overseen the restoration (the two-disc release includes the original print held by the Gosfilmofond, Kubelka's restoration and Joerg Burger and Michael Loebenstein's doc, Restoring Entuziazm); doubly interesting because Vertov understood immediately that advent of sound opened up radical new possibilities for cinema, a concept Kubelka touches on in relation to his own work in Silva's interview.

Entuziazm I'm intrigued enough to have been emailing the Austrian Film Museum's Franziska Schuster over the past few days. "The first person who came up with the idea of a joint DVD Edition Film Museum was the director of the Munich Film Museum, Stefan Drössler," she writes. "He initiated the association of German-speaking film museums and archives to release films on DVD which are very rarely exhibited due to marginal market interest. These films belong to the valuable stock of the participating archives and are, notwithstanding their rare screenings in film theaters, of utmost significance for the history of film."

The aim of the series is to release eight to twelve titles a year. The next four in line are:

And how is the Edition going about selecting its titles? "Every participating film archive and museum is free to designate films as contributions to the Edition," replies Franziska Schuster. "This way, the Edition benefits from the experience and expertise of all the participants as well as from the focus of their particular film collection. The association will remain open for more institutions to join and deepen the pool of available 'content.' Besides silent pictures, which will, without a doubt, play an important role in the edition, there will be a focus on independent films from the 60s, 70s and 80s, as well as on selected currents in contemporary cinema. From our own archive at the Austrian Film Museum, we will be releasing more Soviet Revolution films, such as the 1930 Vitaphone version of Battleship Potemkin (the only existing sound records from that version are in Vienna), as well as other films by Dziga Vertov, and maybe also Pudovkin, Dovzhenko and others; and we'll be releasing important works from the avant-garde and experimental cinema of the 1960s, 70s and 80s."

By the way, it should probably be be noted that there'll be subtitles in English and German, occasionally other languages as well, and that these are Region 0 releases, PAL format, yet if you're in the US and your player and TV are relatively new, there should be no problem (though you might want to check).

Posted by dwhudson at 1:07 PM | Comments (3)

October 18, 2005

Filmmaker. Fall 05.

Filmmaker It's not as if Nicolas Roeg has really done anything of great note recently; it's got to be those recent Criterion releases that have many, like Scott Macaulay, reaffirming the notion that "no assessment of cinema in the 70s, no reconciling of that social era with the films of the time, can be complete without considering the work of Nicolas Roeg... In fact, re-watching Roeg's films again recently, with their free-associative editing, restless camera eyes, dense musical collages and deeply inquisitive engagement with the world around us, they seem, to me at least, some of the important films of the era."

That piece may be the last clickable item on the contents page of the new issue of Filmmaker, but it sort of leapt out at me. Scrolling back up to the top, we find that the three online features are snugly rooted in the present moment, that is, they're about movies that aren't about the present at all. If, pretty soon after 9/11, we found ourselves swamped with films bent on reimagining ancient tales on a grand scale, we're presently seeing quieter, smaller, though certainly no less visually engaging films bent not on reimagining, it seems, but on really doing their darnedest to grasp the mid-20th century. The scale here is intimate; this is a period so close we can still feel its reverberations, yet far enough, too, to give us permission to watch them through a comforting veil of objectivity:

Also:

FMJD

Posted by dwhudson at 4:14 PM

Shorts, 10/18.

The Man Who Fell to Earth Nicolas Roeg is working on a new film, Adina, described by Burnt Danish Productions as a "philosophical horror film about a new race of immortals who depend on sex to maintain their youth." And yet, at the same time: "It explores the idea that there is no linear time - no yesterday, today or tomorrow. Everything that ever has happened or ever will happen is happening right now - simultaneously." Hm.

Stop Smiling is running a brief excerpt from Nile Southern's interview with Roeg, followed by Michael Joshua Rowin's review of Criterion's release of The Man Who Fell to Earth: "[T]he film is less unconventional and more muddled than its devoted following might admit – but the new release on DVD is nonetheless a revelation, answering many of the questions that have surrounded this exemplary entry in the psychedelic canon." Also: Four more reviews of four more DVDs.

"Let the sniping begin!" shouts John Scalzi, unveiling "The Canon: The 50 most notable science fiction films in the history of cinema" at Boing Boing.

The American Astronaut "Sci-fi folks pride themselves on being willing to experiment, to 'go where no man has gone before,'" writes Jason Morehead. "Chances are, those folks will find very little that's enjoyable about The American Astronaut, even as it riffs on and subverts countless sci-fi types and cliches - and has one heck of a good time doing so."

At Five Branch Tree, Brian and MS Smith trade thoughts on Solaris and Soderbergh's remake.

Patrick Macias at Twitch: "I had dinner with Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura the other night. He was extremely gracious, he bought us chow and booze, and the conversation alternated between fascinating and laugh-out-loud hilarious... The first thing I told Kitamura is that foreigners actually seemed to get his latest film, Godzilla Final Wars... Kitamura had delivered the kaiju Kill Bill and only a humorless simpleton could fail to get the joke."

Black Dhandaulat.com's "Best of Bollywood 2005 survey involved 500 respondents from all over India, a majority of whom were in the 18 - 35 years age group." The Hindustan Times has the results; via Blake at Cinema Strikes Back, where he also points to an AFP story in which Abbas Kiarostami warns, "Asian film-makers now are forgetting their cultural identities and becoming too Americanised," and where David Austin reviews Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs, "a piece of prime-grade, gritty 70s exploitation, more on the same wavelength as Coffy and Female Convict Scorpion. Unfortunately, the film fails to live up to the promise of its fantastic opening."

Happy 15th to the Internet Movie Database: "As part of our 15th Anniversary (October 17) we asked our editorial staff (and a founder or two) to add their top 15 movies of the last fifteen years (1990 - 2005). As we are an international site with employees in Germany, Switzerland, the US and the UK, we were expecting extremely varied lists... and that's what we got."

Safe Girish: "So, here's my pick for favorite American movie made in the last ten years: Safe (1995) by Todd Haynes. (David Lynch's Mulholland Drive runs a close second.)"

PopMatters launches a new column, "Surround Sound," which, as you might guess, rounds up, reviews and gives a numerical rating to recent soundtracks. For Adam Besenyodi, Danny Elfman's soundtrack for Corpse Bride is the best of the current bunch.

Christian Lorentzen, intrigued enough by The Squid and the Whale to seek out a collection of stories by "the elder Baumbach," has one of the better pieces you'll read on the film in n+1: "The Andersonian formula from Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums - whereby precocious children behave like adults and adults behave like naughty adolescents - seems to be in effect, but it soon enough collapses under pressure from each character's peculiar pathology."

Nina Siegel has a good long talk about politics with Viggo Mortensen in the Progressive. Via Alternet.

"I have been watching the emergence of Angelina Jolie as a historical figure with a deepening grumpiness," harrumphs Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic. "Not since the 1960s have so many entertainers believed that they can rescue the world." Also: Stanley Kauffmann on Capote and Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinémathèque.

Kubrick The Kubrick links keep on coming at Coudal Partners.

Jason Kottke heads off in search of the first superhero.

David Thomson in the Independent on Good Night, and Good Luck: "In its quiet faith that there are grown-up minds somewhere out there, it is what a movie ought to be." Related: George Clooney is Terry Gross's guest on Fresh Air.

In the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein reflects on Good Night and Capote:

If Murrow comes off more as admirable than Capote, his righteousness trumping Truman's narcissism, it's because we see that while Capote's work took a huge emotional toll - he never finished another book after In Cold Blood - Murrow's courage was in support of a greater cause, our freedom of speech. Standing up to a bully always earns bigger applause than empathizing with a killer.

Still, it is Capote who turned out to have the larger influence on modern-day journalism

Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE: "Three films have been tapped to launch Truly Indie, a new distribution initiative formed by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's 2929 Entertainment." Brian Flemming comments on the "potentially brilliant new distribution strategy."

Innocence Also: Steve Rosen on "a Saturday forum in Los Angeles called 'Sell Your Film Without Getting Screwed!'" and the Reverse Shot team on Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence.

At Slate, Edward Jay Epstein explains the economics behind the major studios' enslavement to unoriginal formulas.

J Hoberman: "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a calling-card movie that invites you to enjoy, and even participate in, the comeback of writer-director Shane Black: To watch this frantic exercise in smartass violence is to watch a hyperactive slapstick comic perform emergency resuscitation on his own career." Also: Ushpizin.

Also in the Village Voice:

  • Ed Halter on The Time We Killed: "[Jennifer] Reeves's remarkable skills for expressive cinematography grant this grim tale a stark beauty bereft of sentimentality."

  • Shelly Kraicer on "A Centenary of Chinese Cinema" (October 21 through November 10): "Within the confines of a pretty conservative reading of what constitutes a canonical mainland Chinese film, the series offers a parade of masterpieces that should surprise and dazzle North American audiences who haven't yet had concentrated exposure to these works."

Naruse
  • Chuck Stephens on "Naruse: The Unknown Japanese Master" (October 21 through November 17): "Tempting though it might be to describe Film Forum's 31-film retrospective - flush with rubbed-raw riches from the silent 1933 boy-meets-geisha romance Apart From You to the Sirk-saturated colors of his 1967 career capper, Scattered Clouds - as tantamount to the miracle of resurrection, the reality is that Naruse has so long been locked in the 'ripe for rediscovery' position that it's come to seem an integral aspect of his historically sanctioned rigor state."

  • Jessica Winter: "North Country spectacularly self-destructs in a climactic courtroom free-for-all."

Grady Hendrix: "Despite continual warnings that it's in a state of 'crisis,' the Thai film industry keeps popping up all over."

Elizabeth Schambelan files an entry in Artforum's diary: "It goes without saying that one must suffer for one's art, but some of us prefer to suffer for other people's art. And so it was that on Friday night a few hundred hardy, masochistic souls, myself among them, showed up in a downpour at Central Park's (roofless) Wollman Rink, where a sequence for Pierre Huyghe's film A Journey That Wasn't was being shot."

Look Both Ways Richard Phillips at WSWS: "Two recent Australian films - Look Both Ways and Little Fish - have attracted some local critical acclaim and larger than usual audiences. Both movies, while not flawless, are humane and intelligent works. They constitute an improvement on the last few years of uninspiring commercial features produced in Australia."

Clint Eastwood was making a movie about the Battle of Iwo Jima when he decided to make two movies about the Battle of Iwo Jima. Richard Schickel explains in Time. Via Movie City News.

Logan Hill profiles Robert Downey, Jr for New York, where Ken Tucker writes, "[S]incerity is a tricky quality to put over in these snarky times, which makes the artistic failure of Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown all the more sad."

Encyclopedia Brown Encyclopedia Brown "has 'franchise' written all over it," notes Sharon Waxman. After trying for 25 years, producer Howard Deutsch, now in partnership with Ridley Scott, is still trying to make it happen. Also in the New York Times: Laura M Holson on making movies for tiny screens and Dave Kehr on the new DVDs of the Halloween season.

At Twitch, Canfield, too, gets caught up in the Halloween spirit (more, more and more).

Saudi Arabia will allow public screenings of films for the first time in about 20 years. Cartoons only. For women and children only. The AFP reports; via Movie City Indie.

At Flickhead, Ray Young reviews Live Fast, Die Young, the "lively new book about the creation and aftermath of [Nicholas] Ray and [James] Dean's Rebel Without a Cause... The seamless combination of objective reportage with gushing admiration for the film and a palpable fascination for the Dean/Ray mythos is absorbing, though [authors Lawrence] Frascella and [Al] Weisel hedge any dense critical examination of Nick Ray's method or James Dean's Method."

The cinetrix: "Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr throws down with some cinematic history and explains why we should care about the Brattle's continued existence."

Notable, even if just barely related to film:

Noam Chomsky

"One day we'll all wake up and everything will be an ARG," declares things magazine. "The rise of the ARG, or Alternate Reality Game (as utilised by a certain TV show, which has built on the concept of related spoof websites with hidden messages first seen in the publicity associated with Spielberg's AI) characterises contemporary media's ability to worm itself into every aspect of life."

In German: Hanns-Georg Rodek visits the set of Tom Tykwer's adaptation of Patrick Süsskind's Perfume for Die Welt. Via filmz.de.

Online fiddling around tip. Cinema Minima: "Make your own Bombay talkie at Bombay TV: Choose a clip - compose subtitles - send to your friends!"

Online viewing tip #1. Lev's My Successful Friends. Via Andy Baio.

Online viewing tip #2. Panopticist is hosting "the first music video filmed entirely using cellphones," produced by Film Headquarters for the Presidents of the United States of America. Via Fimoculous.

Online viewing tip #3. Screenhead's found one very unusual little video.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:34 PM | Comments (1)

How to read a film.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story Years and years ago, I saw some year-end program on PBS in which well-known authors were asked two questions (well, at least two; memory's really vague here - it was a long time ago): Which book would you recommend viewers make a point of reading, New Year's resolution-like, in the coming year? And which book are you determined to read yourself? John Updike recommended Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and then admitted that, while he'd started a few times, he hadn't yet made his way through Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Wonder if he ever has.

Those of us who try to read a novel before seeing its adaptation (and sometimes even succeed) have had our work cut out for us this year, turning the last page on the Le Carré only to pick up the Capote, but Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story presents a challenge of a different order. If you live in one of those selected cities in the US, you have until January 27.

Whether or not you make it, John Mullen's backgrounder on Sterne and his novel in the Guardian makes for a delightful cheat sheet.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:05 AM

October 17, 2005

Sitges. Wrap-up.

Sitges 05 Juan Manuel Freire wraps the Sitges International Film Festival.

That's all, folks. The Sitges Film Festival has just announced the winners of this year's edition, with the awards for Best Motion Picture and Best Screenplay going to David Slade's Hard Candy. This courageous film is a drama-thriller hybrid about a 32-year-old man who takes home a 14-year-old girl he's met on the net.

Election Like last year, when he picked up the award for Breaking News, Johnny To has won the Best Director Award - this time for Election, a thriller about a democratic election in the (under)world of organised crime. Lee Kan-cheng picked up the Best Actor Award for his performance as a porn actor in The Wayward Cloud, which also received the Special Jury Award ("for its bold aesthetic and moral discourse against sexual alienation") and the Jose Luis Guarner Critics Award. The Best Actress Award was reasonably presented to Lee Yeong-ae for her role in Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

The full list of awards is here. See you later. Keep cool.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

Sitges Dispatch. 7.

Sitges 05 Juan Manuel Freire reports on his weekend viewing at the Sitges International Film Festival.

As the festival slowly fades out, we do our best to be everywhere we should be and take a peek at every film possible, even those no one seems to know anything about - or especially those, as the pleasure of discovering a hidden gem is not really comparable to that of confirming the existence of a widely acknowledged great film. Saturday is, therefore, a day for three titles that are not exactly on everyone's radar.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

First, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, a dark fairy tale from the Quay Brothers. Well, that wasn't easy. As with MirrorMask, this is just a series of pretty tableaux without a plot to pull them together and make the whole thing cohesive or enjoyable. Well, there is something here - the story of a doctor who abducts a dead opera singer (the absolutely beautiful Amira Casar, recently seen in Anatomy of Hell) to convert her into a mechanical creature - but it's not involving enough to keep a viewer from falling into deep sleep, lulled by desaturated colors, dense landscapes and boring gimmickry. Will this take a prize? Stranger things have happened.

Final Fantasy: Advent Children

When everyone hated Final Fantasy, the rebel in me took up its defense. While everyone talked about the human actors vs CGI thing, it was forgotten that this was one of the most creative, exhilarating and moving pieces of animation ever made, a creation full of ecstatic set pieces that could set our hearts on fire. As the only fan of Final Fantasy on Earth, I came to Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (an entry in the Anima't parallel section) completely alone, only to discover that this is not exactly what I was hoping for. Technically exhibitionist to the point of pure cheesiness, possessed by an aesthetics way too new-agey, this feels more like a long and expensive intro to a videogame than a movie. Only for unconditional fans of the FF universe.

L'empire des loups

Two failures out of three. Okay, and the third? The horrid French thriller L'empire des loups recounts the investigation into the story behind three corpses of clandestine immigrants - clichés, effects-ism and outright mistakes abound. Since it's based on a novel by the same writer of The Crimson Rivers and helmed by the director of Kiss of the Dragon, it wasn't realistic to hope the day would improve, and it didn't. Know what? Tomorrow there won't be any surprises. We'll just attend every single screening of David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, four in all.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 AM

October 16, 2005

Shorts. Catching up.

A week of overlapping festival coverage has left little time (and space) for "Shorts," but they've been getting a little unwieldy lately anyway, haven't they? Drop a line or a comment if you, too, think a little honing is in order. Drop one if you don't, too. A more selective batch might look something like this, albeit much smaller, because they'll be appearing more frequently again:

The President's Last Bang "South Korea has only recently accomplished full freedom of expression, under the current regime. He [current President Roh Moo-hyun] has said that Park [Chung-hee]'s assassination is the most important event in contemporary Korean history. So, I thought, why not?" Im Sang-soo answers the many questions Filmbrain has about one of his favorite films of 2005, The President's Last Bang.

More from Grady Hendrix at Kaiju Shakedown and James Crawford at indieWIRE. Reviewing the film for the New York Times, AO Scott finds a "cynicism [that] feels like the prerogative of a democratic sensibility, which can peer into the highest sanctum of power and see the same messy, ignoble human behavior that exists everywhere else."

Firecracker unleashes another issue, featuring Erika Franklin's interview with Beautiful Boxer director Ekachai Uekrongtham and a slew of reviews of Asian films, old and new.

Steve Erickson for Gay City News: "Minoru Matsui's 2001 documentary Japanese Devils directly treats a taboo subject - Japanese war crimes preceding and during World War II.... He began making it with no financial support except his own money - no TV station or production company would invest in it."

Terminal USA "The gutter is liberating! The gutter is freedom! The gutter is poetry! I think it is all a matter of pushing the boundaries and showing the diversity of the image. A corroded and decomposed and grained-out image can be as beautiful as something that is sharply in focus and of 'higher' technical standards. Neither image should represent the way things have to be done." Jon Moritsugu takes on a few questions at BRAINTRUSTdv.

Filmmaker Sujewa Ekanayake has also interviewed Moritsugu; in general, his site's quite an interesting browse. He's been blogging about the feature he's been working on, Date Number One and has interviewed Californian indie filmmaker Amir Motlagh.

Back at BRAINTRUSTdv, an interview with Bill Day, whose latest film is Missionary Positions, about "two young, hip, good-looking Christian ministers fighting porn."

Invisible Cinema. Via the cinetrix.

Back at indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez and James Israel talk with Loggerheads director Tim Kirkman. Stephen Holden in the NYT: "Loggerheads is the year's second movie, following Junebug, to be steeped in North Carolina atmosphere, and Mr Kirkman's knowledge and obvious love of his home state lend the film a pungent authenticity."

Stop Smiling's running an excerpt from James Hughes's interview with Robert Altman.

"We have five million people dead in Congo versus 14,000 in Iraq," Darwin's Nightmare director Hubert Sauper Anjula Razdan in the City Pages. "The very simple answer about why we don't care about Congo is a profound unconscious racism. Those are other people dying - blacks, not 'us.'"

At Movie City News, Gary Dretzka considers how movies have treated terrorism since 9/11, with special emphasis placed on Paradise Now and The War Within: "In both films, thought-provoking dramas in which suicide bombers target innocent people in big cities - New York in the former, Tel Aviv in the latter - the protagonists are revealed to be something other than soulless monsters or fire-breathing zealots." Related: NP Thompson's interview with The War Within's co-writers, star and producer and the main site.

Also at MCN: David Poland on underrated actors and actresses (parts 1 and 2).

I Am a Sex Addict "Everything in the film actually happened. I didn't make anything up." Caveh Zahedi talks with Hollywood Bitchslap's Jason Whyte about his latest, I Am a Sex Addict.

For Creative Screenwriting, Danny Munso interviews Rob Ryang, the editor who put Shining together. Did you know over 200,000 people a day are watching it?

Richard Satran for Reuters: "Never far from the center of a storm, self-described filmmaker 'provocateur' Spike Lee is headed to New Orleans to make a documentary examining how race and politics collided in aftermath of Hurricane Katrina." As Karina Longworth points out at Cinematical, he won't be the only filmmaker there.

This summer, David D'Arcy interviewed Ushpizin director Gidi Dar. It's a fascinating project that's set off a few ripples in Israeli society and now, with the film set to open in New York on October 19, he has an update in the Village Voice.

The 400 Blows "I think this is the greatest film ever made about childhood," John Singleton tells Chris Sullivan. "I first saw it in 1989 and it changed the way I thought about film." He's talking about The 400 Blows. Also in the Telegraph: Nick Bradshaw interviews Carlos Reygadas.

The New Statesman hails "10 people who will change the world." For Nicole Mowbray, Samira Makhmalbaf is one of them: "Now only 25, with four films under her belt and another on the way, she is a skilled and confident professional, a figurehead for Middle Eastern women, but also for women in the film industry the world over. Don't think of a preachy do-gooder, though.... On set, she is ruthless, energetic, even a bully. She knows what she wants and her directing is ferocious."

The BBC gets quite a string of comments going at its site with this lead: "Author Philip Pullman has attacked plans to turn The Chronicles of Narnia into a movie series, calling CS Lewis' books 'racist' and 'misogynistic.'"

Two thumbs down, one up for Atom Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies from the Reverse Shot team (for Karina Longworth, the film "looks and feels like Douglas Sirk on crack"; Daniel Robert Epstein interviews Egoyan for SuicideGirls) at, again, indieWIRE, where Eugene Hernandez looks back on ten years of Killer Films.

Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinémathèque Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinémathèque "makes a persuasive case for Langlois as one of the most important figures in the history of film and therefore in the history of 20th-century art," writes AO Scott (more from the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris, via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?). Also: Wenders's Land of Plenty.

Also in the New York Times:

  • Manohla Dargis on Domino, "a lollapalooza of delectable cheap thrills" (Blake at Cinema Strikes Back: "For those that don't get it, Domino is a film that works much better the second time"), and Where the Truth Lies.

  • Stephen Holden on Innocent Voices, "a movie that has no qualms about pressing your emotional buttons," and Nine Lives.

  • Nancy Ramsey reports on the insanity that remains a major hurdle for documentarians: "Clearance costs - licensing fees paid to copyright holders for permission to use material like music, archival photographs and film and news clips - can send expenses for filmmakers soaring into the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

  • Matt Richtel: "Steven Spielberg, the Oscar-winning filmmaker, and Electronic Arts, the video game maker, said on Friday that they would jointly create three new original video game franchises."

  • Sharon Waxman: "By the time Daniel Craig came churning up the Thames in a power boat for Friday's official announcement in London that he had been cast as Agent 007, much of the world was already in the know. The mystery in the selection of this 37-year-old actor, who had cleaned up nicely in a blue suit and red tie, was why it had taken so long." Also: How James Mangold extracted secrets from Johnny and June Carter Cash for Walk the Line.

  • The paper's obtained a copy of the Bush administration's plan to react to a pandemic flu; Gardiner Harris introduces an excerpt: "No one would confuse the 381-page document with a screenplay, but pages 45 through 47, the section titled 'Pandemic Scenario - Origin and Initial Spread,' are gripping."

  • Lewis Beale on how movies based on true stories can sometimes be derailed by whiplash real-life twists.

  • Craig Modderno asks Shirley MacLaine a question or two her co-stars haven't.

Hondo The Washington Post's Stephen Hunter on John Wayne in Hondo: "He didn't order you to be like him, he made you want to be like him."

At Alternet, Evan Derkacz collects a few bloggers' answers to the question, "What movie scenes always make you cry?"

The Reeler agrees with Jake Dobkin: The best movies set in NYC were made in the 70s.

Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic on Oliver Twist: "Polanski directs here with much less of his usual vigor and originality, simply with professional competence, as if he were too awed by the source to make the picture his own. The result is so mild, distinguished only by its visual richness, that we miss the sense, usual in a Polanski film, that he is quietly chortling all the while at the effect he is having on us." He's not impressed with A History of Violence, either.

MS Smith: "The strength of Capote is its understated tone, the way in which its blue and gray visual palette captures the coldness of the Kansas winter, the manner in which, in quiet fashion, its draws connections between Capote's own family history and the story he is writing." Related and via MCN: Roger Ebert talks with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In Slate, Matt Feeney defends Noah Baumbach's early efforts, Kicking & Screaming and Mr Jealousy against a "gentle cut" from... Noah Baumbach. Also, David Edelstein on Elizabethtown and Domino and Edward Jay Epstein: "[R]ather than buoying Disney's profits, Miramax was hemorrhaging rivers of red ink."

Joe Leydon talks Shopgirl with Steve Martin in the New York Daily News.

Night Watch In the Independent, Roger Clarke meets Timur Bekmambetov, who claims his film, Night Watch, "is shamanistic film-making," and James Mottram interviews Tilda Swinton and Paul Schrader.

Megan K Stack in the Los Angeles Times: "The kingdom of Morocco has become a magnet for all manner of films, a sandy, evocative darling for the productions that are leaving Hollywood en masse. Pictures have been shot here ever since the days of Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. But in these times of globalization and outsourcing, the influx of big-name films has turned Morocco into one of the most popular backdrops for American films, with Black Hawk Down, Sahara, Kingdom of Heaven, Alexander and Gladiator all shot here."

For the SF Weekly, Ryan Blitstein profiles Wild Brain, "the company that has been touted as animation's next big thing for more than a decade."

Marina Warner notes that the gothic aesthetic is now mainstream children's entertainment: "[Terry] Gilliam, [Tim] Burton and the Quays display such beguiling skill with visuals and animation that they have metamorphosed evil and shrunk the scope of our fears." On a neighboring page, Burton himself: "I know people will describe [Corpse Bride] as gothic, as they always do of my movies, but I'm not really sure what that means."

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

The Stranger has revealed the winners of its annual "Genius Awards," and one of them is Michael Seiwerath, executive director of the Northwest Film Forum, whose 10th anniversary Sean Axmaker celebrated right here a couple of weeks ago. Bradley Steinbacher adds that the organization "has blossomed into the leading film organization in the city, offering not just screenings of underappreciated and little-seen films, but also hands-on training, equipment rentals, and outright film production." Then five Seattle-area filmmakers are briefly profiled as "Ones to Watch."

Vertigo Brian: "Los Angeles Plays Itself will be a great inspiration to filmmakers, critics, scholars and curators with an eye toward geographical readings of films. I can't wait to see a Frisco filmmaker with strong opinions about Vertigo, The Graduate, the transformation of Union Square in light of Coppola's The Conversation, the disappearance of the eerie locations from The Lady From Shanghai (most recently the now-demolished aquarium), etc., make a film of this type."

Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Forty Shades of Blue was - along with Hustle and Flow and Junebug - part of a trifecta of Southern films at Sundance this year, and to these eyes, it's the hard-edged prize gem." Related: Keith Uhlich interviews Ira Sachs for Slant.

90ways, a few of them satisfyingly merciless: Sara Schieron and Judson Merrill.

In the Boston Phoenix, Gerald Peary has a shudder-inducing anecdote to tell about Nicholas Ray before briefly reviewing the clearly quite juicy Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause.

For Kirkus Reviews, Chris Barsanti recommends four books that could well make for great films.

In January, Anthony Rainone reviews Terrill Lee Lankford's Blonde Lightning, which "takes the reader further inside the insidious process of moviemaking, with a side plot that spirals into a series of violent episodes worthy of the best hard-boiled moments of the genre."

Blook? Evidently it's a blog that - hopefully with some editorial help along the way - has migrated to the printed page. There's even a Lulu Blooker Prize. The jury: Cory Doctorow, Robin Miller and Paul Jones. The next wave, they say: "Flooks," films based on blooks. Example: Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl, already a book, soon heading to a theater near you.

Time: Jobs Video iPod. Apple. Disney. Pixar. Jobs. Iger. Coverage: Xeni at Boing Boing (more), Nick Rombes, John Rogers, Lev Grossman in Time, Richard Siklos in the NYT, Jesse Hiestand in the Hollywood Reporter and Benny Evangelista in the San Francisco Chronicle.

And at indieWIRE - again - Eugene Hernandez reports on how the couple behind Four-Eyed Monsters are utilizing Apple tech and MySpace.com to get their film seen. Watch their vlog.

MTV takes iFilm.

Online viewing tip #1. Jared Hess's Winner Take Steve. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #2. James Seo posts video of a Haruki Murakami reading and Q&A.

Online viewing tip #3. The English-speaking folks at Spiegel have found UNICEF's Smurf spot.

Online viewing tip #4. The trailer for The Passenger. Via MCN.

Online viewing tip #5. A clip from Jan Svankmejer's Ossuary. Via Wiley Wiggins, who's also pointing to DVD Beaver's collection of Buñuel posters. Of course, the entire collection is dangerously diverting.

More posters? Matt Langdon's found some Japanese posters for African-American films.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:08 PM

LA Weekly. "Fall Harvest."

LA Weekly The LA Weekly's got a nice-sized fall movie package. Starting with Good Night, and Good Luck, Scott Foundas profiles George Clooney and the general atmo as he attends a reception hosted by the Radio and Television News Directors Association...

On the one hand, it's impossible to witness Murrow's dogged investigation of McCarthy's half-truths and specious accusations without thinking of the similarly committed reporters who held government's feet to the fire over the Hurricane Katrina debacle. On the other, Murrow's ultimate reward for his efforts - banishment to the Siberia of Sunday-afternoon broadcasting by sponsor-conscious CBS president William S Paley (played in the film by Frank Langella) - draws discomforting parallels to current CBS chairman Les Moonves' recent comments about the need for TV news to become more "entertaining."

... and, like Sean Axmaker at our main site, interviews David Strathairn. Then, the review. Ella Taylor: "[S]omehow the gambit works, thanks to a glamorously urbane ensemble... There's a lovely, improvised lilt to their interactions..., a controlled frenzy that takes you back to the days when people actually had fun at work, even in a large corporation."

Nine Lives cast "I wanted to make a movie that would consist of really short moments, that would be a sort of mosaic," Rodrigo García tells Tim Grierson, who explains that, with Nine Lives, "García gave himself a Five Obstructions-style challenge: Take Things You Can Tell, add more vignettes, make each vignette shorter, and there can't be any cuts - each of the nine stories unfolds in real time, in one continuous camera take." Foundas: "[T]he nine female characters who form the stories' centers are all remarkable, as are the gifted (and largely under-appreciated) actresses who play them."

After linking touchstones of Noah Baumbach's career with a few of his own, Foundas writes, "The Squid and the Whale doesn't look or feel like any movie Baumbach has made before - the rhythms are looser, the textures are rougher, the emotions are rawer - but it's of a piece with his earlier work in its uncommon sensitivity to the ways in which people try to make relationships work, often for worse rather than better." Taylor meets Jeff Daniels, who is, of course, "very, very good, in an unobtrusive, can't-see-him-acting way that has caught the attention of some of America's top directors even as it has locked him into mostly supporting roles."

Paul Malcolm: "Where [Wes] Anderson's family sagas, for all their turmoil, never leave us in doubt that we are on the path to reconciliation, Baumbach gives no such reassurance. It's a risky move given the volatile emotions that the film stirs up, especially for a director who's been away from the game for eight years."

Patrick Z McGavin meets "the most coveted screenwriter in Hollywood," even though - good for him! - he's sticking to Chicago. Steve Conrad's latest is The Weather Man.

Jessica Winter talks with the filmmakers behind "[o]ne of the best pieces of visual reportage to have emerged from the war in Iraq," Occupation: Dreamland, which she also reviews; she finds it "reinforces the impression that the American rodeo in Iraq was always a murderously pointless self-security op, leaving one officer to wonder aloud, 'So what are we protecting? I don't know.'"

Back to Foundas. This time, he meets Nick Park, who "wants viewers to 'see the thumbprints' on his characters' plasticine physiognomies," one of the beautiful aspects of Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 PM

FFs.

LA CityBeat "Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular simply have too many damned film festivals." The "FFs" for this entry's title come from Andy Klein's wonderfully entertaining take on a not-so-entertaining development that, as we all know, is not limited to Los Angeles and Orange counties: "The good news is: Everyone with the desire can now make a film. The bad news is: Everyone with the desire can now make a film. The worse news: most of them are." And, as "one anonymous person on the exhibitor side," tells him:

There may be a limited number of potential viewers, but there's an unlimited number of desperate filmmakers. Let's say they've been rejected at Sundance; now they're working their way down the list, from event to event. The entry fees for some indie fests can go a long way to keeping an organization afloat. The filmmakers get their stuff shown in LA, where they might just catch the eye of a critic or a distributor. And at least they can say they were chosen for an LA festival. Everybody's happy... except maybe the audience.

And do not miss his rundown of the FF schedule for the first half of 2006. If that schedule relieves your righteous anger a little too much, work yourself up again reading Kaleem Aftab in the Independent as he lambasts the role sponsorships play in shaping festivals and their programming.

But of course, "festival fatigue" is probably one of the luxurious maladies imaginable. Even as the multiplexes slowly empty, festival attendance is still on the up-n-up, so someone, somewhere is having a good time. In Chicago, maybe, where Chicago International Film Festival rolls on through October 20. The Chicago Reader reviews the highlights and there's more from Peter Sobczynski at Hollywood Bitchslap.

Twitch has people in Chicago and at Raindance.

Jette Kerion has a round-up of Austin area events at Cinematical.

"The American Film Market is coming [to Santa Monica] November 2 - 9 and it's the week when distributors pinch, squeeze, weigh and check the teeth of potential new acquisitions," notes Grady Hendrix, who then jots up a list of "what looks weird, cheap, off-beat and potentially fun." Plus: deals of note at the Pusan Fest.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw and the Observer's Jason Solomon pick their top tens from the offerings at the London Film Festival. Also: Rachel Cook predicts that A Cock and Bull Story will be the hit of the fest.

In the Stranger, Nate Lippens looks over the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, through October 23.

Boston Latino International Film Festival In the Boston Phoenix: Peter Keough on the Boston Latino International Film Festival, through October 23.

Robert W Welkos previews the Hollywood Film Festival (October 18 through 24) for the Los Angeles Times.

At Cinema Minima, Austin Burbridge takes note of the New Italian Cinema series slated for November 13 through 20 in San Francisco and André Soares comments on the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

Peter Bowen reviews this year's edition of Outfest for Filmmaker.

It's a wrap: Part 5 of Jamie Stuart's New York Film Festival diary for Mutiny City News. Also: Michael Tully, parts 1 and 2.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:21 PM

Harold Pinter.

David Hare on the occasion of Harold Pinter winning the Nobel Prize for Literature:

The Servant

The lazy Time Out-driven orthodoxy of the past few decades has been that the British cinema has never outgrown its dependence on the stage, and that until we develop a separate cinema culture our films will remain too literary and parochial. In fact, the reverse is the truth - that without the contribution of stage dramatists, actors and directors (Stephen Frears and Mike Leigh, for instance), the British cinema would barely have existed at all. Nobody more perfectly exemplifies the mastery of both media than Harold - who managed during the decade of his greatest fertility in playhouses also to produce the flawless screenplays for Joseph Losey's films of The Servant and Accident.

And finally. It is perhaps the most depressing feature of the powerful democratic movement against the Iraq invasion that no major figures have come out of that movement who have been able to articulate in any powerful way the deep sense of betrayal and anger that has marked this most dangerous and dishonourable of wars. For almost 20 years now, Harold has been - often at considerable personal cost - the most prominent spokesperson in this country for those who are the hapless victims of belligerence and oppression. Like Arundhati Roy, he has worked to begin to redefine the idea of what, in uniquely dangerous times, we may expect an artist to be. In doing so, he has blown fresh air into the musty attic of conventional British literature. We have among us just one writer who is certain to be performed in 50 years, and who may well be performed in 100. But beyond that, he has used his reputation for good. More power to him.

Also in the Guardian, more commentary from the likes of Tom Stoppard, Michael Frayn and so on. And more. Plus a lead editorial and comments from literary editor Robert Crum and this from theater critic Michael Billington: "I would argue that the screenplays not only constitute a significant second canon to the plays, but reveal an even more consistent preoccupation with politics."

Pinter himself also talks with Billington about his own immediate reaction to the news.

More Sunday reading? Ed Champion has put together a "Pinter Grab Bag."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:36 AM

Sitges Dispatch. 6.

Sitges 05 Once again, Juan Manuel Freire at the Sitges International Film Festival.

The sequel to the horror hit in Japan, One Missed Call 2, directed not by workaholic Takashi Miike but by TV-friendly helmer Renpei Tsukamoto; the long-awaited new venture from Korean Kim Ji-woon, attractive thriller A Bittersweet Life; the celebrated, mysterious and seemingly disturbing Hard Candy, about a 32-year-old man bringing home a 14-year-old girl he's met on the net; or that night entirely devoted to Jaws, with the screening of the original masterpiece and a set of jaw-dropping docs... Friday's offerings at Sitges were a blast and it was impossible to be looking at one screen without thinking about what you we're missing on another.

Corpse Bride But the red hot ticket was the Spanish premiere of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Hardcore fans of the gothic-meister were on the verge of a nervous breakdown, while those saddened by the directions he's taken recently (e.g., myself) were eager to know whether or not the man was still heading downhill. Because Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a cheap imitation of Burton by Burton himself, I feared Corpse Bride might be the same, as it was apparently a retread of paths previously taken.

Fortunately, this is a winner. It doesn't really achieve the heights of The Nightmare Before Christmas, to which this is not a sequel but a successor, but it is a hugely enjoyable film that dispels worries that Burton's getting boring. A romantic gothic fantasy in glorious stop-motion animation (CGI is used just occasionally for effects such as smoke and so on), Corpse Bride tells the story of a bizarre love triangle: young, shy, clumsy Victor (Johnny Depp, better here than in the role of Wonka), his betrothed, Victoria (Emily Watson), and a dead girlfriend (Helena Bonham Carter) who has surprisingly and firmly stood in his way. This is an eye-popping visual feast, but what sets the film apart, rather curiously, the sheer drama - great dialogue, a nice soap-opera plot and great facial expressions make for a delightful treat. As in Charlie, there are some musical numbers that don't work, but this looks nonetheless like a return to form for Burton - his reencounter with sense of wonder. And we should be grateful for that.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:48 AM

October 15, 2005

Vancouver Dispatch. 3.

VIFF 05 Sean Axmaker wraps his coverage of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

I've always loved the excitement, the anticipation and the sheer density of cinematic experience of film festivals, but I'm beginning to understand one friend's objection to the festival experience. This year at VIFF, even as I whittled my schedule down to an average of three films a day, I was so overcome by the films squeezed into a marathon viewing endurance event that - with a few notable exceptions - I never really got past the surfaces: stylistic, textural, narrative, thematic. It took literally getting some distance from VIFF via a brief respite back in Seattle (where other assignments loomed) to get some distance on the films.

Heart, Beating in the Dark Heart, Beating in the Dark just gets more interesting as I work back through the textures of performance and the density of experience created through the collision of stories and styles. It's not merely the contrast of the raw footage and defiantly aggressive performances of the 1982 film with the quieter, sadder atmosphere of the more subdued 2005 couple. In his new take on the story, the young couple is running not just from the crime, but from overwhelming feelings that explode in violent outbursts that feel more desperate and pathetic as compared to the same actions performed with the punky attitudes of the 1982 couple.

Three Times Shu Qi, the girlish Hong Kong pin-up who so often slides through her performances on looks and charm alone - an image and an idealized object of beauty with no depth - matures as an actress in Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Three Times, her second film for the director (her first was as a typically cute but superficial young beauty in Millennium Mambo). Here she and co-star Chang Chen play lovers of sorts at different stages of a romantic relationship in all three episodes of this trilogy of tales, each set in a different era across the past 100 years. The style is pure Hou: richly textured atmosphere, camerawork that crawls at so deliberate a pace you're tempted to call it lazy when it is anything but, and scenes full of privileged moments of human activity. The first segment is set in the 60s, where Shu is an itinerate pool hall hostess and Chang a young man who meets her on the eve of his military service and then returns on leave only to spend it tracking her down through small town billiard halls. The innocence and hope of all those young feelings are turned to frustration and conflicted motivations in the second, where she's a tea room courtesan in Taiwan in 1911, just before the Wu Chang Uprising, where her favorite customer (Chang) is an activist and reformer. It's shot silently, with a plaintive music soundtrack and intertitles for the dialogue, but is hardly a silent film in any stylistic sense (Hou's visual approach is defiantly the same tiptoeing camerawork and long, languorous takes). As the sound returns in the rustle of paper and fabric and the lute music played in the tea room in the film scene, the effect is complete: the exaggerated naturalism of the hushed environment makes the silence deafening.

Three Times The final episode, set in Taipei 2005 with Shu a bisexual rock singer secretly carrying on with a photographer (Chang), feels undercooked next to the deft observations and emotional snapshots of the first two, but it's no less lovely to look at. Even at his worst, Hou creates atmosphere and texture you can lose yourself in. At his best, he connects to the most ephemeral of human experiences in the most modest of revealing gestures and body language. In the most glorious moments, he captures the movements and precious details that define a lazy game of pool or the formal details of pouring tea, holds his camera on a face slowly losing its composure, and makes time a palpable presence.

M.A.I.D. The three films from Thailand - a spy-movie farce, a social documentary, and a romantic fantasy - all share a curious thematic essence. All chronicle the culture clash of simple, unworldly country boys and girls trying to find a life in the bustling, urbane, big city society of Bangkok. The loose thematic thread was surely unplanned in the programming, but its echoes can be felt in other recent Thai films (from the rural romance of Tropical Malady to the innocent country boy kicking urban gangster ass in Ong-Bak). In the garish spoof M.A.I.D., from Yongyoot Thongkontoon (Iron Ladies), the culture clash takes the form of farce: bubble-headed country girls working as maids in Bangkok wind up playing at Charlie's Angels when they are drafted as special agents by an ambitious government investigator, and their pluck is matched only by their idiocy and their tendency to mug mercilessly for the camera.

Crying Tigers Crying Tigers (also a "Dragons and Tigers" competition film) takes the immigration far more seriously as it follows the fortunes of four individuals who hit Bangkok with big dreams. A popular recording artist and stage star on the verge of retirement (who still lives in squalor - by choice, he insists) and a female taxi driver training to helm big rig trucks get cursory attention. Director Santi Taepanich focuses on Man, who works a 12-hour day in a fish costume waving customers into a seafood restaurant before following his dream to become a stage comedian (starting at the bottom rung, of course, as a roadie), and Nath, a stunt-man on B action movies who dreams of appearing opposite Tony Jaa, and does a little catering on the side when work is scarce. There's nothing sensationalistic about their struggles, and amazingly, they find themselves all pursuing their dreams, albeit at the lowest rungs of their chosen professions. The lack of social context is frustrating for me (Thai audiences surely won't have that problem), but Santi's unsentimental portraits of these naïve dreamers plugging along is compelling.

Citizen Dog The best of the three is the sophomore film from Wisit Sasanetieng. His debut film, Tears of the Black Tiger, a fantastical blast of adventure movie melodrama in saturated colors and tireless creative energy, has been MIA ever since it grabbed audiences on the festival circuit in 2000 and was immediately snatched up and shelved by Miramax. Citizen Dog is a romantic fable with the same sense of whimsy on a more modest scale. Pod is a country boy who leaves his farm home (a rural innocence exaggerated in impossible pastel colors and clouds imported from Maxfield Parrish paintings) for work in Bangkok, where he falls hopelessly in love with an obsessive compulsive maid whose naïveté and gullibility transforms her into a wide-eyed, empty-headed eco-activist. His adventures are full of absurdities that are woven into the fabric of his reality, from a severed finger that magically reattaches itself after being packed in a sardine can to a talking, chain-smoking teddy bear heartsick after being discarded. There's nothing deep or particularly insightful about the human condition of love, friendship, belonging or happiness in the vignette-like scenes that make up his story, but Wisit has an affection for his characters and an eye for turning creatively fantastic ideas into lovely imagery.

Thailand is also represented in the Digital Shorts By Three Filmmakers 2005, a project commissioned by the Jeonju Film Festival, with a delightful little ditty from Apichatpong Weerasethakul (of Tropical Malady fame). Ostensibly a behind-the-scenes peek at a (fictional) adventure melodrama of a couple escaping through the dense jungle, Worldly Desires is punctuated by a repeated nightclub style song and dance number performed in the same jungle. Less a film than playful lark, it seems to both spoof and celebrate the pop film culture of Thailand while rediscovering the magic in familiar clichés.

Haze Tsukamoto Shinya's Haze (Japan) is a nightmare horror perfectly suited to the short film format (it runs 25 minutes), though the shrouded-in-darkness atmosphere is less attuned to the video format, unless you take the title as a clue and the "haze" of low-light video noise as a part of the claustrophobic experience. The guys from Saw might want to steal some of the ideas here as a man wakes up with no memory in a maze of concrete crawlspaces, spike-encrusted tunnels, blind alleys and booby traps. Tsukamoto has an expressive purpose for his stomach-knotting ordeal, however, one that pays off with a satisfying revelation that pulls the fantasy into a reality the audience can connect with. Song Il-Gon's Magician(s) (South Korea) is little more than a one-act play that drifts back and forth through time and memory in a single, 35-minute take, an experiment more notable for its technical prowess than its imagery or dramatic resonance.

My festival ended last weekend, but the 16-day Vancouver International Film Festival continued until Friday, October 14, when the Dardennes' Palme d'Or-winning L'Enfant closed the festival in a gala screening and awards were distributed. The People's Choice Award for Most Popular International Film went to Rahu Mihaileanu's Live And Become; the Federal Express Award for Most Popular Canadian Feature Film was handed out to Julia Kwan's British Columbia set and shot Eve & The Fire Horse (Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y., Canada's official submission for the Foreign Language Film Academy Award, was runner-up); and the Italian documentary A Particular Silence by Stefano Rulli took home the National Film Board Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:52 PM

Busan Dispatch. 4.

Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell wraps his coverage of the Pusan International Film Festival.

Pusan International Film Festival "Remapping of Asian Auteur Cinema" is a new series begun this year at PIFF, initiated to highlight neglected Asian directors who have significantly impacted the cinemas of their home countries but have yet to receive the full recognition they are due internationally. This inaugural series featured Iran's Sohrab Shahid Saless, whom both Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf cite as a major influence on their work; Indonesia's Teguh Karya, who is considered Indonesia's greatest director; and Thailand's RD Pestonji, whom Thai film scholars Robert Williamson and Chalida Uabumrungjit state is "the one strong link to Thai film history" and present day darlings Ratanaruang and Sasanatieng. And it is Pestonji's Country Hotel (1957) that I gladly ventured over to see at the Busan Theater, located in the bustling area of Nampodong which never met a neon sign it didn't light.

Country Hotel Country Hotel's first half consists of a band of bizarre events which help to solidify the literal Thai title of the film - "The Hotel From Hell." The bartender of this establishment happens to be the world's arm-wrestling champion and appears to earn more money winning bets that test his strength than from people buying drinks. Also adding to the money concerns is the fact that, for some strange reason, this hotel only has one room to hire, and an initial tension arises from two boarders who fight for this room. Starting out at each other's throats, these boarders eventually become romantically entwined when forced into each other's arms by a group of bandits. The entire film takes place in the lobby and the sole room of this hotel and apparently this set has since been reconstructed at the Thai National Film Archive. Pestonji limited this film to one room partly due to the challenges of filming on 35mm, something that Thai cinema never fully advanced to until the 1960s. In this way, much of Pestonji's importance is due to how he pushed Thai film technologically. This film definitely makes up in passion any flaws due to the absurdity of some of the plot scenarios and has greatly piqued my interest in checking out more of his films if I haven't simply missed my only chance to see his work here at PIFF.

04:00-1950 Aware I might not get to see another Lee Man-hee film, I took the subway to the end of the Jangsan line to see another of Lee's films at the Primus multiplex. The second of Lee's war films I've seen, (the first being the only film available on DVD by Lee, The Marines Who Never Came Home), 04:00 - 1950 was made in 1972 and addresses the moment the Korean War began. I cannot speak to the accuracy of what is depicted in the film, but I can speak to the most interesting aspect of it, which is that so much is framed within the rectangular frame view from a bunker. This point of view provides the audience with a similar claustrophobic feeling as that felt by the characters at tense times throughout the film. Heavy-handed in its nationalism and one-liners, the film is not up to par with The Marines Who Never Came Home, but would obviously be of interest to those curious about how the Korean War has been depicted on screen by those who lived it.

Journey From the Fall From the Korean War to the Vietnam War and Vietnamese-American director Ham Tran's Journey from the Fall. However, this film is less about the war directly as it is about the aftermath, paralleling the experience of those who left Vietnam as refugees on boats and those who were forced into re-education camps (and the film is dedicated to both). A friend and I have fallen into seeing Vietnamese-American films together, so I felt a little bad seeing this one without her. Our first one together was Victor Vu's First Morning (not showing at PIFF), a film we saw at the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival a few years ago, and a film which recently (and finally!) received a release in the US. Both my friend and I found First Morning overly melodramatic for our tastes. But during the question and answer session that followed the film, we did see how strongly the film resonated with the elders of the Vietnamese-American community in attendance. We realized that First Morning wasn't intended for her and me (although she is Vietnamese-American) and it doesn't need to be. We were simply glad the film is out there for those with whom it does resonate.

I found I was quite able to immerse myself in Journey from the Fall. When you consider the tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy that this generation of Vietnamese had to endure, the story is naturally going to seem overly melodramatic. So to portray it on film as such is syntonic with the experience. Even so, Tran was able to titrate the emotions quite well here, assisted by the quality performances by the actors and actresses who play the father, mother, grandfather, uncle and son. Yet, again, this film was not intended for me but for the audience to whom he dedicates the film. And I think it will resonate with them. And I hope Journey from the Fall journeys to theaters soon.

April Snow Speaking of releases, Hur Jin-ho's films should have been released in the US long ago, but, sadly, if it isn't violent or exotic, US distributors and venues tend to stay away from Asian films (example: the delayed release of Vu'?s First Morning). Hur's debut, Christmas in August, is the film I'm most likely to offer up as a good introduction to South Korean film. It is a wonderfully honed melodrama, always subtle and never sappy. So I was anxious to see April Snow, for Hur?'s pedigree, not for Yonsama?'s. In case you've haven't been following these things, "Yonsama" is what actor Bae Yong-joon is known as in Japan by thousands of middle-aged housewives and the people who love them. April Snow, as a product, is a clear sign of the mature state of South Korean cinema in that it was partly produced with this non-South Korean market in mind. In fact, it failed at the South Korean box office but thrived in Japan's.

April Snow I find the themes that Hur carries from film to film interesting, so I found myself liking this film more than most people I've talked to about it. Plus, seeing it this late in the festival, this was the first South Korean film I watched in Busan where the streets and buildings of South Korea on screen appeared "familiar" to me. However, I do like this film less than Hur's other two. With an In the Mood for Love-like storyline (without the style and overall quality), the film follows two people whose respective partners are having an affair. Those partners end up in a coma after a car crash and the two who aren't comatose meet at the hospital and end up having an affair themselves. Hur's slow pacing and subtle narrative progression still remain, but not with the deft artistry of his two previous outings. And something that's been simmering in Hur's films has been let loose more fully here. It's too long an explanation to go into detail about, and it would involve ruining endings of this film and Hur'?s second film, One Fine Spring Day. But let's just say that there's a little too much "Vengeance for Mr. Sympathy" in Hur's work to my liking. He powerfully portrays an aching beauty around the beginning and ending of relationships, but it's where he continues to partly take that ache that fails his themes.

Host & Guest With the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) taking place in Busan the week following PIFF, a special series of films was set up to stimulate discussion around related issues. After watching South Korean director Shin Dong-il's Host & Guest, I was a little bit surprised to see it on the list. With US President-select George W Bush arriving in Busan in the coming week to read what he's told to read and avoid answering questions with more than a few repetitive phrases, to place a film on the docket that takes creative potshots at him is pretty ballsy. But the film does address issues such as war and recession, so it is appropriate to screen, based on the intent of the series. (Besides, the Bush II administration is notorious for avoiding all forms of criticism, constructive or otherwise, so this film won't even faze them. I can't see anyone from the US preparation team tolerating an art film long enough to get to the critiques. But there is some Jesus-symbolism, so maybe.) An out-of-work film professor who has never made a film nor apparently seen a Godard film meets a Jehovah's Witness and they trade expositions back and forth. Although the scenario where they become tied to each other is forced when it doesn't need to be, I find this film quite intriguing. There's an eerie white aura that surrounds characters and emanates from window panes early on in the film, and the initial setup of unwanted solicitations from multiple mediums underscores the effects of the recession wonderfully.

Wedding Campaign The closing film at PIFF was the premiere of debut director Hwang Byung-kuk's Wedding Campaign. The film follows two country bumpkin friends who travel to Uzbekistan in hopes of claiming a bride amongst the Korean-Uzbek population there. (Yep, more Korean diaspora cinema here at PIFF.) Although the beginning was a bit rocky, I found myself enjoying where the narrative eventually headed. Partly filmed on site in Uzbekistan, the film represents the cross promotion across nations that is a staple of PIFF and particularly its PPP (Pusan Promotion Plan).

Although Jung Jae-young has been the subject much of the critical buzz I overheard at the screening (and deservedly so), Soo Ae as the Korean-Uzbek translator also shines here. With her second lead role after her strong film debut in A Family (not screened at PIFF), she is fast becoming one of South Korea's vast reserve of stars who can carry a scene on their own or equally with another veteran actor. As an entertaining mainstream feature that provides a venue for some of South Korea's best actors and a demonstration of the international scope of what PIFF has brought to world cinema, Wedding Campaign was an excellent choice to end PIFF's 10th campaign.

Grain in Ear As for the awards, my favorite film at the festival received the New Currents Award which includes a prize of US$30,000. And that's Grain in Ear (China/S Korea), dir. Zhang Lu.

The rest of the awards:

  • First Special Mention: Silent Holy Stone (China), dir. Wanma Caidan.

  • Second Special Mention: The Unforgiven (S Korea), dir. Yoon Jong-bin.

  • FIPRESCI Award: The Unforgiven.

  • NETPAC Award for Best Korean Film: The Unforgiven.

  • PSB Audience Award (US$10,000 - chosen among New Currents films): The Unforgiven.

  • Woonpa Fund Award for best Korean documentary: Tea & Poison, dir. Joung Yong-ju.

  • Sunje Fund Award for best Korean short film: A Bowl Of Tea, dir. Kim Young-nam.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:03 AM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2005

Sitges Dispatch. 5.

Sitges 05 Juan Manuel Freire catches up with another day at the Sitges International Film Festival.

Bad luck, hard rain and train delays wrecked my schedule yesterday and threw The Lost in my tracks. It's a US indie with a publicity package based on the image of softcore starlette Misty Mundae. I was hoping for a Z-series redeemed only by the guilty pleasure of watching a girl walk nude in the grass, and that's exactly what I found - though only for the first five minutes. An enjoyable mix of neo-noir and horror set in small-town middle America, this film is the directorial debut for May editor Chris Sivertson, and you can see traces of Lucky McKee's absolutely fantastic film in it - the dark humor, the hidden emotion, the stylish image, the fine score (there's even O.U.T.H.U.D. in it) and the nice fragrance of fine B-movie-making.

The Lost Screened in the Sitges parallel section Midnight X-Treme, which is reserved for obscure indie flicks, this adaptation of the novel by Jack Ketchum features the talented Marc Senter as a disturbed young man who kills two women on an impulse (one of them, the afore-mentioned Mundae, stays nude for almost the entirety of her performance) - and gets away with it. Everyone around knows that this guy in cowboy boots with crushed beer cans under them is a killer, but nobody does anything. Four years later, cops begin to poke around again, and the pressure, combined with a few difficult romances with young women, leads the guy to take action again. Sivertson (codirector with McKee of 2001's unreleased indie All Cheerleaders Die) tells this tale of rampage with visual flair, great atmosphere and careful editing. Oh, yes, I was lucky being unlucky.

Lemming There aren't great things to say about Lemming, though, the only Competition film I was able to get through yesterday. Director Dominik Moll gave us a great Hitchcock-like thriller called Harry is Here to Help, featuring Sergi López in the role of his lifetime. Lemming swims in similar waters - it also tells the story of a model young couple whose apparently perfect life is disturbed by the entrance of an unexpected third party - but the results cannot be more disappointing or frustrating. With the climax hitting too soon, the rest of Lemming is a derivative, painful and cryptic ordeal in search of meaning... If it weren't for magnetic presence of Laurent Lucas and Charlotte Gainsbourg, this would be an even worse slog to get through.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:06 PM

Sitges Dispatch. 4.

Sitges 05 Juan Manuel Freire sends in another dispatch from the Sitges International Film Festival.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance Looking at Wednesday's program alone reveals the sheer brilliance and open-mindedness that the Sitges festival is gaining every year. Though originally devoted exclusively to fantastic cinema, these days, festival also embraces films not exactly fantastic but at least innovative and strange in the way they approach cinematic form. And this means Sitges is the dream of every cinephile in the world - a festival where you can see, in just one day, like Wednesday, latest from directors as diverse as Werner Herzog, Tsai Ming-liang, Eli Roth, Park Chan-wook, Takashi Miike, Sally Potter and Panna Rittikrai. All of them diverse but united by the desire to excite our retina in some way or another. This is a festival of modern cinema in the best possible sense - not motivated by the politically correct but by that desire.

The Wayward Cloud The Competition was dominated on Wednesday by two Asian films without very much in common, artistic import aside - one being a cold tale of revenge and the other a porn musical. We're talking about Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and The Wayward Cloud, respectively. In the first, Park Chan-wook wraps his revenge trilogy in fine form - though the film is not as brilliant as previous Oldboy, it confirms that this director is a brilliant stylist and a profound humanist who uses violence to turn us away from it. He's more Michael Haneke than Takashi Miike, and seeing his films as mere exploitation (or artsploitation) is a narrow way of seeing them indeed. As narrow as defining the brilliant The Wayward Cloud as a lame joke - Tsai Ming-liang achieves with this film a powerful aesthetic experience with a rare grace and, believe it or not, an uncommon pathos which leaves a powerful mark. More to come tomorrow.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:21 AM

Darwin's Nightmare.

Hannah Eaves talks with Hubert Sauper about his award-winning documentary.

Darwin's Nightmare In the opening scene of Hubert Sauper's absolutely essential documentary, Darwin's Nightmare, an African air traffic controller in a dingy Tanzanian airport outbuilding swats a wasp. It takes some time, but the wasp's fate is certain. It is a telling cinematic moment because it conjures up so many metaphoric ideas - the Darwinian survival of the fittest, the "first world's" attitude towards Africa and the hopeless destiny of the trapped wasp. The air traffic controller looks at the camera, all human and goofy, as a huge Russian plane arrives in Africa. In that moment there is the human and the institutional, just as Darwin's Nightmare tells us about a systemic problem through the stories of those it affects. For Sauper this moment means something more. "It is the reflection of an 'inner reality'. I tried to express with this scene a feeling you may get, and I did get when I came to Africa first, in such a place at the end of the world: there is this lost outpost, the guy with this old radio control, insects, nothing happens until a huge noise breaks the silence. I think the scene is an introduction for the spectator to say: what you will see in the next two hours is not a 'normal' environment. Only if you push the 'on' button in your brain, will you be following the meaning of the story."

Darwin's Nightmare

In the 1960s, a somebody threw a bucket of the predatory Nile Perch fish into the waters of Lake Victoria and within a generation they had eaten all of the local species and turned on themselves. Processing and exporting the large, oily Nile Perch to the EU is an enormous industry, but it has done little to help the people of Africa's Great Lakes Region. There are enough fish to sustain multiple daily cargo exports, enough to down enormous overloaded planes (the remains of which are strewn all around the local area), but not enough of anything stays in the country to feed starving Tanzania. Leaving their kids behind on the street, many farmers have moved to the lake to fish, living in makeshift slum camps where prostitutes and AIDS abound. "No fisherman dies from starvation," says Sauper. "They have a catalog of 'multiple choice' of how to die within, what, 24 months. Malaria, HIV, cholera, bilharziosa, to drown, be eaten by a crocodile, you name it. But: the ten children he left in the back country may starve, 300 miles away, because no one is left to work on the fields. And to fish on your own account means, what? To own a boat by stealing one?"

But when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but battalions, and this is just the tip of a tragic, programmatic iceberg. Every part of society that the Nile Perch industry touches, it damages, including the ethical judgment of those at the top.

Hubert Sauper, an Austrian who, when he's not on the road, lives in Paris, first came to Africa in the mid-90s. "My first encounter with this continent was being trapped in the middle of the worst of all civil wars. The one of the Congo in 1997. The result was the movie Kisangani Diary, a trip to Hell and back. Darwin's Nightmare is a musical comedy compared to that film."

Darwin's Nightmare

He heard about the situation in Lake Victoria while shooting Kisangani Diary "by hanging out in bars with the aviators who flew humanitarian aid to the refugees in 1997. They were bringing cheap, genetically modified yellow peas to Africa, and flew back to the northern hemisphere with high quality, high protein fish fillets." He soon discovered, through rigorous investigation, that the planes were not only carrying in humanitarian aid, but also arms. Most of the film depicts the Russian pilots, who are often accompanied by local prostitutes, as being evasive about their cargo. But eventually, in the sad moments of the night, there is a confession. "Confession is a good word. How it came to it? By knowing those guys for years and having built up a real relationship of trust. I tell as frankly as I can what my own life is like, what my work is about, etc. I never have a 'double agenda' towards my subjects. But the nature of this kind of work is to be in constant conflict with the authorities, military, police, politicians. I did a lot of illegal stuff, including faking documents and disguising myself, to get to places where I had to be."

Most painful of all is the hopelessness of the children. Darwin's Nightmare tells many stories that are horribly sad, but nothing hurts so badly as the doomed future of these kids.

Ultimately, Darwin's Nightmare is a damning piece of journalism examining the effects of thoughtless globalization and Sauper is not necessarily interested in offering up answers, or ways to help. "My film is not about Lake Victoria, not about fish, not about giving solutions. As long there is life, there is always hope. The first step is to realize that we all have a problem, and to understand the real nature of the problem. The second step is to think, the third one is to act. In one way or another. All I can provide with my film is inspiration to think. The dilemma we are all living in this globalized world needs six billion solutions."

Darwin's Nightmare opens Friday, October 14, at San Francisco's Balboa Theater and on Monday, October 17, at the Rafael Film Center.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:00 AM

October 13, 2005

Nobel for Harold Pinter.

Harold Pinter Well, happy 75th birthday, Harold Pinter.

The Swedish Academy has announced: "The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2005 is awarded to the English writer Harold Pinter 'who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms.'"

Lots to lose yourself in out there: the official site, the Wikipedia entry, a bio and "critical perspective" from the British Arts Council and a nifty timeline from the BBC.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:20 AM

October 12, 2005

Sitges Dispatch. 3.

Sitges 05 Juan Manuel Freire sends in another dispatch from the Sitges International Film Festival.

Fragile Director Jaume Balagueró scored critical and financial success with his first full-length movie, the chilly thriller Los sin nombre (The Nameless), an adaptation of a novel by Ramsey Campbell. Suffering greatly from the inconsistencies of a rather confusing script, the subsequent horror flick Darkness won over an audience but failed to impress critics who maligned the filmmaker in terms usually reserved for serial killers and killer tyrants. Obviously, Balagueró needed to refine his art, particularly in storytelling terms, but his respect for fantastic cinema deserved, well, respect (good or... not, his films are always ambitious). With his just-premiered Fragile, he's made what I think is a great leap forward - this is his most fully realized film to date and a really unique proposition in the stagnant landscape of Spanish cinema.

Although this new Balagueró has its problems - lack of originality in the plot, some clunky dialogue, some performances (not the one, though, by the amazing Calista Flockhart) and an unfortunate abuse of music and sound FX - it really has virtues to more than make up for them. The director takes a classic approach and triumphs, achieving beautiful work in his framing which pays off in sheer physical scares. The cinematography and editing are also superb and miles above standard national films. Everything works together here at the service of emotion - because Fragile is a horror film but also a melodrama, and one that can break weak hearts and draw tears. The backlash, apparently, has already begun, but any true genre fan should find something to rave about in this flawed marvel. Check it out, please.

Not nearly as rewarding is Shutter, the Thai entry in the Official Section of Sitges 2005. Technically competent and not entirely devoid of genuine shocks now and then, but ultimately rather boring, this is another forgettable immersion in the most blatant clichés of post-Ringu Asian horror flicks.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:08 PM

New York Dispatch. 6.

David D'Arcy distills a theme running through the NYFF and takes a closer look at two films that exemplify it.

NYFF 05 Now that the New York Film Festival has come and gone, it's time for a post-mortem - not on the festival itself, for I judge it personally according to a simple standard. If there were more films that I wanted to see than there was time in which to see them, I view a festival positively. That was certainly the case in New York. Also, festivals for general audiences should be topical, and New York was. It's up to the audience to complete or just extend the discussions that films begin.

Beyond that, politics kept coming up, in the opening ode to Edward R Murrow, Good Night and Good Luck, and in a festival panel on "Speaking Truth to Power" that turned into a well-meaning unison chorus singing to the choir on the flaws of the Bush administration (and less on what prevented the press from speaking truth to power). Now there's a discussion I'd like to hear.

Paradise Now There was also the festival program, particularly two films about Israel - Paradise Now, by Hany Abu-Assad and Avenge But One of My Two Eyes by Avi Mograbi.

Paradise Now is the thriller about suicide bombers that has seemed an inevitable subject for a feature. (The War Within, now in theaters, is another.) Two young men designated to take their lives for God and Palestine spend those 48 hours before the moment of truth together in Nablus.

The film is fiction, realistic fiction, and it makes no claim to being a documentary-style work of fiction, or even a universalized picture of terrorists. It's a single story, and we can be thankful for that. It's not didactic.

Thrillers need suspense and uncertainty. There's plenty of suspense once the Nablus auto mechanics Said and Khaled get the call and shed their scruffy look to become suited West Bank yuppies. It's comical how much they look like The Yes Men in the satirical documentary of that name. Even the ritual videotaping has humor.

Paradise Now The hardship of the Israeli occupation is presented as a certainty - you might call it the film's only certainty, since even the bombers have their doubts about paradise, and about suicide. While Abu-Assad and the characters that he places close to our two bombers do not advocate suicide and the murder of civilians, we do see the alarming fact in this work of fiction that a society and economy have grown up around bombings. There's even a market for videotapes of bombers professing faith before leaving on their final missions. (One character does note that the market for videotaped murders of informants is better.) It's murder as a way of life (murder as living?). Abu-Assad has clearly done his research. He said as much at a press conference at the film festival.

It's even more troubling that there's less logic to the militancy of the young men than there is to the hesitation that might make them reconsider doing anything so extreme. These are not characters who have nothing to live for but destruction, but they are characters who can tip either way, depending on the circumstances that arise. Think about it for a second. The unstable person who gravitates toward suicide bombing may also be the unstable person who becomes an informer. Now that's frightening.

The picture is getting more complicated. Palestinian leaders are reporting that, when they met with George W Bush, they were told by Bush that God told him to invade Afghanistan after 9/11. Bush also told them that God told him to liberate Iraq. The implication which I see is that he's saying that one ought to follow God's word. Last time I checked, a lot of people out there were getting direct instructions from God. (Nixon, Bush, take your pick.)

It's also frightening to be reminded that war is fought by young men who lack the power of judgment to see what war will do to them.

Avi Mograbi Israelis should be just as concerned about Avenge But One of My Two Eyes by the prolific Avi Mograbi, who is such a presence with his microphone and dead-on questions that people have gone for the obvious parallel and called him the Michael Moore of Israel. You could just as easily call him the Nick Broomfield of Israel, if that kind of shorthand is necessary, and it almost always is for my lazy writer colleagues out there. Mograbi is getting to be more and more of a presence on the festival circuit, and that's a good thing. The truth benefits when there's an honest voice telling it, or at least part of it. This film had French support and showed at Cannes this spring.

The title comes from the Bible, in which a blinded Samson asks God to bring revenge against his Philistine enemies. It should come as no surprise that a film with this title is about revenge. The source of the revenge, while not something entirely knew, catches you off guard. Mograbi takes you to a school trip visiting a holy site, the elevated plateau of Masada, where Jews who gathered there committed collective suicide when cornered and outnumbered by Roman forces in 72 AD.

We watch as Masada tour guides prepare high school kids who will soon be of military age for the atmosphere of the last days. Since we know the outcome, two responses from this modern generation are certain. They'll fight to the last man, and they'll demand revenge for those killed. Sounds like a war melodrama, and it is. It also happens to be real, as is the revenge message.

Avenge But One of My Two Eyes In between scenes of site visits to Masada and frenzied revenge rallies, Mograbi shows everyday scenes of Arabs in the West Bank being blocked from their own land by Israeli barriers or simply being humiliated by young Israeli soldiers. The soldiers are not much older than the students learning the myths of Masada. They are also the same age as the delirious celebrants at kitschy nationalistic rallies. A furious Mograbi harangues the soldiers on camera when he sees them acting illegally - or when they try to keep him from filming. They usually relent. You get the impression that they might react differently if harangued by an Arab.

Are the fanatic nationalists filmed by a bewildered Mograbi too easy a target? Maybe that's not the issue. Of course someone surrounded by a crowd screaming revenge makes a hyperbolic figure, but you have to be concerned when the crowd is screaming the same thing.

Or maybe we should be concerned that nobody's paying attention. Mograbi's film got positive reviews from the critics and opened in theaters in Israel. There was concern among reviewers at Cannes that the "provocative" film (as if a film by Mograbi wouldn't be provocative) might "divide" Jews and Israelis (as if one needed a film to do that). In fact, it had no discernible effect, because it had no discernible public. Mograbi told the crowd at one of his New York screenings that no one in the Israeli general public went to see it.  (More on this subject in an upcoming interview with Avi Mograbi.)

Posted by dwhudson at 2:08 PM

Mill Valley. Features.

Mill Valley Film Festival Following Hannah Eaves's overview of the highlights of the shorts programs at the Mill Valley Film Festival, Jonathan Marlow offers quick takes on several of the features. Jonathan has just been invited to be a panelist for the discussion, "Going Out to the Movies: Is the Romance Over?" Sunday, October 16.

What is the purpose of festival coverage? Is it to taunt folks that cannot otherwise attend with tales of films they might never see? How about a few words about one you will. See. Eventually? Followed by several more words about a few films that are scheduled for release. And a few that might. A few that won't. A few that shouldn't.

Shopgirl Shopgirl. Steve Martin is an intelligent man. I do not know this for a fact but I can presume as much from his work. This film, written by him (adapted from his novella), produced by him and starring him, is loosely based on him. "Inspired by real events," as it were, but definitely "not a documentary," as noted by Claire Danes at the screening. If that's what it takes, so be it. These various elements combine to make this one of the best American films of the year, mining the same territory as Lost in Translation to much better effect. It isn't imperative to mention much about the love triangle (between Martin, Jason Schwartzman and the perfectly cast Ms Danes) that forms the crux of the story. I would not wish to ruin its unfolding. It is imperative, however, that you see this movie. It will somewhat renew your faith that exceptional films can still be crafted in Los Angeles. Directed by Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie).

Paradise Now, Hany Abu-Assad's follow-up to Rana's Wedding, deals with the preparations of two childhood friends who are chosen to become suicide bombers. It is a topic that, until now, is generally talked around rather than talked about. While the script has its weaknesses, straying didactically into dialogue that illustrates the futility of such actions, the perfs are exceptional throughout, particularly Kais Nashef as Said.

my tiny universe was the catalyst for my interview with Lesley Ann Warren last year. A surprisingly enjoyable ensemble comedy, if you can overcome the rather unbelievable set-up.

Need, Rob Nilsson's latest, number six of the 9@Night films, where principal photography on the final film in the series was just completed. Say what you will about his films (and I've heard the whole spectrum) but Nilsson is consistently creating the most singularly unique and compelling work in this country today.

The Californians had little to achieve after Jonathan Parker's first feature, the insufferable Bartleby. The bar was already low. With this film, the bar is even lower. Rarely has a cast been so squandered.

Mrs Henderson Presents, one of two Weinstein Company-distributed opening night films, was a wonderful selection. A slice of history, a bit of well-placed nudity and witty repartee between Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins. The music fails to evoke the period but nearly everything else rings true.

Bee Season, however, one of two closing night films, is a double-plus-ungood selection. I've devoted enough negativity to this disappointing picture elsewhere; I'll spare you the repeat.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:46 AM

Sight & Sound, the Times and the LFF.

LFF 05 Just as the most recent issue of Film Comment is geared to its institution's fest, the New York Film Festival, so, too, is the new issue of Sight & Sound shaped by the Times bfi London Film Festival (October 19 through November 3). There's even a little sidebar highlighting the magazine's top ten picks to catch at the fest.

Naturally, the Times has set up a special section at its site and it carries on bulging with profiles, previews and interviews, such as Wendy Ide's with Fernando Meirelles; The Constant Gardener opens the festival. And Times critic James Christopher writes, "This remarkable event is book-ended by the strongest opening and closing films I've ever seen. Lord knows how the artistic director, Sandra Hebron, hopes to top it when the festival celebrates its 50th birthday in 2006."

The closing film is Good Night, and Good Luck; Geoffrey Macnab: "[George] Clooney's film has the same edge and intensity as the live US television dramas of the 1950s (Marty, Requiem for a Heavyweight)." More from Kevin Maher in the Times.

Not sure what a "Centrepiece Screening" is exactly, but Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang will get the treatment; Edward Lawrenson writes in S&S, "[Shane] Black handles this dense narrative with a light comic touch and yet the film also probes the darker impulses behind the easy glamour and alluring fantasies of the movie world... One of Hollywood's most sought-after screenwriters from the late 1980s (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight), Black enjoys sending up the conventions of the blockbuster thriller he himself pioneered."

Also late in the schedule: The Death of Mister Lazarescu, which "grips like an Arthur Miller play," writes Mark Cousins.

Sight & Sound: Jarmusch The rest of the issue is not a direct tie-in. Jim Jarmusch is on the cover even though Broken Flowers isn't screening (it opens in UK just days after the festival does) and, while Nick Roddick's feature isn't online, Liese Spencer's review is: "Jarmusch's achievement is to riff on themes of intimacy, emptiness and disappointment in a hugely enjoyable way."

The other reviews: Philip Kemp on The Beat That My Heart Skipped ("So could we just possibly be looking at the first frisky sparks of a rekindling of the traditional Franco-American love affair?") and Ryan Gilbey on 4 ("transparently a showreel to launch first-time director Ilya Khrzhanovsky into the marketplace").

And then there's the one big bulky online read, Andrew Collins on Gene Hackman: "'Everyman' is an overused term best employed to describe Jimmy Stewart or his natural heir Tom Hanks; it doesn't fully account for Hackman's skill - or indeed his intermittent bankability. To be a big-screen everyman you must to an extent offer a blank canvas on to which an audience's own hopes and fears can be painted. You must be able to play a bank clerk, but Hackman is more likely to do a bank job than have one."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:23 AM

Busan Dispatch. 3.

Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell sends in another dispatch from the Pusan International Film Festival.

Pusan International Film Festival Although one big reason I'm here is to see films that I will otherwise not get a chance to see even in San Francisco, such as the larger Lee Man-hee retrospective and the tinier RD Pestonji series, there was one film that will likely get a limited US release but I very much wanted the experience of seeing it here in South Korea - the Japanese film Linda, Linda, Linda by director Nobuhiro Yamashita. I was curious how the local audience would react to Bae Doo-na being featured in a Japanese film. Bae plays a South Korean exchange student who becomes the lead singer in a girl band at her Japanese high school as they prepare for the school's rock festival. The film's title borrows from a popular song from the Japanese punk band The Blue Hearts, of whom I can claim to have had a tape back in college so I'm not jumping on this band's wagon when I say they rock.

Linda Linda Linda Bae's star credentials in South Korea are complicated. She is well-known but her films have, for the most part, performed disappointingly at the South Korean box office. Similarly, when I talk to South Koreans about her, they speak of her with indifference, as if she's not all that. But she is all that, and a bag of squid chips. She's an immensely talented actress, as is demonstrated in her performance here. And I am not alone in feeling that way about Bae. She is quite popular with overseas enthusiasts of South Korean cinema. So her lack of positive reception by her home fans is perplexing. I won't call her the David Hasselhoff of South Korea since she's got mad skills and mass range. In fact, she's the opposite of Hasselhoff since she deserves acclaim from audiences in her home country but only gets it from fans from other lands. (Thankfully, the people in power in the South Korean industry recognize her talent and continue to provide her with projects she deserves.) Thus, Bae is the anti-Hasselhoff. But would appearing in this popular Japanese film bring Bae recognition at home such as she has from those who follow South Korean cinema outside of the peninsula?

Linda Linda Linda When So (Bae's character) enters the narrative, she didn't receive any response from the crowd. Bae's acting did cause several fits of appropriate laughter from the crowd, most prominently when she's responding with confusion and discomfort to her Japanese mystery suitor who went out and bothered to learn Korean in hopes of impressing her. When he stutters out "Sa-rang-hae" (Korean for "I love you"), the crowd let loose its loudest laughter of the screening. There was a dead silence, however, when one of So's Japanese friends responds to So's reflexive Korean commentary during one scene by calling it "gibberish." Also, for all the talk of a "Korean Wave" that's sweeping Asia, particularly Japan, nobody seems to want to be part of the Korean/Japan cultural exchange club and take part in So's "Beef Darts" game. (Believe me, the humor will be there when you see it.) But the most interesting moment came during the final frames that are a staple of these uplifting musical group genre films, wherein each member of the band is given an isolated moment of images to close out the film. Bae goes last, and it was obvious the film was ending, so I thought she might get an applause for representin' for the Chosun people. But, nope, just silence. Perhaps this is a cultural thing, expecting what I would hear in the US when audience members attending a screening of Grace Lee's The Grace Lee Project (screening at PIFF) can't resist shout-outs when their personal Grace Lee appears on the screen. Loud clapping did erupt as soon as the credits rolled. And from what I've heard around me here, South Koreans will applaud during certain scenes and performances they greatly appreciate. So without the opportunity to interview the audience members, and without attending the screening where Bae was present, (and my screening didn't have English translation of the Q&A with the director after), Linda, Linda, Linda appears to underscore the peculiar faint South Korean starlight that doesn't shine as bright for Bae. If I had the funds, I'd commission Richard Dyer to focus his next star study on Bae.

Crying Fist Bae isn't the only South Korean star to occasionally lack luster; the old boy himself, Choi Min-shik, couldn't carry Crying Fist. This fourth feature by Ryoo Seung-wan began 2005's string of poorer than expected performers in South Korea. So poorly did it perform that Ryoo felt a need to cut out roughly 15 minutes from the print he screened here at PIFF.

The film follows two boxers at opposite corners of ring life, one young and just beginning his flight (played by director Ryoo's younger brother, Seung-bum) and the other George Foreman-old and on his last wobbly legs (played by Choi). Even with the cuts, I found the film drags at points, but this could partly have to do with my difficulty identifying with violent forms of masculinity. Still, Ryoo and all involved brought me to tears at the end, and I appreciated how Ryoo refused to million dollar this baby and allowed us to feel sympathy for both fighters, keeping us guessing who would win and keeping us debating who we wanted to win. Both Choi and Ryoo and the veteran actors and actresses in the film turn in excellent performances.

Do You Cry 4 Me Argentina? The same can't be said for the Argentinean feature Do You Cry 4 Me Argentina?. But I shouldn't have expected stellar performances when, as Bae Youn-suk, the Korean-Argentinean director of this play on Evita's Broadway request, informed the large crowd in attendance that most everyone involved in this film was a neophyte. This Bae is breaking ground here by representing, as he described it, the insular Korean-Argentinean community. Yet this ground has been broken elsewhere in the genre of immigrant stories in general. What is unique about Bae and his fellow 1.5 generation-ers is exactly that, the particulars of that descriptor. The "1.5 generation" refers to Koreans who emigrated throughout the world from the late 80s to the mid-90s. A significant number of these families had children in junior high and high school which placed these kids in a position of being pretty solidly acculturated in their home culture and language, making acculturation in their new home culture and language more difficult, particularly when the community they cling to is as tightly closed off as Bae claims Korean-Argentineans are. Bae sees the plight of the 1.5 generation as primarily a tragic one, although one of the four stories, explaining the Prince-like "4" in the title, is portrayed as hopeful, an example of what he sees as a woman who claims 2nd-generation status. And this hopeful story is the most original of Bae's portrayals in that she is a violinist who is not clichéd as a prodigy, but is shown having trouble simply completing a single piece of music; plus, she's not placed in an orchestra but instead in a local rock band.

This was not the best film for me to watch during a late showing because Bae's inexperience shows in a number of scenes that drag. He also relies on music video aesthetics to push the story along which becomes repetitive in feel and tone if not style. But this is a film that was an itch that needed to be scratched, and I learned as much from the discussion around the film as from the film itself. (Apparently, due to the double IMF-ing experienced by Korean-Argentineans, many have had enough and the population has dwindled down to half its previous size as families have either moved back to South Korea or moved on to other countries such as Canada and the US.) So, again, I didn't expect a masterpiece.

If You Were Me 2 I did expect to be impressed with If You Were Me 2, the second omnibus film commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea. This time only five directors were asked to produce a short around a human rights issue of their choosing. The five directors who took part were A Smile director Park Kyung-hee, Repatriation documentarian Kim Dong-won, Happy End director Jung Ji-woo, Someone Special (and more films to be mentioned later) director Jang Jin, and the aforementioned Ryoo Seung-wan. With such a collection of accomplished directors, I anticipated some powerful shorts. And for the most part, that's indeed what I got.

Jung Ji-woo's installment, about the plight of North Korean refugees, is exquisitely beautiful and painful at the same time. Shot in black and white, Jung manages to drop in some subversive product placement of the brand most commonly associated with globalization in general beyond just its specific product. The brand even extends its influence to stand in for actual cash in the film. Ryoo tackles his own masculine demons in almost one entire take in a tale about a drunken lout who hates everyone around him in a late night drinking and eating establishment. And Jang Jin continues to amaze me with his impressive prolific gift for bizarre, yet accessible, direction and expertly calculated and complex dialogue. Jang recently helped revive the South Korean box office with his screenplay for Welcome To Dongmakgol (screened at PIFF) and even managed to compete with himself on opening weekend with a film he directed as well as wrote, The Big Scene (not screened at PIFF but screened by the airline on my plane flight over and which apparently now has the alternative title, Murder, Take One). Even though I appreciated his short on discrimination towards contract workers, from the uproar of laughter from the crowd, I still feel as if I missed greater nuances that translation just couldn't provide.

The Peter Pan Formula But even if a psychoanalyst could provide a proper translation of Cho Chang-ho's debut Korean feature The Peter Pan Formula, I doubt it would add that much to this overly-Freudian-ed work. I can quote Freud to back me up on this one - "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And sometimes one wants to have sex with an attractive, older woman, not out of a desire to return to the womb, but out of a desire to have sex with an attractive, older woman. And such a desire is perhaps not a sign of pathology but a means of addressing pathology in a culture that de-legitimizes attractions for anyone not within a severely limited range of youthful years. Something South Korea shares with my home country and pretty much the rest of the entire world.

The story follows our Peter Pan named Han-soo (On Ju-wan) who must deal with being alone, and how he extends that alone-ness into loneliness after his mother's failed suicide attempt, one that leaves her in a coma. At the hospital, he meets a similar girl (Ok Ji-young) in similarly orphaned limbo who will later share in his secret as he shares in hers. There are wonderful moments in this film, such as when his secret is revealed to the girl and the interesting take on the South Korean film trope of capital punishment from teachers and peer groups, but the film loses me in its symbolism from psychoanalytic theories I've always questioned. But it's getting a lot of buzz from people who saw it and it is part of the New Currents section here. I will agree that Cho shows promise, but the film is not a complete success for me; but then I was more Rogerian and Narrative back when I was a therapist in my past life anyway.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:14 AM | Comments (1)

October 11, 2005

Sitges Dispatch. 2.

Sitges 05 Hot on the heels of his first dispatch from the Sitges International Film Festival, Juan Manuel Freire sends in another.

MirrorMask The Competition begins. Kilometer zero - MirrorMask, the long-awaited collaboration of Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman with the Jim Henson Company (which is receiving a tribute in Sitges on the occasion of its 50th anniversary). Following a rather slight narrative line (on the eve of her mother's surgery, young Helena finds herself in a dreamy but conflicted world where she must find the so-called MirrorMask to restore order), this is little more than a series of visual events which may irritate anyone looking for more than static panels of goth delirium. The beginning is intriguing and even moving, especially that scene on the terrace in which Helena (the great Stephanie Leonidas) talks with her father about the bad news of her mother's health. But once she's inside the imaginary world inside her brain, everything becomes slow, boring and reiterative and sometimes difficult to get through - as in Vidocq, the overuse of saturated colors and heightened textures can become a torture. Not to say that the actors feel as lost as the latest Jedis in those static panels of CGI. Bill the Bubble Guy, where are you?

Seven Swords Blame it on the cuts (the original version lasts four hours, while the one we saw runs for "only" two and a half), but it was easy to get lost amidst the multiple narrative intricacies of Tsui Hark's Seven Swords, a variation on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. The edits are so wild and so free that some flashbacks at the end make reference to scenes we hadn't seen before - that was a laugh. This wasn't the only point that made it difficult to relate to this kung-fu epic in the line of Hark's martial arts classics such as Swordsman and Once Upon a Time in China, only with an extra dash of flesh and blood. Where he has usually shown a deft hand for action, his style here is confusing and contrived, as if he had lost the golden touch magnificently on display in films such as Time and Tide. Take the first action scene - the abuse of slight slow motion and fades to white don't suggest a master of musical action but of a devoted follower of late-era Ridley Scott. So this was the second dissapointment for an Official Section which also presented yesterday the French-Belgian thriller Trouble, a movie on twins with Benoît Magimel as main character(s).

Posted by dwhudson at 3:18 PM

Vancouver Dispatch. 2.

Sean Axmaker sends a second dispatch from the Vancouver International Film Festival, which runs through October 14.

Vancouver International Film Centre If there is a Cinemateque in movie-lovers heaven, it's probably a lot like the newly completed Vancouver International Film Centre. Built to host year-round film programming, the 175-seat screening room has a rake like a coliseum, first class seats that feel like the seats of command and a screen that fills the vast front wall and mats off each film with a pair of thick black frames that slide to the chosen aspect ratio and seems to capture the image and hold it there on the screen for its running time. In short, it was created to make each screening feel like it was there for you. I felt an electric charge as the frame slid open to scope dimensions for its inaugural public screening.

The Intruder Of course, the film itself, Claire Denis's elliptical and obtuse The Intruder, may have some part in that charge. To be honest, I'm still not sure what the film is about, but if I may quote a fellow critic during a post-screening conversation, "Sense is overrated." It's a typically and engagingly sensual drama that may be a spy thriller, a tale of redemption or the fever dream of a heart patient haunted by his paternal failures of the past. What I mean by sensual has less to do with sex (though there is that, with gloriously unglamorous bodies and imperfect flesh tangled up in pleasure) than with the simple texture of experience. When a character tramps through a forest, wades through the surf or brushes the flesh of another, you can almost feel the sensation through her vibrant color, her caressing camera and her unique rhythms. Michel Subor, with his hard, tight face etched with years and mane of white hair, is an aging wolf who has left the herd for a solitary existence, or so it seems from the first images as he wanders through the wilds with his dogs (and sets the feral pack of a nearby compound barking ferociously whenever he approaches). But he's still cunning and ruthless, as we see when he makes quick work of an intruder on his land. He may be a Russian spy, he certainly needs a heart transplant and he apparently has the clout and the money to buy a black market heart and head out on a globe-trotting odyssey to find a son he abandoned years ago. It can't all be "real," but Denis isn't letting on how much is fantasy, how much guilty visions as he deals with the transplant, and how much his own physical quest, perhaps because the entire drama bubbles up from his regrets and his sins, remembered as he gets a new lease on life. The question he faces is: at what cost?

Caché Michael Haneke won the Best Director prize at Cannes for Caché, which played as a Special Presentation at VIFF and confirmed his status as one of the world's most provocative filmmakers. Ostensibly a thriller, the film plays at fears even more insidious than direct threats of violence. French intellectual book critic and TV host Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) are terrorized by a series of videotapes that simply show their home under surveillance - the tapes come wrapped in children's crayon drawings and blood. Those disturbing images don't appear to be threats, at least not overtly, but they trigger something buried deep in Georges's memory, something that stirs up his guilt, which he deals with by turning aggressive, protective and righteously outraged. Haneke's brilliant use of video recalls his earliest films, but with a more sophisticated execution. It disrupts our identification and makes our gaze uneasy as the point of view is constantly shifted. Meanwhile, a subtext of angry youth and its defiant challenge to parents slowly bubbles up through the film, while a disturbing reality of race and class relations are exposed not merely in Georges's every confrontation, but in his very sense of entitlement. But at the heart of the film is a defiant ambiguity that leaves the audience either grasping at clues and jumping to conclusions, just as Georges does (making us complicit in the actions that lead to shocking consequences) or sitting back with a film that defiantly refuses closure with a final shot that echoes the surveillance-style framing that defines the veiled threats of the videos. We're watching you, we're told, but whose gaze is it?

Shin Song-Il is Lost The most impressive of the "Dragons and Tigers" competition films (limited to first and second-time directors) that I had the opportunity to see was Shin Song-Il is Lost (South Korea). Shot on DV, mostly in black and white, with turns to color (notably in the surreal third act), it is the tale of a Christian orphanage with a warped headmistress who preaches a twisted interpretation of Christianity (appetite is a punishment, eating a sin and starvation a form of devotion) ostensibly to save money (her appetite doesn't seem affected) and possibly to bend young wills. Thus the opening scenes have a Buñuelian undercurrent as kids sneak Choco Pies and cartons of milk into bathroom stalls to secretly scarf them down, while the intently religious Song-Il starves himself for days until he has visions of angels. Though hardly an example of realism, the black-and-white naturalism and the performances of the kids create a normalized viewfinder and give the film a tone more weird and unsettling than satirical. What follows, however, becomes increasingly surreal and impressionistic, as if filtered through the starved brain of the obsessively fasting Song-Il. Shin Jane gives it all an undercurrent of unsettling humor, which makes the ordeal bearable, even as the young minds are warped by this heretical, horrible teaching until they rebel in a chapter out of Jean Vigo.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:27 PM

Sergio Citti, 1933 - 2005.

Citti and Pasolini
Sergio Citti, an Italian director and writer best known for his work with the late Pier Paolo Pasolini, died in a hospital near Rome on Tuesday, health officials said. He was 72.

The AP.

Pasolini was to be brought to trial many times for his work as a writer and film director - and organized gangs of homophobic fascist youth frequently attacked the cinemas showing his films (and the cinema-goers).

It was at this time that Pier Paolo became friends with an 18-year-old working-class house painter, Sergio Citti, who helped him with the Roman slum dialect that peppered Ragazzi di Vita and its 1959 sequel, Una Via Violenta, or A Violent Life. (Sergio eventually became an assistant director and co-scenarist on many Pasolini films, and a successful scenarist and film director in his own right - today he's considered the only legitimate heir of Pasolini's cinematic style.) Pasolini also enlisted Sergio Citti's help when he wrote the Roman dialogue for Fellini's classic 1957 film, Nights of Cabiria, the story of an aging prostitute.

Doug Ireland, ZNet.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:53 AM | Comments (1)

Graffiti Filmmaking

Hannah Eaves talks with a filmmaker who shoots the streets of San Francisco as they are.

Quality of Life

It's become a popular code word for an underground zero-budget celluloid or video creation - guerilla filmmaking. But what does it mean to be a "graffiti" filmmaker? Benjamin Morgan, director of the feature film Quality of Life, winner of a Special Mention Jury Award at the Berlinale and the Best Youth Film Award at the Stockholm Int'l Film Festival Jr, has a philosophy. "You don't need a bunch of money to create graffiti. Originally, you steal the spray paint, that's part of the culture. We adopted that graffiti model in place of a larger budget. We said, 'We will make this movie however we can.' The same goes for distribution. We just need to get it done. Everything we've done is in that ethic, using the graffiti model, creating something powerful and compelling without having a lot of resources. That model infected us, as I think it's infected youth, and that's why I think graffiti in general touches youth so much. It's not about having resources or being rich and powerful, it's about speaking your voice. It's about finding a way to be an individual in a very anonymous culture."

Quality of Life

Quality of Life was shot entirely on location in San Francisco, mostly in the Mission District, and concerns two graffiti artists, Michael "Heir" Rosario and Curtis "Vain" Smith, best friends who are living on the verge of dire trouble and dealing very differently with the inevitable confrontation of growing up. Director Morgan has spent the last thirteen years working with "at risk" youth and has incorporated their stories into this and his last three no-budget video features. Quality of Life was written with costar Brian Burnam (Vain). "Brian has lived the life. He has been an active graffiti artist in San Francisco for quite some time (he's currently retired). He was really basing it on personal experiences. The way we would talk about it is that Heir and Vain are actually one person hitting a point of 'Which way do I go?' Do I want to keep on getting arrested and partying with my friends, having a great time and living the lifestyle or do I want to grow up and live a regular life? That's kind of where Brian was when we were writing the script."

For Quality of Life, which Morgan considers his first "big" film, he took the leap of shooting in Super-16mm. "We started having discussions to figure out whether film was really feasible and we ultimately found out, especially with Kev Robertson, our DP, that if we approached it with the graffiti model in mind we wouldn't spend that much more money than if we shot on video. Kodak really helped us out. They had just come out with this new night stock that Kev was really excited about so we knew we wouldn't need a lot of lights. We knew that we would have to blow up to film at some point anyway, and we realized that if we took our DV rough cut around to raise money to blow up to film we would have a hard time convincing people to trust us that it would look good." That the usually colorful Mission District comes off as bleached out and drab was all part of the mise-en-scene. "Graffiti writers come alive at night. That's when their world comes to life, because they go out and they go painting with their friends, they party. I educated our DP on graffiti. I gave him books, magazines, videos, I had graffiti writers take him on tours. He came back and said, 'The nightlife is alive for these guys.' They wake up at two, three in the afternoon, or they go to some dead-end job that's as boring as hell, all tired. We really wanted to depict that."

Quality of Life

Morgan drew heavily on the local art scene and in a lot of ways Quality of Life is a community effort. A pivotal party scene was shot in Co-Executive Producer and local gallery owner John Doffing's loft. "The DJ was D-Sharp, he's a hot underground Quannum DJ. The label Quannum - Blackalicious, DJ Shadow. Our music supervisor Count knows him really well. Top.R. is an underground legend rapper. With the party scene we wanted to capture the scene as it is now. Brian Burnam was basically just on his cellphone all day calling his friends. It was all Sam Flores's artwork. This was the world. Sam came up to me and he said, 'You know, you've captured an amazing moment tonight. This is a slice in time.' In this movement - these are the people that are a part of that movement."

Executive Producers Brant Smith and John Doffing are making the vertiginous decision to self-distribute a 35mm theatrical run. Beginning at the Galaxy Cinema in San Francisco, they are hoping to generate numbers impressive enough to encourage other theaters around the country to join in. There will also be a limited run book, stylishly designed by local firm Chen Design Associates about the making of the film which includes a foreword by artist Jim Prigoff and a history of San Francisco graffiti by the guys behind popular doc Piece by Piece.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:45 AM | Comments (2)

Sitges Dispatch. 1.

Just weeks ago, Juan Manuel Freire was sending dispatches from San Sebastian. Now he begins his coverage of the Sitges International Film Festival in Catalonia.

Sitges 05 We're not still recovered from the thrills and frights of last year's edition and here we are again - ready to crumble. 2005's Sitges looks great - the program should deliver the goods, with a rather competitive official section, heartfelt tributes to Jaws and the Jim Henson Company, and those always juicy parallel sections devoted to risky cinema, recent hits from Asia, critics' favorite unreleased flicks and classic works of European fantastic cinema. And the level of glamour is red-hot - for the third time, the festival will welcome Quentin Tarantino, who will come to the event as producer of Eli Roth's Hostel, and we also eagerly expect visits from the likes of David Cronenberg, Viggo Mortensen, Chiaki Kuriyama, Jodie Foster and Park Chan-wook. Local stardom will be represented by Elena Anaya, Laia Marull and Goya Toledo, among others.

It's not that we're looking out more for stars than for the films - it's just that the presence of big names means that Sitges is gaining respect and influence, and that's something to celebrate. Opening night saw the presence of director Joss Whedon and actors Nathan Fillion and Summer Glau, who may be some of the most sought-after personalities in US cinema right now. They presented, of course, Serenity, the film which some people firmly believe is the new Star Wars and the best sci-fi since The Matrix. It deeply hurts me to disagree - as a Whedon admirer, I wanted to love this film so much, but I did not - and I suppose some of the five-star reviews come from sheer blind fanaticism or, more simply, from some people's fear of not being in touch with flavor of the month.

Serenity is more Ice Pirates than Star Wars - a goofy, half-decent space western with a nice b-series flavour. Thinking this is going to change sci-fi history is just plain mad. The film is halfway there in terms of storytelling, action, dialogue and... well, just almost everything. It's like a TV pilot for some nice but forgettable sci-fi series blown up on a big screen. For someone who is not familiar with the Firefly series, the plot is almost incomprehensible and the relationships between characters are difficult to decipher. The action is effective in fight scenes but rather clunky when spaceships come in sight - the FX are not integrated in the movement of the characters very well (i.e., shots of our heroes' jostled cabin and clashes in space are totally separated from each other). And the dialogue is goofy when it should be serious and deeply unfunny when it's meant to be goofy. Am I alone in this? Possibly. Hopefully not. This film can be reasonably enjoyed, but please, let's save the "masterpiece" tag for films that actually deserve it.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:06 AM | Comments (1)

October 10, 2005

Mill Valley. Shorts.

Hannah Eaves on the short films being screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Mill Valley Film Festival There's something appealing about absurd short films. Risk-taking is more affordable in shorter bursts. There's plenty of room for emotion in a small period of time, admittedly, but the opportunity is also there to take advantage of a concept that, while it might not carry a feature-length film, fits perfectly into, say, ten minutes. Mill Valley short film programmer Anita Monga must thankfully have a soft spot for all things strange. There are twelve shorts programs in total playing at the MVFF, not including the roughly fifteen individual shorts paired with features. Such an extensive program leaves room for the satisfation of most peoples' tastes, whether they lean towards the emotional or the absurd.

La Vie d'un Chien

Back in April, I reviewed John Harden's La Vie d'un Chien (The Life of a Dog), possibly the best, and certainly the most amusing, short to play at SFIFF. It concerns a scientist who has found a method of transforming people into dogs and is composed entirely of still photographs a la Chris Marker's La Jetee. To take the homage one step further, it's also in French. "As a result of either great skill or accidental success," I wrote, "the film manages to be both infectiously tongue-in-cheek and occasionally touching." I never thought that the filmmaker would actually read my review. When I was introduced to Mr Harden at MVFF's Opening Night Party, he wanted to know if I was the person who had written this. "Because," he said, "I'd like to tell you that it was entirely the result of great skill!" A copy of La Vie d'un Chien made it into Chris Marker's hands and Mr Harden has been told by a reliable source that his sole reaction was, "I like cats."

Uso Justo

Close in heart to La Vie d'un Chien, which is a riff on an experimental film, is Coleman Miller's Uso Justo, ostensibly about a notorious experimental filmmaker rumored to be making a film in Mexico. It's in Spanish with English subtitles, and even being only taqueria-fluent in Spanish is enough to tell you that the two don't match up. The title translates to "Fair Use" and the entire film is spliced straight out of a "found" 1950s Mexican melodrama which, according to the improvised subtitles, revolves around a dying child who just wants her wish to come true, an actress whose life aim is to perform in an experimental film, and a psychadelic trip-out (the experimental film part). Just when you think the concept has run out of steam, it jumps into something new and funny.

The Raftman's Razor

The Raftman's Razor also deserves another mention. It's the kind of accomplished film that draws you in immediately, even if you've seen it once or twice before. Two kids spend a summer reading the ill-fated comic book, The Raftman's Razor, whose protagonist is a man with a five o'clock shadow stranded on a life raft. The comic book is an existential and surreal rumination on pointlessness and, in between comic book issues, the boys obsess and goof around in unexplained and geekishly charming ways.

The Death of Salvador Dalí

Dealing directly with the surreal is Delaney Bishop's The Death of Salvador Dalí. Salvador Dalí visits Sigmund Freud for psychoanalysis and strange depth charges in unconcious waters ensue. The central role of Dalí is a bit overplayed but how can you avoid that when even Dalí overplayed himself? The film works best when it's taking itself seriously and thankfully it starts doing that fairly quickly. There's really nothing better than straight-faced surrealism. In this case, the best parts aren't when you're laughing at the absurdity - they're when you're in it, scratching your head wondering, "What the hell's going on and where's everything going next?"

Also worth mentioning: The Big Empty, about Selma Blair's Tardis-like icy frontier of a womb; Life Ride, which plays with your expectations by starting off looking like it's going to be a bit trite and boring but quickly taking a turn for the uncomfortably not-quite-right; and Top of the Circle, a lovely, touching memory film about the banalities that can punctuate the most important moments of our lives - birth and death.

La Vie d'un Chien, Uso Justo, The Death of Salvador Dalí and The Big Empty play in 5@5: Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat on October 11 and 12. Top of the Circle and Raftman's Razor play in 5@5: It's All Over Now Baby Blue on October 12 and 13 and Life Ride plays in 5@5: Simple Twist of Fate on October 14 and 15.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:26 AM | Comments (2)

Busan Dispatch. 2.

Adam Hartzell, a regular contributor to Koreanfilm.org, sends in another dispatch from the Pusan International Film Festival.

Pusan International Film Festival A regular part of PIFF has been a retrospective on a director from South Korean cinema's past that has yet to be fully appreciated internationally. Directors like Kim Ki-young and Yu Hyon-mok have been featured. This year's festival looks at the career of Lee Man-hee. Lee primarily worked in genre films. His genre repertoire included war films (The Marines Who Never Returned [also known as The Marines Who Didn't Come Home, 1963]), horror films (The Evil Stairs [also known as The Devil's Stairway, 1964]), film noir (Black Hair [1964]) and thrillers (The Starting Point [1967]).

The Starting Point The mountain-climbing, suspense thriller The Starting Point, would be a good starting point for anyone interested in Lee's work. A robber (played by Shin Seong-il) who has accidentally killed a man while stealing secret files is sent off to the mountainside on a newlywed package to avoid the consequences of his actions' actions. Since such a package requires he present himself as if he's just been betrothed, a prostitute (played by Moon Hee) is hired to pose as his wife. Little do both know: this is all a ruse set up in order to off him and clean up the mess he left during the heist. At the same time, his "wife's" real identity is revealed through a doctor's violation of doctor/patient privilege by telling all the other couples that she's a prostitute. This sets things up for two ostracized individuals to fall in love.

The film begins with an adventurous choice on Lee's part, two dialogue-less sequences that are nicely laid out, the foiled heist and the negotiations between prostitute and john that establishes our female lead's profession. During the foiled heist, we witness languishingly drawn out moments as the robber tries to crawl away from the clutches of the man from whom he's stealing. The chase scenes that erupt on the mountain are quite suspenseful considering the time they were made and the dangerous conditions they were made in. Several awkward camera angles are utilized to enhance the danger and suspense and they work fairly well, making for an enjoyable film.

Break the Chain! The same can't be said for Break The Chain! (1971), however. Although our three main characters are interestingly quirky, the screenplay, set in the time of Japanese colonization, and the dialogue are all over the place, making it difficult to connect the plot points in one screening if they are connectible at all in the first place. I could summarize it by simply saying: a spy, an assassin, and an independence fighter meet in a bar and all hell breaks loose, but not necessarily intentionally. Their identities are somewhat ambiguous, but are also poorly developed. The film lost me at several moments and, based on the laughter of many in the crowd at certain points, it seems they'd agree.

One of the areas responsible for the creative explosion in South Korean films for the past several years has been the relaxing of censorship laws. There are still some things, however, that cannot be shown. Im Sang-soo had to excise the documentary footage at the end of The President's Last Bang because the censors didn't like the facts so close to his fiction. The screening here at PIFF, or anywhere since its initial screening for the press, does not include that footage. Graphic displays of sexuality are still contained somewhat by censors as well. Films like Park Chul-soo's Green Chair (not screening) are still quite blunt in their sexual frankness, but there are still certain taboos, such as no pubic hair (as in Japan) and no erect penises and actual penetration (as in the United States if you want an R-rating).

Lie With Me Film festivals, however, are permitted a waiver to show films that contain images that would not normally be permitted to grace the multiplex. And Clement Virgo's latest Canadian feature, Lie With Me, definitely takes advantage of these liberties. Let's just say it was confirmed that Rachel (Lauren Lee Smith) is a natural redhead. The film follows Rachel as she struggles through her existential dilemma regarding her sexual self. As adventurous as she is, she needs to be in control at all times. But when she meets the gorgeous David (Eric Balfour), she begins to lose herself in ways for which she is not ready. With all the talk recently about Hollywood's "unhealthy" portrayals of sex, let's give it up for Canada for showing how sexy condom use can be. Still, when people talk about how sex in Hollywood films is portrayed without showing the "consequences," they only mean the negative consequences. Hollywood often shows us the positive consequences, that is, that it can be freakin' fun getting freaky. Lie With Me shows the ecstasy along with the pain that can accompany all that takes place in carnal forums. The film isn't outstanding, and perhaps it's the Boards of Canada-esque soundtrack weaved in and out that had me enjoying it more than it warranted, but the film follows in an honorable tradition of showing where sexual obsession can lead us. In this case, it was somewhere the characters wanted to be.

Love Talk And somewhere I wanted to eventually be at PIFF was watching South Korean director Lee Yoon-ki's second feature, Love Talk. His debut, This Charming Girl, was a well-paced character study about a woman wrestling with her demons while trying to open her life to the angels who occasionally enter. The actress who presented that powerful performance, Kim Ji-soo, makes a brief appearance in Love Talk, but that's about the only similarity with the previous film. This second feature fails to generate as much critical talk because director Lee appears to have taken on too much. A man comes to LA in hopes of rekindling a romance with his ex-lover who has a radio show where she gives advice about love. He rents a room from an older woman who works at a "massage" parlor. Their lives intertwine, full of missed and made connections. Even if we put aside the problems of poor performances by the Western actors and other language barrier difficulties, the film falls flat. Of all the films I've seen so far, this is the one I've found myself thinking the least about.

Sleeper But I will probably be thinking about Austrian director Benjamin Heisenberg's film Sleeper for some time. The film focuses on Johannes (Bastian Trost) as he struggles with his ambivalence about helping the German secret service trail a Muslim resident named Farid (Mehdi Nebbou). The film is less a spy thriller and more a look at the competition inherent within many male friendships. Due to the real life events going on in our world presently, we will likely see more such films with subplots involving Muslim terrorists. Nebbou's performance and Heisenberg's script add up to one of the more complicated and nuanced portrayals, one that doesn't involve clichés seen in the more mainstream presentations of this emerging genre. And if such alternative portrayals are ever to see the dark of a theater, it will be film festivals taking the first step.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:11 AM

October 9, 2005

Shorts, 10/9.

Stop Smiling: The Auteur Issue "Movies, like the books Truffaut read, were not really a choice after childhood; both had been a part of his life too long. But they are not essential, either, at least in the way that romantics value. He did not 'escape' into films, as so many moviegoers do. Too often that sort of flight is synonymous with absolution - a blank slate empty of the rest of the day." Nathan Kosub in Stop Smiling, which has just released its "Auteur Issue" with three different covers.

Two somewhat related reviews by J Hoberman have popped up at the Village Voice site. He seems to have enjoyed reading Jerry Lewis's new book, Dean & Me (A Love Story), but not so much Atom Egoyan's noirish riff on the story in Where the Truth Lies. Also: The President's Last Bang.

To the accompaniment of Bernard Herrmann's suite from Vertigo, Flickhead recalls two very different viewings.

Jon Lebowsky is pleased to see a new site from Participant Productions, Participate: "Currently the site has a couple of campaigns... "Report it Now," which is aligned with Good Night and Good Luck, and "Host a North Country Community Discussion." It'll be interesting to see what the site's like when it gets busy, which should be any minute now..."

"Released in France last year, Le Grand Voyage played in cinemas for six months simply on word of mouth," writes Maya Jaggi, who talks with Ismaël Ferroukhi, the director of the first feature to be shot inside Mecca. "It won the 2004 Luigi de Laurentiis award at Venice, and went to film festivals from Belgium to Argentina. More than 4,000 people watched it on a giant screen in Marrakech's Djemaa el Fna square, with 'tourists and everybody, some who had never been in a cinema, mixing in the crowd.'"

Also in the Guardian and Observer:

  • Justine Picardie: "[I]t's going to be hard to let go of my own imaginary version of Narnia: a world that seemed entirely real to me, and millions of others, when I discovered CS Lewis's books in childhood."

  • You've got to be willing to fall on your face once in a while." Dan Halpern meets that earnest risk-taker, Ethan Hawke.

  • Lindesay Irvine listens to Ridley Scott explain what he was after in Kingdom of Heaven - and note that, even though it didn't play in the US, it did in the Arab world. Made money, too.

  • "Well, I wouldn't want to be highfalutin enough to pretend to be ordinary," Tilda Swinton tells Gaby Wood.

Oliver Twist

Directors Label Reviewing the Directors Label Series at Pitchfork, Stephen M Deusner lists "three crucial criticisms that have dogged music videos since the Buggles' 'Video Killed the Radio Star' aired on cable 24 years ago: that these short clips are faddishly disposable, that their visuals remain necessarily secondary to the music even as they detract from the listening experience, and that music videos are works of commerce, not art. What makes music video direction a dubious profession, however, also makes the medium a potentially exciting art form defined by the cross-pollination of ideas and approaches from various disciplines."

In the LA CityBeat, Chris Morris on Punk: Attitude, "the most recent entry in a now-ongoing flood of historical docs about the Golden Age of Punk Rock. I'd heard the picture was good, and figured [Don] Letts, the Clash's longtime DJ and pal, probably knew what he was talking about. So I popped the thing on, and was immediately overtaken by a familiar sense of nausea."

Nick Hasted: "You can see why rappers would be deemed ideal movie stars. Not only verbally facile, they also often rely on aliases as crafted as any actor's."

Also in the Independent:

In the Telegraph, Sheila Johnston recalls meeting Bill Murray in Cannes and asks David Gordon Green why he's watched Deliverance "more than any other movie." Also: David Rennie reports on a short from Unicef depicting Smurfs' village getting the blue bombed out of it by screaming warplanes.

Devil's Advocate Matt Feeney's guilty pleasures: Devil's Advocate, Cruel Intentions and Wild Things. Also at Slate: David Edelstein: "Elsewhere in this magazine, Jack Shafer has brought such fine, principled skepticism to bear on the historical foundation of George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck that my case for it will no doubt seem lightweight. Here goes: It's a damn good movie!" More from Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, Stuart Klawans in the Nation and Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

The only thing this has to do with movies is the fact that John Rogers writes them. Other than that, it's simply a chat over mozzarella sticks that betters a bunch of guys talking about tips and Madonna.

Boston's Brattle is in trouble. The cinetrix urges: "Give til it hurts, people."

Now open for exploration: Ingmar Bergman Face to Face: "English version to be launched in January 2006. Meanwhile, browse the site anyway! Even if you don't understand Swedish, it'll be fun." As Matt Langdon points out at Rashomon, there are plenty of pix.

In the New York Times:

  • AO Scott on why the well-to-do like to see themselves in deep, dark trouble in films such as Caché and Manderlay: "Feeling bad about ourselves can become a way of affirming our own goodness, a sign of moral virtue and political concern that costs nothing more than the price of a ticket."

  • Sylviane Gold talks with Glenn Close about her new "life in the indies."

  • "My film is emotional rather than meta, and that's my rebellion." Noah Baumbach answers Deborah Solomon's questions.

  • According to a recent survey, men 25 and under, "the one audience [Hollywood] has pursued most ardently for at least two decades," are seeing fewer movies. Sharon Waxman reports. Also: Shake-up at Paramount Classics.

  • So the Weinstein Company is up and running. "And if all goes according to an early version of their business plan, the new movie studio will be profitable by 2007, putting out 25 movies a year, and generating annual revenue of $1.9 billion." David M Halbfinger and Andrew Ross Sorkin report.

Protocols of Zion

Reviews:

The Producers "2005 is proving to be a vintage year for American indie films," declares Newsweek's David Ansen. Via Movie City News.

The newsweeklies are taken with a "supernova duo": Time's Lev Grossman listens in as Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick banter; Newsweek's Marc Peyser has the more straightforward, shortish piece.

"[B]y filming his sci-fi feature film debut, Serenity, in town, [Joss Whedon] found himself something of a local hero, one of a growing number of people who are fighting to keep Hollywood in Hollywood," writes Mary McNamara in the LAT.

Also:

Mark H Harris tousles Samuel L Jackson's hair at PopMatters.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre tops a Total Film poll of the greatest horror flicks of all time. The BBC reports.

Innocent Voices In the Hollywood Reporter:

For those who read German: Two pieces on Fassbinder in new filmkritik für lange texte, one from Harun Farocki, the other from Diedrich Diederichsen. Via filmtagebuch.

Franka Potente and Max Urlacher: Los Angeles - Berlin: Ein Jahr Both Franka Potente and Heike Makatsch have written books, as filmz.de notes.

HD-DVDs might not be encumbered with region codes. Slashdotters discuss. Meantime, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, Cory Doctorow: "Me, I say they all suck ass."

Scott Kirsner at CinemaTech the other day: "'Why won't Hollywood give us any of their content to play with?' That was the major theme of yesterday’s 'Future of Entertainment' panel at the Web 2.0 conference."

Online browsing tip. The Warhol: Time Capsule 21. Via Benj Gerdes at Eyebeam's reBlog.

Online listening tip. On NPR's World Cafe, David Dye hosts the Kronos Quartet, talking about their collaboration with Bollywood legend Asha Bhosle on a collection of compositions by her late husband, RD Burman, You've Stolen My Heart.

Online viewing tip. 1st Ave Machine's oddly animated plant life. Via Boing Boing.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Drawn! points to a couple of winners in the music video category at the Ottowa International Animation Festival.

Online viewing tips, round 2. "That people aren't widely declaring Frenchman Michel Ocelot the next Miyazaki is a mystery to me," writes Todd at Twitch, who points to the trailer for Kirikou and the Wild Beasts. Also, logboy notes that there's a bit to watch trailer-wise at Showtime's site for its Masters of Horror series, with evidently more to come soon. You'll recognize a few of the names behind the 13 hour-long installments. In a similar vein, The Gomorrahizer points to trailers for the Tales of Terror collection, featuring contributions by eight Japanese directors.

Online viewing tips, round 3. "Reading Hitchcock at Work got the ball rolling and making Kite Circuit clinched the deal. I've had such a wonderful week." Matt Clayfield has kept a video log of the production of his latest short, currently scheduled for a December release.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:00 PM | Comments (1)

Fests, 10/9.

Chicago International Film Festival Jonathan Rosenbaum introduces the Chicago Reader's hunky preview of just the first week of the Chicago International Film Festival (through October 20):

The studios' lack of interest in this event may be a blessing, because we're not being bullied by celebrity journalism and advertising for a few favored films and can make our own choices.

I have to applaud the festival's faithfulness in sticking with certain filmmakers year after year, even when nobody else likes them (Claude Lelouch, Lina Wertmüller) or when they run off the rails (Tsai Ming-liang, with this year's The Wayward Cloud). I'm not sure if this is a critical position - the New York film festival does the same thing with Lars von Trier - but it's a likable one.

Ray Pride has an excellent piece on the "smaller" films screening in Chicago, and by "smaller," he doesn't mean "short": "Both Kissing on the Mouth and Learning to Swallow suggest that if everyone with the energy can make a film, films will be made about people you know, and about people who are like the people you know."

Joe Swanberg will be covering the fest for Cinematical, Canfield for Twitch.

The New York Film Festival wraps tonight, and once again, I've overlooked a hefty source of coverage. Aaron Dobbs, whom you may have seen at such fine blogs as Out of Focus, has been a veritable fount of smart wordage at the Gothamist throughout the fest.

A few more all but randomly selected souvenirs:

New York Film Festival
  • At the Reverseblog, eshman listens in as Patrice Chereau and Michael Haneke express "diametrically opposed" views on film. Related: Daniel Kasman on Gabrielle: "Do we really need another film about the layers of self-deception amongst the late-19th, early-20th century bourgeois existing in their social codes and rules?"

  • The Reeler listens in on the NYFF press conference for Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. As for the film itself, Filmbrain calls it "a masterpiece of self-reflexivity that is easily one of the most intelligent comedies of the year" and the IFC's Alison Willmore finds it "deliriously fun."

  • Keith Uhlich at Slant on that "endearing mess of a movie," Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto.

  • Martha Fischer at Cinematical: "Despite its historical content and fairly complex plot, watching The Sun is a visceral experience as much as it is an intellectual one."

  • Beth Gilligan at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Although [I Am is not without its touching moments, particularly in depicting the budding friendship between Mongrel and Kuleczka, the bulk of it feels like a second-rate retread of My Life as a Dog."

  • Aaron Hillis wraps the fest with a personal top five.

  • Another New York Times roundup.

Fantastic Fest Brian's been filing reports at Cinema Strikes Back from Austin's Fantastic Fest. Jette Kernion has more at Cinematical and, of course, Ain't It Cool News is all over the fest. Also, a few first impressions of Werner Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder from Wiley Wiggins.

A different Brian surveys the offerings at the Mill Valley Film Festival and at the Balboa.

The "Arts & Living" section of the Korean Times is currently featuring quite a few stories on the Pusan International Film Festival. HanCinema's found a nifty one by Kim Ki-tae listing ten reasons PIFF rocks, basically.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:50 AM

October 8, 2005

Busan Dispatch. 1.

Adam Hartzell, a regular contributor to Koreanfilm.org, last sent in dispatches from Udine. Now he's in Busan.

Pusan International Film Festival While riding the bullet train from Seoul to Busan to attend the 10th Pusan International Film Festival, I realized that I'd have to explain an inconsistency within this sentence. That is, why do I first spell the city with a "B" (Busan) and then with a "P" (Pusan) when referencing the festival? Well, a few years ago the South Korean government implemented changes in the romanization of Korean words to, amongst other things, better represent the sounds of Korean in the roman alphabet and to avoid the need for diacritical marks that make Internet searches difficult. Problem was that this interfered with the Pusan International Film Festival's brand. Having established itself as the premiere film festival in Asia, it didn't want to mess with a good thing and rebrand itself. So the Pusan International Film Festival resolved to be the exception to the new rule, keeping its P-spelling, and by extension its acronym, PIFF.

Pusan International Film Festival The selection of the opening film at this year's festival was disappointing to some. Not that it was a disappointing film. Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien never fails to impress. It's just that his latest film, Three Times, had already been shown over three times - at the Cannes, Toronto, Taipei and New York film festivals - so it was not the "premiere" that many expect of an opening film. Although the film has apparently been re-cut for this event, its previous screenings a damper on what should have been a unique moment.

But the crowd at the opening ceremony didn't seem to care about all those technicalities. Hundreds of teenage paparazzi focused their mobile phone camera sights on the South Korean film stars who walked the red carpet into the wonderful spectacle at the Busan Yachting Center Outdoor Theatre where the event is held alongside the ocean. The mobile phones were held up like a crowd of LCD lighters to keep the concert of stars going on through the night, which would include performances by South Korean pop stars BoA (pronounced like the snake, not like the US-based bank, as I pronounced it, sparking a laugh from my friend who said she'd made the same mistake initially). Many of the stars shining on this night might mean very little to the Western film-goer, but throughout Asia many have reached heights of popularity that make the markets in America and elsewhere irrelevant.

No one needed the two large TV screens to herald the entrance of Lee Byung-heon (Everybody Has Secrets, A Bittersweet Life) because his staple "killer smile" announced his presence along with the piercing screams of his fans. The only other stars who came close to receiving his reception were Satoshi Tsumabuki of the Japanese film Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish, which was wildly popular upon its release here, and South Korea's eccentric fashion designer, Andre Kim, decked out in white as always, but this time in an outfit that rivaled the Michelin Man's.

Despite the controversy over Three Times opening PIFF this year, the choice makes sense when you note that the festival's director, Kim Dong-ho, considers it "the best Asian film" this year. Also, the film received major funding from another acronym that retains the P, the PPP, or Pusan Promotion Plan, at the 2002 Pusan International Film Festival. It was supposed to be part of an omnibus film, but Hou saw greater potential in it and fleshed the film out further to explore a couple's relationship in the 1960s, 1910s and the present, in that order. Unfortunately, I prepared poorly for the weather at the yachting center because I'd been led by the preceding excellent weather to expect warm days and still warm nights, but this night by the ocean provided a breeze that my freshly shorn scalp found more chilling than pleasant. I felt I could relate to the shivering of our characters on the screen, but their shivering was due to tentatively held hands on a rainy night waiting for transit and true love. I ended up leaving the yachting center just as we stepped into the 1910s. This meant I may have been seeing the film as what it was rather than what it is. And I have no worries about missing the next two thirds, for I'm sure I'll have another opportunity to see it. Perhaps at another festival.

Rikidozan The first full film for me, then, was Song Hye-sung's biopic Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinary - in a multiplex. The Mega(indeed)box is the top floor of a mall in the Haeundae beach area of Busan. Whereas some feel holding screenings in multiplexes taints the festival experience, I find such exhibition spaces wonderfully subversive. Festivals bring hope to the multiplex rather than routine.

Rikidozan addresses the life of the famous Japanese pro wrestler of Korean descent, Kim Shin-rak. Rikidozan is the name he was told to take on in hopes of attaining the Yokozuna rank of sumo wrestling. Righteously angry about the discrimination that prohibited him from attaining such status, Rikidozan drunkenly, and violently, stumbles into professional wrestling. He attains prestige in the United States and returns to Japan to initiate the, er, sport. (It's noted throughout how matches, like now, were often fixed, which is why the art form is seen as entertainment in the US rather than sport.) He also helped TV gain a stronghold in the Japan; the first live broadcast was an infamous match introducing Rikidozan and pro wrestling to Japan, and helped Japan heal post-WWII wounds since he tag-teamed up with a Japanese Judo champion to pummel two American wrestlers.

I cannot attest to the accuracy of this biopic, but along with the generic rise and fall tropes (some of which, such as the requisite infidelity and paranoia, seem forced into the narrative), Rikidozan presents an interesting side wrestling match with identity. Later on in his life, Rikidozan hid his Korean identity and he would use Japanese nationalist slogans to position himself for reporters and sponsors.

Rikidozan is one of many films at PIFF this year presenting the lives of Koreans from the diaspora. Along with Korean-American films such as Grace Lee's intriguing The Grace Lee Project and Michael Kang's The Motel, there is the Korean-Argentinian film, Do You Cry 4 Me Argentina? by Bae Youn-suk, and the next film I saw, the Korean-Chinese Grain in Ear by Lu Zhang. One of several films at PIFF I was anticipating, it did not disappoint.

Grain in Ear Soon-hee is a Korean-Chinese who sells multiple kim-chi-ed vegetables illegally without a permit. She is raising her son alone and lives next to Chinese prostitutes alongside a railroad track somewhere in China. Soon-hee must continually battle with stereotypes of her as a Korean-Chinese, stereotypes that are expertly presented by Lu as mistaken identities.

Lu's visual style is equally well executed. Everyone in this film seems to move listlessly, as if they were lumbering ghosts, best emphasized by Soon-hee's excruciatingly slow peddling of her wares along a stationary frame. Throughout the film, Lu presents wonderful frames of frames. That is, centered doorways and windows that enhance suspense by forcing us to imagine what is happening within the non-diegetic space of the diegetic space. All of this culminates in a film that I'm sure will continue to stick in my head just as the title suggests. But in this case, in a good way.

Another film that plays with non-diegetic space is Yeo Kyun-dong's Silk Shoes. In one particularly humorous scene, two characters stumble in and out of the frame to eventually stutter towards an attack and retreat. The film follows a frustrated director who is forced into creating a pseudo-North Korean village for the Alzheimer-stricken father of a mob boss. If you're thinking Good Bye Lenin!, stop. This film's origins lay in 1994, well before Wolfgang Becker's film, in Yeo's conversation with another filmmaker who had already won a screenplay award for his idea that was prescient of, not copying from, Becker's film. This film spawned from a Hello, not a Goodbye.

Yeo Kyun-dong has quite a few acting and director credits to his name. I was introduced to him by his excellent performance in Jang Sun-woo's To You, From Me as an impotent banana skin smoker. Some critics argue he introduced South Korea to the Korean New Wave with his debut, Out to the World. Although not a fully crafted film, Silk Shoes leaves me with enough interesting takes on memory, mis-memory, history, and how space is connected to all of these, that I'm happy I was able to slip this film onto my packed schedule.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:33 AM | Comments (6)

October 6, 2005

Vancouver Dispatch. 1.

Liu Jiayin's Ox Hide has just been proclaimed the winner of this year's Dragons and Tigers Award in Vancouver. Here, Sean Axmaker recounts a few of the highs and lows of the series.

VIFF 05 The much anticipated "Dragons and Tigers" series, the Vancouver International Film Festival's focus on the cinema of East Asia, unreeled in a slightly curtailed edition this year, due partly to its proximity to the Pusan Film Festival and partly to the fact that Vancouver precedes that acclaimed festival - and thus has lost out on premieres saved for Pusan's international muscle. So Dragons and Tigers 2005 features fewer commercial and anticipated auteur offerings and a wider selection of independent and underground cinema, with fully eight features produced and projected on digital video. Curiously, the program features no films from the prolific Hong Kong industry. It's Japan, South Korea, and notably China that dominate the selection.

Making its World Premiere at VIFF, Nagasaki Shunichi's Heart, Beating in the Dark (Japan) is a fascinating project with a storied history - it's at once a remake, a sequel and a reimagining of Shunichi's 1982 underground landmark of the same name, with the original stars reprising their roles for a reunion while their tale plays out with a younger couple. It's not exactly Nagasaki's Saraband. For one thing, it's simply more dynamic and multileveled. For another, the original remains little seen, even in Japan, though it's hardly necessary for an understanding or appreciation of the new take. This film stands on its own, with scenes from the original (which was also screened at VIFF, from a video copy of the grungy, grainy Super 8 print with added subtitles) edited in to parallel, contrast and collide with new take. Gangly behind-the-scenes footage is improvised around the whole project, providing some low key humor in the framework.

Heart, Beating in the Dark The essential story follows a young couple who hides out for a night in a vacant apartment and struggles with their guilt and anger and blame as they flee the murder of their infant. Naito Takashi, the actor who plays Ringo (the young man in the 1982 film) opens the film in conversation with the producers, insisting that he be included in this new script so he can provide the punishment the young man never gets the first time through. It doesn't necessarily work out that way, as Nagasaki and Naito bring Ringo up to date as a married father (on the verge of divorce) who meets up with his old love Inako (Muroi Shigeru). As they face the still unresolved reverberations of the crime that still haunts them, their facades break down and old feelings bubble up, though not in ways you might expect.

Nagasaki shifts the dynamics of the young couple and plays with shifting perspectives and role reversals as he tells their stories, always contrasting with bristling blurry old clips of the Super 8 original to create something quite haunting. You could read it as if the reunion of Ringo and Inako has created the crime anew, as in a Japanese ghost story and, in fact, phantom cries echo through the empty apartment. But you'd never confuse it with Japanese genre cinema; the mix of textures is compelling and effective, and Nagasaki's direction is remarkably assured in contrast to the raw 1982 clips. But then he sends the characters out of the smothering atmosphere of their claustrophobic apartment prisons, allowing them to flee their long dark night of the soul to venture out into the world of possibilities. Their interaction creates a whole new story and a touching compassion that even the actor Naito doesn't expect.

Shanghai Dream The somber Shanghai Dream (China), the Cannes Jury Prize winning drama from Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle), puts a spotlight on the aftermath of the "Third Front," when idealistic and talented young adults in the late 60s responded to patriotic pleas and left the cities for rural factory towns in the middle of nowhere. Fifteen years later, they are not simply stuck, but dispirited and desperate as they grind away in meaningless jobs that refuse to release them from their "temporary" positions. Their dull authoritarian culture is a lazy, ineffectual holdover from decades past. The new revolution is in the cities, like Shanghai, where individual ambition and effort is suddenly being rewarded, and Wu Lao is desperate to get himself and his family back to his bustling urban home. His frustration takes the form of an almost punitive tyrannical control of his teenage daughter, whom he pushes to study endlessly while he tries to keep her from socializing with the local yokels.

The misery of the Wu family is like a disease that the father's quarantine only exacerbates, not that their nowhere town offers much escape. Shot in a realist style with an eye for social detail, Wang reveals a lost society where the young and bored grab American fashions willy nilly from the 50s, 60s and 70s as a form of rebellion. It could be small-town America without the American Dream holding out any hope. Wang apparently draws from first-hand experience, which gives the film a rich detail of culture clash, class divide and youth culture that keeps it from being crushed under the misery.

Takeshis' While Kitano Takeshi made his name internationally with his offbeat crime thrillers and yakuza performances; in Japan, he's a legendary comic. Takeshis' (yes, it's both plural and possessive), a sly satire that sends up not only his image but the entire cinematic fantasy of heroic bloodshed, draws from his comic persona while slipping a little commentary underneath it. Takeshi plays both himself (as an affable but somewhat cocky superstar) and a meek, slump-shouldered, submissive lookalike schlub (under a bleached white mop a la Zatoichi) trying to break into the business while the world tries to break his spirit. The film continually slips into surreal sequences, where the cast keeps popping up in warped reflections of previous characters. When the lookalike finally steps into Takeshi's famed yakuza persona, finding a satisfying power as he dispatches his problems with blasts of bullets, his crime fantasies turn into nightmarish farces, finally melting into a stream of consciousness cascade of poetic abstract absurdist spoofs set to a rave mix club beat. Takeshi deflates the very iconography that made his fame with a twist more clever than it appears, revealing an empty core in the wish-fulfillment fantasies of his gangster tragedies - because they are nothing but fantasies, escapes from any real experience.

Princess Raccoon Like his pulp genre blasts of the 1960s, Suzuki Seijun's Princess Raccoon (Japan) revels in artifice, but the obvious parallels end there. Zhang Ziyi, all child-like innocence and darling cuteness, is shape-shifting raccoon royalty Princess Tanukihime, who falls in love with the Prince Amechiyo (Odagiri Joe), a kind of Asian Snow White condemned to death by his vain father who will kill to remain the most fair in the land. Emerging from a waterfall like an elemental fairy, she falls for the lost human. They court through song and dance, like a Bollywood film with a score that borrows from the entire spectrum of the pop radio dial - pop, hip-hop and traditional show tunes mix it up in the candy-colored sets. Equal parts fairy tale, storybook musical and theatrical diversion, this energetically naïve operetta is a visual delight to a fault. Suzuki stages it largely on vast stage-bound sets with painted backdrops and light shows on cycloramas, with periodic blasts of picture-perfect location footage (even Suzuki's exteriors feel art-directed to last petal). The story is secondary to the execution and the script is little more than cobbled together set pieces (the third act just rambles on with seemingly arbitrary complications), but where his earlier Pistol Opera felt like a series of static tableaux, Princess Raccoon moves. It's minor Suzuki to say the least, but the old man's delight in his confection never wavers. That delight is infectious, if not always compelling.

Duellist Even more stylistically obsessed and less narratively driven is Duelist (South Korea) from Lee Myong-Se. Where his earlier hit crime thriller Nowhere to Hide was visually thrilling but dramatically slim, this empty style bomb is all in service of a simplistic plot and story that seems to dissolve on the screen. Ostensibly a costume adventure about a veteran samurai detective and his young assistant, a self-described "crazy bitch" who likes to kick butt and screw up her face for forced comic effect, it forgoes all sense of tension (dramatic, emotional and otherwise) for a showcase for Lee's dazzling imagery, deliriously staged and shot battles and chases as well as tricks and transitions so clever they overwhelm any sense of story.

Linda Linda Linda Yamashita Nobuhiro's Linda Linda Linda (Japan), named for a hit song by the Japanese 80s punk band The Blue Hearts, is a high school drama about an all-girl rock band that breaks up over personal differences and reforms as a cover band just days before a festival, with a Korean exchange student still struggling with Japanese drafted as lead singer almost arbitrarily. With such a set up, you'd expect either comic farce or a teen melodrama, but this sweet film turns out to be an entertaining, surprisingly engaging character-based drama driven by the dynamics of the four girls as they come together in rehearsals. It communicates a pure, basic connection with music and the simple joy of bashing out rock and roll music.

April Snow Curator Tony Rayns called Hur Jin-ho's April Snow (South Korea) the most anticipated film at the festival. That distinction is due solely to the presence of its star, Bae Yong-Jun, a brooding matinee idol whose following stretches from South Korea to Japan (where his latest TV serial was a huge hit). It certainly had nothing to do with the stultifyingly dull drama on the screen. Bae plays a restrained husband who arrives at a hospital emergency room and runs into the woman (Son Ye-Jun) whose husband was in the same car. They confront the awkward fact that their spouses were having an affair in a stilted atmosphere that starts out nicely modulated, and then just drags on while a mood of melancholia hangs over the film like a fog. Nothing happens that you couldn't or wouldn't predict from the synopsis. In fact, not much of anything happens. The leads, however, are pretty to look at, which was enough for much of the audience.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:27 PM

Shorts, 10/6.

Rope "Like Robert Bresson's L'Argent (1983) and Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thief (1949), Rope is possibly one of the most disconcerting films ever made." Peter J Dellolio's canorous tour through one of Hitchcock's bests embarks from Flickhead.

The cinetrix tells the fascinating, sad yet ultimately inspiring story behind Julie Gustafson's Desire.

Fader: "To coincide with today's release of the 'Ultimate Director's Cut' of The Warriors on DVD, we're giving you a director's cut, web-exclusive version of the "Oral History Of The Warriors" piece by editor Eric Ducker, which originally ran last year in F26." Via Wiley Wiggins.

Andrew Solomon on Ballets Russes: "What turns out to be most compelling here... is how these senescent ballerinas and ballerinos achieve a poignant ecstasy as they recall the exploits of their youth." Also in the October issue of Artforum, but unfortunately, not online: James Quandt on Hou Hsiao-hsien.

For the Vue Weekly, Josef Braun talks with Atom Egoyan about Where the Truth Lies: "I could paint tableaus that I'd never be able to do [without his biggest budget yet], these period scenes and extravagant camera gestures with these cranes and crowds, these colours, that whole rhythm - it's something you need money to do... Remember, a lot of this is Lanny's version of history, and if he was filming this he wouldn't hire Atom Egoyan. He'd want Vincent Minnelli or somebody. So it was great to slip into that cinematic persona."

Becket A contemporary corollary to Becket? Nick Davis didn't have to look far to find one.

Martha Fischer at Cinematical: "CSA: The Confederate States of a America is a mockumentary that presents what the US might have looked like had the South won the Civil War."

Nick Sigley at Twitch: "A huge success in Europe, but yet to be given a North American release, The Consequences of Love is possibly the best film to have been released in Britain this year." Also: Kurt on Cowards Bend the Knee.

"Why do I love Boring Art Films?" asks Darren Hughes.

"In Venezuela," reports Juan Forero in the New York Times, "Secuestro Express has smashed all box-office records for a home-grown production, and it is fast eclipsing Hollywood's biggest hits.... But the film has also been harshly criticized by Venezuela's populist government for its grim portrayal of life in Caracas."

Also in the NYT: "He arrives with a whole lot of money and the ambition to do nothing less than build the largest independent movie studio in the industry." Sharon Waxman profiles a character of potentially Harveyesque proportions, Philippe Martinez. And Dave Kehr on new DVDs.

After taking stock of the winners and losers among the indies and foreign titles of the year so far - in box office terms only, that is - Andrew O'Hehir introduces his latest "Beyond the Multiplex" column at Salon:

Dennis Gansel's acclaimed Nazi-era drama Before the Fall feels like a potential hit, which obviously means nothing. Wim Wenders's Land of Plenty is one of the director's best films in years, and may be the great 9/11 movie so far - and it doesn't even have a distributor. Two classics by the master of Gallic severity, Robert Bresson, are back in circulation in lustrous new prints, and then there's Zombie Honeymoon, which is more like a Bresson or Wenders movie than you might expect. Except that it's about zombies. On a honeymoon.

Say Anything You may remember that Cameron Crowe recently spelled out his ideas on the role of a good song in a movie in the Los Angeles Times. For Simon Wood, writing in PopMatters, on Crowe's overall approach "serves a unique purpose in the pursuit of film as entertainment and any issue I take lies solely in his evaluation that full control of the audience is the ultimate goal of the filmmaker and, to paraphrase, the blending of the right scene with the right song is inarguably magical and artistic. To claim such is to imply that cinema is both incapable of generating deep emotion (or even any emotion independent of other mediums) and that the form itself is static."

Stuart Jeffries interviews David Cornwell, aka John Le Carré:

"I have been through the sheep dip with movies before but, like everybody else, I blame myself. I have written what I thought were very attractive books that have broken down badly for film. If they weren't satisfactory movies, I was part of the process that made them unsatisfactory. I don't feel that I was used or traduced, but many weren't very good. Some, though, were. The film of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was pretty good. Tinker Tailor was really good." He understandably forbears from naming those sheep-dip adaptations, but The Russia House, The Little Drummer Girl and The Tailor of Panama are surely contenders.

John Le Carré: The Constant Gardener
And now, in Cornwell's estimation, the adaptation of The Constant Gardener is really good, too.

Also in the Guardian:

  • Kwame Kwei-Armah: "In centuries to come, when people, all people, want an understanding of how a subjugated people fight and struggle to reconnect with a stolen past, when a generation who may long have forgotten the stories of their forebears want to chart their history, there will be a place they can go: the complete works of August Wilson."

  • Albert Brooks isn't the only one Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, evidently. So, too, is Roberto Benigni with his love story set in Baghdad, The Tiger and the Snow. John Hooper reports.

  • Jo Tuckman: "The plight of more than 400 women murdered in a Mexican city in the last 12 years is to get the Hollywood treatment in a new movie starring Jennifer Lopez."

  • Martha Fiennes: "If you could marry the incredible technology of fairground rides to the principles of conceptual art, you could create a completely new art form."

  • Mark Lawson remembers one of Britain's most beloved and respected comedians, Ronnie Barker, 1929 - 2005.

Journal of Short Film A new quarterly - on DVD: "It is the Journal of Short Film's intention to be short film's new venue, to introduce masses of independent filmmakers to the world, and to popularize short film. It is also interested in diversity: almost half of Volume 1's filmmakers are women, and a wide range of film is represented, including narrative, documentary and experimental work."

Good Night, and Good Luck is this week's featured film in the Village Voice. Michael Atkinson praises "[George] Clooney's brilliantly orchestrated and seriously respectful movie [which] can be seen as a grim shoulder tap, lamenting the social irresponsibility of what Gore Vidal likes to call the 'United States of Amnesia' - have the lessons of 1953 ever found a deep seat in our memory?" J Hoberman has a good long talk with the director: "It's very easy when you're a conservative to say 'good' and 'bad.' It's simple: evildoers, bad people. The job of a liberal is to see both sides. That makes us lousy debaters." For the NYP, Jennifer Merin also talks with Clooney.

Related: Clooney is updatiung Network for a production to be performed live on television. Lisa de Moraes reports in the Washington Post. David Poland doesn't like the idea, though.

And then there's David Ansen's Clooney profile in Newsweek.

More on Good Night from Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, where you'll also find Susan Gerhard on Capote and Dennis Harvey on 24 Hours on Craigslist.

Back to the Voice:

Mouchette

A History of Violence Vince Keenan: "I should have known Cronenberg would never let me down. Violence is like a dinner in which the main course is undercooked, but the side dishes are divine."

Related:

In the New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann reviews Proof and Everything Is Illuminated: "[Liev Schreiber's] directing is ambitious, but it is nowhere near the originality and truth in his acting."

The Squid and the Whale Three thumbs up from the Reverse Shot team at indieWIRE for The Squid and the Whale; there, too, Erica Abeel talks with Noah Baumbach. More from AO Scott in the NYT, David Edelstein in Slate, Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press and Karina Longworth at Cinematical. Related: Richard Corliss profiles Jeff Daniels in Time.

Peter Daniels at WSWS: "Occupation: Dreamland... is all the more powerful because it lets the camera and the soldiers tell the story, and the camera does not lie." More from Michael Tully. In the Austin Chronicle, Anne S Lewis talks with the filmmakers.

Body Double Dennis Cozzalio and Peter Gelderblom have a long, long talk about Brian De Palma's Body Double.

Jean Poole interview VJ and visual agitator Mia Makela at Sky Noise.

Kim Masters, author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else, shares a few notes from the exec - and recounts his fall. Also at Slate, Edward Jay Epstein explains why Pixar can't leave Disney, plus: David Edelstein on The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio and Eric Banks "narrates" a slide show devoted to the exhibition The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through the end of the year.

Hopes are high at Disney that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will nab fantasy fans, families and the Mel Gibson crowd, reports Elaine Dutka. So is there a Bushie connection? You bet. Cinematical's Martha Fischer points to details.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

Waiting...

The LA Weekly's love letter to its home town is naturally imbued with the spirit of Hollywood past and present. Just to pluck one example, Nikke Finke riffs on "the would-be screenwriters who've finished 11 pages but can already recite the recent prices paid for spec scripts."

In the San Francisco Chronicle, John McMurtrie asks Thelma Schoonmaker all about Michael Powell. Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?.

The Chronicle's Peter Hartlaub: "Since reviewing the movie Serenity last week, I've become convinced that the new film by writer/director Joss Whedon has spawned the most hard core science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts ever to walk this planet. This includes people who learn to speak Klingon, people who remain in character after they leave the Renaissance Faire and people who boycotted the Lord of the Rings movies because there were elves at Helm's Deep." Update: "Whedon Fans Don't Scare Me Any More." Whew. Related: Gareth McLean interviews Whedon for the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Slashdotters discuss Peter Jackson's signing on to exec produce that Halo adaptation. Also: Universal's hints it'll be offering some movies online. Nic Hopkins has a tad more detail in the London Times.

Musician Paul Pena, whose trip to Tuva is the subject of Genghis Blues, died on Saturday. He was 55. Jessica Robertson reports for Rolling Stone.

Back in the NYP, Troy Patterson: "I Am NOT an ANIMAL will immediately trip the cult-comedy alarm of any hardened absurdist or silly Anglophile. The program is a minor masterpiece of goofy-profound gaggery in the Monty Python tradition and an instant dorm-room classic."

Robert Rodriguez, gung-ho digital champion. A natural interviewee for Digital Producer Magazine. Debra Kaufman, via CinemaTech.

Video iPod Video iPod on October 12? Probably not, but Slashdotters are suggesting a few other intriguing possibilities.

Even as the battle between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD rages on, China enters the arena with a hi-def format of its own. Grady Hendrix passes along a T3 report and comments: "Snicker if you will, but with 2/3 of the world's DVD players bearing the 'Made in China' stamp, you too may soon be familiar with the EVD (Enhanced Video Disc) format."

Saul Hansell in the NYT: "Video delivered over the Internet... is quickly shaping up as a way for smaller producers to reach an audience without having to cut deals with movie studios and the big networks that are the traditional gatekeepers of television." His first example: Blair Witch Project co-director Dan Myrick's The Strand of Venice. In a separate piece, Hansell talks to Jeremy Allaire about his new company, Brightcove, which aims to allow "all types of video producers, from media giants to anyone who has a camcorder, put their work on the Internet and make money if anyone watches it."

Writing for Poynter Online, Steve Outing notes that it "sounds like a shift is coming [at Google Video], where some chunk of its money could come from referral fees or commissions on content sales."

At Ditherati, Owen Thomas plucks a quote from a Reuters piece on Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning - "We took a conscious decision not to go to the theatres as the movie was done mostly on a voluntary basis" - and notes that it sums up "Finnish filmmaker Timo Vuorensola, on giving away a product for free on the Internet that he'd never be able to charge for anyway."

Online viewing tip #1. Coudal Partners' short film on the spiritual home of their Museum of Online Museums, Mies van der Rohe's SR Crown Hall.

Online viewing tip #2. Joel Trussell's video for Jason Forrest's "War Photographer," with animation by Darin Bendall, Chris Fox, Gene Blakefield, Leonard Riley and Doug Gordon. Via Drawn!.

Online viewing tip #3. Twitch's Logboy has found a TV spot for a collection of Studio Ghibli shorts.

More online viewing tips. Kate Stables picks out seven in the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:16 PM

Halloween Countdown

Not Coming to a Theater Near You is not alone. Micah at Dumb Distraction, too, finds Halloween "a really great excuse for me to wallow in a month-long orgy of horror movies." And so, he's also reviewing one a day. You'll find Micah's and NCtaTY's selections are coming from very different neighborhoods, and so far, it doesn't look like there's going to be any overlap. Doubly good for horror aficionados, of course.

Zombie Honeymoon At the Movie Blog, Brian Shipston rounds up all the scary theatrical and DVD releases from here to Halloween.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer has been lauded for its authenticity, but the true story it's based on, as outlined by Christopher Orr for the New Republic, is far more gruesome: "It's comforting to believe that there are rational, or at least quasi-rational, reasons for why people do what they do... The thought that real-life monsters such as Henry Lee Lucas might actually be on the prowl is a little too scary even for Halloween."

In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan previews "'Silent Horror,' the completely unexpected and unexpectedly compelling series opening Saturday at the UCLA Film and Television Archive."

Laura Kern in the New York Times: "Not quite the campfest its absurd but undeniably catchy title suggests, Zombie Honeymoon is actually an emotionally driven blend of romance, comedy and horror." More from Michael Atkinson in the Village Voice.

For Time, Richard Corliss selects "5 Masters of the Macabre."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:39 AM | Comments (1)

Fests, series and such.

Paul und Paula J Hoberman finds plenty of "fascinating stuff" in the MoMA's series, "Rebel With a Cause: The Cinema of East Germany," even if the selection is "a bit cautious... You won't find any of the DDR's mad Marxist musicals, politically correct westerns, through-the-looking-glass spy movies, or Stalinoid historical extravaganzas in this batch." Tomorrow through October 23. Related: Hans-Jörg Rother tours the Konrad Wolf exhibition at the Filmmuseum Potsdam for Tagesspiegel (in German, naturally). Via filmz.de.

Also in the Village Voice: Anthony Kaufman on how things went at "the 27th IFP Market, the Independent Feature Project's annual clearinghouse devoted to works in progress eventually bound for PBS, cable TV, or art house distribution."

Sound Unseen is "10 days of music documentaries, rare concert footage, audio/visual performances, live cinema, concerts, & parties galore." Starts tomorrow in Minneapolis and runs through October 16. The City Pages staff writes up the highlights and Terri Sutton elaborates on a few more.

It seems like every time I've work up one of these "Fests" batches during the New York Film Festival, I come across a major oversight, an excellent collection focal point of coverage I hadn't seen before. This time, it's Slant's.

The guys get down in the third part of Jamie Stuart's unique NYFF report for Mutiny City News.

Now you can listen to Aaron Hillis's thoughts on his NYFF favorites. Following Amy Taubin talking about A History of Violence, Aaron was a recent guest on the Dorian Devins's Speakeasy radio show. And: Aaron's latest update for Premiere.

The Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Adams reports back on the NYFF. And, as always, keep an eye on Cinematical, the IFC Blog, d+kaz and Filmbrain.

Fantastic Fest Austin's Fantastic Fest, opening tonight and running through the weekend, features sneak previews of Jon Favreau's Zathura and behind-the-scenes peeks at the making of Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly. In the Austin Chronicle, Marc Savlov talks with founders "Tim McCanlies, director of Secondhand Lions and writer of The Iron Giant, and South by Southwest Producer Matt Dentler [who, before they created one] were lamenting the fact that Austin, home to more film festivals per capita than any other town in the South or Southwest, was shy a fest in three key areas: fantasy, sci-fi and horror."

SXSW, by the way, will be featuring "A Conversation with Peter Bart" as well as a few of those iconoclasts from Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Theatres and HDNet, talking, of course, about collapsing windows and such.

Blake has pulled together Cinema Strikes Back's complete coverage of QT6 in one handy entry.

Brian Brooks sends a dispatch in to indieWIRE from Reykjavik, where Abbas Kiarostami's just been feted.

Kim Voynar is following the battle of the Montreal film festivals at Cinematical.

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cheryl Eddy spotlights a few features of the Mill Valley Film Festival, today through October 16.

Kevin Thomas picks the highlights of three inviting series unreeling within some reasonable distance of the Los Angeles Times. Also an anonymous staffer slips in word of the Liberty Film Festival, a "showcase for conservative and libertarian film," running October 21 through 23.

The Boston Phoenix's Peter Keough looks over the 30th New England Film and Video Festival, through October 10.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez looks back on the bright bits of the Woodstock Film Festival.

David Walsh at WSWS: Toronto, part 4.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:25 AM

October 5, 2005

It's all over.

The Onion: "Citing Slow Summer Box Office, Hollywood Calls It Quits."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:45 AM | Comments (1)

Mill Valley Preview. 2.

With the Mill Valley Film Festival opening tomorrow and running through October 16, Jonathan Marlow talks with programmer-at-large Anita Monga who has put together the MVFF shorts series, 5@5. She's also been wildly busy programming for the 21st Film Arts Festival of Independent Cinema (November 3 through 9) and Noir City (January 13 through 24) - all this, right off her stint at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

Mill Valley Film Festival JM: What's up with the Bob Dylan titles [in the 5@5 series]?

AM: Well, you know, it's a tradition at Mill Valley to do that kind of grouping. There were Elvis Costello titles and so on, and it's kind of an insider wink-wink, but I picked Bob Dylan because I like him. There are a lot of titles to choose from and they're pretty evocative titles. For instance, Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat, I chose because it's such a damn goofy title...

JM: Yes, that program has La Vie d'un Chien in it, which...

AM: I love. I'd like to expose as many people as possible to John Harden's film.

La Vie d'un Chien JM: It's very clever.

AM: On top of being clever, I actually believe that it is very moving and deep and has a lot to say about humans and the propensity for love and freedom. I think it's really about freedom.

JM: I'm going to backpedal a little. I want to find out how you came to the Castro Theatre and then I don't want to dwell very much on how you came to leave the Castro, but it's opened up all these opportunities with the Noir City festival, programming for FAF and Mill Valley...

AM: Well, you know, Mel Novikoff was dying and the people running the theater asked me to program the last Castro calendar. Essentially, the theater was being sold and anything could have happened to it. Really, everyone thought that this was the last of it and so I programmed one calendar, and then I programmed another, and there were kind of protracted negotiations, and the people who bought the business really loved how the Castro was run. So they not only asked me to stay, but they gave me support and essentially we built that theater as a first-class arts cinema. It's really shocking to a lot of people that it's a for-profit business. That is how I came to be at the Castro.

Before I was at the Castro, I worked for Renaissance Rialto and I programmed the York theater on 24th Street, which is where the Brava now. Before that, I was at the Roxie. That's how I got my start being interested in programming. Curt McDowell was a filmmaker, he kind of had the moniker of the bad boy of underground film and he and I worked together and...

JM: Not on Thundercrack!.

AM: Not on Thundercrack!, I met him after Thundercrack!. We cleaned up the basement in my house on 21st Street and set up a little editing studio and Curt edited a few films there and we decided to self-distribute his films. We asked the Roxie if we could put on a show. We put together a program and did all the publicity and I did the notes and stuff for the Roxie calendar and I just never left the Roxie. That was how I kind of got started in putting stuff together because I like to show people things. That's my credo. There's a kind of, if I might say, generosity in people who program things - they want to share with people. It was always my intention to make sure people had a good experience, too. I think that was a big part of it.

JM: So, show you will, and you've picked many, many, many short films between Mill Valley and FAF.

AM: Mill Valley films came from everywhere. It's an international festival and there were over 1000 shorts that we saw. There were a lot. It's very easy for people to make films now. That doesn't mean it's very easy for people to make films. You know, really make films. Many people have video cameras and think that they have a good idea about making a short. People also are kind of trained in film schools, I think, to make these 20-minute shorts, which I find just a horrible length.

JM: Yes.

AM: It's too long to be a short and too short to be a feature. So Mill Valley, from really 1000 shorts from around the world, there are some pretty spectacular new things. Some stuff that's been around. Some very accomplished filmmaking, for instance, Raftman's Razor.

JM: Yes, my friend Keith [Bearden].

AM: It's a great short. I saw this really pretty wonderful short called The Death of Salvador Dalí. It's unclear what else this guy has done, but it's this perfectly modulated little absurdist piece that concerns Salvador Dalí walking into Sigmund Freud's psychiatric office and driving Sigmund Freud crazy.

Also, Uso Justo. It's this very funny film. I saw it at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and it's about the process of making films and what it means to be an experimental film. Also, Uso Justo refers to fair use.

Uso Justo JM: So it's constructed out of found footage.

AM: It's constructed completely out of found footage. It's hilarious and very pointed, too.

JM: So help the person who has no idea what it's like to program short films. How do you go through he process of narrowing things down and how do you start to, then, create thematic programs around patterns that you start to see?

AM: What I do is just go through and weed out all the bad stuff first. That's like the number one thing, not that there's any bad stuff. You just have to pull the good stuff. And then, of course, there's too much. Then you just go through and think, what has to be shown.

You shouldn't be too doctrinaire about your themes because you could be deadly dull if you're giving too much weight to sticking with a theme. It's up to the viewer to actually, you know, fathom the theme. Sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's not so obvious. It requires some juggling, making sure that the program will both have a kind of ebb and flow and keep interest, but you don't want to sock people in the stomach before you show them some insanely goofy little thing - but you have to have some variety in it.

You have an added advantage with the Film Arts Festival because it's local. I was determined to highlight experimental films. The San Francisco Bay Area is really one of the last bastions for experimental filmmaking.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:33 AM

Mill Valley Preview. 1.

The Mill Valley Film Festival opens tomorrow and runs through October 16. Jonathan Marlow talks with founding director Mark Fishkin about the origins of the fest and highlights of this year's edition.

Mill Valley Film Festival JM: How did you come to start the Mill Valley Film Festival?

MF: Well, what happened was, I had been a potter, actually, in Colorado. I owned an art gallery in Ouray, which is southwest Colorado and it's, as the crow flies, very close to Telluride, though, of course, you can't get there that way. I was a ceramic sculptor and my girlfriend was a painter and we were living the life of a young 60s-oriented couple, and I kind of fell in love with that area, even though I eventually closed the gallery and decided I wanted to have a bigger palette and get back to my roots in film. I had taken all of the obligatory film history courses in college, but I had been a potter from the time I was in high school, 9th grade. So I happened to be at the first Telluride Film Festival and that really inspired me to look at film as a potential life-changing career option. We didn't want to move back east, neither one of us, and we certainly didn't want to move to Los Angeles, and through our normal travels to visit friends and going to Hawaii - I used to scuba dive - we fell in love with Marin county. I looked at Mill Valley. I looked at the absence of any kind of quality independent cinema and yet an abundance of talented film artists living in the area, and I said, "This is the perfect place to do a film festival."

El Capitan The majority of the films that we screened in the first few years were from the Bay Area. They were not exclusively for the Bay Area, but that was our emphasis. In those early years, we were showing work from Larry Jordan, from a lot of people from the San Francisco Cinematheque, and the Kuchar brothers and local documentarians and people like the Canyon crowd who had made those fabulous independent films that had inspired George Lucas and other people. So the very first year we were showing things like The Rain People and that rare documentary that George Lucas made on the making of The Rain People or Imogen Cunningham's Three Views, where there were three short films, one by Fred Padula, who still lives in Mill Valley and who was a great cinematographer. He did a film called El Capitan years ago.

The idea of playing films that originated from the area was a great way to celebrate the rich talent that was here, and you continue to show, not exclusively, obviously, but you continue to show work that's made locally in a way that, say, San Francisco International, at least recently, has not. I think that's an important component of Mill Valley. I think it's an important component of any regional festival. That's why, initially, in the program, you would see a large specialty film next to a very small film. Subsequently, since that time, we have created sections, though we've retained our non-competitive status.

JM: How many different festivals do you attend in order to make decisions for the program at Mill Valley?

MF: Well, I'm not the only person who travels, but typically I will go to Sundance, I will go to Berlin and I will go to Cannes. I will go, if I am invited to be a juror, or if I am invited in some other capacity, I may go to a fourth festival. There have been times in Berlin where we've had one person and there are times where we've had four, including someone to just look at the children's section. Rotterdam, we try to go to when we can, but it'll usually have to be two different people. It's almost too much.

JM: Most of the better festivals, both in America and around the world, have a year-round venue with which they can continue to offer films outside of the confinements of the festival. Vancouver has their own venue, the Cinematheque, so the nice thing with Mill Valley, in my estimation, is this relationship that you have with the California Film Institute, which allows you to use the Rafael Film Center year-round. It's a beautifully restored theater. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between the two organizations? Obviously, you're the executive director of one, the director of another.

MF: The relationship was very important to us, and so it's part of our long-term vision and we worked on it for many, many years and I always felt that San Rafael was the perfect location because it's the most diverse and the most urban area of Marin. I don't know if the Rafael would have been such an immediate success if we hadn't really been involved in the Mill Valley Film Festival for 22 years. We educated, not only individuals, but generations of people in terms of independent films, both domestic and international.

JM: In a sense that you're programming year-round, it's becoming like a Los Angeles North. You're able to attract writers and directors and stars in a way that no other venue in San Francisco is able to.

MF: It's been a very healthy thing for the Rafael. So while we're having Leonardo DiCaprio and Javier Bardem and all those other great visitors - Julie Delpy coming through, and George Lucas and Phil Kaufman and Saul Zaentz - and this year in particular, this tribute to Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I am so delighted to be bringing him in. Even though he's a director who has only made five features and is 50 years old, he's managed to create international films that have broken barriers everywhere. You know, Amélie and A Very Long Engagement, in particular, and Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, and we are continuing the retrospective at the Rafael. The same thing with our tribute to Michael Powell, with Thelma Schoonmaker, who is an icon in her own right, a two-time Academy Award-winning editor, and Richard Peterson is doing a substantial retrospective that will continue into the fall, post-festival. That's a wonderful thing to be able to do.

And then, Felicity Huffman. I have never met her and I already have this warm spot in my heart for her and it's not because William Macy has been a guest here two or three times, with Pleasantville and other films. I don't watch much television, but I have caught a couple episodes at least of Desperate Housewives, and I remember seeing this one scene in particular where she's just fed up, she's strung out on Ritalin, she's got, like, five boys between the ages of ten and one and she calls over her neighbor, hands her the baby and says, "I have to go." Next, they cut to the scene of her sitting in the middle of a football field and all the desperate housewives go out there and join her. She does this monologue and she's in tears and you look at this woman who is basically on an evening soap opera and it is so moving and you know that you are looking at an actress of substantial talent.

Then, Donald Sutherland. Bertolucci, Fellini, you know, at 70 years old, he's the grand master of acting.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:47 AM

October 3, 2005

Shorts and fests.

The Piano Lesson Playwright August Wilson has died too young at 60. Nick Davis: "A contentious and sometimes intractable figure, he was also creative and determined in seeing his ideas through to an American stage that badly needed him, and continues to need him." And the New York Times has set up a multimedia collection of reviews, articles and tributes.

Brian: "I've only seen a small fraction of the dozens of "Blankumentaries" this Florida-born, now Berkeley-residing filmmaker has made, but so far they all absolutely fall into the description on the front page of his website, 'Real Food, Roots Music and People Full of Passion for what they do.' Always For Pleasure perhaps the most quintessentially so."

In the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, a team of doctors accuses Hollywood of "irresponsibility over its portrayal of sex and drugs," reports Sarah Boseley. Biggest complaint: Condoms are rarely even mentioned in movies, much less put to use. Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw responds: "So why no condoms? Well, in art as in life, they are a bit of a downer."

Also in the Guardian: James Silver dissects a "rave, go-see quote" on the poster for Guy Ritchie's new one and discovers, "basically, the Revolver-related content on the Sun's website is a piece of PR puff paid for by the film's distributors."

When Truman Capote went to Kansas to investigate the murder of the Clutter family, he went under the aegis the New Yorker. David Denby wouldn't want you to forget that. Also: Christopher Buckley's comic take on "the Voice of the Caliphate."

Fests:

Beyond the Rocks

Acquarello: "Filmed during American postwar occupation, The Ball at Anjo House is a curiously atypical Japanese film that hews eerily closer to the privileged, dysfunctional families and moral abandon of The Magnificent Ambersons or a Douglas Sirk melodrama than a Shochiku middle-class shomin-geki."

Chuck Tryon: "I'm not sure that I'm ready to make any larger claims about the film at this point, other than to say that I know many of the film's images will haunt me for some time. Chain is an amazing achievement and deserves a much wider audience."

At Cinematical, Robert Newton interviews Charles Band, "the most prolific filmmaker you've never heard of."

David Wester explains his project for the fall season: "From October 1st to January 1st, I will be watching one movie per day and blogging about my reactions to these movies here."

The Weinstein Company officially opens its doors for business today. Eugene Hernandez reports at indieWIRE.

Back to the NYT:

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Striving to be a mockumentary and succeeding only in establishing an idea for one, The Rodnees: We Mod Like Dat! is messy, unfunny and unforgivably dull."

  • Ken Belson: "Recognizing that a split over the format of the next generation of digital video discs is deepening, Paramount Pictures said yesterday that it will make DVD movies in the Blu-ray format as well as in the HD DVD standard."

  • Bill Carter notes that Lost and Desperate Housewives still rule the small screen.

Mike D'Angelo has had a little more than movies on his mind lately.

Karin Wehn and Ingo Linde follow up on their August piece at Telepolis on flip books. In German.

David Cronenberg Online listening tip. David Cronenberg was the guest on Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment on Wednesday. I'm just now catching up with this one because, for me, the show's usual time slot (yes, I'm one of those dorks at the gym with the white buds in his ears) was taken up with Ed Champion's engaging conversation with Bret Easton Ellis. More words with Cronenberg (to read): Peter Sobczynski for Hollywood Bitchslap.

Online viewing tip. Independentfilm.com's Corey Boutilier has a quick chat with Steve Buscemi.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:44 AM

October 2, 2005

Shorts, 10/2.

Peep Show Let's start with two pieces from the weekend editions and get back to the rest of their respective papers a little later. In the New York Times, Paul Cullum dives into the mystery behind one of the titles that played in this summer's GreenCine Online Film Festival. Who made Peep Show? Is there really a JX Williams? Does it matter? As Bérénice Reynaud, head of programming at the Roy and Edna Disney Cal Arts Theater, wrote in an email Cullum quotes: "In this day and age, when even the once most subversive artists are selling their signature as auteur to turn a larger profit within the market economy, I find it oh so refreshing that a hoax may (yes, may) have been played on us."

In the Guardian, David Lodge reads Graham Greene's treatment for a film that was never made: "'Trust' is a keyword - the keyword - of No Man's Land. The cold war is the political expression of profound mutual mistrust between the Soviet bloc and the western powers, and has given rise to an elaborate system of espionage, the world of the double agent and the double-cross, which fascinated Greene from adolescence onwards." And then, another: "The Stranger's Hand actually began as a conscious exercise in self-parody; but in many ways it is a more controlled piece of writing and it is a pity it is unfinished."

Craig Phillips has rounded up an intriguing update on Charles Burnett's Where Others Wavered.

"An emotion flickers over Bill Murray's face. Resignation? Ennui? Ironic detachment? Gentle bemusement? Despair? It is impossible to say." Jack Pendarvis has discovered "Jim Jarmusch's Notes for a Ghostbusters Sequel." At McSweeney's, via Movie City News. Related: A Jarmusch profile in the Observer from Sean O'Hagan.

Hawaii, Oslo Todd at Twitch: "When I first stumbled across information on Norway's Hawaii, Oslo some time back the obvious point of comparison was Magnolia... As the film unspooled that initial impression proved correct but roughly two thirds in I realized that somewhere along the way the film had taken a quiet, subtle turn and we were actually in vintage Wim Wenders territory... Very highly recommended."

Nick Rombes: "If today's criticism is to compete with the experimentalism of today's screens, it too must become experimental."

With Jason Woloski's review of Roger Corman's The Premature Burial, Not Coming to a Theater Near You introduces a new feature: "October: 31 Days of Horror."

"While certainly small, he is slim and agile and, like many people who lost their childhood in the Holocaust, looks much younger than his real age, which is 72." Sue Summers meets Roman Polanski and writes in the Observer: "'Don't make me regret giving this interview,' he says when he thinks my line of questioning is deviating too far from Oliver Twist into territory he finds uncomfortable. 'I can see you are slowly sliding into doing a "portrait" of me, as they call it, which I hate.'" Related: In the Telegraph, Jasper Rees interviews Oliver Twist screenwriter Ronald Harwood.

Back to the New York Times:

  • Stephen Holden on The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, which captures "a sense of the American home in the 1950's as a technological wonderland in which miraculous appliances like televisions and freezers and food products like frozen vegetables arrived heaven sent to lighten a housewife's workload. Coinciding with the decade's explosive affluence, these wonders infused the rigidly conformist social climate with a whoosh of wide-eyed optimism." Also: Going Shopping, "a flighty, motor-mouthed cinematic divertissement," and MirrorMask, "an acquired taste that this critic has yet to cultivate." Related: Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "I haven't seen a film as lovely as this since Brazil. I haven't seen a film as enchanting since The Princess Bride." And Robert Newton interviews Neil Gaiman at Cinematical.

  • Sharon Waxman reports from the set of Paul Weitz's satire of the Bushies, American Dreamz: "How the picture will play when it reaches theaters, next spring or later, may depend as much on world events and the gyrating fortunes of the American presidency as on Mr Weitz's craft."

  • Fiona Ng has a quite historical primer on the Beijing Film Academy and an update: "This year, almost 6,000 aspirants showed up to vie for 30 open spots in the acting school's bachelor of arts program."

3 Days of Rain

Willow Tree Corey Boutilier interviews Majid Majidi at independentfilm.com.

Let's say, just for the sake of argument, you've never seen a samurai film of any sort. Or know someone who hasn't. Don't start with Kurosawa, suggests the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter. Go with Hideo Gosha.

But for Carroll Ballard, "Kurosawa is still king." As he tells Ray Pride.

David Edelstein: "Ballard loves to shoot at the time photographers call the 'magic hour' - the end of the day when the shadows are slanted and the light is reddish gold. I think of all of Duma as the magic hour." More from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Also, Capote: "[A] film about the writing of a book that ignores the alchemy of creation isn't telling the full story." More from Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly.

Also in Slate: John Dickerson on Inside the Bubble: "The movie overpromises the way sham politicians do. There are some amusing and entertaining moments, but there is little in it to explain why Kerry lost."

At indieWIRE, there's space for a much more of Anthony Kaufman's talk with Forty Shades of Blue director Ira Sachs than we saw in the Village Voice. Also: Erica Abeel interviews Capote director Bennett Miller. Related: Craig Phillips's interview, naturally.

MS Smith: "Pauline Kael once wrote that Jules and Jim is about 'the impossibility of freedom.' But I think it is really about the impossibility of freedom for certain kinds of people."

Love and Anger At Cinema Strikes Back, David Austin reviews "an artistic and political time capsule," Love and Anger, a hit-n-miss anthology of shorts by Carlo Lizzani, Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean-Luc Godard and Marcello Bellochio. Also: Blake interviews Strings director Anders Rønnow-Klarlund.

Ryan Stewart at Cinematical on Liliom: "It's a rather cheap film with a leitmotif that consists of obvious, Ed Woodian artificiality... But the care with which its made is not cheap at all; it's the film that Fritz Lang reportedly thought was his best."

Adam Dobson on 2001 at Metaphilm: "By evoking the sublime, Kubrick forever reminds us of mankind's limitations. The act of searching is futile because we do not (and perhaps never can) understand what it is we are looking for."

Helene Hindberg interviews Kim Ki-duk Lars Ahn Pederson takes notes from a public Q&A session with the director. Both for Eiga, both via HanCinema.

In a piece on Nick Park for the Independent, Ed Caesar checks in with psychology professor: "The idea that the films are for children is a myth - adults find a release in them." Also: Nick Harris on soccer and the movies and James Mottram interviews David Cronenberg.

Paul Fischer interviews Cameron Crowe for Film Monthly. Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Ernest Hardy has a quick chat with Eamonn Walker in the LA Weekly.

Phil Hoad has a brief chat with Claire Denis in the London Times.

In the New Statesman, Rachel Withers on Omer Fast's video installation at the Institute of International Visual Arts in London in which he speaks with three in-character actors in Williamsburg: "'Independency' and 'occupation' turn inside out and back again: Godville's hybridised personae, in their immaculate costumes, exist both as ex-colonial subjects and citizens of an occupying nation."

Back to the Guardian:

  • Stephen Armstrong: "[Ken] Russell is at a curious stage in his life. He is struggling with a collapsing career... On the other hand, he is suddenly incredibly influential - especially with today's young artists."

Brownjohn: Goldfinger

Heavens, I can't remember "walking out of" a Jonathan Rosenbaum piece before. But halfway through his review of A History of Violence, he issues a considerable spoiler warning. So if, like me, you haven't seen it yet, you might want to return to that one later.

As Jonathan Marlow did a few weeks ago, Spencer Parsons talks with the Piersons, this time minus the kids, about Reel Paradise. Also in the Austin Chronicle: Josh Rosenblatt on Naked, "a small masterpiece of blighted English negativity: like little body with a corrosive heart," and news bits from Joe O'Connell.

John Horn: "The film industry has increasingly become a gypsy caravan with producers scouring the globe in search of countries with sufficient infrastructure to accommodate movie crews yet undeveloped enough to offer Third World wages." And their latest find is Romania. Also in the Los Angeles Times: Studio execs have suddenly decided to blame themselves for this year's summertime slump, report Horn and Claudia Eller. John August comments. Furiously.

Xeni Jardin glimpses the future of digital cinema at iGrid 2005 and reports back to Wired News.

Antonio Pasolini passes along disturbing news of Elizabeth Taylor's declining health and overall well-being. If the Daily Mail is to be believed, an unnamed source is quoted as saying, "Her overriding problem these days isn't a pill addiction or diabetes or anything neurological. It's more like a deep, deep sadness."

Warner Independent Pictures president Mark Gill tells the Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson why he snapped up the North American rights to Paradise Now. Which leads to these items - in German:

Paradise Now

Online listening tip #1. Geoffrey Kleinman chats with Kevin Smith on DVD Talk Radio. Related: The online video making-of journal: Clerks 2.

Online listening tip #2. An NPR report on Thomas Riedelsheimer's Touch the Sound.

Online viewing tip. Shining, of course. Among many who have things to say about it: David M Halbfinger, who, for the NYT, checks in on Robert Ryang, who cut it and became an instant microstar ("I didn't realize how fast the world moves"), Dennis Cozzalio, who takes the punchline and runs with it, Martha Fischer at Cinematical and dgeiser13 points to a couple of more faux trailers at Listology.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:13 AM | Comments (2)

October 1, 2005

Raves.

Well, the movie of the moment seems to be Serenity:

Serenity

  • Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Scene for scene, Serenity is more engaging and certainly better written and acted than any of [George] Lucas's recent screen entertainments."

  • David Edelstein comes close to making the same argument in Slate, though, on a neighboring page, Seth Stevenson grumbles: "Joss Whedon should stick to television."

  • Stephanie Zacharek at Salon: "So if Serenity is this good - and as a piece of filmmaking, I'm hard-pressed to find much fault with it - why am I still feeling the strong pull of those Firefly episodes?"

  • Jason Woloski at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "An excellent film, deserving to stand next to Spielberg's Jaws as an example of how right Hollywood can be when cheerful entertainment and natural intelligence are mixed in exactly the right proportions."

  • Cynthia Fuchs at PopMatters: "[T]he situation facing the Alliance with reference to River is 'less simple than you think it is.' Indeed, this might be the watchword for all that goes on in Serenity."

  • Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times: "A strongly acted, well-written story fortified by riveting action sequences — a rarity these days among studio releases — Serenity should delight Whedon novices as much as the already converted."

  • Robert Newton at Cinematical: "[Y]ou can take away all the futuristic gee-wizardry and still have a really good story."

And, for SuicideGirls, Daniel Robert Epstein (who else) talks to Joss Whedon (naturally). So, too, does the Telegraph's SF Said. That is, after he announces: "It's the most entertaining film you'll see all year - a reminder of a time when studio blockbusters could be special experiences."

Now then. For all that, Alphonse van Worden nevertheless asks, "How much is Buffy to blame for the revival of the fascist mood in the US?" Via wood s lot.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:05 PM | Comments (3)

Fests, 10/1.

NYFF 05 The New York Film Festival rolls on. In need of immediate mention are the dozen sharp reviews so far by Daniel Kasman at his impressively designed site, d+kaz.

Then there's Part 2 of Jamie Stuart's wonderful NYFF report for Mutiny City News.

More all but random NYFF pickings:

Something Like Happiness

Viennale: Warhol A Viennale highlight: The Warhol retro (October 14 through 26).

Andrew Hultkrans went to last weekend's New Yorker Festival. For himself, no doubt, but for Artforum, too: "At the Saturday afternoon 'Anarchy and Animation' panel, the animators - the guys behind South Park, the guys behind Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the director of The Incredibles, maladjusted honkies to a man - bemoaned: Puritanical network Standards & Practices; the ghettoization of cartoons by the Emmys and Oscars; Tom Cruise (gay); Magic: The Gathering ('fucking gay'); and Sean Penn (not gay, but as loathsome as Donald Rumsfeld)."

Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens de São Paulo Michael Gibbons sends word from the Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens de São Paulo, "the largest short film festival in Latin America." And it'll be traveling to other Brazilian cities as well. Also at indieWIRE: Aileen Torres previews the Reykjavik International Film Festival, through October 9.

The Austin Chronicle has a nifty guide to the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (through October 8). Also: "Celebrating AFS's 20th." Jette Kernion has more Austin-area events at Cinematical.

The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas highly recommends the Jacques Rivette retro at the UCLA Film and Television Archive (through October 28).

Steve Vineberg previews the Brattle's Garbo series (through October 19). Also in the Boston Phoenix: Chris Fujiwara on "The Films of Mikio Naruse" at the Harvard Film Archive (through October 10) and Gerald Peary on Side Effects and Occupation: Dreamland. More from Chuck Tryon: "Occupation: Dreamland demonstrates why documentary filmmaking remains such an important, vibrant practice."

Vue Weekly presents a guide to the Edmonton International Film Festival (through October 8).

Tim Walker in the Independent on why Resfest matters: "[I]t is film-makers with a background in music video - such as Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer and Spike Jonze - who have produced some of the most exciting work in mainstream cinema in the past decade." Also in England: The Times's Stephen Dalton on Raindance (through October 9) and the Sheffield International Documentary Festival (October 10 through 16).

Another look back at Toronto from Steve Erickson in Gay City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:40 PM

New York Dispatch. 5.

NYFF 05 A fresh NYFF dispatch from David D'Arcy: The President's Last Bang.

It's an odd, sad coincidence that so many films at this year's New York Film Festival could be called political, in that they address political subjects. It's odd because the United States is in a position of political futility. A war that never needed to be fought is taking more lives than have been measured and Americans barely seem to be troubled by the almost 2,000 American lives that have been given for a cause that was never presented truthfully before the invasion.

Lies and duplicity in high political places haven't hurt the Bush Administration much. Lines of gas-guzzling SUVs can't find the fuel to escape from hurricanes, even at prices that Americans think are immoral, and a key component of the "war on terrorism" is supposed to be energy independence. And that's the immorality that average citizens see - the fact that they have to pay so much for something that they used to get for so little. Maybe this will lead to some accountability down the line, sort of like Nixon's cursing on the Watergate tapes did. The language wasn't the worst of Nixon's crimes - far from it. But it offended people.

The President's Last Bang The President's Last Bang, by Im Sang-soo, is a look at the demise of a Nixon crony whose regime outlasted Nixon's - the president of South Korea who leveraged the fear of a Communist threat from the north into strong US support. President Park Chung-hee ruled at home with a brutality that we only see in glimpses.

If this film about Park's assassination is any indication of how corrupt things were in Seoul, it was a byzantine kind of corruption in which you can't keep track of all the backstabbing among opportunistic officials in the hallways, and a petty diminutive president's whims are entertained with servility. The title suggests as much. I suspect it's an attempt to render something that's wittier in the original Korean. The president likes pretty girls ("oysters" in palace code) and pop music, we soon learn. "The president hates the sight of a gun when he's drinking," says one official thug as he kicks an underling.

This is not so much the story of the assassination in 1979, but the stories of the last days of the regime that the assassination ended.

"Beatings make you stronger," says President Park (Song Jae-ho) as he gets drunk waiting for two young women to arrive. He also notes that Jimmy Carter's insistence on observing human rights is "stupid."

The audience at the NYFF will be seeing a different film than the film that Koreans saw. Not that what's on the screen has been altered in any way for foreign consumption, but Koreans will know the events quite well. They bring absolute familiarity to it. They aren't watching a thriller. In other words, each audience watching the film will be completing a different experience.

For Americans, the story of murder, betrayal, and the trials of the plotters has an element of surprise. For Koreans, it's like a scroll painting. It's a subject that everyone knows - the brushstrokes make the difference.

The President's Last Bang

There isn't a bravura style to this violent film that shows officials of the Korean intelligence agency murdering Park. The style here is in the specificity, which is a challenge enough for any drama based on real events. Yet the story is as iconic as it is specific. It's a palace coup and the court is full of scheming opportunists. The conflicts lead to a brutal death and the dictator dies in the arms of two courtesans.

There is something iconic cinematically, too, in a story that takes place over the course of a single night. Think of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but think also of The Wedding by Andrzej Wajda and The Rules of the Game. One thing I admire about this film is that it doesn't rely on your feeling any sympathy for anyone. There's not one sympathetic character here, although one Korean central intelligence agency plotter has a few moments of hesitation before he turns a gun on one of Park's bodyguards who'd been a friend of his in the Marines. And you can find some other exceptions in the innocent cooks and servants who are either shot in the initial attack or who take refuge amid boxes of onions in the basement when the plotters reload and shoot the place up again.

The absence of likable characters here isn't an academic exercise. It's based on the perspective familiar to Koreans watching that their government was a corrupt, abusive clique that survived through bribery, torture and US support. There wasn't much to like. The assassins were "palace allies" who wanted to be in charge. Koreans will see that this is not fiction and not an unthinkable story line. This is the way their politics operated.

The President's Last Bang

The plausibility of the film doesn't come from being shot like a documentary, although it does get the look of 1979 with an exactitude that the reality purists will like. Everything is stylized, from the KCIA director's practice of slapping and punching his staff to the last supper of President Park around a table atop a flat pyramid of wooden steps.

There aren't any martial arts here. This is the stylization of a bureaucratic dictatorship - shiny black cars, business suits, drunken dinners, escort girls - no flying robes, no gold chains, no Gucci, no swords.

But there's enough treachery here for the drama to sustain itself. And the story draws some of its momentum from the unadorned, candid approach to presenting the treachery for what it was, a web of competing schemes for power that had no moral bounds. And there's plenty of humor in The President's Last Bang. At times the intelligence agents are anything but intelligent. But at point-blank range, the gang that couldn't shoot straight still hits its target.

There's an odd parallel between Last Bang and Lady Vengeance, director Park Chan-wook's bloodfest about a gorgeous criminal's revenge on the man who helped make her a killer. It's a criminal plot of vengeance against a psychopath who was at the core of a plot to kidnap and murder children. You may be unprepared for the sheer variety of the gore of this revenge. You won't be prepared for the way it will make you laugh.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:59 AM